Reigning Cat and Dogs

Lulu was sort of tight-lipped when we first met. Not standoffish really, salve but I imagine people have always sort of thought of her as something of a big deal so she probably just feels she’s not the one who ever needs to make the first move. But I pegged her as more shy than anything, which, when you think about it, is sort of a surprise because it’s hard to take your eyes off of her when she enters a room. I know I immediately fell in love when I first saw her. That raven hair…those dark, deep-set dreamy eyes…the way she smiled when she got her belly rubbed.

No fears, friends…I’m not honing my skills as a romance novelist. I just can’t think of a better way to talk about one of the bells of a recent ball at the Pfister. If you didn’t know, the Pfister is a “dog friendly” hotel. You got a nice pooch that understands that plush carpeting and feathertop bedding does not a pretty potty make? Then your best friend is welcome to come for a stay. This past weekend, however, the Pfister went from “dog friendly” to “dog more-than-friends-yeah-its-serious” status.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the 2015 Paws and Claws Gala from the Wisconsin Humane Society.

Let the oohing and aahing begin.

The Wisconsin Humane Society has been having their Paws and Claws fundraiser at the Pfister for several years, and it is, I freely and fondly admit, my absolute favorite thing that I have seen during my time as The Pfister Narrator. Come on, dogs in formal wear? You’re melting inside, right? I know I did.

There was Lulu the big dog. She’s the kind of canine that you could use as a blanket. Massive, sort of sleepy looking all the time and full of hair that surely ends up on a freshly buttered piece of toast even when she’s far from the kitchen.

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Pretty puppy. Pretty hairy, too.

Lulu was lounging with her friend Schnoud who was blinged out from head to toe. Lulu was close to nap time it seemed. Schnoud was ready to party all night long.

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Schnoud the Dude.

I’m always curious about the first and last moments a person experiences at a fancy event. Those are the critical memory moments, the first impression and last lingering thought for someone who has taken the time to gussy up in some fancy duds and use all their good manners at the dinner table. I wasn’t around for the final moments of the evening, but I can say that the Paws and Claws organizers found a secret weapon for making a great first impression and she is aptly named Sunny.

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Smile…I dare you not to.

Look at that million-dollar smile. I mean…stop the cuteness, okay? Sunny’s owner explained that she is a “people person.” You can quibble over whether Sunny should rightfully be called person, but I can tell you that I am convinced I would rather spend many more hours discussing politics and the national debt with Sunny than quite a few persons of interest I know.

The whole gala is organized to support the Wisconsin Humane Society’s very humane efforts working with animals. No more clear picture of the success of those efforts can be seen than by watching Jasmine prance around the Pfister’s seventh floor ballrooms. Spry, spirited and sprightly, Jasmine doesn’t seem to ever consider the fact that she has only three legs. Her owner explained to me that as a puppy she had been abused and mistreated, and when she finally made it to the Humane Society the vets there decided the best treatment for her was to remove her leg. That move might have slowed down other dogs, but Jasmine has enough energy to light up a whole room, and she was doing that while she yipped and sniffed around all the good times on hand.

I pulled aside Heidi Boyd who was working the event as a member of the Humane Society’s development team and complemented her on the whole glittery affair. I said, “Quite a night with a great bunch of dogs and cats, isn’t it?”

Heidi smiled warmly, clearly in love with the work she does and said, “Plenty of dogs, for sure. Cats, not so much.” Heidi confided in me that cats don’t do so well at events like this, but that I should look out for one super star cat, the Siamese named Coco.

Moments later I saw a gathering of scrubbed up party goers huddled around a carrying crate and I moved in to take a look at all the fuss. A few feet away, my nose started to twitch and I felt a series of sneezes coming on. My cat allergies were kicking in, and I realized that I had found Coco, the so called Super Star Kitty. I demurred from an audience with the highness of the hairball as I knew my allergies couldn’t handle the pressure and made my way for the elevators so the revelers could have all their fun. Besides, I didn’t want to ruin the bell of the ball’s night by “Achooing” all over her fancy dress. That, my friends, is a fate worse than using your date’s patent leather pumps as a chew toy.

