The Bride in Repose

Annie was unlike any bride I’ve ever seen – totally relaxed. Before she endures an afternoon of coiffing and dressing tomorrow, she was getting polished down at the Well Spa. The pale pink polish on her hands and toes matched her demure personality. Annie has to run out to pick up a card box – “Who knew you needed a special box just for the cards?” she shrugs, but agrees to meet me in the lobby to catch up when she returns.

The pomp and circumstance of a wedding can often set even the coolest cucumber into a fine frenzy. Not Annie. Maybe she was blissfully ignorant since she didn’t really start planning for her December wedding until October.

Annie and her flower girl.
Annie and her flower girl.

Everything was put on hold until she finished graduate school though. At least she’s a girl who’s got her priorities in line.

Annie returned promptly with her mother, Fern, who also seemed relatively calm. “Chris and I drove the moms crazy, at least that’s what his mom said,” Annie admitted. “Oh, I am glad you were making her crazy, I thought it was just me,” Fern voluntarily chimes in.

Shortly after, her brother and sister, Jaime and Jeremy, showed up with their own entourage of curious and adorable kids. There was a chorus of questions and plans to accommodate last-minute needs before they dispersed to get ready for the rehearsal dinner. Annie’s dad also popped in to check up on everyone and then retreated to his room after he felt reassured (and relieved) that his help was not needed.

We had yet to talk about a major part of her wedding – the groom. Annie and Chris met in college in 2003 and dated for a while before she moved to Manhattan and he took off to Colorado. A few years later, they met up in Florida and agreed that they wanted to be together. They’ve been living in Chicago for the past five years, and plan to stay there while Chris finishes law school.

Annie did have one wedding detail on lock down. She and Chris booked MeatBute, a Meatloaf cover band, to make a special guest appearance and perform a few songs at the wedding – mainly, a rousing rendition of “I Will Do Anything for Love.” She was giddy with excitement, like a kid talking about Santa Claus, “We heard them in Chicago and were just blown away. But shh…don’t tell my mom, it’s a surprise and no one knows about it.” Nothing like a surprise cover band to kick things up a notch at a wedding.

Throughout our entire conversation, I continually comment, “You’re so calm, I can’t believe that you’re getting married tomorrow.” She looks at me point blank and replies, “What’s there to be nervous about?” Now that’s a blissful bride.

Annie and family getting ready for the big day.
Annie and family getting ready for the big day.

 

 

 

A Voice Like Velvet

Close your eyes and you’ll swear Frank Sinatra is singing. Open them and take in the view. Up at Blu, it feels like I’m in a different city tonight, it feels like the Windy City.

I collided with Myles in the elevator  and I recognized him  (strangely enough) from the main stage at Homestead High School. He hasn’t changed much. Even back then, it was obvious that he was at home on the stage and behind the mic.

Tonight, he’s perched on a high stool in a tight configuration with a piano, bass and cymbals. He cradles the vintage silver slatted mic like precious cargo. Myles sings classic jazz and Christmas songs. His velvety voice is as smooth and warm as the whiskey pours being served at the bar. Blu was overflowing with people – strangers shared tables just to to stay and hear him sing.

Myles Hayes
Myles Hayes

During his break, we shared a cocktail at the bar and the took me through the abbreviated version of the past 15 years and I did the same. “I didn’t know I could sing jazz until a few years ago,” Myles admits, “But I was born to be a crooner baby!”

Myles comes to Milwaukee with his trio, aptly called the Myles Hayes Trio,  once a month from Chicago to sing at Blu. He has regular gigs five nights a week in Chicago and he also works in a photo studio during the week. He’s extroverted and charming, embodying the laid-back attitude of his predecessors in the Rat Pack. Had Myles been alive back then, he surely would have fit right in.

 

A Palace for the People

The King of Hospitality knows a thing or two about throwing a party. I, along with 500 of Mr. Marcus’s closest friends, attended a dinner celebration last week to commemorate his 50th anniversary of Pfister Hotel ownership.

Both Mayor Barrett and Governor Walker declared December 6th “Steve Marcus Day” in Milwaukee. Guests even took home Steve Marcus bobble heads. If there’s any indicator that you’ve made it in life, a mayoral declaration and a personalized bobble head should really top the list.

Stephen’s father, Ben, handed the hotel over to him in 1962 in total disrepair so Steve undertook a $7 million renovation and added on the 23-floor tower. He later found out that the collection of Victorian art was worth more than the hotel at the time. Steve was able to carry out the original vision for the hotel, creating a “palace for the people.”

