Rules of My Engagement

Hello. And, physician boy, am I happy you’re reading.

Whenever I start a venture I like to understand the rules of the engagement.

Please note, however, that I haven’t said that I like to follow the rules.

Oh dear me, no.

That’s not necessarily my path. But if we all understand the rules together, we’ll certainly have a good time understanding how to bend a few in the service of seeking out a great time.

So, for what it’s worth, here are the rules I’m setting for my engagement as Pfister Narrator:

  1. You’ll hear from me on Mondays and Fridays. For sure, for certain, absolute.
  2. You’ll also hear from me on Wednesdays. It would be easier to say that you’ll hear from me three times a week, but that terrifies me to say so I’ll leave it as a separate rule that I may break from time to time.
  3. I would like you to read my words, but I’m making it possible for you to listen to them, too. I’ll be recording my entries every day and posting them along with these stories. There is no rule against both reading and listening (and frankly you should understand by now that I have a pretty loose relationship with rules, so please do what suits you best). And you’ll see that I’m a horrible liar because I’m not recording today’s rules and I’m simply forcing you to read.
  4. Invite yourself to join me at work. I plan on being at the Pfister a lot (I mean, come on…have you seen this place—IT’S GORGEOUS!). Find some time to come down to 424 Wisconsin Avenue, and let’s sit side by side and talk and do the things that people do when they want to learn more about each other. I really want to hear your Pfister Story.
  5. Someone should always wear a suit and tie. I will wear the suit tie. Bow tie, that is.

It’s thrilling to begin the best job a writer could ever imagine. Write me at jonathan@jonathantwest.com and I’ll write you back.

Let’s have some fun now, shall we?

Announcing the 7th Pfister Narrator – Anja Notanja Sieger

We are absolutely elated to name Anja Notanja Sieger as our seventh “Pfister Narrator.” In this role, she will spend time in the hotel’s lobby and public spaces, typing letters and poems on site, speaking with visitors and guests and sharing their stories right here on our award-winning blog.

“I will write personal letters for visiting strangers, and contribute to the Pfister’s blog,” said Sieger. “I hope to also host public story slams and literary readings featuring local talent, as well as to publish a book by the end of my incumbency.”

Sieger received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in printmaking and creative writing from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2009. Her performance writing art service “La Prosette” has been featured on the front page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, USA Today Online, MSN Hotmail News and Yahoo News. La Prosette is a one-woman typewriter service that allows clients to choose from the following options: Poetry, Love Letter, Insult Letter, Letter of Recommendation, Short Story, or Letter from a Pet. Writing letters requires her to pretend for the duration of the composition that she is “Not-Anja,” but the client. Her live stories have won Milwaukee area slams held by Ex Fabula and the Pfister Hotel. Sieger is currently an Artist in Resident at In Tandem Theatre and a Writer in Residence at Renaissance Theaterworks, Milwaukee.

Sieger was chosen to serve as narrator based on her writing style, professional experience and personality. She was selected from a large pool of qualified applicants by a review panel consisting of local writers, editors and representatives from the hotel. She will be replacing Molly Snyder, who has been blogging for the hotel since May 2013. Sieger will begin her residency as narrator on May 1, 2014.

“Anja brings creativity, enthusiasm, and a fresh perspective to the Narrator program,” said Paul Ohm, general manager of The Pfister. “We think our guests are going to enjoy her presence at the hotel and look forward to seeing how her personal interactions with them unfold on the blog.”

And So It Goes…

…said Kurt Vonnegut. A simplistic way to convey closure, to throw your hands up in the air and surrender, to explain the inexplicable.  And so I go, back to my life pre-Pfister, after six months of exploring, discovering, conversing, photographing, writing, and blogging. There is no simple way to explain what it’s like being a fly on the wall of the historic Pfister Hotel for six months.  I can’t deny the paradox of learning so many new things in such an old space. It’s filled with millions of stories, the fondest of memories, casual comforts and subtle luxuries. Even more, with hundreds of helping hands and smiling faces, The Pfister is home to some of the most caring and talented professionals I have ever had the pleasure of working with. It’s evident how much they genuinely take pride in their work. They adopted me as one of their own, but treated me like royalty.