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

Live from The Pfister…Chatter and Paintings and Arias You Want to See

Not that I think there’s a lack of reasons to come to the Pfister on any given day (I mean there’s the glamour, the great service, the lush accommodations, and all), but I’m happy to be giving you some spectacular special reasons to visit 424 E. Wisconsin Ave. in the coming weeks.

This Friday, October 16th is Milwaukee’s Fall Gallery Night and at the Pfister that means one thing: WE’RE DOING TWO THINGS! I’m thrilled to host my first live event as Pfister Narrator when I bring together leaders in the local theatre scene for SHOP TALK, an engaging discussion that gets people in-the-know talking shop. SHOP TALK is a lively hour-long combination of interviews, levity and even some musical flourishes. I’m honored to get the chance to talk with Chad Bauman (Managing Director of Milwaukee Rep), Sherri Williams Pannell (one of the leaders of Milwaukee’s new Bronzeville Arts Ensemble), Suzan Fete (a co-founder of Renaissance Theaterworks), Tom Klubertanz (actor and epically popular theatre educator at Oconomowoc High School), and Dan Schley (local theatre audience member extraordinaire and all around greatest guy ever).

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Chad Bauman is smart, classy, and dynamically leads Milwaukee Repertory Theater as Managing Director in partnership with Artistic Director, Mark Clements. You want to hear him speak…trust me.

I’m joined by musical sidekick James Kaplan and livewire announcer and partner-in-crime Jason Economus for an unforgettable evening. We’ll be in the former Roger Stevens space on the first floor and doors open at 6:00pm for a 6:30 show. This is a free-of-charge event, so plan on showing up early to snag a good space close to all the talking of shop. Learn more by visiting the SHOP TALK Facebook Event Page.

SHOP TALK is happening in collaboration with my ever active and pulsing with talent Pfister artistic colleague, Todd Mrozinski, our Artist in Residence, and his Fall Gallery night event. Todd has brought together a superb collection of artists for the PEOPLE show at the Pfister’s new Pop Up Gallery. The show features portraits created by some of the best and brightest local artists, and Todd’s opening on Friday evening will be an event par excellence featuring live music by Mississippi Sawyer and a poetry tour of all the artwork by my outstanding predecessor as in-house writer at the Pfister, Anja Notanja. You can get more details at the PEOPLE show Facebook event page.

The lovely thing about all this is that you can come to SHOP TALK and then take a few steps across the lobby to experience the PEOPLE show. Noshing and a cash bar will add to all the merriment. What a night!

Now that fills up your dance card for Friday night, but what about next Wednesday, October 21st? I know you’re looking for something to do on a school night, and I have the answer—Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s Voice Lab.

In the grand tradition of celebrating the arts at the Pfister, I’m delighted to host Milwaukee Opera Theatre for a Voice Lab on Wednesday, October 21st from 7:00-9:00pm at Cafe Rouge.

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Witness the artistic process up-close at Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s Voice Lab on October 21st at Cafe Rouge

What is a Milwaukee Opera Theatre Voice Lab you ask?  Voice Lab has been used by professional artists to prepare for auditions, try out new repertoire, and revisit old, familiar pieces.  Composers have used Voice Lab to assist them in the development of new work.  Voice Lab has been used by avocational singers to continue their practice, and by singers returning to music after a hiatus who want a safe place to try things out.

The artists’ process is revealed for inquisitive onlookers during Voice Lab, and this free-of-charge event is also open to the public.  

And Milwaukee Opera Theatre is a group you should keep your eyes and ears on for invigorating culture and quirks. MOT, as they like to call themselves, considers itself a microbrewery of opera: Small batches, high quality, locally produced.  Their reputation for exciting approaches to classic operatic repertoire and new work has attracted the attention of audiences during their many sold-out performances around Milwaukee.  You can learn more about them at milwaukeeoperatheatre.org.

