Tube City Online

Filed Under: default || By jt3y

July 30, 2004 | Link to this story

Does This Look Like $64K to You?

Category: default || By jt3y

Actually, it should look like $63,900, plus various closing costs and fees, but who's counting?

Well, besides the bank.

The important thing, of course, is that it looked like $63,900 to the appraisers, even though it was assessed at slightly less; no doubt the solicitors for the school district and local municipal government are already licking their chops, ready to pounce as soon as the sale clears the county courthouse. (Like most predators, they can smell blood from miles away.)

I can't wait until the assessment goes up; I plan to hitch my pants up around my armpits, write out my remarks on a piece of torn-up notebook paper, and deliver them in a trembling voice at the next school board meeting: "I don't have any kids in school! Why should I have to pay school taxes! These lousy teacher unions! Why back in my day, teachers worked for two chickens and three scoops of coal a month, and they liked it! And why do these kids need teachers, anyway!" Etc.

So, in short, as of noon Thursday, I am officially a Home Owner. Or, more accurate, a mortgaged home user for the next 30 years. In 30 years, when I'll be ... erp. Never mind.

I apologize for the lack of updates yesterday; I actually tried to log on once, but couldn't get a connection from the company that provides my dial-up service (I think it's Can & String Telecom Inc.), and was so busy that I didn't try again.

I could do a "tick-tock" on the whole day, but my hands are still tired from signing paper after paper after paper, and frankly, it's not that interesting. Early morning walk-through at the house, run to the bank, run to the real-estate agent's office for the closing, run back to the house, go inspect some furniture, etc., etc., etc. In between I found time to go to the florist, the funeral home, and an assisted living facility to visit an old friend. I took a day off of work, naturally; frankly, I'll be happy to go back to work (I need the rest, haw haw haw).

There are crazies in the world, so I'm not going to say exactly where the house is; it's in the Mon-Yough area, though not actually in Our Fair City. (You'll be able to find out in few days from the Recorder of Deeds office, of course.) I can see Our Fair City from the house, however. Suffice to say I wanted to move a little closer to where I work, and buying in Our Fair City would have added significantly to my commute.

Being a natural-born klutz, it only makes sense that I've already sustained my first injury in the new house. Let the record show that it happened at 12:55 p.m. yesterday; a friend took me to lunch after the closing, and then I took him on a quick tour.

The kitchen range is one of those older Tappan jobs with chrome eyelets on the cooktop where you can inspect the pilot lights. My friend said, "Hmm. Your pilot light is out."

"Really?" I said, and set my middle finger down on the eyelet --- neatly burning a perfectly round circle into my fingertip and letting loose a stream of profanity (my first stream of profanity in the new house!).

"I meant the other pilot light, dumbass," my friend said. "You do know there are two pilot lights, right?"

Uh, sure ... I knew that. Luckily the previous owner had left some ice cubes in the freezer (along with something that I truly hope he was planning to feed to his dogs).

The fellow from whom I bought the house was a nice guy; he almost forgot his fishing tackle but retrieved it during the final walk-through. I noticed that he didn't take down a large picture of The Three Stooges that was hanging in the bedroom.

"Do you want your Stooges back?" I asked at closing.

"Nah, they're for you," he said. "For good luck."

"Besides," he added after a beat, "my girlfriend will kill me if I take them to the new place. She was tired of the Three Stooges staring at her."

This weekend looks to be a busy one. The house is in pretty good shape, but needs a thorough cleaning --- you'd be surprised what might be lurking under your couch, especially if you have light-colored deep-pile carpets --- so the shop vac will get a workout. And I'll need to find a carpet shampooer.

Then it will be time to start moving my years of assorted detritus --- some of which is still packed up from the last move --- into the new house. And buying some freaking furniture, unless I plan to sleep on the floor.

A few quick questions for the crowd: I had to have a certified check for the closing costs. From what I could tell, getting my check certified involved having the local bank teller call the home office, her asking if there was enough money to cover the check, and then stamping my check with the word "CERTIFIED."

And then they charged me $20. Just how expensive is one of those stamps?

Another question: The municipality has two separate wage tax collectors --- one for the town, and one for the school district. Combined with the current municipality where I live, I'll get to fill out three local wage tax forms next April. Plus, I'll have to send quarterly payments to two different agencies. Could they make the process a little more aggravating?

Well, it looks like my weekends, and evenings, just got a little more busy, so don't be too disappointed if Almanac entries get somewhat shorter for the time being. I guess this is a good time for me to start looking for more freelance work, too --- that first mortgage payment is already looming.

Someone remind me again: What's so great about being responsible, anyway?

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July 29, 2004 | Link to this story

No Almanac Today

Category: default || By jt3y

Due to circumstances well within our control, but which we chose to do nothing about, there was no Almanac today.

Those responsible have been sacked.

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July 28, 2004 | Link to this story

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Category: default || By jt3y

I've gotten put on some bizarre email lists lately. For a long time, I was getting LaRouchie mailings; I administered several severe beatdowns to the person who was sending them, and they seem to have stopped. (Maybe telling them that I was a member of the Trilateral Commission and a close personal friend of Queen Elizabeth II did the trick.)

I keep trying to get off of the mailing list of the Ayn Rand Institute --- boy, are they barking up the wrong tree --- but without success so far. I'm content now to filter their emails directly into the trash.

Recently, some bright PR whiz emailed to ask if Tube City Almanac wanted a review copy of his client's new book. Um, you realize this isn't a real newspaper, right? That would seem to be painfully obvious. If you're still interested in sending free books to me, I'll take 'em: P.O. Box 94, McKeesport 15134. (I need new stuffing for the seats in the Diplomat, anyway.)

Occasionally, I actually get an emailed press release that's actually relevant (perish the thought) to the Mon-Yough area. I got one overnight from Greenpeace; apparently, the Greenpeacers staged a protest this morning at the old Duquesne Light power plant (now owned by Orion) in Elrama:

Highlighting the deadly impacts of coal-fired power plant emissions on the residents of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan region, Greenpeace today installed 3-foot crosses for every one of the 563 people who die prematurely from power plant pollution every year. The crosses were installed in the Elrama Little League baseball field, just across the fence line from the Elrama power plant. The installation was the first stop on a Greenpeace tour of some of the area's dirtiest power plants.

It's a wonder they didn't have freakin' heart attacks on the way to Elrama, assuming they had to drive through the stench at the chemical plant in West Elizabeth. I would think the odor near the Shop 'n Go would be an environmentalist's nightmare. But the Greenpeace press release continues:

"Each cross on the Elrama ball field represents a life cut short by power plant pollution," said Chris Miller, Greenpeace Clean Energy Now! Campaigner. "These deaths could have been prevented by moving away from dirty power plants like Elrama and investing in clean energy like wind and solar, which have no negative health impacts and emit no global warming pollution."

There's more, but I'll chop it off to interject a comment: Hey, Chris? Have you ever spent any time in Western Pennsylvania? Wind and solar? Lately, it's been raining so much that I'm growing webbed feet. The attendants at the parking lot I use are tying life preservers to the cars. Suggesting that Western Pennsylvania should convert to wind and solar power is worse than ignorant; it's lunacy.

And what's the real motivation of this morning's stunt (which I haven't been able to independently confirm):

Instead of prioritizing investment in pollution-free renewable energy, the Bush administration has systematically weakened clean air laws by allowing coal-fired power plants to continue to release tons of pollutants into our air and waterways.

Oh, that's right, it's an election year.

You know one technology that generates lots of electricity and creates virtually no air or water pollution at the power plant? Nuclear energy.

Here's Greenpeace's stand on that:

Safe nuclear power is a myth. Greenpeace is campaigning to end nuclear power, reprocessing and waste dumping.

Tell that to the Canadians and the French, who have been operating safe nuclear power plants for 30 years. But I see where you're going with this: Nuclear power is bad. Coal fired power is bad. Wind is good, according to you (well, wind isn't so good if you're a migratory bird) but we know that wind turbines won't generate enough power in, say, the Mon Valley to replace the Elrama power plant. Also, good luck trying to get a wind turbine farm past your local township zoning board ("You want to build 100 whats?" "No, watts! Ha ha!").

Solar power is good, according to you, but you don't want anyone to build disposal plants to get rid of cadmium, mercury and arsenic, all of which are byproducts of making solar cells. Oh, and even the dimmest light in the Greenpeace cluster should realize that solar cells are almost useless in Western Pennsylvania for days or weeks at a time.

And that leaves us with what, exactly? Bicycle power? I'm sure Greenpeace's PR people were pedaling frantically to churn out those emails this morning.

They're peddling something, all right. It's hypocrisy. Everyone wants the conveniences of modern life --- cheap electricity, sanitary food containers, quick transportation, cellular phones --- but no one wants to accept that we need chemical plants to make the plastic for the cell phones, and the cell phones need cell phone towers, and the towers need electricity from the power plants ... the list goes on and on.

