The Earl of Soggy Sandwich

“We have great meat in our sandwich, but the bread is pretty soggy.”

Now how can you fault a guy for eavesdropping on a conversation with that line?

One of the realities of being a writer who spends his time seeking out drama and intrigue and laughs and pretty bridesmaids in fancy dresses at a luxury historic hotel is that your ears are almost constantly tuned to any snippet of conversation that floats through the air. I’d stop short of calling this an on-the-job hazard. I mean I don’t carry a pick ax and a helmet into work–let’s be real.

But there is that slight danger in my line of work that scales in on the terror threat level of stubbing your toe of becoming a nosy snark. Listening in on other people’s conversations is something I tell my preteen daughter not to do because it’s a little rude. But listening on other people’s conversations when you’re a writer is noble and elevates the art form. I realize I’m a big old hypocrite, but hopefully I’m one who continues to learn better ways to tell a story while my hearing is good.

In the case of the man and woman who were dissecting the quality of a figurative sandwich while enjoying a spirited conversation over a late lunch (salads, not sandwiches, so I knew the bread and meat combo of which they spoke wasn’t listeral), I was just sucked into my actively passive listener mode because of that killer opener.

It’s easy to tell when to approach and engage, and when to let things flow naturally and to stand back and be a spectator. This was one conversation that I felt deserved a natural flow. That opening line seemed to suggest I was in for a doozy of a listen–some more great folksy charmers like that sandwich line seemed to be dangling at my eavesdropping fignertips. It was all too yummy for the writer in me.

I listened in with rapt attention, plucking the highlights of the volley back and forth.

“Crackerjack.”

“She’s the real deal, alright.”

“Gotta keep those folks engaged.”

“Embrace it.”

“Look for efficiencies, understand the market.”

And, finally, the big zinger.

“If you ever think about hiring a coach to work with folks, I love working with super stars to help them achieve their potential.”

These two very smart and accomplished people were kind and nice and lovely but left me with absolutely no clue as to what their well polished business speak meant. My ears had been faced.

Ultimately, I found out Benjamin and Amanda (I also found out they had names) were having a business meeting about education reform, so I was right. These people are indeed smart and accomplished and I bow to their noble and frustrating work.

Then I snapped their picture, asked if it was okay to use it in a blog post and walked away.

Lesson of the day?

Here’s what I learned.

When the meat is good in the sandwich, but the bread really is soggy, it’s probably best to wait for a slice of pie.

That and maybe I should start to think about cleaning out my ears.

When you look at some modern art it can stump you.

Barbara has been giving tours for the Milwaukee Art Museum over a half century.

“When I first came to the museum, there were eight employees.”

This January I started my fifty-second year.

I retired when I was 50,

but I’m still going in,

teaching and working

‘cause I don’t want to sit at home.

I train the docents

and they tour about 80.000 people a year.”

She’s taken 75 trips to Europe,

“I counted it all up when I retired.

England was the first country I went to.”

Last year she took her docents to Belgium and Holland.

DSCN9594
And she made her own dress.

 

Being an art museum docent is hard.

“People expect you to know everything.”

When you look at some modern art it can stump you.

“Ellsworth Kelly’s “Red, Yellow, Blue,”

that’s one people have a hard time with.

Red, Yellow, Blue II

But you have to understand,

it was hand done,

he mixed the colors, that yellow

is the yellow he wanted,

he copied it from nature,

like a bird he saw,

he didn’t just go out to Menards!

How can I make these people understand?

Their grandchildren can’t do it!

When Kelly was in the war

he asked to be in the camouflage department.

Once in a while I’ll be lucky

and a student will be in

Ellsworth Kelly camo.

I’ve met Ellsworth Kelly several times.

He’s a very kind person,

a little on the shy side.”

 

What are Barbara’s favorite areas of art to talk on?

“American History and Decorative Arts

furniture, silver, ceramics.

My favorite is probably seventeenth century colonial.”

 

“Over the years a lot of people have visited Milwaukee

and I’ve taken them around,

Madame Chiang Kai-shek.”

