Sevens And Apples

 

Right now in the Mystery that is the Pfistery,

there is a basket out in the lobby

a tisket, a tasket of apples,

all sized small

enough

to keep inside my blazer pocket

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my pocket’s apple is named King David

cause I’m told these are King David’s Apples

an heirloom variety individually selected

by the hotel’s own king executive chef, Brian Frakes

who has decreed them the Hotel Apple

for the month of November you can taste

the Pfistery essence for yourself

it has a deep red flavor that doesn’t go all the way

down the dark path with declarations of feral passion

in the way heirloom red apples sometimes will,

this one stays sweet and neat, with a dry flesh

that would be good sliced thinly over oatmeal,

or as they do it here, served with duck

probably similar to the way my family served it

seven generations ago in Poland

I’m thinking of this ’cause

Chef Frakes told me King David’s sibling,

the Arkansas Black apple was discovered

in 1893, the same year this hotel first opened,

which was approximately seven seeds ago,

as he put it,

“If a seed is approximately 20 years,

we are now in the seventh seed at the hotel.”

I’m reminded of a poster in the bathroom

of my college’s liberal arts building,

that had a picture of wilderness,

and a quote about making all decisions

with consideration for those

who will live on this planet

seven generations from now.

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I am in my 27th year of life,

my seventh month

as the seventh Pfister narrator,

the voice the comes up behind

three guests from Dallas

to describe the Victorian painting they are looking at,

a scene, “The Eternal Apple of Eve,”

two friends peeling apples, peeling with laughter,

a painting that was bought by Guido Pfister,

the man who planted the first seed of the Pfistery

that feels so luxurious to explore on my own,

passing the rooms where meetings have been held,

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candies half unwrapped on the table,

notes taken on the complimentary pads,

complimentary pens strewn, chairs pushed back,

the intensity of multiple thoughts,

has yet to be swept away by the staff

I hear coming down the hall with their cart,

so I leave to inspect the 23rd floor

and run into the Dallas Trio again,

yes, I am the disembodied voice that narrates

the window view for these three flight attendants

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who are unaware that they are admiring the world’s only

inland freshwater sea.

These flight attendants take three-day trips every week,

before Milwaukee they stayed in Canton, Ohio,

“It was almost as good as this,

but this, is a step above even that.”

They tell me there is nothing so historically grand

in all of Dallas

the only thing that comes close

is the Pyramid Room,

a hotel still in its first seed.

 

I could end the story here

but then I’d miss how

on this day of apples and sevens

I was passing the elevator when

Peter, the concierge, asked me

if I was following him

to get his apple.

I did not know he had an apple,

he did not know I was thinking about apples,

but he stuck his arm out

as the elevator doors began to close

just his head and hand could be seen,

His head told me, “It’s a Jonamac!”

His hand held it out for me,

I accepted it so he would not be guillotined.

This is a comely apple.


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Shrunken Heads of Old Men & Angels of Light Hibiscus

 

Each time I go to work someone from the staff is bound to show me something.

 

Once, seek Rick the bellhop tells me about his boston terrier, Mugsy.

“She grows more and more into a creature every day, and less like a dog. She has creature tendencies.”

Such as?

“She makes crazy noises.”

I assume he means noises that are not at all doglike, perhaps a terrifying gnashing of its mandibles followed by hours of venomous hissing.

“She will listen to me inside, but not outside, not when she’s in the wild, that’s when her creature kicks in.”

I imagine Rick’s tiny dog hunting for whole families of rabbits, whole herds of beaver.

“One time she came back with a feather on her nose, she ate a bird.”

He shows me a picture of Mugsy, and she doesn’t look like a creature to me. She looks much closer to something of an alien.

“I think she’s an alien,” says Rick, “She’s couldn’t have been born on this planet.”

 

One day, Helga the concierge tells me she brought something to work to show me: tiny shrunken heads of old men! Well, maybe not, maybe just metal beads shaped like shrunken heads of old men if you believe Helga’s claim. Her claim is that years ago she sculpted these heads out of clay and then cast them. No matter what the true story of their origin is, one fact remains— Helga houses these partial gentlemen in a nest she built out of coiled wire.

