A Narrator’s Farewell Part II: Humans of The Pfister

After the first couple of months of storytelling, I remember sitting in the Lobby Lounge for two hours one day–and not interviewing a soul.  I sketched the lobby, the bar, some patrons, the piano, some wine glasses, but everyone that day seemed too wrapped up in each other.  It seemed that no one would want to wrap me into their lives or unwrap themselves for a moment to share their Pfister day with me.  It wasn’t them, though, it was me, for sure.  Something wasn’t clicking.  My introverted side was kicking in.  My wallflower self waited for one of them to approach me.  And that’s how Humans of The Pfister was born.

I went home and grabbed my copy of Brandon Stanton’s beautiful photography book Humans of New York and perused the colorful residents of the Big Apple, their anecdotal secrets and wishes, memories and regrets.  I marveled at his 18 million “likes” on Facebook and scrolled through hundreds of photo stories on his website.  I needed an “in” at The Pfister, especially on those days when I was uncertain how to approach a patron.

Each month, I decided, I would create a list of questions to have at the ready, big universal questions that anyone could answer, ones that would reveal the humanity and diversity of the people who visited the Hotel.


JULY

Life

  • When have you felt most alive?
  • What is your secret to living a fulfilling life?
  • What is the number one thing that has gotten you to this point in your life?
  • What is one thing that you are still working on in your life?

Liberty

  • When have you felt the freest?
  • What have you felt the least free?
  • What is the most liberating thing you have ever done?
  • Does freedom come with a price?

The pursuit of Happiness

  • How do you pursue happiness?
  • What was one of the happiest moments of your life?
  • Who or what makes you the happiest?
  • What is your definition of happiness?

AUGUST

august (adj.) 1660s, from Latin augustus “venerable, majestic, magnificent, noble,” probably originally “consecrated by the augurs, with favorable auguries” (see augur(n.)); or else “that which is increased” (see augment).

  • Who is the most venerable, majestic, magnificent, and/or noble person you have known?
  • When have you felt the most “consecrated by the augurs”?
  • When have you felt the most “increase”?

augur (n.) 1540s, from Latin augur, a religious official in ancient Rome who foretold events by interpreting omens, perhaps originally meaning “an increase in crops enacted in ritual,” in which case it probably is from Old Latin *augos (genitive *augeris) “increase,” and is related to augere “increase” (see augment). The more popular theory is that it is from Latin avis “bird,” because the flights, singing, and feeding of birds, along with entrails from bird sacrifices, were important objects of divination (compare auspicious).

  • When have you felt like the cards were in your favor, like the stars were aligning, etc.?
  • When did you interpret a “sign” of some sort and act upon it, for better or for worse?

augment (v.) c. 1400, from Old French augmenter “increase, enhance” (14c.), from Late Latin augmentare “to increase,” from Latinaugmentum “an increase,” from augere “to increase, make big, enlarge, enrich,” from PIE root *aug- (1) “to increase” (source also of Sanskrit ojas “strength;” Lithuanian augu “to grow,” aukstas “high, of superior rank;” Greek auxo “increase,” auxein “to increase;” Gothic aukan “to grow, increase;” Old English eacien “to increase”).

  • When have you felt the most “enlarged,” the most “enriched”?
  • How did you become the august person that you are?

auspicious (adj.) 1590s, “of good omen” (implied in auspiciously), from Latin auspicium “divination by observing the flight of birds,” from auspex (genitive auspicis) + ous.

  • Have you ever had an epiphany?  A time when the lightbulb lit up?

SEPTEMBER

education (n.) Latin educare “to bring up or rear a child” and Latin educere “to bring out, to lead out, or to lead forth”

  • favorite (or least favorite) education memories;
  • favorite (or least favorite) teachers, mentors, guides, etc.;
  • how they way they were brought up by their parental guardians and/or teachers affected who they are today;
  • times when someone brought out the best in them, or lead them out of their ignorance or innocence, or lead them forth toward something enlightening;
  • their own Aha! or Eureka! moments;
  • “school” vs. “education”;
  • what the “School of Life” has taught them;
  • times when they have been a teacher, mentor, guide.

