Thirteen Going On Winner

My thirteen-year-old daughter recently recounted a story for me about a disruption at her school involving a classmate that required administrators to respond to a sort of “Code Red” emergency. Weighing life’s major moments of civil unrest, online this one sounded fairly tame on the terror threat scale, but it still landed hard as a story of a disruptive teen who was clearly struggling with the challenge of finding a way to appropriately express an emotional response to something that had gotten under her skin.

I couldn’t help but think of this tale as I took my seat next to Tamia, her mother LaQuanda and Tamia’s Big Sister Denise at a recent gala held by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Milwaukee in the Pfister’s Grand Ballroom. My mind didn’t turn to this tale of troubled teenage drama because of anything happening over plates of chicken, drugstore fish and dinner rolls, but instead because I found it hard to believe that thirteen-year-old Tamia could have once easily been cast in the role of the disruptive girl in my daughter’s story.

The broad smile across Tamia’s face didn’t seem like the mask of a troubled kid. But I discovered in talking to this bright young girl and her caring mother and Big Sister that trouble had seemed to follow Tamia everywhere she went during her preteen years. As an elementary school student she had difficulty focusing in school. She caused her fair share of incidents and was the central figure in many stories like the one that my daughter had shared with me about her recent particularly eventful school day. All that began to change when her mom LaQuanda decided that she, as a single mom trying the best she could, would not be able to tackle the Tamia problem alone. LaQuanda did what any loving mom would do—she reached out for help, and in doing so found a sister for Tamia; a Big Sister to be exact.

Denise has been Tamia’s Big Sister going on some five years now. She and Tamia have a relationship that is now forged in steel, but according to Denise was once more like a pile of fresh clay ready to be shaped into a symbol of strength.

Denise remembers that when she first met Tamia, the little girl was timid and scared, a young lady who hid behind her mother and barely spoke. I look across the table at Tamia who scans the ballroom with a gentle, open, honest, and inquisitive gaze. She’s chattering away with her mom and confidently answering the questions that the couple who are seated with us as our tablemates are asking her. It’s impossible to imagine that this poised and charming young woman was once the type of kid that could turn a sunny day dark. She’s now the type of child who will pick up the phone and call her Big Sister for help with her math homework even when Denise is traveling in Asia for business. You know that Denise adores Tamia because she tells me that she took that call at 3am so she could work out some tricky word problems with her Little Sister across time zones.

Denise and Tamia are special honorees at this evening event, recognized as the Big Sister and Little Sister match of the year. They are shy about the honor, almost embarrassed whenever anyone offers them a nod of congratulations. They seem to realize that they’re just lucky to have found each other, one of the many success stories from the 1,300 matches that the Milwaukee Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter makes each year.

LaQuanda takes another approach to celebrating tonight’s honor. She’s gaga about where her daughter is today. LaQuanda is playing the role of the proudest mother in town and she does what any fierce, strong mom would do on a night that her kid is publicly recognized for something great. She takes as many pictures as she possibly can and claps and cheers louder than anyone.

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Tamia and LaQuanda out on the town.

As I watch LaQuanda standing in a crowded room taking pictures of Tamia and Denise receiving the recognition they deserve, I think of my own thirteen-year-old daughter and how blessed I am to not be a single parent, but to have a superbly supportive and wise spouse to help me raise my two children. I don’t know if I would have been as smart as LaQuanda to reach out for help if I found that my daughter was headed down a rough road as a young girl, but I’m wise enough to know that LaQuanda deserves her own round of applause.

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The proudest mom in town capturing the Big and Little Sister getting some serious props.

LaQuanda and I end up talking about options for high schools for both our daughters, a dynamic concern we both share about making sure we get our children in the right environment for success. I catch Tamia and Denise bantering back and forth across the table about the food at the event, and they absolutely look like there’s a blood bond between them with the obvious love they show one another. Our table hoots the loudest as Tamia and Denise get their moment in the spotlight, and then we all conspire over how we might trick our server into bringing us double dessert. Just your average night when you’re seated with the coolest people in the room at a fancy affair.

