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Friday, February 27, 2015

Pittsburgh landmark defaced by Patriot fans


I was appalled to see a brash obscenity plastered on one of my favorite Pittsburgh landmarks. Even more appalling, I was the only one who seemed notice.

Maybe that’s good.

That way no Pittsburgh ice skaters will rush out to seek investment advice from MassMutual Financial Group.

Of course, they must be a pretty persuasive bunch.

How else do you explain caretakers at PPG Plaza allowing them to deface a work of art with four of their cheesy advertisements?

The base of the enigmatic obelisk that centers PPG’s popular ice skating rink in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle is now sided with MassMutual ads.

I’ll admit, it’s not exactly like dressing the Mona Lisa up in a Geico NASCAR jumpsuit, but it is unbelievably crass.

First, let’s consider the 31-year-old building, the most sparkling asset on Pittsburgh’s magnificent skyline. It is a 6-building complex covering three city blocks around the dominant 40-floor tower.

Architects covered the glass-maker’s HQ with more than one million square feet of PPG Solarban 550 clear reflective glass so they positively shimmer.

From Pittsburgh’s grand overlooks, the PPG Towers look like Oz’s Emerald City would if the Emerald City had been designed and constructed by Steeler fans.

Know what else I like about the building? No signs!

Yes, Pittsburgh skyscrapers have over the last 15 years been branded out the wazoo. PPG doesn’t need to stoop to such unseemly hucksterism. Its glass building says it all.

I admire that.

Now let’s consider the art. The obelisk was designed by building architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee. And while I love the building, the obelisk has always left me cold — and that was way before they surrounded it with ice.

It’s stark. It’s unimaginative. It looks like it was designed by two guys in a hurry to get the hell out of Pittsburgh before the rivers all froze.

It’s just four black spheres atop a rose granite base crowned by a nondescript 44-foot rose granite obelisk.

When it was unveiled in 1984, meat ’n’ potato Pittsburghers looked at it and said, “Huh?”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Peter Leo brilliantly declared it “The Tomb of the Unknown Bowler” and said the sparse plaza looked like a dandy place to host a public execution.

So as art goes, the obelisk doesn’t resonate. In fact, neither did the plaza. 

That all changed in 2001 when PPG bestowed the square — and the art — with heart. It gave it over to Pittsburgh’s children.

It installed a delightful water park around the obelisk where golf-ball sized bursts shoot straight up as high as 20 feet. It’s utterly delightful. Me and my family have played there among the sprays dozens of times over the summers.

I’ve taken my lunch and a newspapers there just to relax and watch the children playing.

It makes me happy.

Around the same time, someone thought it would be a great idea to infuse the plaza with the same joyous atmosphere in winter. They built a small ice rink around the obelisk, which in the holiday season is dressed as a Christmas tree. 

The plaza has become the go-to place for TV crews in town to snag some color about what it’s like to live in Pittsburgh.

Now, let’s consider the ads.

The only thing I know about MassMutual is that the Mass is short for Massachusetts.

Know what that means? A Pittsburgh landmark is being defaced by New England Patriot fans!

If someone were caught spray-painting a message on the same space they’d go to jail — even if the message was something on which sensible jurors could all agree like, say, “Patriots Suck!”

But mingling art with advertising is just crass.

And it’s beneath PPG, a company that in 2013 was reported to have earned revenues of $15.1 billion.

If you’re going to be a tasteless sell out, you might as well go all the way and carve “VIAGRA!” up and down the sides of the towering erection.

That kind of advertising would at least justify my hard feelings.



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Thursday, February 26, 2015

I'd like to see Bill O'Reilly interview Bill O'Reilly


I’d like to watch Bill O’Reilly interview Bill O’Reilly if only Bill O’Reilly would agree to be questioned by someone like Bill O’Reilly.

It’d be the intellectual equivalent of watching an old professional wrestling match between Hulk Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter. There’d be eye-gouging, ear-biting, shouted threats and the mutual kind of menace that would make an old Mike Tyson fight seem comparatively dainty.

Of course, I’d have to watch with the volume way down. To hear Bill O’Reilly shouting at Bill O’Reilly about the many exaggerations in Bill O’Reilly’s story would make my head pound.

Just like it does on those rare occasions when I tune in to watch Fox News.

The mouthpieces don’t so much report the news as berate it. They leer. They roll their eyes. They shake their fists.

O’Reilly is the king of this. If the daily news were a defenseless woman in a red dress he deemed too slutty, he’d rape it.

That kind of behavior while delivering what purports to be news is highly entertaining to a lot of people who enjoy losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. 

