The Best Dressed Ladies at the Affair

I’m not ashamed to say that I love women. I think if the world were run by women we’d all get things done about 30 years earlier than we do right now and then we could just sit under trees and read books and eat waffles.

Two mere days away from the end of my year as Pfister Narrator I’m pleased as punch to write about two more women. I started my year writing about two female friends and I’m really pleased to come full circle with this nice little greeting story about Mary Beth and Sue.

I hosted a farewell event at the Pfister on April 22nd in the Rouge. For those of you who attended I hope you will agree with my assessment…it was perfect. It was the ideal culmination of a year of writing and I got to show the films I wrote inspired by Pfister experiences that talented actor friends of mine had graciously agreed to act in.

I had suspected that it might be a “friends of Jonathan night”, one of those evenings when I looked out at the bodies in chairs and saw friendly faces that I recognized from other walks of life. Indeed, there were plenty of friends in the room, but at the back of the Rouge where we were all assembled I noticed two superbly beautiful ladies. I didn’t know who they were, but I was determined to find out by the end of the affair.

At the close of my program last Friday, these two very well dressed ladies approached me as I huddled with my wife talking about how the event had gone. Paula noticed the ladies and sensing that they wanted to talk with me winked and said, “I think you have some fans.”

Mary Beth and Sue were decked out to the nines. It takes a lot for me to feel dressed down as I’m normally out and about in a suit, bow tie, and brightly shined shoes. But these ladies made me feel like I could have looked a little nicer for my finishing event as Pfister Narrator. They were runway ready.

Playing to my ego, Mary Beth and Sue asked if they could take a picture with me. I was eager and ready to smile for these ladies, but ever the inquisitor, I had to understand why they had showed up at this closing Narrator affair and why they wanted to flank me in a picture.

“We read about this show in the Pfister’s blog and thought it would be fun,” said Mary Beth. Sue jumped in adding, “We got all dolled up because it is the Pfister after all!”

The ladies were complete dolls and asked me to pose for a picture with them to commemorate the night. I obliged and heard them tell me about their first time at the Pfister for a prom, which Mary Beth arrived at after a lubricating trip to John Hawk’s Pub back in the days of younger drinking ages and feathered hair.

Mary Beth and Sue told me that this was a big night for them, an occasion where they could pull out their best dresses, make the drive from Racine, order a smart cocktail, and watch some unknown nerd in big dark glasses tell stories into the night. They shook my hand and invited to Blu for a cocktail, but tired old man that I was, I demurred and sought out my children and wife so we could tuck in for the night. I might have blushed realizing that I had met my first fans face-to-face, but I’ll always cherish those sweet faces as ladies who showed up just because the Pfister was doing something new and interesting. In the midst of a spectacular night, it’s always great to meet some supremely spectacular women.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

So Ma, how did you get to be ninety years old?

Hello all, this intro is from your current Pfister Narrator, Jonathan West. It’s with the greatest of honors that I share with you this Guest Narrator post today from my immediate predecessor, the inimitable Anja Notanja Sieger.  While I was out of town over the holidays, Anja recently spent a lovely tea time with some special ladies who believe that celebrating a birthday is not merely a once-a-year affair, but something that you should put on your calendar at least every month.  I think you’ll enjoy Anja’s tale just as much as I did.

Every month Margaret’s daughters take her out to celebrate her birthday, because once you turn 90 you have to celebrate your birthday every month. This month they’re having teatime in Blu.

DSCN4114Juan, the tea master wheels a cart over to the party and initiates us:

“I am going to pass thirteen tea jars to you so you’ll have a chance to smell and select the one you’re going to be drinking.” He unscrews the jars and hands each to Margaret first, “This is the 1893 Rose Melange… Chinese oolong green tea, very light on the palate… German chamomile blossoms, a very soothing and relaxing tisane… Cinnamon plum… Hibiscus with a blend of berries and mango flavors… Tangerine ginger… Earl grey with a blend of lavender flowers along with bergamot oil essentials, it has a brothy flavor to it along with an amber color… This one comes from Sri Lanka, a Ceylon, stands very well with milk.

