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Filed Under: default || By jt3y

August 31, 2005 | Link to this story

Your Attention Please

Category: default || By jt3y

Due to jobs from paying clients that I'm way behind on, Almanac updates are going to be spotty for at least the next few weeks. Your indulgence is appreciated.

I'm also well behind on working on the book. I wanted the manuscript to be complete in time for the Murphy centennial, but at this rate, it's going to take me until the bicentennial. I'm thinking that the hour or so per day that it takes me to maintain the Almanac might be better invested in that project. The crowds of G.C. Murphy retirees outside my house with pitchforks and torches has absolutely nothing to do with my decision.

In the meantime, I'm trying to find someone to write the Almanac a few days a week. I've asked Officer Jim, but he's reluctant. I guess his job oppressing the masses and reinforcing the capitalistic-militaristic cabal that keeps the fascists in control takes a lot of his free time. And when he comes home after a long day of holding his jackbooted foot on the neck of the proletariat, I'm sure he just wants to kick back.

(Oops! Sorry. Some of the propaganda from those protests in Oakland got posted here by accident.)

Anyway, the Almanac may drop down to twice or three times per week in the near future.

In the meantime, who says that the Mon Valley is always behind the trends? A spot check at the Mon-Yough Gas Gauge reveals that $3 per gallon gasoline has arrived.

Elsewhere in the news, the stories from New Orleans get worse and worse. The latest reports indicate that the entire city may be abandoned for up to four months, and some areas east of New Orleans, like parts of Gulfport and Biloxi, Miss., are virtually gone.

Personally, I didn't realize just how bad it was until President Dubya canceled the rest of his vacation. When Fumblefingers decides to stop clearing brush and goes into the office, then I think we all realize that a major crisis has happened.

Would you be surprised, by the way, to learn that millions of dollars in flood prevention projects in New Orleans were cancelled because of the administration's tax cuts, and to pay for the war in Iraq? Or that $800 million was diverted from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for Homeland Security boondogles?

On the other hand, I'll bet folks in southern Louisiana and Mississippi are really enjoying their tax cuts right now.

There are a lot of ex-McKeesporters living down along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, so chances are, someone you know or used to know has been affected. If you have a couple of extra bucks, consider clicking that banner at the top of the page to donate to the Red Cross.

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Posted at 07:48 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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August 29, 2005 | Link to this story

Dumber Than a Sack of Dead Spiders

Category: default || By jt3y

When I worked at the News (and those Newsers who check out the Almanac will back me up on this story, I think), we used to regularly receive letters from a city man who was offended by the comic strip "Nancy."

In particular, this man found offensive two certain parts of the anatomy of Nancy's Aunt Fritzi. If you're not familiar with the strip, let's just say that if "Nancy" is ever cancelled, Fritzi Ritz will be able to find work as a comic-book superheroine.

Anyway, each time Aunt Fritzi would appear in the paper, this man would clip out the offending "Nancy" strip, circle Aunt Fritzi's bosom, and write "SMUT" on it. Then he'd send it to the newsroom, where the lovely and talented Gerry Jurann would share the missive with the reporters and editors, and we'd all roar with laughter. For all I know, the guy is still sending them.

I realized recently that I'm rapidly approaching that stage in my own life. I'm starting (starting?) to fit the pattern of a sad, lonely man who will one day be found dead under a pile of moldy newspapers. When the police are alerted that my mailbox is full of unopened pension checks, they'll send the volunteer fire department to bust open the front door, and find me in a rotting recliner in the living room with a half-finished letter to the editor in one hand. Clutched in my other desiccated hand will be a clipping of "Spider-Man," but instead of "SMUT," I'll have written, "IDIOTIC."

"Spider-Man," which I can't avoid because it's now in all three of the papers I regularly read, is the slowest-paced adventure comic strip of all time. The plots, such as they are, move at a pace that a turtle would find tiresome, and worse yet, the Sunday strips (seen in the Trib) tend to recap all of the action (or lack thereof) from the previous week.

The excruciating plot over the past few weeks has involved Peter Parker, the titular hero, being hired full-time by the Daily Bugle and being sent to the doctor for a physical. Naturally, he's worried that the doctor will discover that he's Spider-Man, he does whatever a spider can, he's got radioactive blood, et cetera.

But in Sunday's installment, he suddenly realized that he had worn his Spider-Man costume under his clothes, and the doctor wanted him to take off his shirt. Naturally, this is a major crisis, and no doubt it will take King Features Syndicate months to resolve it.

Now, I'm willing to buy the bit about him having the radioactive blood, because it's essential to the whole Spider-Man character. I can't quite figure out, however, why Peter Parker would spend days worrying that the whole turn-your-head-and-cough routine would inadvertently reveal his status as an arachnid-American, but some how he forgot that he was wearing his goddamned red and blue Spider-Man costume under his freaking clothes.

Apparently, he got the proportionate strength of a spider, but the proportionate common sense of an intestinal parasite.

This is profoundly stupid even by "Spider-Man" comic strip standards. It threatened to open a stupidity black hole in Sunday's paper that sucked into its vortex all of the other comic strips around it. No offense to the people in Louisiana, but I hear there were high wind warnings Sunday all the way from "Beetle Bailey" to "Marmaduke."

Suspension of disbelief is one thing --- it's a comic strip, for crying out loud --- but this was disbelief being suspended from the top of the U.S. Steel Building by 1,500 feet of dental floss. Or spider webbing, if you prefer.

I'm dreading the moment that I open tonight's paper. Because chances are "Spider-Man" has taken another plot twist so utterly moronic as to make people dumber merely for delivering the newspaper.

If you saw a teen-aged kid on your street lying on the ground, drooling, he or she wasn't on drugs. He or she was a carrier whose central nervous system shut down after inhaling all of those concentrated "Spider-Man" stupidity fumes. Personally, I'm going to cover my mouth with a protective mask as I check out the comics page, just to limit my own exposure.

You might be wondering, "Why even take the risk?" Because you never know when you might get a chance to ogle Fritzi Ritz.

UPDATE: Josh at The Comics Curmudgeon posted his own thoughts in the latest "Spider-Man" plot twist early Tuesday morning: "Peter Parker, meanwhile, proves that he has the proportionate IQ of a spider: not only did he forget to remove his 'spider threads' before the inevitable 'customary' medical exam semi-nudity, but he’s chosen to reveal said threads to provide a visual counterpart to his cretinous internal monologue. Sorry, Spidey, but for this desperately retarded move, you deserve a few days locked in a cage in some sort of clean room down at CIA headquarters. Good luck with that. Anyway, to sum up: Spider-Man is dumb."

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Posted at 06:49 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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August 26, 2005 | Link to this story

Free Advice and Worth Every Penny

Category: default || By jt3y

It's that time of year, when students around the region are entering colleges, universities and, in some cases, reform schools. People often ask me: "Did you intend to dress that way?" They never ask me, "Say, what advice do you have for students entering college?" So, I've decided to answer that question instead.

1. Choose your major well. A retiree that I knew and admired gave me a valuable piece of advice: "Get a job that you like. Otherwise, you've got two jobs, and the first is getting out of bed in the morning." Don't choose your major based on what your parents think, or that you're choosing only based on its future earnings potential. On the other hand, you're best served by selecting a major with some practical value, because those college loans are going to come rolling in sooner than you think. (That means that if you want to become a writer, technical writing is a better option than, say, poetry.)

2. Run far, far away from Citibank. And Chase and Bank of America and Discover and all of the other people on campus who are going to be plying you with credit card offers. They'll ply you with gifts like crummy plastic water bottles and pen and pencil sets; you can buy stuff of better quality at a dollar store. They'll tell you that getting a Visa or Mastercard will help you establish a credit rating, which is true, but you can do that just as easily with a department store card or a gasoline card, and they don't have giant credit limits that are going to get you in trouble. (Just make sure you pay them off every month.) The credit card people will also tell you that they're good for emergency expenses, but once you have them, you're going to be tempted to whip out your Visa or Mastercard to pay for lunch or other frivolous expenses. Then you'll wind up paying 12 percent interest on a cheeseburger you ate a month ago.

3. Discover the world outside the dorm. I talk to people occasionally who had miserable college experiences. When I ask them why, I usually find out they didn't get involved on anything on campus. Join a club or participate in an IM sport. The average college has about 900 different activities, from board game clubs to rugby teams. It will be the quickest way to make friends on campus and find cheap entertainment.