Not to me.

To me, he’ll always be the buffoon from the tabloid TV show “Inside Edition,” which he anchored from 1989-94. Having trolled in the tabloid world for 10 years myself, I don’t begrudge him the shifty persona one bit.

But I do blame his audience, those us-against-the-world, Koch-brother-loving, Obama-delegitimizing, climate-change-denying, flat-earther-birthers who hoot in nasty glee when Brian Williams is swiftly deposed for silly exaggerations then circle the proverbial wagons when one their own is clearly guilty of the same misdeeds.

To me, the difference is Williams believed his lies — and his bosses (like O’Reilly’s) encouraged them — and that in his mind made them true. Brian Williams was trailing in a helicopter group that was attacked, ergo, Brian Williams was attacked.

It’s a stupid mistake and for a man in his position an unforgivable one. He should go.

O’Reilly’s petty exaggerations are worse.

He claims he was under fire in a war zone — even as he acknowledges that “war zone” was 1,000 miles away.

Even if you concede him his dubious semantics, no one who was in actual combat in the Falkland Islands at the time is bragging he took a shot that nearly hit future Fox News deity Bill O’Reilly right in the ass.

It’d be like me saying I had an intimate chat with Mick Jagger in 1994 because I heard his amplified yell to me and 49,999 other Stones fans, “How ya doin’, Pittsburgh!’ and I politely responded, “Doing great, Mick. You?”

I’ve been avoiding this topic because it’s such a petty little lie, to me the journalistic equivalent of O’Reilly telling a girl in a bar he’s got a really big penis. It’s tasteless, it’s crass, but depending on the woman’s immediate options and appetites, the veracity of the boast will one way or another be exposed.

To me, this is a much bigger story and will remain one because of the way he and Fox are over-reacting to it. 

They’ve threatened reporters, shouted hair-splitting details and have done everything in their power to slime the reputations of anyone who responds to the gotcha with a hearty Muntz.

It’s an at-long-last-have-you-no-decency-sir moment.

So I’m going to enjoy watching as now-provoked legions of reporters dig into every detail of this flawed pretender’s audacious claims and ferret out more falsehoods that chip away at his standing and that of his employer.

Make no mistake: it’s precisely the thing Bill O’Reilly would do to Bill O’Reilly if Bill O’Reilly ever had the courage to agree to be questioned by a bully as unfair and repugnant as Bill O’Reilly.

And the more Bill O’Reilly denies it, the more he’s exposing himself for what he really is.

Not just the kind of man who brags he has a really big penis.

More the kind of man who is nothing but one.




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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Snow plow smashed our mailbox; I suspect foul play


I like to think there was at least some sport involved, like maybe the roadmasters who drive the snow plows had a bounty on our decrepit old mailbox.

“Good news! I just blasted the Rodell mail box clear to smithereens! What’s the pool up to?”

Even before the destruction, ours was probably the ugliest mailbox on our two-mile stretch of rural road and I, of course, didn’t give a crap. It was dented, rusted, held together with duct tape and leaned so badly it looked like it would tip over when the mail’d back up more than a day or two.

It’s not even on our property. It’s across the street from our home, which at times resembles the battered old mailbox only with doors, windows, and way more duct tape.

So for a snow plow driver to clip it must have felt to a township employee like an act of civic beautification.

Driving a snow plow can’t be easy. The unpredictable hours are long and it’s your job to be out on the worst nights resenting the rest of us as we sit inside sipping hot cocoa. 

It’d certainly break the tedium to see how close you could come to the rows of mailboxes without demolishing them.

I briefly suspected the mail lady was the culprit before realizing she, like me, probably just doesn’t give a crap.

To her it’s just another mailbox. In fact, mailboxes to her are probably like johns to prostitutes.

She doesn’t really care how they look as long as she doesn’t have to kiss them.

My wife wondered whether the township would pay for the damage.

She said that and I tried to imagine the roars of laughter that would result from me showing up at the the township office with a cardboard box of postal roadkill.

I’d been meaning to get a new one, but instead just kept slapping on more duct tape to delay its inevitable disintegration. And I can’t stress this enough: I really just didn’t give a crap.

Mail delivery has been steadily cheapened over the years. No one sends letters, no one sends postcards. Heck, the soulless internet’s usurped delivery of most of our bills and paychecks, too.

It wasn’t that long ago I used to race to get the daily mail. I used to get lots of interesting newspapers, magazines and actual paychecks.

Ah, the heady swoon of nostalgia!

Now, probably the only thing more boring than retrieving the mail is having to deliver it. Seven-eighths of it go straight into the recycling bin.

