An Introduction: Prequel No. 2

Here is the second of my two “prequels” to my first official post as Pfister Narrator, in which I will formally introduce myself and give thanks to those who have come before me.  This prequel is also adapted from a sample blog post I submitted to the selection committee.  “Window Seat” is inspired by a Saturday afternoon conversation I had with the new Pfister Artist-in-Residence Pamela Anderson.

Spring had finally arrived–at least for a few days–but instead of doing a long run in the 70-degree sun, I decided to wander into the Pfister to uncover a story.  Luckily, the sun followed me into the lobby and down the hall to Pamela’s studio.  Eager to meet my potential colleague, I was greeted both by geometric splashes of primary colors (can shapes be both geometric and splashes?) and by the kind, soft-spoken artist.  

Our conversation delighted and incited (insighted?) me, so I reimagined her spoken words in the form of a written letter addressed to me, from her, two weeks prior, just before she began her one-year residency at the Pfister.  For me, the art of letter writing is a dying art form, and since we talked so much about painterly and writerly voice, I wanted to hear her in a different way, from one of her favorite spots in the world: the window seat of an airplane.

Now that I know that I will indeed be working closely with her in the next twelve months, I look forward to writing her back.

April 1, 2016

Dear Dominic,

I’m writing this from 28,000 feet.  Soon, I will touch down on the hotel’s carpeted runway and disembark in my new studio-for-a-year.  I haven’t met you yet, but I sense your imminent arrival at my doorway.  From the window seat–a must-have when I travel–I am snapping photos real and imaginary.  Right now, the sun guides the plane, a Catalan yellow sun the way Miró reimagined it (we’re actually over Lake Michigan right now, but my mind has traveled to Catalonia before).  The clouds are high, muting the sky in a pastel blue that Diebenkorn would have appreciated (I’ve traveled to the west coast with him before).  I’ve been around the world with painters past and present, Dominic, but would you believe that I’m only beginning to map my own voice now?

You will ask in a couple of weeks, “Did you not have a voice before?”  Did you lose it?  Can a painter, like a writer, have a voice?  Don’t we all have one?  

I certainly had a voice before.  I’ve been mapping it all my life, just as you have been mapping yours, the contours of your inscape, the swirls of your unique fingerprint–that’s what voice is.  Not necessarily something that can be heard or seen.  It’s always inside us, but it’s about developing it.  There’s so much in our world that we have access to visually, that for me, as a painter, finding that fingerprint has been difficult.  It’s difficult for all of us, because we have this sense that it’s all been done before.  You must feel the same as a writer.

Of course, I’ve been informed by–you can’t help it and there’s nothing wrong with it–the fluid landscapes of Diebenkorn and the geometrical, splashy fantasies of Miró, but I’ve remade myself so many times, all on my own.  I didn’t go to school for art, but I did look and study on my own, collecting images and preferences from so many sources.  And I played as a child, all the time.  That was a key to my talent.  If it was a brightly colored block or brick, or Lincoln Logs, or anything you could build with, I was creating something.  I guess you could say I had a natural talent for seeing how things fit together and how they could fit together in new ways.  But at some point in my life, perhaps after getting really good at painting floral scenes, I determined that I needed to be braver with my paintings.

by Pamela Anderson

That’s an interesting word, you will say, to describe art: “bravery.”  It sounds like the stuff of heroes and soldiers and tightrope walkers.  But if we are to transform ourselves and find our voices, then we will have to be brave, a word, I’m guessing you know, that comes from bravo, Italian for “bold and untamed.”  So I’m trying to tap into moments that speak to me from 28,000 feet–I’m looking down now and see that Catalan sun reflect off the lake’s dark surface, creating lines of yellow, crests of white, the plane approaching the shoreline of emerging green fields (we’re south of the airport).  An almost invisible line stretches across my view–the flight of a bird?  An optical illusion?  (To be truthful, I’ve already painted this, but it wasn’t of a Lake Michigan shoreline.  It was something altogether different, intuited in a private conversation I was having with my world.  In any case, I hope you’ll see it when I hang it in my Pfister studio.)

Another painting that will be in my studio when you visit me in a couple of weeks is an aerial landscape (you’re going to notice this right away, I’m thinking–we see with similar eyes): patches of primary colors like children’s blocks and elemental earth, the geometry of agriculture, the interruption of rivers, straight lines that partition (I see straight lines in nature–why?).

