The Colorless Life Of My Father

My parents grew up in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood during the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Like many other ethnically diverse places in the United States at that time, city neighborhoods often were divided up between African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Italians, Poles, Irish, Jewish, German and many other ethnic groups, dating prior to World War I.  Racism was everywhere in Pittsburgh then, even between nationalities that shared the same skin color.

My father lived in the epicenter of it all, nestled in a double-brick row house along Carey Way near South 18th Street.  At the age of fourteen, Dad took a newspaper carrier job, delivering the Pittsburgh Courier for a few years before working in a butcher shop during his final years of high school.

The Pittsburgh Courier was one of the leading African-American newspapers in the United States during its publishing between 1910 and 1966 (New ownership has called the newspaper New Pittsburgh Courier since 1966-67).  Its customers on the South Side were on the east end of “The Flats” between South 26th Street and South 29th, and a few houses that snaked up the back half of “The Slopes” on Josephine Street.  It was quite a walk from Dad’s house, especially carrying 30 to 40 papers eight city blocks and then climbing the hill toward the end of his route.

Each week, he collected the money due from each customer and turned his receipts into his supervisor.  He also thanked his customers for the extra money they gave him during Christmas.  Dad never told me how my grandparents felt about his first job, but he did tell me about the reaction he got from some of his friends.  His friends couldn’t understand how Dad could work for a black newspaper publication, a black supervisor and interact “with all the blacks” on the back half of the South Side.

To Dad, his customers were people.  People like all of the Polish families he knew from church and school, smashed between South 13th and South 20th.  People like the thousands of mill workers that walked to their jobs at all hours of the day.  Dad had a very progressive attitude toward race relations, especially in the turbulent era that he was a witness to.

During his time in the United States Navy, Dad continued to encounter people that had a difficult time accepting others that were of a different skin color.  Dad did his best to avoid these individuals and went on to meet many good, hard-working, disciplined men while he was stationed at Pearl Harbor, San Diego and doing reserve work in Philadelphia.  All of the guys were from different economic and cultural backgrounds, but Dad just saw men.  Not black men, white men, Latino men, California neo-suburban men and men with a southern drawl, just men–his Navy buddies.

THE PHILADELPHIA JAZZ CLUB STORY

The most memorable story Dad shared concerning race relations occurred in 1969.  Racial tensions were at an apex in the United States and Pittsburgh had its share of police-involved fights and riots.  At that time and through the early 1970’s, Dad would occasionally travel to Philadelphia for four weeks to do reserve work and complete his duty to the Navy.

One particular summer day, Dad decided to leave the barracks in South Philly and walked north on South Broad Street.  He heard from another reservist that there was a small jazz club and bar not too far from base, and that they had live performances daily by local artists.  A marine happened to hear Dad’s conversation and insisted he accompany Dad to the club to catch a few drinks.  Dad didn’t mind the company, but he soon realized that the marine was a “tough guy”, telling him heroic tales from his time served during the ongoing Vietnam War and apparently doing his best to emasculate Dad on their walk to the club.

The two of them arrived at the club.  They paid a small cover charge and made their way toward the bar.  They each got one beer and found a spot to sit down.  As Dad started to take in the music, the marine pokes at him to get his attention.  Confused, Dad wanted to know why the marine had a scared look on his face.

“What?  What’s wrong?”

“Look around.  They are all staring at us.  We’ve got to get out of here.”

“Who’s they?  Who’s staring?”

The marine, who just ten minutes prior was telling Dad about his heroism and strength in combat was frightened of the fact that he and Dad were the only two white men among approximately fifty black men.  Annoyed, Dad told the marine to shut up, drink his beer and listen to the music.  After a few songs, it was clear to Dad that the marine was squirming to leave the club, so they left despite Dad’s wishes to stay.  Dad felt that the marine’s uneasiness was drawing more attention to them than the music.  Dad was pissed at the marine, and despite being fifty pounds lighter and six inches smaller, told him how he felt.

“So you’re a big, tough marine, huh?  We’re all in there for the same reason, to listen to music, and all you saw was a bunch of black guys that were going to beat your ass.”

The marine didn’t say much to Dad on the walk back.  Going to the club Dad said he couldn’t talk enough about himself.  The same, ugly preconceptions that some of Dad’s friends had instilled in them years before were shared by the marine years later.  Stereotypes that kept people apart instead of bringing people together.

GOING FORWARD–STEREOTYPES AND MY SON

Before going to preschool, when my son was home or being watched by my in-laws, he noticed that people were different but treated everyone the same.  Now that he has gone to school, he has learned some not-so-nice preconceptions about race, gender roles and class structure.  When pressed on where he obtained such “knowledge”, he has stated that his classmates tell him these things.  This is proof that parents can have influence on the lives of others beyond their children.

In the coming years, I will continuously teach my son what my father taught me:  Don’t see the person by their color, ethnic background or by how much money they have…see them for who they are as a person.  If a person is good, then be like that person…no matter what color their skin is, man or woman, rich or poor…follow their example.

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On My 15,146th Day (In Iambic Pentameter)

Raised in a town known for steel and rebirth,

The product of parents who choked on its ashes,

Groomed to be virtuous among the broken and strife

Yet fell–engrossed in the fears of my home and its streets.

 

The awkward transition to grow mature and with purpose,

Wasting my youth in attempts to find manhood,

Searching six years beyond broken and lost,

A path was made clear through the trials and the errors.

 

The feeling of love brought forth a new passion,

True to my heart I pushed on through rough waters,

Intent on a life to expand my forced boundaries,

Content to pursue my dreams in tight quarters.

 

My son is my rock, my ground is kept stable,

His pursuits are now mine, my goals are left burning,

Purpose was found, my life loved while held down,

He will know my mistakes, shared space will bring triumph.

Chuck E. Cheese’s 1984: Where a kid can fight off teenagers to play arcade video games

For my 9th birthday in 1984, my parents took me to an establishment new to the Pittsburgh area that had plenty of games for kids and plenty of pizza for kids to eat.  Chuck E. Cheese’s was my funhouse as a child, and it looks nothing like the place I knew growing up over thirty years ago.