I mean this when I say this…it will be a delight to see you at the Pfister for these events. It’s thrilling to make these sorts of discussions and events available to the public, and I do so hope you’ll join us for all the fun. See you soon…I’ll be the guy with the bow tie and big happy-as-a-clam grin.

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

The Things A Fella Will Do for Frank

I wear bow ties because I believe that they are distinctive and stylish. Plus, doctor it is infinitely harder for someone to wring your neck when you are wearing a bow tie as opposed to a necktie.

However, there is one reason I will willingly pass up a bow tie for a necktie.

And that reason is Frank Lloyd Wright.

It is with that sartorial zeal that I reached into my closet this past week and grabbed my smart Fireplace Relief necktie with a design pattern taken from elements of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Los Angeles Hollyhock House, for sale you know the one built by Wright for Aline Barnsdale in 1921. I’m not talking about the Ennis House, the one across the hills that you can see from Hollyhock that they used in BLADE RUNNER. I mean, come on, let’s get things straight.

Okay, if it seems like I know a thing or two about Frank Lloyd Wright, the jig’s up. Before I was the Pfister Narrator, I blissfully spent a few years as Director of Communications for The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Back in May, I left the fine folks at the Foundation that Wright himself founded so I could focus more on my writing, and here I am following the goings and comings of folks visiting the Pfister.

When I made my departure, my co-workers sent me off with a lovely luncheon where they showered me with Frank Lloyd Wright schwag. I will note that in three years working for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation I wore nothing but bow ties. I also campaigned tirelessly to convince the two Directors of Licensing that I had the pleasure of working with during my tenure that a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired bow tie would be a big hit. Alas, my plan never took hold, so as I opened up one of my parting gifts I chuckled to myself as I considered the irony of the accessory that was now going to be hanging around with me for some time to come. My co-workers gave me a Frank Lloyd Wright necktie on my last day of work, the first dangling tie that I had gotten since that real skinny one I bought back in the 90s.

But there is something about Frank Lloyd Wright that makes it just peachy for me to choose to wear that necktie. I’ll share a secret with you…the guy was a genius. And when I heard from friends that I had known and gotten to work with from the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy that they would be holding their annual conference at the Pfister this week, I knew my Fireplace Relief necktie would be getting a good wearing.

It makes sense that the Building Conservancy would choose to hold their annual conference in Milwaukee, and the theme of Wisconsin: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Laboratory reflects that. If you were to drop an architectural bomb on Milwaukee, you would effectively whip out a large percentage of Wright’s existing building work. I say building work because it’s important to note that Wright wasn’t only an architect, something I am reminded of by the nice folks I bump into attending the conference who are filled with opinions and reverence for a man that many of them consider “the master.” Writer, graphic designer, inventor, philosopher and iconoclast are a few of the titles that Wright could “Wrightfully” embrace (and yes, I did just misspell right on purpose because it felt like the Wright thing to do, so there…and yes, I see what I just did again).

The conference attendees are spending their time in Milwaukee discussing efforts to preserve and save Wright’s work. That’s the Building Conservancy’s main focus, and they are very good at what they do. They also serve an important role in educating the public about Wright and celebrating his achievements. Conference attendees are visiting local Wright sites in Milwaukee such as the Frederick C. Bogk House on Terrace Avenue and The American System Built Homes in Burnham Street Historic District. And just this year a Shorewood home that had previously been unattributed as one of his designs was revealed to be an authentic Frank Lloyd Wright creation. Milwaukee is covered with Wright’s fingerprints and conference goers that swarm around the 7th floor ballroom spaces are clearly happy to be in town to see these and other treasures.

I’m thrilled when I enter the Conservancy’s silent auction and see tables of Wright memorabilia and fascinating books about Wright and his work written by fascinating people I had the pleasure of getting to know during my time firmly entrenched in the Wright world. There is, however, one piece that really catches my eye and seems to be the perfect treasure for a takeaway from the Building Conservancy’s stay at the Pfister. It’s a DO NOT DISTURB sign from the Imperial Hotel, a magnificent structure that no longer stands but was considered one of Wright’s most stunning creations.