 

Peter, the daytime concierge, shows me what to look up on my next online image search: “angels of light hibiscus.” The pictures that come up will be of George Edgerly Harris III, a performance artist from the seventies who started a ‘psychedelic gay liberation’ theater troupe known for its outlandish and remarkably detailed costumes.

 

On my way to the elevator I run into Matt, the head engineer, and the employee whom I suspect has the quickest comebacks of all the staff.

I ask him, “How’s it going?”

“It’s going.”

“GOOD,” I say with jovially and with increased volume since he’s going one way down the hall and I the other.

“I will not qualify how it’s going,” he replies. The hilarity of this response is not evident on the blog, but it was very funny. He had a contrarian tone in his voice, one that implied my automatic friendly greeting made the mistake of trying to simplify the complexity of the saga known as his day. Lesson learned.

Eavesdropping in the Pfister

I am sitting in Blu by myself so that no one will distract me as I eavesdrop in on the conversations. Some old ladies are giggling about martinis. An old man is taking all the plush chairs away from my table to build a nest for all his companions. One of them asks, decease “How was the wedding?” to another. She replies, “It was long. I never was to a Catholic wedding before. The organist played six or seven songs. I kept thinking ‘this is not over yet?’ It was so standard, the vows were by the book. And they do all the kneeling. The congregation must have kneeled three or four times. I grew up Lutheran, decease we get it over with. That’s more my kind of wedding, twenty minutes, BOOM, out.”

 

In the café I overhear two concerned mothers complaining about middle school girls trying to get the attention of clueless pre-pubescent middle school boys. “Sports bra, cheap that’s what she’s walking around in. What mother let’s their daughter out of the house like that? Unless she’s stupid, but regardless, they’re all together, they’re all close, they’ve been close since day one, since middle school, they are what they are. The one girl who’s taking up with them, she came over in one of those dresses that was up to her hootchy-hooch.”

 

In the café I also listen to two men discussing HSP, but since I don’t know what HSP is, I have no idea what it is that they are going on about, but it sounds atrociously banal.

 

Outside the ballroom I catch the following snippet from the National Philanthropy Day festivities. The trained voice of a news anchor from channel twelve proclaims, “She has been a sparkplug for a lot of philanthropy initiatives.” What high automobilic praise! Later I learn that Milwaukee’s National Philanthropic Day commands a larger attendance than even New York City’s. “That’s just what kind we are here,” the Milwaukee Philanthropist Day organizer boasts to a bellhop in the lobby.

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I enter the lobby lounge and am delighted to see my chum Jenna Kashou at the bar. Do you remember her? She was the Narrator about two years ago. I go up to say hey Jenna, but she is leaning her whole body into conversation about a corporate sponsorship brochure for the Black and Blue Ball, a benefit for Muscular Dystrophy. Jenna’s hands are zipping every which way. I take a seat on the sofa next to the fireplace. I never noticed before how inside the fireplace there is a motif of a racing chariot. A chariot of fire! I pick up the newspaper someone left on the couch. It says something about “Drones For The Masses.” Listening in on other people’s conversations is about to get a lot more high-tech.

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“Don’t worry, I’ll hold your monkey”


The following story was copied only by memory. Bob requested that there be no pictures taken of him or recordings of his voice. I did not have a pad to write on. This is not how I usually do things, ed but I liked the challenge.

 

Bob and his lady came down from Iron Mountain, a town in the Upper Peninsula this weekend to spend some time with his son, Adam who is a senior architecture student at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

 

Bob is telling everyone jokes and everyone is laughing very loud. That is why I chose to come up to them in the first place.

 

“A woman and her baby get on a bus and the bus driver gives them a filthy look. ‘That is one ugly baby, ampoule lady. Go sit in the back,’ orders the bus driver. Fuming, the woman and her baby take a seat in the back row. The mother complains to the rider next to her, ‘Did you just hear what the bus driver said to me? It was totally unacceptable!’ The rider pulls out an earbud and says, ‘Well, you should go back up there and take it up with him. Don’t worry, I’ll hold your monkey.’”

 

Bob tells another joke, but before he does, Adam complains saying “Oh, not this one! I don’t get this one.” That disclaimer merely peaks my interest. Bob says, “A troubled man finally starts getting therapy from a top rated psychologist. After six months of treatments the psychologist asks him if he feels he has made any progress. The man shakes his head sadly and moans, ‘I don’t know doc, six months ago I was Napoleon, but now I’m just a nobody.’”

