“It Doesn’t Cost a Lot of Money to Be Nice”

For their 60th wedding anniversary, they went to Bora Bora.
For their 61st, Niagara Falls.
For their 62nd, Nashville, their 63rd Dallas.
They had a staycation in a Kauai Hilton last year.
And for this, their 65th anniversary, Joanne told Jim to surprise her.  

Even a couple of hours before her anniversary dinner at the Hotel where it all began, she still didn’t know why they had traveled all the way from Kauai.  Jim had arranged to have them renew their vows among family and friends, including two of their three children and Joanne’s brother, who lives in town and whom she hadn’t seen for about five years.  He had scheduled a late morning appointment for her at the WELL Spa + Salon, so, of course, she was suspicious, but Jim and the associates at The Pfister had done an excellent job of keeping the secret.

Colleen Maxwell, our Social Media Manager, and I got a chance to sit down with Jim before the big night to hear about his sly plotting and planning, but more importantly, for me at least, about his answer to this question:  What is your secret for staying married for so long?

Look at that sly smile. His wife still didn't know why they were at The Pfister!
Look at that sly smile. His wife still didn’t know why they were at The Pfister!

Answer: Start planning in junior high.

As Jim told it, “I spotted her when she was twelve, when I was in 7th grade.”  Well, that’s an early start.  “I was part of the CYO, the Catholic Youth Organization.  They would let the 6th graders take a look to see what was in store for them.  And one day I pointed to my friend Bill and said, ‘That girl in the white shirt and black and white checkered shirt–she is beautiful.’”  Needless to say, Bill reminded Jim that she was “only twelve.”  That didn’t stop Jim, though, from watching and waiting.  

His mother had wanted, as many Catholic mothers in his era did, her son to become a priest.  He attended Marquette University High School, doing his mother proud.  From afar, however, he watched Joanne grow up.  Then, about two months from his sixteenth birthday, in the year of our Lord 1947, the phone rang: it was Joanne.  They agreed to go on a date to a Saturday party, but not before Joanne laid down some “ground rules.”  (She knew about the crazy house party he’d been at a few weeks earlier at his cousin’s place while the parents were gone: “I was a victim,” Jim insists.)  Even though she was dating other people at the time, Jim couldn’t refuse such a bold offer.  And neither could her parents welcome strapping young (and Catholic) Jim into their lives.

Answer: Remind them how beautiful they are.

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Thank you, Google, for the many faces of Dorothy McGuire.

Jim’s voice crackled with sheer disbelief that anyone so beautiful could have come into his life.  “She was and still is very beautiful.”  He said this several dozen times (and wouldn’t tire, I’m sure, of saying it again.)  People used to come up to her and ask for her autograph, because she was the spitting image of Dorothy McGuire, a star of radio, stage, and screen, especially in the ‘40s and ‘50s.  Just the other day,” he adds, jumping ahead many decades, “we were having brunch at a hotel after Sunday Mass.  Two women came up to us and told my wife, ‘We can’t get over how beautiful you look.’  This has happened so many times when we’re out to eat.  I always want to tell these women that I’m sitting right there, too.  Whatever happened,” he joked, “to saying, ‘Hey, this fellow doesn’t look that bad either’?  What am I?  Chopped liver?”

Five years later, they were married.  Jim referred to The Pfister Hotel as the “first place we ever shacked up in Milwaukee after we got married.”  As we all know, of course, The Pfister is far from a “shack.”

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This is the photo that reminds Jim of Joanne the most.

Answer: Tolerate each other and accept each others’ individual talents.

They started what he kept calling an “interesting” and “supportive” life together.  One of the keys to their marriage, it seems, was allowing each other to be their own persons, to follow their own paths–but together.  He called it “tolerance,” but it seems much more than that. A very early indication of their acceptance of each other was when she had to practice her tennis game to defend her CYO championship at the resort on their honeymoon, something that got their friends wondering whether Jim and Joanne understood what was supposed to happen on a honeymoon.  But play she did, and Jim, in love with his new partner, didn’t think twice about it.  