As our night winds down I promise to take Tamia and LaQuanda to see the top floor swimming pool at the Pfister. Before I do I pull Tamia aside and tell her, “You know, my daughter is thirteen-years-old, too, and she’s ALMOST as nice as you.” Tamia gives me a chuckle and flashes a smile to make your heart melt, and I know that my own child wouldn’t even roll her eyes over that corny bit of dad humor. Tamia is all winner, and thanks to a mother and Sister who have her back, she’s ready to tackle any mountain that might get in her way.

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The Greatest American

A Republican presidential candidate rushed swiftly past me in the Pfister lobby today as I was writing and nearly stepped on my shoes.

Politics became really personal for me today. I mean I’m pretty concerned about the shine on my shoes, purchase you know.

Today, the Republican National Committee organized a ball at the Pfister in anticipation of the debate being held at the Milwaukee Theatre tonight. In addition to my near shoe scuffing affair, I started my day by bumping into another one of the gentlemen that will be standing on the stage tonight and wished him good luck on his debate performance, site which is exactly what I would say to anyone who has the chutzpah to stand in the public ring and talk about his or her beliefs.

And if you think this blog post is going to be the tiniest bit partisan, you can hold your breath until you turn blue, red and eventually some lovely neutral shade of purple before ever finding out.

What I’d rather talk about is the greatest American I met today. His name is Mark. I have decided to name him today’s greatest American because he exhibited a clear master level understanding of all the best lessons of kindergarten and democracy by sharing nicely with others. Sharing is caring, as I recall my kindergarten teachers singing to me in some sweet lilting voice. Mark shares. And he cares a lot. Especially when it comes to good chocolates.

In a hotel full of people buzzing about polls, caucuses and percentage leads, Mark softly and kindly displayed the sort of spirit that I really believe the founding fathers were fighting for when they argued and debated on how to create the world’s most significant political system. I found Mark sitting at the lobby bar with a box full of Kehrs chocolates in front of him. Now I’m a Kehrs candy fan of old, and I couldn’t help but say to Mark, “Have you finished that box of chocolates?”

Mark quickly smiled up at me and said, “No…these are for everyone. Would you like one?”

This wasn’t some creepy guy offering me candy. Mark was just a kind guy who happened to have a few extra bucks in his pocket, bought a box of chocolates to share, and was making quite a few people’s day slightly brighter by sharing. I noticed a couple other folks at the bar who had chocolates laid beside their drinks, one with an RNC pin decorating his lapel, one sort of blatantly chirping about her liberal soul. Candy is the great equalizer.

I accept the fact that there are complicated issues at stake in a presidential election, but I contend that Mark was displaying all the qualities of what it is to be a good citizen though his simple offer. Mark was civil. Mark was kind. Mark clearly cared for the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness through bon bons for others. And Mark’s altruism was devoid of any agenda. There was no question about who I was voting for, what the cut of my jib was, or which direction I felt the wind blows. He expected nothing in return, and only wanted those around him to prosper and grow (sure, maybe just around the waist, but it was growth). That’s America, right? I sure hope so.

I will remember Mark’s simple question and how it rose above the din of a hotel filled with the swirl of energy radiating from the charged air of presidential posturing.

“You want a chocolate?”

I’ll pass this time, friend. But thanks for showing up and ever so briefly being my greatest American.

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Let’s Hear It for the Loud Mouths

I would like to write in praise of loud mouths. And in particular, sovaldi those that found the time and guts to come to the Pfister recently to sing with gusto. Brava, bravi, tutti, toi toi, and just a basic plan old nice job all you highly tuned loud mouths.

The Milwaukee Opera Theatre recently held what they call a Voice Lab at Café Rouge. What Voice Lab isn’t, generic is a night when scientists use shiny stainless steel instruments to dissect vocal cords under the scrutinizing eyes of the public. What Voice Lab is, is a chance for brave singers to sing for other singers, get feedback from their peers on how to improve, and receive one of the nicest and most encouraging shows of encouragement from Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s smiles and sunshine Artistic Director, sovaldi sale Jill Anna Ponasik.

