My mother, the Green Hornet, and other notes of love

Are you still feeling the glow of Mother’s Day? It was a glorious brunch filled day at the Pfister this past Sunday when good sons and daughters showered their moms with well deserved adoration.

Me? I was out of town, there and I’m not 100% certain that my Mom even had a good cup of coffee.

Lest you think I’m a terrible son, you should know that I did manage to arrange an early Mother’s Day lunch at the Café at the Pfister with my mother Judy. She’s a rock star of motherdom, and I wanted to make sure I had at least bought her a salad.

I also had an ulterior motive for our lunch date. My Mom has a great Pfister story that I really wanted to hear told to me at the scene-of-the–crime, as it were. This story is part of my family’s legend and lore, and I’m sure for those folks who were around the day it happened some 35 years ago, it’s still a memorable moment.

My wife Paula (a woman who is in the Top 2 of all-time great mothers on my “Mother’s I Love” List) was also included in our celebration of good mothers bread breaking because she somehow had never heard the story, and I’m also just rather fond of lunching with her.

My mom, Paula and I settled into a table in the Café right along the windows. It had been years since my mom had been to the Pfister, and as we took our seats she looked out the window as if looking back in time.

“It happened right out there,” said mom gazing at parked cars on the street. “Right in front of all the cab drivers. They had a good laugh.”

Over the years I’ve thought and thought about my mom’s story, and I’ve considered how different endings could have changed the course of my life in some pretty drastic ways. We’ve certainly laughed about it all over the years, but listening to my mom tell my wife the story put the whole thing in perspective for me once again and makes me think that maybe my mom had a guardian angel watching over her as she exited our family car to have the most eventful day ever getting her hair done in the Janice Salon at the Pfister (which has now blossomed into the full service WELL Spa® + Salon).

Paula leaned in as my mom recalled the day long ago when pants legs were flared and the music of your life had a disco beat. I was about 10-years-old and my brother was a mere toddler as my mom dropped us at a neighbor’s house so she could drive downtown to the Pfister to get her hair done, taking a well deserved break from her job at that time as a stay-at-home mom. We were a one car family back then, and my hard working father took the bus to work everyday as a tax attorney in a downtown office building a mere few blocks away from the Pfister.

Our family car was an AMC Green Hornet. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it did the job of getting us around town.

Green Hornet_May 11 2015
The AMC Green Hornet. Style, class, distinction…meh.

It also proved to be reliable for shuttling us back and forth to visit our family in upstate New York, a trip we made for the Christmas holiday and summers. That car was steady, and on our family’s modest budget it was a more than a-okay set of wheels.

Mom parked the Green Hornet on Jefferson Street right across from the lineup of cabs servicing Pfister guests in need of a ride around town. She filled her meter, dashed into the hotel, and went into the basement salon for a nice hairdo tune up.

As soon as she got settled in her stylist’s chair, someone rushed into the salon and said, “There’s a car on fire across the street!”

My mom gulped hard, panicked knowing that she herself had parked right across the street. Hoping that she heard red or orange or even brown, she asked, “What color is the car?”

“Blue,” answered the town crier who had given the car- -on-fire report. “It’s a blue car, and it’s up in flames.”

Blue was a perfectly fine color as far as my mother was concerned. It wasn’t green, the color of our sweet little ride, so she relaxed believing there was no need for concern and sunk into the stylist’s chair for one of the stunning cuts she always received, classic looker that she has always been.

As mom made her way out onto the street freshly coiffed, the news of the burning car had almost vanished from her thoughts. That is until she pulled her keys out of her purse and was stymied about how to unlock our AMC Green Hornet that was now charred and smoking parked tightly against the curb. Whether or not a Green Hornet burns blue when it bursts into flames, there had clearly been a mix up in making the announcement.

The cab drivers nearby had been waiting to see who the poor sucker was who owned the car. They told my mom that the moment she had walked into the lobby at the Pfister, flames had shot up from under the hood of the car. Had this happened a few moments earlier, my mom would have had no need for a cut and shampoo but my brother, dad and I might have had a great and powerful need for another lady who did a damned fine job of keeping us all together. It was, to say the least, the best bad timing my mother ever had.