They would go on to adopt three children in their early years, two sons and a daughter.

He eventually opened his own office supply company, with three employees.  For someone who didn’t even know how to use Liquid Paper, this was a risk.  But they made things work, with Joann helping in the store, too.  But it took Jim a while to realize that she possessed a not-so-hidden talent.  “She was always bitching about salesmen who didn’t know anything about sales,” he says.  She was a fierce critic who knew how things should be run, so he got her set up with her own office furniture business, which is still successful, now run by their daughter, with Joanne as chairperson of the board.  

Jim talked at length about his other career choices, all of which Joanne supported.  He once worked for the Texas Rangers selling season tickets to businesses, traveling once a year with the ball club because his sales were so good.  He worked for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in charge of state-wide distribution.  But most interesting to me was his three-week-a-year stint as Santa Claus for twenty-five years.  Jim was no mall Santa; instead, he dressed up for friends, especially friends with children, and Joanne would accompany him as an elf.  Free of charge.  He did it out of pure joy, making sure that his friends got at least one gift from their children’s wish lists–and to let him know what they had gotten.  That way, he would know that a boy had gotten, say, a G.I. Joe for Christmas, and armed with this knowledge, the following year “Santa” could tell that boy, “Remember when you wanted that G.I. Joe last year.”  Kid’s mind blown.  Jaw dropped.  Santa is real.  

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The private dinner and renewal of 65-year-old wedding vows.

Answer (the most important one): Enjoy life and be nice.

Jim’s philosophy of life?  “When I die, I don’t want people to stand at my casket and say, ‘That poor guy didn’t enjoy life.  He didn’t use enjoy every minute that God gave him.”  He added, “It doesn’t cost a lot of money to be nice to people,” he told us.  

Originally, I was going to title this post “Giddy as a Frickin’ High Schooler,” a phrase Jim repeated to me numerous times on the phone and during our interview.  Giddy.  Young.  Enjoying every minute that God gave him.  

However, in the wake of the senseless tragedy in Orlando this past weekend, I’ve decided to use Jim’s more relevant and ridiculously simple words as my title:

“It Doesn’t Cost a Lot of Money to Be Nice.”

The First Forty Years

When you have been married to someone for 40 years, practical wisdom on how to really keep a marriage strong comes easy.

“Late at night when you’re watching television loud, make sure the room you’re watching it in is plenty far away from your wife so you don’t disturb her,” said Keith with an all-knowing grin. Sue Ellen, his wife of 40 years flashed her pearly whites in agreement. It seems he wasn’t kidding. Hearts and rainbows be damned, these love birds really got it going and understand the brass tacks of happy matrimony.

Keith and Sue Ellen had come to the Pfister this past week for brunch to celebrate their 40th Wedding Anniversary. It was a “to-the-day” celebration, coming to the Pfister on an overcast, slightly rainy day just like they had some 40 years ago. It was a trip down memory lane with friends, complete with a couple of special surprises.

The Pfister’s Chef Concierge Peter Mortenson proved once again that he has mad powers of astonishing force by researching the exact room that Keith and Sue Ellen had spent their wedding night in 40 years ago. Along with the couple’s married friends Greg and Sue, and Mary and Dan, I had the distinct pleasure to accompany them for their journey back in time.

Peter had kept the whole thing under wraps, and as the couple arrived prior to their brunch reservation, we greeted their wedding anniversary party so he could inform them that he had organized a little hotel tour prior to brunch. We all snuggled into an elevator stopping briefly on the seventh floor to visit the beautiful glittering ballrooms before our final destination, their bridal suite of years gone by. As we tucked into the elevator after our pit stop, Peter had a brief interchange with a fabulously mustachioed man sharing the ride up.

“Is everything set for the picture later today, Mr. Fingers?” said Peter, politely addressing legendary former Brewer pitcher Rollie Fingers, who still sports his trademark handlebar mustache, even if it’s a bit more salt and pepper these days than jet black like it was when he was throwing heat on a regular basis.