The idea for the event is simple. Milwaukee Opera Theatre puts the call out for singers to sign up to sing. The company then provides a pianist and a room, and singers get the chance to dig into pieces that they are working on for performances, auditions, or just for the pure love of singing a song. Anyone can take part in Voice Lab, and the night I observed, I saw singers who were seasoned pros and others who are more on the novice scale but have great heart and will.

Surrounded by the splendor of the marvelously ornamented Café Rouge, Ponasik began the evening by turning to pianist Ruben Piirainen who gently played a series of chords as the assembled singers and spectators raised their voices together for a calming and centering group harmony. Sweetness filled the hall, and I noticed that my fellow Pfister staff colleagues who had gathered to see what was taking place were doing the same thing I was—listening with wide open ears and feeling our shoulders relax as we witnessed a group of people gathering to beautifully celebrate something they love.

The nearly dozen singers shared everything from operatic arias, a new female take on a sweet song usually sung by a man, art music, and daring new interpretations of show tunes. After singing a vocal selection for their peers and the inquisitive audience that had gathered, Ponasik moderated an exploration of each singer’s work in a three-step question and answer process that allowed for affirmations, observations, feedback and self examination. As productive as it must have been for each of the singers, it was even more spectacularly fascinating for the onlookers.

What made the whole event so special was being able to witness the risk-taking creative process at work. Everyone who showed up stood and delivered and was ready for all the good and not so good feedback that came their way. I imagine it all seems worth it when you finish your assessment and you get a warm hug from the woman leading your examination.

My first inclination when I see something like Voice Lab is to write something down, express my thoughts, and try to tell the story of what I saw. But this time, I had a feeling that trumped that one. I walked away wanting to sing. Not in my shower, not in the car, not under my breath while cooking dinner, but out loud and proud. And maybe, just maybe, I’m looking forward to one of those hugs when all the notes have landed, however and wherever they they may fall on the scale.

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How To Be A Parking Perfectionist, Or Using Your Social Ticks for Good in Moments of Great Distress

I am a creature of habit. There are certain systems that I have adopted in my life that help me to do important things like remembering to leave the house wearing pants.

I have noted with some particular interest that my habitual patterns shoot into hyper drive when my car pulls into the parking structure at the Pfister. I take my left hand off of the steering wheel to grab a hard plastic parking card that I keep in an indent in my driver’s side door, capsule swipe it in front of an electronic pad holding it vertically (never, never, ever horizontally) and then take faster-than-they-should-be turns around what I hope to only be two corners in the parking garage as I look for the perfect spot.

I then pray. I pray not for peace in the world and continued love for newborn puppies, but instead for that one angled parking spot on the 3rd Floor. It is my favorite, and when it is open, a sense of calm fills my very soul.

If my prayers are not fully answered, surely in retribution for forgetting to floss my teeth or some similar slip in the social contract, I might need to turn one more corner to find an open space. I may also be able to anticipate that my favorite spot is filled and park at a space leading up to that prized angled spot. Regardless of the exact place I claim as my car’s Pfister resting place for my visit, I always will drive slightly past the open spot, make a sharp left turn and then back my car between the yellow lines on the parking structure pavement that mark an open space. You will see more backsides of cars in the Pfister parking structure as you walk the ramp, but always, always, always when you come upon my compact micro minivan you will see the front grill of a car that says, “That fuel efficient number is clearly owned by a person with children.” It’s not a sexy car, no sir, but it gets the job done.

After my car is fully accounted for in its secured space, I grab my ever present Jack Spade computer bag and Sony camera, lock the doors with the key fob on my ring, and head for the elevators. It is at this point, as I find myself standing before the elevator waiting for the next empty car, that I perform the most important act of my obsessive-compulsive ritual. I grab one of the business cards that is displayed on the wall next to the elevator doors that indicate which floor I have just parked on and stick it into the breast pocket of my suit jacket. As the old grey matter inside my noggin gets closer and closer to matching the few wisps of grey matter on top of my head, I appreciate reminders.

