Thirteen Going On Winner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tamia and LaQuanda out on the town.

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

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

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

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

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Operation Pamper: The Secret Spa Mission

Friday the 13th. 10:55am. Pfister Hotel Lobby Bar. Black Ops Mission engaged. Decompression fluids in process. Relaxation level at Level Orange headed towards Blazing Red.

I was witness to a secret mission at the Pfister this morning. It included a fair dose of intrigue. I never felt in danger as I saw the mission going down, viagra however. There was hardly any dagger, but plenty of cloak. Well, robe, actually.

Seeing three women looking like they’re ready for the weekend to start a little early in the day on a Friday in the Pfister lobby is like a bell going off in my brain that says, “Hey, these ladies probably have a story.” I wasn’t wrong.

I took a seat next to the trio and asked, “What are you ladies celebrating? You look like you’re in a festive mood.” They put in three drink orders, the kind of ones you make when you don’t have to go back to work, and smiled.

“We’re having a little R&R before our spa visit. Just to really relax,” said one of the women. Sounded like a pretty nice Friday to me, so I followed up to see if I could ask them some questions and write about their day.

That’s when eyes started to shift back and forth, questioning looks appeared on their faces, and I started to get the feeling that they thought I was working for some covert operation. Then they landed the deadliest question any writer who talks to people and writes about it fears he or she may hear.

“Uh…where does this go? We need to be careful.”

Now, that’s exactly the sort of response that generates two strong feelings. The first feeling is one that tells you in your tender soul to just leave the ladies be and let them enjoy their day. The second feeling is that one where you’re just not going to stop until you get the full scoop on the nefarious doings potentially going down. I’m weak in the knees when it comes to stories of people doing things they maybe shouldn’t be doing, so my tender soul took a rain check on taking the lead and I kept going with my questions.

I explained to the ladies that I wanted to hear their story and write about it for this very blog. The word “blog” made them open their eyes wide with a look of terror. Looking back at me they had expressions on their faces that sort of said, “You’ve found us! Curses! Drat!”

I asked, “What’s the matter…you playing hooky?” I thought back to all the times a few friends of mine and I might have slipped out of work for an unplanned drink, cookie, or, the granddaddy of them all, afternoon nap. Yeah, I realized that if someone had approached me in those moments wanting to write about my slinking away, I wouldn’t have taken too great of a shine to that proposition.

Immediately, the ladies assured me that they weren’t playing hooky. “No, no! Nothing like that,” said their default spokeswoman. “We just shouldn’t really spread this news around that we’re here right now. It’s sort of a special thing.”

I’d love to tell you that they were all trained ninjas or women on the run from the law, but it seems that there was no soul stirring betrayal happening. The women weren’t employed in some corporate espionage scenario. They just happened to be three great workers who their boss had recognized within their company with a trip to the Well Spa on this particular Friday afternoon.

“We told a little white lie about where we were going to the rest of the people we work with. We didn’t want them to feel bad that it was only the three of us getting to spend the day in the spa.”

I learned more about the who, what and why of how the ladies came to get their afternoon off, but my tender soul finally kicked in. They let me snap a picture of them toasting the day, but I’m not telling any more than that. Yours is a little white lie that I’m happy to keep, ladies. A fine spa mission to you all, and you’re right–your co-workers would have been very jealous of your perfectly divine day. Operation Pamper is a super sneaky success.

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Peter’s Perfectly Pious Pius Pitch

They say that coffee is for closers. I say that cocktails are for charmers.

My Wednesday night plans this week involved meeting up at Blu with a group of writers to chat into the night like some sort of Cream City Algonquin Round Table. As I exited the elevator on the 23rd floor to meet my friends, ambulance I found myself walking right into the middle of a swinging party. And it was quite a rager for a school night.

That school night festivus turned out to be a mighty successful Blutender event for Pius XI High School. The smiling guests clinking glasses made the trip to the top floor bar to raise a toast and make sure a percentage of their cocktail dollars would go to support Pius’ Hank Raymonds Family Scholarship, and a designated pool of money established in honor of the beloved former Marquette University basketball coach that helps support scholarships for Pius’s student body.

Chatting up some guests at the entrance to that bar I bumped into Peter Reeves, who serves as Pius’ Community Relations Coordinator. It is clear upon meeting Peter that he also serves an extra special role as Charmer-in-Chief. Peter is the kind of guy who looks in your eyes, listens to every word you say, and then smiles back at you and easily gets you wrapped up in a zippy conversation. I made sure to stuff my hands in my pocket as I talked with Peter because I had this feeling that he had the power to chatter the few Hamiltons and Lincolns I had folded in wallet and add them to kitty for the Raymonds Fund.

Peter told me that over 70 percent of the students at Pius High School receive some form of scholarship assistance. He was clearly pleased with the evening’s turnout and told me it wasn’t just a night to raise some money, but also a night to raise some excitement.

I figured a guy like Peter had a great elevator pitch, some sort of thirty second speech that hit all the positive points about why someone might want to start throwing some shade his and Pius’ way. Peter did me one better than that, though. He gave me what he calls his airplane pitch. The guy is good, and like any charmer looking to garner support he had a twinkle in his eye that made me want to sign up for whatever club he’s a member of. I’m sure Pius High is happy to have Peter on their team, but if he ever gets his pilot’s license, I’m bouncing around some clouds with Mr. Charm.

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The Greatest American

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You want a chocolate?”

