All You Ever Needed to Know About My Impending Demise

My friends, the end is near. My ink is about to run out as The Pfister Narrator.

I’ve been thinking about this day ever since May 1, 2015. That’s the day I started this journey, and if I had been given a book right then and there that was an account of my year to come, I most certainly would have turned to the last page and read it.

But now that I’m a month away from the end of my time as the in-house writer at this glorious hotel I’m not choosing to hang my head in sorrow. Rather, I look forward to the coming month with my greatest energy and inspiration yet. It is going to be a hell of a finale, if I do say so myself.

To celebrate the past year, I’ve been offered the chance to have a live event at the Café Rouge the evening of April 22nd. I’m calling it my Final Bow. You can decide if the “bow” in question is the one you do from the waist or one of the many I like to tie around my neck.

But if you want to parse what I mean by Final Bow, you simply have to be in the room that night. And here’s why you’ll to come and celebrate my past year at the 424 (that’s my feeble attempt at giving the Pfister a street name).

I’ve thought long and hard about how I want to go out, and I decided that I’m going out the way I originally came into the Pfister as a writer. That origin story even predates my time as Pfister Narrator when I served a stint as the head writer for Hotel Milwaukee, a live radio show that often taped from Café Rouge back in the days that it was a fixture on Wisconsin Public Radio.

So, I’m creating a live radio show filled with stories, great characters, music and a truly triumphant bow that will be as final as a well-placed period. I’ll be joined by some of the best local actors and musicians, and my favorite musical sidekick Jimmy Kaplan will help keep things rolling along.

I also hope you’ll join me on the 22nd because I plan to present the final versions of the four short film scripts that I’ve worked on this year based on experiences I’ve had here at the Pfister.

If you’re looking to read the final page of my Pfister Narrator story now, sorry Charley. You’ll have to wait, but I promise that I’ll write one that leaves you satisfied as you close my book and pick up the new one that will be written by our incoming Narrator to be.

Here’s the basics on April 22nd. I can’t wait to celebrate with you all.

What: Jonathan West’s Final Bow

When: Friday, April 22

Time: 8:00pm (it’s a live show, so we’ll open the doors at 7:30pm, so come early so you can get a drink)

Where: Café Rouge at the Pfister Hotel on the ground floor

Admission: FREE, baby, FREE! (But bring your wallet for cocktails, because the more you drink the funnier I am.)

Questions? Email me here. I write back. I always write back.

 

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Todd

And then there’s Todd.

Today is officially the final day of Todd Mrozinski’s term as the Pfister’s Artist-in-Residence. For me and others around the Pfister, this is the moment when Todd leaves us with one final everlasting shadow. His own.

Todd made his mark during his artistic residency by using the shadows cast from the light at the Pfister to capture the profiles of countless guests, associates and well-wishers with brush and paint. Sounds like a simple proposition, and you may be thinking, “I sort of remember doing something like that in grade school, right?” But you would be wrong. Todd is a magician of sorts, an artist of supreme talent who somehow is able to show more than just a profile with his paintings. I don’t know how he does it, but Todd is able to paint a person’s soul.

Todd has talents I’ll never know. There are the obvious ones with a paintbrush that he wields with devastatingly exciting effect each time he approaches a canvas. There’s also the unerring commitment to his work as I often stood gaping at the volume of what he has been able to create during his time as Artist-in-Residence. I think, however, that the thing the amazes me most about my new friend Todd is a heart bigger than seems capable of being held in one human being’s chest.

Todd doesn’t simply paint people. He loves people and must paint them. It seems like an understatement to say that Todd is a universally beloved man. Around the Pfister, the thing we fortunate ones who have gotten to work with Todd do the first moment we see him approaching is smile and breathe a little easier full of a special sort of feeling. You know that feeling…the one you have when you see your best friend coming towards you. When you see Todd, the world seems right and everything makes sense.

It would be hard to write any tribute to my fellow artistic colleague at the Pfister without also talking about his wife, the dazzling Renee Bebeau. Renee’s pure love of the world and her obvious deep connection to Todd has brought added joy to the Pfister, and everything she seems to touch turns to something golden and full of joy. Renee was Todd’s true partner during his residency, organizing the Pfister’s thrilling Holiday Artists Fair, helping to coordinate the many shows Todd curated over the past year, serving as model for some of Todd’s paintings, and creating her own stunning art side-by-side with her beloved guy.