These paintings are informed, as I’ve said, by Diebenkorn and Miró and countless other artists, but I’m making them my own . . . I think, I hope.  Sometimes I feel brave, other times not.  You know that I applied for this position three times?  That’s ok, though; I’m glad I didn’t receive the residency those other two times.  I wasn’t ready.  Of course it was validating to be a finalist, but once I validated myself, when I heard my own voice and said, “Hey, that’s me,” that is when I decided to apply one more time.  Maybe that’s what “voice” is: that thing inside you that says/writes/paints/creates itself out of you and says, “Hey, I’m you.”

by Pamela Anderson

The plane is about to touch down.  When you come to visit me, I’ll be wearing gentle black lace and I’ll speak with a soft voice, but you’ll also notice that I speak with large scraping tools, mops, and oversized paint brushes and that my massive paintings don’t have my signature on them.  That’s because I’ve decided to be brave: to let my tools, whatever they may be, guide me and let my paintings reveal my voice.  Many people get upset, in fact, when I don’t sign my paintings on the front.  But I think it’s better when someone can say that they saw one of my paintings from across a room or even a block away and said to themselves “That’s a Pamela.”

That means my voice is being heard.

I wish you all the best as you find yours.  And I look forward to meeting you.

Sincerely,

Pamela

An Introduction: Prequel No. 1

Greetings, Milwaukee!

While Narrator Emeritus Jonathan West’s photograph and bio still linger on the sidebar–it’s no wonder, since he has become such a presence and voice at the Pfister over the past year–I offer you two “prequels” to my first official post as Pfister Hotel Narrator, in which I will formally introduce myself and give thanks to those who have come before me.  These two prequels are adapted from the two sample blog posts I submitted to the selection committee.  The first, “My Nemesis,” is brought to you by . . .

. . . a recent mid-April evening, when I followed a young man with a guitar case into the Mason Street Grill, in search of a story to write as part of the process of becoming the next Pfister Hotel Narrator.  As one of three finalists, I knew I had to work with a close ear and a nimble pen.  My plan was to listen for a while to the Jamie Breiwick/Mark Davis Duo, then snag Jamie for an interview in between sets.  This should be easy, I thought, since Jamie is a colleague at a local independent school, where I currently teach English and he teaches Instrumental Music.  I’ve enjoyed hearing him at Blu several times, but always in the evening, when the lounge is bustling.

Jamie Breiwick on trumpet at Blu.

However, as I sat down with a whiskey, my phone, and my stylus, I felt a presence.  In fact, I saw him and heard him. I could swear that this presence was also a finalist for the Narrator position.  I imagined that, just because he was writing in a notebook, he must have had the same objective as I had.  It’s not every day that you see people scratching in actual notebooks anymore.  He had had, I assumed, the same idea: hang out at the Mason Street Grill and capture the ambiance of the Grill and the rhythm of the Duo.  I really did feel a tad competitive–even nervous–because he seemed to have an “in” that I didn’t have, as you’ll see, even despite my connection with Jamie.  This is the poem that emerged from this, my first “foray” in the Pfister’s first-floor restaurant where I hoped to spend plenty of time in the coming year:

My Nemesis

I know the trumpet player,
so I head toward him,
accidentally intercepting
the snap of his 1-2-3
with a handshake-hug,
then, embarrassed, take a seat
at the bar to strategize
how best to write the song
of this Mason Street crowd.   

What I don’t know is this room yet:
a bustle of dark wood, cool leather,
dim ceiling dinner din.
The portamento of the familiar trumpet
guides me, glides me from table to table:
two women crack up over selfies,
a man leans into his conversation
with a woman who sits near
another man politely slicing
a tenderloin as another one–
my nemesis–
tells the bartender coyly,
“Oh, you talked me into it.”

I know the trumpet player,
but I also already know my nemesis,
my competitor, because I can tell
he’s been here for awhile
and already gotten used to
the polyrhythmic beat of the bar and the band,
the bustle of dark wood, cool leather,
dim ceiling dinner din.

He has beaten me to a bench near a bookcase
in the corner between the kitchen
and the exit, as valets enter and leave.  
He sits there, visible but secretive,
writing in a notebook.
I had seen him see me come into the bar,
felt him eye me knowingly,
writer to writer,
as I removed my phone and stylus,
moved to the loveseat in front of him,
and alternately sipped my whiskey
and jotted notes about the music.
If we were both going to narrate the Pfister,
then at least I would be closer to the band.
But I worried my words were his words,
only more cliche:
“Sprinkling staccato keys.”
“Punctuating, gallivanting, tumbling.”
“Skipping trumpet.”
“Pulsing pluck of guitar.”
I feel his competitive words behind me,
his seasoned bluesy ear
that was probably writing
more than gerunds,
his comfortable rapport with the bartender:
“Oh, you talked me into it.”
And then my suspicions are confirmed
when the music stops and he approaches the band
before I can, with another drink in hand,
like a reporter, a critic, to confirm their names
and read an excerpt–he’s pretty forward–
from his review, which, I am shocked,
uses words like “derivative” and “painful.”