Come to think of it, boy, I sure hope that Greenpeace's PR people weren't using cell phones and laptops this morning --- they rely on nickel-cadmium batteries, and everyone knows how dangerous heavy metals are.

I'm not endorsing air pollution by any means. The Elrama plant is a fairly notorious offender, according to people who live nearby. For a while, its owners were paying $3,000 per month in fines because the air pollution control equipment that was supposed to be operating there hasn't been working. But it's not enough to just bash something without proposing any workable solution.

In any event, I should be grateful to Greenpeace for giving me something to write about this morning. Otherwise, I'd be stuck blabbering about Teresa Heinz Kerry again, and Lord knows, nobody wants that.

Oh, and I guess I can expect the next Greenpeace press release to be sent to me at about the same time hell freezes over (no doubt as a result of global climate change).

Story Update: The arson investigation that has targeted several young volunteer firefighters in the Mon-Yough area is getting worse and worse. Five volunteers, including two from Citizen's Hose Co. No. 1 in Glassport, have now been charged with multiple counts of arson and related crimes.

Citizen's Chief Wayne Lewis told Brandy Brubaker of The Daily News that firefighters themselves were victimized: "Many of our firefighters have dedicated a lifetime of work to uphold the image of a firefighter."

Indeed, although no one was killed during any of the alleged arsons, one Glassport firefighter was seriously injured fighting one of the blazes, according to Brubaker. And two of the people charged with arson are also accused of stealing fire department equipment and selling it at the flea market.

Lewis put it best in the News: He said he feels betrayed.

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July 27, 2004 | Link to this story

‘Saint Teresa’? Sez Who?

Category: default || By jt3y

Copeland has a provocative take on the Washington Post's profile of Teresa Heinz Kerry:

Please don't mistake this as a partisan post. ... This is, frankly, more of an indictment of the Washington Post, which in at least three articles over the past 12 months has bought fully into the "new" Pittsburgh myth. The laziness of reporters at one of the country's top newspapers, their inability to scratch beneath the surface and the stack of brochures presented by the Chamber of Commerce upon their arrival, and their inability to find any contrarian sources is appalling.

I happen to be a big Post fan --- I buy it almost every Sunday --- but I agree.

It's always interesting to see the way media outlets report on stories of which you have personal knowledge, and I'm astonished at how often the national media and TV news get it wrong. They do too little preparation and too little background research; they dive into stories with preconceived conclusions and work backward to the questions.

To some extent, I blame editors who assign stories based on their own biases, and then order reporters to go out and confirm their biases. Reporters share the blame for not standing up to their bosses and saying "no" --- but then again, good reporting jobs aren't easy to get, and we all need to eat.

In any event, is it any wonder that people don't trust the media?

Take some of the other stories about Teresa Heinz Kerry, particularly in light of her flippantly dismissing questions from the Tribune-Review's editorial page editor, Colin McNickle, with a brusque "shove it." Here's USA Today, weighing in with a lengthy profile (especially by USA Hooray standards):

After Heinz's death, his widow declined Republican offers to run for her husband's Senate seat. Instead, she devoted most of her energy to philanthropy, using the family foundations to support several environmental and educational programs. In western Pennsylvania, it's often said that she is known as "Saint Teresa."

Who in the name of Adlai Blessed Stevenson has been calling Teresa Heinz Kerry "Saint Teresa," besides Mayor Smurphy? I searched three computer databases for all of the stories about Teresa Heinz Kerry that have run in the past five years, and the only person I can find calling her "Saint Teresa" is Hizzoner da Mahr of Picksburg, who used the phrase in a 2002 Washington Post profile. His quote was picked up by several subsequent profiles, and reused without attribution.

(By the way: Having interviewed the Mahr on a few occasions, and spoken to him informally on other occasions, I have a strong feeling he called her "Saint Teresa" in jest, not literally.)

But to USA Hooray, which no doubt searched the same databases that I did, that one reference was enough to conclude that in "Western Pennsylvania" she's "often" referred to as "Saint Teresa." It says here in Tube City Almanac that's bull.

None of this is to belittle the Heinz family's contributions, or Teresa Heinz Kerry's guidance of those foundations over the past few years --- it's just to say that no one is actually calling her "Saint Teresa." It's fiction.

Besides, I can't imagine she wants to be viewed as a living saint, either. Who needs the pressure? All the posing for prayer cards and bumping your halo on door frames ... to heck with it! Personally, I much prefer mortals --- even those who tell journalists to "shove it."

Oh, and I've finally seen the video of the "shove it" incident, and read the transcript of Teresa Heinz Kerry's remarks beforehand. She clearly used the term "un-American," and then denied it a few minutes later when McNickle (politely) pressed her for an explanation.

Apparently the Clinton years taught these folks nothing; they cast the bullets and then get mad when people shoot them back at them.

Elsewhere, municipal mergers have been the topic of much conversation in Western Pennsylvania. Not much action, but a lot of conversation.

Over near Johnstown, two boroughs merged into a new municipality called Northern Cambria five years ago, and some people are still crying and moaning, according to the Tribune-Democrat:

(To) municipalities considering consolidation, Northern Cambria's problems leave them befuddled over what a merger would mean to them. "The Northern Cambria experience set back consolidation efforts by 20 years," said Bruce Brunett, who opposes the proposed merger of Portage township and borough.

"We look at discontent in Northern Cambria and say, 'Hey, we don't want something like this,' " he added in a telephone interview from his Ebensburg business.

But county and state officials said the Northern Cambria consolidation was for the best. "There is a mindset of parochialism around here," said Ron Budash, executive director of the Cambria County Industrial Authority. "The problem in Northern Cambria is that they're still playing the Spangler-Barnesboro baseball games every weekend."

According to the T-D, the main critic of the Northern Cambria merger is upset because the county promised to build a recreation center there --- it never happened --- and closed a branch library. Neither of those problems were the fault of the merger, so why doesn't he blame the county?

Other people in one of the former boroughs are ticked off because they have to pay for new water lines for their old rivals --- which again gets back to that old governmental principle of ubi est mea: "Where's mine?"

One borough worker summed it up best for the T-D (anonymously, of course): "The outspoken people now are the ones who are totally bitter because they lost their plum of a small piece of power, like a seat on a government body. ... They are going to Johnstown and Portage meetings and stirring the waters against consolidation because they are bitter."

Ain't human nature grand?

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July 26, 2004 | Link to this story

What and Where, Mrs. Kerry?

Category: default || By jt3y

Gee, Mrs. Kerry: Are you petulant much? From Reuters:

Minutes after telling her husband's supporters to restore a more dignified tone to politics, Teresa Heinz Kerry told a reporter to "shove it."

No one expects her to behave like Mamie Eisenhower, but we don't expect Roseanne Barr, either.

The story was leading the national news at 7 a.m., at least on stations that carry AP Radio (I was listening to WMBS). I have a feeling it will be the topic of much gleeful discussion on O'Reilly and Scarborough, and possibly "The Daily Show." Surely it's a one- or two-day story at best, but it was a Dumb Move with a capital "D" for our Hometown Girl.

And then came this statement from the Yawn Kerry campaign: "It was a moment of extreme frustration aimed at a right wing rag that has consistently and almost purposefully misrepresented the facts when reporting on Mrs. Heinz Kerry."

Oh, well, at least it's all clear now.

What the heck is wrong with these folks? Instead of letting this thing die, you're piling some insult onto the injuries by engaging in name-calling of the type you profess to hate.

Who's advising her on PR? Dick Cheney? (No, I guess not. He wouldn't have stopped at "shove it.")

Teresa Heinz Kerry was the subject of a fairly positive profile in Sunday's Washington Post, which also included a large nighttime photo of the Downtown Picksburg skyline by the P-G's Darrell Sapp.

Of course, the story was filled with exaggerated platitudes that will make most people from Western Pennsylvania shake their heads: "Once so grimy and gray, Pittsburgh now glistens by day and glitters by night, its spectacular skyline reflected in the water," writes the Post's Ann Gerhart.

Um, Ann? Where have you been? The first Pittsburgh "Renaissance" happened in the 1950s and '60s; if any foundations deserve the credit, it's the Mellon foundations, not the Heinz endowments. That's not to say the Heinzes haven't been proactive in philanthropy, but let's at least be accurate.

Anyway, I don't know if the "shove it" cancels out the kind of warm fuzzies that Teresa Heinz Kerry got from the Post, but it doesn't help, I'd guess.

In other news, the McKeesport Heritage Center is hosting an exhibit of historic front pages and memorabilia from The Daily News, which is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. Call 412-678-1832 or visit our heritage center Web page for the address and hours.

Househunting tips: I didn't buy my house through a Coldwell Banker agent, but the company's Web site,, is exceptionally useful.