OCTOBER

fear (n.) Old English faer “calamity, sudden danger, peril” > Greek peria “to try, to attempt, to experience”

  • When were you ever in sudden danger–and how did you survive?  When did you ever try something, attempt something, experience something that involved, well, fear?  (Here’s where the unique stories will emerge and where we’ll all be able to connect: who hasn’t tried something new and shaken in their boots?!)

fright (n.) Old English fyrhtu “dread, horrible sight, fear and trembling”

  • What do you dread the most?  What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?

horror (n.)  Latin horror “dread, veneration, religious awe” > Latin horrere “to shudder or bristle with fear” > Latin eris “hedgehog”

  • Who knew that horror originally meant “religious awe”?  In that sense, when have you ever been in the presence of someone or something that has made you think twice about your place in the universe or made you shudder in the face of its immense awe-someness and power?  How are you like a hedgehog, rolling yourself into a ball for protection?

terror (n.) Old French terreur “great fear, dread, alarming news”

  • What was that alarming news you received?  How did you respond?

NOVEMBER

  • What are you thankful for that can fit into a 1’x1′ box?
  • What human or group of humans are you thankful for?
  • What non-physical thing–an idea, a value, a force–are you thankful for?

FEBRUARY

  • First loves?

MARCH

  • Transitions?

APRIL

  • Foolishness?

Ok.  The questions got simpler as the months progressed!  But the stories the humans shared with me never ceased to amaze me with their honesty, insight, and revelation.  It truly was humbling that they would share parts of their lives with me.  Here are only a few:

July 2, 2016

“I felt the most alive and extremely, extremely at peace after my nine-year-old daughter was ill and needed a kidney transplant.  We went to two different doctors in southern California, both of whom said she also had cardiomyopathy and recommended both kidney and heart surgery.  One of the doctors told us, “Your daughter’s life is finite.”  Devastated, and wanting another opinion, we went to a doctor in Brazil (my ex-wife is Brazilian) and he told us to convince the American doctors to just do the kidney transplant.  So now she has my kidney and is 17 years old. Her life wasn’t finite.  After the surgery, I felt super, super peaceful.  I felt such presence and non-resistance–so free, so alive, so at peace.  I began meditating, which brought me clarity, a sense of letting go, without attachment.  I also felt joy, felt connected.  I was able to live with this life energy for some time (it’s like we need to go to a mental gym where we make ourselves aware of all our attachments, then let them go), but it’s a difficult thing to maintain, just like working out.  I’m still working on it.”

July 4, 2016

“I feel most alive when I feel like I’m making a progression, moving forward.  Otherwise, I’m at a standstill.  I measure myself to see how I’m progressing.  It’s not an ‘envy’ kind of measurement.  But I’m only twenty and I feel like I’m behind.  We’re all born with different cards.  Some people get aces, kings, or queens.  Others get deuces, two’s, or three’s.  I just want to feel like I have a nice strong deck in my hands.”

November 27, 2016

HIM:

I overheard you talking to the pianist about what he’d give thanks for that you couldn’t see.  So I looked up this quotation in case you came around. It’s from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Without getting political, there’s a general undercurrent of people not accepting people for who they are, instead of one of love and openness.  It’s not just “me, me, me.”  It needs to be more “us.”

August 6, 2016

New friends Casey (l) and Sheryl (r), both from New York, just met this week at a week-long work training in Milwaukee.  But they found that their ideas fed off of each other.  They “got” each other.  This was apparent when I sat down with them today.  

CASEY: When did I feel the most august?  Since the day I was born, going hard.

SHERYL: Nice, dude.  Going hard.

CASEY: No, but seriously. Every day is a challenge to be more magnificent than the previous one.  And challenge is a way to improve yourself instead of putting yourself down.

SHERYL: Yes, it’s a challenge of understanding yourself better.

CASEY: I give myself a warning every day never to dwell on my past.  I might screw up one day, but I challenge myself to be better than yesterday.

SHERYL: It’s good to give yourself little milestones.

CASEY: And to test the waters.  Each day, of course, is different, but you need the challenge to get going and keep going.  Life is boring if it’s easy.

SHERYL: I don’t ever want to be bored.

CASEY: I know.  I like being uncomfortable.

SHERYL: And I’d rather see someone struggle rather than breeze through life.

CASEY: It’s like this.  People like to see challenges as positive and negative.  Negative challenges are ones that find you, and positive ones are those you look for.  And with the challenges that find you, the important thing is how you deal with them.

SHERYL: And believe me, my company provides 30,000 challenges every day!  (Don’t prinT THEIR NAME!)

August 3, 2016

I feel the most august when I catch a fish.  My girlfriend and I will fish up north–a lot of walleye–sometimes in Manitowish Waters or other places like that; we’ll also fish down here by the Summerfest grounds, which is cool, but it’s different from up north.  I like being able to zone out and watch the water and nature. I like the waiting. It’s kind of therapeutic–you know, some people say it’s therapeutic to sew or run or whatever–and once you catch something, that therapy washes away and you’re in the moment and every second counts, even if you miss the hit. It makes you feel like you’re capable.  Even if you throw it back, release it, you know that you could do it if you had to, if you really needed to rely on fishing for your food.  It’s therapy leading into euphoria leading into security. That’s augustness for me.