My mom tells of walking to my dad’s office and announcing to my father that the car had burned up and that the fire department had smashed the driver’s side window when putting the fire out. I can only imagine the look on my dad’s face when my mom showed up that day to tell him that their only car was out of commission.

But here’s what I love about this story and my parents pluck and determination—we kept that car. My parents did what they could with the means that they had, and I’m happy to report that we had that little AMC for another couple of years. It even made the trip to upstate New York for Christmas a few months after the blaze. Of course, my brother and I huddled under blankets and my dad drove with mittens because heat rarely came from the dashboard after the accident.

Paula, my mother and I chuckled about it all over our salads, thinking about how crazy it was for my mom the moment she made her horrible discovery. I’m gladder than glad that no one, most of all, my mom, was hurt back in the day. I’m also proud to say that I know that standing before that smoldering Green Hornet in the afternoon sun nearly 40 years ago, my mom’s hair looked amazing.

Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer, you know

I make it a habit to never ask another man in a suit if he’s packing heat. So far, sovaldi this choice has served me very well.

But it was hard, I mean REALLY, REALLY hard not to go up to the guy in the suit I noticed on the stairs overlooking the lobby and say, “Hey bub, are you packing heat?”

It wasn’t a set of steely eyes or some Derringer shaped bulge in his jacket that piqued my interest. It was the coiled cord snaking up his neck to an earpiece that was obviously feeding him key coordinates on the safety of our nation that caught my eye.

The fella looked like he could have been a Secret Service agent, pills save for one small item. He was smiling and looked like he was actually having a good time. That sort of ruled out anchorman, too, as I couldn’t recall the last time I had seen a real live anchorman in the flesh without a desk between the two of us. And this guy’s smile was so nice; not painted on like a slick newsreader.

As I watched the man I assumed was clearly securing life, liberty and happiness for all of the Pfister’s guests, I noticed that he was not alone. There they were, perched on the stairwell, cheap looking over the balcony, an attentive smattering of men and women sporting earpieces, sartorially suited as a crack crew of defenders of justice.

I once heard the President of the United States speak, and I was so close to him that I could have just about reached out and pinched his cheek to say, “Nice speech!” I’ll never forget the moment that the speech was done and the President left the podium to make his way to a waiting car, or airplane, or submarine or whatever it is POTUS travels in these days. He was flanked by a team of guardians-of-goodness in their suits with their earpieces, and as they made their way past me, I found myself leaning into the superstardom passing before me. I felt the seismic power of someone who lives to serve and protect as an arm came out and blocked my lean forward. The lesson that I learned that day is that when you see the earpiece, you can be pretty sure you’re dealing with a leather tough man or woman and its best to leave them alone to be the heroes that they are.

But, I’m a curious lad. So I couldn’t leave well enough alone. It was this sense of curiosity that drew me to the 7th Floor ballrooms of the Pfister as I noticed lots of comings and goings of men and women in suits, including a few earpieced toughies. I’m a suit and tie kind of guy myself, so it was as if I was being summoned to join my tribe as I entered the elevator that would take me to the ballrooms.

I exited on the 7th floor and as I wandered the halls, I noticed a display that the organizers of the event had set up featuring pictures of Abraham Lincoln. There was one of him with his young son on his lap, a picture of a gathering of people listening to him speak and an image that was labeled to be his final portrait before being assassinated. Whatever was going on in the ballroom at that moment, these folks clearly loved our nation’s 16th head of state, and that was all good by me.

I glanced up from the display and there he was, the earpiece man who had first drawn my eye. He was looking at another part of the display, studying the images with a casual intensity.

“Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice your ear piece.” It wasn’t my best opening line, but it was probably better than succumbing to asking if he was actually packing heat.

He looked at me intently, trying to size up whether or not I was a threat to international peace. I clearly passed some sort of “too nerdy to be a threat test” when he smiled back at me, willing and open to chat.

He introduced himself to me as Derek. Derek explained that he and the rest of his crew were at the Pfister to provide security for the Annual Meeting of the Seventh Circuit Bar Association. With absolute discretion he explained to me that there were “important people” at the gathering, and that the security he and his colleagues were providing was an added measure of comfort for all the lawyers in attendance. We shared a look that said, “Yeah, I know lawyers get a bad wrap, but you saw those pictures of that entirely noble dude Abraham Lincoln, and remember he was a lawyer, too.”

