Tube City Online

Filed Under: default || By jt3y

February 27, 2007 | Link to this story

Navel Gazing

Category: default || By jt3y

Allow me to talk about myself for a minute, hmm? I try not to do that at the Almanac, but I think I'm entitled once in a while, and if yinz don't like it, well, see you later.

If it seems like I am filling the Almanac with more scrawls than bloviations lately, there is a simple reason for that --- the book is due to the publisher by May, so I'm frantically trying to whip the manuscript into some sort of shape.

Add to that a number of writing projects at my real job and the need to write copy at my weekend job, and there's not much verbiage left in the tank some days. Sitting down at the drawing table and scribbling out a cartoon, on the other hand, provides a certain amount of relaxation. Your indulgence is appreciated.

Incidentally, regarding the book --- if you haven't checked out the website lately (, you might like to. I've been trying to keep it updated with fresh material, and one new feature is called "Photo of the Month." I'm posting images that I've acquired that are probably not going to make it into the book.

The current photo is a February image --- a Valentine's Day display window --- and there will be a new one for March on Thursday.

One of the "good news, bad news" situations is that I presently have enough material to fill three volumes. Former G.C. Murphy Co. employees and customers have been extraordinarily generous, and I continue to get emails and letters (it's "G.C. Murphy Book Project, P.O. Box 94, McKeesport, PA 15134") on a weekly basis.

Unfortunately, Penn State Press wants 90,000 words. So we're going to have to figure out what to do with the rest of the material.

Just last week I received an email from someone in Indianapolis. He was a union steward at Murphy's Indianapolis warehouse from 1971 to 1978, and while going to night school at Indiana University, he wrote a master's thesis on working conditions and employee job satisfaction. Would I like to read it?

"Would I like to read it?" Does it rain in Indianapolis in the summertime?

Ultimately, much of what we collect going to end up with the rest of the G.C. Murphy Co. archive at McKeesport Heritage Center. The Murphy material (much of it stuff that was covertly spirited out of 531 Fifth Ave. before Ames could throw it away) currently fills several large file drawers.

It's some measure of the affection that people continue to have for Murphy's that since starting the book project, we have now collected at least two more good-sized boxes full of stories, newspaper clippings and mementos more than 20 years after Murphy's ceased to exist as an independent company. And that's not counting material I've acquired on my own over the last two years.

By comparison, the entire corporate archive of the McCrory Corporation --- a competing variety-store company that was once three times the size of G.C. Murphy Co., and controlled by one of the richest men in the United States, Meshulam Riklis --- fits into two standard boxes at the Historical Society of York County.

Since we can't publish all this stuff, and since not everyone is going to want to trek to McKeesport to see it, we may use the G.C. Murphy website to distribute some of the choicer bits. I would hate the stories and memories to not have a wider audience.

. . .

Meanwhile, Alert Reader Eric sends along a link to a common misspelling of the editor's last name. According to the website "":

The Toyger is a designer cat. It is designed and bred with the demands of modern apartment life as a human companion foremost in mind. Glittered, pelted, dramatic pattern appeals to both the high-tech glamour and nature-loving, wild dreams of city-caught people while the laid back, easily trained character of these cats make them a joy to live with.

Maybe this explains why the Tube City Tiger and I get along so well, even though I went to Serra. I never thought of myself as a cat person, but obviously my "laid-back, easily-trained character" appeals to him. (That, and I lick myself clean.)

I don't mind it when the Tube City Tiger visits, by the way, but I wish he would stop drinking the milk right out of the carton.

And since many people ask me about this, the name ("G" first, then "Y," let's make sure it's spelled properly on the hate mail, please) is Hungarian, pronounced like "magyar" --- that is to say, with difficulty.

. . .

In other news, the Post-Gazette (motto: "Still in Business") editorial board yesterday recommended selling the state-owned liquor stores instead of raising the sales tax and selling the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Several Alert Readers have now pointed out that they saw something similar in the Almanac more than two weeks ago. They wonder if someone at the P-G was inspired by my screed.

Eh, possibly, but it's more likely that the idea is so gob-smackingly obvious that both I and the P-G thought of it.

Speaking of: My old boss, Park Burroughs, had a complaint or or two recently about our state store system. I wish I could tell when Park is being sarcastic.

. . .

Finally, a couple of stories of local interest from the Noo Yawk papers. Friend and former cow-orker Dave Copeland made the New York Daily News after the subject of his forthcoming book Blood and Volume: Inside New York's Israeli Mafia was kicked out of the federal Witness Protection Program. I'm guessing that former mobsters who lose their anonymity don't buy any green bananas.

Also, someone is leaving soup cans on Andy Warhol's grave in Bethel Park, according to the Times (which calls the South Hills community "bland"). Well, it's no Wilmerding, I'll admit that. (Tube City hard hat tip: Ol' Froth.)

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Posted at 07:37 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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February 26, 2007 | Link to this story

All In a Week’s Work

Category: default || By jt3y

‘The Ice Clog Debacle’:

Pennsylvanians don't really need to pay an outside consultant or to await the results of legislative hearings to figure out what happened on the state's ice-clogged interstate highways last week.

To wit, state government messed up. It was the job of PennDot and the state police to keep the highways in safe condition and to protect the public from life-threatening situations. Those agencies did neither. (Associated Press via Centre Daily Times)

‘Ruling Shelves Beer Sales’:

The sale of beer in Pennsylvania's grocery and convenience stores could be halted by a Commonwealth Court ruling.

The court ruled today that Sheetz Inc. should not have been given a license to sell takeout beer from its Altoona store unless it planned to allow customers to drink beer inside the store. (Harrisburg Patriot-News)

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February 23, 2007 | Link to this story

Number One, With a Bullet

Category: default || By jt3y

As the self-appointed online chronicler of the Mon-Yough area, I guess I need to mention the recent rash of shootings in and around the city, notably:

  • Jan. 15: James Robertson, 34, and Dominique Cochran, 23, fatally shot following argument in 1500 block of Scott Street. County police are seeking Leroy Harris, 23

  • Jan. 19: Donyea Thomas, 27, fatally shot by unknown assailants inside Hi-View Garden Apartments, Coursin Street; girlfriend wounded

  • Feb. 7: Unidentified 17-year-old male shot and wounded, 2500 block of Jenny Lind Street

  • Feb. 19: Sidney McLean, 42, fatally shot outside J. Huston Bar & Lounge, Lysle Boulevard

And those are only the shootings in the city since the first of the year --- it doesn't count the Nov. 26 shooting in West Mifflin (one dead, two wounded).

Props to Mayor Jim Brewster for stepping up with his youth violence coalition, but this is not a McKeesport problem, it's a regional problem. Where are the mayors of West Mifflin, Duquesne, Glassport, Port Vue, etc.? It's time for them to step forward, too.

I haven't really written anything about this, mostly because I don't have anything useful to add. (That's never stopped me in the past, of course.)