A few other fun facts I learned:
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  •  Every president since McKinley has stayed at the hotel
  • Rosemary Steinfest was the first female GM and worked there from 1962 to 1996 (She’s a lovely lady – more on her to come in January)
  • Dr. Jeffery Hollander has been the musician in residence for 30 years
  • There was a piano piece commissioned in 1894 called The Pfister March

[/next_lists]

 

The three Marcus boys talked about the historical significance of the hotel and its impact on their life and family. Greg, Steve’s son, put it best when he said they think of it more as “caring for” the hotel, rather than owning it.

Andrew, Greg, Steve and David Marcus

The Pfister is filled with special memories for so many other people too. I shared a table with George and Anastasia Papageorge, who married at the Pfister on October 26, 1958. Their daughter also got married there in 1972 and they even celebrated their 25th and 50th anniversaries there. Now, they are hoping their granddaughter will carry on the Papageorge tradition and tie the knot at the Pfister soon! They say that the “Pfister was, and is, the one and only hotel in Milwaukee.”

Anastasia and George Pappageorge

 

Through all the remarks, laughs and historical details, the most touching part of the evening was that after all these years, the Pfister is still relevant and marvelous things still happen every day.

The Modern Day Businessman

It’s a Tuesday night in November. Truth be told, there’s not a whole lot going on in Milwaukee. Luckily, there is always a friend to be found at the Pfister. It’s dinnertime, so I pop into Mason Street Grill.  A lone man drinking martinis – this must be the traveling businessman.

David Howard is on the road Monday-Friday almost every week selling natural beverages. Reed’s brand ginger beer is the flagship product. “No way, that’s one of my favorites!” I blurt out. He hates being away from his two little kids, but he tries not to focus on it.  He  pulls out his smartphone to brag, and rightfully so. Two pairs of enormous brown eyes stare back at me from the screen and I gush.

Originally from Detroit, David really likes Milwaukee and passes through a few times a year. This trip he is pushing Kambucha, that funny fermented drink that is taking health food stores by storm. He’s thinking of snow crab tonight. And about the great massage he just got at the Well Spa. Those are comforts a man deserves for a week away from family.

He puts a piece of shrimp on a bread plate and nudged it my way. “You must be Italian,” I say  “Well, Israeli” he replied. “Oh yeah, we Mediterraneans love to share food. I come from a long line of food pushers,” I admit.  We both crack up at the truth of that statement and reflect on our own families.

David is eager to hit the town and begins grilling me when I tell him I work for a radio station. I give him some suggestions for live music on the East Side and I am on my way. I didn’t want to bother David for a photograph so I am going to plug for his delicious Reed’s Ginger Beer, which aside from its healthful properties, is fantastic mixed with rum or whiskey.

On my way out, I stopped by the lobby bar and a traveling salesman of a whole different caliber stops me in my tracks.

“Oh hi, I saw you earlier. Yes, yes, it was you sitting over there, right? May I join you at the bar?” He didn’t even stop to take a breath and before I had time  to respond,  he was moving his things to the seat next to me.

Bayard offers me a handshake and a sip from his hearty glass of cognac. One sniff and I feel lightheaded. He drinks it with a side of tea, something I have never seen before.

Bayard sells insurance. Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls is one of his big clients so he likes to visit The Pfister when he’s in town. We talk about the opulence of the space and my role as the narrator.”Everyone is a storyteller,” he insists, which certainly is true.

From Conneticut, but born in Beirut, Bayard has a lot of stories to tell. I learn about how his great-great grandfather founded  the American University of Beruit in 1861. As his family history unfolds, he peppers it with words in Arabic and brags about how he can haggle with taxi drivers like a true Arab. His family continues to support work in the Middle East, but they are all back here in there states.

As the evening winds down, I bid Bayard adieu and he urges me to keep on telling stories. “It must,” I smirk, “You too – we are all storytellers, right?”

 

94 Years Young

I’d say a 94th birthday is tux-worthy – wouldn’t you? Ron Fons not only sported a tuxedo, unhealthy but he also flew 7,000 miles to celebrate with his mother at her favorite spot in Milwaukee, the Pfister Hotel. It’s an annual tradition, and the only time he makes it back home to Milwaukee.

Sylvia nibbles on a crab cake, smiles and has a little twinkle in her eye. She is 94 years young today. Her diminutive presence is far from the vivacious Vaudeville celebrity she once was. Her specialty was tap dance, but she also played the clarinet, piano and sax. I ask her a few questions about her days as a performer and she took me all the way back to the beginning as a 10-year-old in Rhode Island.