October 16, 2016

In my experience, we always are afraid, afraid of how we’ll be in different situations.  We try a lot of good and bad stuff, but then you start doing the bad things to get noticed.  You don’t like it but you feel you have to do it.  Sometimes you feel you might not make it doing good. That’s when you’re stuck with not much light, without some kind of life.

You have to be there to help other people because they can’t break something–the bad–until they understand the life or light.  That’s where you can help: to help others be clear about the difference between the light and the dark.

August 25, 2016
“Just use a picture of a black cat, please. They’re my favorite AND they’re the least adoptable. Yes, I think it’s still because of superstition, even though it’s 2016.”

I had the pleasure of sitting down with two long-time friends–one from Milwaukee, the other from Illinois–in front of the fireplace in the Lounge.  One of them was hesitant, saying at first that she couldn’t think of anything remarkable or “august” about her life.  So her friend chimed in: “Let me tell you about Marilyn.  She’s being very shy and coy right now.  So let me get started and we’ll see if she starts to feel more comfortable.”  Marilyn did get more comfortable, and I quickly learned that she is an august crusader for animals, particularly cats.  Marilyn wasn’t being “coy”; she was being humble. At one point, all three of us were teary-eyed.  Both of them love animals so much that it was hard for them not to get emotional–even Marilyn.  The monolog here is a synthesis of their two stories, in the voice of Marilyn.

I am an energetic advocate, a voice, a home for cats and other animals, especially ones who are stray or hurt in some way.  The ones with no homes are some of the most vulnerable creatures, but so many people turn a blind eye to them, thinking it’ll be too much work to take care of them.  But I haven’t turned a blind eye, even to the detriment of my finances, my relationships, and so on.

Since I was little, I’ve always had a connection with animals, but it was just in the past 8 years or so of my life that I began to advocate real intensely for them.  Most of the cats I have I rescue off the street.  They have to be cared for, spayed, neutered, and so on.  I used to keep count.  Conservatively, I’d say that I’ve helped at least 1,000 cats.  I live in an unincorporated neighborhood in Illinois, so I have land, so it’s easier for me to take care of them.  And I’ve been blessed with a good job so that I at least have money for all the things they need.

My goal is to solve the problem, but the problem is never going to get solved 100%.  You’d need an army of people doing the same thing.  But when a cat gets healthy or finds a home–that’s the thanks I receive.  Otherwise, I don’t seek praise or thanks or attention.  I just want to speak up for their needs because they can’t say or do things for themselves.  So I also educate people about proper nutrition, medical care, responsibilities that come with owning cats.

We need to be stewards of animals and human beings.  Not just to make ourselves or God proud, but because it’s the right thing to do.

July 13, 2016

I waited a long time to get married.  My husband kept trying and trying and trying.  When I lost my mom–I took care of her for four years–I told her on her deathbed that I didn’t want to get married or have kids.  I wanted to travel and . . . When I think of freedom, I think of travel, of having choices.  Dancing, too–that’s being free.

I finally agreed to get married.  But I was firm from the first date: “No kids.”  There’s asurrounding this, though.  People might say you’re selfish.  From the perspective of overpopulation, I think I’m being rather green by not bringing another person into this world ‘just because.’  I’m making a choice not to become a mother.  There are obviously many women who choose to become moms, but what about people like me who don’t want to give into social norms?

People have told me, ‘You’re not a woman.’  But a female shouldn’t be defined by her ability to bear children.  I want to be able to wake up every day and not have to take care of another human.  I mean, maybe when I’m old and all alone and wondering why there’s no one around to take care of me, but . . . for now, it’s my choice.

July 22, 2016

More than anything, I treasure my friendships.  I love taking care of my girlfriends.  I’m married, and I love him, and that’s all fine and dandy. But as you get older, you need your friends more and more.  When you’re in your 20’s, you think and talk about stupid shit.  I mean, we’re not talking about deep things all the time, but you know what I mean.  I love to laugh with them, tell a good, funny story–things that are really living and that are new experiences.  One thing I really love to do is bike with my girlfriends (I’m a member of the advanced cycling team Velo Femmes).  They make me happy.  And to me, happiness is a state of freedom, of being unencumbered, with no stress, free of worry and life’s pressures.

I think I felt the most free when I stopped giving a shit what people thought.  I’m not an ass or anything, but I just stopped caring what society thought I should be, what people said about my age, all the compartments people wanted to put me into.  I just don’t care anymore, which has been so freeing.  And I also stopped judging other people, which is a good thing.  I’m interested in making myself happy instead of relying on others to make me happy.  I have confidence in my own skin.

