The Lady and the Pirate

I meet an accountant. She tells me about her career hobby: her involvement with the Society For Creative Anachronism (SCA) where she is known as ‘Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill, recipe ’ which means ‘dark horse.’ What is the SCA? “Basically we do 600 to 1600 (a.d.) everything, from Middle Ages to the Renaissance period. We cut off right before the Victorian era starts.” The SCA has similarities to those Renaissance Faires you may have heard about where they speak in old English and wear period costumes. “Where we differ is that our events and fights are not choreographed. They are real time, in life. I have no idea what my opponent is going to be doing and I have to move and judge accordingly.” These real battles consist of traditional archery, heavy weapons fighting, rapier, trebuchets and siege weapons.

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Rapiers.
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A trebuchet.

 

The SCA is also devoted to supporting crafts such as fiber arts, weaving, metal smithing, spinning, hand sewing, coin making… “If it happened during the middle ages, we have someone within our 30,000 worldwide membership who knows something about it and can recreate it.”

 

Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill first became involved in the organization when she was 15. Now she is the archery captain for the Madison chapter, but no one calls it the ‘Madison Chapter,’ they call it ‘The Barony of Jararvellir.’   “We use live tip steel arrows in our practices. You can get killed playing this game.” I ask her if she has ever seen that happen. “I have come across quite a few people who have had some very close calls. We have a very large event in Pennsylvania that’s two weeks long.” Approximately 15,000 people show up for this every summer, ready to cast aside modern times for a good ole European middle age lifestyle. “I have seen individuals fall on the battle field from heat stroke. I have heard of heart attacks. I’ve heard of broken bones. Bruises are absolutely beautiful when you get hit by a rattan sword— even if you’re wearing two sheets of metal.”

 

At last year’s gathering Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill was listening to the frogs call when “a group of Frenchmen from France in full regalia stumbled past me singing drunk French songs.” That was a quintessential moment for her, and precisely why she goes every year.

 

Today she has opted for the Victorian hotel experience of the Pfister because she is celebrating her one-month anniversary with her boyfriend. She’s known him for years as a neighbor, but until a month ago they both “honest to God hated each other,” as he put it. Up until last month Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill assumed her neighbor, the very social, ‘good-with-children’ single male was actually a danger to her teenage daughter. “I thought he was a pedophile.” Hearing this explanation her boyfriend both groans and grins, “Thanks.” Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill defends her former assumption by describing herself as a mama bear. “Very overprotective and mean!” agrees the boyfriend. Then, a month ago, he came over to help her clean her house. While he was there they hit it off: talking some sci-fi, some 80’s, some 90’s, some steam punk, some reenactment…

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And that is how Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill began her romance with Berisat the Air Pirate.

Two Texans

Two Texans,

architectural engineers,

college students,

conference attendees

named Shannon and Michaela

want me to write them love letters for their boyfriends.

two texans
Shannon and Michaela

 

Shannon lovingingly describes her boyfriend, Ryan, as

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

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

four and a half years ago

and she’s “still waiting for the proposal

and make sure you put that in the letter!”

I ask Shannon why Ryan is holding back

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

and that he is “still checking things out.”

Ryans passions?

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

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

beers you can only find in Texas, apparently.ryan

 

shannon

Michaela’s “goofball” is named Justin,

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

a shy country boy who loves hunting and fishing.”

A little over a year ago Michaela asked him out,

and later on she had to ask Justin

to confirm if we were dating,

and his reply,

“Do I really need to?”

Michaela and Justin have two dogs,

June and Avery.

Michaela tells me she imagines that her boyfriend

is crying in bed and holding June now

that she has been gone for two days.

Typical behavior for the industrial technology student

who loves Fords but hates his own Dodge truck,

who loves Ziegen bach and Shiner beers.

justin letter

I am given a third assignment,

to write a letter to their friend Tate,

a “ditzy fashionista,

the owner of a wiener dog,

a smart, outgoing blonde”

who’s also studying architectural engineering

in Kingsville Texas

and is planning for her elaborate wedding

“which is not happening anytime soon.”

Her passions:

Chic Fil A, naps, sushi,

her football player boyfriend, Max.

Tate gets mad at Shannon and Michaela when they jaywalk.

