a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Harvey, if you're listening, it's Amanda here

Dear Steve Harvey,

I must admit first off that I am not a loyal listener of your weekday radio show. In fact, I’m really not a loyal listener to any particular station while on fruitless pursuit for finding a decent song on my 37-mile ride to work. That’s what led me to you, Mr. Harvey, and your syndicated morning show.

I don’t know what started the conversation Monday, and I don’t know how it ended. But you piqued my interest when you were discussing suspicions in relationships. I was quite surprised to hear your views on both cheating and homosexuality.

I’m sure you remember it; you seemed pretty steamed when the ladies on your show didn’t smell what you were stepping in.

If I recall correctly, you said that a man who cheats on a woman is far different from a gay man being in a relationship with a woman. His rationale was that cheating is simply a “characteristic” while being gay is “a character flaw.”

I don’t know why I am continually surprised when I hear hateful homophobe’s like you spewing rhetoric about something you likely know little about.

But, Steve, in your case, I’d add hypocrite to that, as well.

After checking out your Web site, I learned that you’ve won numerous awards from the NAACP, and you laud your contributions to high schools across the nation to help further achievement.

The NAACP should be ashamed of honoring you, as your comments and point of view are inconsistent with its mission statement. Although the acronym stands for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the mission is to try to establish equality for “minority group citizens.”

Just as blacks fought to gain the same freedoms as whites, this time the minority is the homosexual sect. One of my best friends from college is “marrying” his boyfriend in our hometown of Pittsburgh.

As I’m sure you know, marriage rights are rare for homosexuals, and the Commonwealth provides no legal protection for guys like him. He’s in love, but that doesn’t matter.

And it further bothers me that anyone really believes that being homosexual is a character flaw. When I look at my best friend I see a man who is attractive, funny, compassionate, educated and in love. If he has any character flaws, it would likely be his poor diet (no one can really munch as hardcore as him. In college with limited food options, he talked a friend and me into eating sandwiches consisting of Nutella spread and Lucky Charms. No good).

Living in New York, I thought you would have had to know at least one gay man. But, then I learned you were originally from Cleveland, Ohio, and it started to make more sense.

Thank you for your time.
Warmest Regards,

Amanda “I just lost any respect I had for some guy who starred in a crappy television show for a few years” Gillooly

Sunday, April 27, 2008

This place is a gas

ROSTRAVER TOWNSHIP, Pa. – The Fairway Inn is off the beaten track, and mostly seen by people who pass their time across the street at the popular Cedarbrook Golf Course.

The bar owners obviously are ticked about the record-high price of gasoline and have a sense of humor, judging by this sign outside the business along Route 981, just off Route 51.

Truth be told, the food they serve is pretty good, better than can be found at most restaurants in the Mid Mon Valley. And the beer is served cold at this inn in Rostraver Township.

(Hey, e-mail us a photo of your favorite "signz" with a description of them and we might post them...)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Skull tells no tale

MONONGAHELA, Pa. – Imagine finding an adult human skull stuffed in a box when you’re packing up and moving to a new home. Well members of a historical society in Southwestern Pennsylvania found one covered with a coat of shellac, and missing the lower jaw, while they were moving to a new headquarters. No problem. There was a substitute jawbone tucked away in the same box.

The Monongahela Area Historical Society has no information concerning the story behind the head bones. It’s possible a Knights of Columbus chapter once owned them as a creepy emblem of man’s humanity, the society president acknowledged.

“We don’t know where it’s from,” said Sue Bowers, society president.

The city is the oldest in the Mon Valley, dating to the time of the American Revolution, one with many “skeletons in its closet.” And the historical society does keep a list of titillating ghost stories that are retold during walking tours to haunted houses at the end of each October.

“At Halloween, I’ll put him out and say, ‘Velllllcome,’” Bowers said, rolling her eyes in a slow sinister sort of way in the direction of the skull. “People need to know their roots,” she said.

The new museum at 230 W. Main St. is expected to open in three weeks, and have limited hours. Stay posted for additional details, and at least one more story about a weird object in this collection.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A dinner party, Amanda style

“He deserves paradise who makes his companions laugh," Koran

By: Amanda Gillooly

The question: If you could invite five people – alive or dead – to
dinner, who would you choose? is such an icebreaker constant, that
it’s almost cliché. Despite its overuse in “getting to know you”
situations, I’m still interested to know who would get the invite.

