Kids Say the Darnedest Things…About My Head

Esme was taking care of some really important business as she stormed the Pfister to look at some art.

You’d never say that she was in the way as she rushed around with her furiously important agenda, but you could say that she was somewhat underfoot. Real close to underfoot, as a matter of fact. Esme is one young busy body who is probably still measured in inches rather than feet.

Esme was barking out commands as she was twirling around the Pop-Up Gallery looking at some art. Twirling for real. Not some figurative idea of a hard charging boss lady. Twirling because her dress looked a lot more fun when she twirled.

“I’m really busy right now. REALLY busy. I’ll call you back.”

Esme yanked a flip phone from her cheek as she ended her call. She began a heat seeking search for a piece of art that featured her mother as a prominent subject. For someone with as much hustle in her bustle as this young tycoon, I was surprised that Esme wasn’t screaming into something like an iPhone 27, you know, that super new model of smartphone that only the most important of the important people seem to be able to get their hands on.

I had to know how Esme dealt with all her business with a simple old school clamshell mobile dealio. I mean, my dad has one of those and he likes to brag about how he only makes one call a year on it. I couldn’t imagine how this worked for someone who seemed to have so many things to take care of in the here and now. She cleared up my confusion right away.

“It’s an eraser. A PHONE eraser,” Esme said. Esme put a big stress on the word PHONE lest I continued to have any confusion about the function of the thing she had been shouting into.

I mentioned to Esme that a phone eraser might revolutionize the world of cellular technology.

“I don’t know,” said Esme. “Sure.”

Esme flipped into action mode and was on to her next bit of business. That biz seemed to be taking the measure of a man. Or, at least, a man’s head.

Reaching into her obviously very important itsy, bitsy purse, Esme produced a tiny pink kaleidoscope that she daintily held up to her eye. She pointed the end of the kaleidoscope in the direction of my head, twisted its body, and gave me her very solemn report about the state of my ever-loving noggin.

“Your head looks weird. Really weird.”

Out of nowhere, Esme’s sidekick appeared. Her sidekick also happened to be her brother Milo. This lad was a tad taller, but I’d lay better than average odds he answers questions about his height based on double digits inches, too.

Milo grabbed the kaleidoscope out of Esme’s hand and focused in on my head as his sister just had. He did not linger, as lighting fast action seemed to be the defining characteristic of the Esme and Milo bloodline. Milo sang out his own contrarian report with a big, gooey smile.

“I don’t think your head looks weird at all.”

Nice kid, that Milo.

And Esme? Well, she might have crushed my spirits for the blink of an eye, as any rough riding business lady can do from time to time, but, boy oh boy, I can’t wait to work for her someday.

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

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.

 

A Poem By LeVar Burton

Recently, Sharp Literacy, an organization devoted to the educational flourishment of urban children held a fundraiser at the Pfister. Actor LeVar Burton, who hosted all 26 years of Reading Rainbow on PBS spoke.

 

“My mom’s about four foot ten and a half,

weighs about a buck and a quarter.

I’m fifty-seven years old

and to this day

I am still afraid of this woman

when I was a kid she was both father and mother

she held and set the standards.

I am the man I am

because my mother

is the woman she is.

 

What if?

Two of the most potent words

in combination.

 

That which we focus our imaginations upon

is what we tend to manifest as well.

That’s how it works.

 

Because of Star Trek

today we have the Bluetooth,

cellphone

and iPad.

 

I’m sorry to tell you

there aren’t any pockets in the future

I’ve been there.

We had no pockets

on our spacesuits.

 

Everything happens for a reason, y’all

there are no accidents in this universe*

 

I got a call

“I know you’ve never done a television series

but would you be interested in doing a new Star Trek series?”

I had one question only,

“Is Gene Roddenberry involved?”

Gene was a huge, huge hero of mine,

Gene was not just a visionary

he was a social scientist,

an advocate for civil rights.