You may scoff at my need for a daily note telling me that I parked my car on Floor 3, 4 or 5, but I had an encounter the other day that proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that concerning my parking ritual, I am the smartest person in the room. I wish those smarts carried over into algebra and simple tax law, but a guy’s gotta cherish what little victories he can claim in life.

After spending time in the lobby doing some writing and observing, I had finished for the day and made my way to Floor 3 of the parking garage via elevator. As the doors opened on my floor, I found myself face-to-face with a woman with an expression of terror on her face. She looked like someone had just stolen her ice cream cone. She was clearly not having the best of days.

“Is everything okay?” I asked. The poor soul looked like she needed a helping hand and I had at least two to give.

Her eyes met mine and with trembling lip she said, “I…oh, it’s so silly…I can’t find my car.” She quickly bowed her head, embarrassed and clearly having just been frozen in her tracks at the elevator doors looking at those parking card reminders thinking, “I should’ve, I should’ve… oh boy, oh boy, I really should’ve.”

I smiled warmly, and assured her I would help. I learned her name was Rita and she explained that she had been at the Pfister the prior week for a luncheon, and imagined that her brain was playing tricks on her about the actual time and place of the here and now.

“I feel so silly,” said Rita. “My daughters will have a field day with this one.”

I knew that I’d be able to help Rita, because if there is one thing I’m good at, it is walking slowly and looking at things. This skill, which I’ll admit is something someone should think twice about when considering listing it on a resume under “special skills”, would allow us to resolve Rita’s anguished error and confirm whether or not actual keepers-of-the-peace would need to be called in to report thievery. The odds were in my favor that the slow-watch-gaze that I boast about as one of my superior talents was about to give me a super sleuthing advantage.

There was a part of me, the gallant in me let’s call it, that hoped that Rita and I would have to search high and low for upwards of 17 minutes to solve the mystery. But the truth of the matter is that as I joined Rita in walking the parking structure to find her car, we turned one corner, looked at all the cars parked side-by-side and found hers within a matter of moments. My four eyes had clearly come in handy.

Rita thanked me for helping her in her moment of need. “I was just about to head down to the front desk to ask them to call the police.” She grinned, grateful that the authorities had not had to be pulled into action.

I wanted to leave Rita with that sense of calm that comes from receiving a pearl of life’s wisdom from some great sage. And my heart was beating fast just bursting with pride that for one brief shining moment I was the windshield and not the fly just about to slam into it.

“You know, there are these great little cards right…” Rita cut me off before the full Tao of Jonathan could be laid out.

“I know, I know. Thanks again.” She got into her car, backed out of her space, and avoided a lecture on the correct manner in which to obsess over a 14-point place for proper parking protocol. Clearly Rita had learned her lesson. It seems some things are best left unsaid in the game of love and war and steering a Volvo in between the right lines.

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The Only Problem Is That the Water Cooler Might Be Used to Wash a Brush or Two

How many times have you looked at a piece of art hanging on the wall and said, “My kid can do that?”

And how many times have you taken brush in hand to find out that kids are cute, but making art isn’t for the feint of heart.

It’s with this sense of awe for the process of creation that I come to the continuing confirmation that the people who work for and support the Pfister and its parent Marcus corporation aren’t just pros of the highest degree, they are artists. In the case of a current display of talents in the Pfister’s Pop Up Gallery, this statement is both literal and figurative.

Last Friday the Pop Up Galley was the site of the opening reception of the Art of Marcus Show. This was no display of a group of disgruntled employees acting out their frustrations over a hostile work environment with tortured splashes of oil paint on a dirty cloth calling for overthrow of “the man.” No, indeed, the art on display showed that the concept of “Salve”, the motto of welcome hospitality for all prominently on display as part of the ceiling fresco art in the Pfister Lobby, has warmly wormed its way into the psyches of all the Marcus employees presenting art.

It’s not for nothing that a hotel that has its own Aritst-In-Residence and Narrator puts value on showing off the off hours talents of their staff. I get a kick out of the fact that the same bartender who mixes the world’s best Bloody Mary has an eye for landscapes. And this is no, “My kid could paint that,” kind of show, either. It’s a true celebration of how the people that make it their business to ensure a comfy stay for all our guests stretch their artist souls.