One of Margaret’s daughters interjects, “Which one goes best with champagne?”

 

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Juan smiles and continues, “A white tea infused with peach blossoms… A green tea from the region of Pu-erh… Chocolate chai, it has cacao nibs, coconut shea beans, yerba mate, dried dandelion roots, cardamom, vanilla and long pepper… This one here is making an appearance for the season, it is called: Cocoa mint… And lastly a black tea infused with sencha vanilla bean, very aromeric and flavorful.” I’m not correcting aromeric to “aromatic” as I relish how Juan jumbled the word into something more enticing and elevated to the world of the senses than the usual phrase.

DSCN4103I am one of nine women gathered for tea, and impressively, none of us orders the same tea, and Margaret doesn’t even want tea. After sniffing hearing the described virtues of all thirteen varieties she just wants a hot chocolate. After nine decades she really seems to have a grasp on what she desires and has no trouble asking for it. Meanwhile, Margaret’s daughters ask her, “So Ma, how did you get to be ninety years old?”

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“I got to go to college because in the summer I would work for a restaurant in the Wisconsin Dells.” Teenaged Margaret started work on the first day of the summer and for three months she’d never have a day off as a waitress. “That was the rule,” confirms Margaret. After graduating from The Milwaukee State Teachers College, she taught first grade for thirty years until she retired. Margaret taught jillions of kids how to read, including her own grand niece who had learning disabilities. She didn’t even quit her day job once she became a mother to Art, Jane, Tom, Nancy and Barb. There was only one bathroom, no shower. On Saturday nights the children took their weekly bath before shining their shoes.DSCN4072

Margaret liked to sew. She made Halloween costumes, a Santa Claus suit, lovely dresses for her daughters and granddaughters, teddy bears and kangaroos for students to hold at rest time at school, table runners, aprons, seat cushions, and matching swim trunks for her boys. They were striped and long before long swim trunks were popular, but they were made long so that they could grow into them.

DSCN4064Sitting beside Margaret is her great-granddaughter Lauren, who just turned 13. Lauren aspires to be a surgeon and likes going deer hunting with her brother, Margaret’s only other great-grandchild. In the summertime when Lauren was little she’d come visit Grandma Margaret on Lake Winnebago, a very algae ridden lake. “I’d come swim and then rake her seaweed,” explained Lauren.

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Margaret has splendid health, her only ailments being mild Parkinson’s and severe gluten intolerance. It is revealed that I am united with Margaret in that we both have celiac disease. She found out she had it when she was 70, and before the diagnosis they suspected she had intestinal cancer. After the diagnosis she got a bread maker and lived. I found out I had celiac when I was 21 and before the diagnosis I took three naps a day. After the diagnosis I spent year subsisting off of avocados and zucchini until my gut healed, and I too lived.

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I admit I’ve always avoided teatimes because I assumed it would just be a sort of gluten fest, cookies, crumpets and lady finger sandwiches wagging at me in a taunting chorus, “No, you can’t have this, no, no, nyah-nyah-nyah!” So I am amazed when a tiny tiered platter of gluten free delicacies are set out just for Margaret. I am amazed again when she requests that I sit beside her and share the hors d’ouevres which were made specifically for her and none of which happen to taste even remotely gluten free. Thank goodness. Included on the platter are these pita slices with dallops of hummus, and the pita even has that powdery surface I recall from years ago when I last ate gluten. This is pure miracle.DSCN4081

Margaret goes straight for the chocolate covered strawberries, while I prefer the cucumber sandwiches and savory items. Margaret has a sweet tooth, and her favorite ice cream is white chocolate with raspberries from Kelley’s, a creamery outside the town of Eden that boasts something like 106 different flavors including chocolate covered potato chips and a thanksgiving dinner flavored concoction known as “turkey lurkey.”