“There were three of us, close in age, so my mother gave us tap dancing lessons. They piled us in a car and took us all over the New England states and we performed on stage and on the radio, and then in nightclubs when we got older,” recalled Sylvia.

She even sang me the first song she ever performed on stage. Can you believe she remembered all the words? Listen here:

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/69569582″ params=”auto_play=false&show_artwork=true&color=ff7700″ width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

“It’s all in the genes, so I gave my kids music lessons,” she said.

While his brother became a concert pianist, Ron elaborated on how he dodged his musical destiny. It involves a high school band teacher with mad-scientist messy hair who threw sheet music at him in a fit of rage. That was pretty much the turning point. He works in information technology in Hong Kong, where he’s lived for the past 26 years.

Every time Ron comes in to town, he stays at the Pfister. And Sylvia started visiting to the Pfister with a friend many years ago (she can’t recall exactly how many) after her husband passed away. She loves the ambiance and the people.

Ron and Sylvia

“Most people don’t believe me when I tell them how old I am. My heart doctor told me I was going to live until I was 100 and you know, he was the second doctor that told me that!” she declares.

What’s her secret to staying young? “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and I was always very active,” Sylvia brags. She credits tap dance and bowling for keeping her fit.

Once a performer, always a performer – after all, it is in the genes.

Tea for Two, at Blu

Sipping tea while overlooking the city on a clear day is a good day to be at Blu. I spotted a pair of dapper hats sitting in front of an impressive spread of tiered silver trays with scones, cookies, sandwiches and cakes displayed like a trophy.

Go figure – Gail, from Lake Mills, is a hat maker by trade. A cluster of beads, greenery and lace adorned her camel wool hat and an interesting smattering of necklaces tangled around her neck.

Tracy and Gail

Tracy donned the classic charcoal newsboy and thick black frames, looking professor-like in his wool blazer.

“So how’s the tea?” I ask.

“Oh well do you really want to know, because I love tea and I’ve had tea all over the world,” replies Gail.

I brace myself for her assessment. She points out her favorite treats: “This one right here, this scone – it’s like God!”

Gail gives the Pfister’s tea service a 99 percent. She docks it one point only out of respect to her guest Tracy, who doesn’t like cream cheese (which really is a staple in tea sandwiches, she understands). Her only other critique was that the tea butler should actually be called the tea sommelier because it is more accurate and proper.

So naturally, my next question is, “Where is the best tea you’ve ever had?”

“Oh I don’t know, no one has ever asked that,” she reveals (which surprises me) “I’d say the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills or the Hyatt Taipei. I got to sit beside Morgan Freeman and his mother in Beverly Hills and that was really neat.”

Afternoon tea at Blu is available Friday-Sunday and by reservation only.  Call (414) 935-5950 to reserve your spot.

 

Steampunk Society Invades the Pfister

Just in case you had any preconceived notions about the Pfister clientele, allow me to challenge those. First, watch this slideshow:



These are steampunkers. What is a steampunker? Good question – I was also unaware of this counterculture until the Steampunk Society Milwaukee held their first Maker’s Fair last Saturday at the Pfister, organized in part by the gregarious Timothy Westbrook, Pfister’s Artist in Residence.

The group emulates the culture and costumes of the late nineteenth century and Victorian era. There is also a fascination with sci-fi elements and gadgets. Most people I talked with couldn’t exactly explain what a steampunker was, but described what drew them in.

Allizarin Crimson a.k.a. Kristin Poehls is a new member whose goal was to make just one sale at the fair. Jim Best has been involved for two years and started going to events something to do in his free time. For him, it was something more productive to do than playing video games. He uses old watch pieces to create pins and jewelry.

Clinger, adorned in a metal top hat and metal tie, calls it “A classy looking way to rebel.” He rode 10 miles to get to the Pfister on his ordinary bicycle. It’s his primary mode of transportation when the weather is agreeable. Anna Rodriguez sees it as a way to express herself. She loves the creative element and the costuming that goes along with it.

Bridget Sharon started the society in Milwaukee after seeing many of the same people from Milwaukee at the Chicago events. “I saw a lot of potential in it,” she said. “We used to do ‘invasions’ where we’d all decide to go someplace and show up in costume. Now, we hold monthly events to get together and grab drinks or socialize.” There are no requirements to be a member. Events attract anywhere from 20-40 people, but there must have been at least 100 steampunkers at the Maker’s Fair.

Bridget encourages everyone to check out a Steampunk Society gathering. I agree, you have to see this for yourself. For more information, click here.

Ben and Cassie

Ben and Cassie know a thing or two about weddings. On their second date, they DJed a wedding. Combined, they have been to over 250 weddings. As you can imagine, they had a pretty good idea of what they wanted for their own wedding before Ben even popped the question.