Each location in Pittsburgh had different activities for kids, and I appreciated the location west of town near Bridgeville.  Sure, they had an awesome ball pit and they had a cool and scary twisty slide (It would have been deemed unsafe in 2017, that’s for sure), but the real draw for me was that the Bridgeville Chuck E. Cheese’s had the best selection of arcade games to play under one roof.

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My favorite arcade game

The original Chuck E. Cheese’s had the same types of games that are found in today’s locations–skee-ball, whack-a-mole, wheel of fortune and other games where the object is to earn tickets which are then redeemed for cheap toys.  Toys that might cost a few dollars elsewhere, but at Chuck’s they could be obtained with the tickets earned from $10 worth of skee-ball games.  Today’s locations have many more of the “ticket games” than actual arcade games.

At my old age, I was curious as to why the old Chuck’s had so many cool arcade games.  I discovered that Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, Inc. was actually one of the original owners, and wanted the video game arcade to showcase many of the titles that Atari and its parent companies released.  What transpired in the arcade section of Chuck’s in the mid-1980’s was wonderful chaos.  In a place that was marketed to children ages 3 to 12, teenagers and college kids were lining up to play video games.

The arcade section was set up the same as other arcades in the 1980’s.  They were usually found at malls and amusement parks all across America.  Token machines were stationed throughout Chuck’s.  One token was worth twenty-five cents, and the majority of people playing the arcade games at Chuck’s would simply walk in, bypass all of the pizza and dinner theatre themed areas for the kids and spend $10 to $20 on the thirty to forty arcade games lined up in a U along the walls on one side of the main play area.  Some of the bigger cockpit-style video games were in the center of the floor, including two (TWO!!!) Pole Position games.

All of the games were not Atari games.  It seemed that Bushnell wanted whatever was hot to increase traffic and boost profits.  Many of the companies I remembered were very big names in the video game industry then and well represented at the Bridgeville Chuck’s.  In addition to Atari, they had Nintendo, Data East, Midway, Konami, Sega, Namco and Gottlieb.  Gottlieb was the video game equivalent of a “one hit wonder”, being responsible for the legendary game Q*Bert, which is pictured above.

By 1986 traffic declined at Chuck’s due to the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).  Previous home systems were mostly crude versions of the arcade games, but the NES combined fun games with better graphics.  Teenagers and college kids could buy an NES, play games at home all day and not have to worry about running out of money to play the machines at an arcade.  Even though there were less people playing the games, for a few years the machines stayed at Chuck’s.  Toward the end of the 1980’s, the Bridgeville Chuck’s had the following games in one location:

Donkey Kong, BurgerTime, Bump ‘N’ Jump, Rampage, Defender, Joust, Gauntlet, Space Invaders, Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man, Galaxian, Galaga, Dig Dug, Pole Position, Q*Bert, Frogger, Centipede, Paperboy, Marble Madness, Zaxxon, Out Run, Mario Bros. (The original, not Super Mario Bros.)

Chuck’s had other arcade games besides these, but I remembered these games well.  They were fun to play and I even enjoyed watching the older kids play them because I would learn the game before spending my money.  The 13-25 age group that hogged most of the games taught me which ones were the best to play so I could spend my $5 a little more wiser than I would have.  And sometimes, the older kids let me in on the action.

At my brother’s 8th birthday party in 1986, the Bridgeville Chuck’s got a multi-player Gauntlet machine.  It would allow for up to four players to run the game at once and team up to beat the enemies on each level.  I was 10 at the time and while I was walking through the arcade, a teenage boy about the age of fifteen asked me to be player four on Gauntlet.  I agreed even though I had no idea what I was doing.  The two other players with us were his friends, also around high school age.  During the game he taught me how to use the buttons and what areas to focus on attacking.  By the time we completed the game (We got about halfway through the game before we all ran out of money), there were a few other teenagers watching us run through the beginning levels.  Before the next batch of guys tried the new game, they were asking my new acquaintance and I about the game play features.  Not him and his friends–him and I.  Me, all of age 10.

The Gauntlet experience at Chuck E. Cheese’s taught me not to be afraid of unfamiliar environments.  Sometimes the people that seem intimidating end up being helpful, kind and welcoming.  If I would have said, “No, I don’t know how to play”, an early shred of confidence gained would have been missed out on, and it would have affected me going forward in life.

That fall, my friends at school wanted me to go out for the basketball team.  I never played before, but I remembered playing Gauntlet with the older kids, finding my place on a team and learning that new experiences didn’t have to be scary, unappealing situations.  I tried out for the team, made the team, and by the end of the year had become one of the better players.

So as you can see reader of this post, there is a lot to be learned from playing video games.  Happy 40th birthday Chuck E. Cheese’s, and thanks for the awesome place to learn the meaning of confidence.

Soothe: Nintendo lullabies, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake and my young son’s love of them

There’s the old adage, “Write what you know.”  Many writers over time (Including Twain and Hemingway) have given this advice.  This tale can be titled Sing What You Know and/or Put On Music That Calms You Down When Calming Your Baby Down.  

My wife and I have one son who is age three right now.  When he was a newborn, he did the usual things a baby would do in its first year.  He woke up at night many times, pooped six times a day, required burping after bottles and wanted to be held the majority of the time.  We both worked during this period of his life so trying to get enough sleep was becoming more difficult.

I have a brother who is eight years younger that me, so I remember observing what my mother and father would do to calm my little brother down when he was crying.  Some would obviously work (Giving him a bottle because he was hungry) and some would not (Taking off/adding clothes when he just wanted held).  Over time my parents learned his cues and my brother didn’t cry as much as he got closer to his first birthday.