DSCN4067After spending seven decades as a reading teacher and matriarch, it appears some caretaker instincts are ingrained, such as turning the platter just so that the very able bodied twenty-something kid beside her can have a slightly easier reach to the cream dalloped pastries. “Don’t burn yourself on this tea kettle, it’s hot,” Margaret warns me.DSCN4073

I am told that Margaret is having the time of her life. She plays dominoes, and is known as the “bingo queen.” She recently moved to her own condominium, and now for the first time in her life she lives alone and on her own terms.

The Post In Which I Go To A Ladies Luncheon and Find This One Guy

There was a ladies-only luncheon happening at the Pfister last week. Lots of smart, sickness successful, gorgeous women were dressed in red and came together for the American Heart Association’s 2015 Milwaukee Go Red for Women luncheon.

And this guy.

Mike Bartell, <a href=
here "this guy", and Linda Haag at the 2015 Go Red for Women Luncheon.” width=”378″ height=”213″ data-wp-pid=”10231″ /> Mike Bartell, “this guy”, and Linda Haag at the 2015 Go Red for Women Luncheon.

I don’t mean to treat this guy like some common piece of meat. His name is Mike Bartell, and he is a world-class swell. I also feel that the scarf he had wrapped around his neck brings out all the highlights in his lovely dimples. Don’t you agree?

I love events that celebrate female achievement because it has become increasingly clear to me over the years that if men just let women run things, we would all be a whole lot better off. Plus, the world would generally smell better. That’s a win-win aspiration for us all.

The event was good natured in every way and tied into a nationwide network of Go Red for Women’s efforts. There was a lot of feel good mojo in the room, and not just from the heart healthy lunch options being served. The ladies in red came together to share stories, network and report on new steps being taken towards ending heart disease and stroke by following a smart path towards maintaining good health.

All that said, I was happy to see that there was still a chocolate dessert on the table. Way to go, ladies.

Now, back to the minority report, on this guy, Mike.

Mike Bartell is one of those guys who easily draws your eye in a room full of other guys. He’s sharp, gregarious, approachable and warm. In a room full of women, Mike is probably the first thing you notice. I know I did.

Before Mike could start another of the many conversations I saw him begin with numerous ladies in the room, I stopped him in his tracks and said, “What in the world are you doing in this room full of stunning and successful women?”

Mike gave me a big smile, one of those grins that seem to just wrap around you and give you a squeeze. “I told them they needed some men in the room. I’m the guy.”

Mike explained to me that his long time friend and business associate Lori Criag is head of the Executive Leadership team organizing the local Go Red for Women chapter. Lori had told Mike about the good work that the Milwaukee chapter of the women’s group was doing, and Mike, wearing his “I want to help!” hat, told her that it would be good to get men in the room for moral and financial support. Little did he know that there is a complimentary men’s support group that works in tandem with Go Red for Women’s groups around the country, but that the Milwaukee chapter has yet to be formally organized. Mike was already hooked into Go Red for Women, however, so good sport that he is, he willingly joined in for the luncheon and the flouncy scarf wearing.

Admittedly, it wasn’t too tough of a gig for Mike going to a luncheon with a stellar group of ladies working on ending heart disease and stroke. He also proudly told me of the good work his wife, Ellen Bartell, is doing to support health and heart awareness as President of Divine Savior Holy Angels High School. Along with Angie Hutchinson, Divine Savior Holy Angels’ Physical Education Chair, Ellen was able to make hands only CPR part of the curriculum for all their students. Mike beamed when he spoke of his wife. Not only is this guy a supporter of good causes, be he’s a true gentlemen if there ever was one.

I took note of Mike’s bright red tie, and he admitted to me that he had it in his collection prior to the event. He certainly looked like he fit in with the crimson crew of ladies. Mike really did a great job wearing his heart on his sleeve at this year’s Go Red for Women luncheon, even if he sometimes had to move his pretty scarf aside to show it off.

The Hard Part About Living In Costa Rica

I meet her in the elevator and she says she recently moved to Costa Rica. I ask the Costa Rican ex-patriot for a story and she tells me that she is not a very interesting, site story-rich person. I whine, “Come on, you live in Costa Rica! Haven’t you seen some crazy wildlife down there?”