It allows you to search by properties via ZIP codes, price ranges or municipality names, and even returns the West Penn Multi-List number for each home. The downside is that it's not always up-to-date; over the past few months, I've spotted several homes in which I was interested on PittsburghMoves and sent the Multi-List number to my agent, only to find out that the house was already sold.

Also: Many companies that once wrote homeowner's insurance no longer do so, according to the insurance agent I just used, and this article from Macleans tends to bear out his comments. (It quotes Canadian homeowners, but the one company mentioned by name is AIG, which is American.)

Some companies are being much stricter about who they will insure, or won't insure, and why, according to Macleans, and some companies are cancelling policies for homeowners who have made as few as two claims. In fact, just calling to inquire about your level of coverage can count as a claim, the magazine says.

You can get more information about homeowners insurance from the Federal Consumer Information Center (yes, the one in "Pueblo, Colo., 81009"), and from the Pennsylvania State Insurance Commissioner.

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July 23, 2004 | Link to this story

Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Technology

Category: default || By jt3y

Housekeeping Notes: Well, I'm using Movable Type to update the Almanac again. Regular readers (those who eat a lot of fiber) will recall that Movable Type went toes-up in June during a server crash at Dementia World Headquarters. It's been live again for a while, but in the meantime, I so thoroughly screwed up the computer code behind this Web page that I couldn't get MT working again.

What does all this mean? Well, the Almanac has looked fairly lousy lately, especially in Internet Explorer. I apologize for that. The comments feature is active again, but now I need to find a way to re-import all of the archived entries, which will be a royal pain. Until that's complete, you won't be able to find anything older than a month or two.


Several people have had kind things to say about the Almanac on their own Web pages, which I truly appreciate, and I also appreciate all of the nice emails I've gotten lately. Many of them are reprinted and answered here, but there are other folks who have asked that I not use their names, so I won't.

If you're just joining us, this is not really a "blog" in the sense that blogs are usually collections of links with some personal information and commentary. For the most part, I don't like to write about myself, and since launching this little endeavor, the entries have gotten longer and longer. (Diarrhea of the typing fingers and constipation of the brain? Perhaps.)

Rather than a "blog," this is more like an old-fashioned small town newspaper column. My earliest influences as a writer were Joe Browne and Peter Leo at the Post-Gazette, so that's not surprising.

And hopefully, that's the last Almanac entry I'll write about writing for a long, long time.


This isn't the only regularly updated feature on the server, by the way. Alycia Brashear, also known as "Stunt Violist," is Picking My Brain. She and some other Web writers have been added to the Tube City Online Virtual Library.


Not My Desk, Chris Livingston's sometimes painfully funny accounts of working for temporary agencies, is again being updated after a long hiatus. Livingston also has a blog now.


L.A.'s Rip Rense has another installment of Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity, or LTSEWH:

I had drunk a good deal of tea and water. I was walking. This is not a good combination, in this, the era of the "customer only" bathroom. But when you gotta go ...

"Excuse me," I said, smiling, "Do you have a men's room?"

The woman behind the counter of the Arco gas station/mini-mart/hot dog stand/cosmetic surgery salon did not smile back. She did speak, though, which was a step in the right direction, and here is exactly what she said: "Customer only."

She was not from this country. Come to think of it, neither am I. I come from a country where business operators smile and say, "yes, sir, first door on your right." I don't know where that country went, but it sure as hell is gone.

There's much, much more, believe me. Rense does righteous indignation like few other people.


I've been responsible for a few LTSEWH myself, sad to say. They weren't malignant, at least, but they did nicely illustrate my cluelessness. Pardon me if this is better suited to Our Sunday Visitor or the Catholic Digest; feel free to skip to the end if that makes you queasy.

A quick explanation is in order for my Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and agnostic readers: During Catholic Masses, there's a moment called the "sign of peace," when worshippers typically shake hands or make some other gesture of peace with the people around them. (Then after Mass, they race one another from the parking lot and swear at the people who cut them off, but that's another story.)

A few Sundays ago, the priest paused for the sign of peace. I turned to the person on my left and shook hands, turned to the person over my left shoulder and shook hands, turned to the person on my right and shook hands, and then turned to the person over my right shoulder and held out my hand to her.

She gave me the strangest look, but held out her hand and said, "Peace be with you."

And as I took her hand, I realized that she was the same person whom I had just shaken hands with over my left shoulder. I obviously hadn't been paying attention at all. "Oh, I'm sorry," I said softly, but that wasn't really the right answer. What was I sorry for? Shaking her hand? Wishing her peace?

But I wasn't done yet. Communion was but a few minutes away. I followed an older couple out of the pew, up the aisle to the altar, took Communion, and followed the older couple back to their seats.

About halfway up the pew I thought: "What happened to my coat and hat?"

Once again, I hadn't been paying attention. They were trying to avoid crawling over people who hadn't gone to Communion and cut through an empty pew --- not our pew. Now I was stuck crawling over them as they sat down. There may have been a more graceful way to do it, but though I was in church, I've never been what you'd call full of grace.

Full of something, but it ain't grace.


I was walking down the street the other day when, from the corner of my eye, I saw a girl of 18 or 19 trying to hail passersby. I averted my glance but she spotted me and bored in. "Sir? Sir?"

Her voice followed me. She was following me down the sidewalk, a few steps back. I sighed, sure I was about to be proselytized, polled, or provoked, and turned around. "Yes?" I said, probably fairly impatiently.

She gave me a big cheesy grin. "Hi!" she said, waving.

I stopped. "What's up?" I said.

"Nothing. Just, hi!" In the background I could see several other girls giggling. I have a strong feeling this was a sorority stunt, or just the kind of goofy thing that people do when they get together and goad each other on. ("Let's see if we can get people to say hi to us!")

It didn't matter what their intentions were. I laughed and said, "Hi to you, too!"

To the girl who said "hi," wherever and whoever you are, I just want you to know that I whistled all the way back to work. You made my day. Call that an SEWH --- a Satisfying Encounter With Humanity.


Things To Do This Weekend: The Voloshky Ukrainian Dance Ensemble will perform Saturday at Riverfront Park in Our Fair City. Call 412-678-1727. On Sunday, the Wee Jams are at the Renzie Park bandshell at 7 p.m.

Strange Brew is at the Irwin Eagles on Saturday; they have a great new album out called "Blues Cauldron." Concert details at 724-863-9847.

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July 22, 2004 | Link to this story

Closings and Closings, Pronounced With a ‘Key’

Category: default || By jt3y

I got home late last night and put a frozen pizza into the oven (that's me, Mr. Health Nut). At about 9:30 the phone rang; I checked the pizza, and it was almost done. Too bad, phone caller! My need for processed cheese and carbohydrates are more important than your puny phone calls! So I let the machine pick it up.

It was an insurance agent. He had a quote for me on a homeowner's policy. Crud. That's the call I've been waiting for. I pulled the almost, but not quite, cooked pizza out of the oven and picked up the phone.

He's a local guy, at an independent agency, and he recognized my name: Didn't I used to write for the newspaper?

"I think I've written for all of them, once," I said.

Anyway, turns out we had several mutual friends. He quoted me a good price on a policy --- full replacement value on the house and contents, low deductible, $300,000 liability coverage --- from a small company in Ohio. He also knows my real estate agent, and has worked with her before.

Since the other agent I asked for a quote still hasn't called me back, I have a pretty good idea that this guy's going to get my business, despite the fact that I had to eat a lukewarm, half-cooked frozen pizza for dinner.

They call this the housebuying process; I call it the getting-smacked-repeatedly-in-the-face process. It's the death of a thousand cuts --- fill out this form, sign this, sign that, write this check, write that check. I'm probably going to write a guide for other people in my situation once this process is over.

I'll also rat out my Realtor, home inspector, insurance agent, and the other folks who have been much more helpful that I expected. If you know me, you know that I prefer to deal with small, local businesses, and I haven't been disappointed in my choices.

In a year or two, when I'm settled into my heavily-mortgaged shack, this will all seem worthwhile.

For now, it's just frustrating: I'm out about two grand and haven't got anything to show for it yet but an empty bank account and a stack of photocopied forms which, frankly, I really haven't read. I'm fairly certain that one of them commits me to hand over my first-born son unless I can guess the name of a mysterious, gnarled little man who throws temper tantrums. (I'm not entirely sure, but I think I used to work for someone like that. Rimshot.)

We're getting closer to the big day, assuming that I've got the mortgage, which is a big assumption. It's going through the county Redevelopment Authority; supposedly, the local underwriter has approved it, but the state guy is still looking over the application. Maybe he's been too busy approving plans for slot machine parlors, I don't know.

A few weeks ago, the mortgage company sent me a 10-point letter outlining everything the state underwriter wanted to see --- three years' worth of tax forms, three years' worth of W-2s, a resume, a letter explaining that I was the only one who was going to live in this house ('tis true, sadly).