 

I laugh. Bob tells me that he “can remember a number from years ago, but not jokes.” So now he makes an effort to learn a new joke every day from a joke book he likes. “That’s cute, Bob,” says the lady whose name I unfortunately did not retain. “I’m training,” smiles Bob, “I’m training so that whenever someone comes into my office wanting more money I can just tell them a joke. They laugh and then leave my office forgetting why they came there in the first place.”

 

Bob talks about his four sons, the youngest is 14, “Little Chuck. Well, I guess he’s not exactly little anymore.” Former Little Chuck cut his knee on the edge of a stone slab when he tried unsuccessfully to leap over it. Bob shows me pictures of the deep wound, a gristly chunk of his knee missing. He proudly shows off a video to everyone of Former Little Chuck laughing and singing as the doctors sewed up his knee in the hospital. Bob also shows us the stitches and how once healed, the scar resembles a smiley face. While they chuckle at that, what Bob and his his lady cannot look at are these young guys we can see out the window. They are on the roof and too close to the edge.DSCN8139

She Works 7 Days A Week As A Fashion Designer

“My biggest bugaboo is blue jeans, advice sweatshirts, flat shoes.

I can’t stand it.

Every time I get on an airplane,

I’m over in Italy,

I’m over in Paris,

I’m over London,

I can tell without even asking which gate I’m supposed to go to

where the Americans are

they have blue jeans, sweatshirts, flat shoes.

Now in Paris for example,

they have really good imaginations,

they dress up just to go to the grocery store.

High heels. Dress. Hair is perfect. Grocery store!

 

I design some things for men sometimes,

but men are so generic, I hate it.

I think anyone could do my job if they wanted to.

Anyone can start a line of clothes if they want,

just get some capital together.

Some people have these talents buried in their brain

but they don’t try things so they stay working at K-Mart, Wal-Mart,

talented people!

It’s a shame.

 

My contract says I’ve got to work out every day,

two, three times a day,

gotta be able to get into these outfits,

and the models, I tutor them,

I’ve got four degrees,

two BS degrees, a masters and a PHD.

Physiology, Earth Science, Curriculum and Development for schools

and my PHD is in History.

To be honest I never really used them much

except physiology, I still use that.

We went through that phase where the models were getting too skinny,

we told them so now they look a little more normal.

It’s a struggle for them,

I’ve seen them take some real tumbles with those six and seven inch heels

on the marble runways.

 

I don’t set career goals,

that is a sure tool for disappointment and failure.

 

I also work for the government

I was appointed as a legislative advisor

in 1999, I just got a letter in the mail

I didn’t apply for the job

I get this letter

it says ‘we want you to be a legislative advisor

there’s only 200 of you in the country

we’re going to send you all the bills

you critique those bills

you make corrections

you’re a conduit to the public

find out what the public wants,

then you correct them and send them back

and give us your opinion.’

In addition to that I got special projects for them,

like I was the one who did the autism research.

I can’t believe the power that we have!

 

You know the stuff you see on the news?

Most of it is just pure crap.

It’s all funneled,

Washington is so corrupt,

they’re all members of the Illuminati and the Free Masons,

all the parties behind closed doors figure out who gets the money,

the power and the World Order.

If you want the real news go to the BBC station.

People think we’re #1 in healthcare,

but we’re 29th!

You know what country is 28th?

Barbados.

 

Here’s what the other countries do:

they put everything on a referendum.

You get to vote.

When did you ever have a chance to vote

about anything or any issue?

The wars?

If you’re in a democratic or republican district

and you’re in that district your whole life

it’s possible you can go from birth to death

and never be represented.

You go to church, you got a job, you pay your taxes, you fight in wars,

but you don’t exist.

So what we’re doing, the other 200 people,

we’re writing letters and campaigning,

we want everyone a chance to vote on every issue,

on every issue majority rules.

Now if it all goes to hell it’s our fault

we voted for it, right?”

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A Room Full of Barometric Gages

Inside the rouge ballroom is a top-secret gathering of the stylish.

 

The nation’s first four-year fashion program (Milwaukee’s own Mount Mary College!) is holding a reception for AIDS awareness. There is to be a conversation between Timothy Gunn, American fashion icon who hosts the television show, Project Runway and Sister Aloyse Hessburg, SSND, who founded the fashion design program at Mount Mary fifty years ago.