During those early desperate nights when it seemed we could not get enough sleep before going into work for a full day, we tried to understand our son’s needs in an attempt to get him back to sleep.  When it came time for me to take my turn in the waking up rotation, I wanted to sing my son back to sleep but I didn’t know any of the traditional lullabies people would sing to babies.  I wanted my wife to stay asleep, but I didn’t want our son to keep crying for thirty minutes.  I needed something to hum or sing that was repetitive, and there was only one type of music that came to mind in my state of sleep-deprived delirium:

Video game music from my old Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

The first night I tried using NES music, I slowed down the background music used in the above-ground levels of 1986’s The Legend of Zelda.  It worked!  My wife would get so pissed that I could sing him back to sleep with the silliest method that would never be found in parenting advice books and blogs.  When our son didn’t want to hear the Zelda music, I slowed down the following music from other games (I challenge others to try this method to see if it works on other babies):

The podium win AND the “kick the can” music from Excitebike, above-ground music from Super Mario Bros., the game introduction/general background music from Bases Loaded and the count out/winner music from Mike Tyson’s Punchout.  I added a few from other platforms, including the original “hammer” music from Donkey Kong.

As my son got older and started going to day care, I had a problem keeping him happy in his car seat on the way home.  I always had CD’s of Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen in the car, so I would pop one in to see if the mellow folk music of Drake or Cohen would calm him down.  I could tell he was listening to the different instruments and the words being sung in the songs.  It was a sound completely different from what he heard in his early life.  After a few tracks, he would go to sleep.  If I knew he didn’t sleep well during the day, I would keep the music on and drive around for an hour to let him rest.

Even at three, my son remembers some of those drives home and knows their music well.  He has his own special names for each of his favorite tracks and when I pick him up from day care, we usually have Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left on when we drive home.  Instead of tossing a child’s DVD in the car and my son blankly staring at a small TV screen while we drive home, my son and I sing “Time Has Told Me”, we listen for the strings to kick in on “River Man”, all while looking out the car windows, seeing the birds fly, viewing the turkeys pecking at last year’s corn crop remnants and marveling at the big construction trucks when encountering road work being done.

I loved my old NES and when I have time again, I know I will eventually purchase the recently released Nintendo NES Classic Edition.  I love the music of Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen because their poetic songs bring calm to my worrisome existence.  The games and songs that have soothed my soul over the years have provided my son with the same feelings of comfort and familiarity in a unique form.

 

Carrick Classic Lanes: A south Pittsburgh relic immortalized by Hollywood

On a congested section of Brownsville Road in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Carrick, there is a simple double door tucked away just a few steps down the street from a local tavern.  Hundreds of people walk by this door every day, unaware that beyond the inner vestibule an old American “bowling house” awaits.  Alleys that hold precious memories in the hearts of many south Pittsburgh residents and were triumphantly portrayed in the 1996 film Kingpin.  Alleys that remain but are not in use like they were throughout the last half of the 20th century.  The name of this hallowed place?  Carrick Classic Lanes (CCL).

In 1995, the present day Roosevelt Elementary school along Brownsville Road was a vacant building.  The upper parking lot was only in full use when the patrons of Saint Basil’s Church used the lot during Saturday vespers, Sunday services and their annual festival.  So it was very surprising at that time when one dozen mobile-home trailers occupied that very lot for a week along with numerous box trucks scattered between West Cherryhill Street and CCL.  Eventually people in the neighborhood found out that parts of a movie were being filmed inside CCL with Woody Harrelson (Roy Munson) and Randy Quaid (Ishmael).

The two images above are from the downstairs of CCL.  Lanes 1-12 are upstairs when walking in the front door and the staircase just inside the front door to the left lead down to lanes 13-24.  In the movie, a fictitious exterior was used when Munson ventures into “Lancaster Bowl”.  After Roy enters the building, the next clip shows  Munson descending  the very same steps I walked down as a young city boy.  Here, Munson witnesses Ishmael bowling for the first time, and the partnership that is the foundation of the movie is born.

CCL not only had the look of an old-school 1950’s bowling house, it was a 1950’s bowling house that did not “modernize” their equipment or the aesthetics since its heyday.  My bowling ball would return to me with an occasional slice or gouge in it.  The ball returns were at alley level, whereas the newer bowling centers had their returns dropped below the lanes.  There was no computerized scoring at CCL and there wasn’t even overhead scoring projectors that were common in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Scoring was done on paper and pencil.  From an insider’s perspective, I could understand the appeal of CCL to Hollywood. It was one of the last truly authentic bowling alleys in Pittsburgh.

When viewing Kingpin, the generations that are younger than my Gen-X self will have a hard time understanding how important bowling was to many Americans.  Professional and amateur leagues were far more abundant than the recreational, “cosmic bowling” participants that are fast becoming bowling’s majority moneymaker.  There were many fun characters that I used to encounter at each bowling house I rolled at and the old pro league on ABC and ESPN had just as many goofballs throwing strikes on TV.  Kingpin captured the essence of bowling’s finest hour:  It proves that bowling can be entertaining in its purest form.

In Pittsburgh and across the United States, some old-school bowling houses remain but many are gone.  Suburban bowling centers with a high amount of lanes, a high amount of gimmicks and high prices (To help pay for the gimmicks) continue to alienate the people who JUST WANT TO BOWL.  Even if my bowling manifesto fails to reignite a movement, a resin ball re-enlightenment, it gives me great joy that I can revisit my childhood bowling house, a place where bowling mattered, just by watching Kingpin.

My father used to tell me wonderful stories about his old bowling house on the South Side of Pittsburgh, which was Alvin’s Lanes.  I had to imagine what the place looked like since it closed in the mid-1970’s.  Hopefully one day when my son gets older, I can not only share my goofy bowling stories with him, but I can ACTUALLY SHOW HIM what CCL looked like.

In Kingpin, there is a scene where Munson is sitting with his legs open on an above-alley ball return at CCL between lanes 11 and 12.  Not paying attention, a ball rolls up to him, hits him in the nuts, and he collapses to the lanes below.  At the age of twelve in 1988, my 128.6 average self rolled a 212 on lane 12 at CCL in my catholic school bowling league.  It was my first 200 game and one of the fondest memories I have from that time in my life.  No matter what happens to CCL in the future, I am grateful that Kingpin will always grant me the opportunity to revisit the bowling house that I knew growing up in Pittsburgh.