Cassie is the sister-in-law of Ben’s good friend. They met when she started working for Sound by Design and they hung out for about year while DJing before Ben asked her out.

Cassie and Ben blissfully happy

So here is the part you all want to know – how did he propose? It was an intricate cat and mouse chase that sent Cassie on an “errand” for her boss delivering a package to the Anaba Tea Room. Little did she know,  Ben would be there waiting on the rooftop and her engagement ring was actually inside the package she was supposed to be delivering.

“We knew we wanted to get married almost right away, it was just a matter of timing. We had been talking about it. I held on to the ring for a month before I decided the perfect way to propose because I wanted to surprise her,” admits Ben.

Anaba shut down the rooftop so Ben could light some candles and be alone with her when she arrived.  “She found me up there and knew right away what was going on,” he said. Of course, Cassie said yes.

The plan almost didn’t work though when a coworker offered to drop off the package for her since she was going that way. Luckily the boss intervened and insisted Cassie hand deliver the package.

Ben took her to dinner at Bacchus that night and  surprised Cassie again by arranging for her family and friends to meet them at Blu for a celebratory drink.

“It was a super overwhelming day. I was so anxious and nervous. This is the best part of the day now that she said yes – I can finally relax,” Ben exhales.

Now all they have to do is worry about finding a date and a venue for a June wedding in Puerto Rico. Something tells me wedding planning will be cinch for these two.

 

And So It Begins…

First day on the job as the Pfister Narrator and I feel like I’ll get used to hanging around this place pretty quickly. Greeted by the bubbly Timothy Westbrook concocting another masterpiece in his studio, I walked in on what I thought would be a quiet Sunday because of the Packer game. I was mistaken. Brunch –the most extraordinary brunch I have ever seen–  was just wrapping up and sure enough, there was a TV hidden in that stately armoire, so the lobby lounge comforted a roaring chorus of Packers fans.

Within minutes of cozying up to the bar, Val asked if I drank alcohol and if I wanted to try something delicious. Two questions I rarely say no to. This was apparently a holiday tradition and a rite of passage for new employees. “Must try the Glog,” advised Timothy. It was warm, smooth and strong. Be sure to ask Val for a glass next time you are in.

I was happy to run into Ed Makowski, the third Pfister Narrator, and his adorable offspring Edmund. He recounted every detail about their trip to the art museum, but acted uncharacteristically shy when I asked to take a picture. Ed shared suggestions for getting to the good stories a few hidden spots in the hotel.

As you can imagine, the Pfister has been heavy on my mind the past few months, and by pure serendipity, I came across this article in the Shepherd Express. (I got my first break as a writer in the Shepherd.) It’s a quick read about the history of this gem and its founder, German immigrant Guido Pfister. It got me thinking about the modern application of this Historic space. I will be studying these paradoxes as they unfold and seeking out the characters passing through.

By all means, if there is something you are dying to know or some secret you’d like me to uncover – let me know via the comments or directly at jlkashou@gmail.com. More to come!

The End

Here’s the third post  to end my term AND this guest fiction challenge. Thank you, Everyone.  Thank you!

Pt 1. – The Beginning 
Pt 2. – The Middle
Pt 3. – The End (this one)

 

Hahn /Spokane/ Insurance

A fire you had to put out this week? Relationship issues

Where do you go for peace? My apartment

Favorite relative? Twin sister

Best gift or surprise you’ve given? Valentine’s care package to a long distance boyfriend

A food you won’t eat? Octopus. Too slimy

A city you’re curious about?Athens

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Doctor

Something you have that’s broken? Communication with my boss

Describe your favorite boss.Worked at JC Penney’s in college.  The store manager could get us riled up and eager to do well.  He made little competitions and made us want to do well.

Describe your least favorite teacher. Unapproachable.  Didn’t have compassion for students who didn’t grasp or enjoy his instruction

How will this character resolve things? It should definitely work out.  I like stories that work out.  She’ll struggle at first, then realize that what she wants she’s always had it inside her or around her.

 

 

Corinne spun around on her heels, the key to her car still aimed for its lock. She heard the grunt before she could make sense of the surge of adrenaline pulsing in her ears and the man’s blazer doubled over in front of her.

“Shane, you scared the shit out of me,” she said, taking a step back to rest against her car as her heart beat steadied.

Shane slowly stood to his full six feet.  His hand was pressing against a phantom wound in his side.  “You stabbed me!”

He made animated faces and exaggerated pains. Corinne let a smile unwind in the corners of her mouth.