In my experience, most people ponder for a moment before naming Jesus to their list of guests. After that, they generally choose an intellectual like Shakespeare or Hemingway.

Huh? Not me, man. I plan on kicking it with Jesus one day, but I
wouldn’t invite him to dinner. And for as much impact as Shakespeare and Hemingway have had on literature, I just don’t think either gentleman would think my dinner party was worth their time.

Because the beer would be flowing like water and above all things,
there would be laughter. Lots of laughter.

Don’t get me wrong, I read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays and find the man profoundly inspiring. But compared to, say Conan O’Brien, he might seem a bit dull sitting around my table. I just can’t see Emerson chugging a Blue Moon or asking if anyone wants more potato salad.

And as much as “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke teaches me something new about life everyday, I just don’t think he’d be able to get me to snort some sort of liquid out of my nose.

Maybe I’m shallow, but I want people around my table who are
intrinsically funny. I’d like to eat a nice steak with people who can
tell a good story. Hey, it’s just me.

So here are my picks, in no particular order:

1. Conan O’Brien. He’s a longtime comedic hero, and one of those rare people you can just tell was born to make people laugh. And I don’t think I’ve seen anyone able to break someone out of his or her shell with his efficiency.

2. Chris Farley. Do I need to say more?

3. Stephen King. While others call his work “bubblegum fiction,” I
wholeheartedly disagree. I think the true measure of a writer may be
his ability to create characters you grow attached to, and to tell the
kind of story that draws you into its world and keeps you there for a
while. And after reading his part-autobiography, part-writing how-to
book “On Writing” I’m sure he’d provide enough colorful tales.

4. Neil Young. I have to meet the living legend that he is. I’m not

5. My grandmother, Peg Crowe. She would round out the five, because I think it would be funny to see her make all those guys blush with her, um, colorful stories.

So I guess the question is, who would you want to spend the night with around a dining room table?

Monday, April 21, 2008

This car smarts

Nothing would make me happier, as we approach Earth Day tomorrow, than to drive an economical car that gets 40 miles per gallon.

And with the price of gasoline at record highs, that “joy of life” could be found by scooting around in Mercedes' sexy new Smart Fortwo.

The cars are coated with water-soluble paint in three basic colors of black, white and yellow. They have recyclable body panels. Each car stands five feet, one inch tall and stretches eight feet, eight inches long. Two people, six feet, five inches tall, can seat comfortably in them.

But take a look at the sticker price - a fully loaded Smart Car sells for $24,000. That’s a lot of global warming of the wallet when there are cheaper models out there with similar gasoline savings that seat four people.

Meanwhile, people seem to enjoy a laugh on behalf of this car.

“It looks like a roller skate coming down the road, and that a strong wind would blow it over on the interstate,” said a writer I respect in the newsroom.

A guy who posts comments under my photos at Flickr has this say: “Cool car, but if you are over 200 pounds, it’s going to look like a clown mobile.”

For now, I’ll keep my tiny pickup because people already find enough reasons to poke fun at me. For example, one of our Web gurus just said that I look just like Mr. Potato Head.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Her Hussein rocks

By: Amanda Gillooly

In true American group-think mentality, the name Hussein has become almost a curse word. I guess when people think “Hussein” the image that comes to mind is of a cruel despot and other militant Muslims.

Me? Well, when I think of the so-called H-word, I think of my college friend, Kanduker Hussein. (I most likely misspelled his first name) I didn’t even know what his first name was until I’d known him for almost two years. Much like Prince and Bono, he didn’t need one.

Hussein was an international student who had become a legend far before I enrolled as a freshman at Point Park University in Pittsburgh back when it was still a college. If memory serves me correctly, I met Hussein during the annual college tour. I’d almost go as far as to say the senior prodding us along said something like, “And here is the college radio station, here is the Point Café, and this is Hussein.”

Like any legend, there was a shroud of mystery around him that exists to this day. There were many theories. Some believed that he was really a prince; others believed he was the heir to a fortune. Still others thought he was the son of some type of top politician. And we never really knew how many years he attended the school.

I met him my freshman year, and I’m sure he was hitting on me. He hit on everyone. And although many of his peers were friendly to him, they cherished making fun of him. But he never seemed to notice. Hussein was too busy having fun or trying to find some.