“Oh yes, monkeys, sloths…” and lists a few other fantastic creatures I have never even heard of. Then she stops. She has nothing more to say. I ask her, “What’s the hard part about living in Costa Rica?”

 

The hard part about Costa Rica:

 

It is not the U.S.

You have to adjust what your cultural expectations are and accept what is different.

If you want to go to Costco it is a 3.5 hour drive.

It is warm all the time, clinic unceasingly.

 

The last point surprises me since the Costa Rican tells me that before she moved there she lived in Los Angeles, a place I would assume to be a year-round temperature inferno. I want to ask more questions and take her picture but she disappears. I wonder if I have disturbed a famous actress. She was casual but had an undeniably photogenic presence. Speaking of which, I think I see a large, multiple bride wedding photoshoot taking place on the stairs.

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I ask a man, standing apart from all the hubbub of mothers and aunts frumping their daughters gowns how many of these women are getting married today. He tells me they aren’t. It’s prom.

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I suppose they do look rather young. When I ask them what high school they represent they tell me “Pius.” My own alma mater! They are all junior girls, about to dance at the Renaissance Place. I instantly recall the picture of myself as a Pius junior attending the “Winterlude” school dance at the Renaissance Place.

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Outside the elevator I meet another young woman in a nice dress. “Prom?” I ask her. “No,” she says. She is volunteering for the Autism Society’s Gala. “This is just my sister’s Sadie Hawkins dress.”

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Near the ballroom I ask the woman in a nice hat how she became involved in the autism community. “I’m not,” she says. It turns out she is here for the Bel Canto Chorus’s 22nd Annual Fundraiser Gala. I can’t get anything right.

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So is she.

 

To end my day, I watch resident artist Todd Mrozinski do an old school pre-camera photoshoot of Brittany-the-barista.  Before starting a piece, Todd rubs his hands together and whispers ” Hah hah hah hah hah” to himself.  As he paints there are a lot of noises that sound like a kindergartener scrubbing a marker against a rough piece of construction paper.  Two hours after the initial tracing, he is done.

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A Room Full of Barometric Gages

Inside the rouge ballroom is a top-secret gathering of the stylish.

 

The nation’s first four-year fashion program (Milwaukee’s own Mount Mary College!) is holding a reception for AIDS awareness. There is to be a conversation between Timothy Gunn, American fashion icon who hosts the television show, Project Runway and Sister Aloyse Hessburg, SSND, who founded the fashion design program at Mount Mary fifty years ago.

 

It is the hob-nob hour before Mr. Gunn and Sr. Aloyse speak, so I nob my hob over to the table of fashion majors to find out what trends they are all about. Petal sleeves! A recent assignment challenged them all to create a bunch of sleeves out of muslin fabric. The results were stapled to the wall and became something known as “the wall of sleeves.”

 

There are two kinds focus for fashion majors at Mount Mary, the merchandise department is for those who want to open a boutique, and the design department is for those who want to create the stock for their friend’s boutiques.

 

I ask them if they all draw pretty ladies in their free time.

“You SHOULD draw pretty ladies in your free time if you’re in fashion!”

 

Fashion design majors.
Fashion design majors.

Tori, a junior in the designer program loves to knit, but has never crocheted. She tells me that after graduation she is going to move to either New York or London and get her masters in knitwear.

 

Pakou.
Pakou.

“I like posh New York style business wear,” says Pakou, a sophomore who gets a lot of her influences as a designer from Alexander McQueen. “I love his drama and tailoring.” Pakou made up her own henna design and applied it to her hand with a toothpick. She wants to stay in Milwaukee after graduation, but is thinking about using a different name as a designer because “Pakou is a very common Hmong name.” I shake my head, “But just think of all the women named Pakou who will want to buy your clothes and wear them because you share the same name!” Pakou smiles and admits that she’s never thought of it that way.

 

She applied the henna with a toothpick.
She applied the henna with a toothpick.