“You stepped into my weapon, pal,” she said.  “Where’s your coat? What are you doing creeping up on me in the dark?”

“I was trying to catch you before you flew out of here,” he said, relaxing his face and rubbing the spot where Corinne’s car key had jabbed him.  “I wanted to ask you to meet us at Treetop tonight.”

Corinne folded her hands under her elbows, tightening her arms around her.  Treetop?  Her?

“Who’s ‘us?’” she asked.

Shane chuckled. His crooked eye teeth pushing past his smile. Corinne hadn’t noticed his dimples before.  They’d worked in neighboring stores for nearly five years now.  She’d never understood how anyone could be devoted to selling mattresses, but she guessed people might say the same of the quiet jewelry shop.

“The ‘us’ who’ve been your retail neighbors for almost a decade,” he said.

“You’ve only been here five years, Shane,” Corinne said.

“Ahh, so you have noticed me lumbering around here,” he said.

Corinne blushed.

“I’ve seen you once or twice,” she said.

Shane smiled his crooked, dimpled smile. “You should make it one more time,” he said. “Around eight o’clock.”

Corinne raised herself from the car and moved toward her store again.  She’d forgotten her cell phone inside.  “You should have on a coat,” she said.

“Yes ma’am, I should,” he said, not moving from watching her.

He kept his eyes pinned to her when they shared a basket of nachos two hours later at the Treetop. Corinne had arrived to the bar and grill to find that the only “us” Shane had planned for was the two of them.

“You didn’t leave me any choice,” he’d said.  “I’ve been trying to get your attention for two years, but you weren’t very –uh- approachable until recently.”

Corinne looked down to her beer glass. She thought about how her fists unclenching and her heart unzipping while hiking through the mountains of Buenos Aires.  She’d spent three weeks roaming the countryside, drinking at festivals, reading graphic novels on the beach.  She’d tried to take an online Spanish course, but the instructor seemed offended that she wanted to collect a few quick phrases and had no compassion for her abbreviated learning needs. Even without a functional grasp of the language, Corinne felt instantly connected to the people she met there.  They were warm and inviting and especially friendly once she told them her father was native.  As always, Aunt Vanda had been right.  Seeing her homeland was powerful, in spite of her storied and painful disappointment with “homes” and family.  She’d come back to the states feeling whole.

“Was I mean to you?” she asked, raising her beer to her lips.  He was handsome, in a boyish farmhand kind of way.

“Naw, not mean,” Shane said.  “You weren’t standoffish, either.  You seemed, I dunno, oblivious.”

Corinne raised her eyebrows. “That’s an interesting choice of words.”

Shane smiled.  “I know even bigger words than that,” he said, waving away her protests about what she didn’t mean.  “I sent you a care package for Valentine’s Day because I figured you’d be swamped in there.  You sent a thank you card from the store.”

Corinne lowered her beer and blinked at him, remembering the box with exotic candies which included jellied squares of octopus.  “I didn’t realize it was from you to me,” she said.  “I assumed it was from your store to my store.  To all the stores, actually.”

“Why would I–”

“I mean, I just thought you were playing retail block captain,” Corinne cut in quickly.  “I didn’t know.  Thank you, for then and for now.”

She learned that Shane had a twin sister who lived in Nashville.  That he’d wanted to be a doctor until his parents needed one and he came home from school to help care for them.

“My father has since passed, but my mother is doing okay,” he said.

“How are you?” Corinne asked, searching for sadness in his face.

“Pretty good most days,” he said.  “I spend a lot of time at her house, but I’m able to regenerate and regroup at my apartment.  I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy my quiet time.”

“When you’re not studying the dictionary, what are you doing?” Corinne teased.

“Collecting bottle caps and bird watching,” Shane said with his boyish grin. He seemed pleased to hear her laugh.

“What are you doing when you’re not guarding the diamonds?” he asked.

“I’m finally going to try and figure that out,” she said.

“I’d like to help you out, if you’re looking for a tour guide, or something,” Shane said. Keep you riled up about your new man and your new options.”

Corinne liked the way Shane talked to her, certain and soothing. She liked how the dark clouds that had begun lifting away from her since making her trip coming home had not been a figment of her storytelling.

“New man? I’d ruin this peace of mind with relationship issues?”

“Absolutely not,” Shane said. “I plan to help you keep the peace.”

Corinne shook her head.  “Not with those jokes,” she said.

“Those are my best assets, baby.”

Corinne liked the feeling of a smile stretching across her face. She allowed herself the flutter in her stomach as Shane looked at her and imagined them exploring his family’s legacy in Athens,  hand in hand.