But he endeared himself to my friends early on, and our paths crossed throughout my college tenure in various, and always-hilarious ways.

A member of the campus radio station, he could often be found dancing Michael Jackson style (circa the 1980s) with flair. And as the editor of The Globe, our campus newspaper, I was always the one who edited his copy.

Although his English was above par, and he had been a journalism major for some years before I arrived. Yet, he never seemed to really “get” news. We’d send him to a campus event and the first three graphs would be about the appetizers served and the music that provided the backdrop. Aside from generally missing the news aspect altogether, he’d also get what facts he had horribly, horribly wrong.

When writing about a popular Britney Spears song, he referred to it as, “Give me baby one more time.”

Because of stuff like that, fellow Globers asked why I kept assigning him stories. How could I not? He was the first person to arrive at staff meetings, the first person to volunteer for a story and the first person to turn in his copy – however mangled it might have been.

Despite his inability to use the English language effectively in writing, he was a colorful orator. Like many of his foreign exchange student peers, some of the first words he learned were all of the four-letter variety.

Never, not to this day, have I ever met another person who could riddle a sentence with as much profanity as Hussein. Even when the subject was what he had for breakfast, or how his evening had gone.

And his responses were always worth the questions. His gift of hyperbole was also a characteristic I would be unable to exaggerate. A typical conversation about his weekend generally went something like this:

Me: “What’s up dude. How was your weekend?”

Hussein: “It was so wasted. I had 29 beers, 43 wines and 18 shots. It was (expletive deleted) crazy.”

Given the colorful character that he was, friends weren’t as surprised when I invited him to my 21st birthday bar crawl. It was fun until he got so tanked he fell asleep on the bar and was talking in half-English and half-Bengali. But don’t worry, whenever he got kicked out of the bar, we made sure he was safely driven home in a cab.

So, to you Hussein, I’d like to say thank you. While many in this part of the world may fear you by name, it will never fail to bring a smile or honest laugh my way.

Kennedy's views on mountaintop mining

Think of this the next time you turn on a light: To feed the nation’s demand on coal to make electricity, companies have been strip mining away the tops of the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia for three decades.

This, according to environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is damaging the richest forest system “on the face of the earth.”

Kennedy said he recently flew over the mountains to inspect the scope of the mining.

“If the people of American could see what I saw, they would be outraged … that we are cutting down the Appalachian Valley.” Kennedy said, while speaking Wednesday night at California University of Pennsylvania.

The coal operators, who Kennedy has been suing in federal court to stop the practice, have been using 2,500 tons of explosives a day to extract the coal. And, he said, they have buried 1,200 miles of American rivers and streams with rock and earth the size of Delaware.

The mountaintops, he said, were the only things that were not covered by glaciers during the Ice Age 11,000 years ago. Their trees managed to reseed the barren landscape after the glaciers retreated.

Click here to view some photos.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Obama art stirs conspiracy theories

Presidential hopeful Barack Obama has one of the hottest and most controversial posters on the campaign trail.

The red, black and blue block-print-style posters designed by Los Angeles artist Shepard Fairey have become an overnight collectors' item. Dealers have been selling them for $249 apiece on eBay before voters have even decided if the Illinois senator has captured the Democratic nomination in the race to the White House.

Support him or not, pundits have been hanging on Obama’s every word as he headed this week into the Pennsylvania primary, pitted against New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. And some critics have taken on the Obama posters, saying they resembled a Socialist propaganda tool to promote a cult-like revolutionary. Bloggers also claimed the portrait looked similar to those that were created decades ago of Stalin and Lenin, whose faces were bathed in white light as their eyes looked heavenward. Maybe it's the blood-red ink coating the left side of Obama's face in the posters that has been causing some people to consider hiding under their desks, as if they were part of a bombing scare during the Cold War.

Fairey’s previous works have appealed to the skateboarding graffiti culture, and also been admired by the likes of Hollywood. He created the poster for the film, “Walk the Line,” about the life of Johnny Cash after having gained attention for his André the Giant stickers that had some odd ties to Heidegger’s philosophical study of being.