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I hold back from placing a bid. Leave this one for someone enjoying their Pfister stay—it’s sort of a precious recall to hospitality and grace in a place that specializes in hospitality and grace.

I look around and see that the room is filled with the leaders of public Wright sites, places like Fallingwater in Bear Run, Pennsylvania or the SC Johnson Headquarters down in Racine. The energy, vision and passion of these folks is present, forward, and always on point. They are tireless crusaders of the Wright legacy, for sure, and there is no doubt after a passing comment that I receive from a conference attendee that they all have impeccable taste and are whip smart.

“Great tie,” says a charming dark haired woman with a lanyard around her neck as she smiles at my Fireplace Relief necktie.

Thanks Frank. For you, and only for you, I’ll let it all hang out.

Apples of My Eye

After spending time with Brian Frakes in the bowels of the Pfister, remedy I am quite confident that I will have no need to visit any doctor for 96 days or so.

Brian, the Pfister’s Executive Chef, caught me in the Café drinking coffee like I was in a contest to see if I could ingest a day’s worth of caffeine that might rival Voltaire’s daily in take. (If you’re not a Voltaire freak like me, and I sincerely hope your nerd strains don’t run that deep, you should know that Voltaire reportedly drank up to 40 cups of coffee a day).

I believe Brian sensed from my cocoa colored skin that the benefits of healthy eating would be well served on me with a trip to his magical apple cellar.

Brian tipped me off that he had just received a sampling of apples from his pal Ken Weston at Weston’s Antique Apple Orchard. An apple break sounded grand to me. I was also curious to see what an antique apple actually was. My mind conjured the thought of a fruit wrapped in a doily. But Brian has a great palette and essentially defines “cool chef”, so I knew that whatever the case, the snacking was bound to be good.

I gulped a long final draw of black coffee and got up from my Café table for apple tasting time. It seemed like a perfect thing to do on the first acceptable fall day when I had slipped into a wool suit because the temps outside the Pfister have started dipping into those beautiful autumn levels that remind all our visitors that Milwaukee is a truly spectacular place to be this time of the year. Brian’s invitation was more than a summons to apple snack, it was a welcoming to leaves crunching under my feet and hearty cheers at a football game.

I’m an apple fan, so what Brian had laid out for sweet and tart tasting time was a slice of heaven. He explained to me that Mr. Weston had given him some samples in the past and ever since then has shown the Pfister a lot of apple love. Locally sourced, delicately handled, these apples were a visual feast and Brian’s rustic display looked magazine photo shoot worthy as my eyes popped over which red or green goodness to try first.

I followed Brian’s lead and took slices of different varieties and dipped them into light colored honey. As the crisp slivers of apple and sweet honey hit my tongue, the seasons changed before my eyes. This wasn’t just an apple moment, this was my chance to see how the Pfister shifts and shapes with each new turn of the calendar. It’s fairly splendid to imagine a guest chomping down on one of these spectacular pieces of fruit and in one bite experiencing a rush of nature that is both full of flavor wonder and seasonal peace.

Call your doctor, and by all means invite him or her for a trip down to the Pfister. The apples are coming and it means very good things for everyone.

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

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

The 27-Month Pregnancy of Elizabeth’s Baby Walrus

Elizabeth is happy. She’s holding her baby. Clutching it really. It’s almost like she’s going to crush it in her hands. Makes sense–it feels so good to see it after the 25 long months it has taken from conception to delivery.

You won’t be seeing Elizabeth on some reality television show about miracle moms. Elizabeth will leave the Pfister with her baby and spend time considering its journey, malady seeing how it has been shaped by friends around the country, and she will close one chapter on her life and look forward to the next. Elizabeth’s Baby Walrus has finally arrived, and the project is complete.