Todd leaves the Pfister having inspired me as any great artist does. I think of his friendship, the feeling I had every time I saw a new piece of his artwork, and it makes me want to get about the business of dedicating myself even more to my own life’s passion. Todd is the greatest advocate the art world could ever ask for, but more than that, he is one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever known. I will miss him, and I know I’m not alone.

Goodbye Todd. You leave a long and beautiful shadow, my friend. Thanks for all you have given and all you allowed us to take away.

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Hoppy Easter

Happy Easter!

No, no, I’m not a day late and a dollar short on the classic Easter greeting. This might be old news to most of you reading or listening to this since I know you’re all pure of heart and wise beyond measure, but Easter Sunday is special not only for the abundance of delicious hard boiled eggs and jelly beans, but also because it is the actual start of the Easter Season. I was a late learner about the actual Easter Season kicking off with Easter Sunday, something I was gently advised upon by a kind liturgical guide who never, ever admonished me for years of being an unrepentant heathen. Now I embrace the full majesty of the Easter season as it trails forward from that Sunday in spring when an industrious bunny rabbit litters carpets in homes with fake plastic grass while making deliveries of milk chocolate to good boys and girls across the land.

No trails of fake plastic grass were apparent in the Pfister lobby as I recently met a young rabbit kicking up her heels with her doting parents. My introduction was less than smooth, and this is where I embrace the fact that Easter is all about redemption and renewal.

“I couldn’t help but notice your pig ears,” I said as I introduced myself to Lindsay.

Smiling from the deepest place in her heart, Lindsay corrected me.

“These are my rabbit ears. For Easter.”

I tried to avoid turning a deep shade of red from embarrassment, and think I might have contained my humiliation to the sort of bright pink you might see on a newly dyed egg ready to be put into service for a hunt. Lindsay and her folks Joanne and Paul had come to the Pfister because Lindsay had faired particularly well in a weekend competition. Lindsay, it seems, is a dancer.

“In our competition we do tap, jazz, modern, hip hop…” The list continued on and on. Lindsay’s feet clearly have never failed her and her recent accomplishments had been awarded with a trophy. Her many achievements were now being enjoyed with her family at their favorite spot—the Pfister.

“This is a special place for us,” said Joanne, Lindsay’s mom. “It’s a place that has meant a lot to us over the years, and we come here as a family because everyone welcomes us so warmly.”

“The Pfister is a spot where we as a family can come and everyone can feel real comfort. Everything is good here,” added Paul. “We have become friends with so many of the staff…Mr. Roc, Mr. Peter, Ms. Helga.” Paul told me of the many tales the Pfister’s esteemed concierge staff have shared with his lovely family over the years, the sort of stories you share with friends near and dear to your heart.

I asked Lindsay what her favorite sort of dance was and she seemed to grow a few inches taller as she beamed back at me and said, “I love ballet.” Though she doesn’t perform ballet in her dance competitions, ballet is the basis for all she does as a dancer, the foundation upon which she builds her talents. It struck me on the cusp of Easter that this young woman wearing the set of floppy bunny ears had at an early, early age understood a very important fact of life. When you have a strong foundation, everything else in your life has a chance to flourish and grow.

I was curious about Lindsay’s long-term dreams as a dancer, but also the place where she would most like to take a few spins in the Pfister. I hope I get to see the answer to both of those questions come to life in years to come.

“I want to be a dancer for the Milwaukee Ballet, and dance through the Imperial Ballroom here at the Pfister,” said Lindsay. Her proud and loving parents looked on as this confident and charming young lass smiled from rabbit ear to rabbit ear. Ballet may be a good foundation for Lindsay’s future dreams, but it’s clear that she has any even stronger foundation in life. Their names, as you might have guessed, are Paul and Joanne, and they love their little bunny very, very much.

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The Napper

Hello, sir! Well you look like you worked real hard this week. You don’t say? This is the kick off for your vacation? Time for a break. Welcome to the weekend.

Snuggle up and nuzzle into a comfortable chair. Maybe you’d like to sit at one of the café tables across from our registration desk, and watch all the people come by. You can stay for as long as you like. Go ahead, take a load off.

No? That’s not quite the right spot? Well, how about a table in the Café? A nice afternoon latte and a scone? Have you tried the cake? We’ve got really great cake.

Oh, you’ve had your coffee for the day? Absolutely. Totally understand. If you’d like, I could have your bags taken to your room so you can get settled in. How’s that sound?

Ah, I see, you’re not staying with us. No, no problem at all. Happy to have you joining us here for the day while you wait for a friend. I’m glad to help make you welcome and enjoy the full experience of being here at the Pfister.