“Really mad.”

Lastly, Tate collects trays,

shabby chic vintage trays.

She has so many she stores them in stacks.

 

tate

A Mom Letter and a Dad Letter

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I was taking a picture of the roses in the lobby when Val, the bartender summoned me over to see something. I took a stool at the bar and waited for a moment as Val rustled around in her bag, elbow deep.  At last she exclaimed “Ah!” and pulled out an envelope to show me. It was sent from a woman named Coco who came here for a birthday drink the other day, along with her baby. Coco’s friend and her friend’s baby joined her for the celebration.

coco

I took the contents out of the envelope and saw a most charming picture. Val got to know the two ladies and their babies quite well over a period of three hours, and asked, “Would you write this woman a letter back for me?”

coco poem

So I wrote Coco a poem on one of Valerie’s guest checks and sent it to the return address on the envelope.

 

Soon after Coco emailed me that she wrote a blog about getting a letter from the Pfister in the mail.  So,

IjustwroteheranemailthatIwrotethisblogaboutheremailaboutherblogaboutgettingaletterinthemailbecause,

shesentaletterinthemailaboutapleasantafternoonofpolitevalets,chattingandbabies!

Phew!!

 

Another day, another letter:

lydia's daddy

A father comes to me in need of his daughter’s forgiveness. In the city of Madison where he and his family reside, there is a highly competitive theater program for kids. His daughter, Lydia tried out for a production of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” in hopes of being cast as one of the dwarves. Lydia, who is in fourth grade and has never had an opportunity like this before, was a nervous mess the morning of her audition. Sympathetic to her distraught, Lydia’s dad gave her a pearl of encouragement, “Don’t worry, everything will turn out just fine!”

 

The two of them stayed up late, awaiting the phone call to let them know if Lydia would be expected to come back in for call-backs the following day. It was so late by the time the phone finally rang, Lydia was already put to bed. She was wide awake when her father came in and told her the answer was no. Lydia sobbed, dampening her pillow. Her dad assured her that she was younger than the rest of the kids who had tried out, and that it was likely that she would be cast in the coming years, then said goodnight.

 

The next morning, as Lydia glumly ate her cereal she told her father, “You lied. You said everything would be fine, but everything is not fine.”

 

The statement unsettled him, and the combination of his daughter’s broken heart and distrust in his word tarnished his entire day. So much so that when his job brought him to the Pfister hotel and he met me, he asked for a poem of encouragement (not from him or his perspective!) to give his child.  lydia

“could you please send me a boyfriend who does yoga?”

 

Katherine has been coming here for years

she was married for three decades

to a man who came to the Pfister to just to jog.

He died ten years ago

so, viagra recently she asked the divine,

“could you please send me a boyfriend who does yoga?”

After she asked she didn’t expect a response,

so instead of waiting around for love

she went camping.

While she was out there in the wilderness

she met an interesting man

they talked quite awhile

and when they were done he asked for her number

but for whatever reason she wouldn’t give it to him

so it took weeks for them to run into each other again

but when they did

he asked her for her number again,

nicely,

so this time she did

and now she’s spending Christmas

and New Years with him,

her new boyfriend

who just so happens to practice yoga.

He wants to serve lobster on New Years Eve

which is frankly,

a tad daunting for Katherine

who has never eaten that before.

She is a woman with habits,

she comes to the Pfister

every year to visit with Val at the bar

after doing some shopping at Boutique B’Lou.

Her bags of loot sit on the stool beside her.

Inside the paper bag wrapped bounty

are Nepalese bracelets of woven beads

of which a portion of the sale

goes back to helping the women crafters of Nepal

and their families to live more complete and healthy lives.

So Katherine bought a few of these seed bead wonders

and took one out for me to touch

it feels like a snake

in a good way,

I know, I have touched snakes

they are cool

literally

cool and smooth,

in a bumpy way

but I have slithered myself into tangent

back to the story

this is how Kathy shows her love:

three moose are in the mail

(Or is it meese? Like geese?)

I don’t know what they look like

or if they are alive,

but she gestures how big they are

these moosen are headed

for Kathy’s great-grandchildren

who live in Minneapolis.

