story by Jason Hart, photo by Renato Umali

The Jody Monroe gallery was packed with people wearing suits and dresses, anticipation was high, and the conversation buzzed with speculation as the fifth annual Umali awards began July 22 on Center Street in Riverwest. Renato Umali, a Milwaukee-based artist, musician, and self-described obsessivecompulsive record keeper, started the awards as a way of sharing the data he tracks about his life with his friends.

Said Umali about why he does the Umalis every year: “I keep stats on a lot of details of my life. When I started to include statistics regarding my social life, I wanted to share it in a very social way, as opposed to just displaying the data on a website, which I had done previously. Since the community and my interaction with it was generating the data, a presentation to the community would be an appropriate way to reveal the data.”

The Umalis are as much performance art as they are actual awards. Umali starts off with a speech, but then hands the podium over to presenters who read scripts written by him. The presenters share personal information about Umali’s life with the attendees, most of them friends, some strangers. Mundane details, like how Umali prefers to eat his eggs, take on magnified scope, and the audience roots out loud for their picks in categories such as “Best Day.” “The Umali Awards re-position my daily living as a kind of performance,” says Umali. Perhaps the most coveted of all awards is the Most DIWITTYs. Every day during which you converse with Umali earns you a DIWITTY, which stands for “Day in which I talked to you”. The top ten DIWITTY earners for the year receive an award. There is a fierce competition, but Sarah Buccheri, Umali’s best friend and four-time DIWITTY winner, was heavily favored to win again.

Detailed numerical statistics accompany each award, attesting to the meticulous record keeping Umali does of his life. To explain why Umali’s egg consumption had gone down, the audience was shown a graph that correlated the reduction with Umali’s interaction with known vegans.

This being the fifth annual awards, a video recap of each winner in each category was shown before the current winner was announced. Now, without further ado, on to the awards:

How I like my eggs

Nominated: Fried with rice, Omelet, Scrambled.

Winner: Fried with rice. The heavy favorite, 43% of all eggs consumed by Umali in 2005 were fried with rice. In 2005, Umali consumed 114 eggs, an all-time low. This was explained as having to do with his increased association with known vegans.

Most Consumed Beer

Nominated: Bitburger, Lakefront White, Miller High Life, Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Winner: Lakefront White. Its victory ensured by availability as a tap beer at Falcon Bowl, Lakefront White edged out previous two-time winner Pabst Blue Ribbon. Leinenkugel’s, also a two time winner, was not even nominated this year.

Most Frequented Restaurant

Nominated: Campus Crossroads at Marquette University, Chins Asia Fresh, Falcon Bowl, Riverwest Co-op Café.

Winner: Riverwest Co-op Café. Controversy erupted as Falcon Bowl was announced as a nominee, as many in attendance did not consider it to be a restaurant, merely a bar that serves frozen pizza. The victory of the Coop Café abated this dissent, and acceptance speeches recorded on Umali’s answering machine by Co-op staff were played to great applause.

Best Dining Out Experience

Nominated: Chin’s Asia Fresh (Milwaukee), Deux Gros Nez (Reno, NV), Lao Laan Xang (Washington, D.C.), Cempazuchi (Milwaukee).

Winner: Lao Laan Xang. Chin’s Asia Fresh was widely booed as its nomination was announced. As if to preemptively answer the jeers of the crowd, the presenter explained that July 24, 2005 (the date of the nominated visit) was one of the hottest of a hot summer in Milwaukee. Umali sought refuge in the airconditioned climate of Chin’s, where he wrote of his food: “Bowl seemed more full than usual; more peanuts, definitely.” Despite this capacious bounty, Lao Laan Xang proved the winner in the end.

Most Famous Person Talked To

Nominated: Mark Borchardt (star of American Movie), Marvin Pratt (former acting Mayor of Milwaukee), Sea Stachura (former producer at WUWM, now reporter for Minnesota Public Radio).

Winner: Mark Borchardt. Borchardt, the obvious favorite, was in attendance with fellow American Movie stars Mike Schank and Ken Keen, and accepted the award in person. Loud cheers greeted his arrival at the podium. “You’re a great man, Renato. This is great,” said Borchardt as he snapped pictures of himself and the crowd.

Former winners in this category have been all-star slugger Rod Carew, former Bikini Kill lead singer and current member of Le Tigré Kathleen Hanna, 1997 Scrabble world champion Joel Sherman, and The Clash guitarist and singer Mick Jones.

Best Day of the Year

Nominated: June 24 (Performance of “The Professor” at Darling Hall), July 16 (fourth annual Umali awards), November 19 (The day that Umali went on a bike ride with a friend, and Sarah Buccheri’s birthday), December 5 (Umali wins in the first round playoffs of Madden Mondays at the River Horse).

Winner: November 19. All very good days, we were assured, but November 19 edged out the others.


Finally we come to the most brightly glittering of all Umalis, the DIWITTY. Many in attendance hoped to place, but only ten would make the cut. The ten top DIWITTY earners for 2005 were:

10. Carl Bergner 62 (tie)
10. Didier Leplae 62 (tie)
9. Steve Kerwin 63
8. Andi Krejei 69
7. John Myers 72
6. Shelly McClone 83
5. Eric Ziegewied 84
4. Thomas Foley 86
3. Steve Wetzel 120
2. Seth Goodman 277
1. Sarah Buccheri 288

Sarah Buccheri accepted the award with tears in her eyes and a smile on her face. Said Umali, “If there is a better friendship between a boy and a girl, I’ve never seen it.”

Riverwest Currents online edition – August, 2006