Have you been to the Artist-in-Residence and Pop-Up Gallery? Yes, yes you have. Oh, wonderful. So glad you enjoyed it. Take a look at all the rest of the art hanging around the hotel. We have an extraordinary collection.

I could arrange for a haircut at the spa? Or a massage? Ever have a pedicure? They’re great…try one sometime. Sure, next time when you have more time.

What about a late lunch? I can get you a table at Mason Street Grill. Oh, great, you’re eating there tonight. Sure, savor it until then, I get it.

Now, you say you’re on vacation, so how about an afternoon cocktail? I won’t tell. Our little secret. Might I suggest The Derby? It’s a little different than you might be expecting, but, boy, or boy, is it good.

Of course, that makes sense—wait for your friend and celebrate together. It’s always more fun when you have someone to toast. Would you like to have a seat in the lobby lounge then?

You would! Excellent! At the bar? No. How about a table? No table? Okay, well, there’s always the sofas.

The sofas—you want to sit on the sofas! Our pleasure. Please, please have a seat. Relax, let all the cares of the world wash away and please let us know if there’s anything you need. I’ll have a server bring you some bar snacks right away.

Oh, and, sir…just so you know, those sofas are pretty darned cozy. If there’s anything you need…

Sir, sir?

Nighty night.

Sleep tight.

All in the world seems good and bright.

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The Pinch Hitter

I have nothing but the highest of regard for the estimable talents of Dr. Jeffrey Hollander, the legendary pianist who reigns supreme over the musical gifts regularly given in the Pfister’s Lobby Lounge. As any of his fellow musicians might say, “That cat has some big chops.”

My fawning admiration for the Pfister’s king of the eighty-eight keys is great for sure, but I bow to my Narrator predecessors who have lauded and praised Dr. Hollander’s work in better words and phrases than I could even dream of weaving together. They’ve said it well, and anything I could add would only pale in comparison to their prose.

Instead, I would like to talk about what happens when Dr. Hollander decides he needs a night off. That’s when he looks to the bench and calls someone up to make sure the big leagues are expertly covered. I speak, of course, of the pinch hitter.

In talking about a piano pinch hitter, a little moonlight and music seems appropriate, right? I hope you’re listening to this on the Pfister Narrator podcast right now, because all of a sudden, you’re about to receive an ear massage.

There’s a distinct difference about the pinch hitter that stepped in for Dr. Hollander this past Wednesday. When you talk about this sub ivory tickler, don’t use the male pronoun. Switch it over to the she. Carolyn Wehner has recently joined the ranks of the substitute pianist list in the Pfister Lounge, a rogue’s gallery of the kind of swells you like to have around because they’re cool, charming, and talented as all get out. In doing so, Carolyn adds a bit of an X factor as well as an added chromosome to the time honored tradition of spanking good-time entertainment in our lobby lounge.

The night I was able to hear Carolyn, she was hitting all the cabaret classics. And her eye splits its time between the keys and the guests relaxing over a cocktail or evening bite. As a young lady came into the lounge, Carolyn shifted into some Disney tunes to herald her entracnce. In the middle of a set, she modulates between swinging smiley cabaret tunes and melancholy “pour-me-another-Joe” sort of sad sack ballads. She’s also got a bit of a vinegar wit, and she might sprinkle a ditty like the Mel Brooks’ classic “Springtime for Hitler” into a series of seasonal tunes with a devil-may-care effortless that ends up being a fun little Easter egg for anyone listening real hard.

But what does the pinch hitter think about the job she’s got to do? Modest as any second stringer might be, she’s a true team player.

“Why wouldn’t I love being here? It’s a beautiful room, and gorgeous instrument, and I get to back up a legend like Jeff Hollander. It’s heaven on earth.”

Dr. Hollander, you can rest easy. Carolyn and all your other pinch hitters are hitting it out of the park.

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Kids Say the Darnedest Things…About My Head

Esme was taking care of some really important business as she stormed the Pfister to look at some art.

You’d never say that she was in the way as she rushed around with her furiously important agenda, but you could say that she was somewhat underfoot. Real close to underfoot, as a matter of fact. Esme is one young busy body who is probably still measured in inches rather than feet.

Esme was barking out commands as she was twirling around the Pop-Up Gallery looking at some art. Twirling for real. Not some figurative idea of a hard charging boss lady. Twirling because her dress looked a lot more fun when she twirled.

“I’m really busy right now. REALLY busy. I’ll call you back.”

