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"Is that a shame bell in your pocket or ...?"
Hot as a junked up canary at the City of Pittsburgh
I came. I saw. I TED-talked without TED-puking.
I only forgot one line of my talk (I think), and it was surprisingly an enjoyable experience, if I put aside the general sense of dread it created in me because I wasn’t sure if my brain could memorize an 11-minute speech. More than once I said to myself, “EVEN THE PRESIDENT OF THESE UNITED STATES GETS TO USE A TELEPROMPTER FOR THIRTY-SECOND REMARKS*.” But my brain came through. Now that it is done and I survived and might have even thrived a bit on that stage, I feel like a completely new person.
My favorite part of this TED event was the Pittsburghers with whom I shared the stage and spent meaningful time in the three hours leading up to the show. It really did feel like instant friendship. And it was so well organized, so shout-out to Chris Daley and his hardworking volunteer crew.
What was my speech about? I’ll give you the link once it is live, but if I had to title it, it would be, “How science helped change my brain and heal my self-hatred.” But we will see how they choose to title it.
Until then, let’s talk!
*Insert your own “Joe Biden is so old …” joke. BOOM! Politics!
1. Cut to: me walking down Grant St., ringing the shame bell
Let’s talk about litter! If you try to bloop-bloop-bloop past this, I will find where you live and throw fully grown groundhogs onto your lawn while shouting instructions to them like, “DO YOUR WORST!”
As you know, I have a real bee in my bonnet about litt-. Wait. Let me get out my old-timey slang thesaurus and grab a new idiom for you. Here we go: flea in the nose, cootie in the ear, yellow jackets in the drawers, hot as a junked up canary. Basically, in plain English, what I’m saying is that litter makes me mad as a flea on an iron dog.
One thing about the two kayak river cleanups I helped Tom Ross with is that the banks of our rivers are choked with large pieces of garbage that we could never hope to move without a boat or heavy equipment of some sort. I’m talking parts of cars. Furniture. Abandoned and destroyed rusting docks and ramps with dozens of tires tied to them, which eventually fall into the river.
Tom and I would often discuss not just who owns the land abutting those places, but, heck, WHO OWNS THE RIVER? We still don’t have a solid answer on that part, but please take a look at these pictures he posted from a recent cleanup at what was the Island Boat Club not too far from the Point on the Ohio:
Tom has filed complaints with the Pennsylvania DEP twice over this particular spot, hoping that it would be addressed and the refuse hauled away. That has obviously not happened, which begs the question … how can someone own the land here, and own the docks and ramps that have been destroyed and are just sitting there polluting the rivers, and not have any sort of fines levied against them? Do consequences for litter just not exist in the City of Pittsb-
Tom discovered, and this map seems to prove, that it is the City of Pittsburgh who owns the land, and the destroyed docks and all the litter that has accumulated there. And they’ve owned it for … nearly 30 years. And they have done nothing about it and they just let it sit there for decades and nothing will change because the government is a trash land owner who has no worries about being held accountable for their failure to maintain their properties.
If true, and it likely is based on Tom’s discussions with the DEP, I can’t tell you how angry it makes me because I’ve been pleading with the mayor and city council and county council to DO SOMETHING about litter and the state of our waters, and what I hear back is one of two things … crickets or promises, and here they are, themselves a part of the problem.
How gross. In every sense of the word. Sell me the land for $1 and I’ll clean it up myself if you’re just going to let it sit there and be an embarrassing eyesore. Do. Your. Jobs. Or get out of the way of those willing to do them for you.*
Stop talking the talk because now we know it doesn’t really mean anything. I ring the shame bell in your general direction.
And as the great Westley once said, may it “echo in your perfect ears.”
*If you, dear reader, are aware of a city, county, URA-owned property that if especially full of litter, please let me know where and, if possible, send pictures. I’m curious as to how bad the problem is.
2. This land is your land, this land is … a pit of despair
Let’s spin the “Wheel of Old-Timey Pittsburgh Insults” for the first time in a few editions, shall we?