Rollie Fingers gave Peter a thumbs-up and exited a floor before our party. Keith and Sue Ellen, baseball lovers of note, arched their eyebrows and with looks of amazement said, “Peter, did you arrange for Rollie Fingers to be in our elevator, too?” Peter explained that it was just a chance meeting, but I’m going to chalk that one up to divine providence.

We arrived at the couple’s 1976 honeymoon suite and Peter explained that he had figured out which room Keith and Sue Ellen had stayed in and was delighted to share this treat with them as a special bonus for their day of celebration. I’ve seen some pretty appreciative people during my time as Pfister Narrator, but the looks on everyone’s faces that day will be burned in my memory forever. The sort of excitement that everyone was feeling as they stepped through the door made it seem like we were back in the bicentennial year when Sue Ellen had been decked out in an elegant frock and Keith and his groomsmen had sported red, white and blue bow ties that bridesmaid Mary had made for the boys.

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Peter, major domo master of revels, is high charm mode.

The friends all gathered together and reminisced about the day. Sue Ellen’s bridesmaids Sue and Mary recalled that the newly married couple left their reception without any of their wedding gifts. I learned that the bonds of friendship amongst the group had been formed over 40 years earlier prior to the wedding when all the couples had lived in the Normandy Village apartment complex west of downtown Milwaukee. Jokes flew through the room the way that they do between people with an easy shared shorthand, and it was clear that these six had surely had some high times together over the years. I took cameras and snapped pictures back and forth, the girls together, then the boys, then all the couples, with smiles growing bigger and bigger on each shot we took.

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Keith, Sue Ellen, Sue, Greg, Mary and Dan…friends for life.

I couldn’t help but notice that the room we were in was set up with two double beds separated by an aisle. It seemed oh so 1950s television for a honeymoon suite. Teetering towards an indelicate question, I asked Keith and Sue Ellen, “Were there two beds in this room the night of your wedding?”

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The married couple bridging the divide.

Keith and Sue Ellen smiled devilishly at each other, and gave me a laugh. “No,” said Keith. Sue Ellen finished his thought saying, “I remember that there was only one bed back then.” Forty years and counting, and all the memories of brides, grooms, wedding parties, and the secrets of pillow talk are absolutely keeping the love fires aflame for this happiest of happy couples.

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

The Pfister Films: SOMETHING OLD

SOMETHING OLD is the title of today’s film, number three in my four-film mini-fest. I will explain how this film came to be in a short spell, but first I would like to lay out for you all the compelling reasons why the final cut of this film may result in the discovery of my cold and dead body floating face down in a swimming pool in a sort of noirish SUNSET BOULEVARD plot twist.

The process of getting to the cut of SOMETHING OLD you will see in a minute is a perfect example of a writer’s never ending quest to not put crummy writing out in the world. I love to write, but what I really, really love to do is rewrite. I love rewriting so much that I’m never afraid to “kill my darlings”, the process of editing away bits of prose that might seem really clever and brilliant on a first pass, but with distance and reflection seem to do disservice to a story. I have killed many darlings over the years, and in the case of SOMETHING OLD I took the unprecedented step of leaving my own sainted mother on the cutting room floor.

What I thought was my final version of the script for SOMETHING OLD included a final, brief scene between the main character, Pamela, and a sweet woman she runs into. I wrote the role of the sweet woman and realized as I read it over and over again that my very own mother would be perfect for the role. So, I texted mom (my mom is quite handy at sending texts) and asked her to act in my movie. Like a trooper, my Mom learned her lines overnight, showed up early for her scene, didn’t bump into any of the furniture, and really nailed the part.

I walked away from filming that scene with my mom and felt we had it in the bag. Then I sat down to edit the film and watched the scene a few times. I could sense something wasn’t right. My mom and Katherine Duffy, the talented young lady playing Pamela, did great work with what they were given in the scene. That is to say, they elevated the material. What is all the more admirable about that elevation is that they did it with a stinky part of the script. That’s right, I wrote a real dog of a scene, and I realized as I watched it repeatedly that it had to go.