Everything but a birth certificate and a prostate exam, and I swear I saw an old pair of rubber gloves on the mortgage guy's desk the last time I was in his office.

The part that completely freaked me out was the credit report. Point 7 on the letter was something like, "please explain the following derogatory reports received from a credit reporting agency."

Derogatory reports? Jeepers H. Crackers! What did they know about? The check I bounced in 1993 when the bank's computers went down and failed to make a deposit? The time I was three days late with a payment to a brain surgeon to cover a trepanning job? The secret call I received from my stockbroker advising me to sell shares of a company before some bad news came out?

Oh, wait, that last one was Martha Stewart, never mind.

I've heard horror stories about incorrect credit information ruining people's lives, and the printout that the mortgage company sent me was no help at all. The three lines in question said things like, "REPR MAASCORECRECAFIOH 30D $10 $390 7/02 PIF" What the hell does that mean?

Panic-stricken, my knees quivering like Michael Moore's belt at an all-you-can-eat pancake restaurant, I ordered a copy of my credit report from Equifax.

It turns out that the "derogatory" information was pretty mild: A student loan company lost my address and starting sending bills to an apartment where I lived for about a year, and I was 30 days late with a quarterly payment. I used a credit card's "pay by phone" service and they entered the information wrong, bounced a check and then billed me for a returned check fee and a late payment. (I got them to admit their mistake, they waived the bounced check fee and I closed the account, but it was reported.) I tried to sign up for a gasoline company's Internet payment service; the sign up failed, but the company stopped sending me paper bills, and I missed a payment.

There was nothing hugely wrong on the credit report, nor were there any accounts listed as "open" that were actually "closed." I was shocked at the detail of the information on the report --- how did they know that I cried when Bambi's mother died, and besides, I was only seven --- but that's to be expected in this day and age.

So, without any information to the contrary, I'm assuming that all is ready for closing, and my long march into 30 years of debt.

If not, I'll be really ticked: My pizza got all congealed and soggy for nothing.


This, if true, gives a black eye to the volunteer fire service in the Mon-Yough area. According to Dan Reynolds in the Trib:

A Glassport volunteer firefighter arrested on charges of setting a trash bin fire is a primary suspect in a yearlong string of Mon Valley arsons, court documents say.

The arson investigation also led to the arrest of two former Glassport volunteer firefighters accused of stealing a fire helmet and a portable radio from a Glassport fire company in June 2003.

It only takes a handful of jerks to give everyone a bad name, and --- again, if this is true --- these toads are not representative of most volunteer firefighters. But in an era of declining participation and revenue for fire companies, this is the kind of publicity you don't need.

Hey, great job, schmucks! According to Reynolds' story, these clowns made a grand total of $25 from their thefts. Gee, that was sure worth it.


The Balkan Hotel, long a landmark in the Coulter-Irwin area, is closing, according to Kathy Mismas and Jennifer Vertullo in The Daily News:
Nearly a century ago, the Balkan Hotel and Bar, a three-story mansion located at the crest of Coulterville Road, North Huntingdon Twp., was a private home built by Robert Wallace and Susan Stewart Ekin.

The Ekin estate sat upon endless groves of red delicious apple and peach trees, and the family operated a dairy farm that provided milk to residents of White Oak's former Fawcett School area.

In fact, I think there's a plan of homes in North Huntingdon Township called the "Susan Ekin Plan."


And yet more bad news, via Copeland: The long-rumored sale of Chiodo's Tavern in Homestead is apparently nearer to completion. According Teresa Lindeman in the Post-Gazette, Walgreen's wants the property for a drug store. Because what we really needed in Western Pennsylvania was another freaking chain drug store. (The kind that doesn't seem to sell prescriptions, but does sell 400 varieties of potato chips.)

I've been hearing these reports for more than five years, but this is the first time that something has officially happened in public. One had to expect that a corner lot at the end of the High-Level Bridge (sorry, still can't get used to calling it the "Homestead Grays Bridge") would be mighty valuable.

County records show the bar is worth $76,000, but I've got to figure that it would sell for three or four times that. And it's not as if Joe Chiodo is getting younger; he's not in the public charity business, either. It may be a landmark for folks, but in the end, it's his bar to do with what he wants. That doesn't mean that we Mon Valley denizens won't be sad to see it go.

By the way: I've always found it rather charming how Joe Chiodo has waged an unsuccessful campaign to get people to pronounce his name the Italian way: "kee-OH-doh." Only out-of-towners say that. People from Homestead, Munhall, West Homestead and Whitaker say "CHOE-doh's." Even Jeff Goldblum knows that.

But I sympathize with Chiodo. People often mispronounce my name; they put the stress on the second syllable, "hole."

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July 21, 2004 | Link to this story

All Singing, All Dancing, All Photos

Category: default || By jt3y

So a picture is worth a thousand words, eh? Well, consider today’s installment a 4,000-word essay.

Instead of writing blather, I spent last night trying to fix the comments feature so that you, our Alert Reader, can go back to telling me off directly, rather than emailing me.

That’s the kind of service we’re dedicated to, and it’s why we’ve remained the Mon Valley’s Leading Source of Misinformation Since 1995!

(All photos copyright © me, and I suppose I’m welcome to them. Please don’t reuse them without permission.)

Spectators at Billy Price concert, June 26, 2004, Riverfront Park in McKeesport (aka Our Fair City).

More from the Billy Price concert, June 26, 2004.

Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band on stage at Riverfront Park, McKeesport, June 26, 2004

Finally, it's the “McKeesport Weed & Seed Express,” snapped June 29, 2004 in the Christy Park section of Our Fair City. We don’t have an Amtrak stop any more, and PATrain has been gone for 15 years, so this is the best we can do, I suppose.

(Obligatory trivia: If you saw “Dogma,” which runs about every 15 minutes on Comedy Central, the scene inside the bus station was shot at Our Fair City’s former Amtrak station, which also serves as the McKeesport bus terminal for Port Authority.)

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July 20, 2004 | Link to this story

Research Team Tackles Immel’s Query

Category: default || By jt3y

Eat my dust, Chris Potter! We have our own Mon-Yough version of "You Had To Ask" here at Tube City Almanac.

Of course, we don't give away any prizes to people who submit questions. Maybe we should: First prize could be a Tube City Online T-shirt, second prize would be two T-shirts, third prize would be three T-shirts, etc.

Anyway, Jayme S. writes:

Looking for any info you may have on Immel's in McKeesport. I saw it mentioned a few times on your site (which is great, by the way!). When was it around? What kind of merchandise? Any info would be appreciated!

We put the crack Tube City Online Research Department to work on this important question. They pored over countless old business records and microfilmed newspapers, and performed dozens of interviews to track down this vital information.

Oh, you don't believe me?

Well, so, actually, I called my mom.

Mom says Immel's was a upscale women's clothing store (also some children's clothes) that would be something like an Ann Taylor today; or perhaps, more accurately, like Adele's at the Waterfront.

A word of explanation is in order before I go further: This will shock anyone under the age of 25 who's from McKeesport, but Our Fair City had a whole bunch of women's clothing retailers as recently as the late 1970s.

To recall three of the best-remembered in the city, Cox's Department Store was a middle-to-upscale retailer, something along the lines of Kaufmann's or Lazarus-Macy's. Jaison's was more "homey" (think "Fashion Bug," which bought out Jaison's, if I recall correctly). At the low end of the scale was The Darling Shop (mom recalls it as "just above Murphy's or Green's" --- a dime store, in other words --- in fashion and quality). No self-respecting teenager, she says, wanted to be spotted going into the Darling Shop, just as I imagine today's teenagers don't brag about buying clothes at Wal-Mart.

Cox's is gone now, but was located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Walnut Street ("Cox's Corner," where the city recently erected a town clock). Jaison's was on Fifth about a block away; the building is now used as a bingo hall, and the Jaison's neon signs are still visible (and still worked as of a few years ago). The Darling Shop was where Great American Federal is, between Jaison's and Cox's, and next door to Green's.

Now, according to mom, where Cox's and Jaisons catered to young women, Immel's catered to McKeesport's "carriage trade." She remembers Immel's being staffed by matronly professional women who could often guess a customer's sizes just by looking at them. Regular customers would have their sizes and purchases on file, mom recalls. Fashions weren't "cutting edge," but were very high-quality (and commensurate in price).

Mom, who was a salesgirl at Cox's, recalls Immel's being the kind of place where she liked to browse on her lunch hour, but not a place where she could afford to regularly shop!

My own research indicates that Immel's opened a branch store at Eastland Mall in North Versailles in 1963 or 1964. I don't know if Immel's ever expanded further. As best I can tell, the store closed in the late 1970s or early '80s; I don't recall Immel's being open during my childhood, though I can remember Cox's and Jaison's.

