Nobody Ever Writes About the Travel Writer, so I’m Writing About the Travel Writer

One of the great joys I have as a writer is to meet other writers. Typically a writer meet up is filled with quotable quips, diagnosis hair-pin turns of phrases, and good humored word-wise one-upmanship. It’s the literary equivalent of dogs sniffing one another’s behinds.

So like a happy, fluffy puppy, I was very excited to have the chance to meet writer Amber Gibson as she made a recent trip to the Pfister. She describes herself as a travel and food writer, as well as a model. I describe myself as a writer, raconteur and great eater of meat. As you can see, we’re basically the same person.

Our Resident Artist Todd and I met up with Amber to give her a brief tour of our treasured art collection and chat about the Pfister’s Artist-In-Residence and Narrator programs. That is to say, advice Amber was given a really fine tour by Todd, and I accompanied him to try desperately to serve the role of witty wing man. Todd needs no addition of wit, but when the chance comes for a writer to write about another writer, you’ll have to physically restrain me from putting pen to paper.

I’m always curious about how other writers view the process of writing and how they go about getting their work seen and read. Amber is an impressive young lady, the valedictorian in her class from Northwestern University’s journalism school. No slouch in the word department is she. When we meet and I see the grace with which she presents herself decked out in a silver ensemble that looks runway ready, I also note that she can easily fall back on that modeling part of her vitae when writing gigs are slim.

We begin our visit in Todd’s studio with handshakes and pleasantries and immediately the bond between us all is evident. We’re all creative types who like hanging around hotels, and because of the good graces of the universe, we all get to follow our passions daily.

Amber asks Todd and I about being the Pfister’s current in-house artist and writer. She is curious about whether or not we live at the hotel during our stay. Todd and I share a glance and I can tell he’s thinking the same thing I am. “Oh, what a fine, fine idea, Amber. I’ll take Room 2012, please.” We explain that we both have homes here in Milwaukee, but that it is difficult to pull ourselves away from the luxury and elegance of what we each blissfully get to call our “office space.” Amber gets it in spades immediately. Her eyes are full of wonder noting that the Pfister’s dedication to arts and culture is unique.

I get my first travel tip from Amber as we talk about some of the most interesting and beautiful places she’s covered. She mentions that she did a video report for Yahoo! Travel on Fogo Island off of the coast of Newfoundland, Canada and that it is a breathtaking and remote location to visit. Amber’s story and video prove that point, and I encourage you to check out her full portfolio for more engaging work at her website at ambergibson.com.

A gentleman never asks a lady’s age, so I refrain from saying to Amber, “How is it that a kid like you is such a seasoned traveler?” Amber is bright eyed, inquisitive, and blessed with the glory of youth. She understands that she’ll never be mistaken for some road weary writer who longs for the homely comfort of a typewriter, but maybe for a teen who is waiting for her parents to join her for a 24-course tasting menu at some storied restaurant she’s writing about. She embraces this challenge with youthful energy and is full of story ideas and pitches that turn editors into employers.

As an intern during college, Amber worked a plum internship for Time Out Chicago. Pushing and pitching to the editors she worked with there led to her first assignment doing a feature on creative cocktails in the Windy City. That story kicked off an impressive run of features covering eye-popping destinations and mouth-watering food.

During our visit together, I’m looking for that connective tissue between Amber and I that confirms our shared membership in the Writers of the World Club. I latch onto it when Amber and I start talking about horses as Todd shows us an oil painting from the Pfister’s collection that features a majestic steed.

“I love horses,” says Amber. “But I haven’t really ever had any riding lessons. I have always just hopped on and figured it out.”

Amber tells me that once when she was pursuing a story, she was given a horse and allowed to roam free on 2,300 acres of a Montana ranch. And yet, she admits, she has never really been trained on the ins and outs of horse riding. She tells me that she’s never shirked from trying something new, and horse riding, like writing, takes a lot of belief in your ability before experience ultimately catches up with aspiration. It’s not really “fake it until you make it”, but it’s evident to me that Amber and I are cut from the same cloth: live it, write it, share it—that’s when you get to call yourself a writer.