There are so many horrible things happening in this world right now: random people being shot by the police, random police shootings, kids getting killed.  It makes all the little things we worry about pale in comparison.

In the end, I want people at my funeral to say good things about me not just to say good things–but because I was a good person.

August 25, 2016

Love is the most significant, energetic attribute we possess in life, but it is so elusive.  Every time I’ve grasped a taste of it, I’ve realized that its flavor is so much more vast.  I get overwhelmed–like I’m a cell in a giant of love.  Every time you taste it, there’s some new flavor.  I guess I’m a crazy, hopeless romantic, but I’m truly obsessed with this experience.

I’ve made some of the most significant life choices in the quest for this “Love.”  And it’s an experiential kind of love–not the printed card type of love.

Speaking of cordials, I feel like love–whatever it is–is truth.  It’s flowing from one ancient vine of grapes, and every grape is a different kind of love, and these flavors of grapes are all connected to the vine, and other vines–and they all connect to one source, one that goes below the ground where we can’t see it–and beyond.  What’s beyond is so mysterious, but all this love is connected to it somehow.

August 18, 2016

When you’re young, you’re controlled and watched.  But when I was about 10 years old, I was out of town in Vermont (I’m from Wisconsin) with my uncle and older cousin.  And my uncle let me carry a loaded shotgun.  I think we were probably just target shooting.  I had an opportunity once to kill a deer with a crossbow, but I just couldn’t do it.  In any case, he said, “Be careful. You could hurt someone.”  But he let me carry it.  Now, of course my parents–most parents–wouldn’t want me to do that because they’d think it was too dangerous.  But my uncle, he never took it away.  He just told me, “Be responsible with it.”  And I was.  I felt . . . trusted.

Fast forward.  I’ve been in the commercial real estate business for almost 40 years.  When I first got started, it took between 6 months and a year to accomplish my first breakthrough.  It was one of those things where I was able to solve a problem that no one else could fix.  And my solution went uncontested.  When you’re younger and still learning, that’s a big thing. Again, I felt . . . trusted.  You need to get to that point when you don’t question yourself anymore.

November 18, 2016

?אם אין אני לי, מי לי? וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני? ואם לא עכשיו, אימתי

I am thankful for the words of Rabbi Hillel (c. 110 BCE-10 CE): “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  But if I am only for myself, who am I?  If not now, when?  This is a core tenet of Judaism: the first question is about personal voice, the second is about community, and the last is about social action now.  I live and teach by this.

Recently, Martin Buber has been popping up on my Facebook.  Rabbi Hillel’s questions are like Buber’s I/Thou philosophy.  I think about how I am a white woman, which automatically makes me privileged.  For others, being in the minority forces them to see from another’s perspective.  If you are in the majority, though, you don’t have to do that. You’ve already “won,” so you’re not expected to have to see from another’s perspective.  But you have to know who you are AND how others are.  You need to step into another’s shoes.  That’s what I/Thou is about.  If not now, when?

February 20, 2017

Rob’s instruments are his clarinet and his voice.  He has played in symphony orchestras like the Milwaukee Symphony and has played with individual artists as well.

Love goes with passion–for me–and that’s music.  Nothing will give me goosebumps more than performing with another person.  Periodically, it’s even a mystical moment, a synchronicity of what I’m playing and what they’re playing, when we’re unified.

All of a sudden, I’m off the page, not thinking about what’s on there, and it’s like something else is leading me.

It’s like that with my husband today.  Even with the mundane day-to-day, there are times when I somehow get out of my selfish part–and we’re a real pair.  Frankly, it’s otherworldly.

This is what differentiates us from the rest of creation.


Here are all the other Humans of The Pfister that I interviewed:

HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | MARCH 2017 | Transitions Edition | “The Classic Look is Made to Last”

Today’s HUMANS OF THE PFISTER post is about “Transitions”–but also kind of an anti-transition story.  It’s more a story about endurance, about a stalwart establishment that has survived three transitions to become a 25-year staple of Wisconsin Avenue, just a half-block west of The Pfister. Meet the proud owner of The Sophisticated Man, Diane Hamiel, herself a sophisticated woman who was sporting sleek gold glasses that flared out to meet her delicate bob and a sharp black top with a poofy lapel, not to mention a kind, witty smile.

I owned the Leather Boutique for women when I first started.  It was mainly for women; the only things for men that we sold were wallets and belts.  The boutique was on 3rd and Juneau, near where they’re building the new arena.  But I lost the store to a fire.