(I hadn’t heard of her, so I looked her up,

former first lady of China, 1948-1975)

23325_web_ThisDay-Madame-Chiang-Kai-Shek-AP

“David Hockney, I loved him.

“I loved this young man who is now a rock star, but when I met him he was just coming up, um, I can’t think of his name. It’ll come. He works on China, Africa and America… Kehinde Wiley!

Gilbert and George when they came from England,

I met Andy Worhol. He never talked. My brother had a friend who knew him quite well.

Mark Rothko,

Tony Randall of the Odd Couple,

he knew everything,

he was the smartest man I ever met.

I let him do all the talking and I did the anecdotes.”

Barbara has never watched Star Trek,

but she gave Dr. Spock a tour.

“He gave me a Dr. Spock ear,

I didn’t know what it was or what I was supposed to do with it.

Ginger Rodgers,

Ray Milland, he never took his hat off because he didn’t have his toupee on,

Vincent Price,

Noguchi,

Sofa and Ottoman
Noguchi!

di Suvero,

Screen shot 2015-02-24 at 11.38.44 AM
This is what googling di Suvero’s “The Calling” looks like.

 

George Shearing, he’s blind and I got a call from him asking to take him around.

A grandmother had the same thing, I took her around.

Gordon Parks,

and when the Beatles came to Milwaukee the first time,

I held the door to the war memorial open for them.”

DSCN9590

“Excellent Broth! I’m going to have it every time I come.

I’ve been begging for broth here.

I like soup very much but,

I don’t like heavy duty,

I like to have broth.

It kinda curbs your appetite,

settles your stomach,

it’s good for your bones,

and I just love hot broth.

Right here at the café counter I met Shaquille O’Neill.

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Right there!

He wasn’t feeling well.

I didn’t know who he was.”

Shaq’s manager worked on a crossword puzzle with Barbara,

and explained who Mr. O’Neill was.

Barbara gave Shaq a ticket to the art museum,

and he went.

 

Hey Historians Of The Future, READ THIS!!!

I am at my typewriter when a woman comes up to me with a request for a love letter. The reason for her love letter being ordered: the two of them are apart while her partner goes on an extended trip to Boston, Winnipeg and Lake Forest to pursue the subjects of their interest, gender queerness and poetry. While negotiating her order, the woman’s two young sons both wanted to play with my typewriter, ride the bell carts and slide down the railing.

I joined the three of them for lunch in the café and we engaged in a conversation where I learned (and I would like to state here that this conversation was grown organically, and was not related in any way to the delicious Reuben sandwiches served) that artificial butter flavoring is lethal if inhaled. So lethal, that the workers who produce it must wear hazmat suits. Artificial butter like most artificial flavors is a byproduct of genetically modified bacteria. I did not know any of this. However, I do think I might have heard about human organs being printed out by machines and the human ears harvested on the backs of mice, both of which were brought up in this discussion. Side note: I hope the historians of the far future will one day read this blog.

This here is a hazmat suit.
This here is a hazmat suit.

After lunch, I went back to my typewriter to write the love letter. Something for you to understand is that the recipient of this letter is genderqueer and therefore gets a different pronoun than a man or a woman. In this instance they, them, their all refer to the recipient of the letter. Here is the letter:

 

Dear Winnipeg,

you have yourself a visitor

you have yourself a dragonfruit

you have yourself a starfruit

a bumbershoot

some reals bumblebee honey

a pouring

all across the gender queer conference

with their golden red

sweetness for hot toast

I miss them the most

in the morning

in the evening

in the allthetime.

My adrenals fatigue

without the jolt

of you entering the room

to sit down on the couch of my life

with the two jumping bean

boys a squirming

across the plush cushions.

And Boston, you lucky devil,

getting your back scratched

by the tip of their pencil

and comforted by the warm touch

of their working laptop!

I wish I were you, Boston.

I wish I were a carrot frying in their pan.

When they return, my eldest boy will help me cook the celebratory feast of stir fried Indian roti flavored hummus. All natural of course, no hazmat suit will be necessary.

I am committed to finding my love

inside the River Forest, inside the Lake Forest,

where trees are hewn from pure water,

fishes wishes and fishes kisses.