Cup of Joe with Joe

Posted by on Mar 27, 2012

“French doors.”

That was the first thing out of his mouth when I mentioned I’d been shopping for a house.

“French doors can brighten up any space. If there is no doorway, build a doorway. Anything can be done. Of course, it’s easier if a house is exactly how you want it when you first walk through but that’s not realistic. Floor plans can be changed, walls can be built or removed, it all depends what you’d like to do. But the first most important thing is whether you like the house and whether you like the location. Beyond that, everything can be changed. Don’t be afraid to change things.”

Shortly after I became a fixture at the Pfister I realized there were a lot of return customers. Faces I saw over and over again. Not the travelers who return when they visit the city (although there are many) but Milwaukee residents who come to the hotel as their regular place to hold court, discuss diverse topics with a diverse crowd, and maybe enjoy a tasty lunch.

There are regulars who come in just for a cup of coffee. One such gentleman is Joe. Joe drinks his coffee with plenty of cream and warmed often. He’s never mentioned that but from the frequency at which lounge bartenders fill his cup and the smile he responds with tells me he likes a hot cup.

Joe is probably the snappiest dresser of all the regulars. I gather that he doesn’t leave the house without a suit coat, and probably grew up in a time when businessmen would never consider doing such a thing. The coat is often threaded with pinstripes matching his wool slacks. Cuff links to match or accent the tie. The tie arranged in a crisp Windsor knot. Hair in place and always a clean shave.

After Joe made his suggestion of French doors he went on to tell me that he’d spent most of his working life in architecture and real estate. He explained that he’s been involved in his share of remodels and that patience is very important.

“Remember to have fun! You get to make this house however you want it to be. You’re getting to build your castle. Don’t forget that the process can be as fun and as interesting as the result. Have fun and don’t rush it. If you’re in a position to take your time, take your time and get it done the way you want. I’ve found some of my favorite interior pieces in the strangest places. Rummage sales, secondhand stores, antique stores. When the right piece presents itself you’ll know.”

I see Joe walking the halls, ambulating as a way to get thoughts in place, or allow a momentary change of perspective to produce observations. Motion as a way to not only stimulate the blood but also the mind. When happening upon conversation Joe stands upright and his hands clasped behind his back, welcoming discourse.

A few weeks ago Joe offered several options for investing. Strategies for how one could pick out ways to make money just by reading the newspaper and placing one’s money in the correct place. Being a poet with my head always somewhere between a book and the clouds I’ve not put a lot of thought in to retirement or investing. He explained different theories of how the economy responds to different inputs and how there is always money to be made if one pays attention. After awhile I almost wondered if I should start day trading.

The most recent time I ran into Joe he was trying to figure out the upcoming presidential election. Rather, he was trying to figure out what the candidates were doing and why. Why they had chosen to focus on certain topics and not focus on other topics. Their reasons for campaigning in certain states and not others. How they will learn to work together once a candidate is selected. The chess of human interaction.

The economy, politics, real estate. It would be easy to miss the point of Joe’s conversation and conclude the guy’s trying to make a buck. But it’s not the money behind these things that makes Joe so curious. The puzzle of how everything fits together is what intrigues him. It’s the strategy, the reasoning behind the action that Joe is always trying to distill. As if he sees the world as a giant Swiss watch and in his mind he’s leaning over a workbench unscrewing every tiny component to hold it closer to the light while squinting and ask the tiny bauble, “Now what have we here…?”


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