Two moments stand out in the dialogue between Sr. Aloyse and Tim Gunn. One is the story of how Sr. Aloyse studied fashion in New York and still had to wear her full floor length habit of a Catholic nun that covered all of her hair and much of her face. Many people on the streets and in elevators assumed she was a beggar.

 

The other moment occurred at the end of the discussion when Timothy Gunn said, “There is a profound difference between being a fashion designer and a clothing designer. The world needs clothes, it doesn’t need fashion. As a fashion designer you’re really a barometric gage of your culture. And if that sounds highfalootin’ and grand— it is! You are working in a context as the societal, cultural, historical, political and economic. You are that gage of what is happening in this particular time and place. That’s your role and you need to accept responsibility for it. It’s not just about the pretty dress.”

 

Experiencing UW-Milwaukee’s 2012 Women Leaders Conference

Gloria Steinem signing books following her speech kicking off the day. While I snapped this photo she said these exact words, “Well- rebellion keeps us young, right?”

To my dismay I realized that the UW-Milwaukee Women Leaders Conference scheduled to take place at the Pfister Friday, March 30th was sold out. I’d hoped there was a possibility to watch from the perimeter and take in a little of the conference.

Thursday evening I was in the lobby lounge speaking with pianist Dr. Jeffrey Hollander regarding a Pfister blog I’ve been working on about the man. There was a woman seated at the table closest Jeffrey and the three of us talked for a bit. In conversation I asked if she was local or from out of town. She explained that she was involved with Friday’s conference. My new acquaintance then asked what I was getting into at the hotel and I explained the Narrator position and how I had hoped to cover the conference in some capacity. It turned out I was sitting with Jan Allen, UW-Milwaukee’s Director of Business, Engineering & Technology in the school’s Continuing Education Department. Completely by mistake (does serendipity make mistakes?) I ended up being invited to check out Friday’s activities. You never know who you’re going to meet at this hotel…

By 8am Friday morning, like countless times before, the Pfister’s 7th floor ballrooms were transformed to fit the needs of the event. A banquet spread of breakfast foods and coffee cakes, teas, coffee, and soft drinks welcomed conference-goers on their way into the Grand Ballroom.

Kicking off the day’s events was keynote speaker Gloria Steinem. I tread lightly in suggesting I can introduce you to Ms. Steinem as there is little need for introduction. She is a journalist, publisher, and activist (and a wearer of many other hats). Steinem co-founded Ms. magazine and has worked for over half a century toward the changes she’d like to see in the world. I encourage reading this March 16th New York Times article about Ms. Steinem’s long career. Steinem’s speech, “The Longest Revolution,” included her Top 10 list of priorities and conclusions to keep in mind moving forward. Following her speech there were a few minutes for questions and lucky participants were able to ask the questions they’ve always wondered of the longtime lightning rod. Having Gloria Steinem speak injected the day with a feeling which reminded me of the phrase, “We are the ones we have been waiting for” (line from a poem by June Jordan which can [and should!] be read here).

After Gloria’s speech there were several sessions which ran concurrent. It was difficult to choose which one to listen to but what caught my eye was Lora Hyler’s Where Are the Women? Taking a Seat At the Board: How Women Directors Impact Company Success. Ms. Hyler detailed the positive impacts companies have seen when women are in high positions. She charted breakdowns by gender and race of who leads the world’s companies. She explained methods women can use to break into leadership groups which can resemble an old boy’s club. Hyler stressed that the key was to find ways to communicate effectively with superiors and colleagues, regardless if that communication takes place in boardrooms or on the golf course. Ms. Hyler also explained that after one woman is admitted to a board of directors it is generally easier for women to follow in her steps. Before the session was over participants shared experiences and strategies of how to grow in their careers and climb above the proverbial glass ceiling.

Speaker Chris Heeter out for a break with canine companion Tuu Weh.