But neither the trumpet player who I know
nor the piano nor the guitar seems to mind.
Instead, they augment the dinner din
with ironic chuckles and slap my nemesis on the back.
Defeated, I wonder how he has glided so easily
into their blues, gotten to know this room
so confidently.

It’s been such a long time
since I’ve observed and listened,
written unhindered by the looming
deadlines of anxious clocks.
Dragged along by the melancholy tug
of the blues, I realize that I allowed
my mind to wander and create a character
out of a corner bench, a notebook,
a glance, and “Oh, you talked me into it.”
To insert and assert myself into the lives
of these Mason Street strangers,
I will need to become my own character,
learn to interrupt their dinner din,
blend my pitch with theirs,
emerge from the dark wood and cool leather,
and smile myself into their lives
as cooly as my fantasy nemesis,
who turns out to be a prolific drummer

who’s known the trumpet player longer than I have,
who’s known rooms like this longer than I’ve been alive.  

Turns out that my “fantasy nemesis,” however, was just retired drummer Rick Krause, who, according to a performance bio provided by Jamie, was “about 14 years old when he began taking the bus from Oconomowoc to Milwaukee every other week to study jazz drumming.”  He was there, of course, to enjoy the Duo; his critical “review” was a joke among friends.  For about 40 years, from 1971 into the aughts, Rick performed with locals like Mark Davis (my piano man this evening!) and national artists like Eartha Kitt.  The list is pretty extensive; I’ve never heard of any of these people!  I’m realizing that the jazz world is a networked litany of names and notes: Melvin Rhyne, David Hazeltine, Barry Velleman, Teddy Wilson, Bud Freeman, Eddie Higgins, Richie Cole, Chris Connor, Jackie Allen, Pete Condoli, Edie Adams, Barbara McNair, Kirk Stuart, Rich Crabtree, John Gary, Johnny Desmond, Ken Berry, Phil Ford and Mimi Hines, Kaye Ballard, Arthur Siegel, Hildegard, Tony Martin, The Four Lads, Jimmy Rodgers.  

One of my plans this year is to narrate this unfamiliar (to me) world of jazz for the guests of the Pfister and visitors to the website.  Incidentally, the young man with the guitar case was the Duo’s accompanying guitarist Max Bowen, who, I learned, moved to Milwaukee from Michigan only about a month ago.  I got a chance to sit down with Jamie and Max in between sets–talking about education and jazz and improvisation and Africa.  More on both of them, too, I hope, in future posts!

The Final Bow

This is my final thing to say as The Pfister Narrator…believe me, it’s not the final thing to say as Jonathan West.

I’d like to take you back to July 7th, 2001. On that hot summer day, a stocky, dark-haired figure sauntered into the lobby of the Pfister Hotel. His palms were sweaty and perspiration soaked his t-shirt. He was nervous, his stomach flipping with anxiety. The Pfister didn’t really feel like his sort of joint. His finances were stretched, work was weighing down on him, and a hand injury that he had suffered weeks before left him without feeling in two of his fingers; tough stuff for a guy who liked to write stories about his life and sappy love notes to the woman who had agreed to marry him. But underneath it all, that guy (it’s me, folks, if you were confused by the reference to dark-hair, something that I actually had back at the turn of the last century) was just another schlub who was easily distracted by grandeur and unnerved by the feast of the senses offered at the Pfister.

My trip those many years ago was made in anticipation of the single greatest day of my life. I speak of the day I stood in front of another group of people and said, “I do!” to a dishy lady who was not short on opinions and somehow could schedule her life and mine for the next 17 years while chatting with me on a 9-mile jog. Paula Maria Suozzi had stolen my heart, and because we were getting married in six days, I had come to the Pfister to buy a shirt.

I was lucky that a classy lady had agreed to marry me, so I had made my own decision to show up for my wedding day in a classy shirt. Back then, that meant one thing for a man of distinction living the large life in Milwaukee. “Get thee to Roger Stevens at The Pfister, sir!” was the herald’s call when a nice shirt was warranted.

I had saved up a few Lincolns…well, truth be told, a few Franklins…so I’d be able to pick up a swell shirt. I was not to stray, and my finances wouldn’t really let me, so my shopping list had one item on it, and one item alone. A pink shirt.

I probably should have seen it coming, the moment I walked into Roger Stevens. I immediately became distracted. No way was I getting out with only the new shirt I was going to have on my back. When I saw the wall of bow ties, I knew there was going to be trouble.

I’ve been a bow tie man for a long time. In planning for my wedding day, I had in mind a certain tie from my carefully curated collection that I would wear. But that plan vaporized when I got distracted by a simple, elegant bow tie that I knew would go perfectly with my soon-to-be-bride’s dress. I did a little quick math in my head, kept the cash I had in my pocket, pulled out a credit card stressed to the point of exploding, and bought a gorgeous pink shirt and a patterned bow tie with an elegant dark red, black and gray pattern.

