Fantasy Camp

11:03 p.m., July 9

I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like Milwaukee.

Chicago is surely Oprah and Milwaukee is Laverne and Shirley. I took a day trip across the border on Saturday to see my friend Paul Cebar and the Cubs, in that order. Much to my surprise the Saturday night Cubs game was a sellout, attracting more than 42,000 people to Miller Park. People were standing and cheering like the Cubs were in some kind of pennant race. What were these people thinking? Or drinking? It was pure fantasy. And campy.

I built in enough time on my day trip to visit Brewtown’s fine antique stores and buy more campy crap that litters my apartment. Paul took me and my friend Chris to the Usual & Unusual Antique Center on the lower level of the Walker’s Point Antique Center, 1134 South 1st St. (414-383-3559). The place was filled with bizarre stuff you would only find in a retro town like Milwaukee.

I picked up a yellow and red plastic Maraca Rum-Ba Cup that shakes like a maraca when you drink from it. It is a souvenir of The Arc in Glenview, Ill. Does anyone know anything about this place? The Arc’s motto was “Your return is our concern.” It says so right here on the cup. And for $12 and some change I bought a politically incorrect Indian totem decanter with little cups along the sides. That’s all I will say about that. A lifelong Milwaukeean, Paul Cebar is a master at finding these places. He took us to the top level of the Walker Point building where they have an outstanding collection of bowling shirts, suitcoats, goofy hats, etc. The prices were more affordable than in Chicago, St. Louis or even Madison.

I had to get back to Chicago on Sunday, but Paul Cebar and his fine rhythm and blues/Afro Cuban/rock band played the final day of Summerfest. It was the 20th Anniversary Show of Paul Cebar and the Milwaukeeans. Their first gig was at Summerfest ’86 after Paul and vocalist Robyn Pluer left the popular R&B Cadets to form the Milwaukeeans.

Paul looks at music just as he looked at stuff in the antique center: with adventure, humor and boundless affection. I’ve known Paul for all of those 20 years and I’ve never heard him talk cynically of his peers or dismiss any cultural aesthetic. While wandering around the antique center, he told me how he missed performing at Frankie’s Blue Room in Naperville. Most cultural tastemakers would dismiss Frankie’s, probably best known for embracing the late ’90s swing dance movement. [I did see a Cate Brothers show at Frankie’s that drew about 20 people.] But Paul saw Frankie’s through a different prism. He saw Naperville as a city that was trying to break away from the long shadow of Chicago to create its own identity. Paul’s expressive soul finds good in all the dusty corners of the world. I’ve learned things from hanging around him and I’m proud to call him my friend. I wish him another 20 years of new music.

I may decide to follow the Milwaukee Brewers for the second half of this baseball season. I’ll leave the Cubs rants to my friend Roman, but I will share the pre-and-post game baseball secret that beats anything at Wrigley Field or The Cell. On Saturday, our time hanging out at the 4th Base, 5117 W. National (414-647-8509) before and after the game was more fun than the game itself.

The 4th Base has fine porterhouse steaks, Cajun shrimp, broccoli, linguini, etc. The food is outstanding. The bartenders are Wisconsin Friendly and the waitresses are flirtatious. The baseball decor is capped off by a faded 1973 Ernie Banks poster that hangs near the men’s room and the artifical leg from late Brewers manager Harvey Kuenn which hangs above the bar. The former Cubs catcher led the Brewers to the 1982 World Series. That team was known as “Harvey’s Wallbangers.” That World Series remains the only World Series I have ever seen.

After a pre-game meal at the 4th Base, my ritual is to walk through the park (and Veteran’s Hospital) across the street, taking the back door into Miller Park. I’ve been to 30 major league baseball parks and there is no finer experience than the 4th Base/park/ballgame trifecta. There’s a “Brewers Infield Nesting Doll” giveaway (with Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, etc) on Sunday July 30. It will be a good time to revisit Milwaukee and see a game that actually counts for something.

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