4. Get practical experience. When you graduate, few if any potential employers are going to want to see your transcript. They will want to know if you've produced anything of value during your college career. So take internships in your field or work on student projects. Save samples of your best work. Ask for leadership roles in groups that you join, and then make sure to do the work you're given. Telling a recruiter at a job interview that you were president of the campus chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers and built a race car your senior year is going to impress him or her more than a resume that shows good grades but no outside activities.

5. Treat people like you want to be treated. That seems pretty basic, but a lot of people have played "big man on campus" during their college years, only to graduate and find their status evaporating. Don't forget, too, that people who are your classmates now may be a potential co-worker or boss in a few years, and they will remember the slights and petty offenses.

6. Don't be stupid. Underage drinking may seem like a victimless crime, until you get busted. Then it's just a crime, and when you have to fill out that first job application and they ask if you have a criminal record, how are you going to answer? (Remember, you're an adult now in the eyes of the law, and your record isn't sealed any more.) If you're going to drink anyway, then for crying out loud, be discreet, and don't drive. If you're going to fool around (and you probably will, those people going into the seminary excluded, I hope), use protection. (And girls, don't trust us guys, 'cause we lie.) Nothing will put a wet blanket on your college experience like those three-times-a-week visits to the STD clinic. Remember No. 5? People will remember if you were a jerk. They'll also remember if you were the campus drunk, stoner or skank.

7. Don't sweat the small stuff. You may get wrapped up in undergraduate intrigues, arguments, political protests and other "scandals" that will seem overwhelming at the time. Your first failing grade, or worse yet, a completely screwed-up semester, may seem like the end of the world. Keep your perspective and don't do anything you'll regret later on. A year after you graduate, your problems will be forgotten, and you'll wonder why you were so upset at the time.

8. Keep your perspective. It helps to get off campus once in a while, get some fresh air and see the real world. The sun will continue to shine (OK, maybe not in Western Pennsylvania) and people off-campus will continue to live happy lives despite the current upheaval in the college chess club or the misery of calculus lectures. It also helps to imagine the worst possible scenario, which probably isn't that terrible. Maintaining your ties with your friends at home will help, as will getting an off-campus job or just making time for a trip to the mall, the movies or a baseball game. (That last one is particularly important. If you're miserable, why not go to a Pirate game and see what real misery looks like?)

If any college students see this, I hope the advice helps. And if your college or university needs a commencement speaker, I'm available at extremely reasonable rates to dispense additional hackneyed, homespun "wisdom."

Heck, unlike some fancy-pants scientist or celebrity, you could probably get me for a cheese sandwich and carfare home. (I'm not proud.)

(Needless to say, opinions expressed here are not those of my employer or of anyone else, as far as I know. But you knew that.)


Gas Pains: Readers of the Mon-Yough Gas Gauge know that the cheapest gas in Our Fair City this week was $2.489 per gallon. Find out where, and report your gas sightings today!


Local News You May Have Missed: I though this story from Irwin in Thursday's Post-Gazette was inspiring. The borough's deputy fire chief, Shawn Stitely, was severely injured in a motorcycle crash back in April on Route 30. Doctors told him he might never walk again, and that if he did, he might be able to return to work in six to seven months.

He went back to work last Monday, and walked to the podium at the borough council meeting this month.


To Do This Weekend: Turtle Creek Community Days will be held tonight and tomorrow night at the town square near the borough building, 125 Monroeville Ave., featuring games, rides, food and bingo. The Vogues perform at 8 p.m. Saturday ... Dallas Marks plays the Hartford Heights Volunteer Fire Department on Route 30 in North Huntingdon (near the old Blue Dell Drive-In) tonight. Call (412) 823-9796 ... the Stonee Ridge Band plays Paintertown Volunteer Fire Department, Paintertown Road near Irwin Country Club in Penn Township, on Saturday night. Call (724) 863-1338.

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Posted at 12:29 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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August 24, 2005 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted

Category: default || By jt3y

Just a short note today to say that I'm still seeking people to report gas prices in the area for the new Mon-Yough Gas Gauge. Actually, I'm having a lot of fun doing it. It's like a scavenger hunt; I keep a little pad and a pen on the driver's seat next to me, and jot down the price of every gas station I pass. This is what passes for entertainment when you're a geek, I suppose.

Now, here's Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten in an online chat yesterday:

Washington, D.C.: After seeing how Pat Robertson wants to deal with public figures who tick him off, have you requested any extra security?

Also, isn't the funniest thing about that story -- by far -- the fact that Robertson's assassination request was broadcast on the ABC Family Channel?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, in case you missed it, the Rev. Pat Robertson has said it would be a good idea to assassinate the president of Venezuela, who says bad things about our government and our president.

That shows misjudgment. You can think whatever you want, but to say some things, when you have a public forum, is just plain irresponsible. For example, I would never SAY that I thought assassinating Pat Robertson wouldn't be so bad.

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Posted at 12:55 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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August 23, 2005 | Link to this story

Where There's Hope, There's ... ?

Category: default || By jt3y

Like Anne Frank, writing in her diary that people are basically good as she hears the boots tromping up the stairs to the attic, I keep looking for signs of hope.

For instance, I read Ann Belser's story (which took up most of three pages in the Post-Gazette on Sunday, and I thought, "Well, at least the pictures are nice":

It's not so much the high-profile crimes, those that draw the television cameras and are splashed across the news, that erode the quality of life in areas like McKeesport. It's the day-to-day hassles of gangs of young people in the street, punctuated with shots that may hit no one, that grind the residents down.

This year has been a busy one for the department. In just the first two months of this summer, McKeesport police answered 5,725 calls and made 596 arrests. During the first seven months of this year, the 60-member department answered 18,333 calls, which is already 4,738 more than all of the calls answered last year. McKeesport is not among the highest crime communities in Pennsylvania; it is among a group of towns and neighborhoods that have persistent levels of both nonviolent and violent crime.

Belser didn't pull many punches in describing the current "state of the union" in Allegheny County's second city. How (or why) could she? We who live and work in Our Fair City or its suburbs know what's going on, and the people who Belser talked to told her the straight truth.

So why did I feel some optimism after I finished the story, besides the pretty photos from Martha Rial? Because it shows that people haven't given up yet. Not the 15-year-old girl from Midtown Towers who's trying to make the honor roll and her mother; not the man from Sumac Street who's coaching the Little Tigers; not the police who've stepped up patrols or Mayor Brewster, who's committed to eliminating blight by demolishing abandoned buildings and clearing vacant lots.

About the only thing in Belser's story which I can fault was the headline: "Taking Its Toll: Anxiety over crime, social problems, wears down McKeesport." I didn't see that people were "worn down"; on the contrary they're fighting back. I'll concede, however, that they're anxious. I know I am. (Contrary to popular belief, reporters don't write headlines, and sometimes the people who do don't read much of the story.)

Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy, and reversing the city's fortunes is not going to be easy. The fact that so many people are willing to make the effort, and are unwilling to allow criminals and absentee landlords to do whatever they want to whomever they want, is reason for optimism, and those people deserve our support and gratitude.

And then there was Pat Cloonan's story in Saturday's Daily News. It points out that there's still much work to be done, and that as Our Fair City moves forward, some of its old glories may fall by the wayside, and that the process may be painful; among the buildings targeted for demolition by the city are the old Eagles Aerie on Market Street and the Penn-McKee Hotel. (Others include the old Henry B. Klein store on Fifth Avenue and the Swedish Singing Society and McKeesport Appliance Parts buildings on Shaw Avenue.)

I will be sorry to see the Eagles go, since my grandfather was a member, and I have fond memories of attending functions there, but it's been sad to watch it deteriorate, and I have a bad feeling that the damage to the building is well advanced. As City Administrator Dennis Pittman told Cloonan, any structure can be rehabilitated, but once the costs of fixing the old building are more than the cost of building a new one, it's unlikely to happen. The Eagles and the Shaw Avenue buildings are owned by something called the Museum Hair Institute, whose managing partners say they want to open a museum of hair. Well, stranger things have been memorialized in museums, I suppose. If they're serious about doing something to preserve the Eagles (which was originally one of the mansions that once lined Market Street), I hope they act already.

I'll be even sorrier if and when the Penn-McKee goes. With the opening of the McKee's Point Marina and the revitalization of the Palisades, which is hopping several nights a week these days, I was hopeful that someone would buy the Penn-McKee and reuse the lower floors for retail and maybe a decent sit-down restaurant. I'm not sure what you'd do with the upper floors, though I suspect senior citizen housing will continue to be a booming business in the Mon Valley for at least the next 20 years.