Please understand that Elizabeth will not be tethering up some snorting, salve mustached creature than tips the scales somewhere north of the preseason weight of a defensive lineman. Elizabeth does play mother to a panting, dark haired cutie named Hazel the Dog, who enjoys a fair share of kibble treats and cuddles, but Baby Walrus is a different kind of familial connection altogether.

Back in 2013, treatment Elizabeth conspired with a group of friends scattered across the country to participate in a communal art project. The idea would be to have each participant chose a theme and start the creation of a book filled with images, notes, and other creative ephemera. Each month all the books would be passed on in a cross-country daisy chain, and after 16 months, all the books would land back in the hands of their creator. Elizabeth picked the name Baby Walrus for this art project because the poor mother walruses of the world actually carry their babies for about 15 months, almost the same intended amount of time for the project to be completed.

The timing and the execution of Baby Walrus was a perfectly conceived plan that could not fail, until, of course, it failed. It has been 25 months since Elizabeth has last laid eyes on her own Baby Walrus, well beyond the proposed gestation time. Her other creative friends have long since had their own Baby Walruses back in their waiting hands. There are reasons for Elizabeth’s delay… some honest missteps in timing along the way because of unforeseen life events, creative ideas taking too long to execute, and a general laissez faire attitude about finishing the job from the final participant before her end-of-project pass off was rendered. But, after many months and many miles, Elizabeth has met with friends for a dirty martini at Blu to celebrate the culmination of lots of creative people leaving their fingerprints on something she dreamed up.

Elizabeth’s book explored the idea of FLIGHT, and I see the pages of the well-traveled book filled with images such as a hand drawn ostrich, elaborate calligraphy, and passages of prose. Elizabeth has traveled from her home in New York City to spend time in Milwaukee with friends before retreating to the River Valley area of Wisconsin for more creative experiences. A fitting way to follow her book…flying off on an adventure to wrap her arms around a piece she started and finished through a network of friends. Tonight, its time to sip a cocktail and finger through the pages of her book. The stars in Elizabeth’s eyes as she experiences the touches of wonder left by her friends is magic and celebrates the simplest joys of creation and makes her happy to say, “Look what I made.”

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.

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

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.

Oprah’s Clothes Make Nice at The Pfister

I’m immediately interested in the event called Oprah’s Closet in the former Roger Stevens store at the Pfister. “What in the world does one of the most powerful women in the world keep in her closet?” I think. Is she like me and uses her closet to hang about 76 bow ties and a collection of suits that can be worn well into old man times?

I’m not surprised to find that the selections in Oprah’s Closet and Jonathan’s Closet don’t have a lot of common ground. Jonathan’s closet might have more sensible slacks in three shades of muted grey, viagra but Oprah’s Closet is a lesson in high design.

I’m welcomed to peek around for this one-day-only pop up fundraiser by a kind and smiling couple who are busily dealing with actual customers who have shown up to snap up threads that have been donated by the indomitable Ms. Winfrey herself. Upon entering the salon setting, I’m immediately struck that Oprah has impeccable taste, is not afraid of color and doesn’t mind a fur or two for the ladies.

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Shoppers are mingling and pulling out their wallets and the whole affair is humming along when I spot a familiar, cheap and might I say solidly handsome, face from my past. It’s golden-throated baritone Nate Stampley, a Broadway veteran who is in town working on Milwaukee Rep’s production of DREAMGIRLS. At an already swell event, Nate Stampley somehow is classing up the joint.

The fact that a sharp guy like Nate is at a fashionable affair at the Pfister is no surprise, of course. The room is filled with beautiful people who have come out to buy fashions donated by Oprah with the proceeds going to support Heritage International Ministries COGIC and their mission work in the US and Africa.

Nate and I chat and I learn why he is actually at the event. It is for the noblest of reasons—because of his mom and dad. Nate’s mom and dad just happen to be Dr. Nathaniel and Carolyn Stampley, the pastors of the ministry that this fundraiser is benefitting. I gather that they are the two people buzzing about the room making it run smoothly as this pearl of information drops in my lap.