***

Movie images are property of MGM Studios, Inc. and were found via Google Images

A great example of a classic bowling house with 21st century equipment/technology is Arsenal Lanes in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood.  Google Image THIS place!  Well done.

Alvin’s Lanes resided on the second and third floors of what is now Nakama Japanese Steakhouse on East Carson Street in Pittsburgh’s South Side.  One floor had ten lanes of duck pins, the other floor had ten lanes of ten pins. 

Thunderbastard: My word for 2017

Since I’m an American that grew up on our own brand of football, I am new to a word that is used in soccer to describe long-range, high speed, curving soccer kicks that leave everybody standing in absolute bewilderment.  The word?  Thunderbastard.

For 2017 and beyond, I simply want to find ways to use the word thunderbastard in conversations that don’t involve a soccer match.  I don’t know if this counts as my New Year’s resolution, but I am up for the challenge to introduce this word into my lexicon.

Concerning the weather:

“That snowstorm was a thunderbastard.  The road crews couldn’t keep up with it.”

Upon receiving shocking news from a friend:

“They are getting a divorce?!?  That’s quite the thunderbastard!”

After eating a surprisingly great sandwich:

“That catfish po’ boy was a thunderbastard of a meal.”

Getting a finger pinched in a kitchen drawer:

“THUNDERBASTARD!!!” 

It is my belief that this word has yet to tap into its potential for cross-cultural appeal.  Why to we only use this term to describe the amazing goals scored by such soccer players as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Wayne Rooney?  Going forward, let us all try to incorporate this absurdly hilarious word into our everyday lives.  I know I can’t wait to sneak this word by an unsuspecting co-worker or the lunchtime counter workers at Chipotle.

For me, it would be a rare treat, just like a Charlie Adam thunderbastard from the other side of the pitch.  Exactly.

1917: A Discrimination Tale

 

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All of my ancestors that decided to come and start a new life in the United States during the early 1900’s came from Poland.  Yet, I have a German last name.  This is the story of how my great-grandfather created an alias to attain better job opportunities and avoid the overt discrimination that dominated American life during his time as a steelworker.

THE ARRIVAL OF “FRANK”

Between 1892 and 1909, my ancestors passed through Ellis Island on their way to the South Side of Pittsburgh.  With Polish diacritics in their surnames, they settled in the same pocket of town, married and started families.  My great-grandfather Frank Golebiewski arrived sometime in 1904 or 1905, and I’ve never heard of somebody calling him anything other than Frank.  Coming from Poland, there was no way his birth name was Frank.  My family was never sure if it was indeed Francizek.  Even before he settled into his new life across the Atlantic Ocean, Frank was creating a new identity for himself.

Upon arriving in Pittsburgh, Frank went to work in one of the many steel mills on the South Side.  In 1904, there were at least six that sat along the Monongahela River in the city limits and many more just outside of the city.  Frank worked for two mills: Oliver Iron and Steel Company and another owned by Alexander Byers.  The mills sat three city blocks apart and produced piping, nuts, bolts, rivets and many other specialty parts used in construction projects.  Working in these mills required a higher level of intelligence than most of the South Side factories.  Many machine operators had to have a basic understanding of math to create dies (metal forms), molds, production tools and other site specific items used in the manufacturing process.  Frank started out at Byers and basically held the same position for about a dozen years.  He was a ground level production worker with no authority.

Over the years Frank noticed that all of the higher level positions in the steel mills were controlled by mostly English or German men.  When job openings would be posted for such titles as, “Crew Foreman Wanted”, somewhere under the heading would read, “No Poles Need Apply”.  Other select ethnic groups would also be shunned in these advertisements, but the Poles were always included on these posters around the South Side.  Frank knew he was qualified for a supervisory role, but he also knew his last name was hindering his ability to earn more money for his growing family.

All of the Catholic Polish families attended church at Saint Adalbert parish and were members of the Polish Falcons of America, which is a fraternal society that has had its national headquarters in Pittsburgh since the 1910’s.  For years, “Falcons” (As my grandparents called it) had two buildings in the heart of the South Side.  Many of Frank’s Polish co-workers were also friends to him.  They drank, smoked and played the card game euchre with each other at Falcons or at their houses when they weren’t working at the mills.  Over time it became apparent to his friends that Frank wanted to move on from Byers, but he didn’t know how.  Even in 1917, “glass ceilings” existed at the workplace.

A CARD GAME, A NEW NAME

One Saturday night during the usual euchre game between the guys, a close friend and co-worker of Frank’s–a person that I have never learned the identity of, came up with a plan for Frank to get a promotion:  Frank had to get a foreman’s job at a different mill but with the German last name of Kress.  Employers didn’t check for proper identification until they were forced to by law in the 1930’s, so Frank simply could use the surname Kress as an alias.  Of all the surnames Frank could use, why was he instructed to use Kress?

I don’t know if it’s a generational trait or if my family was very uninterested in their family history, but I never got a straight answer as to why Kress was the consensus pick to obtain a job promotion.  Over the years I pieced together some facts about Frank, the name Kress and what the name meant to “Millionaire’s Row” on the other side of town in Pittsburgh’s North Side:

Kress wasn’t as common as other German names in Pittsburgh.  If Frank chose “Miller” or one of the many spellings of “Schmidt”, eventually one of the higher supervisors who did have the last name of Miller or Schmidt would have found him to be a phony.  In traditional German, Kress is spelled Kreß, with the eszett (ß) representing the “sharp S” and replacing the “ss” at the end of the name.  So if Frank was to be German, his friend sure picked a hardcore, badass southern German name for him to use.

Frank knew how to speak the German form of broken English.  Over the course of twelve years at Byers, Frank heard his German supervisors speak to the English heirarchy in English when the production process was discussed on the floor of the mill.  Frank had to have some experience with German culture when he grew up in Poland as well. Poland and Germany shared a border then (Poland was a territory of the Russian Empire) and they still do in 2017, so being exposed to German culture as a boy gave Frank confidence that he could portray being German in the “theatre” of steel mills.