The tie was ideal. It was a perfect accompaniment to Paula’s dress. We marched down the aisle, celebrated with our family, and capped off the day of our wedding by checking into the Pfister for our first overnight stay as husband and wife. Our marriage was off and running as we sunk deep into the luxury of the Pfister, a perfect couple stylish beyond belief and ready to tackle anything that came our way. My own distraction had worked like a charm this time.

But distraction wasn’t always so fruitful for me as we left the Pfister after our wedding night and started to live life. I had spent a lot of my life coasting by, indulging in distractions that were not necessarily the best or healthiest things for me. My distractions brought about a tendency towards bad planning and bad choices. Perhaps a smarter man would have learned his lessons earlier, but I kept getting distracted never really fully working towards the life I dreamed of living as a man, husband, provider, artist and first and foremost, a writer.

As my distractions diverted me from doing the hard work I needed to do towards all my life’s pursuits, my wife’s laser focus became sharper and sharper. Never one to mince words, Paula kept at me, verbally giving my keister a kick until distractions could no longer be a constant excuse I could hide behind. Paula, more than anyone, kept saying, “You can do this, you numbskull…just focus.”

Which leads me to today and the capstone on a most extraordinary year. A little over a year ago I had left a good job with a vague idea of “wanting to write more.” I was reminded around that time that the Pfister was in its annual cycle of looking for new candidates to fill the Narrator role. I had applied to be the Pfister Narrator a couple of times before, but in each attempt, I had done it sort of half-heartedly, pretty distracted by everything around me. When I mentioned throwing my hat in the ring one more time, who do you think was the first to tell me to step up my game, clear away all the distractions and get to work? I continue to call her the prettiest lady I know with the sharpest mind to boot.

When I think of my final bow as the Narrator, it’s a simple choice. It’s the one that I was distracted by many years ago here at the Pfister. Though I’m no longer a drinker, I proudly am tying one on in celebration of the Pfister, forever for me a symbol of incredible possibility, a place for great starts and legendary endings.

Thanks for reading. My heart is full with gratitude for a year of bliss.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

10 at 100

This is what they call my penultimate post. The second to the last. It’s also number 100.

I generally prefer words over numbers, but I had in my head a number that I wanted to hit this year in terms of posts I created as my contribution to the Pfister Blog. That number was a nice and round 100, the place we are right now. But then I had something more to say, so I’ll leave you later today with post number 101.

In these 100 posts, I’ve written close to 60,000 words, basically a nice sized novel. I’m sure pleased that I got to tell these stories this year, but I leave my role as Narrator also reflecting on all the tales that I never did tell. Some moments didn’t warrant a full story, and some are the sort of things that could make a particularly dirty sailor blush. I’ll keep those memories stashed in my notebooks as I’m certain they will come in handy down the road in other writing that I have in mind for the future. The memories of things seen and heard at the Pfister are really the gift that keeps on giving to a writer.

I did, however, feel that there is a certain sense of occasion and ceremony when you hit the 100 mark. To that end, I wanted to share the Top 10 Things I Never Wrote About. I hope somewhere down the road you’ll come across these moments again woven into the fabric of a short story, book, play or screenplay that bears my name as a writer. They were all great encounters, and I know sooner or later they will be the perfect spice for a full meal.

  1. That day when the homeless artist tried to draw my picture in the Lobby Lounge. It was a sad and tender memory, and one where I saw the Pfister Associates show what decent human beings they really are.
  2. Pfister Building Engineer Matt Eells giving one of the greatest speeches any human being has ever made at former Artist-In-Residence Todd Mrozinski’s farewell night. I bow to Matt’s eloquence and charm.
  3. That elevator ride with Donald Driver where he complemented me about how nice my bow tie was.
  4. Every public men’s restroom at the Pfister. I made it a goal to visit them all…and I have strong opinions about which is the best one.
  5. The night I was having drinks with friends up in Blu and we looked out the windows and sat speechlessly for five minutes as we marveled at where we were as a magical thunderstorm raged outside.
  6. Former Senator Herb Kohl smiling at me as he passed me while I ate one of the 147 Senator’s Tuna Sandwiches created to honor him that I consumed in the Pfister Café.
  7. Kibuttzing with Barbara Brown Lee about life and art.
  8. Watching a mediocre cover band practice “We Didn’t Start the Fire” in one of the Pfister Ballrooms prior to an RNC party after the Fall 2015 Republican Debate in Milwaukee.
  9. The day I met former Milwaukee Bucks player Bob Lanier in the Lobby Lounge and told him I had met his wife in Scottsdale, AZ during a chance dinner meeting and with a raised eyebrow he said to me, “You mean my ex-wife?”
  10. Every dirty joke and loopy story I heard from my pals John, Ray, Elizabeth, Carrie, Scott, Stephan, Erika, Matt, Katherine, Jimmy, Sarah, Leda, Tommy, and others during Pfister lunch, dinner or drinks.

