by Ex Fabula blogger Steph Kilen
photo by Kat Berger

Ex Fabula Terminal Milwaukee project’s first full-length event, “All in a Day’s Work” was not work, but pure joy. Held at Club Garibaldi in Bay View on Saturday July 23, the stories of the evening celebrated the neighborhood and detailed the odd, humorous and difficult experiences that can go along with occupation.

The evening began with a pre-event cookout at Groppi’s, during which John Gurda, John and Anne Nehring, and others shared the story of G. Groppi’s market, a Bay View institution.

Milwaukee historian John Gurda kicked off the evening at Club Garibaldi with the story of the founding of Bay View. Built around a growing iron industry in 1868, Bay View was Milwaukee’s first suburb, incorporating as a village in 1879 and joining the city of Milwaukee in 1887. John provided historical interludes throughout the evening telling of Bay View’s important role in the labor movement of the late 19th century, a once inhabited Jones Island and his own connections to Bay View – from childhood to the beginnings of his career as the man to put Milwaukee’s history on paper.

Bay View and Club Garibaldi were chosen as the setting for this event because Tom Crawford, the central storyteller in this series that follows his life in Milwaukee, frequented the club after working as a longshoreman, loading salt on the docks of Jones Island when he was young. Several other longshoremen shared their stories as well. “Poet, musician, longshoremen and free spirit,” Harvey Taylor admitted despite his years working on Jones Island, he is “more interested in the commerce of story than the moving of cargo.” Tom Tolan’s experience as a longshoreman was more that of “young working class heroes who grew up in the suburbs,” having started as a longshoreman in 1969 then leaving to go to Woodstock. He shared some of the “salty” language he heard during his stint and what passes for a koan in the world of longshoremen. Tom Schwark, the third former longshoreman to take the stage, told of a neighbor with a similar name and several more uncanny similarities.

The “All in a Day’s Work” theme inspired a wide range of stories. Ex Fabula co-founder Leah Delaney told of her “near death” experience as a duck boat tour guide in the South Shore Marina. Ex Fabula regular Conn Hagen shared yet another of his drinking mishaps as a bakery delivery guy with a severe hangover. Michael Heider lamented the time as a photojournalist he obeyed the police and didn’t take a photo of the man they were bringing out of a building after an arrest: Jeffrey Dahlmer.

First-time storyteller Beth Bojarski told a tale of artists in the corporate world and how a kitchy mascot they had adopted turned out to be a very expensive (and somewhat smuggled) piece of “art” owned by upper management, delivered to the wrong department. Steph Kilen shared adventures and disappointments of a cub reporter and why she now always wears sensible shoes to work. Patty Prichard Thompson delighted the audience with memories of her mother and the tools of her trade doing upholstery for Milwaukee airlines. Patty’s mom was “an industrial strength lady” who carried everything she could ever need in her huge purse, but everything important in her five-hook bra.

Folks gave Bay View its due at the event as well. Lisa Goldman explained how she sees the narrative of her life through the neighborhoods of Milwaukee. Dale Nook told of how having lived in Bay View for 30 years, he just recently is getting to know his neighbors through his involvement in the Bay View Neighborhood Association and other grassroots organizations on the south shore; an involvement possible now that he is retired. Meghan Koven said, “When you’re in Bay View, your neighbors always have your back, ” and then illustrated it with the tale of how she and some out of town friends were rescued on a cold winter night.

The terminal Milwaukeean himself, Tom Crawford, took the stage for the last story of the night. Tom’s varied vocational career started in December 1976 when he realized at 17-years old that he would need to go to school, go into the military or end up in the factory. His first choice was the military. He told the recruiters “I really wanna blow shit up,” took the test to be a combat engineer and got the highest score. On the day he was set to leave for basic training, he found out an old hip injury made him ineligible for service. His father having made the demand of a pay stub to be able to continue living at the house, Tom began his life as a workingman. After a couple false starts at Pizza Man and a factory, Tom ended up at a foundry. Just three hours on the job, he found himself holding up a man whose arm had gotten stuck in a machine. While desperate to quit after a tragic first day, he reluctantly stayed on at the foundry for two years, after which he discovered “the most romantic and amazing manly experience anyone could ever have” working the docks on Jones Island where he spent the next ten years. Tom’s story, like all Tom’s stories, like all good stories, was punctuated with laughs and gasps from the audience – the best of an Ex Fabula experience.

The ride through Tom’s life and the amazing diversity of experience and character in Milwaukee continues at Terminal Milwaukee’s next event: Friday, September 9th, 8 pm at Satin Wave Barbershop.