Coke A Cola and the Meanderthal

When I first discovered Coke’s name

to be Coke,

I admit, I was taken aback

with the fact that it is the unusual title

for this amiable human

I often see in the lobby.

But Coke is used to the awe

of people discovering his name,

and ups the intrigue by telling you,

“Actually, I’m Coke the Fifth

and my son is going to be

Coke the Sixth.”

I remember asking him,

“Are you expecting?”

But no, Coke told me

he has yet to marry

but…

yesterday, a woman guest who takes note

of the nametags of the hotel staff

met Coke and told him,

“We ought to get married,

since my last name is Cola.”

Coke chuckled,

a soft, polite bellhop laugh

and admitted it would be a fitting match

since his middle initial is ‘A.’

Just imagine:

“Hi, my name is Coke A Cola.”DSCN9303

Unfortunately, Coke won’t be marrying her,

the reason being he doesn’t want

any last name but his own.

This surprised me,

because it seemed like a match made in heaven

for Coke who studied linguistics in college

and who alerts me to the existence of new words

such as “meanderthal,”Screen shot 2015-03-21 at 11.32.25 AM

usually after I have been walking

too slowly, oblivious to him and his bell cart

behind me.

coke poem
Today is Coke’s birthday.

 

Meandering on the seventh floor

I check out the set up for Make-A-Wish’s

superhero themed gala.

I am told by Rebecca, a Make-A-Wish intern,DSCN0445

that each table, set with flowers

and polka dot wrapped presents

is dedicated to fulfilling the wish of one

terminally ill child.DSCN0438

The interns tell me that most of the kids

want things that will benefit their whole family:

trips across the world to visit grandparents in the old country,

vacations to Disney World or Italy.

One girl is professionally recording and performing her own song.

One boy wanted a shopping spree in New York City.

Their lives are fragile, let them try what they like, yolo, yolo!


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Put on a mask. Fly.

I am inspired to do things I have always wanted to do

so on Thursday I walk fifteen miles from my home in Franklin

to the Pfister. It takes me 7.5 hours (not 4.5)

before I get to match the carpet at work.

15 miles later
Photo: Helene Fischman

Screen shot 2015-03-18 at 9.28.13 PM

The Underwood Typewriter Girl of 1945

I am sitting at my Remington, clacking away at the lobby’s desk when a man approaches me. Chuck, a New York businessman, tells me about his mother, Anne Bernich, who served as Underwood’s Typewriter Girl of 1945. According to Chuck, “Although her typing skills were amazing, she was voted the ‘Prettiest Girl’ in Long Beach High School, class of 44′ which added to her qualifications I’m sure.” For years his mother kept a 16mm film reel that Underwood shot of her typing. A few years ago, Chuck rented a projector and they played it for the first time in several decades. And Chuck happens to carry a copy of it on his phone…

 

“The movie itself is rather boring, it’s a half an hour long and meant for schools and businesses,” Chuck claims.  So he and the AV guy from his work got together, edited it and started dubbing in voices to make it comic.

 

Anne was an assistant to the manager of Underwood’s typewriter division. She regularly attended business shows that had an array of sections devoted to different typewriter companies, mimeograph machines, and anything else that a person would use in a 1940’s business. Anne would be set up in the Underwood area always demonstrating the latest model for the crowds. Frequently these shows hosted contests in which young women would race each other to accurately type the most words per minute.

underwood gal 2
Anne was very admired, as evident in this picture.

 

 

Chuck gives me his mom’s number. When I call her she tells me, “They would send me to different contests and I usually won because I could type very fast.” One time at a business show, a man who had been watching her work offered her a job at his brand new company. Anne politely declined, saying that she was very happy with her job at Underwood. She now regrets it, “This man was the man who started IBM! Thomas Watson! He was a delightful man. I can’t believe I said no to him, had I said yes, I’d probably have a lot more money than I have now.”

underwood gal
Thomas Watson, founder of IBM is the smiling man in the hat immediately behind her.

 

I asked Anne what her word per minute was when she typed. “Oh, probably a hundred and something, I forgot honey, but it was a lot. I played the piano. I started lessons when I was seven. I think the fact that I played the piano made my fingers very nimble.” Later, I called Chuck and asked if he knew what his mother’s words per minute was.  He immediately told me “130.” At 88, Anne still plays the piano, and holds a job as a church organist.

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Nimble fingered Anne, at her current job.

 

It was Anne’s boss who suggested that she be the official Underwood Typewriter Girl of 1945. “I was petite and had blonde hair, and uh, I was nice looking. I guess that’s why they took me, they figured I’d be photographic enough.”

 

She kept the tin with the film reel in it for years in her file cabinet. “It took us a whole week to make it. I had to wear the same dress every day. It wasn’t washed or anything, we didn’t have a washer or dryer then. And the makeup was horrible orange, just terrible, and we’d go out for lunch between the takes and all and people would be looking at us, and me with this terrible makeup, I was embarrassed.”

 

Whenever a new typewriter came out, Anne would go to the factory that produced it and take a tour of the facility with the manager. “I don’t know why they had me go up there, but I did.” At one point they showed her an all-white (including the keys) portable typewriter getting packed up to be sent. “I said, ‘Oh, it’s beautiful, but why is it all white?’ And they said ‘It’s going to the Pope.’”

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Chuck about to show me the video at the Pfister.

Anyway, I Was Converted



Here is the conversion story of Monica who joins her friends Jan and Tom at the Pfister every Sunday after they all attend mass at St. Catherine’s.