And if you want to hear the really naughty stories, buy me a plate of truffle chips someday and maybe, just maybe, I’ll spill the beans.

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Left Feet Left at Home

You know what bothers me about ballroom dancing?

Nuthin’. Absolutely nuthin’.

DSC03793

There are two things that you can count on during April in Milwaukee, and that is hot and cold. The cold refers to how you will feel when you read the daily weather report. The hot takes into account that come the third weekend of April the Pfister catches ballroom dance fever.

All the glitz, glamor, and glitz again of competitive ballroom dance is on display as men and women outfitted in a dazzling collection of brightly colored dresses and velvety black shirts make the Pfister home base for the Wisconsin State Dancesport Championships. This competition is so showy, so eye-popping, so over the top that it would be impossible to do color commentary in real time because there are too few words available to describe the hip swivels, turned ankles and bodies moist with fresh dance sweat.

Have you ever been in a room of ballroom dancers who have a lust for the gold medal? It’s unlike anything you’ll ever see, but then again my head might simply be clouded by the haze of hairspray that fills the air. I spent some time watching the dancers strut their stuff, summoned to the Pfister’s 7th Floor Ballrooms by the sounds of rhumba and cha cha. Watching ballroom dance competition is just like watching a great baseball game, except, you know, it’s not boring and there’s a greater amount of sequence and eyeliner on the competitors. Otherwise, just the same, though.

Before entering the ballroom to see bodies in motion, you must walk through a forest of neon clothing and accessories. It’s a heart stopping shopping opportunity for all the dancers doing their dance thing and possibly your dad for his secret “boys only” fishing weekend (dad is sure to catch a big one in his new fishnets and low cut electric blue gown).

DSC03803

In the center of the floor, dancers perform short routines as a panel of judges mark scorecards. That’s where most eyes are trained, but if you have it in you to look away from the bumping, grinding and gliding, you’ll see that the sidelines are really their own main attraction. It’s there where you’ll see upcoming dancers reapplying makeup and keeping warm in silky robes that are a mixture of “come here, you sexy kitties” and “where’s the spit bucket, I took too many upper cuts in Round Six.” Make no mistake about it, though, ballroom dancing requires great physical agility. And reliable false eyelashes.

On the sidelines you’ll also see cheerleaders, members of dance teams who have come to show some spirit for their pals. I had noticed a particularly energetic red head during the morning dance sessions loudly egging on her team, so I was delighted to run into her later in the day for a little chat.

DSC03804“This is like prom of steroids!” squealed Gloria, a member of the Celebrity Dance Studio from Downers Grove, IL. She and her teammates had come to the Lobby Lounge to kick back with a few glasses of cheer after a morning of competition.

“I’m done for this competition,” explained Connie as her white wine arrived. “Yesterday I danced 18 entries.” I might add that Connie chatted with me as she leaned on her cane, proving without a shadow of a doubt that dancers are badass.

I asked Gloria and Connie about the extraordinary outfits that each dancer wears.

“I just have three outfits,” said Connie. “In my age bracket, I’m running out of competition. I want more competition, you know,” Connie said, tapping her cane to emphasize her point and just remind me that nobody puts Connie in a corner.

“Those outfits costs thousands of dollars,” said Gloria. “The whole package…that’s what you need to win medals.”

Gloria wasn’t competing at this tournament due to some minor ailments, but couldn’t help herself from being the main cheerleader for her team.

“I’m going a little crazy not being able to dance,” she said. “But you know what? That doesn’t mean I can’t be the loudest one in the room!”

Gloria doesn’t need to raise her voice to convince me to turn my head and give ballroom dance a gander. I am in, hook, line and sinker. But I promise you this readers, I’ll stay on the sidelines. You can thank me later for sparing you the site of me in a navel-cut black velour blouse and tight slacks. I’ll leave to the pros for that sort of stuff.

Because you’re good, and read all this way, here’s a like peek at what I got to see today. I have the greatest job in the world, if you weren’t aware.

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My Favorite Place

This is the post that my children have been asking me to write for months.

I have been asked time and time again to answer one question about my experiences at the Pfister.

Where’s your favorite place at The Pfister?

I am not wishy washy on this question. There’s no doubt in my mind about how to answer. Ladies and gentlemen, might I introduce you to the Pfister parking garage.

DSC03776
Behold the wonder!

You suspected I’d tell you that my favorite spot was Blu, a plush and sophisticated bar on top of the world? Maybe you imagine me claiming the Pfister swimming pool as my ultimate-ultimate? Lobby Lounge? Rouge? Well Spa? Mason Street Grill? Guest Room 1113? The secret vault where they keep all the snack mix? Listen, you can’t go wrong with any spot at the Pfister. It’s all good when you think about the Pfister spaces and places tour.