Derek tells me that he is pretty impressed by the grandeur of the building he’s gotten to spend time in as a security presence. He tells me hasn’t been to a ton of nice hotels in his life, but is clearly taken in by today’s job site. Derek also says he isn’t very well traveled but mentions that he has done some work in Sierra Leone, so maybe Derek and I have a different definition of being a globetrotter.

Another suit wanders over to us as we talk. His earpiece is a little different, a little sleeker, but somehow a little more in your face. I introduce myself before he gives me the, “Can I help you?” question, and he smiles brightly and tells me his name is Wayne. I ask Wayne if he works with Derek, and Wayne says with a smirk, “No…he works for me.” Hats off to the Seventh Circuit Bar Association for hiring the friendliest security team around.

Wayne leaves Derek and I to finish our talk, as he moves on to other business. Though Derek has only spent a short amount of time at the Pfister, he has quickly grown attached to its history. There is one particular aspect of the hotel that has really captivated Derek–the Pfister time capsule. Derek asks me if I know what’s sealed in the time capsule and I shake my head, as I have no idea myself. The time capsule won’t be opened until 2093, and Derek clearly wishes he could be there to see what’s stored inside.

We shake hands as we depart and Derek jokes about how we should figure out a way to be around in 2093 for the opening of the time capsule, but we both know that’s going be a tough one. Guys in suits, the ones with or without earpieces, have a shelf life. I wish for Derek’s sake that his curiousity could be satisfied, because he is truly a good guy and he undoubtedly packs a lot of positive heat.

She had me at “cheeseburger”

Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for blondes, medical but something told me I was gonna love a certain couple of ladies who lunch.

You can tell just by looking at someone that they have that unmistakable something-something called soul. And you don’t get soul by shutting your eyes and putting on blinders. You get soul by keeping your mind and heart open to all the world brings your way.

The only way that Sally and Bea could have had more soul is if they had eaten one of their simply sensible shoes as a little luncheon amuse bouche. The smiling eyes on their full-of-life faces is what first drew me to their table. Their sass and charm is what kept me there.

“What are you eating?” I asked as they welcomed me over.

“Bea’s having a cheeseburger, look ” answered her friend Sally. “She’s staying with a vegetarian, so she really needed a burger.”

Bea added, “It’s a relative and I‘m treated so well when I’m a guest. But I really needed a great cheeseburger.” Bea’s clean plate confirmed the quality of the meat on the once present bun.

I considered grabbing the hand of this beautiful blonde with the smiling eyes who has high regard for cheeseburgers and rushing off into the sunset, but I remembered that I rushed off into the sunset with a beautiful BRUNETTE who has high regard for cheeseburgers when I got happily hitched years ago and just decided that Bea is one right proper dame.

The ladies were sitting tucked in close to the lobby bar fireplace. They were snug. They seemed as cozy as two friends can be. And there’s good reason. This wasn’t their first trip to the rodeo.

Sally and Bea tell me that they have been friends since growing up in the Washington Highlands area of suburban Wauwatosa several years. As a former Tosan myself, we trade memories of streets and lanes and neighbors. We’re a few years apart, these ladies and I, but something tells me that I would have done a fine job making a fool out of myself to win their attention if we had shared our youths together in the suburbs.

My jaw drops when Bea tells me the real reason she’s here. She is the sister of former Milwaukee Poet Laureate, Antler. Antler is a big deal for any writer, and frankly should be a big deal for any reader (there’s a link to follow in this post if you click Antler’s name and any reader worth his or her salt should do so right now).

Bea is in town from her home in California to attend the memorial service for Antler’s longtime companion and most recent Milwaukee Poet Laureate, Jeff Poniewaz. As Bea talks about her brother and the loss he’s feeling from his dearly departed Jeff, I can see Sally watch her old friend with the silent wonder you give to someone you really adore.

Sally and Bea will finish their lunch and then head up to the second floor where they’ll look for the painting that a long ago family member of Bea’s created. They’ll spend as much time as they can together while Bea is in town, and then they’ll spend as much time as they can on the phone always remembering that there’s a lunch in front of the fireplace in their future again. Sally tells me that she comes to the Pfister for breakfast a lot with her 95-year-old father-in-law and hopes that we’ll bump into each other again.