 

“I hated it.

I was opposed to it on moral grounds.

Disgusting,

brutal,

a waste of time.

 

Then the Packers won the Superbowl with Brett Favre

and I started to realize the strategy, the artistry,

it’s like watching a ballet

with three hundred pound ballerinas!

They’re so in their bodies,

they’re so in control of their bodies,

so embodied those guys

that they can intuitively reach up and catch that ball

and get it, oh my god,

in a split second

and then together, the community of it,

the communication that hasta happen,

how they have to know what they’re doing…

anyway, I was converted.”

 

Were you into sports before you liked football?

 

“No,

not a sports person.

Didn’t grow up with it,

don’t have brothers,

nuthin,

nuthin,

no, no sense of it,

didn’t know that it was a thing of beauty,

didn’t know it had any merit.

 

We used to come here anyway,

then we wanted to watch the Packer game,

but this isn’t quite a Packer place—

like you wouldn’t normally think

the Pfister… Packers?

So they have the lovely lobby

with the little TV in the corner

and then we asked,

“Could we watch the Packer game?”

so then somebody gingerly opened up the TV doors

and put on the Packer game with no sound,

but then we got so excited

and of course people really wanted to watch the game

even Pfister people, like the staff,

they all came sneaking out,

“What’s the score? What’s the score?”

so like eventually over time it sorta became okay

to watch the Packer game here

and then we would have a lovely brunch

and then we would pull the tables together

and then like a community of people

began to join us on Sundays,

a lot of the staff,

95-year-old Mildred,

Caroline,

and the guy that we thought was a secret service agent.

And now people will gather out there

a lot of times there’s guests in the hotel from out of state

and they come down,

it’s a great place to watch the Packer game, the best.

 

We’ve met a ton of people,

Mike Sherman’s (the Packer’s coach) daughter!

I didn’t know who she was

I saw this girl sitting by herself watching the game,

this college girl,

but she’d go like this:

DSCN7900
Monica demonstrates.

 

 

it was getting towards the end of the season

towards the playoffs, so this was a really important game

she went to Marquette but she didn’t want to watch it there

because all the kids knew her

so she came here to watch it by herself

and there was nobody else there that Sunday

it was just you and Mike Sherman’s daughter

watching this intense game.

 

I would have missed all that

if I still had my nose in the air

about the moral reprehensibility of football.”

 

 

 

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I’m 90 Years Old and This is the First Time I’ve Mentioned It

Sophia and her mom live in Seattle, sale but every year they come visit with grandma for a few weeks because she lives here in Milwaukee. Julie, Sophia’s mom says that today she found out that her mother was elected high school secretary. Her mother, Eunice confesses, “I’m 90 years old and this is the first time I’ve mentioned it. I also had the lead in the school play. In fourth year English, I had to recite a poem in an Irish brogue accent in front of the whole school during the assembly.” The majority of the population in Gays Mills Wisconsin where Eunice lived were Irish. “Oh it was fun. I was so introverted I couldn’t offend anyone. I’m glad I’ve saved it till now— it won’t affect any of your lives now.” Sophia squeals with delight, “Heee, oh Grandma!” “We learned a lot today,” says Julie.

Julie, Sophia and Eunice.
Julie, Sophia and Eunice.

Julie grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee.  “I got my haircut here in high school because Rosemary Ross, the TV personality would get her hair cut here. Twice a year. Once, I got a permanent wave here too.” Back when it was the peak of fashion, grandma Eunice would go get a permanent wave once a year, “About the time it started looking good, that’s when you had to get another one.”

Everyone is quiet for a moment and then Eunice complements my hat, lamenting, “I just wish hats would come back again. It was always the fun part of your outfit, when you were going to buy the hat.” Sophia adds,“You had a dressmaker too for a while. I think that’s the most awesome thing!” Julie looks at her mother and daughter in a moment of discovery and asks, “Why aren’t we wearing hats? We should be!” Sophia agrees so fervently that she erupts into a fit of giggles, “Yeah, hehehehe!”

Then there is silence for a while again, it is broken when Eunice points to the painting above the piano and sighs, “Isn’t that frame pretty?”

Julie and Sophia are at the end of their 2014 Wisconsin vacation. This time they went to Irish Fest, Wolf Peach— a new restaurant, and to Chicago a couple of times. “We’ve been visiting family mostly. We saw the Magritte show at the Art Institute of Chicago… it’s kind of dark.” I ask Julie if she means dark as in the subject matter of the art and Julie replies, “Well, it is, but I mean literally, the lighting was really low and everyone was very quiet. Subdued, and a lot of the pictures are spooky or kind of gruesome. It was a real experience to walk through. No one was talking.” Sophia agrees, “Yeahhhhh.” Summing it up Julie says, “It was kind of disturbing, we looked at the little doll houses after that to even it out.”

Swelling with Grandmotherly pride, Eunice tells me, “Sophia is celebrating, she just finished her Summer Intensive Ballet. Nine to five, six days a week in Seattle at the Pacific Northwest Ballet Company.” Sophia, who has been doing ballet for five years, speaks up, “It was really fun, I felt like I learned a lot.” Eunice, still glowing with her granddaughter’s accomplishment tells me, “She was told she has good stage presence.” Sophia, smiling, meekly tries to cut her off by shouting “Grandma!” But Eunice continues: “Compared to the rest of her class.”