I don't know how much use Our Fair City has for a hotel, although the explosion in hotel construction in West Mifflin and North Huntingdon leads me to believe there's some demand; the Penn-McKee's rooms, which are very small and run down (the hotel was most recently a flophouse), would basically need to be gutted and completely reconstructed.

Still, the Penn-McKee was once considered a very important part of life in the valley, having hosted (among other things) the Kennedy-Nixon debate of 1947, and as long as it's standing, there's hope that it can be reused.

There have been some frankly half-hearted attempts to market it over the years, and I'm not sure who's to blame for allowing this landmark at the gateway to Downtown to fall into disrepair. County deed records show that the tax bills for the Penn-McKee go to Edward L. Kemp Inc., the heating and air conditioning contractor on West Fifth Avenue, while the registered owner is something called "See Bee Inc." (For what it's worth, Kemp owns more than a dozen other buildings around the city, several of which the county's assessors have rated as "poor," "very poor" or "unsound." But don't take my word for it. All of the information is publicly available to anyone who wants to read it.)

A check with the state's corporations bureau gave me no information about See Bee other than the fact that it's a real-estate investment company with a Pittsburgh address.

Frankly, the Penn-McKee and the city's residents and taxpayers have deserved better stewardship than the building has gotten, whoever is responsible for its current deplorable state. It pains me to say it, but if the owners have no intention of doing anything with the building until it falls down (like the Hunter Livery building did a few years ago), then perhaps it's better if the Penn-McKee is torn down. If anyone has a realistic plan for saving it, I hope they step up, and soon.

Ah, there's that word "hope" again. Am I just kidding myself, or do I have reason to keep the faith?

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August 19, 2005 | Link to this story

I Love a Parade

Category: default || By jt3y

While looking for an address near Duquesne Village two Saturdays ago, I found myself on Pennsylvania Avenue. Near the curve at the Knights of Columbus Hall, a fire department car with its lights flashing was blocking one lane of the road. I figured there was an accident up ahead.

It helps at this point to recall that I was driving the sleek, gray Mercury, which also has two ham radio antennas (antennae?) on the trunk.

The line officer manning the roadblock saw me stop and waved me past the roadblock, and I tooted my horn and drove around the curve ...

... and almost head-on into a West Mifflin police car, behind which was the West Mifflin Area High School marching band and a couple of dozen fire trucks. On both sides of the road sat people in lawn chairs, waving American flags.

I had inadvertantly found the Duquesne Village volunteer fire department parade, and it instantly hit me that the guy at the roadblock saw the antennae (antennaes? aerials?) on the trunk of the Mercury and assumed I was another fireman on my way to help out.

So I threw on the brakes, pushed the gearshift up into "reverse," and backed as fast as I could up Pennsylvania Avenue and past the roadblock, then cut the wheel around, executing a nice 180-degree spin that, in my humble opinion, would have made Jim Rockford proud. In the back mirror, I could see the firefighter's mouth hanging open a little bit, and then he started to laugh; he realized what he'd done, too.

I didn't start to laugh until I got to Dravosburg and concluded that the West Mifflin police weren't following me to give me a ticket. For what, I don't know. Disrupting a parade? Aggravated stupidity?

Anyway, that's today's Almanac, cut short because I spent Thursday nigh designing a new feature and adding what I hope will be the start of entire new section to Tube City Online devoted to driving in the Mon-Yough area. I call it "Blacktop Jungle," which was the name of a column I used to write for the Observer-Reporter.

I've decided to start tracking gasoline prices as I drive along and posting them to the new Mon-Yough Gas Gauge, but I'm going to need your help. Visit the Gas Gauge for details and for my first spotchecks, made on my way home from work last night in the West Mifflin area ...

... where I almost ran into another doggone parade, this time on Greensprings Avenue. What is it with those people?


To Do This Weekend: Rankin Borough hosts "Jazz in the Park" from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the parklet on Rankin Boulevard near Hawkins Avenue ... If you've digested your food from International Village, the Greek Food Festival continues afternoons and evenings through Sunday at Olympia Hall on Electric Avenue near East Pittsburgh. It's sponsored by Presentation of Christ Greek Orthodox Church and also features music, dancing and a jewelry sale. Call (412) 824-9188. ... Or, head back to Renzie Park tomorrow and Sunday for the fourth-annual barbecue and rib cookoff at Stephen Barry Field from 2 to 11 p.m. There will also be crafts and games, live music and fireworks Sunday night. Call (412) 675-5068 ... And if you rappa-rappa-rap, and they call you The Rapper, stick around, because The Jaggerz are playing Renzie at 7 p.m. Sunday.

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August 18, 2005 | Link to this story

Answering Questions No One Asked

Category: default || By jt3y

Letters! We get letters! We get stacks and stacks of letters!

Somewhere, I wish I could find an original copy of Perry Como's letters theme, which apparently is on an obscure RCA Victor LP. And despite the fact that I can't stand when webpages force me to listen to music or an advertisement, I'd love for that theme to start playing whenever we get letters! We get letters! We get stacks and stacks of ...

Never mind.

An anonymous reader from the South Hills of Picksberg writes regarding the K-Y Jelly commercials running on network TV:

And I thought I was the only one who noticed.

Actually, I think I saw mine later, and it may have been during the Peter Jennings tribute on Nightline, which makes it worse.

There have been some K-Y spots before, and let's not forget "Trojan Man," who annoyed me for years on end, not just on TV, but on radio as well.

One of my frustrating experiences is trying to watch "Star Trek: The Next Generation" --- a very intelligent and literate program --- on Spike TV, where every spot break is full of GIRLS GONE WILD, VOLUME 213!, or SNOOP DOGGY DOGG HANGS WITH DA PLAYAS!, or whatever they can sell to all the Beavis and Buttheads who apparently comprise their usual audience.

Uh-huh-huh-huh. He said "spike."

I'm still not sure who the target audience is for Spike TV ... you've got your "Star Trek," but you've also got your WWE rasslin', "Ultimate Fight Night," "CSI" and "Real TV," right?

So, Spike TV is aimed at introspective science-fiction fans who like watching autopsies and people pound the ever-loving krep out of one another. That makes sense. Lots of those around. Like mullet-wearing NASCAR fans who live in Fox Chapel.

I wasn't aware that K-Y had advertised on TV before, but some how I'm not surprised that they had spots during the Peter Jennings tribute. In fact, I look forward to seeing edible panties and Hustler being pitched during "World News Tonight" any minute now.

Speaking of TV tastefulness: I made the mistake of watching part of "CSI: Miami" again. I still don't understand what people see in this show. The episode I caught featured an investigation into a judge who was fooling around with a woman who wasn't his wife. At one point, the investigators opened a cabinet to reveal a row of brightly-colored ... um ... artificial male genitalia.

We've come a long way from when "Leave it to Beaver" couldn't show a toilet in the Cleavers' bathroom, or when Rob and Laurie Petrie had to have one foot on the floor at all times.

On a somewhat related subject, I was filling up the sleek, gray Mercury with gas at the Marathon station on West Fifth Avenue the other day as workers installed a new sign on the dirty book store --- excuse me, the newsstand --- across the street.

That store's been there as long as I can remember, but it's somewhat encouraging to see that in this age of rising fuel prices and other inflationary pressure, after all of these years, "adult movies" are still only 25 cents.

Another anonymous reader, this one from the Irwin area, writes in regard to Monday's Almanac on contemporary music in church:

Amen, brother. Signed, a Lutheran choir member who once was a Catholic lector.

See? This should be a warning to the Catholic Church. They're chasing away their customers to the competition! I can hear Tom Lehrer now: "I believe that if they really want to sell the product ..."

Come to think of it, that's from "The Vatican Rag," which is a parody of using popular music in Catholic liturgy ... from 1965, about 20 years before such practices became commonplace. Lehrer was ahead of his time once again. And now that I think about it some more, I'd rather hear "The Vatican Rag" in church than about 99 percent of the contemporary music churches use.

Finally, comes this letter from Michael in New York City, who writes:

I'm not sure whether this is a valid e-mail address (I love your humor, but I can't discern when you are serious), so I am sending this as a test. I am from McKeesport, but I now am relegated to slumming it in New York City. I was looking into the history of the Mon Valley steel industry when I found your blog. (A McKeesport Blog !!??) I have a few observations if you are interested. Please e-mail me back before I make a complete fool of myself by writing a longer letter to an invalid e-mail address.