Esme yanked a flip phone from her cheek as she ended her call. She began a heat seeking search for a piece of art that featured her mother as a prominent subject. For someone with as much hustle in her bustle as this young tycoon, I was surprised that Esme wasn’t screaming into something like an iPhone 27, you know, that super new model of smartphone that only the most important of the important people seem to be able to get their hands on.

I had to know how Esme dealt with all her business with a simple old school clamshell mobile dealio. I mean, my dad has one of those and he likes to brag about how he only makes one call a year on it. I couldn’t imagine how this worked for someone who seemed to have so many things to take care of in the here and now. She cleared up my confusion right away.

“It’s an eraser. A PHONE eraser,” Esme said. Esme put a big stress on the word PHONE lest I continued to have any confusion about the function of the thing she had been shouting into.

I mentioned to Esme that a phone eraser might revolutionize the world of cellular technology.

“I don’t know,” said Esme. “Sure.”

Esme flipped into action mode and was on to her next bit of business. That biz seemed to be taking the measure of a man. Or, at least, a man’s head.

Reaching into her obviously very important itsy, bitsy purse, Esme produced a tiny pink kaleidoscope that she daintily held up to her eye. She pointed the end of the kaleidoscope in the direction of my head, twisted its body, and gave me her very solemn report about the state of my ever-loving noggin.

“Your head looks weird. Really weird.”

Out of nowhere, Esme’s sidekick appeared. Her sidekick also happened to be her brother Milo. This lad was a tad taller, but I’d lay better than average odds he answers questions about his height based on double digits inches, too.

Milo grabbed the kaleidoscope out of Esme’s hand and focused in on my head as his sister just had. He did not linger, as lighting fast action seemed to be the defining characteristic of the Esme and Milo bloodline. Milo sang out his own contrarian report with a big, gooey smile.

“I don’t think your head looks weird at all.”

Nice kid, that Milo.

And Esme? Well, she might have crushed my spirits for the blink of an eye, as any rough riding business lady can do from time to time, but, boy oh boy, I can’t wait to work for her someday.

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This Was Already Probably Read by Someone in the Cyber World Before I Even Wrote It

What I don’t know about cyber security could fill like 72 1-terabyte hard drives.

Well, I guess now, after a recent Pfister event, you can make that 71 ½.

I was recently able to slightly fill in my cyber security knowledge gap because of my visit with the whip smart wags attending the 1st Annual CypherCon which recently kicked off in the Pfister’s Imperial Ballroom.

CypherCon was a chance for men (a lot of men) and women (a lot fewer woman) with a passion for hacking and security and international espionage (as opposed to lions and tigers and bears, of course) to come together, rub elbows, and, as far as I can tell, figure out ways to protect the world at large from imminent cyber attacks and general tomfoolery that’s way beyond any “I’m a Nigerian prince and I need you to help me cash a check for $1 Million dollars” email scam.

I’ll admit that I’ve always sort of dreamed about going to a “Con” event. I’ve wondered what it might be like to be in the middle of a group of people following a certain mania, maybe even in costumes, when I’m just a guy who sort of blows in the mind. So, when CypherCon’s organizer Michael reached out to me, I was pretty excited. My baseline understanding of the thrust of CypherCon was that it would be a chance for computer hackers to share some good stories over beers. I’m aging myself for sure by saying this, but I had visions of a WAR GAMES movie marathon at some point during CypherCon.

When I arrived at CypherCon, I received some snazzy press credentials and a green blinking gear-shaped pendant to wear around my neck. The pendant was embedded with blinking lights powered by a battery that functioned as sort of a code to crack…a good indicator of how CypherCon was going to go down for the hundreds of people who showed up for this inaugural event. At CypherCon the best position to take to be on your game was on your toes.

I entered the Imperial Ballroom to discover a guest speaker talking with gravitas and authority about China. Oh, China. China, China, China. China has it going in terms of cyber sleuthing. And possibly, cyber attacking. The audience sat rapt listening to how our friends from the East are smarty-pants beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

That tipped me off to something. I was surrounded by smarty-pants. I headed off to a side room where I found displays of gadgets and gizmos that some of these smarty-pants had invented in their spare time. I started up a conversation with a nice couple named Kevin and Margie who were showcasing a series of whiz-bang inventions for sale.

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One of the items let you simulate playing video games with things as random as a banana. Another collection of wires and metal was capable of capturing credit card information, even though to my eye it looked sort of like a cheap pile of aluminum. I laughed, saying to Kevin and Margie, “I guess I better hold onto my wallet around you folks.”