Amber is one of those people I know I can turn to in the future for tips on where I can avoid spending travel money. She’s spent enough time chasing through airports to catch connecting flights to be a bit of an expert. She tells me that last year she spent a total of 48 hours in Chicago during March and often ended one trip at O’Hare to begin another a few hours later as a new flight took off.

Her time in Milwaukee will be a tad more relaxing. She’ll spend the rest of the weekend dining at Sanford and Ardent and soaking in the pulsating life around the Pfister. We finish our visit because Amber’s got a quick trip to the Well Spa where she’ll get a stylish treatment done for her long, silken hair. This is one traveler who knows how to enjoy the ride, and the fact that she is a card carrying member of the grand and benevolent fellowship of writers makes me happy to be part of that same club.

The Hard Part About Living In Costa Rica

I meet her in the elevator and she says she recently moved to Costa Rica. I ask the Costa Rican ex-patriot for a story and she tells me that she is not a very interesting, site story-rich person. I whine, “Come on, you live in Costa Rica! Haven’t you seen some crazy wildlife down there?”

“Oh yes, monkeys, sloths…” and lists a few other fantastic creatures I have never even heard of. Then she stops. She has nothing more to say. I ask her, “What’s the hard part about living in Costa Rica?”

 

The hard part about Costa Rica:

 

It is not the U.S.

You have to adjust what your cultural expectations are and accept what is different.

If you want to go to Costco it is a 3.5 hour drive.

It is warm all the time, clinic unceasingly.

 

The last point surprises me since the Costa Rican tells me that before she moved there she lived in Los Angeles, a place I would assume to be a year-round temperature inferno. I want to ask more questions and take her picture but she disappears. I wonder if I have disturbed a famous actress. She was casual but had an undeniably photogenic presence. Speaking of which, I think I see a large, multiple bride wedding photoshoot taking place on the stairs.

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I ask a man, standing apart from all the hubbub of mothers and aunts frumping their daughters gowns how many of these women are getting married today. He tells me they aren’t. It’s prom.

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I suppose they do look rather young. When I ask them what high school they represent they tell me “Pius.” My own alma mater! They are all junior girls, about to dance at the Renaissance Place. I instantly recall the picture of myself as a Pius junior attending the “Winterlude” school dance at the Renaissance Place.

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Outside the elevator I meet another young woman in a nice dress. “Prom?” I ask her. “No,” she says. She is volunteering for the Autism Society’s Gala. “This is just my sister’s Sadie Hawkins dress.”

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Near the ballroom I ask the woman in a nice hat how she became involved in the autism community. “I’m not,” she says. It turns out she is here for the Bel Canto Chorus’s 22nd Annual Fundraiser Gala. I can’t get anything right.

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So is she.

 

To end my day, I watch resident artist Todd Mrozinski do an old school pre-camera photoshoot of Brittany-the-barista.  Before starting a piece, Todd rubs his hands together and whispers ” Hah hah hah hah hah” to himself.  As he paints there are a lot of noises that sound like a kindergartener scrubbing a marker against a rough piece of construction paper.  Two hours after the initial tracing, he is done.

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She Pauses To Nibble On Her Pickle

“You have to travel with people who want to explore

otherwise everything is constructed, pills

warns Louise.

She pauses to nibble on her pickle,

and contemplate those frequent trips

she has made to visit her family in Barbados.

The last time she went down there with non-explorers

they whined every time they left the hotel, find

“Can’t we just take a cab?”

The non-explorers carefully followed their itinerary,

rushing through the locations of designated interest

and afterwards they would state,

“We’re done now. Can we go back to the hotel?”

Louise was appalled,

“American people traveling,

they don’t get it.”

She prefers to take it slow,

by walking or bicycling,

discovering the unknown island.

When she returned to Milwaukee she felt,

“I had to take another vacation.”

Just to counteract the energy she expended

on frustration with her boring companions.

“It costs too much to go to Barbados to sit in the hotel room!”

But I think she feels the same way about life in her own city,

having lived in Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee,

she tells me with confidence that she has never seen a city

more segregated than Milwaukee.

“You can’t just stay in that little neighborhood you live in.”

She talks boxes

she talks fears and safety

that make the boxes

that we call our neighborhoods.

She believes that the east side of Milwaukee is the most diverse

but even then it is all young people,

not old.