Early automobile owners on Pittsburgh’s North Side relied on the Kress name to keep their cars moving.  The North Side and South Side of Pittsburgh are less than four miles apart, but to the people of 1917 Pittsburgh, they were very far from each other since automobiles were only owned by the upper class.  Many of Pittsburgh’s wealthiest families resided in what was deemed, “Millionaire’s Row”, a few blocks of very large mansions on the North Side that were primarily built along Ridge Avenue and North Lincoln Avenue (Many of them still stand today).  When the automobiles of the wealthy needed work done on them, servants were dispatched to handle the problems. The rich rarely interacted with the working-class, especially immigrant workers. For car tires, a man (Or a few men) with the last name of Kress provided good, affordable tires to the people of the North Side.  Their reputation grew from their roots as horse carriage builders and they eventually got their own automobile repair garage in the 1920’s. Pittsburgh’s elite might have not interacted directly with their tire repair and service shop, but the name Kress represented hard work and provided a good product on the other side of town.

DEEMED QUALIFIED (EVEN THOUGH HE LIED)

A few months after Frank’s promotion plan was outlined, he secured a foreman job at Oilver Iron & Steel as Frank Kress.  He kept this job until the mid-1930’s, when employees were required to provide legal documentation for work due to the Social Security Act of 1935.  Poles in 1930’s Pittsburgh did not suffer from the same level of discrimination as their ethnic group did twenty years prior, so Frank found suitable work as Frank Golebiewski until he retired after World War II.

I theorize Frank’s friend knew about the Kress family and their budding business on the North Side.  He also knew that the owners and higher managers would never strike up casual conversations with Frank.  Frank’s secret would be safe, and his plant supervisors could see that he was capable of supervising workers while delivering quality products.

Frank must have been well-respected by his friends and fellow co-workers, because I’m sure there were plenty of people that worked under him that could have “ratted him out”.  I guess all of the Poles that worked for him didn’t mind working for their “German” boss.

THE ALIAS AND MY FAMILY TREE

My grandfather (Pap), Frank’s son, was the only one in the family to legally change his last name to Kress in 1953.  I think Pap might have pissed his dad off when he made Kress his real name, because Pap never really gave me a good reason why he did it.  Personally, I love that Pap changed the name because it preserved this story about his dad and what he had to do to succeed in America.

Many other families around the world have similar stories to mine.  I even have a few more examples within my own family.  Solarczyk is another name throughout my family tree.  My grandfather who had this name had step-brothers who legally changed their name to Solar.  They also changed their last name to attain better job opportunities.

DIFFERENT ERA, DIFFERENT COUNTRIES, SAME STEREOTYPES

In 1917, immigrants that resided in the south neighborhoods of Pittsburgh came from many different countries in eastern Europe.  In 2017, the same south neighborhoods I grew up in still have an immigrant population, but from entirely different parts of the world.  Today, former citizens of Nepal, Bhutan, Mexico, Laos and Somalia seek the same opportunities that my great-grandfather Frank did.  The discrimination might not be as overt, but long-time residents seem to have a hard time accepting foreigners into their communities.  Long-time residents who have apparently forgotten the fact that their ancestors were the target of the very same abuse that they shell out on our 21st century newcomers.

The United States of America is known as a melting pot.  It was in 1917 and it is in 2017.  Hopefully in 2117, there will be another third-generation American sharing a tale about how their great-grandfather arrived in New York in 2004 or 2005 and found a way to succeed in an foreign country in search of a better life.  A third-generation American that is not a victim of discrimination, but remembers the stories from his family of when they endured it on a daily basis.

***

Thanks great-grandpap Frank.  The story of your drive to succeed, your emphasis on family and your courage to take risks to benefit your sons and daughters in the future is not lost in time.  I’ll make sure my son knows your story too.

Your great-grandson,

Larry Kress

(Image found via Google, traced to an advertisement found in “The Daily Free Press”, June 19, 1910.  Carbondale, Illinois had a newspaper under this name in 1910 and they have a rich history in coal mining.)

The Glance: An unexpected source of compassion

In late 1997 I decided one night to drive across town to drop in on my girlfriend at the time, the aforementioned “Peach”.  Peach was working an 11-8 shift at a local restaurant where she was a hostess.  At this time she started her sophomore year of college, and it seemed she was taking less interest in me.  She claimed she was just busy with work and school, and I didn’t question her reasons for ignoring me during the end of the fall semester.

When I arrived at her job, another hostess who I did not know asked why I wanted to talk to Peach.  When I stated I was her boyfriend, the girl had a stunned look on her face and immediately turned around to find Peach.  I overheard her say to another girl that she didn’t know Peach was seeing “other people”.  Hmm.  We’ve been dating for almost four years, so what was the other hostess talking about?

Peach saw me and immediately became agitated.  She was angry that I arrived unannounced and told me to come back when she was done at 10.  I told her I thought she was done at 8, but she claimed she had to stay a few extra hours.  In my head I thought she was full of shit but I could see she wasn’t happy and very uncomfortable, so I agreed to leave without saying another word to her.  You couldn’t tell me that a restaurant with minimal bar traffic needed extra help seating people after 8 p.m.  She was planning on being somewhere after work and she needed to weave her web of lies before seeing me again.

I was too far away from my parents house to go back and return at 10, so I decided to head to the local shopping mall to burn off the two hours I had to wait for Peach to “finish up at work”.  After parking the car I headed to the food court since I didn’t eat for several hours.  I got my food and sat alone at a small table, wondering why my relationship with Peach looked to be in jeopardy.  I barely touched the food and people-watched for the majority of the time.  It hurt that I was being lied to by the girl I loved, somebody who I gave the last four years of my life to without hesitation.

Around 9:15, just before the mall closing at 9:30, a group of three teenage girls sat a few tables away from me.  They were all about 14 or 15 and they were creating the typical laughter and early high school conversations that one would expect from girls of this age.  I continued to people-watch and didn’t look their way.  It was an awkward spot to be in since I was 21 going on 22, but I didn’t have the mental energy to stand up and go somewhere else.