This morning she went shopping for the yogic boyfriend too

and he’s going to get

shrimp, champagne and chocolate cupcakes,

I know, I asked,

and now you know too.

And what did Katherine learn from all this?

She laughs, “Maybe I should pray more often.”

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By the way, I hear this lad in the shash recently picked up yoga!

The Gifts In Life Have Nothing To Do With Money

Jennifer is here. She just quit her job as the director of a troupe of tribal belly dancers. I learn that tribal belly dancing is more athletic than traditional. Apparently traditional belly dancing much more wiggly.   I believe it, medicine having taken belly dancing in college and finding it fairly impossible to wiggle that much. Jennifer says yes, older ladies really like taking the less wiggly tribal belly dancing.   She studied it for 15 years in San Francisco before starting her troupe in Milwaukee.DSCN8915

 

What’s next for Jennifer? She will keep dancing in some form. Right now she is a lady of leisure spending her afternoon in the lounge. Her son is one of the bellhops and is treating her to a stay.   She is writing her Christmas letters. Open before her is a card with a lengthy penned message to her friend in Russia. Jennifer sips a Moscow Mule.

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Val, sovaldi sale the bartenderess corrects me, “It’s an Austin Mule,” since the vodka is Austin made. She introduces me to two young men at the bar. They are ordering matching red wines that they will hopefully not spill upon their immaculate matching white shirts. They have matching hair and matching black slacks. They have both just finished job interviews for the same coveted investment-banking job. One flew in from Boston, ask the other St. Louis, but geez Louise, do they match! And even though they are trying for the same slot they converse on the couch like old chums.

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“The gifts in life have nothing to do with money, it has to do with the people you meet who change your life,” says Ronny, former basketball player and the founder of Athletes For Autism. Ronny connects people, entertainers and athletes together to form a voice for autism, a voice for the voiceless. He says the wisest people are often beggars, and many choose their poverty as a way of life. There was a beggar that Ronny would buy lunch on a regular basis. Ronny enjoyed conversations with this intelligent person and offered to give him a job and a support system so that he wouldn’t have to live on the streets anymore. The man accepted the job, cleaned up, wore a nice suit but couldn’t get through his first day on the job. It wasn’t in him; he had a calling to learn through suffering on the streets.

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Ronny provided the deepest conversation I’ve ever participated in at the Pfister.  He told me to write it down when I theorized, “You have to have empathy to have curiosity.”


A Love Letter From the Man With a Kind Smile

One day I’m typing in the lobby when a man approaches me. He has a kind face, one that appears illuminated from within by what I’d guess to be a gentle, prolonged love relationship. He just looks easeful and friendly. He inquires as to what I’m doing with a typewriter. When I tell him that I write poetry and letters for people, he looks at me with approval.

 

The next day I’m typing again when the same fellow comes up to me. He explains how he is staying here a few days for a business conference and would like me to compose a love letter to send to his wife back in Detroit. After interviewing this man I learn that he’s been married fifteen years, has two kids and that his wife, Heather, takes care of them a lot. While he is on this trip, she is attending parent-teacher conferences. Heather has taught this man with the kind smile how to be more social, and to slow down so as to better appreciate life. He confesses he has a “type A” personality and has a hard time doing that. When he asks me when he can pick up the letter I tell him ten minutes. “Really?!” He looks surprised, but sure enough, in exactly ten minutes he comes back as I am typing “devotion,” the last word.

 

“Heather,

 

My succulent savorer

of all things living

of all things swaying

on this planet

made better, burnished deeper

by your focused listening.

 

Even me

even sharp toothed

quick bite and run type A me

even I can say “ahhhhhhhhh”

what a beautiful

lackadaisical daisy

scented thought filled

day it is,

one in which I am glad

to walk through

because I have you

and I have your lesson

mimeographed upon my lungs:

b r e a t h e, gasp, hyperventilate

b r e a t h e ,

there we go,

it takes practice

but it is worth doing

to please the kind woman

who has mixed within her own body

two children for us to share

with the whole world.

And while I am womflinkering along in Milwaukee

my thoughts are with you,

they are sitting beside you

in the empty chair

at the parent-teacher conference.

My thoughts pat the soft crowns

of our kidlet’s heads,

splendid children.