So, I did what any malcontent writer does. I rewrote. And then I rewrote again. And finally I rewrote some more. And while I was doing all that tinkering my mother hopped on an airplane and flew to London. As mom was having tea with the royals, I was recasting her in this short film. There are about 59 layers of guilt built into my decision to recast my mother while she was far away on another continent, let me tell you.

But now the film seems right to me. The rewrite makes a lot of sense to the whole story arch. It’s quirky and goofy and tinged with melancholy. It’s exactly the feeling I had when I encountered the young woman in the lobby lounge who inspired the story behind SOMETHING OLD. I hope you enjoy giving this a view. It was a rare treat to make…expect that part about kicking my mom to the curb, of course.

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

Winter Weddingland

Hang around the lobby long enough and you end up walking into a moment when you feel like you’re on the set of a classic Hollywood film. When I came across three beauties in soft, cialis fuzzy wraps and golden gowns I wouldn’t have been surprised if Rosemary Clooney herself had rushed up and joined their clutch. It would have been fitting if they had all starting trilling “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, marking the time as a sort of cuddly Christmas girl group.

It seemed as if these three young ladies had just come from a day shooting Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby and were now going to relax by the lobby lounge fireplace with a frothy hot chocolate stirred with a candy cane. I learned their real names and raisin d’etre for being on site as we chatted about the wedding that they were dolled up for as bridesmaids, healing but the magic of their movie star aura didn’t fade because they all seemed to come by sparkle and sizzle quite naturally. Because of their twinkling aura, I’ve decided that these winter bunnies will live in my memory as Trixie, Gert, and Rosie, The Winter Girls.

Every female trio worth its salt is able to turn the head of a handsome beau or six, and Trixie, Gert and Rosie weren’t slacking in the business of making a young fella’s fancy something other than baseball. The Winter Girls were presently being attended by a young admirer whose given name I’ve also chosen to ignore and instead will call Bentley Caruthers.

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This dapper lad was wearing a tuxedo like a boss and deserved a surname because he was deadly serious about committing to his role as sidekick and fawning admirer. He arched his eyebrow slyly and discreetly told me that he was “running security” for the fetching lasses. If I had any reason to doubt him, he flashed me the gentleman’s equivalent of a badge, a pocket watch that had been given to him as a token befitting his place in the coming wedding event as an usher.

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This teen in a tux made me feel like I needed to study up a little harder on how to really shine my shoes and fold a pocket square, so full of courtly charms was he.

The Winter Girls and Bentley faded into the rest of the wedding crowd as they descended on the lobby to whisk away to some tony pre-nuptial event in waiting limousines. Watching them sashay their way to open car doors, it was as if it was late at night and I was home flipping the channels and landed on an old black and white where Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope, Doris Day, Myrna Loy or any number of star or starlets were sipping martinis and laughing over snappy remarks. Trixie, Gert, Rosie and our man Caruthers will live forever in my movie star dreams long after the cameras stop rolling and someone yells, “That’s a wrap!”

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

Join Me As I Begin to Salute the Women and Men in Silk and Lace Uniform

I anticipate that today I will begin what will grow to become a more public and frequent declaration of one of my favorite harmless infatuations.

Bridesmaids.

Oh, how I love a gaggle of ladies who have all agreed to wear the same dress and stand in front of a group of people.

And, okay, I can’t forget their male counterparts, the groomsmen. Guys, remember, clip-on bow ties just mean you haven’t tried hard enough (forgive me, I’m a bow tie snob).

The Pfister is a glittering nexus for wedding activity. It’s either the place your party gathers and stays at before a march down the aisle, or it becomes wedding command central for every element of your public declaration of love. It is literally possible to enter the Pfister for your wedding one day and never leave the building until several days and glasses of champagne later when a shiny new ring has been firmly placed on your left hand.