Gene taught me:

in order to be a complete storyteller

it is necessary to move the culture forward.

Star Trek was responsible

for the first interracial kiss

on network television.

Gene was also a man

who insisted

on seeing women in short skirts in the future.

You see we’re all human.

There is a dichotomy that exists in humanity

sometimes difficult to resolve.

 

No Child Left Behind

insisted we make the choice

between teaching our kids how to read

and fostering in them a love of the written word

in a healthy society

we don’t make that choice.

3,000 seniors drop out of high school

almost every day

in America.

Most of them are poor readers.

We have spent an inordinate amount of money

in the past ten years on war and machineries.

We have sacrificed our children

and for me that’s not okay.

 

If any of you ever hear of LeVar Burton

running for public office

you have my permission to slap him upside his head.

 

When I met Fred Rogers for the first time

I was so excited because I thought

“Finally, I’m going to meet the man behind the Mr. Rodgers Personae.”

I did not believe that anyone could be that nice

but as it turns out

he was.

Fred was Fred. Always.

No matter where he was

or who he was engaged in conversation with

he was consistent.

We were once together at the White House

for a conference on children education in television.

When you fill a room with Washington politicos

and Hollywood egos

there’s hardly room to breathe

so Fred encouraged us all in the room

to close our eyes

for thirty seconds,

remember a teacher who had impact

on us in a very profound and personal way

and ladies and gentlemen,

everybody in that room

from the president of the united states,

to the heads of networks,

everyone closed their eyes

and engaged in the exercise.

 

I know because I peeked.

 

No one can become all that they are meant to be

unless

they are a lifelong learner.

The key to becoming a lifelong learner

is to be a reader

for life.”

 

*Mr. Burton emphasized this point, repeating it four times throughout his speech.

 

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Artist Sally Duback and 5-8th grade students at Lutheran Special School teamed up to make this mural through the school’s Sharp program.
It was also funded by baseball player Ryan Braun and his wife Larissa.  So the kids included him in the composition.
It was also funded by baseball player Ryan Braun and his wife Larissa. So the kids included him in the composition.
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11 kids drew the scene and then Duback projected it onto three panels that they covered in homemade tiles, shells and found objects like compact discs.
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Each panel weighs 75 pounds.
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Teacher, Jill Bell (whose outfit matches the mosaic) tells me that this was a wonderful opportunity for her students. Each one of them has a different learning disability.
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This is as good a picture I was able to get of LeVar Burton. Sunflowers and heads packed the room and view.

 

I Will Get To Wear Tights & Meeting Two Presidents

The lobby

wears red roses today

when I meet Caroline

from South Carolina.

Tomorrow Carolina’s Caroline will

toss plant pluckings on the floor

as flower girl for a wedding.

She tells me

I will get to wear tights

she tells me

there will be champagne!

Who told this kid to get excited about champagne?

Perhaps Harry or Dick?

Those lobby lions have

watched a centuries worth

of revelry

their manes are worn

by a century of child fingers

right now

Harry is getting stroked by Harry, search

Caroline’s little brother

whose shoulder droops

from wearing a plastic shopping bag

containing hot cocoa powder,

I tell them

there will be hot cocoa!

Caroline has decided

the other lion’s name

is not Dick as they say

but really it is Caroline.

 

 

This is a poem

in which I must mention

“international association of administration professionals”

(IAAP)

of which

Mary of Kansas

is division president

she does something

financial for work

but on the side

with the pickle

she has iaap

conferences

like this one

with seminars on juggling.

That topic peaks my interest

until I learn they mean

juggling as an expression

for responding to three bosses

rather than three burning tennis racquets

or three rusty nail studded baseball bats

or even three plush bean bags,

however, IAAP transformed

Bonnie of Texas

from a timid woman who

at the time she joined the association

stared at the floor enough

to tell me that there were

forty-two tiles between the elevator

and her desk at the oil and gas company

to the Bonnie who approaches strangers

with typewriters at hotels

to make conversation

about what it is like to be

Houson’s division president.