When, as a writer, I think, “Boy, I’m so busy…how can I produce anymore words?” I remember that Kurt Vonnegut sold Saabs from 9 to 5, Harper Lee punched a clock as an airline ticket reservationist, and William S. Burroughs was an exterminator. It’s my reminder to stop whining and sit down with pen in hand and start my real life’s work. Those notable writers didn’t just define themselves by their day jobs and clearly knew that being an artist meant more than dreaming about it—for all of them it meant showing up and simply doing the work.

Having seen the work of the Marcus employees, I will now take inspiration from their efforts and realize that while these hard working stewards could be kicking off their shoes and cracking a cold brew at the end of the day, they have chosen to take off their work clothes and put on that soft shirt that won’t suffer from a splotch of paint. I’m happy that visiting guests get to know our staff as more than champions of comfort and see that there are some real serious artists walking the halls of the Pfister.

I hope you enjoy these images of the Art of Marcus Show, and I hope you’ll stop by soon and experience these delights in person.

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Breath of Fresh Biz

Spearmint or arctic blast—take your pick. The future looks good, here and boy, oh boy does it have fresh breath.

The MMAC (that’s Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce for all you non-commercial folk) held its Future 50 Awards Luncheon at the Pfister last week with a jam-packed affair in the Pfister’s Grand Ballroom. The innovators, the big producers, the great thinkers of the metro area descended to share salads and rub elbows all the while celebrating the fastest growing small businesses in the Milwaukee region. It’s a good list to consider, pilule and the MMAC shares some nice metrics on the power of these businesses on their website.

It takes a lot of breath to say all the words in the name of the sponsoring entity for the Future 50 Awards, that’s for sure. The mouthful that is the organizing group is Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and its Council of Small Business Executives. You can’t fault folks for simply using the acronym MMAC/COSBE, but that even produces a lot of spare wind whistling through the teeth.

Now, imagine what happens when all the charging-forward business leaders at an event like this, fueled by gallons of coffee and fast burning metabolisms, chat away about pushing industry farther in the region. Consider the impact of double latte halitosis filling the highly charged vibe of invention and exploration at an event like this. It’s not hard to conceive of some considerably less than sweet air being produced in such a frenzied environment.

That’s why I think a round of applause is in order for the event sponsors who coordinated (or perhaps converged through happy coincidence) a pro-breath mint schwag effort for the Future 50 Award luncheon. Well done, fresh breathers.

Sure, the event sponsors, all with their smart and neatly draped tables, did offer fine pieces of informational literature and well-designed ballpoint pens to luncheon guests. They covered the basics very well. Where the MMACCOSBEF50A-W-A-R-D sponsors hit it out of the park in a way that should rightfully garner praise from every dental hygienist and blind dater in the region is in the impressive stockpile of breath mints available for guests.

I like to think of this sort of schwag giving as prescient planning. The luncheon menu wasn’t drenched in garlic or sardines, but offered breath neutral dining options like lettuce, chicken and dinner rolls. But there’s no shame in admitting that the powerful people of the world take a big bite out of life at every opportunity and require a little assist on keeping the rarefied air around them smelling like toothpaste and sparkle rather than day old fish.

Fresh breath, it seems, comes in all shapes and sizes. Technology Resources Advisors kept it old school with a good old reliable live saving sort of mint.

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Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren opted for the rectangular mint cases with the rounded corners. All that you might expect from a well-heeled law firm…nothing sharp to cut yourself on so there’s no fear of a lawsuit.

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And it certainly was adorable that Park Bank provided a rounded mint tin that makes you think about a penny, nickel, dime or quarter.

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Clever from a solid financial institution, right?

No matter the mint, no matter the packaging, you can kiss the future hello after this event and feel a cool breeze of clean breath slapping a smile right on your face.