Fairey apparently was inspired to create the Obama posters because the senator opposed the war in Iraq. His first 350 screenprints sold out, and the offsets were being distributed “by the Obama camp as an awareness campaign,” the artist stated on his Web site. Maybe it’s more about art repeating itself than some freaky conspiracy theory that Obama is a Communist, or an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist, who wanted to turn America into a dictatorship.

It’s no secret that artists have done controversial things to get noticed. The Obama poster resembled the style of Andy Warhol, who angered many Americans by immortalizing Mao in silk-screen. Warhol was drawn to bohemians like Jean-Michel Basquiat, the father of graffiti art. Chalk it up, maybe, to Fairey's fascination with phenomenology.

(CAPTION: Carolyn Sterns of Sistersville, W.Va., works in the Obama campaign office in Washington, Pa., oblivious to the controversy involving the poster over her left shoulder.)


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Jagger isn't a burnout in "Shine a Light"

The most memorable performances at Rolling Stones gigs usually go to the guest artists who join Mick Jagger at the microphone.

Tina Turner clinched her remarkable comeback in July 1985 after she stole the show from Jagger when the two performed duets of the songs “State of Shock” and “It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll” at a Live Aid benefit at JFK Stadium. Bobby Keys delivered an unforgettable saxophone solo in “Brown Sugar” for the 1971 album, “Sticky Fingers,” that ensured he would always be invited back to accompany the "Bad Boys from Britain."

There are three outstanding guest performers in the new Stones blockbuster, “Shine a Light,” filmed at New York’s ornate Beacon Theater and directed by Martin Scorsese. Christina Aguilera’s vocal range is incredible when she joins the anorexic Mick in a sexy rendition of “Live with Me.” Blues King Buddy Guy is so convincing in the duet, “Champagne and Reefer,” that you can almost smell the marijuana burning.

But no one upstages Jagger this time in what is surely one of the best rock concert movies since Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same” filmed in 1976 in Madison Square Garden. Even Jack White of White Stripes gladly backs off a bit, leaving Jagger in full control of the audience during their duet, “Loving Cup.”

Scorsese’s cameras focus on Jagger, especially when the androgynous front man prances his famous rooster struts under the brilliant white stage lights. The flashes of light are hot enough that Jagger will begin to burn under them after 18 seconds. Scorsese makes it clear early in the film that he doesn’t want to be immortalized for setting Mick afire. And the action is close enough to the audience to offer glimpses of the fillings in Jagger’s teeth. Or are those dark spots in his mouth part a dental plate replacing his top, front teeth? I really don't want to know.

The Oscar-winning director also makes the mistake of appearing in several scenes, coming off as the only confused old man on the set. Who cares that he frets over the playlist or how the Stones react to President Bill Clinton before the show? Clinton later takes too long to introduce the band, and reminds us that he is a wealthy guy who can afford to treat 30 of his friends and relatives to the show. Meanwhile, Keith Richards seems so tired and slowed by emphysema that is surely consuming his lungs when he takes center stage for two solos. The mascara-wearing Richards flicks another cigarette, appearing especially bored and worn out during his rendition of “Connection,” a song worth forgetting.

Sure, all the critics are talking about Jagger’s slowed energy in the show that was filmed two years ago when he was 63. But sequin clothes aside, he shines when the tempo slows to an acoustic pitch for “As Tears Go By,” with Richards at his best all night strumming a 12-string guitar.

And Richards joins Mick to sing the chorus during another slow song, “Far Away Eyes,” that suggests these two guys aren't entirely worse for the wear.

So if you’re feeling downright disgusted this week with the state of rock and roll, go see this movie, preferably at an Imax theater, where you can count the wrinkles on Richards’ face. Whisper a little prayer that the Rolling Stones return to the stage again before they are mumbling their tunes between nibbles of Melba Toast.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

An inspiring tyke

By Amanda Gillooly:

I had a much-anticipated date Saturday with a charming young man. He’s blonde, blue eyed, and has a charming personality, even if he still can’t spell his full name. Just to be clear, I haven’t lowered my dating standards. In fact, the young man is young. Just four. He’s my nephew, Nicholas, and he’s the coolest kid in the world.

Yes, despite my best efforts, I’ve become the one type of woman I never thought possible: I have become a Soccer Aunt.