It goes without saying that this is bad (I feel like Mr. Mackey on "South Park" ... "Gunning down people in the stairway of their apartment building is bad, mm-kay?"), but if I had any solutions, I'd be driving a patrol car or teaching sociology, not screwing around on the Internet.

I'm not going to speculate on why these victims were killed, though I have some theories (you do too, I'll bet), and it looks like these people had enemies who wanted to harm them.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that the Mon-Yough area doesn't seem to have a lot of random crime, where the victim doesn't have any connection to the perpetrator. That's no comfort if you have a shooting in your neighborhood --- or if someone you know gets shot, and I feel bad for people who knew the victims.

But you don't seem likely to get shot randomly by some nut. I was talking to a friend who works for a non-profit agency in Braddock, and he gets mad when people tell him the borough is dangerous. "I'm there all hours of the day and night, and I've been there for 20 years, and no one ever bothers me," he says.

Thank God, I've had the same experience in 15 years of wandering the Mon Valley, but try convincing someone from outside the area that it's relatively safe.

Look, when people are poor, other people will victimize them, and these days, it's almost always drug-related. It's the same story in Duquesne, Greensburg, Monessen, Washington, New Kensington or any urban area in Western Pennsylvania.

And frankly, there were always these sorts of crimes --- but 40 years ago, it wasn't drugs, it was illegal booze and cigarettes and gambling. Also, the criminals didn't have automatic weapons --- they beat the crap out of their victims, or stabbed them, or shot them with a six-shot "Saturday Night Special." You couldn't do a "drive-by" with brass knuckles or a leather sap.

I don't want to get on a gun-control rant, but only the most addled NRA apologist doesn't admit that cheap automatic and semi-automatic weapons are a major contributing factor in turning non-fatal beatings and knifings of "the good ol' days" into fatal stabbings.

And don't bother feeding me the line, "Well, if the police would enforce the gun laws ..." Bull. The market is flooded with guns. We need to start shutting them off at the sources --- at the manufacturers and importers --- and local and county police can't do a thing about that --- it's a federal problem. Your Congress, which is terrified by the gun lobby, has no will to do anything. Telling local police to "enforce the gun laws" is like throwing a drowning man both ends of a rope.

Anyway, like I said, I have no answers, just frustration that this stuff is happening, and that it's probably going to keep happening.

But I, for one, am not going to let it discourage me from doing what I want to do, when I want to do it, in the Mon-Yough area, and I hope you go where you want to go and do what you want to do, too.

(Don't be stupid. Hey, you wanna go pick up a hooker or buy crack, don't be surprised if bad things happen.)

So go see the library, attend a concert or a high-school basketball game, and never, never, never let the bad guys take over.

. . .

P.S.: Want to drop a dime on a bad guy, but do it anonymously?

Crime Stoppers Hotline: 1-800-4-PA-TIPS

Allegheny County Sheriff's Fugitive Task Force: (412) 350-4714

. . .

Jefferson Hills website: There was a nice article in the Daily News the other night (unfortunately, I can't find it online) about a man who's launched a non-profit website about Jefferson Hills. (Thank you to the Alert Reader who sent me the URL, because I misplaced the newspaper. Mea culpa.)

Someone should start a website about McKeesport. Wow, wouldn't that be something!

Bitter? Sarcastic? Me? Nah.

I'm going to go sit in the corner and suck my thumb. I feel a pout coming on.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: If you're not pouting, then head over to UPMC McKeesport Hospital, which is presenting "Amandla!! A Celebration of African Arts." It's a performance by peace activist and Malawi native Masankho Banda. That's at 12 noon tomorrow in the Kelly Conference Center, 1500 Fifth Ave. at Evans Street. Call (412) 432-7284. ... KDKA-TV newscaster and McKeesport native Harold Hayes will talk about his life and work at 4 p.m. Sunday at the McKeesport Heritage Center, 1832 Arboretum Drive in Renziehausen Park. Call (412) 678-1832.

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February 22, 2007 | Link to this story

Shurely Shome Mishtake

Category: default || By jt3y

An item in yesterday's Almanac misspelled the name of a new restaurant on Lysle Boulevard called The Enzone. We regret the error.

Also, a Jan. 26 story about the Port Authority public hearing at the Palisades misspelled the name of Pat McMahon, business agent of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85. We regret the error.

And on Jan. 18, the Almanac incorrectly surmised the location of McKeesport's notorious "Brick Alley" red-light district. It was located on Rose Alley.

The Almanac would like to issue these additional apologies and corrections:

  • On Jan. 19, the Almanac's editor was contacted by Marty Levine of Pittsburgh City Paper for comment in an article about blogging, and in an attempt to be "funny," the editor was flippant. The Almanac has apologized to Mr. Levine but still regrets not being mentioned in the article.

  • On Aug. 10, 2006, the Almanac made reference to "Islamic fascism." The Almanac would like to apologize for parroting this trite bit of Fox News sloganeering, and blames the editor's bad reaction to a combination of over-the-counter allergy pills, warm beer, and Jack Kelly's column in the Post-Gazette.

  • The editor thought his grandmother's birthday was Tuesday. In fact, it was Sunday. He apologized profusely to his grandmother, who forgave him, because she's used to that kind of self-centered nitwittery. Still, he regrets the error and feels a great deal of guilt, as well he should.

  • On Nov. 30, 2006, the Almanac's editor returned William Severini Kowinski's book The Malling of America: An Inside Look at the Great Consumer Paradise to the library. It was 259 days late. The editor thought he had returned it, but found it under a pile of junk. The editor regrets being a slob, and regrets reporting the book to the library as "lost," thus wasting the library's time for several weeks. He also regrets that he still doesn't have the $64.75 in fines necessary to clear his account.

  • On Sept. 4, 1998, while covering the controversy over the Woodland Hills High School Band's decision to play the Confederate anthem "Dixie" during a half-time show, the Almanac's editor (then working for the Tribune-Review) interviewed a right-wing political columnist. The columnist said that "Dixie" wasn't symbolic of racism, but of "states' rights," and claimed that many African-Americans served in the Confederate Army with pride. The editor regrets using such patently ridiculous statements in his story, and has no excuse except for an ill-considered desire to "balance" the coverage. As a Catholic he fully expects to be punished in purgatory by Bull Connor and a phalanx of Alabama State Troopers wielding fire hoses.

  • One morning in 1991, while making announcements over the public-address system at Serra Catholic High School, the Almanac's editor began by saying, "Good morning, Serra High School," in the manner of Robin Williams in the movie Good Morning Vietnam. It was a cliche even then, and the editor regrets doing it, and hopes that he lives it down by the time of his 50th class reunion. He also regrets not being able to offer any explanation for his behavior when he was summoned to the Dean of Students' office.

  • The editor regrets racking up a .010 batting average during two seasons of youth baseball in Liberty Borough, 1985-86. The editor would like to profusely apologize for thinking he had any athletic ability.