Everything you need for a good wedding experience can be found at the Pfister. There’s nothing wrong with the eye candy of the whole building with its classic architectural flourishes, of course, but there’s also a spa for pre wedding primping, plenty of bar space for having an ounce of courage before you make the big move into coupledom, and ballrooms are abundant for your grandmother to sit and finish her wedding cake while you and your wedding party do the Chicken Dance to really show the world you’ve gotten hitched. Plus, a post wedding day breakfast in the Café at the Pfister offers plenty of options for that one dude at every wedding who pushes it a little too far and needs to have a start of day meal that combines equal parts of greasy and gooey (a sure fire hangover cure according to my dear, sweet mother).

I have a sentimental attachment to the whole idea of weddings as they relate to the Pfister, because my wife and I stayed the night at the Pfister the evening after we got married on a Friday the 13th 107 years ago (I am very old as you can probably tell from my baldness and affection for eyeglasses that make me look like Swifty Lazar). I will always remember how gorgeous our room was and how quickly we fell asleep when we tumbled into our suite. I am ever grateful for that uninterrupted night of Pfister rest as it gave my wife and I the strength we needed to rise triumphant the next morning and finish off the catering we had done ourselves for a party for 200 of our friends…but that’s another story of things you should never do when planning a wedding.

At my wedding, I wore a suit and my wife wore an eggplant colored dress. My brother and I were the ushers, no one wore matching colors, and the bride taught a spinning class the morning before the ceremony.

It is perhaps because of this casual approach to pomp that I have since been slightly obsessed with the dynamics of weddings that really have some sort of structure and design. Don’t get me wrong, I love how I got married, but I always have secretly wondered what it would have been like to have a few guys stand next to me in matching bow ties while I said my vows looking at my dad uncomfortably stuffed into a tuxedo. It boggles my mind what that might have been.

It was with a giddy joy that I came upon a group of bridesmaids in the Pfister Lobby. Signing on to be a bridesmaid means that you are content with enjoying the one time in a woman’s life when wearing the same dress as another lady at a party is not only an okay social thing to do, but it’s sort of expected. In this case the chosen bridesmaid dress was a deep dark blue. The ladies had every hair perfectly in place and comported themselves with a grace that suggested they knew their business well.

I thought their dresses were quite fetching, but I am also constantly curious about how the ladies themselves feel about the clothes they must wear in service to the bride as her support network. I honed in on a bright-eyed lady named Ashley who I sensed was the organizer of the group. I asked her that key style question that haunts all bridesmaids: “So, how do you like your dress?”

Ashley smiled and graciously said, “I think it’s beautiful. I imagine I’ll wear mine again.”

I stood with Ashley and found myself in the center of the group of waiting lady attendants. I posed the question to the other women, and fellow bridesmaid Melissa said, “It’s okay. Certainly not the worst I’ve ever worn.” Like a career soldier, Melissa wears the colors in dutiful service to the bride. Melissa, we salute you.

I noticed that all the bridesmaids were wearing matching flip-flops. Ashley explained to me that the flip-flops were a comfort concession for later on in the evening when the whole bridal party planned to tear up the dance floor. Other heeled shoes were part of the uniform of the day, but it seemed that standing on ceremony in those for too long would have been a bit too much for all the ladies’ tootsies.

In the pecking order of my bridal party obsessions, bridesmaids come way before groomsmen. It’s not every man’s business to wear a tuxedo. I think the best gang of groomsmen are the ones who sort of fade into the whole party. They’re the ones who are fun lads, have all the right buttons done, and don’t faint from locking their knees during the wedding ceremony.

The fellas complementing the ladies in blue were all hydrating well sucking on water bottles when I asked for a picture. It was good to see that no flies were open as I asked for a photo.

Groomsmen extraordinaire.  But let's face it, second fiddle to bridesmaids.
Groomsmen extraordinaire. But let’s face it, second fiddle to bridesmaids.

I imagine these guys presented well at the actual event. They looked like they had all done a good workout beforehand and were serious, steely and focused on being a quiet and respectful set of bros who knew it was best to let the ladies shine.

Ashley pointed out to me that the bride had made her way into the lobby at one point and that I might want to talk to her about the big day. I smiled at Ashley, and nodded enthusiastically about that announcement, but I never thought to check in with the woman in white (who, by the way, was gorgeous and beautifully gowned). Honestly, I didn’t much care. It’s the ladies and gents who agree to have their clothes picked by others that really turn my head.