Both presidents

Bonnie and Mary share corporate gossip:

Google’s bosses must remind

the young workers

to wear shoes,

but pajamas in the office

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Mary, President of Kansas on the left, Bonnie President of Texas on the right. In the background, a stranger.

are okay.

Santa’s visit!

After last Friday’s tree lighting ceremony, Santa had a  ton of letters to go through just from the children who visited him here at the Pfister (this on top of all of the other letters from across the world). As a testament to the talent that the jolly ol’ man has, and his adoption of technology in the digital age (or maybe it’s just a tech-savvy elf), Santa sent us a brief email along with photos of all the great letters he received from the children of the Pfister, and insisted that we share it with all of you!

Ho ho ho,

Hello there my good friends at The Pfister! I wanted to thank all of you for hosting yet another gorgeous ceremony kicking off the Christmas season at your hotel! It’s always a delight when I make my visits to Milwaukee to include The Pfister in them, and I love leading the countdown to the lighting of your grand tree!

Most importantly though, I love spending time with all of the great girls and boys who attend the tree lighting every year, and those who I get to see each Saturday in December during your “Breakfast with Santa” event.  Year after year, these kids continue to impress me with how smart they are, how exciting they are, and most importantly, with how good they’ve been.

I’ve already dropped my letters back to each of them in the mail, so they should be getting them soon (if they haven’t already), but I’ve enclosed photos that some of my elves helped me take of all the great letters that I got from the children at the lighting ceremony this year.  They were so well written and fun to read that I thought some of your friends might be interested in seeing them too!

I’ve got a busy month ahead of me, but thank you again for welcoming all the great guests along with myself and my lovely wife into your home this and every holiday season!

HO HO HO!

Santa


View all of the letters here!

 

Our Story Arts

As part of her residency, Stephanie Barenz, our 5th Artist-in-Residence has developed a mentoring program, “Our Story Arts” along with her husband, Zach.  Stephanie and Zach dreamed up the program shortly after Stephanie began her residency in April of this year as a way to encourage, enlighten and explore ways for children to explore self expression through the arts.

Zach, who teaches writing for 5th and 6th grades at Milwaukee school, St. Marcus, saw the program as another way to encourage his students to express their goals and dreams, and Stephanie, who had already been teaching art a few hours a month at the school, saw the program as an opportunity to bring a new dynamic and purpose to her residency.

Our Story ArtsThe program, in which presently seven 5th to 7th graders from St. Marcus are enrolled in, sees them visiting and attending classes with Stephanie and Zach twice each week in the AiR Studio on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.

Stephanie and Zach’s mission for “Our Story Arts” is “to focus on the needs of the individual, to start a junior art community in Milwaukee, and tell the story of our city’s children through creative self-expression.

The seven students are divided into two groups – Junior Artists-in-Residence and Junior Narrators, modeled after the Pfister programs. The kids have been working on the theme of identity, and are producing work based on this concept. In the last two months the children have developed their voice through creative writing assignments, video interviews, poetry, brush and ink calligraphy, portraiture, and gesture drawing. In the future, they will be working to develop their own zines with Pfister Narrator, Molly Synder and her husband, Royal Bravvaxling, who is a writing instructor at MIAD.

While the kids enjoy their art, they highly enjoy being part of the Pfister experience.  The kids are enthusiastic, hardworking, creative, funny, thoughtful, and inquisitive.

Joel loves Michael Jackson and drawing comic books. Gavin wants to be an architect and recently enjoyed selling his first work of art out of the Pfister studio. Kayla is dedicated to being an artist and told me yesterday she now loves art more than basketball or any other activity. Astashia writes beautiful poetry and enjoys that challenge that art brings to her day. Joanna, is a wise soul and honest, aspiring writer. Tania likes graphic novels and has created over 44 characters. Nikayla has a rare wisdom for someone her age and wants to be a journalist.