Me and the boys
Me and the boys

So just in case you were curious, this is how it all began. Below, see the sample blog I wrote when I was vying for the position of Pfister Narrator. It has not yet been published, but it’s still one of my favorite stories, just because it’s so obscure and outlandish. Yes, it’s a true story, and it happened at the Pfister.

Cleaning House

“It really is a sickness, you know,” he insisted. Mike was in town for a week “on family business.” He quickly revealed that this family business was cleaning and selling the home of a recently deceased cousin who was a hoarder. I wasn’t going to pry on such a sensitive issue, but he was eager to explain: “We have been heaving crap out of his house for three days.”

I got sucked into this story with the most common pick up line, “So, you from around here?” He introduced himself as Rob and his friend, Mike. Rob’s flamboyant shirt was screaming at me and his sneaky grin was playful, not threatening. His childhood buddy Mike was along for the ride to provide moral support. He was sporting a tuxedo shirt, black cargo pants, steel-toed boots and a baseball cap. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his attire. When he explained that he was a certified Mercedes mechanic, also working as a producer in L.A., it made a little more sense. Their drink: Woodford Reserve Bourbon – straight up – with a side of water.

Both men are Kansas City natives and when they found out I was from Milwaukee, they began grilling me on all the hot spots in town. I quickly turned the conversation back to the family business and the hoarding. “I swear we have already filled four, 30-yard dumpsters,” bemoaned Mike. “Magazines, empty Godiva chocolate boxes; you name it, the house is packed to the gills!” Mike explained that his cousin took care of his paralyzed wife in that house for 33 years. He was, like most people, totally perplexed by the hoarding. Mike and Rob were sleeping on an air mattress in the five-bedroom house on west Good Hope Road. Rob had already made up his mind that he was going to hire someone from off the street to finish up the cleaning tomorrow so they could get the house on the market.

Desperate for some relief from cleaning, their realtor had suggested Blu as the premier spot in the city to get a cocktail. Mike and Rob were impressed with the diversity of the hotel and abashedly admitted that they wouldn’t mind finding some lady company to see more of the town with. That was my cue to step aside and let these gentlemen unwind. They were warm and obliging, confirming the fact that you don’t find friendlier folk than you do in Midwest.

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Dancing With the Stars

It’s the one sport that caters to people ages 3-93. And, it has the elegance, grace and pizzazz of a Hollywood movie premier. The Wisconsin State Dancesport Championships was back at the Pfister Hotel for its 26th year of professional/amateur ballroom dance competition last weekend.

Dan and Rebecca Messenger, from Nashotah, Wisconsin, organized the event and attracted thousands of dancers from all over the U.S for four days of fierce competition. There was up to $3,000 in prize money at stake in addition to scholarships available for continuing instruction. Looking through the program and schedule of events was like flipping the yellow pages, in Greek. There were back-to-back events for different ability levels and ages for the rumba, pasa doble, swing and more. It was just like watching Dancing with the Stars, but this time the stars weren’t celebrities vying for a second chance at fame, they were bona-fide dancing divas. There were support teams, families, and dance enthusiasts with every form of technology capturing the dancers’ every movement and expression during the awards ceremony after each event.

So rather than try and tell you about this visually stunning display, I am going to show you in the slideshow below. It will make you want to move your feet. Viva la dance!

Creativity is Everybody’s Business

Maggie Kuhn Jacobus is not your typical executive. Nor is she your typical mom. After a successful carrer as an entreprenuer, writer, producer, marketer, and public relations exec, she took a six-year sabbatical to raise her kids in the lush and far-flung tropics of Costa Rica because she wanted to give them a creative and enriching childhood. “Select soccer and routines were the things I feared most,” she admits.

Maggie Keuhn Jacobus
Maggie Keuhn Jacobus

Kuhn Jacobus is back in her hometown of Milwaukee with teenage boys. She took the position of President and Executive Director of the Creative Alliance  in January and is passionate about linking, leveraging, promoting, and growing the creative industries in the Milwaukee region.