Poor Mike, reduced to walking the streets of Manhattan, where I have it on good authority that you can't get a decent chipped ham sandwich or a carton of Turner's iced tea. (Although they do have a much wider selection of dirty books.)

Why is he so surprised that there's a website about Our Fair City? It's not like it's a blog about, say, Glassport. (Kidding! But anything we can do to perpetuate the traditional Glassport-McKeesport rivalry is OK in our book.) Or Caketown.

But Tube City Online is more than just the Almanac. Not much more, admittedly. For instance, I'm only about four years behind on a webpage about the Mon Valley steel industry. That's coming any day now. Just you wait.

Michael is apparently questioning our location here on the Dementia server. We like the name, and we're grateful to have the webspace, generously donated by a globetrotting man-about-Trafford.

Besides, doesn't this entire site seem a bit ... well, demented?


To Do Today: It's the last day of International Village, and there will be fireworks after sundown. Disappointingly, WEDO (810) doesn't seem to be broadcasting from the Village this year, and their website is down as well. So you'll just have to go in person.

Make sure to pick up a copy of the program, and notice that nearly every page seems to include an ad for a retirement community (talk about targeting your demographic!). But the crowds have seemed as healthy as ever, with a lot of young people milling around, and that's good news.

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August 17, 2005 | Link to this story

Tea-ing Off on a Regional Taste

Category: default || By jt3y

Every so often, one of my colleagues walks past my desk and says, "Are you working in construction again?"

He's talking about the paper carton of iced tea (in my case, diet iced tea) that I sometimes buy to drink with my lunch. He thinks it's ... how do I put this? ... declasse.

Look, I'm a simple man with simple tastes. If I'm craving a 65-cent carton of iced tea, then by cracky, I'll have a 65-cent carton of iced tea. And me and the rest of the guys at the ironworkers' local don't appreciate the smart remarks.

But he's not the only one who's questioned my iced tea habit. A out-of-towner (a Noo Yawker, if you must know) once asked how Pittsburghers can drink "that stuff."

That makes me think that iced tea from a dairy is mainly a Pennsylvania thing, and more to the point, mainly a working-class and rural Pennsylvania thing. So, as I've traveled over the last year or so, I've made it a point to look for iced tea in dairy cases in stores, and guess what: You just don't see it in Ohio, Florida or the parts of Noo Yawk that I've visited. Lipton, Nestea or Snapple in glass bottles, yes, but not iced tea from the local dairy.

A quick Internet search (which is not "research," but you don't think I put a lot of time into these Almanacs, do you?) for "iced tea" and "dairy" turns up mostly references to Pennsylvania, including this article from a dairy trade magazine. As you might suspect, dairies in Pennsylvania started selling iced tea because they already had the infrastructure for packing milk; packaging tea allowed them to use the same equipment with little additional investment.

The article doesn't explain why it seems to be exclusively a Pennsylvania practice, or why Pennsylvanians drink so much of this stuff, but they do. The dairy stores and shop 'n robs around Our Fair City regularly run big sales in the summertime on iced tea in cartons, and people snap it up by the truckload. In my neighborhood, it's not uncommon to see people at my local (in)convenience store buying the stuff by the half-gallon.

Big business? I should say so. Turkey Hill Dairy in Lancaster, which recently moved into the Pittsburgh market, is running TV commercials specifically pushing its iced tea. According to this AP story, in 2003 Turkey Hill sold 24 million gallons of the stuff, making it the largest supplier of refrigerated iced tea in the country. That's pretty remarkable for a regional dairy, and I suspect most of the consumers are within two hours of Lancaster.

I wonder if the taste for cold, sweetened tea was brought to Pennsylvania by immigrants. Growing up, my grandmothers made something they called "hunky tea," which was tea with lots of lemon and honey or sugar. Could it be that dairies started bottling and packing iced tea to sell to thirsty steelworkers?

And appropriately enough, guess what's on display at International Village this year? Why, it's Turner Dairy's "Tea-Bird" --- a late '50s Ford Thunderbird painted to look like an iced tea carton.

All this isn't to say that other parts of the country, especially the South, don't love iced tea. Southerners call it "sweet tea," and very few restaurants (especially of the greasy spoon type) don't offer it, but I don't remember seeing iced tea in milk cartons in North Carolina, Virginia or anywhere else.

Johnstown's Galliker Dairy says it sells its iced tea in "parts of" Ohio, West Virginia, New York, New Jersey and North Carolina. Either this is a relatively recent development, or I'm not stopping in the right stores. The Winn-Dixie supermarket chain also apparently makes iced tea at its dairies. Could it be that expatriated Pittsburghers are taking their taste for iced tea with them as they move elsewhere? Is dairy-made iced tea about to become the next Western Pennsylvania delicacy about to go national, like the Klondike bar and Rolling Rock Beer?

And what, exactly, was my point today?

I don't know, but I sure am getting thirsty.

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August 16, 2005 | Link to this story

International Village Special

Category: default || By jt3y

International Village, Western Pennsylvania's first and best ethnic food and music festival, opens at 3 this afternoon at Renziehausen Park in Our Fair City and runs through Thursday. Carol Waterloo Frazier wrote in last night's Daily News that nationalities and ethnic groups represented this year include African-American, Chinese, English, German, Hawaiian, Croatian, French, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Mexican, Serbian, Slovenia, Lebanese, Polish, Slovak and Vietnamese.

The arts and crafts booths return to the Jakomas Pavilion (last year I won two passes to McKeesport Little Theater) and other exhibitors include McKeesport Tigers Boosters, McKeesport Area High School Alumni Association, the Allegheny County Sheriff's Department, McKeesport police and fire departments and McKeesport Ambulance and Rescue Service. There are also rides and games for smaller children.

Admission has gone up to $2, but what else can you do for $2 these days? Go out and support your neighbors (some of whom start working months in advance to prepare for the Village), listen to some music, eat something bad and go home happy.

The Village wraps up with fireworks and polka dancing Thursday night, and if I eat my usual mix of Hungarian, Greek, Italian and Mexican foods at the Village, I'll be wrapped up with fireworks of my own on Friday morning.

In honor of the Village's opening day, enjoy this special feature from Tube City Online's half-vast archives. It's a look at International Village in 1972 from the pages of the Ford Times, the (sadly defunct) travel magazine for Ford owners.

The inside page of this issue (August 1972) has the above advertisement for the Ford Pinto, which the Village has now outlasted by 25 years.

Ironically, however, both Ford Pintos and people who eat too much at International Village sometimes end up with their rear ends burning.

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August 15, 2005 | Link to this story

These Hymns Hit a Sour Note

Category: default || By jt3y

I knew I was in trouble when I pulled into the parking lot at church (not at my regular parish) this weekend and saw someone toting an electric keyboard. Inside, my worst fears were confirmed: It was contemporary music day!

Two people were plugging in electric guitars; the third was setting up the keyboard. It's a pity they didn't have a drummer. I started saying the serenity prayer in my head.

It has now been about 40 years since the Vatican allowed Catholic churches to use contemporary music at Mass. I expect that within another 40 years, someone will write some contemporary hymns that don't set my teeth on edge.

This Almanac is painful to write ("not so painful as it is to read," you're thinking), because I know the people who pick music for their churches are trying to do their best. I'm sure they think they're reaching out to young people by bringing in electric guitars and what they think is "modern" music. But they're really only making themselves look more of out touch.

Now, I realize that I'm an old fuddy-duddy, and I'm not asking that churches use nothing except dirges and chants. I enjoy uplifting hymns as much as the next guy (presuming the next guy happens to be a Christian, I suppose). Nothing gets a Sunday off to a good start like a couple of rousing choruses of "How Great Thou Art" or "Amazing Grace" or any of hundreds of other hymns; and after all, gospel music was one of the strongest influences on early rhythm and blues and rock and roll composers.

However, there's a reason that traditional gospel music and the work of 18th century composers endures: It's good. Much of the contemporary worship music that finds its way into Catholic churches is at best trite, and I'm told by Protestant friends that they're being afflicted by the same composers and publishers.

Many of the "contemporary" hymns being used by churches were written in the 1970s, and they sound like the worst folk and pop of that decade, with pretentious wording and melodies that are difficult to sing for all but professional vocalists. It's as full of phony sentiment as anything that Tony Orlando and Dawn or the Partridge Family ever took onto the Top 40 charts. If you saw the folk music parody A Mighty Wind, any of the songs on the soundtrack, with a few lyrical alterations, would fit the genre.