But that parking garage, oh, that marvelous parking garage. It’s the place where I’ve seen more stories played out as couples with happy smiles load up their overnight bags in the back of sedans or men and women torn asunder by a lovers spat silently slink into separate cars. I’ve narrowly avoided head on collisions, helped confused visitors recall where they parked their cars, and even woke up someone taking a car snooze. It’s a hub of activity and I love it all.

But more, so much more than anything, I will always cherish that parking garage as my favorite Pfister place because of one singular sensation. Or, rather, one singular sense.

The Pfister parking garage smells like delicious fatty bacon. Boom…mic drop…and out.

I noticed the perfume of pork almost immediately when I started parking on-site on a regular basis. Some days it was stronger than others, a shift in the wind helping to raise or lower the sniffability. I walked the ramp one day to see how far the scent traveled…fifth floor was the limit, but third floor was the peak of porkiness.

I’ve traced the source of the smell to the Mason Street Grill kitchen where meats are licked by flames all day and into the night. I can accept this plausible and very real explanation, but that really doesn’t matter to me. My favorite spot will always make my mouth water, licking my chops for salty, fatty, greasy satisfication.

Thank you Pfister parking garage. I love you and all your bacon ways.

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The Pfister Films: DIALED IN

Today in the Pfister Film series, I bring you DIALED IN.

Here’s the simple truth about hotels—some days, many days, there is next to nothing happening at a hotel. The Pfister is not exempt from this stasis mode. I’ve seen it all as the Pfister Narrator…packed conventions, overflowing weddings, plenty of hustle with lots of bustle, and, yes, the quiet days.

The idea for DIALED IN came to me during one of those quiet times. It was the dead of winter. I was sitting on a sofa in the Lobby Lounge in the early afternoon. There was no one in the lobby with me but one other man. This man was perched on a bar stool with two or three glasses of Scotch backed up in front of him. He was in full swing, and with a wide-open park, he could shoot for the grandstands.

I listened as he made call after call on his bluetooth headset. He would tap the earpiece, launch into a call, and tear the person on the receiving end to shreds. These were clearly business calls as I kept hearing things like “fourth quarter” and “sales force” and “we’re in business”, you know, all the regular kind of corporate speak.

As this man would wind up a call he would sort of slow down, take a brief pause and then put a button on his call with a clear and very distinct wrap up. The thing about the bow that he tied to end his calls was that for a guy seemed to lust for blood in the world of business, he sure did throw a curve ball as he was hanging up. Time and time again he gave the same closer, and time and time again I was left feeling pretty agog.

I hope you enjoy watching DIALED IN today as film number two of four. I certainly enjoy thinking about this character every time I watch it.

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Pamela

And now, we turn to Pamela.

It’s Pamela Anderson’s first day as the Pfister’s new Artist-in-Residence. I will endeavor to answer all the questions that come along with Pamela’s name.

No, she does not know David Hasselhoff.

No, she does not tease up a mane of golden blonde hair.

No, she does not run down sandy beaches in her swimsuit saving wayward surfers…well, at least I’m pretty sure she doesn’t.

And, yes, Pamela is a painter who is bold, expressive and the first of her kind for the Pfister. Pamela is the first abstract painter in the Pfister’s roster of artists who have made the ground floor studio their home.

Here are a few other things to know and adore about Pamela.

She’s tough. She’d never talk about it, but health issues have tried to slow her in recent times. Pamela brushes all that off and simply keeps getting back up when she’s knocked down.

She’s persistent. Pamela has such obvious joy over having been selected to be the Pfister’s Artist-in-Residence. She comes to the role after showing that commitment is not defined by overnight success but by what you do in the face of rejection to show that you really want something.

She’s super talented and charming. Her paintings brighten spaces all around town, and now we’re blessed to have them showcased at the Pfister. I’ll give guests wandering into her studio a warning shot…give yourself some time to stop and chat because you’ll find it’s hard to pull yourself away from the great conversation you are bound to have with Pamela.

She’s got great taste. Her studio is going to shine because of her great eye for style. She’s one well-put-together lady, too. When I see her coming, I’m happy to straighten my tie and step up my game.

Pamela and I got to spend some time together chatting about what it means to be an artist in service to the Pfister, and I know she drank deep from the well of knowledge that is our outgoing Artist-in-Residence Todd Mrozinski. Pamela is primed and more than ready to define the next twelve months in her own terms. Watch as she bursts on the scene at the Pfister and takes us all on an artistic journey of thrilling twists and turns. I know I’m tickled with excitement about what’s about to come.