“Creativity is everybody’s business,” she insists at a reception in Cafe Rouge on Thursday night.  It’s evident that not only with her impressive professional resume, but also by her own personal choices that she is just the risk-taker Milwaukee needs to prove the impact of the creative industries on our local economy. Kuhn is a “Glass half full” type of leader and says “Risk is about possibility. We have to ask ourselves what can we do with what we have here in Milwaukee?”

Creative industries are responsible for $2 billion in wages here in Wisconsin, contributing to our region’s vibrancy. But until industries stop working in sillos, growth and development cannot happen. So, the Creative Alliance is set on connecting commerce and creatives.

The Creative Alliance is partnering with the Pfister’s Artist in Residence program and hopes to add more creativite residencies to corporations in MIlwaukee, among a long list of other tactics to bring the creative industry to the forefront of economic discussion.

Stephanie Barenz, the Pfister’s current Artist in Residence, also spoke to the crowd about her work as a full-time creative professional working in a corporate setting.  She is currently working on both a mentoring program with students at St. Marcus School (where her husband is a teacher) to teach them about writing and painting as well as a body of work entitled “The Carriers,” which explores how travel affects our perception of home. What a fitting proposal for a working studio in a historic hotel. Several of her intricate and thought-provoking paintings were on display, along with a diverse body of work from past Artist in Residence finalists.

Stephanie Barenz's artwork on display
Stephanie Barenz’s artwork on display

To really hit home her point, Kuhn Jacobus invited her favorite local band, Painted Caves, to serenade the crowd with exotic sounds, while they mingled and discussed how enriching and vital the arts truly are. The whole event was well choreographed and engaged like a creative leader does best.

 

Painted Caves
Painted Caves

 

 

Artists Among Us

The Pfister is well known for its Victorian Art collection and for supporting the arts in Milwaukee, but did you know how many amazing artists they have on staff? One of the best parts about working here has been meeting and hearing the stories about the incredibly and diversely talented staff. You never know who you are going to meet at the Pfister. The waitress in the cafe takes vintage photographs, the server in banquets creates mixed-media masterpieces, and the manager booking your event is an opera powerhouse.

Once you hear Catering Sales Manager Kristine Baker laugh, you will know that she’s a soprano. She attended the UW-Green Bay with the intent of becoming a teacher, but halfway through her first semester she realized that working with kids wasn’t the right fit. The choral director at her high school was really passionate about what he did, making it easy for her to get engaged and discover her love for music. In college, her advisor encouraged her to audition as a voice major and she thought, “That sounds like fun!”  It involved a lot of voice lessons and recitals, but she did also take center stage.

Kristine played the role of Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Dido in Dido and Aeneas. “When you are an opera singer, you always want to die a couple of times, it’s great fun,” she reveals. “Pretty much anything that is a Puccini soprano, I love, it just fits  my voice really well.” But she has always wanted to sing Rusalka – an intricate Czech opera.

At the Pfister, Kristine stays connected to the arts and nonprofits by planning annual galas and fundraising events. As we talked in her office, she sat with the posture and alacrity of Catholic school kid on the first day. Her smooth blonde hair spilled down her shoulders like honey oozing out of a jar.  Growing up, she sang in the church choir and performed solos in high school. “When you are from a small town (Merrill, WI) there aren’t a lot of options nor was there a lot of competition,” she admits.

When she laughed from her belly it was like she was singing scales. “My voice type is a meaty, heavier sound. People usually turn and stare when I sing in church.” Though I begged her to serenade me, Kristine was recovering from a cold. “It takes a lot to keep your voice healthy. You’re so reliant on your instrument,  you’re voice always has to be on. Pollen, even soda, can really mess with you,” she laments.

“But do you sing in the shower? Do you sing karaoke?” I asked, still totally intrigued by her talent. “Actually I have never sang karaoke, I think it would bug me if I heard all of those people singing songs wrong.” Kristine  sings at home in her music room and  continues to take voice lessons.

“Sopranos are bountiful,” she admits, “But I plan to audition with local groups like the Florentine Opera and the Skylight Music Theatre to begin performing again.”

Kristine Baker
Kristine Baker

 

 

Serving and Protecting By Day and By Night

Everyone has a very different version of a hero. They come in all shapes and sizes, and their acts even go unnoticed at times. Mike Nichols, a Pfister associate, working in loss and prevention (a.k.a security) fulfills his need to serve and protect not only at the Pfister during the evening, but also during the day, accomplishing heroic acts for American veterans.