Right around 9:30, I noticed the girls got quiet, and I assumed they were probably getting ready to meet whoever was taking them back home.  I took a glance over at their table and one of the girls was staring right back at me with intent.  Going by the look on her face, it’s like she could feel the pain I had in my heart.  She must have been watching me for a few minutes while her and her friends sat there, taking notice that a soulless older guy was a few seats away.  We exchanged hellos and smiles for a few seconds, and we both looked away from each other.  She continued on talking to her friends and I found some energy to finish off the rest of my food.  I was waiting for her friends to make fun of her for talking to an older guy, but that never happened.

About five minutes later, the girls got up from their table and the same one made eye contact with me again.  This time we exchanged goodbyes and smiles, and they walked out of the food court.  I remained there for some time trying to assess the situation, and I still think to this day the outcome of that moment with that 15 year-old girl went the way it should have.  And I think she knew that to be true as well.

Somehow, my 21 year-old self had a cerebral, esoteric connection with a 15 year-old high school girl, and we both knew in our hearts that we bumped into each other eight or nine years too early.  No matter what she wanted to say to me when I glanced up at her table, she already knew at her young age that it wasn’t going to create the possibility of a relationship with me.  The fond look on her face was telling, but in the end we told ourselves this will be our final meeting, at least for now.

Over the next two years Peach and I were on and off as a couple and I finally had enough of the instability.  Throughout my 20’s I wondered what my life would have been like if those three girls were college age at the mall.  We would have spoken to each other and maybe I would have started dating the girl I exchanged that moment with.  Instead, the outcome was something that Russian author Anton Chekhov would have written in the late 1890’s.

In the present, I’m happy, married and I have a young son.  I’m sure that girl I glanced upon at the mall found happiness somewhere out in the world as well.  When we meet again, we’ll have the same exchange and go our separate ways.  This time we’ll have spouses, kids, smart phones and many more responsibilities in our lives.  Lives that could have been interwoven into one if we met around 2005.  Reflecting on this moment in my life reminds me of what words Kurt Vonnegut wrote many times in Slaughterhouse-Five:

So it goes.

 

“Ode to a Nightingale”: A Contemporary Analysis

In early March of 1997, my English 102 junior college professor assigned everyone in the class a poem that we had to interpret, give a presentation based on our interpretation and finally submit a short overview of our interpretation.  I was assigned “Ode to a Nightingale” by the poet John Keats (1795-1821).  What started out as an impossible task of interpreting Keats turned into one of the best papers I wrote in college.

I was a terrible writer all the way through high school and it carried over into junior college.  I went to junior college in the beginning of my undergraduate studies because I was immature, a terrible student, too poor to afford traditional college and not sure what I wanted to go to school for.  At 21, I was just starting my march toward my degree when many of my high school classmates were preparing to march for graduation.

When receiving the news on drawing one of Keats’ famous odes, I quickly informed my professor that I needed another poem to work with since I did not understand much of the language that Keats used.  She informed me that I could not change the poem I was assigned and that she believed I could complete the assignment with good results.

The presentations were to take place later on in March so I started reading interpretations from professional writers on the subject of Keats.  They did not resonate with me and I thought they all sounded the same.  It seemed like nobody knew how to truly interpret Keats’ ode to a bird he witnessed in a tree, and I was about to be dumb enough to use their reviews as my own.

When it became my turn to give my presentation on Keats, the results were the worst I ever experienced as a student.  My professor actually left the room during my time at the podium.  When everyone noticed she left, my one classmate told me I could stop now in the nicest way possible without embarrassing me any further.  Ten days away from submitting the written part of this assignment and I had zero hope of turning in any credible work.

Two days after my most gut-wrenching moment as a student, I came to the conclusion that I had to put aside all of the professional interpretations and create an interpretation that represents my own, unique opinion as to what Keats was really saying in, “Ode to a Nightingale”.  I submitted my final draft with no expectations of a grade higher than a B- since my interpretation was far different than anything I ever read about that poem.

When I got the results back in early April, I couldn’t believe my final grade and what was written underneath the grade:

A

“A superb interpretation of a grand classic–well developed, much insight and well written.”

I only let one person from my class read that paper.  It was the student who told me to stop my presentation when our professor left the room.  She couldn’t understand how I crafted this unique take on a Keats classic after I completely screwed up during the presentation portion of the assignment.  She claimed that my paper was the best class paper she ever read, but since we were both walking in circles at a Pittsburgh junior college, I didn’t think her complement had a lot of weight attached to it.

Nineteen years later, I have decided to share this same paper with anyone who is having trouble crafting an assignment on Keats.  It is my own view on what Keats was actually expressing in “Ode to a Nightingale”.  Since I prepared this for an introductory course, the length is under 1,000 words.  At the end I included my works cited, and yes, one of the books I acquired information from was written in 1899.  Holding that book in my hands was a delicate process since I feared the spine of the book would peel away from the pages.

Before reading my interpretation, here is the poem. Read the first four stanzas on the left, then move to the top right:

ode-to-a-nightingale

*****

(Written on March 31, 1997)

In 1819, a friend of John Keats named Charles Brown described how Keats created “Ode to a Nightingale”.  Brown claimed that upon one sunny morning in the spring of 1819, Keats took a chair from his breakfast table out into the backyard and sat under a plum tree with pen and pad in hand.  Up in the tree was a male nightingale resting, for his day (which was night) was coming to a close.  By observing the bird, Keats was reminded of its graceful song and its carefree lifestyle, a life Keats wished he could lead.  From this wish “Ode to a Nightingale” was created.  The only way Keats could escape into the world of the nightingale was through his poetry as stated in lines 31 through 33:

Away! Away! for I will fly to thee,

Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,

But on the viewless wings of Poesy,

 In stanza one Keats tries to forget about his painful life caused by the early death of his brother Tom in December of 1818, and his discovery that he contracted tuberculosis from Tom while he was dying.  Keats uses words such as opiate (opium) and Lethe-wards (river of forgetfulness in Greek mythology) to symbolize forgetfulness.  At the middle of stanza one Keats shifts his attention to the nightingale in the tree.  In line 9 the nightingale is described as having “shadows numberless” and in line 10 he sings in “full-throated ease”.  These two lines create an impression that the nightingale’s world is full of life and health.  These two qualities that the nightingale possesses are the same two qualities that Keats wishes for.