“And brown-skinned people are less likely to be seen

walking along the lakefront,”

where Louise bikes on a regular basis

amongst countless light-skinned people

who do not notice the lack.

“I think people as they move around the city

they need to open their hearts and minds.”

She tells me the best way to expose yourself

to variety in Milwaukee

is to attend gallery night

and Summerfest.

“Here in America it’s like,

what race are you?

You can’t just claim one,

I always check the box that says ‘other,’

and write ‘black-Indian-Island-Scottish-French.

Nobody’s white, you’re light skinned.”

Louise pats the marble under her plate,

“I’m not black, this table is black,

I am brown.

But we just need to get past it,

we won’t in this lifetime

but I go to Barbados and Trinidad a lot

and they don’t talk that way there.”

She waves her French fry in the air,

advising,

“Go somewhere and get lost,

just walk and explore.”

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I take her advice.

 

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Louise.

 

Bar Hoping

Sean runs a trivia company out of Minnesota

called “Trivia Mafia.”

Currently there is only one bar

in all of Milwaukee

(the city with more bars than grocery stores)

where you can play Trivia Mafia

and that bar is Vintage.

Here is why Sean and his dad came down for the weekend:

to go bar hopping, cialis

or rather bar hoping

that they will get some Trivia Mafia installed.

At the moment father and son are playing chess together

in the Lobby Lounge,

remembering the Milwaukee of the father’s kidhood.

How he went to Rufus King High School on the west side

long before leaving for Chicago to get his doctorate in Economics,

becoming a professor in Massachusetts,

then the president of Macalester College,

the job that brought him and Sean to St. Paul.

Each week Trivia Mafia features six rounds of five questions,

four of them have a theme,

and two of them are just general knowledge.

Sean admits,

“I love presidential trivia.”

About 54 bars in the Twin Cities play Trivia Mafia.

Sean’s Mafia hopes to expand its presence

in Rochester, Duluth, Fargo and Milwaukee.

Sean’s father visits Milwaukee a lot

now that he has moved to Chicago.

He tells me that he just attended a conference

at Marquette University all about morality and psychology.

At the conference he learned how practicing mindfulness and meditation

has been measured by scientists to make you a better person.

“In a nutshell,

my economics training did not prepare me very well

for participating in that conference,

but it was a fascinating couple days.”

Sean went to the University of Minnesota

where he designed his own degree,

dropped out,

played music,

traveled nationally with a band called Heiruspecs,

then he finished his degree in music,

African American studies, cultural studies,

“and did the only thing you can with those degrees

which is run a trivia company!”

Aside from Trivia Mafia,

Sean also teaches a few classes at a music college

and plays bass for “Dessa.”

I ask father and son who usually wins at chess when they play.

Son replies, “Historically him, by a long shot.”

Father replies, “As my mental decline continues

and his maturation proceeds,

I think the tables are shifting.”

The supportive and proud father goes on to say,

“A lot of trivia contests are pure memory,

like ‘what was the name of the character this person played in that movie?’

but these guys are really good at asking questions

that make you think.

One of my all time favorite questions was,

‘who was the last president of the United States to wear a full beard

while in office?’

And you know, you’re not just going to know that,

but you’re going to think, well,

certainly by the time of Roosevelt

there weren’t any more full beards,

and the last one was obviously after Lincoln,

you know you’re in the late 19th century,

but the thing is you can make an educated guess,

it’s not like you either know it or you don’t.”

When I get up to leave, the mafia

tries to make an offer I can’t refuse:

“Tomorrow, Vintage, 5 ‘O Clock.

You can be on our team.”

 

 

This Is Not The Real Dance

Sisters came in from New York

to attend the wedding and to show off their Wedding Dance.

They are choreographing their piece right now

on the exquisite carpet that urges all who come here

to at least sashay at least slightly

even if it is so slight that no one notices

because you are an adult.

The younger sister warns me

not to succumb to any false illusions,

“This is not the real dance.”

I agree to accept the following staged movements as not real,

and then I stand back to accept them

whatever they are.

Their mother tells me that the older sister, who leads,

is enrolled modern dance classes

and the younger one, who follows but also improvises

is currently taking interpretive dance.

Yes, I can see the professional training

in their deep dips,

the poised regal avian gestures

of two students who absorb

what they are taught.