 

It is the hob-nob hour before Mr. Gunn and Sr. Aloyse speak, so I nob my hob over to the table of fashion majors to find out what trends they are all about. Petal sleeves! A recent assignment challenged them all to create a bunch of sleeves out of muslin fabric. The results were stapled to the wall and became something known as “the wall of sleeves.”

 

There are two kinds focus for fashion majors at Mount Mary, the merchandise department is for those who want to open a boutique, and the design department is for those who want to create the stock for their friend’s boutiques.

 

I ask them if they all draw pretty ladies in their free time.

“You SHOULD draw pretty ladies in your free time if you’re in fashion!”

 

Fashion design majors.
Fashion design majors.

Tori, a junior in the designer program loves to knit, but has never crocheted. She tells me that after graduation she is going to move to either New York or London and get her masters in knitwear.

 

Pakou.
Pakou.

“I like posh New York style business wear,” says Pakou, a sophomore who gets a lot of her influences as a designer from Alexander McQueen. “I love his drama and tailoring.” Pakou made up her own henna design and applied it to her hand with a toothpick. She wants to stay in Milwaukee after graduation, but is thinking about using a different name as a designer because “Pakou is a very common Hmong name.” I shake my head, “But just think of all the women named Pakou who will want to buy your clothes and wear them because you share the same name!” Pakou smiles and admits that she’s never thought of it that way.

 

She applied the henna with a toothpick.
She applied the henna with a toothpick.

Two moments stand out in the dialogue between Sr. Aloyse and Tim Gunn. One is the story of how Sr. Aloyse studied fashion in New York and still had to wear her full floor length habit of a Catholic nun that covered all of her hair and much of her face. Many people on the streets and in elevators assumed she was a beggar.

 

The other moment occurred at the end of the discussion when Timothy Gunn said, “There is a profound difference between being a fashion designer and a clothing designer. The world needs clothes, it doesn’t need fashion. As a fashion designer you’re really a barometric gage of your culture. And if that sounds highfalootin’ and grand— it is! You are working in a context as the societal, cultural, historical, political and economic. You are that gage of what is happening in this particular time and place. That’s your role and you need to accept responsibility for it. It’s not just about the pretty dress.”

 

Pin the Eagle On the Mother






Five moments of learning from the past week at the Pfister.

 

1.

A kid from Chicago comes to my typewriter and gawks. I allow him to type whatever he wants:

“HAa Liamisthe greatest Pat and Kerianne suck and wish they could do this hahah”

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2.

A girl comes up and I also explain the typewriter to her as she has never seen one before. She tells me that she didn’t realize it came with a keyboard, sovaldi she just thought it was a machine that cut paper.

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3.

An able-bodied man is admiring a painting in the seventh floor.

 

Man: Sometime I want to rent one of those walkers with the seats and go to the Milwaukee Art Museum so that I can just sit in front of the paintings.

 

Me: Well, capsule I’m sure they wouldn’t say no to you if you wanted to rent one.

 

Man: But then I’d look like I’d need it. (Pauses) Well, maybe one day I will.

 

4.

I order just the bone marrow

without the bread.

is that too weird?

 

Elizabeth, my waitress says,

“Nothing is too weird to order at the Mason Street Grill. There is a vegetarian woman who comes here all the time ordering just a plain baked potato with broccoli.”

 

The Mason Street Grill’s lighting is the color of gravy.

Were I a vegetarian I would come here just to satisfy my carnivorous cravings

with a plain baked potato in this restaurant illuminated by steak essence

without betraying my principles.

 

I have a spot at the chef’s counter.

Close exposure to the sizzle and clang of the kitchen

makes dinner much more exciting

these cooks know they are on stage

they grind pepper with great ceremony

they cut pizza with broad sweeping gestures

one usually reserves for ironing a king size bed sheet.

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She is very aware of her audience.

 

I watch steak after steak leaving the kitchen.

Before they depart they are dribbled with white sauce

and resembled chocolate cake with vanilla frosting.

 

When my bones come out, I am surprised and delighted to see that they come with a just arugula salad.  The significance of which you will understand if you read this story.