Before lunch I was able to see Chris Heeter speak on a few different topics. Ms. Heeter founded The Wild Institute and has decades of experience guiding outdoor groups.  Her speech was titled You girls out here all alone? The Wild Side of Leadership. With a bittersweet chuckle she explained that she couldn’t recall how many times a solitary man had asked their group of women that silly question whether out on the trail or paddling. Chris also has a great deal of experience working with sled dogs and explained how communication between dogs and the human guiding the sled could be a useful analogy for the working world. For an immediate understanding of her perception of the leader’s role she began by explaining that with a dogsled the leader guides from an observational post behind the dogs. Chris speaks with a wisdom and exuberance that is difficult to convey in mere typed words. Both she and her canine companion Tuu Weh left an indelible impression on attendees.

Between the lunch and afternoon sessions I was in the elevator and a woman looked over to me. She leaned in while her whole face smiled and she asked,  “What do you think of the conference so far?”

Beyond asking my impression it was clear that she wanted to make sure to engage me and encourage the idea that- even though I happen to be a guy- it was okay for me to have an opinion.

“Well…” I weighed the day’s experiences up to that point… “There has been a lot of great information and valuable things I’ve heard, but most of it hasn’t been gender specific. It seems unfortunate that there exists a need to term it a Women’s Conference for this information to be disseminated from one place.”

“Exactly,” she laughed as we exited the elevator, “that’s the point! If only we could help the entire world arrive at that conclusion. We’re getting there…”

Seating for One

There are so many corners to lose yourself in at the Pfister Hotel. Just when I think I’ve found the perfect nook, doctor I realize, there’s already a soft chair or couch there waiting for me—a clear demonstration that the staff at the Pfister know that cozy corners are a commodity.

The thing is, as part of my role, I am often at the Pfister alone. Many women may tell you they rarely go out alone. Maybe we go shopping, generic where it’s expected, or to a movie, where once the lights are down, it’s harder for people to see that you’re alone.

Male friends have laughed when I have said I wouldn’t stop in a bar for a drink alone. Women friends simply nod knowingly. So when at the Pfister, occasionally it’s nice to slide into a comfy cushion in an obscure corner and simply take in my surroundings.

I hope I don’t betray an entire group of people here, but occasionally, women deploy little tricks to ensure that they don’t get bothered, hit on or intruded upon when they’re cultivating their solitude in a glass of red wine at a bar.

First, I must recognize (and applaud) those who bravely venture out to fulfill their own relaxation or winding down techniques, whether friends have agreed to join them or not. And second, I need to let you know it happens far more often than you think.

I sat down in the lobby bar next to a couple who easily engaged me and we had a great time together. One of the stories the gentleman wanted to share was of the young woman who had warmed my chair not thirty minutes prior. The man said he’d offered her a drink and she said, clutching her wine, “No, I’m waiting for someone, thank you.”

After the wine was gone, the woman left. The gentleman’s wife returned and he said, as she sat, “Huh, poor girl, her friend stood her up.” The wife questioned his details and laughed. “Oh, she didn’t have a friend coming.”

Confused, the husband was then schooled (and then again by me after his retelling of the event) in woman-alone-at-the-bar logic. We tell lies like that to make ourselves feel comfortable, to ward off unwelcome advances and to feel socially secure in our aloneness.

Since that lesson, I’ve paid special attention to all the single ladies in the house at the Pfister and I must say—there are a great many of us. Just the other night, during those immediate post-work hours at Blu, I spotted a woman enjoying a glass of wine and clearly winding down. Oblivious to those around her, she faced her chair outward toward the city and calmly enjoyed her surroundings. There were a number of men seated alone as well, perhaps parts of conferences or folks traveling for work, but not a one of them approached her or disrupted her serenity. It could have been because most of them had their chairs facing the skyline as well and as the sun set  it was a pretty irresistible view, easily one that no pick-up line could compete with.

So I continue to applaud the brave women who, by whatever means necessary, whether it’s an amazing view, stellar confidence or a little white lie, secure for themselves a cozy nook to enjoy some time to themselves. I may notice you when I’m there, but I promise, I will not disturb.