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Bag of Dreams

You would think by now that I would be unmoved by the sight of luggage in the lobby of the Pfister. Guests come in with bags, generic guests leave with bags. It’s all part of the hotel game. But when I see the hard working bell staff chugging back and forth with rolling carts filled with black bags that are being lined up with precision to form a sort of suitcase pond in the Pfister lobby, it’s worth a glance.

Having traveled with my mother and seen the carnage she can do at an airline baggage check-in, I first think that maybe the bags being lined up are filled with one lady’s collection of shoes. But as I get closer to the formation, I dispel that notion based on the fact that these black bags don’t bespeak of the high line of style that a lady in possession of 328 pairs of mule pumps might require for her steerage.

The moment that I see the luggage tag with a professional baseball team logo, I get it. The Pfister welcomes professional baseball teams from all around the country for their stay in town as they play at Miller Park, no matter how badly they beat our local Brewers. What I’ve come upon is the collective luggage for a traveling team who is checking out after rousting the Brew Crew during a recent home stand. Next year, by gum…next year our hometown boys will field an unstoppable team, for sure.

Rather than flipping over one of the suitcases so that the opposing team’s bags will all topple like some sort of Rube Goldberg dominos display, I stand in awe of the bags. I’m not one to kiss and tell (and don’t worry, I didn’t smooch any of the valises), so I won’t mention the name of the team that was responsible for taking out a majority of floor space with their matching suitcases. I also won’t note the bag tags of the famous players in the mix whose cases I considered grabbing and running away with to see if I could pick up a well-worn catcher’s mitt or even a lucky sweat sock because I’ve not been put on this earth to fleece ballplayers, just to admire their throwing arms and cheeks stuffed with wads of chewing tobacco.

Standing before the team totes, some far off voice calls to me. It’s my boyhood friend Ricky telling me to “look alive” as he slings a scuffed old baseball towards the ancient wooden bat in my hand. Seeing the bags, and realizing the team is on the move, I become a kid again, the one who spent summers oiling up his glove and visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY with my grandparents. It’s been a long time since I’ve sat with a scorebook and marked box scores, but there’s something about seeing the team’s bags bound together that makes me pause and remember a time in my life when a good day meant getting enough kids from the neighborhood to field two teams for a pickup game.

I share a smile and some words with the staff moving the luggage, but my mind wanders to the game. I’ll have to head out to catch nine innings before this season’s over. For now, I’ll recall the satisfaction of hearing the crack of the bat and dream about what’s inside those bags. The man in me knows that they’re stuffed with shirts and pants and shaving cream cans and socks, but the boy in me still hopes that those suitcases and filled with bats, balls, gloves and the hope for a sunny summer day when you share a soda with your pals even after they’ve scored the winning run by beating the tag at home plate.

Tickled Ivories and the Wisdom of Pearls

Sometimes when you think you’re part of the show, seek you actually end up spending some time in the audience. When you’re in the middle of performing and you get surprised by something that captures your eye that when things get real—and good.

I recently had the unique pleasure to visit with a group of journalists on a tour of Milwaukee who made a stop at the Pfister. Our Resident Artist Todd and I have a nice little dog and pony show worked up at this point for these types of occasions. Todd takes the lead with true aplomb talking about history of the art and architecture at the Pfister and I round out our talks with general information and some fun facts. Got a spare half hour or so? Todd and I would love to meet with you and gab on and on about the Pfister.

This was a particularly engaged group of journalists. They asked good questions, sovaldi sale had wide-open eyes, and were full of smiles. It felt more like an afternoon with friends than a tour with strangers.

We generally start in Todd’s studio and make our way across the lobby and then up to the second floor to look at the art collection. We stopped at the landing overlooking the lobby next to the elevators and Todd and I made the snap decision to head to the seventh floor with our group as we were having such a good time and none of us wanted it to end. We split up since our group was so big, and I headed up in the elevators first.

My small group arrived on the seventh floor and we were just chatting about all the fun weddings and luncheons and parties that happen there as we waited for Todd and the others to catch up. As we chatted I couldn’t help but hear a lovely lick of piano music playing behind me. I turned around and was instantly delighted to see that one of my group, an energetic and friendly lady named Rebecca, had seated herself at the piano and was tickling the ivories.