However, that’s when I realized that men need help.  They need someone to help them get dressed up; they don’t have enough places to shop.  So I opened up my first men’s shop in the Prospect Mall in 1974.  We were such a small shop, and people didn’t think we’d survive.  But we were there until 1981 and moved to a bigger space in the Grand Avenue Mall, eventually moving to 322 E. Wisconsin, which is where we still are.

We sell classics.  One of the things I always say is “The man’s ideas may be changing fast, but the classic look is made to last.”  We still have guys wearing things they purchased 20, 30 years ago.  They come in and show you–and they come in with their kids now, too!   I feel like a big-time grandma!

I just love men.  At The Sophisticated Man, we love servicing men!  We can dress you up from head to toe: socks, shoes, underwear, shirts, suits, coats, slacks, hats, you name it.  We help them with personal attention. You can walk into the shop like that [gestures to my jeans and sweater] and you can walk out like you’re going to meet the President.  We dress all the sports stars–they come to us.

What would you hook me up with if I came into the store?

Like I said, we could dress you head to toe.  I mean, you can have your casual look [again, gestures to my jeans and sweater], but–you look like you’re a 15 1/2″ neck, probably a 34-35 long.  Yes?

Exactly.

HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | MARCH 2017 | Transitions Edition | From Car to Carpool: A Chance to Relax & Regroup

At the end of January, I got in two car accidents in one week.  The first was snow-related: I hit the back of a bus, which had stopped in front of me.  I just couldn’t stop.  It totaled my car.  My dad was able to pick me up and let me use his car, a Mazda Miata that he had just bought and restored last year.  A couple days after hitting the bus, I got hit by a semi truck on my drive down to the Racine Art Museum where I work.  All of a sudden, the semi truck hit the back of the Miata, which swung sideways, and I was being pushed about a thousand feet on the highway.  All I could think was “My dad’s car!”  Of course, he was just happy that I was alive.  But I called my mom and she drove me to work, where my co-workers couldn’t believe that I had actually come into work after being hit by a semi!

At first, I figured I would get another car (the insurance check came in just a couple of days).  I went to the dealership and told the salesperson that I wanted to get another Prius (that was the bus car), but there were none available.  So I started to think about it: This is the first time I can actually carpool to work.  I mean, I could have in the past, but you know, I had my own car.  One of my colleagues lives in Riverwest, so I asked him for a ride.  Why not carpool with him?  Of course, I offered to pay for gas. It’s turned out really well.  If I have to stay late for a meeting or something, I’ve discovered that there is a bus from Racine to Milwaukee that’s pretty decent.  It’s only $3.50!  What’s the price of a city bus?  About $2.50?  Amazing.

And there are other ways I can get to and from work: my mom and step-dad live in Racine, so I can get rides from them; Lyft; Zipcar; and the Sturtevant Amtrak, which I can get a ride to if I need to.  There are so many tools for transportation!

I really like that the accidents made me think about my choices, my schedule.  I think about what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it. I am still very involved in the art community in Racine, Kenosha, and Milwaukee, but in the end, I find that I’m spending more time at home where I can relax and regroup.

HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | MARCH 2017 | Transitions edition | Xenodocheio & Spiritual Connections

Last night I met Dean at the lobby bar, relaxing with a cocktail.  I had just asked the bartender, Shelby, for a cordial of wisdom and she had offered that her “life motto has always been that laughter is a cure for everything. And there’s something you can laugh at in every situation.”  Dean agreed with her, then asked me what I was doing.  I told her and she told me that she had worked for many years in the Spa as a hairdresser and that even though she has her own studio space down the street now, she still comes back to The Pfister for drinks because she loves the atmosphere.  Dean is the first of March’s Humans of The Pfister and without my having to announce this month’s theme of Transitions (the awkward meteorological transition from winter to spring we’ve been experiencing, with balmy weather one day and snow the next gave me the idea), she began with an etymological lesson about transience.

I’m Greek, and the Greek word for hotel is xenodocheio (ξενοδοχειο), which means something like “a place of strangers.”  That’s what a hotel is. They’re not about the locals–it’s a transient place.  And a hotel bar–it’s a real mix of everybody.

I’ve met so many people here at the bar–lots of celebrities, obviously, and, get this, I was Barbara Bush’s hairdresser any time she was here–but I really enjoyed Maya Angelou.  I was sitting her and she came up and sat next to me, just like you are.  And I fanned out on her!  But she was–just like she is.  Cool, laidback.  A guest just like anybody else.