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

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What Would Be Chapter One

I promise you, physician if I ever write a book that weaves together bits and pieces of prose into a narrative that tells a story about the many important and not so important moments I’ve seen, heard and experienced at the Pfister, this would be Chapter One.

The sevenish afternoon lobby lounge so and sos didn’t lift their heads from their draft beers because one of the women was a red head and the other was a brunette. They didn’t even shift their attention from getting a light buzz on before eating the fully expensed porterhouses they would charge to the home office because the terry robes hugged the ladies’ shoulders just right. It wasn’t even just because lady one and lady two were carrying a pair of the biggest cocktails any of the men had ever seen, stuff and that was saying something for a lineup heavy on traveling salesmen.

Truth be told, the casual head turns had to do with the whole package. That packaged deal could have been the start of a classic one-liner. “Two pretty ladies walk through the lobby of a swank hotel in terry cloth robes carrying a pair of perfect Manhattans…” There were literally hundreds of good ways to fill in a good punch line, but none of those would have landed the way the red head and brunette were killing it today.

It was a busy Thursday afternoon, and the front desk had a steady line of arriving guests checking in for a long weekend of work, play and all manner of diversions in between. Accommodation was the name of the game, and luggage was in need of toting as hospitality was served up with a genuine smile and just the right mint on a pillow. That sort of attention to detail required laser focus. Which is why the lightly clothed ladies who might otherwise stick out like some spa perfect sore thumb were not the main attraction on this particular autumn afternoon.

The men at the bar weren’t really even staring at the ladies as they made their slow walk across the lobby. They were a pack of kittens, nary a cad among the toothless middle agers, and too tame to be any sort of leering threat.

The corner of the eye of the home goods salesman from Topeka picked up that the red head had her hair up in a ponytail. He thought that was nice because as he was told and as was true he was basically a nice guy who always did actually finish last.

As the IT rep from Boise reached for a bar napkin to blow his nose, he saw the glimmer of the auburn liquid in the women’s icy rocks glasses and wondered what kind of bourbon was floating their boats. He desperately hoped they were Jim Beamers, not card-carrying members of the cult of Jack Daniels.

Noticing the daintily painted toes that the ladies flaunted on their flip flopped feet, the audit specialist from Nashville made a mental note to check out that sassy color when he got home for his own private spa night. Everyone has secrets.

If there had been spotlight operators working the lobby they surely would have tracked the ladies, hopefully picking them up with a beam of light softened by a gel in some charming shade of pink. For now, however, it was a step, a sip, a step, a giggle, a sip sip, and a sigh, all passing by all the passersby.

Hendricks stood at the farthest corner of the open space watching. It was his customary spot so he could see all there was to see and discreetly attend to anything that needed his carefully taught muted mitigation. He was a suit and tie guy who had long felt naked without at least three layers of cotton between his skin and the reversible belt he wore as part of his daily uniform. One thought pierced his brain as he watched the queens of serenity saunter the crowded space with nary a care for inquiring eyes as they enjoyed the comfort of robes and smart cocktails in public spaces.

“If I loosened my tie in the woods and no one was around to see it, would it make a sound?”

Deep flowed the rivers of the lobby’s steady suit and tie guy.

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Shop Talk Beyond the Shop

It’s time to talk shop…well, troche post shop.

Shop Talk was a live event that I hosted in my capacity as The Pfister Narrator on Friday, October 16th as a part of Milwaukee’s Fall 2015 Gallery Night. It happened in conjunction with our Artist-In-Residence Todd Mrozinski’s own special opening of the People Show in the Pfister’s Pop-Up Gallery.

This all speaks to the long and storied tradition of the Pfister being a nexus for celebrating arts and culture as an essential element of hospitable pride. Shop Talk was conceived as a chance for people in-the-know on some subject or occupation to get together in front of a live audience and, ed you guessed it, “talk shop.” For the first ever Shop Talk the topic on the table was one near and dear to my heart—the live theatre.

Theatre is a part of my DNA; it’s been my main profession most of my adult life. Along the way I’ve met some spectacularly smart people who have great knowledge about the theatre. I often take it for granted that I’m blessed to have first hand contact with such a unique gang of personalities, sickness and when you welcome a group of people who don’t necessarily have first hand knowledge of theatre to watch these types of folk talk intelligently about the theatre, you are reminded what a great set of perspectives they have.

I hope to host more Shop Talks in the coming weeks and months and take on more interesting topics (architecture is one that bubbles to mind, and think about the fun of doing that in such an architecturally significant place like the Pfister). I want to thank our esteemed group of panelists for this first Shop Talk who included Chad Bauman from Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Sheri Pannell Williams from Bronzeville Arts Ensemble, Suzan Fete from Renaissance Theaterworks, Tom Klubertanz, a popular local theatre educator and actor, and Dan Schley, one of the most dedicated audience members you’ll ever meet. Special props also to the Pfister’s Chief Concierge Peter Mortenson for great historic insight into the Pfister’s connection to theatre, and my cohorts for the evening Jimmy Kaplan, who is the swingingest house band ever, and Jason Economus, whose golden-throated announcer duties kept everything moving along at a great clip.

Now go ahead and click the audio link in this post and tune in, go for a walk, clean your house, cover your ears with headphones or listen with a friend as you enjoy Shop Talk.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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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).

Chad Bauman Vertical
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.

Voice Lab_MOT
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

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.

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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.


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.