Nate introduces me to his father, and I see that this whole enterprise is a family affair. There are cousins and uncles and aunts all around, lending a hand, making things happen. Dr. Stampley stands coolly in the middle of it all, a calming figure who, with the gesture of a hand or the lift of an eyebrow, has the commanding presence to get things done.

And gets things done he does. Dr. Stampley explains to me that the mission work he and his wife and their congregation does supports health and education efforts to those in need. The work is local, and the work is international. With a huge amount of charm, Dr. Stampley smiles at me and makes a grand invitation saying, “You should join us on a mission to Africa someday.”

Never mind the fact that I’ve just met the man, I start to consider his offer, such a powerfully positive man he is. I catch Nate again and ask if he can introduce me to his mother. He spots her as she is fully engaged in a conversation with someone who has come to do some shopping and brokers our greeting. Mrs. Stampley is immediately warm and full of heart, and it is evident that she is an equal part of making this event and the ministry sing. I’m a great admirer of her son Nate and daughter Malkia, a performer of great note in her own right who also happens to be appearing in DREAMGIRLS with her brother, and after getting to chat with Mrs. Stampley for a moment, I take her hand and tell her, “You have one of the greatest families I’ve ever met.”

I say my farewells, and I can’t help but feel inspired by the Stampley’s leadership, wisdom and spirit. Dr. Stampley had explained to me that this event came about because of his chance to meet Oprah when she had visited Milwaukee a few years back when she discovered that she had a half sister living here. That brief meeting turned into a special relationship that is ultimately helping others in need. I hope that my new connection with the Stampley’s bears the same sort of fruit. I may be passing by one of Oprah’s full-length fur coats today, but it’s not for lack of desire to help.   Watch what you say, Dr. Stampley, the day may come when I’m carrying your bags to Kenya.

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Southern Discomfort

I can’t help but overhear the fella at the bar with the full glass of Scotch placed before him at 2:30 in the afternoon on a weekday.

He’s a loud talker, try and the round sounds coming at the end of his sentences tells me that he has enjoyed his fair share of humid summers deep in the South somewhere.

I hear him bellow into his cell phone something about getting back to Memphis. I have no suspicions that this is some conspiracy theory Elvis sighting. Besides, Elvis was never as ear piercingly loud as this fine figure of a man.

The booming Southerner has two hands that are working overtime on this sleepy afternoon. The right hand holds the man’s ever present cell phone, a piece of metal I imagine is growing hotter in his hand as he blathers into it with a good amount of demanding zeal. The left hand is in charge of that Scotch, and by the looks of his grip, that left hand has had a lot of practice as Scotch delivery vehicle.

There are no other guests in the Lobby Lounge–it is a very slow late summer day when the folks who are at work are working and the folks who are at play are in the sun. I wonder if the Man from Memphis would dial it down as he barks about business matters to some unfortunate soul on the receiving end of his call if he found himself surrounded by a gaggle of guests. Something tells me that the answer would be, “Hell no, y’all.”

I’m on the edge of my seat to see if this fellow will start railing so hard about getting business in order that his face will turn the shade of a Memphis summer sunburn. But the Scotch seems to take a little edge off, if only to also take away all ideas in the man’s head that there is a social contract about volume in public spaces that sort of values the idea that cranking the dial up to eleven is a real no-no.

He’s a good show, sort of a modern day Tennessee Williams play with a smart phone. But good old Tennessee couldn’t have ever written a better ending to this Southern gentleman’s business call than what I hear as he wraps up his tirade.

“Get ‘er done! I’m counting on it. Oh, and I love you.”

Was it a trick? Did my ears deceive me? I lean in for more and watch as the man of the hour launches into a succession of similar calls to business associates. It’s the same pattern over and over. Screaming, cajoling, bulldogging, threatening, and then landing the sucker punch.

“Yep, love you. Love ya, I really do. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, and remember I love you. Love, love, love you!”

A rebel yell that trails off into the sounds of hearts and cuddly puppy dogs? I think I just saw the South rise again.

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