  • In 1984, while arguing with his cousin, the editor regrets throwing a rock at him, hitting him in the head, but frankly, he didn't think he would hit him. (See the above item.) His cousin has since earned a master's degree in chemical engineering from Lehigh University and is working for a Fortune 500 company, so the editor is relieved that no brain damage was done, and the joke appears to be on him.

  • The editor regrets ripping off the idea for today's Almanac from Seattle's alternative weekly newspaper The Stranger, though in fairness The Stranger probably was ripping off the annual corrections columns written by Ellen Goodman of the The Boston Globe.

  • Finally, the Almanac regrets that today's headline is a reference that not 1 in 100 readers would ever understand. It marks the editor as the worst kind of snob and elitist, and he knew that, but he did it anyway.

After 11 years on the Web, Tube City Online appreciates your continued patronage, and we will work harder than ever to turn out writing of the quality that you've come to expect from the Tube City Almanac.

Which is to say, "complete bullflop."

The Almanac regrets getting your hopes up.

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February 21, 2007 | Link to this story

The Bidness Page

Category: default || By jt3y

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day when Catholics and many Protestants never tire of hearing that immortal joke, "Hey, did you know there's something on your forehead?"

Alert Reader Tim passed along a column that appeared in the January issue of Western Pennsylvania Hospital News (motto: "One of Western Pennsylvania’s Great Newspapers About Hospitals") written by Jan Jennings, president of American Healthcare Solutions and a native of Our Fair City. You can read it at Jennings’ blog, but it’s worth quoting some of it here:

There were all kinds of stores, and the city was bustling in the 1950’s. There was one store that was first among equals, at least for my family. It was the Goodman’s Jewelry Store. It was a family business, and the senior Mr. Goodman, through my ten-year-old eyes, was probably 200 years old. He had a very serious looking and craggy face. But could he dress. To this day I always think of him as the best dressed man I ever saw. He had two sons in the business, and I suspect there were other family members involved as well. The store was always sparkling clean and lighted to show off the items for sale.

This store was special to our family. Somehow the Goodmans learned and remembered our names, all of our names. They were patient as my mother looked over all of the wonderful items we could never afford. The Goodmans had a kind and gentle spirit and found a way to steer my parents to items they both wanted and could afford. The Goodman men could wait on two or three people at one time and never seemed flustered or inattentive to their customers’ needs.

When Mr. Goodman saw one of my parents agonizing over the price of something they really wanted to buy, they almost always would find a way to provide a discount on the item. In doing so, it was always done with grace and never embarrassing to my parents. ...

My parents respected the owners of the Goodman’s Jewelry Store because they were always treated with kindness and respect any time they visited the store, in good times and in bad. ...

There were Sunday afternoon drives when we would drive through the better neighborhoods of McKeesport and became familiar with the location of the Goodman home. It was a beautiful place, modest by today’s standards. It is clear to me now that the Goodmans did not get rich serving that community, but they were always first to contribute to the local schools, police and fire departments and countless other local charities. They were Jewish, and we were Christian. It did not matter to them, and it did not matter to us.

There's more --- a lot more --- but those are a few choice morsels. Jennings uses the column to make points about the health care industry, but they're probably lessons we could all learn if we work in customer service:

  • Remember your customers’ names

  • Demonstrate civility and good manners

  • Know your programs and service

  • Seize new programs and services

  • Price your products strategically.

That's not a bad legacy for the Goodman family to have!

. . .

For you whipper-snappers (how old am I, anyway?), Goodman’s was located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Sinclair Street, in the building that’s currently occupied by the Coney Island convenience store.

The Tube City Online archives are a little thin on Goodman’s, but according to the McKeesport bicentennial book, Max Goodman came to the city in 1907 from Austria-Hungary and worked as a door-to-door peddler. (The book doesn't say what he sold, but I suspect pots and pans and other housewares)

After a few years Goodman opened a store on Fourth Street, next to the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie railroad tracks, that sold everything from musical instruments to pistols. By 1937, Goodman's was a jewelry store (for a time they also had an optician on staff) and moved to the new four-story “Goodman Building” at Fifth and Sinclair.

Lifelong McKeesporters will recall the neon sign that stretched from the fourth floor to street-level spelling out “GOODMAN’S,” with a diamond ring at the bottom that seemed to twinkle. (I remember the sign being red, but I may be mistaken.) The roof for many, many years featured a billboard and clock for Duquesne Brewing Co., and that's visible in many pictures of Downtown.

Max Goodman passed the store onto his son Sam, whose son Bernard took over sometime in the 1940s or ’50s. When I was a little shaver, Downtown sported three jewelry stores—Goodman’s, Morrow’s and Gala—but old-timers will recall DeRoy’s and others.

I don’t remember when Morrow’s closed, but Goodman’s lasted until the late 1980s, leaving Gala as the last Downtown jewelry store. It hung on until 1996 or so, when it moved to Oak Park Mall.

Thus endeth today’s history lesson in that old favorite topic in the McKeesport area, “Defunct Businesses”—a topic that never seems to run dry, unfortunately.

. . .

Meanwhile, in the Land of the Living: There are a couple of notable business openings to report ... it looks like The Enzone opened this week. That's the sports bar that's taken over the Lysle Boulevard space that was home to Sam's Superior Restaurant for more than 60 years.

Your editor will be paying a visit (in disguise, possibly using the name "Hedley Lamarr") sometime soon, but in the meantime, feel free to drop in and send your report. I really, really hope it succeeds, and I wish them a lot of luck --- unfortunately, in that location (with no parking and little foot traffic), I'm afraid they're going to need it, but I sure hope not.

Also, the Foodland in Great Valley Shopping Center has reopened as a "Save-a-Lot," and I understand that it's the second "Save-a-Lot" to pop up around here this week. County officials were scheduled to cut the ribbon on one in Wilkinsburg today.

Save-a-Lot is the discount subsidiary of Supervalu, the Minnesota-based grocery wholesaler that in the Pittsburgh area is best known as the supplier of Shop 'n Save and Foodland supermarkets. The nation's third-largest grocery chain, Supervalu had revenues last year (PDF) of $44 billion.

I've never been to a Save-a-Lot --- I do my grocery shopping at what my friend Dan calls "The House of Rancid Lunchmeat" near my home in North Bittyburg --- but the one up in Olympia Shopping Center seems to be holding its own. No doubt people in North Versailles and Turtle Creek will be happy to have an alternative to Wal-Mart again.

Finally, the Pizza Hut on Buttermilk Hollow Road in West Mifflin closed on Sunday after 30 years. Try to contain your grief. After all, that leaves only 33,999 other locations for overpriced, under-seasoned, mass-produced slabs of artificially-flavored pizza-like food substances.

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February 20, 2007 | Link to this story

A Message to the Flying Public

Category: default || By jt3y

And now, a message from Connie Loughead, president and CEO of Elrama Airlines:

Dear Elrama Airlines Customers,

We are sorry and embarrassed. Last week was the worst week in Elrama Airlines’ history --- even worse than the aftermath of our ill-fated “Free Homemade Mayonnaise” promotion in 1994.