The Immel's building is still a landmark on Fifth Avenue, and despite Immel's store being closed, the building has been very much active over the years.

Kadar's Men's Wear moved to the Immel's building after the 1976 fire burned its store at the corner of Fifth and Market, and stayed there until Al Kadar's retirement in 2001. I seem to recall that several politicians have used the Immel's storefront as their offices, and at least one women's clothing store used the building recently (it failed fairly quickly, unfortunately).

If you have a question that I can answer without doing any real work, please feel free to email me. If your question is selected, I'll gladly pull a half-baked answer out of my ear, and if I don't know the answer, I'll make it up! That's our guarantee of quality here at Tube City Online!

Remember, if you're not completely satisfied, who is these days?


In other news, it looks like candidates for the Darwin Awards are lining up early this year:

A man who shot himself in the groin after drinking 15 pints of beer and stuffing a sawed-off shotgun down his trousers was jailed for five years Tuesday for illegal possession of a firearm.

David Walker, 28, underwent emergency surgery after the March 6 incident in Dinnington, northern England. Tests were continuing to learn if Walker would be left infertile, his lawyer Gulzar Syed said.

That's why whenever I stick shotguns down my pants, I make sure I'm sober.


Did you know that Pennsylvania's 14 slot machine parlors will be exempt from local zoning and planning regulations? I didn't know it until I read Fester's Place and Jonathan Potts' The Conversation.

It's kind of disappointing that I had to find that tiny bit of important information out from reading blogs. Good on Fester and Jon, of course, for ferreting out the story, and shame on the Post-Gazette and the Tribune-Review for not making a bigger deal out of it.

As far as I can tell, the only mainstream news source to point this out has been the Philadelphia Inquirer; if the Trib, P-G, one of the suburban papers or one of the TV stations has done something about this, I'd be happy to link to their coverage. I couldn't find anything using Google or Lexis-Nexis.

(A side note: Pompous prognosticators like this guy, who argued in the L.A. Times the other day that "bloggers" aren't journalists and don't deserve the same respect as newspaper or broadcast reporters, need to wake up. I'll agree that bloggers are hardly a force in newsgathering right now, but neither was television news in 1950.)

Back to the issue at hand: There are very few other buildings --- besides military installations --- exempt from local planning and zoning in Pennsylvania. But the state General Assembly, in ramming slot machine legislation through in one of that body's typical late-night marathon sessions (and out of view of the public and the press) have given casino operators a free pass. All zoning and planning authority over slot parlors will be vested in a state gaming commission.

Now, pardon me if I have the tiniest bit of suspicion that the members of the gaming commission will be beholden to the casino operators. I mean, the legislators already are --- and I'm looking in your direction, Senator Fumo --- and the legislators are the ones who will be controlling the commission.

We've seen before that public regulatory agencies are revolving doors. Officials are appointed to regulate industries, and then as soon as their terms expire, they take jobs in those very same industries (the Friendly Cookie Corporation is among the worst offenders, but the others are pretty bad, too).

Ah, why am I worrying? Every knows that the gambling industry has nothing but our best interests at heart, and their behavior is as pure as the driven snow. Ask the fine, fine people of Washington, D.C., where grass-roots organizers have swung into action to collect signatures on petitions to get slot machines!

It's funny how, according to The Washington Post, thousands of the signatures on those petitions turned out to be phony, and many of the people certifying the signatures were homeless people who were given cash bribes.

Surely, there must be some kind of mistake.


Let's end on a funny note: Sunday's "Fox Trot" captured my feelings about the impact of the Atkins Diet to a crispy, fried T.

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July 19, 2004 | Link to this story

Late For The Clue Train

Category: default || By jt3y

We were crossing the Crawford Avenue bridge in Connellsville as Amtrak's Capitol Limited slowly chugged to the city's telephone-booth-like train station ... an Amshack, if you will.

"Hang on, I want to get a picture," I said to my friend Dan as I wheeled the sleek, gray Mercury onto South Arch Street.

"You don't have to hurry," he said. "It's not moving that fast. I think it's stopping."

The Merc screeched to a halt on West Fairview Avenue just as the crossing gates dropped and the Capitol's horn blew a warning. From behind the buildings to the right I could hear the big diesel-electrics revving up.

I threw the car into park and jumped out the door. "Oh, it's stopping, is it?" I had just about time to focus the camera and squeeze off three shots as the Cap accelerated east, towards Washington.

Dan --- who couldn't care less about trains, we were coming back from a car show in Uniontown --- was watching as the mail and express cars at the end of the Capitol disappeared around the curve. "Are those the cheap seats?" he asked.

"Something like that," I said, climbing back into the driver's seat. Someone had pulled up behind the Merc at the stop sign and was waiting impatiently for me to move. We hung a right onto Water Street and headed back through Connellsville.

A friend of mine has a saying about towns like McKeesport, Homestead, Braddock --- places that have been mercilessly batted around for the past 30 years. "What do you do with a place like that?" he says.

It's a rhetorical question. The problems are easy enough to identify: There are too few jobs, too little money, too much infrastructure for too few people (Our Fair City has lost about half of its population since 1950), and too many absentee landlords. What can you do, but survive and try to make things nice, even if it's just one little corner at a time?

The question applies equally well to Connellsville. Coal mining collapsed in Fayette County long before the steel industry collapsed in the Mon-Yough valley, and Connellsville --- which in the '40s and '50s was a thriving city --- is still feeling the hurt.

It doesn't help that some nimrod is going around setting buildings on fire. There's a large vacant lot now on Crawford Avenue --- the main street in Connellsville --- where Burns Drug Store used to be.

Uniontown, the seat of Fayette County, is getting a downtown facelift worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, but that's mostly through the largess of Fayette County Commissioner Joe Hardy --- the millionaire founder of 84 Lumber. Bully for Joe for putting his money where his mouth is, but Connellsville and McKeesport don't have a sugar daddy.

And besides, fixing up Downtown McKeesport won't fix the problems in the Jenny Lind Street area, to name one part of Our Fair City that's in bad trouble. Neither will putting a coat of paint on Downtown Uniontown fix its other blighted areas.

So, what would you do with a place like Connellsville? A lot of people would like to know.


An Alert Reader asked me over the weekend if I had seen a story in The Daily News about a proposed police merger between Liberty Borough, Port Vue, Glassport, Lincoln and Dravosburg.

I don't know how, but I missed it. (Chuck Gibson had the story.)

It's an excellent idea, in my humble opinion. Look, you have to provide police protection for your residents. Policing in a small town can take up to 60 or 70 percent of the budget (for many communities, it's the only service provided --- public works is often handled by the Council of Governments or private contractors).

The alternatives to having your own local police department are not great. You can rely on the state police, which in the Mon-Yough area could mean waiting a half-hour or more for emergency responses, and forget about routine patrols. (Both Clairton and Braddock were forced to rely on the state police in the 1980s --- no offense to the troopers, but no one in those towns looks back on that experience fondly.)

Or, you can purchase police service from another town, like Wilmerding and Wall have done. In that case, you're at the mercy of the other town's government. If they have a good police department, then your police protection is good. If it's bad, you're stuck with the contract. You have little or no voice in the police department's operation.

With a merger, a joint police commission is formed, including representatives from each of the towns. And, depending on how the commission's charter is written, each of the towns has a say in the policies and procedures that the police department follows.

Plus, the cost of administrative expenses and supplies is spread over a larger population. In communities like Liberty, Port Vue, Lincoln and Glassport, where many police officers work for more than one community, and where the departments back one another up on hot calls, it's a no-brainer.

The idea apparently had a warm reception at a meeting last week, according to Gibson's story, and it sounds as if longtime Liberty police Chief Luke Riley is among the advocates. That's a pretty brave stance, considering he could lose his job in a merged department --- or at the very least, might not be in charge. Riley deserves to be commended for sticking his neck out.

The proposal is now in the hands of the five borough councils. For the sake of the taxpayers, let's hope that they treat it seriously.


Three other Mon Valley communities are considering a police merger --- Charleroi, North Charleroi, Fallowfield Township, Speers and Twilight, which like the South Allegheny communities and Dravosburg are all contiguous, have estimated that a regional force would save taxpayers about $200,000 in the first year alone.

According to Karen Mansfield in the Observer-Reporter, the next meeting is set for Aug. 18 in Charleroi.


Updating a story we've been following at Tube City Almanac --- Cost-conscious newspapers are squeezing the funny out of their funny pages, according to Newsweek:

"Dilbert" cartoonist Scott Adams says he worries not only for himself ("Yes, I am that selfish") but for artists trying to break into the business who could inject new life into newspapers. "There are several up-and-coming cartoonists who I have great hope for. If you have fewer spaces, these new guys aren't going to get a chance."

Well, duh, Newsweek. Way to get on top of that story.