A retired military officer and 23-year veteran, Nichols works for the Center for Veteran’s Issues in Milwaukee where he helps secure housing for veterans and their families. After a long career in manufacturing, he realized about a year ago that his heart was in helping others both here at the Pfister and among a population he respects and can relate to. We had a relaxed conversation about what he does and why he does it. See for yourself the way his face lights up when he talks about his Christmas morning type experiences working with veterans.

Sunday at the Spa

What’s a better gift than comfort and relaxation? I’d argue that there’s none. While some people see it as a luxury, others enjoy massage therapy as a part of their regular health and wellness routine – lucky people indeed.  The waiting room at the Well Spa one Sunday afternoon was filled with new guests and regulars: an athletic looking man, an anxious couple, a mother-daughter duo, and an older woman pouring over a magazine. Everyone was whispering and slowly slipping away from the chaos of their own worlds in the solace of the waiting room, where the Well Spa experience really begins. I was cautious to interrupt people, so I began observing with my eyes behind a tattered copy of People and waited for an opportune moment to approach a guest.

As the sleek, all-black clad therapists cycled in and out to escort guests back to their private suites,  Ashley and Michael’s eyes continued to widen. They smiled and peered over each other’s shoulders at the surveys they were filling out detailing their preferences for the treatment. It was obvious that they had no idea what they were about the experience.

So I just had to ask – “Is this your first time here?” Ashely chirped back. “Oh yes, this is our first massage and we’re going in together.”  It was a birthday gift from Ashley to Michael, who turned 24 on Sunday. “Michael was having some back pain, so I thought this would be good for him.”  A romantic couples massage is a perfect gift, in fact, it’s two great gifts wrapped up in one, as the giver also benefits from his/her own generosity.

Ashley and Michael have been dating for five years and married for three. They’ve lived in Milwaukee all their lives, but they’ve never been to the Pfister Hotel. After their massage, they planned to  continue the birthday celebration at dinner.

As more guests circulated out from the suites back into the waiting room, they moved a little slower, stood a little taller and their skin looked a little fresher. They marched back into the real world, hopefully better equipped to combat harsh realities like the weather, work, and stress. Thankfully this harmonious oasis is open seven days a week.

welcome to the Well Spa
Welcome to the Well Spa

Blu-tending on Behalf of the Arts

Tina Chang is a young philanthropic leader, CEO, board president, arts patron, and more. One thing she is not – a bartender. But, tonight she is playing the role at Blu to raise money for United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF) and the Skylight Music Theatre.

“We have a friendly competition going, but really at the end of the day it goes to the same place – to the health of the UPAF member groups,” she says. By the looks of it, she is actually a fantastic bartender and a fund-raiser. She has a few $20 bills and even a $100 tucked into her collar like a bib, proudly displaying her earnings. The real Blu bartenders are a big help with the actual drink making, while she works hard on getting tips, she admits.

The bar is four-people-deep by the time I arrive at 6:30. There must be 200 thirsty, generous, art lovers crowding the bar – the largest the bartenders say they have ever seen for a celebrity Blu-tender event. These periodic events allow people to come in and work the bar at Blu to earn a cut of the proceeds for a deserving nonprofit.

Kathleen Dohearty is also slinging drinks while representing UPAF’s Next Generation Group. Next Generation is an affinity group for members under 45-years-old who contribute $500 or more and receive special benefits.  The idea is to cultivate the next generation of philanthropic leaders and arts patrons for our city.

Kevin Hanson, Jennifer Mattes, Paul Snyder and Mike Kellman - UPAF Next Generation co-chairs (past and present)
Kevin Hanson, Jennifer Mattes, Paul Snyder and Mike Kellman – UPAF Next Generation co-chairs (past and present)

“At UPAF, we are made up of a very diverse community. Anyone and everyone who wants to participate and lead can. People feel like it will take forever to lead in Milwaukee, but the community wants leadership, wants people to share their talents. You don’t have to be a CEO or part of the legacy family to lead in Milwaukee,” insists Tina.