 

Anyways, Elizabeth looks at the bones on my plate

and tells me,

“You know in Columbia we make a soup with bones like that. Sancocho soup! We put in plantains, corn on the cob, real cilantro (that’s our secret, it turns it green), potato and bone marrow with the oxtails. The plantain has to be green, those sweet ripe kind are for frying.”

 

Elizabeth admits the friendly, unique, polite people of Wisconsin

tip her extra for having an accent.

Moving here four years ago

she feared she might not survive the cold

but she had to live here,

after she had visited Summerfest

she knew she had to stay.

She had to learn how to drive in the snow.

 

5.

Lillian at Coat Check tells me that one of her sons became an Eagle Scout at age 12, which is unusually young. At the Eagle Scout award ceremony it is customary for the new Eagle Scout to present and attach an eagle pin on their mother. Lillian’s son fumbled and avoided making contact to her blouse with the pin. She asked him what was wrong and he said, “I don’t want you to burst!” Lillian was very pregnant at the time.

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This relates to nothing else, but these two people got married yesterday.

Anyway, I Was Converted



Here is the conversion story of Monica who joins her friends Jan and Tom at the Pfister every Sunday after they all attend mass at St. Catherine’s.

 

“I hated it.

I was opposed to it on moral grounds.

Disgusting,

brutal,

a waste of time.

 

Then the Packers won the Superbowl with Brett Favre

and I started to realize the strategy, the artistry,

it’s like watching a ballet

with three hundred pound ballerinas!

They’re so in their bodies,

they’re so in control of their bodies,

so embodied those guys

that they can intuitively reach up and catch that ball

and get it, oh my god,

in a split second

and then together, the community of it,

the communication that hasta happen,

how they have to know what they’re doing…

anyway, I was converted.”

 

Were you into sports before you liked football?

 

“No,

not a sports person.

Didn’t grow up with it,

don’t have brothers,

nuthin,

nuthin,

no, no sense of it,

didn’t know that it was a thing of beauty,

didn’t know it had any merit.

 

We used to come here anyway,

then we wanted to watch the Packer game,

but this isn’t quite a Packer place—

like you wouldn’t normally think

the Pfister… Packers?

So they have the lovely lobby

with the little TV in the corner

and then we asked,

“Could we watch the Packer game?”

so then somebody gingerly opened up the TV doors

and put on the Packer game with no sound,

but then we got so excited

and of course people really wanted to watch the game

even Pfister people, like the staff,

they all came sneaking out,

“What’s the score? What’s the score?”

so like eventually over time it sorta became okay

to watch the Packer game here

and then we would have a lovely brunch

and then we would pull the tables together

and then like a community of people

began to join us on Sundays,

a lot of the staff,

95-year-old Mildred,

Caroline,

and the guy that we thought was a secret service agent.

And now people will gather out there

a lot of times there’s guests in the hotel from out of state

and they come down,

it’s a great place to watch the Packer game, the best.

 

We’ve met a ton of people,

Mike Sherman’s (the Packer’s coach) daughter!

I didn’t know who she was

I saw this girl sitting by herself watching the game,

this college girl,

but she’d go like this:

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Monica demonstrates.

 

 

it was getting towards the end of the season

towards the playoffs, so this was a really important game

she went to Marquette but she didn’t want to watch it there

because all the kids knew her

so she came here to watch it by herself

and there was nobody else there that Sunday

it was just you and Mike Sherman’s daughter

watching this intense game.

 

I would have missed all that

if I still had my nose in the air

about the moral reprehensibility of football.”

 

 

 

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A Reunion With Radical Kiera

Until today, I hadn’t seen my friend Kiera in nine years. The last time I saw her we were having one last group sleepover at my house the week before we each moved out of Milwaukee to seek our higher educations in other cities. I went to Missouri for the Kansas City Art Institute and Kiera went to Oakland for the College of Creative Studies. Kiera has been living in Oakland ever since. Understandable, Oakland is a balmy paradise full of bookstores and coffee shops, and it is easy to navigate without a car. Unfortunately, the gentrification of Oakland will soon force Kiera to move out. The soaring rents will soon match those of San Francisco where the average one bedroom apartment is $3,000 a month.

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Here we are at a school dance back in the day.