Words cannot express how truly sorry we are for the need to apologize. We were founded on the promise of bringing low-cost, low-hassle, low-flying airplanes back into the reach of people with low standards, and we failed to live down to those last week.

Many of you were stranded, delayed or left to sit in fetid water for up to 11 hours following the severe ice storms in the Northeast. Many of you had trouble reaching us by telephone as a result of the “Beverly Hillbillies” marathon on TVLand. (Mother assures me that she will leave the phone, or at least the answering machine, plugged in during next month’s “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” marathon.)

Although Elrama Airlines cannot prevent severe weather, the crew of Flight 139 should have recognized that some of our passengers have heart conditions or other physical problems, and that it was a bad idea to ask them to shovel the runway at the Greene County Airport. In the future, we will hire local children, or possibly buy a snowblower.

Also, I certainly understand why passengers of Flight 226 from Butler, Pa., to Hagerstown, Md., via Troy, Ohio, became upset when the starboard engine fell off over Parkersburg, W.Va., but the plane involved in that incident was serviced just before takeoff, and our lawyers will be in touch with Boomer’s Amoco in Evans City to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.

And for those of you on board that flight: Screaming at the pilot only made things worse. He was having a hard enough time flying without a fuel gauge or altimeter.

To ensure that our employees are working at peak efficiency, I have eliminated the “Brewmeister” machines from our crew lounges and removed DVD players, iPods, “Easy Bake Ovens” and other distractions from all of our cockpits.

More importantly, I have created the Elrama Airlines Passenger Bill of Rights. You have my guarantee that if your flight is delayed more than three hours, six-ounce cans of pop will be half-price (sorry, discount does not apply to Coca-Cola products). In addition, if your plane fails to reach its destination, we will refund a pro-rated portion of your ticket price to you, or your next of kin.

We worked hard to regain your trust in 2003 when Flight 178 from Bellefonte to St. Mary’s inadvertently took off without a licensed pilot onboard. On the advice of our attorneys, I am authorized to say that we may or may not, within the best of our abilities, and at our option, try to win you back again.

Sincerely Yours,

Conrad “Connie” Loughead
President and CEO
Finleyville-Cayman Islands Aviation LLC
d/b/a Elrama Airlines

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February 19, 2007 | Link to this story

Witty Headline Goes Here

Category: default || By jt3y

This story isn't really relevant to anything, but I thought I'd share it anyway. Eve Ensler's play The Vagina Monologues has been in the news recently, and I ...

Hold on. Someone at the back is laughing. What's so funny? Would you like to share it with the rest of the class?

I didn't think so.

Anyway, the play debuted while I was in college. I was working for the college newspaper when the campus women's center staged its own production, and the features editor assigned a reporter to review it.

Now, I need to explain that we were using a headline font called "Franklin Gothic," which has pretty wide letters, and that meant you couldn't fit very many words on a line. Also, the managing editor was constantly telling us that we had to use "action words" in our headlines.

You couldn't write a headline like "University To Appoint Study Committee," because that was a passive sentence, and the words "university" and "committee" were too long. Instead, you'd write something like "Deans Plan Study Group" or "Deans Study Plan Group" or "Groups Study Plan Deans" or "Plans Dean Groups Study."

The night before the paper came out, the features editor sent the page with the review over to the proofreaders, who worked in a dingy little office adjoining the newsroom. Suddenly we heard peals of laughter from next door.

The headline on the story was "'Vagina' Defines Women."

I don't remember what the new headline was, but the old one made our "wall of shame," and I although I don't think I had any headlines on the "wall of shame," I had a lot of crunks.

Actually, the worst headline I ever wrote made it into print. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws organized a rally on campus, and we had a feature photo, and I wanted to be clever and tie the rally to a current movie, so I wrote the headline ... wait for it ... "Dazed and Confused?"

Funny, right? No, it wasn't, and I have no excuse, except maybe that I was tired, smug and 19 years old, and oh, you should have seen the letters to the editor that week. We could have run them under the headline "Stupidity Defines Editor."

. . .

Speaking of Stupidity: Do you remember the Pittsburgh Regional Branding Initiative? It was a $200,000, five to 10 year campaign launched in 2002 to come up with an "image" for Pittsburgh that didn't involve steel.

Well, it seems that they let their website ( expire. It's now owned by some Internet service in Equatorial Guinea. (I'm not sure what the brand of Equatorial Guinea is. "Come to Guinea and be a pig!" No?)

I suppose this means the branding was a complete success. Nice job, guys! Take an extra 200 G's out of petty cash.

. . .

(P.S. I almost wrote that the campus women's center had "mounted" a production of the play. Hee hee! Oh, grow up.)

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February 16, 2007 | Link to this story

Microfilm Microbrain

Category: default || By jt3y

Anyone who sends me to the library, a historical society or any other data center to do research does so at their own risk, because I have an interest in practically everything. (And expertise in practically nothing.)

Send me on a 10-minute errand to verify something at the Recorder of Deeds, and I might return two hours later with 1780s maps of land grants in Elizabeth Township. Ask me to retrieve a photo from the Pennsylvania Department at the Carnegie Library and I will become engrossed in 1930s planning commission documents. I stop at the McKeesport Heritage Center to pay my dues, and three hours later I'm still there, paging through police blotters from the 1900s.

I graze on information like some people peck at snacks and appetizers at a party --- a little nibble of this, a handful of that.

This has other disadvantages besides the obvious time management problems. My head is full of completely pointless information on hundreds of topics, but I'm not an expert on any of them, and usually I can't remember where I read something if I'm asked.

I've derailed more than one conversation with family and friends by spouting some arcane bit of useless trivia that's completely unverifiable. I haven't quite entered Cliff Clavin territory, but I'm one pair of white socks away.

Anyway, this week I had to look up some information in Business Week, Fortune and Newsweek from the 1950s. Microfilm is especially deadly for an information grazer because you never know what you're going to stumble across on your way to the information you need.

Thanks to the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature (those big green volumes of indexes to magazine stories --- remember them?), I had the dates and page numbers of the articles I needed, but I had to scroll past page after page of other things that tickled my interest.

I love reading the advertisements --- what car buff could resist a two-page spread from a February 1958 issue of Newsweek touting the new Plymouth Savoy with "Golden Commando V-8," "Push Button TorqueFlite transmission" and "Directional Stabilizing Fins"? Especially since --- as I've noted in the Almanac before --- the '58 Plymouths are one of my all-time favorite car designs. You'd better believe I needed a copy of that.

At other times you run across stories that are suddenly of more enduring interest, like a two-page profile of George Romney --- father of newly-announced presidential candidate Mitt Romney and then the president of American Motors. In 1958 Romney the elder was the only automobile executive in Detroit who was staking his company's future on compact cars.