You can view their work on the Our Story Arts Facebook page, which is updated regularly. In the coming months, the students will also have some of their artwork on display in the Stephanie Barenz Gallery at the Pfister. The children will receive 50% of their sales to purchase more of their own art supplies. The other 50% will go towards fees for their field trips and program expenses.

If you would like to support a child in their journey of self-expression please make donations payable to Stephanie Barenz and send to:

“Our Story Arts”
c/o Stephanie Barenz
Suite 600, 207 E. Buffalo Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53202

Jackie and Jim’s last hurrah

The Pfister has always served a special role in Jackie and Jim Green’s life. Mainly, pilule as a place for them to escape their kids.

The Greens live in Arlington Heights, a suburb just outside Chicago, and they have four children – two girls and two boys – ages 22, 21, 20 and 19. They are all in college – or about to attend college – in the Midwest.

I ask them what it was like when they were all teenagers.

“It was horrible, cialis ” she says. “The girls suck up a lot, they know how to play it. Actually, our two nicest kids are the ones we never hear from. Well, unless they need money. And our youngest – we can’t wait until she leaves. She’s a real pain in the neck.”

I tell her my kids are 10, 10 and 9 and I’m starting to feel a little unsettled about the years ahead.

“I wish I could tell you it’s going to be great,” she says, sipping her drink. “Sorry.”

“It’s refreshing to talk to someone who’s honest about parenting,” I say. “And I’m officially terrified.”

“I’m pretty realistic,” she says, laughing. “We’re actually here because they’re all coming home for the summer on Wednesday. This is our last hurrah.”

The Greens plan to go on a family vacation to Florida this summer. But they’re leaving two days before them to get in some kid-free time first.

Jackie and Jim first heard about the Pfister from friends who had their wedding reception in the Rouge Ballroom.

“How long ago was that?” Jackie asks Jim.

“100 years ago?” he says.

“25 years ago,” she tells me. “They told us about it and said we should try it. By the way, your dress is really cute.”

“Thanks,” I say. “My coworker said it looked like something Mrs. Roper from ‘Three’s Company’ would wear.”

“Oh, no! I noticed it right away and thought it was cute. And then I saw your face and I thought, ‘How do I know that girl?’ and then I remembered you from my iPad! I read about you on the Pfister web page on the car ride up here and then: here you are,” she says.

The Greens come to the Pfister twice a year, usually in the spring and the fall, and they spend most of their time inside the hotel. However, one year they went to see Aerosmith, and the night of our interview they were going to Ward’s House of Prime because they had a Groupon.

But most of their weekends are centered around the on-site bars and restaurants.

“We plan our entire day around going to Blu. If you get there too late, you can’t get a seat. You need to get there when it opens. At 5,” she says.

“Go early, stay late?” I ask.

“Exactly!”

The Greens have a lot of Pfister memories. Jackie celebrated her 50th birthday at the hotel. They also came last January when a burst pipe led to flooding in some rooms, including theirs.

“So we hung out in this bar for six hours until we could get into our room. It was crazy. It was fun. We love this bar,” she says.

I ask her if she’s enjoying her sea breeze cocktail.

“It’s very good, but have you tried the Bloody Mary?” she asks me.

“No, but you are the second person today to tell me I have to,” I say.

“It’s amazing. Wait, I have a picture of it, on my phone. You have to see this,” she says, scrolling through the photo log on her cell phone. “Is it sad when you’re showing someone a picture of a drink on your phone?”

“Nah.”

“Oh, here it is!” she looks at it fondly. “The cheese. The pickles. The sausage!”

I like these people. They are easy to talk to; they are real. And I’m always happy when Chicagoans see beauty in Milwaukee. Certainly there are attractive old hotels in The Windy City: The Palmer House, The Drake. So why The Pfister?

“It’s the history. We love it here,” she say. “It’s the only reason we come to Milwaukee. Well, other than to get away from our kids.”