She’s a spiritual person.  I’m a spiritual person.  So we connected spiritually.  If you connect with someone spiritually, then the subject of the conversation doesn’t matter as much.  We could talk about cars or politics or whatever.  But that’s all stupid.  Not stupid–I don’t mean it that way.  But insignificant in the long run.  What you will remember at the end of your life is the connections.

I wanted to capture Dean laughing.  Something was wrong with my new camera (well, it was probably me–I’m still learning about f-stops and low-light conditions and ISO settings!), but I kind of like how her photo turned out: a little blurry, a lot authentic, and even a little spiritual.

HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | FEBRUARY 2017 | “First Loves” Edition | Musical Connections

I guess I was in junior high–7th grade maybe.  We had a co-ed gym class where we did ballroom dancing: waltz, cha-cha, jitterbug.  I think it was girl-pick-a-guy.  Well, I had a crush on a boy named Tom.  I was hoping he’d ask me, but I was too shy–and he did!  And we won Best Jitterbug out of the entire 7th grade!

Back then, we “went out” (not really “steady,” of course).  We were like boyfriend and girlfriend, but really we just hung out together.  I went to high school with him, too, and we became good friends.

Funny story: he ended up marrying a girl named Donna!  I think it was our 25th high school reunion when he introduced me to his wife . . . named Donna of all things!

Love goes with passion–for me–and that’s music.  Nothing will give me goosebumps more than performing with another person.  Periodically, it’s even a mystical moment, a synchronicity of what I’m playing and what they’re playing, when we’re unified.

All of a sudden, I’m off the page, not thinking about what’s on there, and it’s like something else is leading me.

It’s like that with my husband today.  Even with the mundane day-to-day, there are times when I somehow get out of my selfish part–and we’re a real pair.  Frankly, it’s otherworldly.

This is what differentiates us from the rest of creation.

(Rob’s instruments are his clarinet and his voice.  He has played in symphony orchestras like the Milwaukee Symphony and has played with individual artists as well.)

HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | FEBRUARY 2017 | “First Loves” Edition | Throwing Rocks at Joey

My first love was in 4th grade.  His name was Joey, and I used to throw rocks at him to get his attention.  He was from the nicer side of the tracks than me (we grew up in Latonia, Kentucky, which is now Covington).  Joey was blue-eyed and had the house and the nice family.  But in 5th grade, I moved away.  Fast forward to high school, when Joey was the basketball star.  I had just moved back to Latonia and we got back together.  I threw a rock at him and he said, “I know you!”  So in high school, we were going out for a little bit–and then I moved away again, from ’76-’89!  When I returned, I “ran into him.” Actually, what happened is that I called a friend of mine and asked her how to track this guy down.  Fortunately, he was separated.  We got back together . . . and then he went back to his wife.  Then I left again.  I was always leaving . . .

After our conversation, Kathy and I trolled Joey on Facebook for a little bit. There were many guys with his first and last name, as can be imagined. Some of Kathy’s comments included “No way he’d make the Navy” (after finding a Joey who’s in the Navy) and “There’s no way he’d be a pastor.”  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | FEBRUARY 2017 | “First Loves” Edition | A Poodle, a Hot Teacher, and a Pork Chop

DEBBY: My first love was a copper-white, stray poodle.  I was 12 years old when we found her on a rainy, stormy night running around the neighborhood.  I had my dad chase her down.  She responded one day to “Bonita,” which means “pretty” in Spanish, you know.  She was like my first love and my first heartbreak, come to think of it.  We let her out one morning–but when I called her, she never came back.  But I guess if I had to say my first human love, it would be Mr. Duckler, my English teacher, when I was 11 years old.  I thought he was so hot.  I mean, he was so nice, for a teacher.  For a teacher to be so nice–was hot.

GENE: My first love was a breaded pork chop.  I was five years old, and that’s when I first decided that I wanted to cook.  I saw my mom make them all the time, but I didn’t like the way she did it: overcooked.  I had tried before to do it myself, but I used graham crackers and they tasted like shit.  One night, then, her and dad went to square dancing and I decided to make pork chops for the entire family of six.  I dug through the freezer to find some thicker chops, made the breading, and they turned out just right.  I got out the little electric skillet, put it on the kitchen table (yes, my grandma and aunt were nearby–practically next door), and now I’ve been a chef for years.  And I guess, like Debby, I could also mention Cindy in 5th grade: I remember she was blond with blue eyes and a little pug nose.  I lived six blocks away and at times it was torture.  She knew I liked her, but not how much!  She always did insist that I be her dance partner, however!

HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | FEBRUARY 2017 | “First Loves” Edition

My first love was named Alisa.  She was a ballerina and danced in The Nutcracker.  We were five years old and kissed by 10s on the playground until we hit 60 times–all while Robin watched.