When Romney left to become governor of Michigan, his successor came in and scrambled the product lineup, sinking AMC within a decade.

I notice, by the way, that Mitt Romney took some flak for launching his candidacy at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. A group of Jewish Democrats accused Romney of anti-Semitism. That's a load of baloney for many, many reasons, not the least of which that Henry Ford's descendants have no record of sharing the old man's warped political views --- in fact, as the Detroit News points out, when the American Jewish Committee presented its National Human Relations Award to William Clay Ford Jr., they did it at the Henry Ford Museum.

Besides, Romney could have launched his campaign at a site having to do with AMC, but a vacant lot in Kenosha, Wis., wouldn't have provided much of a backdrop.

(Now, do you see what I mean about the pointless digressions?)

And if you're a failed newspaper reporter and local history buff like me, you'd have to love an ad in Business Week from March 1958 touting the effectiveness of advertising in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "fastest-growing newspaper in America's eighth-largest market."

It's been a long time since Pittsburgh was America's "eighth-largest market," and an even longer time since newspaper circulation was growing. No matter what you think of the two current choices (and I know a lot of people who don't think much of one, the other or both), the city is still fortunate to have two independent, competing papers. Few cities of Pittsburgh's size can boast that.

But in 1958, Pittsburgh had three daily papers --- the morning P-G and the afternoon Sun-Telegraph and Press --- all under separate ownership. The Sun-Tele (a Hearst paper) was already on life support by 1958 and would be folded into the P-G in 1960, an acquisition that nearly sunk that paper and forced it into a joint operating agreement with Scripps-Howard's Press. And we all know how that turned out.

(Another pointless, trivial digression! I'm full of 'em today!)

I'd better stop here before I really run off the rails --- but not without a plug for a service I've been using for a year, and which I really enjoy. It's called Newspaper Archive, and it's a searchable Internet database of millions of newspapers on microfilm from the 1800s to the present.

Unfortunately, the Daily News isn't one of them, but you can read the Charleroi Daily Mail, the Monessen Daily Independent, the Indiana Gazette, the North Hills News Record and hundreds of other titles.

It's not cheap --- about $70 per year --- but if you're doing any kind of historical or genealogy research, it is an invaluable asset.

Or, if you just want to learn pointless, time-consuming trivia, like me, it's the equivalent of information crack.

. . .

Youth Crime Task Force: In the wake of a shooting last week on Jenny Lind Street that sent a 17-year-old boy to the hospital, Mayor Jim Brewster has created a coalition to try and address root causes of gun violence among teens. Members will include local teen-agers, representatives from the police department and school district and the NAACP, among others.

Jen Vertullo had the story in the News (subscriber-only link), while Eric Slagle had a follow-up in the P-G.

. . .

Play's The Thing: On a lighter note, Margaret Smykla of the P-G caught up with the volunteer thespians of the McKeesport Little Theater. The MLT will be presenting John Patrick's comedy "The Curious Savage" next month as part of its 46th season in the city.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: McKeesport Symphony Orchestra presents a chamber/small ensemble concert, featuring two semi-finalists in its annual "Young Artist Competition," Michael McCarthy and Ingrid Petersen. That's at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the auditorium of McKeesport Area High School, 1960 Eden Park Blvd. Tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for students and $12 for senior citizens. Call (412) 664-2854.

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February 15, 2007 | Link to this story

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Category: default || By jt3y

Cluttered thoughts from an empty mind:

A friend and former cow-orker who shall remain nameless pointed out the cover story in this week's Pittsburgh City Paper, saying that it made him "want to beat Marty Griffin to death with his own microphone." Ouch!

The story's about Griffin, a KDKA-TV "investigative" "reporter" (I use those words in the loosest sense, since we're talking about Tee Vee "news"), and his pursuit of the Rev. Brent Dugan, pastor of Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon. Griffin filmed portions of a service and a festival at the church before springing on Dugan the real reason for his interest --- parishioners suspected the pastor was gay.

Naturally, there's a connection to Our Fair City, or else the Almanac wouldn't care. After Griffin confronted Dugan while he was purchasing pornography at the "adult novelties" store on West Fifth Avenue near the Mansfield Bridge, the station began airing promos for its "expose" that was going to uncover "illicit, possibly illegal, activity by a local minister, activities which at the very least violated the rules of his denomination."

Suddenly, Dugan disappeared and KDKA withdrew the report, making a sanctimonious on-air announcement that congratulated itself for its "unprecedented decision not to air the story" out of fear "the pastor may be in danger to himself." By then, the damage was done, because Pastor Dugan had checked himself into a motel and blown his brains out.

. . .

From Penn State's Don't-Call-Us-McKeesport Campus comes some good news that I missed in Wednesday's Almanac round-up of warm-hearted stories.

Penn State alumni Ann E. and George R. Kemp have pledged $100,000 to create two undergraduate scholarships; one will target students at the No-Seriously-We're-Not-McKeesport Campus, while the other will support home-schooled students in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Mrs. Kemp was an elementary school teacher for 20 years, while her husband was a landscape architect. Together they also operated the former "Fishers of Men" Christian bookstore in Olympia Shopping Center in McKeesport.

. . .

Rejected names for Penn State's Greater Allegheny Campus:

  • Linebacker U., WPIAL Branch

  • Penn State University Park, Extremely West Campus

  • Penn State Pay-No-Attention-To-The-City-Across-The-Street Campus

  • University of White Oak

  • R.I.T. (Renziehausen Institute of Technology)

OK, OK, I'm just funnin', I can't help it.

. . .

Thank goodness for Detroit, which makes every other urban area look better by comparison, as Nancy Nall so often eloquently points out:

The city provides — hold onto your hats — no residential snow removal. Seriously. Main arteries and business districts are plowed, but residential streets fend for themselves. Neighborhoods that still count a few members of the middle class in their number form associations and pay for plowing privately. Everyone else buys boots. In apocalyptic winters, whole streets can become impassible. My friend Ron did some stories about this a few years ago, and said the first thing that happens is, everyone passes the word when the mail will be arriving, and residents gather at the closest navigable corner. The mailman arrives, distributes the mail and leaves. If you miss it, come back tomorrow.

I understand that "Mayor Opie" was on tee-vee the other night acknowledging that the roads were, quote, "bad." Personally, I was instantly able to tell on Tuesday night when I had crossed from the City of Picksberg into West Mifflin Borough --- I was able to relax both my sphincter and my death-grip on the steering wheel. My experience has been that Our Fair City usually does a fairly good job of keeping the streets clean, too.

You're welcome to sound off on snow removal efforts in your little portion of the Mon-Yough area (good, bad or otherwise) in the comments, or shoot me an email.

. . .

Finally, I don't want to set off a hissing match with an occasional Alert Reader of the Almanac. I have few enough readers without chasing them away, and more than enough enemies without making new ones.

But why are you doing this, Mark Rauterkus?