“This was not the real dance,” the younger sister reminds me,

after their performance,

but it was very good,

so I tell them,

“No, what I just saw was real.”

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Maia has come up from Chicago for the weekend. I am told she will be eight soon.  She wears a wristband because today she explored “The Streets of Old Milwaukee” at the Milwaukee Public Museum.  When Maia types, she does so with only her right hand.  Her Grandma watches her through the window of Todd Mrozinski’s new art studio in the Pfister. DSCN1179
Todd lets both Maia and I type in his studio. Maia does not want to leave the instant clack-word device.  She is writing a story.  Her mother has to call her three times before Maia gets to the part about “The End.”

By hanging out in Todd’s studio I meet a lot of interesting people, like Luis and Ruben from Los Angeles.

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Luis, Ruben and Todd.

Luis and Ruben are artists for Kohl’s Department Stores.  Their apparel design work has brought them to town.  Pictures of Ruben’s private art portfolio are kept on his phone. He does oil paintings.  The one I see depicts a motorcyclist.  He had to come in here to the artist studio and show us his work.  He also shows us his big bag of cheese. Tomorrow Luis and Ruben are going back home, and they are taking back as much gouda and cheddar of Wisconsin as they can fit in their suitcases.

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Bag of Cheese

 

 

Two Texans

Two Texans,

architectural engineers,

college students,

conference attendees

named Shannon and Michaela

want me to write them love letters for their boyfriends.

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Shannon and Michaela

 

Shannon lovingingly describes her boyfriend, Ryan, as

“a sarcastic ass always picking on me and my big head!”

She goes on to say she met him at a country club dance hall

four and a half years ago

and she’s “still waiting for the proposal

and make sure you put that in the letter!”

I ask Shannon why Ryan is holding back

she says Ryan claims he needs to “make sure it’s the right go” first

and that he is “still checking things out.”

Ryans passions?

“Trucking, working, and mudding in his ’97 blue Ford.”

She also adds “Shiner bock” and “Ziegen Bock,”

beers you can only find in Texas, apparently.ryan

 

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Michaela’s “goofball” is named Justin,

and he is “the weirdest person you will ever meet,

a shy country boy who loves hunting and fishing.”

A little over a year ago Michaela asked him out,

and later on she had to ask Justin

to confirm if we were dating,

and his reply,

“Do I really need to?”

Michaela and Justin have two dogs,

June and Avery.

Michaela tells me she imagines that her boyfriend

is crying in bed and holding June now

that she has been gone for two days.

Typical behavior for the industrial technology student

who loves Fords but hates his own Dodge truck,

who loves Ziegen bach and Shiner beers.

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I am given a third assignment,

to write a letter to their friend Tate,

a “ditzy fashionista,

the owner of a wiener dog,

a smart, outgoing blonde”

who’s also studying architectural engineering

in Kingsville Texas

and is planning for her elaborate wedding

“which is not happening anytime soon.”

Her passions:

Chic Fil A, naps, sushi,

her football player boyfriend, Max.

Tate gets mad at Shannon and Michaela when they jaywalk.

“Really mad.”

Lastly, Tate collects trays,

shabby chic vintage trays.

She has so many she stores them in stacks.

 

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A Mud Bath, Followed With An Insult


A few months into my job at the Pfister I learned something very interesting:

 

If you want, the spa will give you a bowl of clay to go with a hot steam shower. Yes, with this spa offering, you can temporarily remake yourself as an exquisite porcine figure, steamed on a spit, enjoying the mud bath of your life.

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I did not take pictures of this service, but I did experience it on Saturday. Actually, that’s not true, I took one photograph of the steam. My intent was to capture the breath of hell curling out of the shower door, but by the time I turned my camera on, the breath had transitioned from that scene of Hades unfurling to that of the whole bathroom being filled with a boiling fog.

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I could not see my feet. Actually, I could not see anything but the fog for the next twenty minutes. I relied on my sense of touch to carry me through it all.

 

After my shower I felt like a sedated lobster on a dinner plate. I went up to the lobby with my typewriter.  My  intention  was to document the fascinating phenomena of what it feels like to be a cooked crustacean, but I did not get the chance.   I smelled cigarettes.