Worse yet, where sacred music should be designed to encourage the congregation to participate (the idea of singing during church should be that the songs are a form of prayer, after all), the quick key and tempo changes of this stuff discourages participation.

And that's what happened at this Mass. Most of the congregation stood silently as our three-person combo "performed." The keyboard player had programmed the device to sound like a Hammond B-3; they even did a surf-rock version of one hymn. I wish I was exaggerating, but I'm not.

This is not an isolated incident in the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, or around the country, at least in my experience. I've lost count of how many Masses I've attended featuring acoustic guitars and tambourines.

The worst offender seems to be a collection of music called Glory & Praise, which comes from Oregon Catholic Press. Oh, Lord, I'm sure these folks mean well, and I know they've tried their best, but this is awful stuff. I work weird hours, and I do a fair amount of traveling, so I regularly visit Catholic churches besides my own parish. If I walk into the vestibule and see a stack of Glory & Praise hymnals, I cringe, despite myself.

I first encountered Glory & Praise in the second grade. I had grown up in a conservative parish with an older priest who was near retirement. When the Catholic school I was attended closed, my folks sent me to the old St. Mary's German on Olive Street. At the time, St. Mary's pastor, Rev. Tom Smith, was leading a troupe of performers in a sort of Catholic cabaret. (He made it onto "Real People" at one point, which is a dubious distinction at best.)

"Father Tom" had recently equipped St. Mary's with a set of Glory & Praise hymnals, and even as a little kid, the music hurt my ears. Pretty soon, other parishes around the Mon-Yough area were buying them, and when our priest retired, we got them, too. We also got a choir director who used to rehearse us before Mass in trying to sing the unsingable.

When the congregation resisted, or sat in stony silence, the choir director only became more strident --- "Come on! You people can do better than that!" --- until the people in the pews, grudgingly, would croak out a few verses for her. And you haven't lived until you've seen a group of white-haired 60-something Catholics try to keep up with the key changes in a Carey Landry arrangement.

Eventually, the congregation got with the times. Or rather, they stopped coming to Mass early to avoid these painful and condescending mandatory choir practices. I'll even bet a few of them stopped going to church there altogether, because attendance suddenly dropped precipitously.

I've never, ever met a Catholic, Lutheran or Episcopalian who liked this stuff, but I'm willing to admit that my sample is self-selected, so I decided to do some quick web research. Apparently, hundreds if not thousands of churchgoers agree. An article in Crisis Magazine from 2002 singles out Glory & Praise for particular scorn and claims it has hijacked the liturgy; the author calls the hymns "musical candy that was already stale about 15 years ago" and says that they're "far more politically than doctrinally correct."

Take a look at the comments on this religious blog (one poster calls a popular contemporary hymn "the liturgical equivalent of dragging fingernails across a blackboard, and stupid to boot") or visit "Confessions of a Recovering Choir Director" or the webpage of composer Brian Page.

And back in 2000, a certain Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger spoke out against this stuff, calling it "banal" and "in opposition to Christian worship." You may know Cardinal Ratzinger better these days as Pope Benedict XVI, so perhaps there's reason for hope.

Anyway, if any pastors or church council members happen to stumble across this web page while looking for information about Glory & Praise, I urge you, on behalf of music-loving Christians everywhere, run far, far away from this contemporary stuff. The members of your church or parish are too polite to tell you that they hate it. They just sit in the pews and grind their teeth whenever the organist says, "Take our your Glory & Praise hymnal and turn to number 49, 'Sing a New Song Unto the Lord.'"

By the way, all through church this weekend, we could hear ominous rumbles of thunder outside. We exited the building just as the skies opened with a tremendous deluge of rain and lightning that knocked out electricity to parts of the neighborhood.

But the power wasn't interrupted, you'll notice, during the service, when a loss of electricity would have meant no keyboards or electric guitars.

Evidently, God has a weird sense of humor.

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August 12, 2005 | Link to this story

I'm Paranoid: Fly Me to Monroeville

Category: default || By jt3y

Some of you know that I'm an airplane buff, especially when it comes to "lightplanes" --- little private planes like Cessna 150s or Beech Bonanzas. I can't fly one and don't own one, but I love to watch 'em. And there aren't too many small aviation fields in Western Pennsylvania that I haven't visited at least once, including Pittsburgh-Monroeville Airport, which is tucked over on the north side of business Route 22.

And that brings us to the case of one John H. Dobbs Jr. of Memphis, Tenn., who was flying to Latrobe for a meeting on Tuesday.

By the way, the media listed his name as "Dubbs," but there's no one named "Dubbs" in the FAA database as being from Tennessee and holding a private pilot's license.

As you will soon see, this is just one of a chain of many, many errors that add up to one big clusterfarg.

Anyway, when the skies got dark Tuesday, Dobbs, who is rated to fly a plane on instruments (but who, like many private pilots, probably doesn't fly on instruments that often), decided to put in for the night. So he called air-traffic control, got permission to land at Pittsburgh-Monroeville Airport, and brought his twin-engine Beechcraft in for a landing.

Dobbs apparently brought the plane down a little hard and blew out two tires on the landing gear. (A report available online and dated July 7 indicates that the asphalt runway at Pittsburgh-Monroeville was in "poor" condition at that time. Maybe Mr. Dobbs hit a pothole?) This, in and of itself, is not unheard of, though I'm sure he wasn't happy.

Then he tied the plane down, and because Pittsburgh-Monroeville isn't staffed, he left a note on the door of the little golf course that abuts the airport, giving his cell phone number, name, and the address of the motel where he'd be staying.

These are all of the sorts of things that neighborly private pilots do. In retrospect, Mr. Dobbs probably should have taped the information to the side door of the plane, as we shall soon see.

A few hours later, the airport manager and another unidentified man (we'll call him Cletus), showed up, saw the plane, and according to the Post-Gazette, got "suspicious." I'm not certain why would get suspicious seeing an airplane at a public, licensed airport, though I suspect that Pittsburgh-Monroeville, like most small fields, doesn't get a lot of out of town visitors. (And it's not likely to get a visit again from one John H. Dobbs Jr. of Memphis, Tenn.)

In any case, Cletus called the FAA in Altoona and asked them to check on the plane's ownership by running a check on the "N-number" --- that's analogous to a car's license plate. But someone (no one is saying if it's Cletus or the Altoona folks) mixed up the number and checked the wrong plane. And then the police arrived.

The cops called air-traffic control in Moon Township and were told that the airplane had flown in from Tennessee and was planning to depart the following morning for Latrobe.

Now, this is where it gets confusing: On Tuesday down in Tennessee, as you may remember, a man escaped from prison after his wife shot a prison guard. Adding 1 and 1 and getting 3, or possibly 5, the authorities concluded that the plane might have been stolen by the fugitives, or perhaps by terrorists, who were presumably looking to crash the plane into Al Monzo's Palace Inn.

Why fugitives would be headed to Latrobe isn't clear. Nor can I say why terrorists on their way to Latrobe would stop in Monroeville first. Perhaps they wanted to buy new burkas and kaffiyehs at Burlington Coat Factory, or maybe they needed a Krispy Kreme fix (are jelly doughnuts halal?).

But now, the FBI joint terrorism task force got involved.

Of course, since everyone had the wrong registration number (and no one apparently thought to walk over to the airplane, write down the correct number, which was painted in big letters on the tail, and recheck it, which could have been done from any computer with an Internet connection), they couldn't figure out who the owner of the plane was.

Comes the next morning, and a worker from the golf course sees the note, and walks over to the airport manager and gives it to him.

A-ha! Handed this crucial bit of evidence, which had been cleverly concealed in broad daylight (OK, in broad moonlight), the forces of law and order leapt into action, arrived en masse at the hotel, and roused poor Mr. Dobbs for questioning.

Alas, he wasn't a terrorist, and sadly, police say he's "unlikely to face local charges," probably as a result of the legal technicality that he didn't actually do anything wrong. (Crafty lawyers win cases all the time by exploiting that loophole.)

Nevertheless, I'm sure he was loaded back into his plane and warned to get the heck out of Monroeville by sundown, or else face the terrible wrath of the zoning hearing board. But from now on, Mr. Dobbs will know better than to properly notify the authorities and make a perfectly legal landing at a public airport!

And now, as Jon Stewart says on "The Daily Show," it's your moment of zen. Says a police lieutenant to the Post-Gazette: "It actually showed the system worked."

If the "system" involves poor communication and garden-variety paranoia, then it worked like a charm!

I don't know about you, but I feel safer from terrorism already.