Ellie’s first love was Herman.  She tells us a little about him for HUMANS OF THE PFISTER’s “First Loves” edition:

Herman.  He was handsome and very nice.  And he played basketball and baseball.  My cousin liked him, too, but I won.  I liked him first.

This was maybe in 1960 because we graduated in ’64 and my parents wouldn’t let me date until I was 17.  We’d go to a lot of drive-in movies, but if my younger sister went, my other sister and I would have to go with her until was old enough.  So I went on a first date with Herman.  He had such gorgeous eyes.  We went to a show, but back then, we weren’t alone that long, so “it” didn’t work out.

In the end, I didn’t marry Herman.  But he had a service station for a long time, and I would visit him for many years.  He had a good body then, but . . . don’t write that next part.

HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | JANUARY 2016 | “Trying New Things”

Dee did not think he had anything interesting to tell, especially about this month’s theme of Trying New Things. Surprise: “You got a story out of me. You’re good.”

you just have to grab it

Well, you know–I got a gym membership this year–New Year’s Resolutions and all–so I could lose weight and quit smoking.  I’m weak to an extent, but until you actually make up your mind to do something, no one can force you.  Then the goal is pretty much reached.  You just have to grab it, you know what I mean?

I’m weak to an extent, but until you actually make up your mind to do something, no one can force you.  Then the goal is pretty much reached. You just have to grab it, you know what I mean?

I know that working out with a group of people can be fun, but you have to be your own motivation.  You shouldn’t need someone to get you to do what you want to do, you know what I mean?

I work out at Experience Fitness, and they have a theater with cardio machines in a dark theater, and they play a different movie each time.  So you can just do your thing and get lost in the movie–and it keeps you focused.  I actually just reached a new record: one hour of cardio on the elliptical!

–Dee

 

 

HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | JANUARY 2017 | TRYING NEW THINGS

HAPPY NEW YEAR, READERS!

My “Humans of The Pfister” took a hiatus in December, but the Humans are back! What better way to jumpstart HOTP in 2017 than with this lovely mother-daughter team.  I ran into Jayne and Grace at the hotel last week. Well, to be honest, I saw on Facebook that they were in the Cafe for lunch, promised them online that I’d be there as soon as I could, and got there in time to join them for a delightful conversation in the Lobby Lounge.

Grace graduated last June from The Prairie School, where I taught her senior English class.  She has completed her first semester at the Santa Fe University of Art & Design, where she is studying concept art and character design.  I remember Grace as a quiet, introspective student, shy in class but mildly bubbly with friends, more a follower than a leader. She was well known for her artistic abilities, though she never boasted, never made a big deal about it.  What I remember most about her, though, is that she knows what she likes and dislikes–and is not afraid to tell you, ever so respectfully.

One thing she likes is real life.  True stories. History. As a reader, not surprisingly, she tends toward nonfiction. So whenever I would introduce a new work of fiction for us to study, well, I knew it was going to be a chore.  She’d give it an honest go, I knew, but she wasn’t going to make it easy for me.  I came to expect, with every new novel, the calm but serious question: “So, why are we reading this?”  I remember, though, our interesting conversations–just the two of us, sitting in the Commons–about the role of fiction, the nature of “happening truth” versus “story truth” (terms borrowed from author Tim O’Brien), and so on.  I appreciated that she was willing to listen and debate and, even, willing to question my choices and objectives.

Another thing she disliked was writing.  If she could just tell me, why did she have to write it?  If she could just show me in a drawing, why did she have to write it?

So what did I learn about this quiet, young contrarian on this December afternoon?  It’s not box office material, but here’s the movie script:

INT. THE PFISTER HOTEL - DAY

DOMINIC sits down with his former student GRACE and her mother JAYNE to catch up on the last six months, especially with GRACE, who has been at school in Santa Fe.

DOMINIC
What program are you in again?

GRACE
It's focused on concept art and character design.  

JAYNE
She's really doing what she loves.  

DOMINIC
(looking at GRACE)
And you get to do it in the background, behind the scenes, in a sense.  Right?  

GRACE
(nodding)
Yes.  

DOMINIC
How are your roommates?

GRACE
I live in my own place, which is nice.  But the people I hang out with, they just sing--all--the--time.  I don't mind it.  They're fun.

JAYNE
It's an arts school.  So there are so many students studying music and theater and musical theater.  But Grace.  You know how she's always been kind of shy.  But because of the program she's in, with films, and all the new people she's around, she's already designed a movie poster for one short film and now she's acting!

GRACE
Yeah, I keep being asked to be an extra.  It's weird.  I've been a 911 operator, a news reporter, a background laugher . . .