South Side resident Mark Rauterkus, who has run unsuccessfully for state Senate, Pittsburgh City Council and mayor, announced yesterday that he will run for six political offices at once in the November election.

A 47-year-old swimming coach, he said he will run as a Libertarian for Allegheny County chief executive, county councilman at-large, county councilman for District 13, mayor, city controller and city councilman for District 3.

Nobody asked me, but I tend to think the public would be better served if Rauterkus focused all of his energies (and a powerful grassroots campaign) on one office and didn't give up until he won. Dick Caliguiri was elected mayor of Pittsburgh as an independent, so there is no reason that a Libertarian couldn't be elected to council.

If Rauterkus is on a quest to become the Harold Stassen of the Liberty Tubes, I can understand. Otherwise (and maybe I'm missing something), running for six offices at once just makes a person look like a dilettante.

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February 14, 2007 | Link to this story

Weather Frightful, But This News Is Delightful

Category: default || By jt3y

When I run for governor (ha! ha!) one of my first proposals will be a law that requires everyone to pass a snow-driving course before they can obtain a Pennsylvania driver's license.

To make things suitably challenging, you'll have to pull out from a snow-covered parking lot into traffic and then make your way up a short hill in a 1969 Chrysler Imperial with bald tires and drum brakes. If you can't make it with clean underpants and fewer than three dents, you have to go to traffic school.

Also, I'd like to thank the clown in the SUV who passed me on the Glenwood Bridge Tuesday night, sending up a giant shower of snow and slush that clogged the sleek, gray Mercury's windshield wipers and blinded me temporarily. I hope that he's spending this messy and cold Wednesday safe and cozy in bed with a nice hot cup of coffee ... and hemorrhoids the size of watermelons.

Finally, if I hear one more Picksberg TV "meteorologist" use the phrase "wintry mix," I'm going to slug him. A "wintry mix" sounds like something on the menu at King's:

"Our vegetables today are green beans or wintry mix."

"Well, I just shoveled a pile of green beans out of my driveway, so I'll take the wintry mix."

As for the rest of you, here are a few warm-hearted news stories to keep you comfortable, wherever you are.

. . .

First, from the Pittsburgh Courier (which has redesigned its website, making it considerably more attractive --- nice job, guys), an interesting profile of the first African-American school board president in Our Fair City's history, Ocie Paige:

Paige, who served two tours in Vietnam and two in Korea during his 20-year Army career, then worked in restaurant management for another 12 years before retiring completely, said he tried to get some young Blacks interested in running for the school board, but nothing gelled.

So, he figured it was up to him to address the issue—and he did.

“Well, I just watched and learned for a few months, then I started bringing things out that they weren’t moving on,” he said. “So I let them know I was serious and wanted to accomplish something. That earned their respect.”

There are five board seats up for election, and Paige says he knows of only one announced black candidate, but it sounds like he's going to be encouraging more. In a city with a 12 percent African-American population, I can only think that more minority representation is a positive step forward --- and since the median age of black residents of McKeesport is 25, it's clear that young African-Americans represent a key part of the city's future and have to be pulled into the process as soon as possible. Good on Ocie Paige for stepping up and taking a leadership role.

. . .

Speaking of leadership, here's another item from the Courier: Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield has given the McKeesport YMCA a $5,000 grant to assist its Teen Leadership, Education, Employment, Assistance and Development program in Harrison Village and Crawford Village. Teen LEAD promotes development of social skills and critical thinking for young adults 13 to 19.

. . .

Meanwhile, Blueroof Technologies has unveiled its plans for 15 to 20 "smart" homes along Walnut Street between Spring and Locust streets. Kim Leonard had the scoop last week in the Trib, and Jen Vertullo followed up in the Daily News (subscribers-only link) while Karamagi Rujumba had a story in the P-G.

Blueroof's "smart houses" incorporate automation and electronic monitoring designed to help senior citizens and people with disabilities live independently. While the non-profit has already built a few model "Smart Cottages," the proposed "McKeesport Independence Zone" would provide the first large-scale implementation.

The stories I read were not entirely clear, but I got the impression that planning and zoning approval will be necessary before the work can continue --- also, there's more fundraising to be done. You can get more information at Blueroof's website.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I just heard a TV news vidiot use the term "arctic blast," and I need to find out if anyone is delivering cans of whoop-ass today.

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February 12, 2007 | Link to this story

And Now, The Tube City Almanac Presents a Brief But Crude Rebuttal To An Op-Ed By House Majority Leader H. William DeWeese ...

Category: default || By jt3y

... published in Sunday's Post-Gazette, in which Mr. DeWeese attempted to justify both the lavish bonuses he handed out to his favorite staffers (some of whom apparently "volunteered" for campaign work), and his ham-handed efforts to hide those bonuses from public scrunity:

"Blow it out your ear, you pompous, tax-bloated sack of wind."

To provide your own brief but crude rebuttal, send some email via Rep. DeWeese's webpage.

You may also enjoy the watching the movie of his life modestly titled 30 Years of DeWeese.

(We recommend viewing it on an empty stomach.)

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February 09, 2007 | Link to this story

Taxes Tempt, But Liquor's Quicker

Category: default || By jt3y

Our topic today at "Good Government ... On The March!" is the Pennsylvania Constitution. (What's that? You didn't know we had a constitution? Hmmm. See me after class.)

Unlike the U.S. Constitution, which spends its time establishing what the federal government may do (provide for an army and navy, promote law and order, regulate interstate commerce), the Pennsylvania constitution spends much of its time saying what the state government may not do --- restrict freedom of speech or religion, pass laws regulating individual municipalities, or give hereditary titles.

(That last clause may come as a surprise to people who have never seen an election ballot without a Flaherty, a Costa or --- in central Pennsylvania --- a Shuster. But trust me, it's in there.)

There are several clauses in Pennsylvania's constitution describing how the branches of government are supposed to operate, but nowhere in the Constitution will you find that "selling liquor and beer" are among the Commonwealth's primary duties:

  • Establishing a judicial system, yes. (Article V.)

  • Protecting natural resources, yes. (Article I, Section 27.)

  • Maintaining a 25 percent profit margin on bottles of ripple, erm, not so much.

. . .

That leaves me at a loss to explain why state Sen. Sean Logan of Monroeville --- a man whom I normally respect --- is so hot and bothered that a Sheetz store in Altoona is selling six packs of beer.

Right now, any restaurant which has tables and chairs for at least 30 people may apply for a license to sell carry-out beer. According to the Post-Gazette's Bill Toland, several dozen supermarkets with in-store restaurants have also received permission to operate six-pack shops.

Logan's objections have nothing to do at all, I'm sure, with the fact that he received $12,500 last year in campaign funds from the Pennsylvania Beer Wholesalers Association. No, Logan and a state senator from Eastern Pennsylvania want to close this "loophole" to (all together now) "protect the children." Says Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, "I'm very concerned over the age issue, [the] possible sales to minors."