 

Keira tells me that this could be a good change because she would like to live somewhere quiet where there is lots of space between the houses. However, Kiera is conflicted about this idea because she a city girl. I recommend Detroit to her because whenever I go to that city it has a quiet feel due to all the boarded up houses, but remains a city where only those possessing much grit survive. She agrees with me but says she probably won’t be moving to anywhere in the Midwest since her boyfriend, Snow, doesn’t like cold weather!

 

Kiera tells me about how one time Snow and his father went skiing and got separated on the hill. Snow’s father started calling for his son, “Snow! Snoooow!!!” and people looked strangely at this man who seemed to suddenly realize that the world around him was covered in snow.

 

Kiera joins me for a meal at the Pfister café. She surveys the menu and starts to laugh when she sees it offers a salad called a “cheeseburger bowl,” featuring a hamburger with cheese on a bed of lettuce “Only out here,” says Kiera. I ask what the “only out there” regional equivalent would be in Oakland. “Maybe if you asked for the simple arugula salad, with just arugula and tomatoes.” We are sitting in one of the café booths and it reminds us both of hanging out late at night at 24-hour diners in high school. Kiera laments that Oakland has a scarcity of 24-hour establishments.

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That’s a lot of men in one room.

 

We walk around the hotel imagine what it and the city were like when it was first built. Kiera takes her time, reading every plaque and investigating every painting and photograph. We stop in front of a picture that was taken when President McKinley came to the Pfister. There must be 2000 people in the room, and we try to find even one woman in the crowd, but don’t see one, not even a maid. We both say how we cannot fully grasp what life was like back then.  Although I do look at over my contemporary, Keira, and (using my hundred year old filter) observe that she wears her hair very short. Radical! Kiera wonders if any of her ancestors from her dad’s side are in this photo. The German side of Kiera’s family had some influence in this town back when Milwaukee was considered “the gold coast” prior to the first World War.

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One more thing: Radical Kiera is just back from competing in Art Prize, a national juried art show in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Here she is modeling a nine-foot wearable art piece that she designed with five other collaborators.

This Is His Fifth Wedding In Three Years

I’m drinking tropical hibiscus in the lounge

when a woman enters the vicinity clopping

her tongue like a horse

along to the ambient music.

I record this occurrence in my notebook,

take a swig of tea,

and stand

to meet the clip clop woman

so as to tell her how much I appreciate

triumphal people who enter rooms with song.

“I did?  I don’t remember doing that.”

says the lady who mere seconds ago

was a verifiable songhorse.

I wonder if any of the other loungers

here can recall it,

perhaps

I notice more than I should

like when I ask the man with all the loose leaf notes

and who is scrawling with an extra wide sharpie

what it is he is doing

and he says

“writing an obituary”

and then thanks me for leaving him alone.

Today I overhead a woman saying,

“A successful marriage requires falling in love several times.”

Plenty of advice like that can be overhead inside the Pfister

on the seventh floor

I overhear the rehearsal of marriage vows,

a man and a woman,

scripts in hand

“Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

(Which I still always hear as “Do you take this man to be your waffle-y wedded husband?” because that’s what I thought it was when my grandma and I played Barbies back in 1990 or so.)

Maybe it is none of my bee’s wax biz nizz

but I ask them if they are about to marry each other

“No!  That’s my sister!”

says the man named Jesse

who is an officiant for weddings.

This is his fifth wedding in three years,

he only marries close friends of the family.

“If I know them I will do it,”

he will marry them.

Jesse informs me that “you could even marry yourself if you want to”

or at least you could according to the Wisconsin state statue of five years ago

when last he read it

as part of getting ordained by the Universal Life Church

“I’ve paid my dues, Miss.”

His first wedding was up in the Porcupine Mountains of upper Michigan,

how waffle-y romantic sounding

I think

it is time to wish Jesse and his helping sister well

so that they may get on with the ceremony,

but there is no bride and groom,

no wedding party,

where are they?

Late.

I almost say, “Well, break a leg!”

but that’s not quite appropriate,

maybe “Go jump the broom!” is better?

Jesse recommends, “I hope you’re sure!”

or if the conditions are right, “I hope this is the last one!”

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Jesse and his sister Valerie rehearse the ceremony. They came in from Green Bay, Wisconsin.
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“I’m getting concerned that no one is up here,” says Jesse regarding the wedding party.