I remember when Stephanie first mentioned the Elvejhem Museum of Art. We were living in Kansas City but bored silly there, so we had decided that we were moving to Madison, Stephanie's adopted home town.

We bought a mail subscription to Madison's free weekly, Isthmus, and had Madison Metro mail us some bus maps, and we researched everything on-line about Madison. We talked about Madison on our couch in Kansas City — about things Stephanie liked about Madison, things she wanted to do again but this time with me, and things she'd never done in Madison but always wanted to. Proud to say, by the way, that all those things Steph had always wanted to do in Madison, we eventually did.

When Steph mentioned Elvejhem, I said What's that? 

"Elvejhem is the biggest museum in Madison," she explained, "but it's free and never snooty." It's part of the University of Wisconsin, and it's spelled kooky but Stephanie explained that it's easily pronounced — just say three letters, L V M. Hereafter, to spare the reader's eye, I'll refer to the museum as we always did, as LVM.

Months after she'd mentioned it, shortly after we'd moved to Madison and begun settling into this new apartment where I now live alone, the LVM was one of our very first cultural outings in Wisconsin.

And yup, as promised, the LVM was great. Parking is impossible but there's easy access by bus; the #6 runs two blocks from our apartment, and stops right at ELM's front door. There are acres of great art inside — sculptures and paintings for everyone to enjoy. It's free but never snooty; donations are encouraged, but not required. It's perfect for poor folks, and we were poor, but we always dropped a five or ten-dollar bill into the glass box.

I remember an early LVM visit during winter, when Stephanie and I had both worn heavy coats for the bus ride. We asked an employee or volunteer (I think 'docent' is the word, but it's not really in my vocabulary) if there was someplace we could stash our jackets, and the staffer showed us a secured closet area, with lots of coat hangers and some stowage boxes. It's a tiny area, probably the same as you'd find at any museum anywhere, but the coatrack allowed us to have a longer, more comfortable stroll through the building, and we sincerely appreciated it.

The LVM became one of our favorite places to be in Madison. We came for the art, maybe three or four times every year. We also came for old and odd movies, screened weekly at LVM as part of the adjacent Cinematheque's schedule, and also for some screenings that were part of the local film festival.

It's not the Elvejhem Museum of Art any more, though. In 2005, the LVM received an enormous endowment from some rich bastard named Chazen, and suddenly it became the Chazen Museum of Art. Stephanie and I agreed that this was tacky and tasteless, and I'll tell you why, as if it isn't instantly obvious.

With a few clicks on Google, I'm informed that the museum was originally named in honor of Conrad Elvehjem, "13th president of the University and an internationally known biochemist in nutrition." He's the guy who discovered niacin, alias Vitamin B3. He's the guy who figured out how to cure "black tongue," an icky disease for dogs.

Well, step aside, Prof Elvehjem, because the museum is now named for Jerome Chazen, co-founder of Liz Claiborne Inc. He bought the museum's name for $20-million, and his money funded a second building that doubled the museum's size, so we are indeed appreciative. But I'm speaking with Stephanie when I say, we're uncomfortable with the notion that wealthy people can purchase the name of a public institution. Much as we always loved the place, it was always the LVM to us, and it still is.

Beyond LVM itself, we often walked the LVM's neighborhood. The University of Wisconsin campus starts right behind the museum, and it's beautiful when it's filled with chatty young students, and even more beautiful when it's not.

We loved the Eastside neighborhood where we lived, of course; it's quiet and vaguely multi-cultural, easy walking distance to a library, a café, a Walgreens and a Burger King.

And we loved the State Street neighborhood, full of cool shops and restaurants — all boarded up now, in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests, peaceful by day but marred by vandals and looters at night.

After our neighborhood and State Street, I'd say the LVM neighborhood was our third favorite part of Madison. Let's walk the neighborhood right now, shall we?

Directly adjacent to the museum is the George Moss Building, a/k/a the University's Humanities Dept, which is widely and rightly derided as the ugliest big building in town. Constructed in the 1960s in the "Brutalist" architectural style, it looks like a bomb shelter or a military bunker more than a place of learning. But for Stephanie, it had been a place of learning — she attended classes there, when she was a student at UW, a few years before meeting me. And together we went to several speeches/lectures inside that creepy old building, so I guess it was educational for both of us.

There used to be a skybridge across University Avenue, stretching from the Humanities Dept to some more classrooms across the street. They tore down the skybridge several years ago, presumably as punishment for its ugliness or perhaps it was structurally unsound. Whatever the reason, we always liked the skybridge and missed it after it was gone.

I'm not sure what this building across the street is called, at the other side of the missing skybridge. It's concrete and brutalist, but not as ugly as the Humanities Building. It has classrooms and a vast open-air patio, and it houses the main offices of WHA, the local PBS TV and NPR radio affiliate.

On the second floor of this building, you'll find Cinematheque's main auditorium, a big circular theater where Stephanie had attended film classes. Together we saw countless classic movies there, and attended maybe a dozen film festival screenings.