(Rafferty took $12,000 from the Beer Wholesalers, in case you were wondering. You can, as they say, look it up.)

Nope, no ulterior motives here! After all, no minor in Pennsylvania has ever been able to obtain beer, thanks to our state beer distributors. As anyone who has ever visited a beer store in Pennsylvania knows, they are citadels of professional operation, run with an almost-clinical efficiency.

(Excuse me, I just barfed a little bit in my mouth.)

. . .

This story broke last week, but I bring it up because of "Fast Eddie" Rendell's budget proposals this week that (among other things) would increase the state sales tax by 1 percent and lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a private company.

The governor claims that leasing the Turnpike would generate $10 billion in upfront revenue that could be invested and return 9 percent annually to the state --- a claim that the Harrisburg Patriot-News calls questionable "given the ups and downs of the market."

The newspaper also wonders why, if private firms are interested in taking over the Turnpike, the state can't make a profit running the Turnpike and return the revenue to the taxpayers. That's a good question.

Yet nowhere in Rendell's proposals did I see any mention of selling the 643 state-owned liquor stores or leasing them to private operators.

Although highway maintenance isn't specifically covered by the state Constitution, I could make a solid argument that the state's interests are served by a transportation network that includes the Turnpike and major highways.

I can't make that kind of an argument for the liquor stores.

. . .

I have no idea what a liquor store is worth, but here's a one for sale in Greeley, Colo., that grosses $545,000 in sales annually.

  • Greeley is not exactly a big city (it's got roughly the population of Hempfield Township). Using the old rule of thumb that you should never buy a business for more than three times its gross sales, I'd guess that a typical liquor store is worth, conservatively, $1.5 million.

  • For giggles, let's assume that our state liquor stores --- from the big ones in shopping centers to the little holes-in-the-wall like the one on Main Street in Munhall --- are also worth $1.5 million each.

  • Our 643 liquor stores could be sold for $964.5 million! Ka-ching!

I suspect that figure is low, but let's roll with it. That's a $1 billion payoff for the state to leave a business in which it shouldn't be engaged in the first place. It's almost exactly what the governor says selling the Turnpike would generate ($965 million) in its first year.

And once you start swinging the budget-cutting axe at extras (like a publicly-operated liquor store system), why, you find places to cut everywhere. We could save $32,000 by eliminating the chauffeur who drives around state Rep. Bill DeWeese (D-Pomposity), and another $50,000 that he spent giving away American flags to constituents.

In fact, legislative expenses and salaries cost us a cool $308 million last year. I have no idea how much of that could be whacked, but I'll bet if someone wanted to, they could trim that way down.

For example, Bill DeWeese's constituents could buy their own damned flags. I got mine at Schink's Hardware in Duquesne: $9.95, made in the U.S.A, cotton with metal grommets.

. . .

My point, and I do have one, is that the state has never even tried to cut expenses. There has been no "belt-tightening" anywhere! The first response to any cash shortage in Pennsylvania is always "soak the taxpayers."

An editorial in the Daily News on Wednesday called the 1 percent sales tax increase "the least objectionable of (Rendell's) proposals." Statewide, the tax would go to 7 percent. (Sales taxes in Allegheny County would be 8 percent to account for the Regional Asset District fund.)

But according to this table, state sales taxes in Ohio are 5.5 percent. West Virginia's are 6 percent on all purchases except food (5 percent). Connecticut's are 6 percent. Left-wing, liberal, tax-and-spend New York levies a sales tax of only 4 percent. In Massachusetts --- that's "Taxachusetts" to Republicans, you know --- it's 4 percent.

. . .

I don't know about you, but I find a sales tax increase highly objectionable under these conditions. It's suicidal for Pennsylvania to raise its sales tax to a rate higher than nearly all of the other Mid-Atlantic states. (Except for New Jersey --- their sales tax is 7 percent. Hooray for us --- we'll be as bad as New Jersey!)

And that brings me to the final news item that caught my eye this week --- the Quinnipiac University poll that shows Fast Eddie with a 61 percent approval rating --- an all-time high.

Perhaps the survey sample was comprised entirely of Rendell's family and cheesesteak vendors in Philadelphia. They sure didn't ask me. I would have a hard time pointing to one accomplishment of the Rendell administration, other than the highly dubious achievement of legalizing slot-machine gaming.

When Rendell won re-election last year --- against a Republican candidate whose qualifications were weak and whose campaign was weaker --- I hoped that winning a second term would embolden the governor to take some stronger stands to reform state government.

Let's just say that the first two weeks of Rendell's second four years in office do not fill me with optimism.

. . .

There's obviously no leadership coming from the Governor's Mansion to reform Pennsylvania and drag it (kicking and screaming) into the 20th century (nevermind the 21st).

We need a brave state legislator to stand up and demand statewide budget cuts --- including cuts to his or her own expenses. We need a brave state legislator to call for a state Constitutional Convention to reduce the size of Pennsylvania's government and streamline expenses.

How about you, Sean Logan, especially since you seem to have greater ambitions than just the state Senate? You're spending valuable time trying to pass legislation to stop Giant Eagle from selling a six-pack of warm, overpriced Schlitz, and that leaves me feeling ... well, flat.

I could enthusiastically get behind a proposal to slash state expenses and reduce the size of the state Legislature --- and I'll bet most Pennsylvanians would, too. There's your statewide campaign theme.

If you want to protect the children, let's keep them in Pennsylvania first. Stop chasing them out of the state.

Alas, I'm not holding my breath about privatizing the liquor stores, either. Guess which state's elected officials received more than $19,000 in campaign contributions last year from the Independent State Store Union Political Action Committee?

Why, it's Pennsylvania ... The Best Government Money Can Buy!

. . .

To Do This Weekend: If you wanted to go to the Pittsburgh Auto Show and can't, the Tube City Almanac has a suggestion for how you can capture the experience. Send $9 for admission and $9 for parking to me and then go hang out at Tom Clark Chevrolet. You'll see as many cars and the coffee will be free, instead of the $5 swill at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center ... otherwise, Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra holds its Valentine's Day Concert (observed) at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg. Call (724) 837-1850 ... the Twin Oaks Lounge, Rainbow Village Shopping Center, White Oak, presents 8th Street Rox at 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Call (412) 678-3321.

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February 07, 2007 | Link to this story

Sign of the Times

Category: default || By jt3y

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February 06, 2007 | Link to this story

My Sentiments Exactly

Category: default || By jt3y

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February 05, 2007 | Link to this story

Think Spring

Category: default || By jt3y

On Friday, the media spotlight was again focused on Jefferson County, as much of the nation wondered if the weather-forecasting groundhog known as Punxsutawney Phil would see his shadow.

Though Phil didn't see his shadow (at least according to the members of the Inner Circle of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club), the revelry that accompanies Groundhog Day in the northwest Pennsylvania borough did cast its shadow once again over another prognosticating varmint.