DOMINIC
I can see you being a background laugher.  Always smirking at something.

JAYNE
(eagerly)
Tell him about your Mary Jane.

GRACE
I will.  Being an extra is one thing, but I've never acted and the director wasn't sure if I was going to work out, but we tried it out and he liked me, so I got a role as Mary Jane--

JAYNE
From Spider-Man.

GRACE
Yes, you know, Peter Parker's girlfriend.  I am still shy, but doing all this really boosts your confidence.  

JAYNE
You did all that Irish dance for so many years, so you were on the stage all the time.

GRACE
Yeah, you'd think that that would've helped.  

DOMINIC
But it's different when you're dancing with a team.  I know why you'd get nervous on the stage.  get nervous.  And I can't stand a camera on me!

JAYNE
She'll get used to it.  I think she's being open to all the possibilities around her.  Like, you know, she never liked to write--

DOMINIC
No kidding.  It was like pulling teeth.

JAYNE
Well, her teacher had them write a research paper on anything they wanted.  And you know Grace--if she's not interested in it, it's going to be very hard to get her to write about it.  So I made a huge list for her and--

DOMINIC
Oh yeah.  That's when she wrote about Tim Burton, right?  

JAYNE
She's been fascinated with him for a long time.  

DOMINIC
This is just like I let her write about the Old West for her Senior Capstone project because that's what she wanted to research.

JAYNE
Yes.  Her teacher liked her research so much that he entered it into a writing contest.

DOMINIC
(smirking at GRACE)
Too funny.

JAYNE
So anyways.  When I finally move out there next month, I want to start getting extra roles on campus.  I could be the "adult woman" or the "old woman" whenever they need an adult woman or old woman.  I am looking forward to moving and returning to the southwest. You know me--I love to hike and fish, I love the mountains. I'm looking forward to all the museums and Navajo jewelry and rugs and art.  I'm just tired of how "American" things have gotten here.  I mean, there are still places I like to go in Milwaukee, but there's just something. Maybe it's how modern things have gotten . . . or it's how busy everyone is, everyone on their phones.  Out there, it's quieter.

GRACE
Yeah, everyone's calm and nice.  No one hustles.  

JAYNE
And that's what I'm seeking.  I don't know what it's going to be like out there.  I have a job or two lined up in my field, but everything else is new.  I'm excited to start exploring again, creating a new life.  And slowing down.

DOMINIC
And it'll be nice, I'm sure, to be close to Grace.  You both get along so well.  

(They both nod in agreement)

GRACE
It's so calm and nice that I don't even watch the news.

JAYNE
She doesn't even watch the news.  I have to tell her what's happening around her.

GRACE
There was supposedly a mountain lion lurking around campus.  I didn't know about that.  And one day we saw smoke coming from the mountains and thought it was a forest fire.  It was a controlled burn.

JAYNE
I had to tell her about those things.  If it weren't for me, well . . . she has to be careful.  Tell him about the barracks.

GRACE
Ok.  So there's what we call "the barracks" and it's an abandoned part of the school.

JAYNE
Back from when it was St. Michael's College.  It was probably where all the priests lived.  It's all fenced off and Grace and her friends found a way to kind of wiggle under it at night.

GRACE
(leaning forward, face beaming)
The barracks are really cool.  It's one of the movie sets for Manhattan.  It turns out lot of movies are made in Santa Fe.  Like Tina Feys's Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.  And many are shot on our campus. We had to use our phones because we didn't have flashlights, and there were all these rooms with surgery tables and things, probably old movie props.

JAYNE
Grace is the ringleader.  Everyone else was scared of ghosts, but not Grace. What she should have been afraid of were bats . . . or rats.

GRACE
(chuckling)
There was that black widow.

JAYNE
See what I mean?

GRACE
(smiling)
There was an Italian kid.  He got bit by something, but we didn't know what, but after two days he called 1-1-9.  Yep, he's from Italy and got the emergency number backward.  But eventually his mom came from Italy and he had to go home.

So there you have it.

Quiet, graceful, gracious Grace who used to turn her nose up to fictional characters is now

  • learning how to create concept art for fictional films,
  • laughing for filmmakers,
  • joining the ranks of Kirsten Dunst as Spider-Man’s girlfriend,
  • leading a risky gang of trespassing, singing art students through abandoned buildings,
  • braving the lions and bats of Santa Fe, and
  • chuckling at the misfortune of black widow-bitten Italian boys.

I never would have guessed.

Maybe she’s realizing that a little bit of make-believe isn’t such a bad thing.  Especially if you’re doing something you love.

If only we had let her do more of what she loved when she was in high school–right, Grace?