And we land on … 1927! 1927, come on down! That’s the year the gasometer exploded and also the year a journalist dragged us for filth from the city proper all the way to Greensburg like a slow-moving train of literary sewage. What did Pittsburgh and the lands east look like in 1927? Here’s the skyline in 1929:
Jeanette in 1922:
Greensburg in 1910:
So that gives you a general idea. Now I take you to an essay written by journalist H.L. Mencken in 1927, titled, and you’re gonna wanna hold your butt for this … “The Libido for the Ugly.” HOLY BAND NAME, BATMAN. Like, I already have the merch being printed.
Mencken tells the story of a train ride through Pittsburgh on to Jeanette and past Greensburg. His general take: “Appalling desolation.” The steel towns he found “so dreadfully hideous, so intolerably bleak and forlorn that it reduced the whole aspiration of man to a macabre and depressing joke.”
Already with a huge flea up his nose and he is just getting started!
“I am not speaking of mere filth. One expects steel towns to be dirty. What I allude to is the unbroken and agonizing ugliness, the sheer revolting monstrousness, of every house in sight. From East Liberty to Greensburg, a distance of twenty-five miles, there was not one insight from the train that did not insult and lacerate the eye.”
The houses, he wrote, were so bad. How bad were they? They were so bad that …
“One blinked before them as one blinks before a man with his face shot away.”
He took extra offense at the houses in Westmoreland County being built with yellow brick instead of red, because that’s just something he pulled out of his Ass of Randomized Anger.
“But in Westmoreland they prefer that uremic yellow, and so they have the most loathsome towns and villages ever seen by mortal eye.”
Uremic yellow. Does Crayola still take suggestions for crayon names, you guys? Because I got a good one.
He goes on and on using phrases like “eczematous patches of paint” and “grotesqueries of ugliness” and “masterpieces of horror.” Excuse me while I Oprah-point all over the place because, you get a band name! You get a band name! Everybody gets a band naaaaaame!
This dude hated hated hated the entire swath of land from Pittsburgh to Greensburg, and every structure that dotted the spaces between. It filled him with rage beyond measure. If you’d like to read his whole screed, here you go. But put your boots on; it gets very very messy. So messy, in fact, that we need a palate cleanse.
In that spirit, I offer you this photo of Mayor Kline taken that very same year of 1927 …
And just like that, I have my Halloween costume for next year sorted. Children will run from me screaming in confused horror. Because that’s the true meaning of the season.
I wonder if I can make the dolls’ eyes cry tears of blood?
3. Best Burghy job ever?
Are you still holding on to your butt? Maintain your grip, my yinz, because look at this job listing …
The Pirates are looking for a new pierogi runner! First, yes, my relationship with the spelling of the word pierogi isn’t the best. We are in therapy to talk about my refusal to learn the proper singular and plural spellings. Regardless, the job description:
The Pierogies are the mascots that run the Great Pittsburgh Pierogy Race during every Pirates home game. In addition to running the race, The Pierogies also participate in appearances both at PNC Park and around the community.
Question: once you are a pierogy(i), are you always that pierogi? Like, if Jalapeño Hannah quit in a fit of diva-rage, whipping her giant purse at her manager before storming off all, “One day you’ll see! You’ll all see!” does the newly hired person get to be Jalapeño Hannah? Or does it rotate and one day you’re the Latina pepper queen and the next day you’re slumming it as Cheese Chester? I must know.
I kind of want to apply just so I can get the job and add the phrase “Responsible for the Chick-fil-A Cow appearances” to my resume. The only problem is the … running. I wonder how important that part is to performing the job of a foot racer. Like, would it be okay if one particular pierogi didn’t play by the rules and buzzed by the rest of the field in her black and gold golf cart, only occasionally running down a few of her opponents?
Think about it, Pirates.
Good luck to all who apply!