Have a happy day one, Pamela. What a joy it is to have your splashes of color and wit adding new dimensions of life at the Pfister. Make the experience your own in each and every way and everyone will win big.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

Coffee Guy Gets Tea-ed Up

Almost exactly one year ago, I spent six long weeks denying myself coffee. I did it as part of a dietary change, and as a substitute for coffee, I was allowed to drink green tea. That’s sort of like replacing 100 pounds of the world’s finest Swiss chocolate with a pair of damp sweat socks. After six weeks, the first thing I did was drink three pots of coffee. I have not turned back since then and couldn’t be happier or more jittery.

The effect that this period of coffee abstinence has had on my appetite for tea is brutal. That’s why, approaching my recent planned outing for afternoon tea at the Pfister I had one anticipatory feeling.

Meh.

Oh, what a silly fool I was. “Meh” was simply the wrong feeling to be hanging onto as I got ready to have the full Pfister tea experience. “Meh-gnificent” would have been a more apt expression of brewed awakening, for I now know that the Pfister tea ceremony has the power to wash any taste of indifference out of the mouth of even the hardest core java Joe or Jane.

Ever since I have taken on the role of Pfister Narrator I have imagined what a sweet experience it would be for my daughters and wife to enjoy afternoon tea. It’s just the sort of thing they like. They actually really enjoy tea. I’ve seen them drink it many times, always with smiles on their pretty faces. I also have it on good authority that they like desserts that you can pick up with your fingers and pop easily into a mouth. Basically, afternoon tea is firmly in their wheelhouse, so I knew even though tea wasn’t my thing, it would be a rare and wonderful treat for them to enjoy.

The day in question of our recent tea experience was something of an occasion for gluttony for me. In fact, I had chosen this day to have afternoon tea with my family expressly because I was intentionally keeping things on the light side in terms of caloric consumption during the day. In my mind I was warmly planning to back off the tea service so my wife and daughters could really lean into it. My calendar was booked with an annual dinner with friends later in the evening, the sort of thing that you prepare for by not eating for about fourteen days prior. I would leave afternoon tea with my family and order a 72 oz. steak covered with buttered mushrooms. So, attending tea with my girls, something that I wasn’t particularly on the edge of my seat to drink or nosh upon, seemed like the perfect diversion where I would easily back off on sating myself.

Believing full well that I would demure from more than a nibble and sip at tea, I ordered an appropriate amount of sweet and savory treats for the four of us. I remember actually saying to my family, “I’m sure that I won’t actually eat anything…you know, I have to eat all that beef later.”

That statement set me up to prove one very important fact about my culinary leanings. When I am presented with food that is glorious to gaze upon and seeping pots of delicately and colorfully flavored aromatic beverages, I have absolutely, positively no restraint. Those tea sandwiches, scones, and last drops of hot tea never knew what hit them.

I now understand from first hand knowledge that there is nothing more genteel than enjoying afternoon tea at the Pfister. My family and I arrived at the 23rd floor and were escorted to the sofas arranged in front of the fireplace in Blu. I looked around at a roomful of graceful, happy people with arched pinkies sipping piping hot cups of tea. A pair of ladies sat behind us lingering over a long conversation.

“You ladies look like you’re having a wonderful afternoon,” I said, noting that there was the air of celebration about their mid afternoon clatch.

“It’s her 70th Birthday,” said one of the women, as she slipped some leftover treats into a carry out container that the attentive staff has provided her. “We get to take some of these treats home to keep the memory of a perfect afternoon going.”

My family wished these two charming women well as they gathered their belongings and made their way out into the afternoon sunshine. I thought it sweet that the women had taken a tea-time doggy bag home, but as we launched into tea, I also felt safe knowing that there would be plenty of treats for my ladies, perhaps even a skosh too much since I had plans to keep my hands to home and my lips pursed.

Then Juan showed up. If you have the chance to enjoy tea service at the Pfister, you have a great opportunity to be guided to the tea bar by an expert. Juan is the resident tea butler, and as he presented 15 different choices for tea to my family and me, I felt all tea inhibitions melting away. If Juan had told me to drink tea out of my elbow, I’m sure I would have done it, because his description of the body, fragrance and luxurious notes of every flavor of tea presented was better than the next.

I chose to have a pot of Earl Grey tea because I came to understand it had the most caffeine, therefore I took the leap to translating this fact into, “It’s the most like coffee.” My wife and daughters, true warm-blooded tea drinkers chose adventurous and fruity herbal varieties. They weren’t trying to cover anything. It was tea they had come for, and it was tea they were getting.

When the tea came in stunning sterling silver pots, I felt my knees weaken. This tea looked pretty good. What would it hurt to try a cup, right?