In stanza two Keats imagines that he can enter the world of the nightingale.  In lines 11 through 20 Keats would love to taste (experience) the countryside as much as he loves to drink a well-aged wine.  Keats continues this fantasy into stanza three, and at the same time reminds the nightingale in lines 21 through 30 why he wants to follow him into the countryside.  In line 26 Keats is believed to be talking about his deceased brother Tom, further emphasizing his need to release himself from his worrisome life.

In stanza four, Keats comes back from the imaginary world and back into reality.  Stanza four is simply the setting for stanzas five and six.  The moonlight in line 36 symbolizes Keats’ imagination toward the life of the nightingale at the twilight of the night.  The darkness described in line 38 symbolizes Keats’ belief that death will be upon him very soon in the future.  In stanza five Keats describes a funeral scene that may resemble his brother Tom’s ceremony.  In stanza six, Keats admits his preoccupation with death and calls upon spirits to take his soul away.

Keats enters the world of the nightingale for the final time in stanza seven.  Keats reminds the nightingale that humans do not hunt them for food (lines 61 and 62), but have enjoyed their song throughout the ages, especially in times of despair as Keats expresses in lines 63 through 70:

The voice I hear this passing night was heard

In ancient days by emperor and clown:

Perhaps the self-same song that found a path

Through the sad heart of Ruth, when sick for home,

She stood in tears amid the alien corn;

The same that oft-times hath

Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam

Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

For the eighth and final stanza, Keats returns to reality as stated in lines 71 and 72:

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell

To toll me back from thee to my sole self!

Lines 73 and 74 conjure up a belief that Keats’ long time love Fanny Brawne, is having sexual relations with another man:

Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well

As she is famed to do, deceiving elf.

Keats believes that she is not in love with him anymore.  Because of the tuberculosis, Brawne cannot receive the love she desires from Keats.  Keats is confident that this belief is true, and reflects this in lines 75 through 78:

Adieu!  Adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades

Past the near meadows, over the still stream,

Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep

In the next valley-glades:

The nightingale’s fading song symbolizes the slow loss of life in Keats.  This is caused by Keats’ belief that Fanny Brawne has a relationship with another man and his bout with tuberculosis.  Keats now believes that he has no reason to live, so he shows this by the nightingale’s long journey to the forest (the symbol of life now far away).  In the final two lines of the poem (79 and 80), Keats wonders if the nightingale he saw in the tree was real or in a dream that he was having:

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

Fled is that music:–Do I wake or sleep?

In line 80, Keats asks how he can hear the beautiful song of the nightingale once again.  If the encounter was in a dream, then Keats will go out and seek the nightingale’s song.  If the encounter was real, then Keats will dream about the beautiful song of the nightingale.

Stanza eight unveils the stage of Keats’ illness at the time he wrote “Ode to a Nightingale”.  Keats now accepts that he is losing his lady love and his life because of tuberculosis.  Keats enjoyed observing anything that reminded him of his wondrous, romantic lifestyle before his illness, including the beautiful melody of a nightingale’s song.

*****

Works Cited

Abrams, M.H., et al., eds. 20th Century Interpretations of Keats’s Odes.  Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey:  Prentice-Hall, 1968.

Bate, Walter Jackson.  John Keats.  Cambridge, Massachusetts:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963.

Jacobus, Lee A.  Literature:  An Introduction to Critical Reading.  Upper Saddle River, New Jersey:  Prentice-Hall, 1996.  844-846.

“The Complete Poetical Works of Keats”.  Cambridge 7th ed.  Cambridge, Massachusetts:  Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1899.

The Haunting At Green Man Tunnel

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The man pictured above is “The Green Man” and is not “The Green Man”.  Thousands of people in the Pittsburgh area have combined two “Green Man” legends into one semi-true story.  This tale aims to set the record straight on both stories and I will add my experiences with the Green Man Tunnel (pictured with the road salt stored inside) and Corvette Tunnel (the picture with the one lane road proceeding through the tunnel).

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE REAL “GREEN MAN”

Raymond Robinson (1910-1985) will always be the true “Green Man”.  The photo I am using of him in this tale was obtained from his Wikipedia page!  Robinson’s story is a sad and very fascinating one.  Before the age of 10, Robinson was climbing a post connected to a trolley bridge when a trolley came across at the same time.  These bridges were not grounded in the early 1900’s, so the line with 22,000 volts attached to it shocked him, melting his eyes and nose off of his face and also causing the loss of one arm.  The local newspaper reported on the story, and part of the caption read, “He will die”.  The shock also caused his skin to appear green or yellow on parts of his body, hence the ill-fated nickname given to him by the local residents.

I have met two people that have seen Robinson with their own eyes.  They, like many other people over the years, came across him while he was walking alongside Pennsylvania state route 351 in the dark near the town of Koppel.  Koppel is about 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh near the Ohio border.  Robinson walked at night to avoid attention and since he was blind it didn’t matter if it was light or dark outside.  In each encounter the two people I knew saw Robinson talking to teenage or college age boys who provided a few cigarettes to him during his nightly walk (Robinson was known to accept a few beers as well).  Not all of the people that Robinson met were as nice, but he continued walking that patch of road well into the 1970’s.

GREEN MAN TUNNEL & CORVETTE TUNNEL

On the south end of Piney Fork Road in South Park, Pennsylvania sit two old tunnels that are side-by-side and run underneath a railroad line.  Green Man Tunnel is an old coal car tunnel that sits a few feet above Piney Fork Road.  Corvette Tunnel has one lane for car traffic and the other half allows Piney Fork Creek to flow through the tunnel and into nearby Peters Creek.  These two tunnels are 10 miles south of Pittsburgh.  I have heard stories about ghost trains at this site in relation to both tunnels, but the only line that runs full size trains is the line ABOVE BOTH TUNNELS.  Before South Park Township used Green Man Tunnel for road salt storage, I walked around inside of it and there was no way a locomotive could fit inside that thing.