4. The best part of waking up, is the sinkhole bus on your cup
I’ve been setting aside an hour each day — my hourly schedule, you’ve seen it, right? — to research items for the 2023 Yinzer Holiday Gift Guide, and I’m really excited about this year’s list. So far, there are 18 products on it, but I still have a number to add. It might be my biggest edition ever! (As an aside, could you all please reach out to me with suggestions for products from local businesses owned by people from marginalized groups? I’d really appreciate it so that I can be sure I’m representing the full community of makers/businesses in Pittsburgh.)
I wanted to share one that didn’t make the list because I included the larger product line of these mugs last year, but this particular design is new and I absolutely love it. LOCALLY MADE SINKHOLE BUS MUG by Fort Pitt Clay Works!
These are on the pricey side for a mug ($34), but they are big (16 ounces), tapered to keep your drink hotter longer, and locally made featuring local art. Talk about a conversation piece at the office. Forget Christmas; I hope Pittsburghers never lose their childlike wide-eyed wonder at the magic of a bus falling into a spontaneously formed hole.
NOT AN AD!
5. A completely different kind of PPG
Yesterday was Halloween, so pretend that you are reading this yesterday. You there? Good.
Did you guys know that Pittsburgh has a “pumpkin guy”? I did not, or at least I don’t think I knew? But let’s be real; I shove so much information into my brain on a daily basis that lots of unimportant information sees the chaos and is like, “We outta here.”
The Pittsburgh Pumpkin Guy, Brendan Conaway, is to pumpkins what Cody Sabol is to canvas and it is FASCINATING.
This impresses me because one time I thought to be creative and make a whole face in a pumpkin and I cut a big hole in the front of it, not realizing that cutting a big hole in a pumpkin results in a pumpkin with a big hole and nothing but a big hole. I am so smart and my brain is magnificent.
Here’s him carving during this year’s Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkins Festival:
Look at the city skyline! That is so very cool. And not only that, he made a Steelers/T.J. Watt-themed pumpkin!
If I had posted last week, I totally would have told you to take his Carve n’ Sip class, but the last one for the year was this past weekend. Put it in your pocket for a fun date night next October! You can look at this as me either telling you something four days late, or 11 months early. Let’s go with the latter. You’re welcome.
Question: can I get myself to become known as the “Pittsburgh Pigeon-kicking Lady”? Should I make a website and offer demonstrations? Discuss.
Don’t email me, PETA. I swear to God I do not have time for your nonsense.
6. Random n’at
The sister bridges’ new lighting is STUNNING.
Pat McAfee found the most yinzer high school football ref in all of Yinzerdom:
My sister sent this video to the whole family and I responded with, “He sounds just like dad!” and my dad texted back, “I don’t say ‘dahn.’” Internet, I assure you the man has never said “down” in his whole life, much like he has never said tire, fire, shower, Cowher, or Ohiopyle.
An Atlanta man was kicked out of the most recent Steelers game at Acrisure because he was whipping people with a towel. Yes, yinzer, I too asked the question and so did the news media, and the answer is: “The criminal complaint did not specify if Bryant was swinging a Terrible Towel.” Only use the Terrible Towel for good, lest you be felled by a thousand curses. That is on the city shield, is it not?
REMINDER! My next event (other than book club visits) is also my final event of the year and it is my author talk at Carnegie Library in Squirrel Hill on December 6. No registration is required and the first 25 people who arrive will be given a free signed copy of my book! Details here. It’s only 45 minutes long, so make plans to come hang out with us and talk about my book!
My Pittsburgh History to WWII class for University of Pittsburgh-Osher Lifelong Learning Institute will likely be meeting in-person on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. starting January 30 for five weeks, followed by a second five-week session concluding on March 12. I’ll keep you posted regarding registration if you’d like to take the class and come away with a fun and informative overview of the major forces, events and people that shaped Pittsburgh in the years leading up to the start of World War II. As a note: I do not accept apples; only cookies.
7. That’s all!
Have a fantastic week! Be kind, you jags! Don’t litter, you trash pandas! Be sure to come see my band! Or maybe I’ll come see yours because we ALL have band names now thanks to H.L. Mencken’s Ass of Randomized Anger. Maybe we should start a music festival?
Did I just come up with the best idea ever?
See you next week, loves!