It was lovely, a real great afternoon treat.

Rebecca explained that in addition to being a travel writer and journalist, she is a professional musician who plays cello in her own chamber orchestra back home in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We all gave Rebecca the applause she rightfully earned for her impromptu afternoon performance and went about the rest of our tour.

As Rebecca jumped in with the group she said to me, “Oh, don’t forget to have me tell you about these pearls.”

In a matter of moments I had gone from leading a group of people through the Pfister to being led by a new friend. A really good performer knows a secret trick: leave them wanting more. I certainly could have listened to Rebecca play for the group the rest of the afternoon, and now she had me on the edge of my seat wanting to hear the story about her pearls.

Our tour ended, and I had my chance. I pulled Rebecca aside and reminded her that she had a story to tell me. She did, and it’s a good one, and I’m sure my new friend wouldn’t mind if I share it with you.

Rebecca told me that when she’s back at home in Arkansas she is often invited to a standing ladies luncheon. One day the group’s organizer, a grand dame of the local luncheon set, pulled Rebecca aside as she entered for lunch and said, “I would like to speak to you privately once lunch is done today.” Rebecca told me she gulped her way through her salad, fearing the worst from her intimidating hostess.

Lunch ended, and Rebecca hoped that she might be able to secretly slip out without the feared discussion that she had been invited to at meal’s end. But the hostess had not forgotten the invitation and pulled Rebecca aside privately as all the other guests departed.

Rebecca stood silently, her heart racing as the luncheon organizer produced a black velvet bag. Speaking with purpose, the hostess said to Rebecca, “When you first started coming to our luncheons there was something that began to trouble me. You reminded me of my daughter, someone who I have not seen for many years because of our estranged relationship. But I believe I have a chance to have a connection with you that I wish I had with my daughter.”

She reached in the black velvet bag and pulled out a beautiful strand of pearls and presented them to Rebecca. As she gave them to Rebecca she said, “I want you to have these. I also want you to remember each time that you put these on that each of these pearls started off as something hard and ragged and after being tossed and turned and ground down over time, they were transformed into something elegant, smooth and beautiful.” Rebecca took the pearls, thanked her friend for this extraordinary gift and story, and left utterly speechless. Not long after this special moment, the hostess passed away. Since then, the pearls have been a permanent accessory in Rebecca’s wardrobe.

I sure like telling stories, and there is a real joy in seeing people lean in and listen to something you are saying. But communication is a two way street. It’s mighty nice to take a pause in the middle of telling a tale or two to be reminded by new friends like Rebecca that turnabout is the sweetest of fair play.

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All Eyes on Couple Number One

It is a crowded night at Blu. The room is full of stylish couples and solo swells who have all come to get their drink on. It’s a smart choice for cocktailing when there is such a delectable selection of boozy elixirs available 23 floors above ground level and great live music filling the room.

There are also fireworks. Not the kind from some glorious bar fight, sick nothing as untoward as that, but literal explosive fireworks shooting into the jet black night sky. It’s one of the great secret benefits of spending the summer in Milwaukee where fireworks displays are the norm every weekend from June through August because a festival city deserves festival spectacle.

My eyes should be drawn to those fireworks because, generic I mean, they are fireworks. But my head keeps jerking to see what special brand of shimmy and shake is going on across the room. Couple Number One is tripping the light fantastic, and the fireworks will need to step it up to hold a place as the evening’s main attraction.

Couple Number One is in a dance contest of sorts where the odds of winning are stacked in their favor. The entries to this special gliding, sliding, dipping competition start and end at the most single of all digits. These dancers stand out in a room of sitters simply because they are standing, but beyond that simple difference those supportive legs of theirs have a lot of smooth moves.

I catch Couple Number One on a dance break and they introduce themselves to me with big smiles.

“I’m Bill, and this is Lois,” says the fella who I have noticed is focused on his job leading the dance with cool seriousness.