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

 

 

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.

 

 

event lady
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.

 

 

 

Butter on a Plate & Hat Swapping in the Bathroom


The whole hotel is my beat so I’ve got to drift.

I’ve got to find the swirled butter on the plate.

Regard this spiraled stack of paper napkins. This miniscule, considered bit of hospitality intrigues me.

DSCN9562 DSCN9397I like to chase the shadows of bicyclists with my camera from a height of 23 stories.

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On weekends my ambulations deliver me to London.

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High tea preparations imbue the room in the rusky scent of cinnamon.DSCN9351

 

The other day as I got off the elevator, I discovered that Italy was getting reconstructed on the seventh floor.

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Is that Basilica di San Marco?

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Free gondala rides.

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What is up with that vat of plastic grapes?

DSCN9573Oh, I see.

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I tell these grape stompers, “You know, my great-grandma actually made wine that way.” They tell me, “A lot of people have been telling us that tonight!”

DSCN9583Can you guess how many olives are in this glass urn?  I thought it was 603.  Apparently not, since I haven’t gotten that phone call telling me I won the iPad.

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Of all the Italy I see here, I most enjoy the giant see-through paintings.

DSCN9553A crevice implores me to monkey around.

DSCN9558And really, this picture is much better with me added to the scene.

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Women in inflated chef uniforms and stick-on moustaches emphatically call “Bonjourno!” and “Mangia-mangia!”
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In the bathroom I run into a friend of mine and her business partner.  They run a florist company called “Flower and Bee.” They are arranging wedding bouquets.  The whole sink area smells like a realm of olfactory love and harp music.  It must be all the jasmine.

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I ask them who is getting married.

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It turns out I actually know the couple.  Sure enough, when I check out the lobby bar I recognize half the wedding party.  One of the groomsmen folds a paper napkin into his empty breast pocket.  And as long as it is dry, you won’t notice that his handkerchief is not silk.DSCN9675

I type a quick congratulatory poem for the couple.

DSCN8477The next day I get together with my friend Adam for a brainstorm session.  He tells me “Thanks for allowing me push this meeting back a few days.  I was really busy, I had to officiate a wedding yesterday.”

And yes, it turns out to be the same wedding.

Excuse me Adam, I have to use the bathroom.

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In the bathroom a lady admires my hat so much she asks to try it on.  I let her, and she likes what she sees so much, she asks me if she can buy it from me.  Before I’ve even had the chance to use the bathroom facilities, I’ve sold the hat off my head.  Additionally, she gives me her own crocheted hat.  It matches my outfit far better than the one I had before.  I soon find out this hat-loving woman is the aunt of yesterday’s bride.
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Goodbye purple hat, I will always remember the day I completed you.
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To Properly Crash A Wedding You Just…

In the lounge by the fire I meet a clump of kids and their parents. There are six empty mugs of hot cocoas and the dad tells me they all came here to enjoy the holiday décor. The nearest décor (that I suddenly notice with fresh décor searching eyes) are the stuffed stockings that hang from the mantelpiece. They look well stuffed, handsomely stuffed. Before coming to the Pfister the family toured the holiday displays at the BMO Harris bank building where the father works. I learn that the mother is an alderman for Wauwatosa. Alderwoman, she corrects me. As a fellow woman I wonder: how I could I have just made a mistake like that?

 

I catch them right before they put on their coats and leave to spend their afternoon at the Discovery World museum. Daughter Natalia tells me she is eager to rest her body on the bed of nails that is kept there. Daughter Anastasia is dreamy with thoughts of the pirate ship. “Where is Joe?” someone asks. Sometimes he drifts away from the group to investigate shiny objects, and there are an awful lot of shiny objects in the Pfister, even more so when they have the holiday display up. Knowing Joe’s tendency, his brother Matthew gets up to go find him and bring him back for a picture.

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Parents with children Natalia, Matthew, Joe and Anastasia.