According to legend, Port Vue Pete emerges from the trunk of an abandoned car on River Road before sunrise on the first Monday of February. If he doesn't bite a bystander, then the Mon-Yough area can expect an early end to winter.

Despite bitterly cold temperatures and wind chills near 20 below zero, the Almanac was on the scene this morning to capture the spectacle.

We asked Pete if he's jealous of the attention that Punxsutawney Phil receives each year.

"Jealous? Of that overgrown squirrel?" Pete said, lighting a cigarette. "Punk better never come down here. I'll mess him up."

"What is Raccoon Day, and why do you come out of your burrow on the first Monday in February?"

"It used to be Feb. 17 to celebrate the end of raccoon season," Pete said, "but that was too close to Valentine's Day and the stores didn't like carrying Raccoon Day merchandise at the same time as Valentine's Day cards. Too many guys don't pay attention when they buy cards --- they just grab the first one they see. Women were complaining that they kept getting cards like, 'Sorry to hear you have rabies.'"

He stopped to cough for a while, then continued: "Plus, we raccoons wanted a long weekend, so they moved it to the first Monday."

"When did raccoons first start predicting the weather?"

Pete paused, then asked: "When did Groundhog Day start?"

"In 1841."

"Then we started in 1840," he said.

"Doesn't that seem a little bit suspicious?"

"You wanna argue with a hungover raccoon?"

"Sorry. Why are you hungover?"

"What are you, stupid? Super Bowl was last night."

"Oh, right. I didn't realize that raccoons cared about the Super Bowl."

"We don't, but it's a good excuse to drink. You know what Dean Martin said: 'I feel sorry for people who don't drink --- when they wake up in the morning, that's the best they'll feel all day.'"

"How did you learn to forecast the weather?" we asked.

"My dad taught me," Pete said, "and his dad before that, and his dad before that, all the way back to the beginning."

"And who taught the first raccoon to forecast the weather, back in 1840?"

"Joe DeNardo."

"Why is Raccoon Day forgotten while Punxsutawney Phil has so many fans?"

"Aw, it's all PR. I blame that (expletive) movie with Bill Murray. Man, until that (expletive) nobody cared about (expletive) Groundhog Day. Now, all of a sudden, nobody wants old Pete any more. Sometimes I get so depressed I don't even feel like tipping over garbage cans or darting out in front of traffic."

"Well, maybe being written up in the Tube City Almanac will help," we said.

Pete snorted. "I'd get more viewers lying dead at the side of the road. And you don't need no Internet connection."

"Do you want to give your weather prediction?"

"Weather prediction? You (expletive) crazy? It's freezing! I wanna go back to bed."

"But I thought you got up this morning to predict the weather?"

"I got up this morning, moron, to go water the plants. You don't buy beer, you rent it. So if you don't mind, can a raccoon get a little privacy?"

"How about your prediction?"

"I predict I'm going to stick that notebook up your nose in about five seconds. Come back at noon."

"Gee, Phil always gives a cheerful little poem on Groundhog Day with his weather prediction ..."

Pete cursed. "Poem? You want a poem? Fine:

"Roses are red, I gotta gripe:
I'm glad there's an end to the Super Bowl hype.

"Snow is white, dead leaves are brown,
"We'll save lots of money if the Penguins leave town.

"My fur is iced over, my boogers they freeze,
"I wish that you soon would go away, please.

"Winter is cold, port wine is red,
"I'm taking a leak and going to bed.

"You want a prediction? Then never you fear:
"Spring comes on March twenty-one this year.

"Roses are red, Humpty Dumpty was an egg,
"Now if you don't leave, I'm biting your leg!"

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February 02, 2007 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted

Category: default || By jt3y

If Almanacking (is that even a word?) has been light recently, it's mainly because of the book. I've promised to have the manuscript to the publisher by May, and any "creative" "energies" (and in my case, I use those words in their loosest possible senses) have to go in that direction.

Otherwise I expect to find an angry mob of ex-G.C. Murphy employees standing at my front door with pitchforks and torches.

Also, I have spent the last two days fighting a sinus headache that has now decided to take up residence in my ears, and it's taken what little willpower I have to keep from using the power drill to drain some of the pressure off. So there's that. A lot of sleep and judicious use of the humidifier today is helping.

But I didn't want to let any more time go by without noting that Pat Cloonan, writing in the Daily News this week, called "bullsh-t" on Steve Bland, CEO of the Port Authority (new motto: "You can't get there from here"). In a story published last Saturday, Bland complained to Joe Grata of the Post-Gazette that "95 percent" of the people testifying at the service reduction hearings have been riders, not public officials.

As Cloonan pointed out (sorry, the story's not online for non-subscribers), something like 20 of the 60-odd people testifying at the hearing in Our Fair City last week were elected officials or leaders of non-governmental community agencies like Turtle Creek Valley MH/MR. I missed the first part of the hearing, but I saw state Rep. Marc Gergely there, although I didn't get a chance to talk to him.

Bland told Cloonan that McKeesport was the "exception."

Hmmm. Maybe, or did the P-G just take Bland's word for it that public officials aren't attending?

And is anyone from the P-G attending? Because Pat was the only representative of the media (OK, I guess I am, too) that I saw at the Palisades last Thursday night.

Just askin', is all.

. . .

In other news, I wanted to note that city native Bob Carroll Jr. died last week at 87 in Los Angeles. You probably didn't know his name, but you knew his work --- Carroll was a writer for Lucille Ball and worked on every TV show she ever had, including I Love Lucy. Born here in 1919, an obituary in the Washington Post notes that he moved with his family to Florida at age 3, and I don't know that he had any local ties in the region.

He started working with Ball on her radio show, My Favorite Husband (really the prototype of Lucy) before making the leap to television with her in 1953. Carroll and longtime writing partner Madelyn Pugh Davis eventually stayed with Ball until her last show, Life With Lucy, left the air in 1986.

Ivan Shreve Jr. has an item about Carroll's career over at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear. Requiescat en pace.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: I know what I'm going to do --- drink a lot of fluid and hope my sinuses drain. You, on the other hand, might want to register for the driver safety courses that Carnegie Free Library of McKeesport is offering next week --- if you're a senior citizen. (Today, I feel like a senior citizen, and Lord knows I could use some driving classes. At least people who've been passengers in my car seem to think so.) Qualified seniors will receive a 5 percent reduction in their auto insurance premiums, which sounds like a good deal to me. Call (800) 559-4880 (Tube City hard-hat tip: McKeesport Recreation Committee) ... Pittsburgh Area Jitterbug Club has dancing at the Palisades at 9 p.m. Saturday. Hope your long winter underwear doesn't show underneath your poodle skirts. (The ladies, that is. The guys aren't wearing poodle skirts, although it's none of my business if you do.) Call (412) 366-2138. ... Artifacts and photographs of the history of steelmaking are on display in the exhibit "Steel Around: Big Steel's Enduring Legacy," at the Bost Building, East Eighth Avenue in Homestead, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call (412) 464-4020.

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