There have been many different ghost stories concerning this site, but there is no historical information that identifies a real tragedy taking place at the bottom of Piney Fork Road.  One common detail with many Green Man Tunnel ghost stories is the presence of what appears to be a man with a slight glow to the outline of his body.  The glow is usually described as a green color, so when people around the South Hills of Pittsburgh started speaking of the incidents, the name “Green Man” kept coming up in conversations.

The story behind the name for Corvette Tunnel is just poppycock.  The usual story I heard over the years is that two Chevrolet Corvettes were speeding down Piney Fork Road to get to the single lane tunnel first.  One Corvette made it, one crashed into the creek.  Some stories have the wrecked car melting into the walls of the tunnel and the driver never to be seen again.  Yeah, really.

The road has many bumps and bends in it and its width can barely accommodate two cars trying to get by one another.  Nobody would be able to race at a high rate of speed in that area of South Park.  And if there was a true race that happened here years ago, the speed probably never exceeded 30 miles per hour and the cars taking part were actually an AMC Gremlin and a Ford Pinto.

These two tunnels are 50 miles from the area that Raymond Robinson resided.  Green Man Tunnel is linked to Robinson because people around Pittsburgh assume that the ghost stories and Ray’s story are about the same topic.

MY FIRST GREEN MAN TUNNEL EXPERIENCE

In my junior year of high school in May of 1993, I decided to cut school with my friend Eric and Eric’s friend John.  Eric had an old car and he wanted to drive around since this particular Friday was very nice.  Eric and John came up with the idea to visit the inside of Green Man Tunnel.  At the time, I wasn’t aware of the stories behind it.

We arrived around 8:30 a.m., and the temperature was around 55 F.  It was a nice sunny morning and there was no wind.  We entered Green Man Tunnel and it was clear that many people used it as a party spot.  There was graffiti all over the inside and outside of the tunnel, empty beer cans and cigarette butts were strewn all over the ground, old tree branches and stumps were used as seats and a fire pit was closer to the entrance.  About halfway back the tunnel, huge wooden boards sealed off the other end of the tunnel.  The other half was filled in with dirt and rocks.

After we looked around inside for about fifteen minutes, the three of us took the thirty step walk back down to Piney Fork Road to check out Corvette tunnel.  John hopped down closer to the creek side of the tunnel to see if there were any fish in the water.  Eric and I checked out the graffiti in this tunnel as well and we were shouting to hear our voices echo through the tunnel.  John was annoyed because he felt we were scaring the fish out of the tunnel portion of the creek.  The echo was pretty loud!  Only a few cars came through Corvette Tunnel while we were there, and we didn’t experience any paranormal activity.  We left the area right before 10 a.m.

MY SECOND (AND LAST) GREEN MAN TUNNEL EXPERIENCE

My high school girlfriend “Peach” wanted to check out the tunnels one Friday evening in April of 1994.  Peach’s friend Deanna came with us, and we arrived at sunset.  It was warm for April that day, around 72 F, overcast and no wind.

On the way I informed the girls about the current use of Green Man Tunnel, so when we got there we decided just to check out the inside of Corvette Tunnel.  We didn’t know who was in Green Man, so just in case we would encounter trouble we stayed on the main road.

Peach and I were holding hands when we decided to start walking toward Corvette Tunnel.  Deanna was about twenty steps behind us because she decided to throw her small purse back in my car.  Right when Peach and I hit the threshold of the tunnel, four paranormal characteristics occurred at the exact same time.

The temperature dropped at least twenty degrees when we entered.  I remembered the first time I was in Corvette and it wasn’t that cold, and that day it was around 55 F.  We heard a loud guttural moan from a male voice that echoed throughout the tunnel.  That moan was much louder than anything that Eric and I produced while we shouted in there.  A light wind blew in different directions inside of Corvette and there was a pulsating glowing white aura that was all around the inside of the tunnel.  No definite shape, but very visible.

And then within ten seconds, everything went back to normal.  I turned to Peach, and all she said was,”I think we better go.”

“Yeah, let’s go.”

Deanna, who was just about to enter the tunnel, heard our brief conversation and was wondering why we wanted to go.  She didn’t hear or see anything!  Deanna was fifteen steps from the entrance.  When Eric and I were shouting in Corvette the previous year, the neighbors up the road could probably hear us shouting!  She thought we were trying to scare her, and we insisted we were not.  Peach was the first to bring up the details of our incident.

“Did you hear that Larry?”

“Yeah, what did you hear?”

“A moan.  It sounded like a man.”

“Yes!  It was so loud!  Did you get ice cold when we entered?”

“YES!!! I thought that was me being scared!  It happened the moment we walked in!”

“I know!  Did you see the misty white lights swirling around?”

“YES!!! I can’t believe that just happened!”

Deanna thought our little joke was going too far and she wasn’t buying any parts of our story.  She thought we made up the story just so we could scare her and leave before it got really dark.  But it was true.

MY TALE COMPARED TO OTHER STORIES ON GREEN MAN TUNNEL & CORVETTE TUNNEL

Most of the ghost stories that are found on the Internet about these tunnels reference Green Man Tunnel, but after my experience all those years ago I can’t help but wonder if most of those stories involved Corvette Tunnel.  Before the ghostly encounter that Peach and I had there, I never heard someone share details of a similar event, and to this day it seems our haunting was a unique story that doesn’t come close to previous documented accounts.  I interpreted the haunting as the ghost’s way of saying, “Get out of here”, and I will respect that command by never returning to that stretch of Piney Fork Road.

I know Raymond Robinson did not scare Peach and I that night in 1994.  I just wish the rest of the Pittsburgh region was aware of this fact.  So “The Green Man” does exist in South Park, but he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page or a Twitter account.  Not yet anyway.