One of my favorite new comic strips, "Big Top" by Rob Harrell, is running in the Daily News, and I get a kick out of it. Set in a circus, it's a talking animal strip.

Harrell tells Glyph, the newsletter of the Great Lakes Region of the National Cartoonists Society, that PETA has been complaining that his animals in his circus aren't miserable enough:

ROB: I didn't respond in any way. My response if somebody'd asked me to my face would be it's a comic strip, it's a fantasy world. Clearly, animals don't speak in real life either. ... So, they came up with a creative way for me to tactfully end the strip.

CB: PETA did? That was thoughtful of them.

ROB: Yeah, "We recommend that you have Pete and Mary marry, bring the animals to an animal sanctuary and everybody walks away happy."

CB: Hilarious.

ROB: Yeah, and then I ... don't have a job!

It sounds like PETA, as usual, is arriving just in time to watch the clue train go past without them.

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July 16, 2004 | Link to this story

Mr. Sandman, Bring Me a Broom

Category: default || By jt3y

It was $48, if you care. In fact, that was the only thing that went right on Thursday.

I don't consider myself particularly naive, but I'm constantly amazed at how nasty and vile people can be towards one another. When I was a little younger, I thought that everyone was basically good, and that if we could only know why bad people were behaving badly, we would understand them, and be able to help them.

I've concluded that's a bunch of liberal bleeding-heart claptrap. Some people, I've decided, are basically nasty. Maybe they have reasons for doing bad things, but I don't care. The end result of their actions are the same: They hurt people and they make life just a little bit lousier for the rest of us.

It's amazing to me that I've come to what is a pretty conservative world view --- almost fundamentalist Christian, in a way, since it acknowledges evil as a real, present thing in the world. But it's not entirely incompatible with other things I believe --- namely, that people have a right to live their lives unmolested by others.

Speaking for myself, I just don't want to deal with jackasses any more. Life is difficult enough without dealing with people who are the human equivalent of sand in your underwear. I've resolved not to try to reason with them any more, or understand their problems; I'm just going to excise them from my life.

After all, if you get a splinter, do you worry about the splinter's motivation? No. You yank it out.

All this comes to mind after a week of dealing with someone who has been the sand in the underwear of a volunteer organization I belong to. I've been involved with non-profit groups since my freshman year of high school, and I've noticed they tend to have some common traits.

First, a handful of people tend to do all of the work. The vast majority are there to socialize and have a good time. There's nothing wrong with that, but you have to be careful that the 10 percent of the group members who do 90 percent of the work don't burn out.

Second, strong leadership goes a long way toward making the group successful and coherent. Groups run with a "collective" mentality tend to stagnate and falter --- since no one is in charge, that's exactly who takes responsibility (no one).

Third, a bully or an otherwise obnoxious person can quickly destroy the morale of a group, especially if it doesn't have strong leadership. Besides making the group unpleasant --- which chases away the 90 percent of the people who are there to have a good time --- these jackasses will snipe at the 10 percent who are doing the work.

I assume they do it to make themselves seem more important. Left unchecked, having someone in the back row fragging the leadership results in certain things happening:

Some of the people in the 10 percent doing the work will get gun-shy and quit doing things, in hopes of making themselves less prominent targets. Some of them drift away from the group permanently in search of more constructive projects. A few usually decide to stay and fight --- which ends up with people choosing sides (some behind the jackass, some behind the victim) and splitting the group.

In the case of the volunteer group in question, one particular member has been the sand in everyone else's underpants. I bear at least part of the responsibility for inviting this person into the group in the first place, but nobody (least of all me) realized that this person would spread all over the place like a rash.

Without going into too many details, this person flaunted long-established rules, waged personal attacks on numerous members of the group, and spread false information in an apparent attempt to discredit the group's leadership.

I started out trying to be friendly and helpful with this person. When my helpfulness was thrown back in my face, I regrouped and resolved to be professional and distant. When this person continued to get in my face, I became officious and finally dismissive.

The funny thing is that all along, this person was treating other members of the group badly, but no one realized the extent of the problem until we started comparing notes. And that only happened when some of the private attacks by this person began to become public attacks.

By then, unfortunately, one active member of the group abruptly quit in disgust, and others began withdrawing from the group.

Finally this week, after numerous warnings and attempts to reason with Sand-in-the-Pants, the leader of the group told the person that they are no longer welcome. Sand-in-the-Pants, as could have been predicted, attempted to rally support from other members of the group by tacking together several unrelated issues and claiming that he was the victim of a vendetta.

That started a minor feces-throwing campaign among different factions of the group that raged fast and furious in angry emails, carbon-copied to all of the members.

The leadership's reasons for removing Sand-in-the-Pants are gradually leaking out (puns intended), and the furor has subsided to a dull roar, though several people are still trying to patch the knife wounds in their backs. No doubt the group leader could have communicated the reasons for Sand's dismissal the other members of the group sooner; though how that could have been done without defaming Sand, I'm not sure.

I feel guilty about my own share of responsibility --- could I have defused the situation earlier? Should I have recognized earlier that Sand was a danger to the group? Did I make things worse by forcefully standing up to Sand? (Chalk it up to 13 years of Catholic education --- I'm a constant brooding mess of self-doubt.)

Mostly, I still can't help but shake my head that Sand --- who is otherwise a respectable member of society --- would behave this way.

Is Sand-in-the-Pants a fundamentally evil person? Probably not. I'd like to believe that no one ever purposely goes out to hurt other people. I'm sure Sand had good reasons for various actions; no doubt, Sand truly and whole-heartedly believes that he or she is correct.

But I don't care about Sand's reasons. I don't care if Sand otherwise is the nicest person ever to walk the Earth, beloved by dogs and small children, and a candidate for sainthood.

In all but the most extreme cases, the end doesn't justify the means, and though Sand may have had the best of intentions, Sand was hurting the group and his or her own cause. (Several people who were sympathetic to Sand's stated goals tell me they were actually turning against the goals because of Sand's behavior.)

Well, Sand is off in the corner, grumbling about those big stupid heads who don't appreciate brilliance; the internecine war is slowly subsiding to a few scattered sniper attacks; and we trudge on, sorer but (maybe) a little bit wiser.

And I'm sorry that I'm so allergic to pets. The more people I meet, the more I quite frankly prefer dogs.


Turning to good news from the Mon-Yough area, an Irwin couple has "adopted" the members of a Navy Construction Battalion serving overseas, according to Patti Dobranski in the Tribune-Review.

Eleanor and Donald Swanson have a 23-year-old grandson, Angelo Woodrow, serving with the Seabees in Iraq. Dobranski writes that the Swansons first began writing to their grandson's comrades and sending care packages.

Now, they've convinced Irwin borough council to allow them to display flags throughout town and to stage a special ceremony on the unit's behalf at Irwin Park. Pretty neat.

(One councilman voted against the flag display because he's "against the war." You know, you can be against the war, but still support the people serving, councilman. Talk about sand in the pants!)

A Family Dollar store has opened in Braddock, according to the Valley Mirror and the Post-Gazette. That may not seem like much to you, but in Braddock, folks will take what glimmers of life they can get.

This item isn't necessarily good news or bad news, though it is from the Mon-Yough area: The founder of Republicans for John Kerry is from West Mifflin. John Bugay Jr. says he has "been a Republican all of my adult life," but feels a "sense of betrayal" over the current administration.

Finally, if you're looking for something to do this weekend, the Phantom Cruisers car club is holding a fundraising show from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday for the American Cancer Society at the Fayette County Fairgrounds on Route 119 north of Uniontown. Charlie Apple will spin the oldies and a swap meet will also be open. Details in the Herald-Standard.

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July 15, 2004 | Link to this story

Today's Specials: Crab and Crow

Category: default || By jt3y

Short entry today, because I'm mighty busy, and spent much of the time I usually spend writing stupid essays riding on the bus.

Taking the bus means I have to leave for work an hour earlier, and of course, instead of spending 20 minutes in my comfortable car, drinking coffee and listening to the radio; I get to spend an hour in a lurching, heaving, smelly coach with stale air that smells of body odor and gives me a headache. Other than that, it's great! I don't know why everyone doesn't ride the bus!

The sleek, gray Mercury, of course, is in the shop for its annual state safety and emissions inspection, which is either going to cost me $48 or, if it needs new front brakes, about $200; or if it also needs tires (the cheap Korean jobbies on the front look like they're wearing out awfully fast on the edges) about $500.

That's put me in a wonderful mood, I assure you.

The political pundits have been chattering a lot about "red" states and "blue" states --- meaning those that are solidly Republican or Democratic, respectively. Who came up with this terminology? And why did it stick?

I'm kind of surprised that the Republican states wound up being called the "red" states, since the Republican National Committee has spent the last 10 years calling the Democratic Party everything up to and including "socialist."