Hope springs eternal for me that I have a lot more Sallys and Beas in my life. And a few more cheeseburgers with world class blondes, of course.

Rules of My Engagement

Hello. And, physician boy, am I happy you’re reading.

Whenever I start a venture I like to understand the rules of the engagement.

Please note, however, that I haven’t said that I like to follow the rules.

Oh dear me, no.

That’s not necessarily my path. But if we all understand the rules together, we’ll certainly have a good time understanding how to bend a few in the service of seeking out a great time.

So, for what it’s worth, here are the rules I’m setting for my engagement as Pfister Narrator:

  1. You’ll hear from me on Mondays and Fridays. For sure, for certain, absolute.
  2. You’ll also hear from me on Wednesdays. It would be easier to say that you’ll hear from me three times a week, but that terrifies me to say so I’ll leave it as a separate rule that I may break from time to time.
  3. I would like you to read my words, but I’m making it possible for you to listen to them, too. I’ll be recording my entries every day and posting them along with these stories. There is no rule against both reading and listening (and frankly you should understand by now that I have a pretty loose relationship with rules, so please do what suits you best). And you’ll see that I’m a horrible liar because I’m not recording today’s rules and I’m simply forcing you to read.
  4. Invite yourself to join me at work. I plan on being at the Pfister a lot (I mean, come on…have you seen this place—IT’S GORGEOUS!). Find some time to come down to 424 Wisconsin Avenue, and let’s sit side by side and talk and do the things that people do when they want to learn more about each other. I really want to hear your Pfister Story.
  5. Someone should always wear a suit and tie. I will wear the suit tie. Bow tie, that is.

It’s thrilling to begin the best job a writer could ever imagine. Write me at jonathan@jonathantwest.com and I’ll write you back.

Let’s have some fun now, shall we?

Toodle-loo.

My term as Pfister Narrator is about to expire.  A bell is sounding.  A cane is coming to pull my waist off the stage.  A gong is sounding.  Ladies are booing, children are throwing popcorn at me, but I do not want to leave my flaming hula hoop.

I still wanted to tell you the story about Pfister engineer Matt.  One time Matt showed me these wild photographs that his grandpa took of factory workers and machinery in the middle of the last century.  His grandpa started out as a photographer in WWII working on sites where they needed to get rid of land mines.  I find it interesting that Matt works with some of the same mechanical things that his grandpa would have captured.  Recently, Matt promised me that he would build me a theremin one day.  The first time I ever talked to Matt he called my arms “buggy whips.”  These are the sorts of friendships I have made at this hotel.  Of all the people I met, I cherished most my staff interactions.

1799036_10201528143351279_1897237473_o 1891422_10201530114600559_1704483401_o 1655438_10201527456894118_48996088_o 1782425_10201535062964265_1371286574_o 1614326_10201530114720562_642596500_o 894729_10201527824023296_1606168134_o 1553135_10201558164821797_1923105205_o 1292841_10201558165341810_1912670896_o

I am never going to write the full story of what happened in the kitchen at 11p.m. last Saturday. DSCN1643DSCN1628I was interviewing Robert who has been a Pfister cook for 14 years.  He has also done this martial art called “Wing Chung” for about 14 years.  DSCN1635Robert explained Wing Chung as “other martial arts are more, uh, if one person is stronger than the other, they’re going to win.  In Wing Chung you don’t have to be as strong as your opponent. It is more about technique and knowing what your opponent is going to do.”  As he told me this three orders of atlantic salmon with chorizo mashed potatoes with red pepper sauce and asparagus were created. DSCN1630 “The baseball players are here tonight and you know, they want all the steaks and the fish,”  said Robert.  Every seven years Robert does something called “iron palm,” to harden his fists.  “I have to hit four bags of rocks for one hundred days.”  He has to do this four times per workout to get the front, back and side and heel of the palms.

DSCN1640I want to tell you more, like the real estate lady who tried to sell me a house in the hallway, but I haven’t any more room, I haven’t time.  Jonathan West is coming.  He is nice, he is dapper and I know you will like him.  The other day I met up with him and Molly Snyder, the narrator whose job I stole a year ago.  We all stood together, a Pfister Carol with Narrators Past and Present.  DSCN1660Toodle-loo,

Anja Notanja Sieger.

P.S.  Stay tuned, the next post will be by JONATHAN!