Rich Meeusen is another one of the celebrity Blu-tenders. He prepares his signature Almond Cigar cocktail for Eric Paulsen, which Paulsen tells me is “award winning.”  I had to validate this claim, so I ask Rich for clarification. “It was invented by Vaklav Vijor, the owner of Bugsy’s in Prague.  I went to Prague a few years ago and sought out Vaklav so he could show me exactly how to make the drink,” he reveals.

The recipe goes like this:

  • 2 parts white rum
  • 1 part Amaretto
  • 1 part line juice

Shaken over ice and strained into a martini glass, garnished with a lime twist and a cinnamon stick.

Rich explains that the best part of this drink is that it incorporates three of the five tastes that the human palate can discern: sweet (the rum), sour (the lime juice) and umami (the amaretto).  “Also, the cinnamon stick garnish enhances the umami flavor, making it quite unique.”

“As a result of my stint at Blu, I developed a new respect for the bartenders in our city – that was darn hard work!” says Rich later in an email. “I was sweating heavily by the time I was done with my one-hour shift, but very happy that I raised $1,500 in tips for UPAF.  And I introduced Milwaukee to the Almond Cigar.”DSC_0001

Milwaukee thanks you, Rich, for the Almond Cigar.

The 2013 UPAF campaign is underway and will culminate with its signature event, The Ride of the Arts on June 2. Three chair people are leading the charge this year – Gail Lione retired lawyer from Harley-Davidson, Chuck Harvey from Johnson Controls, and Skip Poliner from Northwestern Mutual –  to raise $11 million for the arts, the highest amount in UPAF’s 46-year history.

For more information on member groups, events or to donate, click here. After all, “The arts feed your soul,” reminds Tina.

 

5 O’clock Coffee Talk

It’s happy hour! What are we doing drinking coffee? It’s the kind of Friday night that calls for a martini – straight up.

I take my usual seat at the Lobby Lounge bar, looking around at the flurry of activity as hotel guests arrive for the weekend and the suits and gowns sashay in for their festivities. Tom takes the seat next to me, sipping a clear mug of caffeinated bliss, just like me. He’s another regular, but one that I haven’t yet met. Based on the way the staff flock to him to exchange pleasantries and jokes,  I presume Tom is a guy I’d like to get to know.photo

The new law-student bartender is reciting a litany of her favorite professors and Tom chimes in when he has a tidbit of advice. He went to Notre Dame Law School and graduated in 1987, but has been practicing law in Milwaukee and coming to the Pfister ever since.

Poshly dressed in a clean-pressed gray suit and contemporary tortoise shell frames that he repeatedly takes on and off his face, Tom is a criminal defense attorney. His hair, just a shade lighter than his suit, is neatly combed back. He’s delaying a congested highway drive back to Chicago, so he stays a little longer to chat with me. Oh great, since he’s been around for so long, maybe he’ll have an idea for a great story, I think to myself.

He asks what I do for a living and I begin to tell him about my position as the Pfister’s writer in residence and about my work with nonprofits. We find common ground when talking about the nuances and legal implications of grant writing.

Wait, what is happening? I am a turning into a character in my own story. He’s grilling me like a burger at a Memorial Day cookout. Or, well, like a criminal defense attorney. And I just keep slinging back answers, retracing my twenties with this man I don’t even know, but seems like an old pal. I am talking fast, two-cups of coffee fast. I took him from my life in college in Iowa City to my first job in Chicago, and then throughout the jobs and apartments in Milwaukee that I’ve occupied.

I tell other people’s stories, I am not here to tell mine! Somehow we’ve reversed roles and Tom is the storyteller tonight. He extracted biographical information from me that I never intended to share. Rather than reciprocate, the only information Tom shared was that he’s looking forward to retirement in Wisconsin’s north woods. “Maybe I’ll get a job at Wal-Mart or something. I am looking for an  opportunity with absolutely no fiduciary obligation,” he confesses.

And just as quickly as he arrived, he set off into the traffic to head home to Chicago. I didn’t quite get why he’s living in Chicago now  so I suppose his story will remain untold – for now.

He must be an amazing cross examiner.