Anyway, the Christian Science Monitor says that Pennsylvania is more accurately a "purple" state, since its margin of victory for Al Gore in 2000 was less than 5 percent:

Like most trends in politics, the red-blue divide has been oversimplified and overstated. ... And many Americans don't stand that far apart on the issues. While activists on both sides of the political spectrum may sharply disagree on everything from taxes to terrorism, polls show most voters see themselves as moderates.

But if voters often lean instinctively toward the middle, they are also sorting themselves into parties that are growing more ideologically pure, which is having a polarizing effect.

Also in the Monitor, Dante Chinni had a funny take on the GOP's attacks on U.S. Senator John "The Other John" Edwards:

Say this for the Bush campaign: It casts a wide web. It's only been a week, but its litany of criticisms concerning John Edwards is well known. He's a trial lawyer. He's too inexperienced. He's too smooth. And the wonderfully weird: He's too good-looking.

Too good-looking? That's a bit like being too rich, which, of course, is another problem the Bush folks have with Mr. Edwards. If only John Kerry had chosen a poor, ugly, seasoned political pro who had a long voting history to pick apart and who couldn't speak well. Man, that guy would have been great.

Finally, posting "funny" subject lines from unsolicited commercial email messages (spam) is already a tired wheeze on the Internet, but some of the recent ones I've gotten were too bizarre not to share.

It's almost like beatnik poetry. Try reciting it out loud in a monotone; playing the bongos at the same time will help:

taxidermist waifs of 73
embrittle codeword verdi vortices glamor esteem
who've escalate clearheaded tidbit conferrable
now that i am holbrook kelp
tell me about it fake larsen
live large bogy saudi
now that i am blank escapade
started swelling again unexpectedly
all i want is ... riven bothersome
extra size is better aleck traumatic
except for me bichromate cobweb
this is the best swollen bedevil
not this time brownish marx
lucky man-see me playing with my rectum

Lucky? Um ... lucky isn't the word for it.

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July 14, 2004 | Link to this story

Cheap Shots and Afterthoughts

Category: default || By jt3y

Things I found on the Internet while I was looking for other things:

Wilson Baum Agency, based in Our Fair City, has a nifty Web page that gives summarized demographic and economic information for most Mon-Yough area communities. I can't vouch for the accuracy of the data, but it seems plausible enough. (This isn't an endorsement of Wilson Baum, by the way. I've never had any contact with them.)


The Grauniad sent a 17-year-old in the UK to several concerts by aging rock stars (Paul McCartney, The Who, Brian Wilson) to get his impressions of them. He was non-plussed:

(My) world view hasn't really changed. I still think that music from the '60s and '70s sounds like a less evolved, rather slapdash version of the music made today, like the first draught of an essay done at three in the morning.

Sixties and seventies music is "slapdash"? So the classic Motown sound of the Funk Brothers Motown sound is a clumsy, backyard jam session compared to the smooth, lush harmonies of produced by, say, Limp Bizkit.

Well, to each his own, I suppose, but don't let Phil Spector catch this kid while he's armed.


The latest casualty of the Bush Administration war on terror? Model rockets, according to Wired:

Rocketeers up and down the skill-level range are feeling the pinch of post-9/11 regulations promulgated by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Today, thousands of people fly model rockets that range in size from about 12 inches to more than 30 feet tall. But since the ATF imposed new rules, some hobbyists have abandoned their pastime, and the next generation of engineers and scientists, some fear, is being driven away.

"If we're in an environment where the government says you've got to get fingerprinted and background checked, and spend three to four months to do it, (adults are) not going to participate in my hobby," said Mark Bundick, president of the National Association of Rocketry. "We need more kids. It helps them learn technology. It's the technological base here in the country that we need to protect, and this hobby is a good introduction for kids that are interested in technology. If I lose those adults, then I will not be able to train those kids."

First they came for the model rocket builders, but I wasn't a model rocket builder, so I didn't care ...


Ah, but then they came for the railroad buffs. From Time, via the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Web site:

Urban train buffs report being surrounded by police cars and customs agents. A Haverford College student of South Asian descent was detained last year by SEPTA police after he photographed a station --- homework for an urban-history class, as it turned out.

Now, this is simply brilliant police work.

Have you ever seen a railroad buff? Without being too stereotypical, your average "railfan" is a middle-aged guy with about 14 cameras (film, digital and video), two radio scanners on his belt, a baseball cap decorated with railroad pins, a copy of Trains or Railfan tucked into his back pocket, and a picnic cooler. He's about inconspicuous as a fart in church.

Believe me, I know. Although I usually only have one radio scanner with me.

Does the Department of Homeland Security really think terrorists are going to cart all of that equipment around with them? Wouldn't they be a little bit more subtle?

To paraphrase a quote: Paranoia in the pursuit of security is no virtue.


Besides, the DHS has more important things to do, like making plans to postopone the presidential elections. Even Wesley Pruden, editor-in-chief of the Washington Times, thinks that's a nutty idea (and he works for the Moonies, so he knows nutty ideas):

Abraham Lincoln, whose name is often invoked hereabouts, declined to call off the presidential election of 1864, or even tinker with the date, in the midst of civil war when the threat of disruption was real and when his re-election prospects were in considerable doubt. We expect the people of Iraq, backed by none of the democratic traditions that undergird our own government, to conduct their elections under the threat of terrorism. Why shouldn't we?


I poked fun recently at Mallard Fillmore, a decidedly unfunny self-avowed conservative comic strip. (It's not funny because it's dull and preachy, not because it's conservative.)
Along comes a new self-described "conservative" comic strip called Prickly City that shows promise. It hasn't made me laugh out loud yet like Get Fuzzy does, but it's definitely cute and has made me smile so far. (None of the local papers have picked it up yet, so far as I know, but you can read it online.)


A man in Fiji is being taught to act human after being raised as a chicken.

Raising your child as a chicken is sort of a textbook example of child abuse, isn't it? And it turns out, reporters asked the neighbors why they didn't report this to the police.

The neighbors replied, "We would have, but we needed the eggs." (Rimshot.)

Thank you, I'll be here all week.


Finally, for all of our Hungarian readers, here's information about The Simpsons in Hungarian.
With that, it's viszontlátásra until Péntek.

(Correction at 1:40 p.m.: It's viszontlátásra until Csütörtök. I thought today was Csütörtök and tomorrow was Péntek. Jaj Istenem!)

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July 13, 2004 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted

Category: default || By jt3y

Does anyone else think that the new carrier at Pittsburgh International Airport should be Air Force One? It's flying in and out of Pittsburgh often enough.

Rumor has it that if Cheney and Dubya spend any more time in Pennsylvania, Rendell's going to make them file state income tax returns.

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July 13, 2004 | Link to this story

Jacked Up, In, Out,

Category: default || By jt3y

First, another Tube City Almanac speedtrap warning: Dravosburg public works crews were out this week repainting the VASCAR lines on Richland Avenue (aka "Dravosburg Hill"). Get the lead out of your feet. You have been warned.

Now, onto weightier matters.

I am of the firm opinion that the bright people in Detroit, Stuttgart, Tokyo, Coventry and Seoul who design cars ought to be forced to service them. Preferably in their own driveways, using tools from Sears --- or better yet, Chinese tools from the flea market.

No engineer who was forced to change a set of spark plugs that were buried under a hot exhaust manifold, or replace an oil filter that can't be removed without disconnecting the starter, would ever design another vehicle with those problems again.

Nor would they force the motoring public to use the lousy jacks that are supplied with the spare tires in most cars.

I was thinking about this last night as I lay alongside the sleek, gray Mercury, holding my bloodied knuckles and muttering dark imprecations in the general direction of Dearborn, Mich., home of the Ford Motor Company.

In retrospect, some of the things I said were foolish. I don't even know Bill Ford's mother.

Anyway, the sleek, gray Mercury is due for its annual state safety and emissions inspection --- or as we like to call it, Uncle Ed's Revenue Enhancement Plan --- at the end of this month, and my mechanic has promised to take it on Thursday.

The thought occurred to me yesterday that I'm not sure if it's going pass the safety inspection; I've had the car for about nine months and have never replaced the brakes. (My previous sleek Mercury went through brake pads like Marlon Brando went through pizzas.)

Well, I figured, I can always pull the wheels and look at the brake pads. Since it was getting dark by the time I got home, I decided I wouldn't waste time changing clothes. I was just pulling a wheel; I wouldn't get that dirty. And since FoMoCo thoughtfully provided a jack in the trunk, why bother dragging out my hydraulic floor jack? Besides, this would give me a chance to make sure the spare tire jack worked! And it would save more time!

There are at least three serious errors in my logic, as stated in the above paragraph, as we'll soon see.

I pulled off my tie, chocked the front wheel, opened the trunk, retrieved the jack and the tire iron (or as we say in the Mon Valley, "tahr arn"), and popped the hubcap off of the right rear wheel.