I did for a moment wonder if more sinister elements were in play. I wondered if the snow plow drivers despise me.

They may hate me because they mistakenly think I’m give them the finger every time they pass and I’m out there shoveling.

It’s a simple miscommunication that may have spiraled out of control.

See, I do appreciate the job they do. And I always make sure I’d stop my shoveling and give them a big friendly wave as they’d pass.

Then something changed that may have confused them.

I bought a pair of mittens.

So what in a gloved hand looked like a friendly full-fingered wave could now in the flying snow be misconstrued as an angry taxpayer flipping the bird. 

Maybe word got around that the friendly guy up on Solomon Temple Road has gone snow crazy and they conspired to screw with me. Because we all know it’s more fun to antagonize a mentally unstable person than actually reach out and help him.

Val took the sad remains of the mail box and propped it back up so at least the mail lady still delivers the mail, but it’s uprightness is precarious.

It’d be a house of cards if people only still sent cards.

So now my to-do list includes buying and securing a new mailbox. It’ll have to wait until the weather permits so that means it’ll have to wait at least a week.

It’d be great if mail suddenly became interesting again. But I don’t see that happening. It’s all junk and junk’s what it’ll likely always be.

And the more crap I get in the mail, the less likely I am to ever give a crap about ever getting the mail.



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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Suspect runs across frozen Pittsburgh river; a different kind of winter escape


A Pittsburgh burglary suspect’s daring escape attempt has me recollecting all the questionable adventures I’ve had on frozen bodies of water.

Running from the police isn’t among them.

William McManus, 25, is alleged to have ripped off armfuls of scratch-off lottery tickets from a downtown convenience store.

I say “alleged” because I remember being instructed in journalism school it’s the until-proven-guilty fair designation and because I don’t want to disqualify myself from potential jury duty.

Case details sound fascinating and I’m in one of those periodic slumps where the $12-a-day jury duty compensation would seem like a gaudy windfall.

McManus has a history of petty thievery. Confronted by police with a coat full of stolen lottery tickets, he certainly considered the consequences if caught and convicted.

It’s a choice all criminals face when nearing apprehension: Surrender, fight or flight.

The moment was immortalized in the 1971 “Dirty Harry” movie when Det. Harry Callahan asks the suspect about his intentions as he lay bleeding on the sidewalk.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Callahan says, “‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth in all this excitement, I kind of lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would probably blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’

“Well, do ya, punk?”

This, I think, should be part of every suspect’s Miranda Rights.

I’d like to think if the question was posed in that way to McManus, he’d have had the pluck to respond, “I’ve got about a hundred lottery tickets in my coat. Of course I feel lucky!”

Either way, McManus took off.

But he didn’t run to a getaway car or down some dark alley.

He ran straight to the Allegheny River.

Oh, the exhilaration he must have felt because the Allegheny River is frozen solid.

I wonder if he felt like Princess Elsa does when she builds the magical ice bridge across the chasm. He must have been congratulating himself on his genius.

His midnight escape was not without risks. I know this because I once fell through a pond that looked frozen.

I was playing golf.

It was a warm early spring day. The fairways were clear, but the ponds were still frozen, or so it seemed.

Knowing this, I cunningly tried to gain an advantage by skipping my ball off the ice on a dogleg par 5.

The ball came to rest in the middle of the pond. As the match was tight, I didn’t want to lose a stroke so I gingerly crept out on to the ice and took a mighty whack.

I made good contact, but the commotion caused my back leg to break through the ice up to my knee. I was very lucky.

Had both legs broken through I might have been soaked clear up to my waist and forced to miss post-round drinks. I learned that day it’s a very shallow pond.

I was so much younger then. More reckless. Just a stupid kid, really.

It was 2011.

Probably the closest I ever came to truly dying was in 2000. I was doing a story about the ice fishing on Mille Lacs, Minnesota. It’s a 207-square-mile lake that every year freezes solid enough to sustain a population of ice fisherman big enough to qualify as the state’s third largest city. There’s roads, regular trash pick up, pizza delivery — you name it — all on a 3-foot bed of ice.

The problem is vast parts of it are unsafe.

The first thing I did was unwittingly drive my rent-a-car on one of the unsafe parts and begin doing donuts. I was having a great time until I spied a concerned citizen dashing out on the ice waving his arms. He told two or three fools die every year doing what I was doing.

He’d saved my life. Then he took me to a nearby pub and bought me a beer.

I still send him a Christmas card every year. Some years it’s for saving my life, some years for buying me the beer. 

Those are my two best on-ice adventures. 