P.S. Is this the right place to point out that Monroeville police are among the highest paid in the state? Erm, probably not.


To Do This Weekend: As for myself, I'm going to steer clear of Monroeville for a while, because I've probably just guaranteed myself a ticket. As for you, check out the St. Martin de Porres Parish Festival tonight, tomorrow night and Sunday afternoon at the old St. Peter's Church grounds, 704 Market St. The Larry Placek Combo will perform and a Saturday night "polka Mass" is planned. Call (412) 672-9763. ... Pure Gold plays a free concert at the Renzie Park bandshell at 7 p.m. Sunday.

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August 11, 2005 | Link to this story

Almanac Off Today

Category: default || By jt3y

Nothing to see here. Disperse and return to your homes!

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August 10, 2005 | Link to this story

Scene on a PAT Bus

Category: default || By jt3y

(The story you are about to read is true. Only the names have been omitted to protect the author from a punch in the nose.)

Act 1, Scene 1

Setting: Int. Port Authority bus, day.

Dramatis personae

J.T., a balding writer from the Mon Valley, dressed in a short-sleeve dress shirt and tie, and carrying an umbrella;

Man 1, an unshaven 20-something white male, dressed in T-shirt, shorts, and baseball cap;

Man 2, a college-age white male carrying a backpack;

and various bus passengers.

(The scene opens on J.T.'s point of view. He is seated at about the middle of the bus. Various bus passengers are seated along both sides of the aisle. Man 1 is walking toward the rear of the bus, making his way along the aisle, asking the passengers a question. We cannot hear the question until he approaches J.T.)

Man 1 (sotto voce): Hey, man, can I use your cell phone?

J.T.: Sorry, I don't have a cell phone.

Man 1: S--t! (He moves one seat back, and says to Man 2): Hey, man, can I use your cell phone?

Man 2 (he is seated behind J.T.): Um, I guess. Who are you calling?

Man 1: I gotta call the courthouse, man. I'm supposed to be there at 1 o'clock, I think. I don't want them revoking the bond or no s--t.

Man 2: What's the number?

Man 1: 350-xxxx.

Man 2: Hold on. (He removes a phone from his pocket and dials the number, then passes the phone to Man 1.)

Man 1: It's ringing. Wait. What the f--k! S--t! (Voice louder now.) Hey, everybody remember this number ... 350-yyyy. F--k! (He hands the phone back to Man 1.) They changed the f--king number, man! Can you believe that? They changed the number! Only in Allegheny County, right? F--k! Who changes a number at the courthouse?

Man 2 (dialing the phone again): 350-yyyy, right?

Man 1: Right. Oh, man, thanks.

(Man 2 passes the phone to Man 1 again.)

Man 1 (into phone, loudly): Yeah, hello? Hello? Is the magisterial judge? My name's ----

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August 09, 2005 | Link to this story

Some Commercials Don't Ad Up

Category: default || By jt3y

If you can believe conservative talk radio and religious leaders, our American culture is headed straight down the sewer. There are days when I start to agree. Like the other night, when I saw what I think might be the first-ever commercial for K-Y Jelly on network TV, and during the 9 o'clock hour.

Actually, to be perfectly accurate, it wasn't for K-Y Jelly (which, by the way, tastes lousy on toast), but for something called "K-Y heated massage oil and personal lubricant." I suppose this could have entirely non-adult uses, couldn't it? It's a personal lubricant, so maybe the K-Y people intend for you to use it on squeaky hinges and rusty tools. ("Hey, ma! I can't free up the bolts on this here plow! Fetch me some of that there personal lubricant!") And there are perfectly innocent massages, though perhaps not in most of those massage parlors that advertise with those little tiny ads in the back of the newspaper.

But I think those of us over the age of, oh, 10 understand what the product is really for, especially when the commercial shows us two randy people sitting on a bed, making eyes at one another.

Now, women have long had to sit and watch while television advertised every form of pill for curing what the ads euphemistically call "E.D." (which does not stand for "emergency department," although if the condition caused by these pills lasts more than four hours, that's where you should go) and for "personal male enhancement." I particularly liked the ones featuring Mike Ditka throwing a football through a tire, and "Smiling Bob," holding up a little hot dog. (Get it? A wiener! Ha ha ha ha. Subtle.)

So why shouldn't the female of the species be targeted by some of these products, too? After all, turnabout is fore ... er, fair play, right?

It's just that I'm not sure that I want to watch any of these ads while I'm sitting around, scratching my feet and trying to understand why people watch a show as badly written as "CSI: Miami," or why everybody loves Raymond.

For years, local TV has run several ads every hour for lawyers encouraging you to sue if you think medical malpractice, poorly designed products or partly cloudy skies are responsible for your being poor and miserable. I saw a new one recently from the king of the Western Pennsylvania ambulance chasers, urging you to sue the government if your road isn't maintained properly and you think it may have been the cause of your recent car accident, rather than the fact that you're a lousy driver. Thinking about taking him up on that offer? Guess where the government gets its money from? You, you nitwit! I guess now there's no fee unless they get money from you. (Notice how they rarely run ads encouraging you to sue for legal malpractice.)

Local TV is also big on commercials for phone sex lines ... oh, excuse me, "chat" lines. (Maybe I should try calling one of those up sometime, on someone else's phone, just to "chat." "So, what's new? How's your mom? Good. Are still working at the phone sex place?") Now we've got network TV commercials for enhancing your sexual pleasure.

Is there anything that advertising executives wouldn't do commercials for? Fifty years ago, one of the best science fiction radio shows, "X-Minus-One," did an episode ("The Parade") where aliens hired an Earth advertising agency to create a campaign that would soften people up for an invasion.

One wonders if McCann-Erikson, BBD&O, et al would be willing to whip up a publicity blitz to change the image of terrorism.

I can hear the slogans now ...

"Gee? No, Jihad."

"Al Qaeda Can't Wait for Muhammed."

"Reach Out and Bomb Someone."

Maybe I'm overreacting, but I don't think so. Yesterday, I saw a billboard that chilled me to the bone. Apparently, a Jimmy Buffett impersonator is doing a concert in the Mon-Yough area.

It's not bad enough that people pay good money to see Jimmy Buffett; no, now they're forking over money to watch someone imitate Jimmy Buffett. If that doesn't prove that American culture is declining at an alarming pace, I don't know what does.

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August 08, 2005 | Link to this story

Long Backup on the (Cameo) Parkway Finally Ends

Category: default || By jt3y

Remember those watercolor paint sets you used to have as a kid? Imagine having to paint pictures without any greens. Oh, you could get by mixing blue and yellow, but it would be annoying.

Or, imagine that suddenly you couldn't get strawberry ice cream. Again, there are dozens of flavors of ice cream, so it wouldn't be a terrible problem, and you could always chop up strawberries and mix them up with the vanilla ice cream, but it would be aggravating.

That's something analogous to the problems that oldies lovers have faced for 30 years. The man who holds the copyright to literally hundreds of the biggest pop music hits of the 1950s and '60s refused to release them in any form --- tape, CD or LP --- after the early '70s.

I'm talking virtually everything by Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, The Orlons, The Dovells, The Tymes and early recordings by Bob Seger, Don Covay and The Kinks, along with dozens of so-called "one-hit wonders" --- groups that had one or two popular records, but then faded from view.

So if you were a DJ or just a music buff who wanted to play '50s and '60s pop, you could paint a musical picture using records that were put out by Motown, Capitol, Atlantic and Chess, but everything on the Cameo, Parkway and Wyncote labels was out of reach, unless you found a scratchy 45 rpm record in a thrift store. (This, by the way, helps to explain the oversaturation of Motown artists on oldies radio, even though Cameo-Parkway had more hits on the charts from 1960 to 1967 than Motown, and why it's been easier for years to get Hank Ballard's version of "The Twist" than Chubby Checker's better-known hit version.)

Who was responsible for depriving oldies buffs of their bad rock fix? The man's name was Allen Klein, and he was a record promoter who, among other things, managed Sam Cooke, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for a time. In 1967, his company, ABKCO, acquired control of Cameo-Parkway Records, a major independent label in Philadelphia that had fallen on hard times. Soon, there were allegations of stock market fraud made against Klein, along with lawsuits and countersuits. Klein served a brief prison sentence in 1979 for income tax evasion.

But why wouldn't Klein re-release the old records, maybe to raise some money for his legal problems? No one knows. Pure stubbornness, maybe? Since he'd been tangling legally with many of his stars, and had been attacked and vilified by the press, perhaps it was spite. Klein withdrew from the public spotlight and became a virtual recluse.