You’ll understand this if you have the beautiful chance to enjoy afternoon tea at the hands of the Pfister’s masterful staff, but after the first sip of perfectly brewed tea you are presented, your taste buds open and you immediately desire some delectable snack. There is no problem in this regard, of course, because at afternoon tea service on the 23rd floor of the Pfister, treats appear before your eyes and they are as pretty as jewels and as scrumptious as anything you’ve ever put in your mouth.

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My tower of gut busting destruction.

How I know this, me, the one who had such heavy resolve going into this event to not partake of too much that was put in front of me so I could save room for all the steak in the world later on in my day, has to do with the fact that I have what you can call a true lust for life. In other words, I’m a pig of the highest degree.

The gateway food to my ultimate demise on the tower of treats presented to us was a beautiful little crab salad finger sandwich. My family does not like crab, so they suggested I take those for a little snack. I obliged, wanting to be polite, but half an hour later I lost all sense of time and space as I was lathering mascarpone cheese on my third scone and my daughters were realizing that there would be no carry out containers to take home like the lovely women we had met earlier in the day.

My youngest daughter, Carmela, had been watching me lap up my tea and recognized something in each sip I took. She said, “You look just like you do when you drink coffee, Daddy. Like an old man with a scrunched up face.”

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Carmela mirrors my tea face, but much more cute, of course.

The little tea hugger was right, of course. Because of my trip down the tea road at the Pfister, I now see no difference in the pleasures of a good cuppa, be it coffee or tea. And, oh, if you’re wondering, no fears–I ate all my steak later that evening, and washed it down with a nice hot cup of black coffee.

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Deconstructing Gingerbread Town

In the final moments of 2015 as the holiday season wraps up, treatment I ask you this question…how much do you really know about Gingerbread Town?

Gingerbread Town (that’s the name I alone have given it, of course) is the impressively sugar stacked collection of chalets and free standing dwellings that has been on prominent display in the Pfister Lobby during the full extant of the holiday season. It is literally eye candy.

It’s unclear to me if my fascination with minutiae is a blessing or a curse, but for the purposes of a tour through Gingerbread Town let’s just call my obsessive tick a seasonal mitzvah. I’ve spent some considerable time gazing at Gingerbread Town this year and I’ve determined without a shadow of a doubt that it is a particularly charming place to live. But trust me, there’s more going on there than meets the eye.

You may not be aware of this, but Donner the Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman are comfortable to proudly show their love for one another on the streets of Gingerbread Town.

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I’m thrilled about a place where the streets are lined with cotton candy and the air bristles with open and affirming love. It’s hard to see in this picture, but Frosty is blushing (which, truth be told, is not the best of things for the old snow puss as that sort of romantic heat sometimes melts his cheek right off onto the floor).

At Amber’s Café, you know you’ll always have a great meal.

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Look at Joe and Marla Stinson, longtime residents of Gingerbread Town, bellies full as they relax on the bench outside Amber’s. They just finished a nourishing lunch of gingerbread cookie beer, gingerbread cookie casserole, gingerbread candy, and a warm gingerbread tea. They were celebrating their anniversary, so Amber sent a special delivery to their table, of course—a gingerbread cookie cake. Joe and Marla can’t get enough of Amber’s and they told me that they’ll probably be the first in line for the evening gingerbread cookie hot buffet and gingerbread cookie salad bar. They proudly showed me their AARP cards and said, “We have a coupon!”

You’ll always catch customers from Amber’s Café stopping into Jen’s Clothes to buy a new scarf, pair of winter boots or wool cap.

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Jen’s once tried stocking swim trunks and bikinis, but the only one who bought any of those was Gundry Henshaw, and everyone has always had suspicions that the time Scotty Knorwald hit him in the head with a snowball left him a little off.

If I lived in Gingerbread Town, I’d absolutely want to live in the Gingerbread Village Condos.

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It’s an impressive high rise, don’t you think? And who can argue about living in a place that promises there’s a live-in super who spends his day chopping wood for every resident’s wood burning stove. Plus, I understand they’re pet friendly and every unit has a Lake of Gumdrop view, and those are so tough to come by these days.

You don’t live in Gingerbread Town without making a visit to Michelle’s Skis.

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It’s really the only way to get around town, what with hoverboards now being outlawed by Mayor Shimble out of fear of scorched cookie roads and cotton candy lanes.

One sort of sad story I heard as I talked to Gingerbread Town residents was that after who knows how many years of business, Chrissy’s Sweets is closing up shop.

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Chrissy made the decision to retire and move South after she decided she wanted to go gluten free. Candy is okay, though. Chrissy has handed over the keys to the candy castle, and there’s a new owner moving in who promises to carry on Chrissy’s traditions with his own special twist for modern palettes. I’m excited to see what Carlos’ Organic Gluten Free Sweets and Kale Juice Bar has to offer. All eyes are going to be on Gingerbread Town in 2016…who knows, they might even get an IKEA this year.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.