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Before me were three pretty people wearing cigarettes as a lingering perfume. Voyagers from the land of Green Bay. To make conversation I inquired, “Are you in school?” The tall one replied, “No, none of us are. I make enough money so I don’t have to go to college.” The group of them came down for the weekend, never having been to the Pfister before, and very much enjoying their stay… except for Drake. Drake, the fourth element to their group was asleep, while they explored the city. He also did not join them for drinks last night. “Drake is always missing out on the fun because he works third shift at a cheese factory.”

 

Drake’s friends asked me to write him an insult letter. They handed me my tip and told me that when he emerges from his room later he wants to “meet chicks.” Tashina, the female in this group of friends adds, “He likes chicks a lot, but never sticks with them for very long.” As they go upstairs to admire the ballrooms, I write the insult.DSCN1041

They loved it!
They loved it!

Coke A Cola and the Meanderthal

When I first discovered Coke’s name

to be Coke,

I admit, I was taken aback

with the fact that it is the unusual title

for this amiable human

I often see in the lobby.

But Coke is used to the awe

of people discovering his name,

and ups the intrigue by telling you,

“Actually, I’m Coke the Fifth

and my son is going to be

Coke the Sixth.”

I remember asking him,

“Are you expecting?”

But no, Coke told me

he has yet to marry

but…

yesterday, a woman guest who takes note

of the nametags of the hotel staff

met Coke and told him,

“We ought to get married,

since my last name is Cola.”

Coke chuckled,

a soft, polite bellhop laugh

and admitted it would be a fitting match

since his middle initial is ‘A.’

Just imagine:

“Hi, my name is Coke A Cola.”DSCN9303

Unfortunately, Coke won’t be marrying her,

the reason being he doesn’t want

any last name but his own.

This surprised me,

because it seemed like a match made in heaven

for Coke who studied linguistics in college

and who alerts me to the existence of new words

such as “meanderthal,”Screen shot 2015-03-21 at 11.32.25 AM

usually after I have been walking

too slowly, oblivious to him and his bell cart

behind me.

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Today is Coke’s birthday.

 

Meandering on the seventh floor

I check out the set up for Make-A-Wish’s

superhero themed gala.

I am told by Rebecca, a Make-A-Wish intern,DSCN0445

that each table, set with flowers

and polka dot wrapped presents

is dedicated to fulfilling the wish of one

terminally ill child.DSCN0438

The interns tell me that most of the kids

want things that will benefit their whole family:

trips across the world to visit grandparents in the old country,

vacations to Disney World or Italy.

One girl is professionally recording and performing her own song.

One boy wanted a shopping spree in New York City.

Their lives are fragile, let them try what they like, yolo, yolo!


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Put on a mask. Fly.

I am inspired to do things I have always wanted to do

so on Thursday I walk fifteen miles from my home in Franklin

to the Pfister. It takes me 7.5 hours (not 4.5)

before I get to match the carpet at work.

15 miles later
Photo: Helene Fischman

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Whispering, 1925

My term as Pfister narrator is almost up, so yesterday I finally booked a room.  My best friend Jessie drove in from Ann Arbor for the occasion.   Jessie promptly plopped on the plush puff bed as soon as we had entered and perused our room, #332.

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She then jumped to action and made us a to-do list.DSCN0458 DSCN0463We were already well on our way with task number three.

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The view from our window allowed us to spy on two of the kitchen staff taking their break in the sun.

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“Jessie, doesn’t the reflection of the hotel in the glass across the street trick you into thinking we are in Paris?”
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We watched this man for a while.  He looked very disappointed every time other buses passed.  He scrutinized a schedule, tracing his anticipated route with a finger.DSCN0482The windows are an excellent place to hide.DSCN0486Or to shock.

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We walked to Brady Street and saw this basking, busking cowboy.

DSCN0473Concierge Peter offered us a “poisoned apple,” but we did not bite.DSCN0464With elite guest access to the business center, I did as much business as possible with the opportunity.

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DSCN0496We inspected the “Under the Sea” gala for curing diabetes.DSCN0498

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Here is Chief Nursing Officer of Children’s Hospital, Nancy Korom (on the left) and friends.  DSCN0513

I found myself asking everyone I met if they had diabetes.