I’m sure the fleeing McManus thought he was going to have a dandy story. Maybe he thought once he’d made it safely across the river, he was home free.

Wrong.

Because the Allegheny River isn’t an international border.

And in another miscalculation, he forgot there are Pittsburgh Police on both sides of every Pittsburgh river.

In fact, if I’m reading the story right, the officers who’d tried to arrest him on the river’s downtown side simply got in their cruiser, drove across one of our many bridges and were waiting for him as the suspect scampered up the river bank.

Still, I don’t believe the escape was in vain.

A crafty attorney can certainly get the resisting arrest charge dismissed.

After all, McManus in a way obeyed when the officers yelled, “Freeze!”

We’ve been freezing in Pittsburgh all month.


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Monday, February 23, 2015

Oscars & "Walking Dead:" an Odd Couple post


A friend of mine — he’s my old college roommate — texted me wondering if I was hosting an Oscar party and then made a derogatory remark about people who do.

I told him he was mistaken.

I was Oscar. He was Felix.

It’s odd to us fans of old sitcom classics that Oscars are presented to what seems like a room full of Felixes.

There are no slobs. They’re all fastidious and impeccably groomed. Even Jack Black looks tidy.

Just like Felix Unger.

Oscar isn’t anything like Oscar Madison, to me the most famous Oscar since Oscar Meyer.

Did you see CBS has brought back “The Odd Couple.” That’s the 1970-75 show starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall based on the 1968 movie of a 1965 Neil Simon play.

So it’s remake to the fourth power, a power which in TV terms only weakens the premise.

I enjoy seeing movies, but rarely feel compelled to watch the Oscars.

It was the same way last night. We tuned in and then took an hour-long zombie siesta while we watched “Walking Dead.” It was a good episode and introduced us to two new characters, both incidentally with Felix-like tendencies, who fear what they call “roamers.”

So a show that’s all about the zombie apocalypse is populated by characters who steadfastly refuse to call zombies zombies. They’re either “walkers,” “biters” or  “lurkers.” I’ve read the comic book series has alternatively called what are obviously zombies either “creepers,” “geeks,” “eaters,” “wanderers,” and — my favorite — “stinkers.”

I’d be fine with even that glaring discrepancy if just once for authenticity’s sake I heard some one lament, “Dang! I just stepped in a huge pile of stinker crap!”

But I saw enough of Oscar to, like the rest of country, make some snide and tart observations about the proceedings.

• First of all, J.K. Simmons is a dead ringer for the Oscar statue. It’s like they were separated at birth. “Whiplash” is right at the top of our list to see. Val and I have loved Simmons since he starred as a neo-Nazi in the gruesome HBO show, “Oz.” He was utterly horrific, but as compelling a character as any I’ve ever seen. The ovation he received for his win seemed so genuine. He’s either truly liked or his peers appreciate how this great actor has toiled so long in obscurity that many viewers probably just recognize him as the Farmers insurance guy.

• Despite his Scientology beliefs and his many personal eccentricities, I still find myself rooting for John Travolta. It was great seeing him make fun of himself with Idina Menzel. She’s a good sport, too. Travolta, after looking dead in the water four or five times, has been the recipient of just as many remarkable career comebacks. I hope he has one or two left in him.

• Neil Patrick Harris doesn’t have the chops to pull off Oscar hosting duties. He is to me too much of a light weight. The demanding role needs more heft. It needs someone who combines wit with gravity. Yes, it needs Brian Williams!

• I may have started a new tradition yesterday, one that I hope endures. Josie, 14, and I went to see an Oscar nominated picture. We saw “Selma.” Loved it. So with it fresh in my mind, I was really rooting for it to win anything. I’ll be writing about it on the Bloody Sunday 50th anniversary on March 7th. David Oyelowo gives a performance for the ages. It’s a fantastic film about the men and women who, to me, are among the most brave in all American history.  So, of course, I loved the John Legend and Common acceptance speech. 

• I was surprised to learn yesterday that Lady GaGa is such an exceptional singer she doesn’t need to attire herself entirely in meat products to get attention.

• I’ve never watched them, but I think I’d much prefer watching a telecast of the Razzies to the Oscars.

• I wonder how many people acted on J.K. Simmons’s admonishment to call their mothers. I appreciate the sentiment, but didn’t call because I was fearful she’d tell me she was out of wine and toilet paper. She’s done that before. 

• Val and I checked out “The Grand Budapest Hotel” a few months ago. I was positive I’d love it. I was wrong. I found it bewildering. Pretty, but bewildering — like Angelina Jolie! We bailed on it after about 30 minutes. We might have to give it another shot. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, a common condition in these days when even sticklers like me watch some movies with our thumbs poised on our smart phones.