Or perhaps Klein thought that by withholding the product from the market, he could drive up the demand. Well, it worked. As record collectors (and we can be an odd bunch; the movie and book "High Fidelity" have a lot of truth to them) concocted wild conspiracy theories, the careers of many of the stars whose original recordings were buried in the ABKCO vaults faltered. Some went back into different recording studios and badly remade their old hits, so they'd have some current products to sell.

More often, though, bootleggers made pirated recordings of the original hits, transferring those scratchy 45s to CDs made overseas, where copyright laws are less stringent. (And in a few cases, they make them in this country and just label them "Made-in-Wherever" to try and circumvent the law.) These were CDs that were "mastered" in someone's basement, and most of them sounded like it.

In any event, a big chunk of rock 'n roll history has been missing for a long, long time. True, that was hardly a threat to western civilization, but it was a little sad.

So imagine my surprise the other night when, doinking around on the Internet, I stumbled onto the ABKCO website, which was promoting a box set called "Cameo-Parkway: 1957-1967."

No ordering information. No track listing. No suggested retail price. This had to be a joke, right?

Nope. Apparently, with almost no publicity, ABKCO (still controlled by Allen Klein and his family after all of these years) has issued a four-disc box set of Cameo-Parkway rock and pop.

Did I say almost no publicity? Scratch "almost." I could only find a handful of reviews of the set, one each in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Detroit Free Press, another in the Ottawa Citizen up in Canada. Apparently there was a feature on NPR's "Fresh Air" a while ago as well, but I missed it.

A check on Amazon's website revealed that not only is the set legit, it contains 115 songs, which is unusually generous for a box set. And the list price is less than $60, meaning that some online stores are selling it for a little as $45.

Needless to say, I almost broke my arm ordering one. (Order your copy by clicking on this Amazon link, and Tube City Online gets a tiny little cut. And thank you!) A search of various newsgroups and chat rooms reveals some people kvetching because the songs are in mono, not stereo, but that's a little like complaining about the Statue of Liberty for turning green because it's made of copper. These songs were recorded to be heard in mono, after all.

Most of the people in the target audience for Bobby Rydell or The Orlons were listening to the music on transistor radios or portable record players (the iPods of their day), which were hardly know for their breathtaking hi-fi sound. Would stereo be nice? Sure. But the lack of it is hardly a deal-breaker. (It just goes to prove that some people will complain about anything.)

Hell, a lot of us oldies freaks are just going to be thrilled to finally be able to paint pictures with all of the colors again ... maybe while eating a big bowl of strawberry ice cream!


Correction, Not Perfection: I wrote last week that Cox's store on Fifth Avenue in Our Fair City was built in 1955 and expanded in 1972. That was wrong; the new addition was constructed in 1968, according to Gerry Jurann's "Looking Back" column in a recent issue of The Daily News. Mea culpa.

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August 05, 2005 | Link to this story

Turn Your (Junk-Picked) Radio On

Category: default || By jt3y

(Warning: Major geekage ahead.)

I have a lot of sympathy for the Trib's Mike Seate. Last week, he wrote about the withering comments a 20-year-old cable TV repairman said upon inspecting his stereo equipment:

"'Dude -- you still use one of these things?' he asked, stifling a chuckle as he eyed my graphic equalizer. 'It's cool. My grandfather uses one and says he can't listen to music without it,' chirped the baby-faced technician, not realizing the extent of his insults. Of course, junior here had no idea his words carried such weight. Most audiophiles imagine themselves still on the cutting edge of sound technology, even if we're listening to an original-issue Benny Goodman 78 on an imitation oak, Philco Hi-Fi set."

Boy, I've been there. I'll never forget the time I picked up two colleagues to take them to the airport on a business trip. I had my previous sleek, dark Mercury; I'd just treated it to a $300 Earl Scheib paint job after spending several weekends doing body work.

"This is a nice car," said one co-worker as she got in.

"Thank you," I said.

"Are you restoring it?" she asked, innocently. She thought it was an antique. (Talk about ego deflation!)

But I digress. Mike Seate was discussing audio equipment. Like him, I have a lot of stereo equipment that is old enough to vote, possibly because, like him, I'm a writer, and walking into some audiophile shop and plunking down $2,000 for a home theater system isn't exactly in my budget.

In fact, I was a little insulted the other day when some NASA administrator was discussing the age of the space shuttle's control systems. "After all, no one has 25-year-old electronics in their house that they use every day," he said. Well, yeah, some of us do. Of course, we're not trying to go into orbit (though we may be trying to listen to "Telstar" by The Tornados).

So, after reading Mike's column, I did a quick survey:

1.) The Zenith clock radio in the kitchen, which I listen to every morning when I get ready for work, dates to about 1965. I bought it at the Eastland flea market for $3 shortly before moving into my first apartment, and many's the day that I listened to it while ironing a clean shirt before going into work for my first job. It gets any station you like, as long as it's on AM, and still sounds pretty good. And the clock keeps good time.

2.) I have no idea how old the Grundig "Melody-Boy" portable AM/FM/shortwave in the bathroom is, but I suspect it's from the early '70s. (Stamped on the bottom? "Made in W. Germany.") I bought it at a ham radio swap meet for $7 a year or two ago. It sounds great, and often goes outside with me when I work on the car. The only problem is that it gobbles 9-volt batteries like crazy.

3.) The H.H. Scott "Stereomaster" bookshelf stereo in my bedroom dates from the mid-'60s, and came with a nice Garrard turntable and a Pickering magnetic cartridge. I paid $5 for it at Eastland about 15 years ago, and I only bought it because I needed a halfway decent turntable. I had every intention of gutting it for parts, and then hooked up some speakers and decided to listen to the radio. I was astonished at how good it sounded. I still am. It's not fancy, but I use it almost every day to listen to the radio (and MP3s ... I've got a snazzy new Panasonic CD player attached to it, one of my few pieces of audio equipment purchased first-hand). Also attached is a ...

4.) Technics cassette deck from the early '80s, which I purchased for (I think) $5 as surplus from a radio station that had upgraded equipment. When I bought it, it refused to play cassettes --- there was something wrong with some sensor inside. I bypassed the sensor, intending to fix it permanently later on. That was 10 years ago. (I'll get to it, don't rush me.)

5.) Also in the bedroom is a big portable Zenith television, which provides a nice, bright clear picture in glorious black-and-white. I garbage-picked it from a TV station. After a little cleanup, it worked fine. I don't watch much TV in bed, but I sometimes wonder what "The West Wing" and "Saturday Night Live" look like in color. (Those are filmed in color, right?)

7.) There's another Zenith TV out in the living room, but it's color and (gasp!) came with remote control. It's stamped 1985 on the back. It was generously donated by someone I used to work with when I bought my house, and still has one of the best color pictures I've ever seen. Lately, though, the colors have occasionally been getting dim; a good sharp rap on the cabinet brings them back. I guess I'm going to have to open it up and tinker with it soon, but for now, I'm inclined to leave it alone. When the picture goes gloomy, I just figure, "Well, I've watched enough TV for today," and turn it off.

8.) On the other side of the living room, next to my Archie Bunker recliner, is a Bradford AM/FM console stereo, with record changer. Bradford was the house brand of the old W.T. Grant discount chain. For some reason, I always wanted a swingin' '60s-style hi-fi (too many "Rat Pack" movies as a kid?) and I spotted this beast one afternoon years ago while tooling around North Versailles. Someone had set it out for the trash. I knocked on the door, asked if I could take it, and then (with some difficulty) loaded it into the back seat of my car. It'll rattle all of the windows in the house with deep, boomy bass or high, twinkly treble, and there's virtually no hiss or hum. Those '60s swingers had the right idea: It's very groovy, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, to open all of the windows, pour a cold adult beverage, and kick back with a good book while listening to jazz on your hi-fi.

9.) Over in my home office, there's another H.H. Scott "Concertmate." This is a more conventional, full-size tuner/amplifier than the one in my bedroom, and I bought it for $10 at a swap meet about five years ago. Frankly, it's pretty beat up, and it needs some work. There's an annoying little buzz in the audio sometimes. I haven't made up my mind whether to fix it up or find something else, but it's not high on the priority list. (See item 4. It still has several years before it gets near the top.)