Kevin grinned. Margie shrugged her shoulders. They looked at me silently, those big brains of theirs clearly at work. I tried to slyly slip my hand into the rear pocket of my slacks to kept my pigskin billfold well protected. You can’t trust nice looking people from the suburbs with superior intellect and soldering irons, you know.

It was at that point that I almost literally ran into a spy. Well, I’ll call Werner a spy because I think he’s earned plenty of rights to hang that shingle. When you ask Werner what he did for a living back many years ago, he has a slightly different answer.

“I was involved in authorized espionage.”

In other words, Werner was a big, old spy.

Werner explained that he was going to be telling his story to the CypherCon attendees the next day at the absolute perfect spot for spy stories: The Safe House. But I wanted his nutshell story, so Werner launched into his career highlights. 1955. G2 Military clearance. Fluent in four languages. Sentenced to 13 years in a Soviet prison. You know…your garden variety “authorized espionage” stuff.

I’m the type of guy who really hopes to have what I call “movie” moments in my life. I sensed I could probably get one of those to come true with Werner, so I pitched him some sensitive questions, knowing that there was really only one classic question Werner could offer in response. The spy who I loved for a few minutes at the Pfister one night did not disappoint. With a raised eyebrow after I asked about top-secret documents and intelligence, Werner pulled me close and gave it to me perfectly, making me tingle like I was in a Bond film.

“I’d tell you. But, of course, if I did, I’d have to kill you.”

Werner wasn’t the only one killing that night, however. I bid my new spy guy pal adieu and took in a bit of a presentation on #infosec by a dynamic duo by the name of Johnny Xmas and Lesley Carhart. Johnny and Lesley were making a compelling point for the audience that getting out into the world at large to talk about cyber security is a good thing to do—breaking beyond the echo chamber to warm the hearts and minds of all the regular folk about the importance of addressing cyber security in appropriate terms. They had charm, wit and plenty of humor in their presentation. But the thing that really made me a fan of their shtick and a believer in the importance of understanding that protecting data is a good thing, was a charming little intro to their presentation. Fiddling with a computer, Johnny and Lesley reminded me that hackers are cut from many cloths, be they of the cyber realm or ones like me who string a couple of words together to tell tales. I could have uttered the same words that tech savvy Johhny and Lesley did as they opened their presentation by saying, “Hey, anybody know how to start a PowerPoint?”

Well played, CypherConers. Now keep away from my wallet, please.

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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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My New Favorite Perfect

I have considered coloring the following story about Anu and Cindy with grandiose flourishes, unhealthy exaggerated “aw shucks” sort of exhortations, and adjective rich descriptions of two ladies reeking of the delectable charms of deeply realized kin and kithness.

But, instead, I’m going to just tell this lovely tale of friendship the way it should be told. Simply. Because it has become my favorite sort of perfect.

(And, yes, feel free to erase my first overblown paragraph from your memory…I promise it’s my last ounce of hyperbole for at least 400 words.)

Anu and Cindy were seated in the Pfister Lobby sharing a bag of potato chips. Each woman was focused on writing a postcard. They looked unrushed, calm, and serene. I admired the great smiles they each had on their faces.

The ladies were resting in the lobby on day two of a friendship retreat. Both women told me that they were 50-years-old, though that was hard to believe looking at faces radiating with health and warmth. They had come to the Pfister to celebrate this special shared birth year because of the bonds of their important and lifelong friendship.

The ladies explained that 40 of their 50 years had been shared as the best of friends. Seeing the light of love surrounding them as they sat together enjoying the afternoon, I imagined that they had to have been adorable when their bond was sealed at the tender age of 10.

Anu told me the past year had been a difficult one, and this time with her friend was a significant acknowledgement of looking forward. The outing had been arranged by Anu’s husband and children, and I understood that affairs of the heart must hold a special place within her family as I noticed the greeting she had written on a postcard that was headed back home. It read, “I love you infinitely.”

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Friends of 40 years tend to finish one another’s thoughts. Anu and Cindy filled in all the empty spaces that remained in the story that I found myself leaning in to hear. For 25 years, the friends had been separated by great distance. Their friendship didn’t miss a beat when they found themselves both living back in the same state a few years ago. They told me with moist eyes that for the past 24 hours, through moments of great pampering at the hands of the Pfister staff, every one of their thoughts had been fiercely connected to each other. And even after 40 years, they discovered that they were able to learn new things about the person sitting across the table. Friends forever, for sure. Forever discovering each other, a sure bonus.