Instantly I was covered in filth.

Well, too late now. I broke the lug nuts loose, placed the jack under the car frame, and began cranking it up.

And cranking it up.

And cranking it up.

And cranking it up.

My previous Mercury came with a bumper jack, possibly the worst thing Detroit ever foisted upon the unsuspected masses besides the Chevrolet Vega and Kid Rock. I have no idea how many people were killed or maimed by bumper jacks when their cars fell off of those wobbly contraptions, nor do I know how many cars came crashing down onto their undercarriages during routine tire changes. OSHA records show six fatalities and one amputation caused by bumper jacks, though their statistics only show people hurt or killed on the job. Doubtless there were many more.

I used the bumper jack on the old Mercury only once before saying "never again" and buying a cheap bottle jack for the trunk. (I also bought a cheap bottle for the driver, haw haw haw.)

The present Mercury comes with a scissors jack. And while using the bumper jack was like playing Russian roulette with bullets in five chambers, at least it did one thing: It lifted the damned car off the ground. (Usually, the car then fell on your foot, but you can't have everything.)

Apparently, in their haste to invent something less dangerous than a bumper jack, engineers designed a jack that works incrementally slowly. Maddeningly so. Cranking the little swivel on the jack 3,120 times, for instance, lifts the car about 1/100th of an inch.

Which wouldn't be so bad if the jack handle stayed in the little swivel while you were cranking. Instead, the swivel is almost --- but not quite --- deep enough to clamp onto the jack handle, so that as you furiously crank, the swivel presents enough resistance to allow you to bear down with all your might ....

... and then the jack handle slips out of the swivel, tossing you off balance, so that you fall onto the jack handle and gouge a dime-sized chunk of skin off of your finger.

A smarter man would have done this once and said, "Well, this piece of junk doesn't work, it's time to get the floor jack." But by gum, I was hell-bent to show this scissors jack who was boss. They haven't yet invented a car repair tool smarter than me (though they're awful close).

Two dollars' worth of skin gouges and 10 minutes later, the car's right-rear wheel was off of the ground. I had sweated through a nice pinstripe Oxford shirt, turned its rolled-up cuffs into a filthy mess, and let loose a stream of profanity that knocked bluebirds from their nests two blocks away and woke babies from their cribs.

Never let it be said that I don't, eventually, learn my lessons: After lowering the rear of the car, I used the floor jack to lift the left front wheel off the ground.

"And what of the brakes?" I hear you ask. Ah, yes. That was the point of this whole miserable exercise.

Um, I don't know. I looked at them, and I'm firmly not sure if they'll pass. The back brake pads looked OK, but the front ones were marginal. And since I won't have time to do a front brake job before Thursday, I'm at the repair shop's mercy.

So, basically, pulling the wheels was a waste of time, an exercise in futility, of railing against the forces of nature and man and accomplishing very little in the process, besides aggravating myself and making a lot of noise.

Somewhere in there is a metaphor for my life, I fear.

Postscript: Since the Mercury is going in for inspection, it was also time to renew the registration. I decided to do it online. Not only was it remarkably easy, it was quick: I filed the forms electronically on Thursday, and the new owner's card and validation sticker arrived Monday. Finally, a government service I like! Visit and click on the menu for "Online Vehicle Services."

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July 12, 2004 | Link to this story

A Speck of a Place, a Heck of a Place

Category: default || By jt3y

Regular readers of this Web page (both of them: hi, mom!) know that I like nothing more than a good display of Mon Valley chauvinism. True residents of the Mon Valley may disagree on many things --- high school football, Steelers quarterbacks other than Terry Bradshaw, the merits of Iron City Beer --- but we are united against our common enemy: Pittsburgh. We may be on the treadmill to oblivion (to steal a phrase from Fred Allen), but at least we're all walking in the same direction.

That's why this Pat Cloonan story in Friday's Daily News did my pollution-contaminated heart good:

An aside to Charles Betters: Keep the name "Pittsburgh" alongside "Palisades Park" if you get that race track license for Hays. So said McKeesport officials who said they have been working for months to assure that, when people think "Palisades Park," they look to the Twin Rivers, not the Three Rivers.

"I would like to secure the Palisades name for McKeesport," Councilwoman Ann VanKirk Stromberg said at this week's McKeesport City Council meeting.

"We're going to be filing with the Department of State (in Harrisburg) to reserve the name 'Palisades Park,'" (Solicitor J. Jason) Elash said. "We've had this intention since the beginning of the year."

By gum, if Our Fair City can stick it to Pittsburgh on the Palisades Park issue, then I'm delighted. We have a strong claim to the name "Palisades" --- it's been on the Palisades Ballroom at least since the 1920s.

Pittsburgh may have some things that Our Fair City doesn't --- three allegedly professional sports teams, a skyscraper or two --- but they've got a symphony and we've got a symphony. They've got a library and we've got a library. They've got a fountain downtown and we've got a fountain downtown (McKeesport has two fountains downtown, actually, neener neener neener). They've got a bunch of Fortune 500 companies and 325,000 residents, and we've got ...

Well, we have two fountains downtown.

And lots of free parking! So there! Ha!

(More badly-scanned photos of Mon-Yough scenery are available here, by the way.)

In other news, Dennis Roddy of the Post-Gazette (a newspaper up in that city to the north of Our Fair City, and I don't mean Duquesne), speaking to an interviewer from Columbia Journalism Review, has a solution for attracting Western Pennsylvania residents to the presidential campaign:

TL: Everyone's looking for the essential swing group this election season. Who do you think the Steelers-fan vote is going to go for?

DBR: It's going to go to the first candidate with the good sense to hold an open rally and post a big sign that says "Free Beer."

Hell, yeah! I'll vote for the candidate who offers free beer. Um ... gee ... no one's going to tell the LaRouchies that, I hope. (Link via Perfesser Pittsblog.)

In the Tube City Almanac mailbag, last week's mention of the passing of the publisher of the Jeannette News-Dispatch tickled the memory of an Alert Reader who has asked to remain anonymoose:

If there is anything that distresses me more than the passing of local radio as once known in so many area communities, it is the passing of local newspapers as once known in so many communities --- something I was reminded of the other night ...

We were passing a state liquor store built after the old Messenger building burned down some years ago. The Daily Messenger was a great newspaper for a town that once was a colossus of steel, but it started to decline even before the Homestead District Works declined. A strike in the late '60s accelerated the process, which ended with a daily going weekly, then dying, then being revived in the early 80s as a weekly News Messenger, then dying again on a day when the publisher told me to shut down my obit writing duties and go home, the paper --- and several other weeklies the woman and her husband had bought --- went bankrupt.

The Valley Mirror was one of two efforts to keep a community news medium going in the Steel Valley. One-time Messenger editor Earle Wittpenn founded the Mirror. He continues to write a column even though he sold the paper some years ago (to a gentleman who later swallowed whole the old Free Press of Braddock, circulating the Mirror now to both Steel Valley and Woodland Hills communities). The other effort was a cable TV newscast, still done monthly on Adelphia Channel 7 by former Munhall Councilman Bill Davis ...

The list of deceased publications also is enough to send someone off the Grays Bridge (or, if you prefer, the Mansfield Bridge, or any other span around McKeesport).

As many Alert Readers know, I am a regular reader and fan of the Valley Mirror (or "Valley Smear," if you prefer) and I never miss "Earle's Pearls" (even if Earle Wittpenn and I couldn't be more politically different). I used to particularly love when Wittpenn would run on the front page a list of the names and addresses of subscribers whose subscriptions were about to expire --- a tradition the new publisher, Anthony Munson, hasn't continued.

The Mirror also carries Jim O'Brien's sports column. O'Brien has had a few nifty ones lately.

My rant about tagging --- and the subsequent response from Alert Reader Bob --- prompted a reply from Alert Reader John:

I realized that I'm the exact "whippersnapper" mentioned by Bob. Small world, huh?? I distinctly recalled having the argument with him, one on one, about the recent (then, anyway) capture and arrest of "mook." I won't go into details, but rest assured, points were argued that really don't make any sense now ...

I've gone from an immature 22 to an ever-more cranky 26, and I'm going to admit my idiocy. Yes, taggers are among the scum of the earth, though I do believe that I have seen some out-of-the-way murals that could qualify as art. Keep in mind though, that what I'm talking about has nothing to do with the use of Sharpies, and does not concern domestic dwellings, signs, or other property generally accepted to be "owned" by some person.

On a side note, I've enjoyed the little bit I've read on your site. As a fellow McK (Grandview, fyi), I can identify with a lot of the stuff that pisses you off. I guess that's good.

Geez, I don't know ... I appreciate the nice comments, but anyone who agrees with me too much would benefit from heavy therapy, and perhaps some mood-altering drugs. And if those aren't handy, Stoney's or Straub usually works for me.

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