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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Rocks in their Pockets

They were like the prologue for a coming of age film, an assuring glimpse at how adulthood will frame their childhood adventures. John, with his salted hair, and Perry, with laugh lines softening his eyes, fell into the couch beside mine talking and laughing with the fluid shorthand of longtime friends and the loosened inhibitions of Summerfest beer. They were neither obnoxious nor loud, but generated an energy that pulled me in like static.

“Ours is a timeless tale,” John boomed when I asked them to tell me their story.  His smile was confident and his blue eyes were sharp behind his glasses.  That he answered me with his best movie announcer voice signaled that he was also a seasoned wise guy.

“Not timeless,” Perry said, admonishing John with a shake of his head.  They were both dressed casually in short pants and short sleeves. Perry’s shirt was neatly tucked. He turned to me to repeat, “It’s not timeless. You can’t say it’s timeless.”

“We’ve been coming up here for years,” John said, his thick hand slicing the air in front of him. “It used to be, like, an enormous pack of us back in the day.”

“Not a pack,” Perry corrected with a sideways smile.  “It was, like, eight of us.”

“Eight can be a pack,” John said, turning his shoulders to face Perry. After they exchanged a few rapid rounds, John sliced the air again, his vintage Schlitz t-shirt sloping the curve of his stomach “Okay,” he conceded, “we were a large group.”

They were practiced in this sharpening of one another, this joust. They’ve been friends for more than 25 years, meeting in high school at the northern ends of Chicago. They agreed that they had become instant friends.

Even after handing me this point of fact, I couldn’t help imagining much younger snapshots of them: knobby knees with scratched and examined scabs, bicycle races, rocks in their pockets, swapped comic books, and exploring together.  Always together.

“He’s been my best man twice,” John said.

“I did a pretty good job both times,” Perry said when I asked for which wedding he had been the better Best Man.  “Although, I might’ve done too good of a job the second time.”

Perry snickers at a memory and John cosigns by looking back over his shoulder and tossing a laugh to his friend.  John had been engaged in a separate lively discussion with the couple just joining our circle-of-couches community, but still managed to train an ear for one of their private jokes.  Always, always together.

Within the span of thirty minutes, John and Perry had turned our sitting area into a studio party. There’s a talent agent charting the arc of his career.  A young couple sighing that they’d been awkwardly confused as siblings all night. The mysterious would-be emcee wrapped in a head scarf and unseasonably heavy clothing. The managing editor with a love for comic books. And we’re all laughing. We’re all letting loose. We’re all at ease. We’re all drawn to the alchemy that is Perry and John.

When they return to their suburb, they’ll return to their very grown up selves as executives and family men.  They will commute.  They will negotiate.  They will work in the yard.  They will consume news and media. They will manage their expenses. They will plan for another summer.  They will navigate new scenes in their endearing, “timeless” tale. Always, always together.

Laws of the Ladies Room

“I’ve lived in Milwaukee my whole life and never been to the Pfister.”

This is how Dana and I became best friends.  Okay.  Not really. We were more like Spontaneous BFFs, the kind you experience at intimate intersections, such as the ladies room.  What begins as a comment about hand soap, or the hour, or a fierce pair of shoes could  bloom into a confessional, a counseling session, a health consultation or even a plot.

The Laws of the Ladies Room do not reflect those on the other side of our door.  First of all, time stands still. We can exchange full biographies, transcribe a complete cell phone directory, or annotate entire relationships in the time it takes to tinkle, lather, primp and adjust our pantyhose.  Second, judgment and the concept of “TMI” is suspended, like zero gravity on the moon. Finally, as quickly as we are seized with the pull of “sisterhood,” we accept that the bonds will fall away from us like whispers once we toss our paper towels and exit.

I am drawn to the floor-to-ceiling window as I emerge from my bathroom stall.  I gaze down at the city’s glitter and shine when my new best friend leaves her stall and joins me to coo at the view.

“This is amazing,” Dana said.  “Milwaukee is so beautiful.”

I agreed and said she’d picked a gorgeous night to take in the view.

“It’s my anniversary,” she said.  “Seven years.”

“Ahh,” I said, raising my eyebrows, “the itch.”

Dana laughed, giving a little shrug with one shoulder.  She always does that thing with her shoulder.

“Whatever this year is called, we’re glad we made it,” Dana says, turning away from the window and heading to the basin to wash her hands.  I follow her.  Me and my homegirl, Dana, have always been big on hygiene. Like, this one time…

As we dry our hands, Dana explains how she and her husband wanted to do something different tonight, something they’d never done.  “We’re both homebodies,” she said. “If we do go out, we go to our regular neighborhood bar.  We never come downtown.”

She’s drawn to the window again.  Quietly, she repeats, “So beautiful.”

I offer to take her photo, apologizing in advance for the camera on my less-than-smart phone.  She’s been teasing me about this phone for the longest…

“I don’t like taking pictures,” Dana says, interrupting my disclaimer.  “They never turn out good.  I never look right.”

I look from her face to the sparkling night scene beneath us, and back to her.  “Look, I don’t about ‘looking right,’” I said. “I think you look like a woman enjoying her seventh wedding anniversary.”

I smile at her.  She knows we’re taking this picture.

After our 45-second photo shoot, Dana’s shoulders relax and the loose smile returns to her lips.  Intuitively, I know to feel profoundly happy for her, like a best friend would. We stop in front of the mirror one more time.  She pulls a panel of long brown hair behind her ear and I check my teeth for lipstick. We emerge from the ladies room adjusting our expressions as if masking traces of mischief. Classic.

I follow her in to Blu, wanting to congratulate her husband. (I wonder if he’s going to ask me about that …)  Watching his face strain to process the two of us approaching, all chummy and grinning, snapped us both back to reality. He would not be interested with the Laws of the Ladies Room, not our secret handshake, not our You-Go-Girl cheer, not our list ranking of sexy movie stars.  Not even the best places to find that brand of hair conditioner.  Instead, his face asked, “What took you so long?”

Dana and I let our giggles deflate into cordial pleasantries.  She introduced me as the hotel writer. I offered to buy their next round of drinks.  We all bid good night.  I made my way from the twenty-third-floor view and into the clear and real night. Dana and I were best friends for only six minutes but, by Law, it was all the time we needed.