10.) Finally, at work (and this is cheating a little bit), I've got a spiffy looking Magnavox table-top stereo. I'm not sure how old it is, but if you're a fan of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," the radio in Rob and Laura Petrie's kitchen was virtually identical. I bought it for $2 at an estate sale in Glassport in about 1992. It was made in Fort Wayne, Ind., the cabinet is real wood, and there's probably more metal in its chassis than Dell Computers uses in a year. It took me all through college; many's the night I labored over a paper or some other project while listening to my favorite radio station, the late, lamented Z-107. It's not worth anything, but surprisingly, it has a lot of sentimental value to me.

I haven't even counted all of the other radios, tape players and assorted other old electronic gizmos that seem to stick to me like iron filings to a magnet; they're stashed in various places on the shelves downstairs and in the garage, and in my mother's house (much to her enduring consternation).

Lest any burglars read this, think that I have a houseful of rare antiques, and decide to rip me off, let me save you the trouble. At various times, in need of money, I've checked the value of this stuff, thinking I should put it on eBay. Don't bother. If you tried to sell the entire collection, you might be able to liquidate it for upwards of $20.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I just bought a bunch of Benny Goodman 78s, and I think I'd like to listen to them on my imitation wood hi-fi.


To Do This Weekend: Duquesne Annex volunteer fire department's annual fair is in full swing, tonight and tomorrow, at Duquesne Village Shopping Center on Homeville Road in West Mifflin. There are games of chance, food and live music. ... Society of Sound and Dr. Zoot and the Suits play North Braddock Community Day Saturday afternoon at the park near the corner of Wolf and Sheridan avenues. There will be rides and craft booths, and refreshments will be on sale. Parking and admission is free, and there will be fireworks after sunset. ... Swing 'n sway with the Sammy Kaye Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Riverfront Park, Water Street between Fifth and Ninth avenues.

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Posted at 01:30 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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August 04, 2005 | Link to this story

Nits, Gnats, Notes & Nuances

Category: default || By jt3y

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

If you know the name "Fatty Arbuckle" at all, you know it because the silent film comedian was the target of one of the most notorious trials of the 1920s. Arbuckle, who was then as big a star (no pun intended) as Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, was charged with rape and murder as part of what appears to have been a failed blackmail scheme.

After three trials and no convictions, the final jury issued a statement: "Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel also that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime. He was manly throughout the case, and told a straightforward story on the witness stand, which we all believed."

But the damage was done, and Arbuckle's career was ruined. Hollywood censor Will Hays banned Arbuckle's films from circulation and none of the major studios would put him on screen. He directed for a time under a pseudonym, but eventually became an alcoholic.

In the bitterest of ironies, a group of Hollywood stars and Arbuckle fans lobbied Warner Brothers to give him another chance. In 1933, the day after he signed a long-term contract with Warners, he died.

All this and more is available at David B. Pearson's Arbucklemania, along with other trivia. (For instance: The nickname "Fatty" was slapped on him by a publicity agent, and his friends called him "Roscoe" or "Arbie." When a fan called him "Fatty," Arbuckle, who was otherwise a gentle soul, would reply, "I've got a name, you know.")


Speaking of old movies, Leonard Maltin is a better critic than his work on the excreable "Entertainment Tonight" might lead you to believe. (I know, I'm sure it pays the bills.) Check out his Movie Crazy website if you don't believe me.


Hmm. This seems to be a "Hooray for Hollywood!" roundup. This clip, from commercial voice-over artist (read: "announcer") Don LaFontaine, is funny on any number of levels.


And now, for a brief message from our friends at Norge, Kelvinator, Bendix and Philco. How many times a day do you ask yourself: "Gee, I wish there was someplace where I could see videos of 1950s and '60s washing machines agitating. Why doesn't someone remedy the lack of movies of 40-year-old appliances in action?"

Well, somebody has. And at, you can also watch vintage TV commercials starring Betty Furness. (You can be sure that they're Westinghouse.)

(You're welcome, by the way.)


What's the most idiotic automobile you could spend your money on, besides a Yugo? (No, not "two Yugos.") It's a Chrysler K-car customized to look like a Mercedes. Hurry up and make an offer before someone else snaps it up. (Tube City hard hat tip: Jalopnik)


Fine lines (apologies to Eric Zorn):

"Did you ever have the feeling that you're George Burns and everyone else in the world is Gracie?" --- Mark Evanier, News From Me

"Since taking office five years ago, President Bush has gone on vacation fifty times. Fifty vacations in five years ... that's about average, right?" --- David Letterman, Late Show

"It's been so hot in New York City that I have a confession to make. Yesterday, I took off all of my clothes and sat in front of the refrigerator, in my underwear, and just let the cold air blow on me. And after about 15 minutes, they threw me out of Sears." --- Letterman, same night

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Posted at 07:13 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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August 03, 2005 | Link to this story

Worth 1,000 Words Dept.

Category: default || By jt3y

The long-delayed Cox’s photos were finally posted Tuesday night. That update takes the place of today’s Almanac. (You'll need to scroll part of the way down the page to see the vintage 1960s and '70s photos.)

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Posted at 01:37 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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August 02, 2005 | Link to this story

It's a Dirty Job, But Someone Had to Do It

Category: default || By jt3y

R.L.M., wherever you are, bless you.

I got a call last week from a lady who was selling a building that had formerly housed a G.C. Murphy store. She found my name on the Internet. In the basement of this building was a bunch of old files from Murphy's, she said, and she was getting ready to throw everything out. Before she did, would I come up and look at the stuff first?

I've been on a couple of wild goose chases already. One person called me repeatedly, saying they had great stories about working for Murphy's; when I got there for the interview, they had one so-so story. I plugged along as best I could, anyway: "What do you remember best about working for Murphy's?" I'd ask. "It was nice," they'd say. "What was nice about it?" I'd ask. "It was nice." Etc.

Still, I appreciate their interest, and it's nice to meet these folks; even if their contribution isn't all that large, it's encouraging that they're eager to help.

And you never know what you're going to find until you look, so I made an appointment to meet this lady, first thing Saturday morning. The store was about an hour from Pittsburgh. I got there in time to get a cup of coffee before she arrived to unlock the door.

The first floor was like a time warp back to 1985. She and her husband had bought the building shortly after it was closed by the McCrory Corp. and continued operating the street level as a variety store. Inside, all of the signage was G.C. Murphy Co. vintage early 1980s; even the shelves were in the same place. About the only concessions to modernity were two new electronic cash registers and a new pop cooler.

"My husband said I should have just thrown everything away," she said, as she led me down to the basement, "and to tell you the truth, I think I'm wasting your time, but I didn't know who else to call. This is probably all a bunch of junk."

She snapped on the lights. On top of one set of shelves were four mechanical cash registers. On another set of shelves were about a half-dozen typewriters of various vintages. Cloth shopping baskets stenciled "G.C. MURPHY CO." were piled in the aisles.

I got a little wobbly in the knees. I have dreams like this, you know.

She led me over to another set of shelves, where row after row of dirty three-ring binders were lined up. I pulled one of them out; it was a catalog for Murphy's corporate sign shop, with illustrations, describing the different banners and pennants that a store manager could order, circa 1968. Another binder contained "Plan-o-Grams" --- suggested layouts for counter displays. There was a folder with shoplifter reports from the 1960s, including confessions: "My name is S--- J

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August 01, 2005 | Link to this story

Overtaken By Events

Category: default || By jt3y

No, the Cox's pictures aren't up. Mea culpa. I was overtaken by events. Check back Wednesday.

Also, to answer Bob's question in the comments on Friday's Almanac, Cox's and Jaison's did indeed have branches at Monroeville Mall. I believe Jaison's also had a store in Braddock; it may have been Jaison's original store, if my memory is correct.

If I can digress for a bit, I think Jaison's didn't technically go out of business, but actually merged into the Fashion Bug chain. (Jaison's was the bane of my existence growing up, because people from Our Fair City --- including teachers --- always misspelled my name with an "i" when I was a kid.)

Besides Monroeville, Cox's also had stores at Beaver Valley Mall, Norwin Shopping Center, East Hills Shopping Center, and in downtown Washington, Pa. Cox's took over a store called "Caldwell's" on South Main Street, directly across from the courthouse. It was known as Cox's-Caldwell's for a while, and later just "Cox's."

Bob asks if there's any such thing as a "locally-owned" department store. I don't think so, or at least, not in Western Pennsylvania. Not everything is owned by the May Company and Federated, however; Boscov's is still independent, as is The Bon-Ton, and they both have some branches around the region.

Boscov's is based in Reading, and Bon-Ton is based in York, so they're locally-owned to people in those cities, at least!

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