• Every time I see Benedict Cumberbatch on screen I’m mystified by his appeal. He looks oddly robotic, like you could peel the skin back and see a whirl of circuitry animating his face.

• And this will put me at odds with most men, but I much prefer Emily Blunt to Scarlett Johannson. I thought Scarlett looked terrible last night. Her hair cut looked like she’d borrowed it from Vanilla Ice. I was afraid they’d show a clip of Cumberbatch together with Johannson and it would ruin the whole night.

• I’ll stop here. If there’s one thing we don’t need is any more discussion of yet another odd couple. 



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Sunday, February 22, 2015

RRS: How I became an iron-bladdered superhero

It’s Oscar night. Will you watch? Our priority is “Walking Dead,” but I’m sure we’ll see a good bit of them. I have plenty of old Oscar and movie posts, so let’s avoid that today. Instead, here’s one from August 2013 that refers to an Alfred Hitchcock line about how films shouldn’t exceed the duration of the typical human bladder.


Alfred Hitchcock said the length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder. Interesting perspective from a filmmaker whose last name concludes with a vulgarity involving an essential component of male urination. 

Of course, he made the statement about 30 years prior to the introduction of the pause button that rendered his point mostly moot.

Besides, I disagree that movies are too long.

Bad movies are too long.

Good movies aren’t long enough.

Therefore, the real problem is that bladders are too small.

Reliable internet medical sources -- and is there any other kind? -- say the average human bladder holds about 300 milliliters (10 ounces) of urine.

If that’s true then I’m exceptional because my bladder can hold about a six pack of Yuengling. 

So when I say anything outlandish enough to cause people to blurt I’m full of crap, I have a ready rebuttal. I’m full of something, true, but it is not crap.

But talking rebuttals in this case would be getting off subject, not to mention off track.

It’s taken me 50 years to learn my superhero identity.

I am Elasta Bladder!

It’s true. I can drink buckets of beer, lemonade, water -- you name it -- and hold it forever. The discovery had made me what can only be described as cocky.

Just yesterday, we enjoyed a splendid inner tube float down Stonycreek River in Johnstown with the friendly folks at Coal Tubin’. It was great.

The only problem was that one of our party started complaining about the need to use the bathroom the instant the rubber hit the river. Setting aside the fact that we were immersed in body of water in a town known for historic flooding, I knew the person had just been in a bathroom 30 minutes previous.

So I went off.

“You have the bladder of a 7-year-old little girl! For god’s sake, either hold it or just piss in the river and stop your whining!”

My pee pep talk infuriated my wife, I guess, because the person I was screaming at for behaving like she had the bladder of a 7-year-old girl was our 7-year-old daughter, Lucy.

It was her first time in white water so I think a big part of it was nerves. Either way, her inability to urinate left me pissed.

I have no idea from whence her unreasonable fears sprang.

Or do I?

See I wonder if my superhero bladder might stem from some childhood incidents not dissimilar to my daughter’s. Yes, I was once a small child in a situation where angry grown men were screaming at me to urinate.

It was in the cavernous men’s rooms at old Three Rivers Stadium back when the Pittsburgh Steelers were winning Super Bowls with unparalleled regularity.

I believe the architects who designed the stadium were aware that the average human bladder could hold just 10 ounces of urine and merely assumed Steeler fans would comply with that biological imperative.

But they did not. Everyone was drunk. And everyone had to pee. Right away.

So there I was. I’d consume my 12-ounce glass of warm, flat soda and maybe 15 minutes later need relief.

I vividly remember my nerves twitching standing in those steamy, stinking men’s rooms, my eyes about butt high on the guy in front of me. It got worse the second my zipper descended and I approached the porcelain.

“C’mon, kid! We don’t got all day. Do your business and get out!”

I don’t think they heckled Terry Bradshaw as relentlessly as they did 10-year-old boys stricken with shy bladder.

I couldn’t go. I remember zipping up, fleeing and not peeing until the game was over and we were home and I was behind a locked bathroom door.

It didn’t scare the piss out of me. Quite the contrary.

I guess what happened to me wasn’t unlike what happened in the Spider Man saga. But instead of Peter Parker being transformed, it became a matter of me being determined to forever more just park my peter.

Thus ends the story of Elasta Bladder in Flood City, a dandy name for a comic action flick, maybe one that would have interested old Hitchcock himself.

I’d pay to produce it but right now I don’t have a pot to piss in.

On the bright side, I don’t really need one.



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