Cinematheque, sigh. Many happy memories there. I know exactly the seats where we usually sat before Stephanie was disabled, and the seat where I sat, next to Steph in her wheelchair, after she wasn't walking.

Great place, great people, but I've attended zero times since Stephanie died. It's closed now, of course — coronavirus concerns — but even when it's open it'll be a long, long time before I go back. Returning will be, I expect, heartbreaking all over again.

I'll insert an unpleasant memory here, about a few less than splendid nights a Cinematheque, though the problems weren'y their fault. The theater is upstairs from street level, and after Steph was disabled, we found that after dusk they routinely locked the doors to the elevator area. This means we had no trouble getting to the elevators when we arrived, and riding up to see a movie, but by the time the movie was over, elevator access was locked off.

You can't take a wheelchair down a flight of stairs, so I had to abandon Stephanie, leave her alone in her wheelchair, locked outside in an open-air concrete concourse.

I ran down the outside stairs, and tried to find a way into the elevator area. It took several minutes, but I found a weakly-locked door I could force open with a painful shoulder-shove. This may have broken the lock; I'm not sure, didn't care then and don't care now. Once inside the building, I ran up the indoor stairs, opened the door where Steph was waiting outside, and brought her into the building and onto the elevator.

Steph was frustrated, but not angry. She was a very patient lady. I was angry, though. We called someone at the University the next day, and they promised that they would change the door-locking schedule so this would never happen again.

It happened again. We attended another film a few weeks later, but we were smarter and didn't loiter so long in the theater after the film, so there was still a staffer nearby. He were very apologetic and helpful, and found someone to unlock the door for us.

But we still filed a complaint, this time in writing, and sent it to the University's Buildings & Grounds staff, who replied promptly and nicely, and promised this would never happen again. We were only locked out of the elevators at Cinematheque once more, and that was a couple of years later.

Let me insert the obvious here, just as an aside: If you've never been disabled, or never been friends with someone who got around in a wheelchair, guess what? It ain't easy.

It's much, much easier than it was before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which mandates that all public buildings must be wheelchair-accessible, but "much, much easier" isn't the same as "easy." Steph's access to different buildings was blocked several times, and we developed the precautionary habit of always calling ahead and inquiring about access, whenever we planned to visit any public facility built before 1990, when the ADA became law.

Across the street from the museum, and next door to Cinematheque, is the University Theater, where we once saw a very good play (title and plot completely forgotten). Another time, we attended a lecture about the Watergate scandal — a huge outrage when it happened, dwarfed to almost insignificance by present-day political corruption.

Much of the magic of Madison, for Stephanie and me, happened in this neighborhood, inside the LVM, the Mosse Building, the Cinematheque, the University Theater, and the University itself. And here's another perhaps odd but pleasant memory from the area:

Prior to Stephanie's disability, parking near the LVM was such a hassle that we always took the bus. There's no free parking within walking distance, and the nearest pay-lot is a block away and usually full. But in front of the Humanities Horror, there are three, maybe four no-cost disabled-only parking spaces along the sidewalk.

What an absolute godsend. Sometimes we took the last of those disabled parking spots, but never did we find them all taken. Very, very much appreciated. There's no way we would've come to LVM nearly as often, or all the other things nearby, no way we could have had as many wonderful times after Stephanie's disability, if we'd had to take the bus, or hope and fight for a parking space.

When Stephanie was feeling particularly blue, a visit to the LVM always lifted her spirits. Mine too, of course — you couldn't lift Stephanie's spirits without lifting mine, and vice versa. And it's fabulous that we could visit LVM so easily, when Steph was in her chair. Honestly, I think we visited the museum more often after she had her leg amputated, than before.

I especially remember once, after Steph was in her wheelchair, when she was taking some ghastly prescription that made her feel weak and weary. She wanted to visit LVM for a jolt of optimism, but she knew she didn't have the strength to see it all. The solution? We spent Saturday afternoon walking the LVM's old building, and came back on Sunday to walk through LVM's new building. That was a fabulous weekend.

I visited LVM alone a few months ago, just before they closed it for COVID-19. I was feeling blue, and needed to have my spirits lifted. So i strolled the artworks, including some permanent exhibits — the same artworks Stephane and I had admired, in the same buildings, during our many visits over many years. LVMing without her was weird and painful, but it had to be done, and just like when she was alive, we both felt better afterwards.

I must have looked like a total art connoisseur, though, staring at the same painting for twenty minutes and crying, and then moving on to another artwork, staring and crying. Spoiler: I am not a total art connoisseur.

So I'd like to say thanks again to LVM, to their outstanding, always friendly staff and presumably smart management. I left twenty bucks in the new improved glass donations box. Thanks, LVM, for making disabled access easy. Thanks, LVM, for being "free and never snooty," as Steph told me so many years ago, and for giving us so many happy memories, Stephanie's and mine.