 

While I am away

I am in review reverie

of our fine fifteen years

and even more than that

I am scheming up

fine dreams

for future cakes of ardor

to serve you, my love,

in admiration

and devotion,”

 

I hand him my pen and make him sign since I don’t know his name. He signs it “Troy.”

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Co-Conspirator

Co-Conspirator

I’m on a stakeout.  Granted, I’m not disguised as a delivery person or hiding behind a newspaper. There are no binoculars or dark shades involved. No two-way radio tucked into my sleeve.  Although the excitement tickling my gut might suggest that I’m crouched behind a dumpster aiming a telephoto lens, I’m actually perched on a low bench in Blu.  It’s a handsome crowd and most are here to watch the fireworks.  One person is here to rewrite history.

Larry is at a table with his girlfriend, Stephanie. I’ve known her for a while, and Larry has been like a little brother to me for more than 10 years. About a month ago, he called to ask if I could be on hand when he proposed.

“She’s always loved fireworks,” he said. “Last summer, I remember turning to look at her and her face was all lit up with lights and she was smiling like a big kid.  I remember thinking, ‘I absolutely love this woman.’”

Of course, I coo.

“I didn’t tell her in that moment, though,” Larry said, disappointment still lacing his words. “I don’t know what stopped me.  I told her, maybe, the next day. But at the fireworks?  Man, that would’ve been perfect.”

The missed opportunity nagged at him.  When he was ready to propose almost a year later, he was determined to create an unforgettable event.

“If I pull this off,” he said, “History just might smudge away that fact that I dropped the ball that night, and she’ll always associate my ‘I love you’ with fireworks.  Maybe our kids will even retell the story that way.”

A conspiracy in the name of love and posterity? I’m in.

I’m at my post, crammed awkwardly between the bar, a married couple to my right and an adult family of six to my left.  Everyone faces the window, watching the steel-grey sky surrender to nightfall.  I’m making notes in my journal about the crowd, the mood, the floating constellation of lights from boats in the marina and, of course, Larry and Stephanie. Like many other couples, they’re sipping champagne, holding hands, planting kisses, listening to the jazz band, enjoying a romantic evening. I look at my watch. 9:05. My stomach begins to flutter.

The wait staff hustles to and fro delivering champagne and towers of hors d’ouerves to the tables. When a waiter appears beside him, Larry looks alarmed and I imagine his heart thundering beneath his shirt. He’s made arrangements for a custom dessert with “Will You Marry Me” written in chocolate. Not yet. Almost, but not yet.

9:20

The band is back from a mini-break. The singer begins “I Will Always Love You,” and the banquet staff approach Larry and Stephanie with their dessert.  It takes a moment for its true sweetness to register, and Stephanie begins to smile and giggle.  Larry produces the ring box and lowers himself to one knee.  I’m not close enough to hear his actual proposal (should’ve invested in the wire tap kit, after all) but I could hear the whisper rippling around us, “Look, he’s proposing!”

Exactly –seriously- exactly as Larry and Stephanie stand to embrace and kiss, the sky erupts in light and fire.  Larry turns to the crowd and confirms, “She said yes!” The entire lounge cheers.

Later that night, I ask Stephanie if she had any idea.  She said she had none.

“I called her parents and all of her girlfriends to make sure this went off smoothly,” Larry said.  “I even made sure that we were dressed up so all the pictures would look nice.”

“You really covered your bases,” I said.  “When did you start planning?”

Larry recounts how he met with her parents early in the year, requested time off from work back in March, started scouting locations in spring, engaged accomplices in early summer, etc.  All the while, Stephanie is admiring her ring.  Our eyes meet, and she laughs.

“Don’t mind me,” she says.

“So, how’d he do? I ask.

“This was perfect,” Stephanie said, planting another kiss on Larry’s cheek.  “It was everything, and it was perfect.”

Stephanie rested against Larry’s arm, smiling up at him as she draped a wrist over his shoulder. We were all silent, indulging in the gaze. The ring dressed her hand beautifully. Stephanie radiated. Larry beamed. The diamonds winked with fire and light. I am still smiling after we hug goodbye and they have head to the elevators. Smiling, and I have no doubt that their children will long tell love stories about fireworks.