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The wife, but not the husband.DSCN0511

Both sisters do.
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Neither of these men are diabetic, but both are on diets.  White tie/black shirt Ryan is Paleo.  White shirt/black tie Sean is “plant based.”DSCN0539

Matt, server states, “I am a human tray at the moment.”  I wonder the maximum amount of drinks this tray can hold for his guests.DSCN0504

I admire, but I do not partake of the shrimp.
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We have dinner at the Mason Street Grill.  Jessie eats much faster than me, so she must carry the conversation by herself for ten minutes as I chew.
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We take turns petting the decorative moss between courses.DSCN0488

As the evening progresses our pictures get blurrier.DSCN0526

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I teach Jessie how to play Rummy in Blu.  DSCN0552
We play cards, drink and dance in our seats to the Jazz.unnamed-9

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I meet Pam and Bill from Janesville.  They are here to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. They remind me:DSCN0551unnamed-8

Jessie is a professional  statistician, but she can’t stand all the counting in this rummy game.  She asks to change the rules.   But I do not like to change the rules when I play cards.  
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 We agree to only play games without rules for the rest of the evening.

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This game is called: “Draw your spiritual self.”DSCN0595 DSCN0590 While I take a picture of this woman’s shoe, Jessie draws what she sees in front of her.DSCN0532DSCN0557DSCN0553The most meaningful thing happens to me three minutes to midnight. We are in the lobby listening to Dr. Hollander playing one of his final songs for the evening. The tune is something antique, soursweet and familiar. Like every time I am in the lobby and Dr. Hollander is there, I think I hear him playing it. I know he gives regulars and staff members theme songs, so I go up to him. “Is this my theme song?” He nods. He says he cannot remember the name, only that it was about whispering and it was released in 1925.

I found it, MY THEME SONG! Whispering Jack Smith – Whispering – YouTube.

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The magic continues: when we get to our room there is a plate of fruit we never ordered.

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In the morning I try out the complementary blowdryer since I’ve never owned one.DSCN0599Before brunch we stroll over to a bookstore to pet some cats.DSCN0612DSCN0610
unnamed-2 unnamed-3unnamed-5DSCN0616We return for brunch.  DSCN0622Matt!  Again!  Now he is our server rather than a tray.
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About Life, About Mystery

The shop window on Wisconsin Avenue is empty.  Inside the glass room is a door that leads to the darkness.  The combination of this darkness door, the street lights reflected in the glass and the promise that the blank space will be filled up one day again, instills in me a wild excitement.  Truly!

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Madame plaid skirt came up from Chicago. This is the second time she has come to spend her weekend at the Pfister.

 

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Two mothers, two daughters about to see Ariana Grande at the Bradley Center.

 

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They will pose for you, they will show you where the benefit for the Milwaukee Ballet is; and if you shake their hand, you will hold a white handprint with fine glitter dust.

 

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That evening, greco ballet dancers did descend from heaven and pause, inviting me to join them.

 

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The very next day, more models in white were found inside the Pfister.

 

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This is Milwaukee’s Magnificent Bride Exposition.

 

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If I ever marry, this will be the most important decision: The Hats.

 

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Which feather for your ceremony?

 

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They were so in love, their arms disappeared and their heads became flowers.

 

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Chair Option A by BBJ.

 

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Option B

 

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Option C

 

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Option D, “ghost chairs.”

 

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Option E, “goth chairs.”

 

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Yes.

 

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I don’t know who these people are, but they sure look good.

 

 

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She’s an event planner.

 

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Artist John Kowalczyk here, about to officiate his second wedding.

 

 

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He told me he did a lot of googling, cutting and pasting to figure out what he needed to say. “The first wedding I did, there was no God talk at all.” This time he has to recite an entire list each time the divine gets brought up in the ceremony. “In the presence of friends, family, God, Gods, Goddesses, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and All that is Holy… or something like that.”

 

 

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Art intern for Niki Johnson, smiling her way down the corridor.
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At the wine tasting the following flavors are found and named: peach butter blossom, honey suckle, pound cake, sour apple, crisp autumn air, under the park bench.
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I meet Katrina.
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She wants a poem, “About life, about mystery.”
about life, about mystery
Yes, I know I misspelled “after taste” and  “connoisseur.”

 

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Lastly, Sean from indianapolis (who loves golf) will only let me take his picture if he can take mine at the same time.