 

Two of the kids are biological, one is foster and another was adopted all the way from Khazakstan. “They are all miracles and great kids,” confirms their mother who adds entirely in jest, “And they are all a pain in the butt.”

 

The family asks me to share with them a secret about the Pfister Hotel. I tell them about the peephole on the seventh floor ballroom door. The kids ask me if I have ever seen a wedding in the ballroom, and I assert that I have witnessed quite a few. The dad asks Matthew, the eldest if he knows what it means to crash a wedding and the boy nods, “You just storm in, uninvited.” I get an image in my head of myself leaping into the ballroom, wearing a cape the color of a grey cloud and holding two cardboard lightening bolts. I swipe the microphone right out of the best man’s hand and yell into it my declaration of “I’m here!” The bride and groom gasp, several guests drop their forks that clang into their plates. Everyone is thunderstruck.

 

“But I have never crashed any weddings here,” I clarify.

 

The Woman Who Eats Cake Every Day

Debbie was working as a pastry chef when a customer came in wanting a cake like the one they saw in Martha Stewart Magazine. The customer said they’d been to every bakery in town, but no one would do it. Debbie was shocked to hear that, but the bakery where she worked was not properly equipped to do it either. So she opened her shop where she could bake anything anyone wanted.

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People ate this recently at the Pfister.

She bakes a lot of groom’s cakes for weddings at the Pfister. I’ve never heard of a groom’s cake before. “It’s a southern tradition, traditionally wedding cake was supposed to be white cake vanilla, so they would offer a chocolate cake too so that was another flavor. But then it evolved into more fun theme cakes, to incorporate his personality a little bit into the wedding.” Debbie has done the plain chocolate cake, but she has also made one to look like a pair of Chuck Taylors. The last cake she made for the Pfister was a Star Wars themed groom’s cake: Boba Fett’s helmet.

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Also eaten at the Pfister.

 

Previously, Debbie studied sculpture at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. “When I was younger I partied a lot and would pull all-nighters. And that’s good, now I have to do the same thing. When it came to projects in school, I always waited till the last minute to do anything. And with this job I really have to wait till the last minute,” Debbie explains referring to cake freshness.

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A more traditional Pfister wedding cake.

 

The largest cake she ever had to make was for something at the Pfister. They wanted a super tall cake, seven layers separated by pillars. The cake was to be placed in the middle of the table. She had to climb a ladder and lean way over with her arms extended to install it. “Usually at a wedding the cake is cut right away, but what happened was they wanted the cake to last like the entire evening because they had some sort of slide presentation and speakers. But they had to dismantle it early because the top cake was so tall, it was so much closer to the lights, and heat rises so it just started to melt.”

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But Debbie enjoys challenges. “I remember the first time someone asked me for an upright motorcycle, and I was just like, ‘Sure!’ not really thinking about how I could do it. And then I remember watching The Ace of Cakes and on that show they said the only thing that can’t be made with cake is an upright motorcycle. I was like ‘I just said yes to that! Oh my gosh!’” So she just had to figure it out. She built an armature out of wood, and made a cardboard platform that the cake could rest on. This is her 11th year in the cake business, in that time she has had to bake three upright motorcycles.

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One time GE designed a portable EKG machine. They brought her one and she had to make five identical EKG machine cakes.

One time she had to make a surprise toilet cake for a groom who was a plumber. And yes, as Debbie explains, “You can make some realistic poop with frosting.”

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One time at the Pfister a Wisconsin woman married a Texas man. The cake resembled a hunk of cheddar in the shape of Texas. This couple had met at Marquette University and liked going to mass at the campus’s St. Joan of Arc chapel. So Debbie made a second cake, a replica of the chapel, a surprise from one of the betrothed’s parents.

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Here are some other cakes that were cut at the Pfister:

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And here are some strange cakes by Debbie:

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An Andy Worhol!

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The Berlin Wall!
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These are from the guy that ordered a cat cake every year on his cat’s birthday.

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Debbie says that it is not uncommon for the person picking up the order set down before them to sincerely ask, “So where’s the cake?”