“Just like the couple that founded Alcoholics Anonymous,” says Lois immediately taking a long swig from the refreshing cocktail she is enjoying between routines.

Bill and Lois tell me they met 13 years ago, and ever since then they’ve been dancing. There is no limit to their love of moving their groove thing. The night before their Pfister visit, they had they had shown off their sizzling moves at the Milwaukee lakefront backed by Zydeco music. Be it swing, disco, rhumba, or polka, Bill and Lois are equal partners in the business of making cha-cha a serious art form.

As in any classic creative union, the two dancers have fought through some rough patches.

“We break up three or four times a year,” says Bill.

“Sometimes he wants me to wear sneakers,” explains Lois. “That’s ridiculous.”

Right now, however, there is no mention of athletic footwear. Bill grins at Lois, and holds her hand warmly. This gracious gentleman shares that he thinks they are clicking on all cylinders because Lois now splits her year between Milwaukee and Arizona. Distance is making their hearts grow fonder, it seems. And as the music starts up again, it’s clear that a bouncing beat helps them joyfully tap their feet.

Wine Is on My Side, Yes it Is

You may or may not have heard that there is a group of AARP eligible musicians playing in Milwaukee tonight at the Marcus Amphitheater. And lest you think that I’m hobnobbing with Mick Jagger, sales Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ron Wood right now, fear not. Those cats are too cool to hang out with some bow tie sotted slob like me.

But given that tonight marks the real rockin’ start of summer with the Rolling Stones in town and is the occasion for the biggest concert of 2015 in Milwaukee so far (I say so far because I for one am holding out hope that these reports of the death of Frank Sinatra from years back are merely a myth and he will rise again and surely kick off his concert tour in Milwaukee), purchase I thought it might be nice to share with you the story of one Chris Ganos.

You’re probably scratching your head saying, “Chris Ganos? Did he play tambourine for the Stones?” No, I’m afraid the Ganos name will never be found on the liner notes for Sticky Fingers or Let It Bleed. Ganos’ talents were more fluid. Specifically the fluid we all know and love called wine.

Chris Ganos was one of the first wine stewards at the Pfister, patient and he took his job seriously. He would work all day and then come home at night and study books on wine, fine-tuning his sommelier smarts. He worked with blinders on, committed to being the best he could be, offering guests at the Pfister an elevated and spectacular experience savoring the fermented grape juice. For Ganos, wine was what mattered, and in certain ways his world was limited to bottles, corks and glorious stemware.

Ganos lived a simple life. He was not a man of airs and for years he even took the bus to work everyday until he was convinced that it was okay for a family member to drive him. Approaching his job with dignity, he respected a higher code of hospitality and always worked to make guests feel like they were being treated like royalty while also helping to maintain a high level of professionalism in his place as a Pfister hospitality provider. He was a guy who cared, and he was careful to make sure that nothing went awry on his watch.

A day came during Ganos’ service when his mettle was tested. A group of men presented themselves and started to order some varying selections of wine. Their palettes were refined, and that impressed Ganos. What also impressed Ganos was the major tab they rang up as each new bottle was summoned forth. What was a little less impressive to the steward who took his job so seriously was their hair cuts.

Now remember, Ganos was a man who felt that the proper balance of refined service and hospitality with heart was essential. It took steely focus to do his job with distinction and to reach for the pinnacle of stewardship with each newly uncorked vintage. With that sort of resolve and dedicated drive towards a good experience for customers and hotel at stake, Ganos felt he had to discreetly bring the men to his boss’ attention.

“Boss,” said Ganos. “I’m a little concerned that those gentlemen won’t be able to pay their bill.”

“What?” said Ganos’ boss. “I don’t understand.”

“They’re ordering very good wine, very expensive stuff. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think they’re a little shady looking.”

Ganos’ boss chuckled. Ganos was a top performer, he had studied hard, and he was an honest and gentle soul. But what he possessed in love of wine and vaunted service, he lacked in good old rock n’ roll know how.

“Ganos,” said his boss, “don’t you know who those boys are. They’re the Rolling Stones.”

Just goes to show…never judge a man by the cut of his bangs.