I wanted to honor this great pair of friends by doing something remarkably against my nature—to leave them alone. As a writer I constantly want to know more about a subject, hoping to draw out intimate stories and surprising admissions. But my awe over the real and profound affection I witnessed in the simple and loving regard each woman had for the other made me thank them for their time and step away. Anu and Cindy deserved their space.

A bag of chips, two postcards, and friends for life. In a year of seeing and writing about all kinds of extraordinary at the Pfister, this could be the perfect I adore the most.

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The Over Under of 40

Milwaukee is a city built on the honest, malady dedicated hard work of men and women who generally choose to tilt towards the “make the world a better place” ideal. Sure, we’ve got a couple thousand things to make better in this Lake Michigan coastal hot spot, but by and large folks are keeping the health and prosperity of the world at the forefront of all their thoughts. This week at the Pfister, some of the younger members of that good people group gathered to be honored at the Milwaukee Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Celebration.

As a matter of full disclosure, healing I am a proud past recipient of the Milwaukee Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 honor. They told me I helped add to the cultural life of the city…I just kept telling stories because I never knew better. I can’t really recall the exact dates of my selection, of course, because now being solidly past 40, the old memory isn’t what it used to be.

It was an intensely special moment for me to have been recognized as a young Milwaukee leader. It was also one of the most humbling experiences of my life since my class of fellow Under 40 achievers included the types of people who make your jaw drop because of the great strides they were making in business, health social service, science, and philanthropy. Sure, it felt real good to be called out for the small contribution I had made to the city, but the big take away I remember from the whole honor was that there are truly remarkable people working to make Milwaukee an even better place to work, live, and play.

It was gratifying that our own Greg Marcus, President of the Marcus Corporation that owns the Pfister, was inducted into the 40 Under 40 Hall of Fame during this year’s celebratory dinner and presentation in the Pfister’s Grand Ballroom. I would say it even if he wasn’t the big boss–Mr. Marcus is not only a smart business leader, but he’s savvy about living a rich life and is no slouch behind the 88 keys (you’ll be happy if you ever catch him tinkling the ivories at Blu some night.) I particularly like what he has to say in this short video about how, “You shouldn’t leave a good party in pursuit of a better one.”

Not really ever wanting to leave the Business Journal’s party at the Pfister, I stopped a smiling man clutching a 40 Under 40 plaque. I congratulated him on his honor, but he demurred and sheepishly grinned back at me.

“Oh, no, this isn’t mine,” said Terrance. “This belongs to my fiancée. She really deserves it.”

Terrance is the kind of big, huggable, steady teddy bear that you can quickly think of as a shy guy of few words. But get him talking about something he loves, and the floodgates open. Needless to say, he had more than a few fine words to say about his fiancée Arletta Cobb, part of the 2016 class of 40 Under 40 honorees.

“The thing I love most about her is her incredible passion and heart,” said Terrance. “She goes into the hardest schools and works with kids to improve their lives.”

Terrance and I had one of those talks that could have easily gone long into the night as we chatted about the obvious adoration he has for his fiancée, a woman he’ll marry this summer after meeting her in church choir. Over his shoulder, I noticed Arletta warmly chatting with a couple of people who had attended the event. She finally wrapped up her conversation, and joined Terrance and me. His chest immediately swelled when she walks up to us, something I sensed happens to him a lot whenever Arletta enters the room.

Helping youth is built into Arletta’s DNA. She currently is program director at Milwaukee Christian Center, promoting healthy life choices for Milwaukee’s teen population. She has worked in and out of the classroom with young people, her heart leading her brain as she has developed programming and initiatives that allow children from at-risk backgrounds to develop positive coping mechanisms for some of life’s more thorny issues.

In a room full of impressive people, Arletta more than holds her own. As a past 40 Under 40 recipient myself, I remain humbled to know that I’m tangentially linked with someone who is doing such transformative work to help improve the lives of our area young people. I don’t profess to ever be the smartest guy in the room, but I do know enough to try to learn from those wiser than I am. Arletta has some great thoughts to share.

“I tell the young people I work with to always follow their passion,” says Arletta. “It’s not enough to just show up, but you should always try to make an impact.”

Arletta believes that impact can come through mentorship and asking and listening. I’m struck hard by an important statement that Arletta makes to me, something I will always remember when I consider how I might lend a hand to making the world a better place.

“I asked the teens I was working with today one question: ‘What do you want to do?’ And then I listened. When you show that you want to listen and work with a group of people, things can start happening. Today, we started. Tomorrow, we’ll continue.”

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