Let’s go down the checklist, shall we?
-Do you have more than one picture of your nephew in your wallet? (Check)
- Do you annoy coworkers, friends, family, cashiers and random passersby about the newest “cute” thing said nephew did? (Check)
- Do you buy him anything he wants and spoil him with chocolates, Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles Action figures and frequent visits to the local McDonalds for a refreshing Happy Mean? (Check)

But I can’t help it. They say children develop their personalities during their early years, and if things keep going the way they are, my sister, Ashley, has a future smart-ass on her hands. And the worst part might be that he’s an intelligent smart-ass.

And as much as I would like to say that I’ve helped him master the important arts of both making the “rock on” hand gesture and how to successfully construct a makeshift tent in the living room, he’s actually taught me a few things, too.

You know, I’ve been asking questions for years. And as a young reporter, you’re taught to be a comprehensive interviewer, and answer all the important questions. I thought I was OK at the task until I read the book, “Home for a Bunny,” to Nicholas before one of his naps.

The story follows a bunny looking for some digs when spring hits the forest. He hops along each animal he meets, asking if they might let him live with them. After a frog and a robin turn him down, Nicholas would not let me turn the page.

His brow scrunched up the way it always does when his mind is mulling something that doesn’t make sense to him. This time, he just didn’t understand why the bunny couldn’t live with the robins.

“Nick, he’s a bunny, he wouldn’t be able to live in a nest with birds,” I responded.

Undaunted, he asked, “But Aunt Mandy, what if it was a really big nest?”

I forget what I explained to him, but still think it might be the best question I’ve ever been asked.

And he’s quite quotable. When asked where his Daddy was one day, he said simply: “He’s working.” He then informed me that “Daddies go to work and Mommies play on the computer all day.”

While my sister does spend part of her mornings playing into her severe MySpace addiction, she didn’t find it amusing. I couldn’t stop laughing.

And although it’s not always well placed, he’s always candid. During our lunch date at Eat ‘n Park Saturday, he let out the kind of belly laugh that nearly forces everyone in the joint to take a gander at what’s so funny.

He let everyone know, soon enough when he announced loudly that he had just farted. Hey, no one ever said my family was classy.

And for as much as what he says never fails to amuse me, it’s really the unbridled joy he gets from the most routine, simple activities. When he noticed a flock of geese chilling in a baseball field adjacent to the park Saturday, he informed me he wanted to chase them.

Knowing he couldn’t catch them, and really, in a selfish attempt to wear him out so bedtime would come a little sooner, I told him to go for it.

He ran like crazy, rousing the birds and laughing as they squawked and flapped their wings before flying away. He chased them to where they’d land just to repeat it. I, meanwhile, stood in wonder of the jubilant look on his face, and how fast he was running, undeterred by the many spills he took along the way.

We went home, played some video games and went to bed. When we woke up, I had to take him home, which might have been more disappointing to me than him.

Not to be too “cheese-tastic,” but in a world where people sometimes have to play a role to get ahead, or to get respect, or to even respect themselves, I’m glad I don’t have to do that when I’m around the kid.

The only thing he wants me to be is his “crazy” Aunt Mandy. And of all the roles I’ve played, that has been, and will always be my favorite.

(Photo credits: Amanda sees Nicholas in green. Her sister, Ashley Seemann, doesn't.)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Pirates with a bellyful

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – As if the Pittsburgh Pirates' 15 consecutive losing seasons aren’t enough to make some baseball fans sick to their stomachs.

Select ticket holders can now stuff their faces with French fries, nachos, hot dogs, peanuts and ice cream until they puke in all-you-can-eat seats that became available April 7 in time for the season opener at PNC Park.

At $35 apiece for advance sales, there are 168 of the seats in right field, section 147, near the foul pole. And salads are on the menu for those who are counting calories to the speed food line that is set up for these gluttons. Be warned, the hungry can just carry off a limit of four items at each visit.

Pirates management is struggling to make fans happy, given the team has earned the title of having the second longest losing streak in franchise history, behind the Philadelphia Phillies.

In another move, the park has done away with an Outback steakhouse overlooking the bleachers in left field. It’s been replaced by the Hall of Fame Club, where anyone with a ticket can belly up the bar and watch the game on any number of large-screen TVs. It’s really nothing more than a giant room for drinking beer, except on days when a band is scheduled to perform.

Pittsburgher Joe Grushecky and his “still standing” Houserockers opened the club immediately after the Pirates lost a nail-biting sell-out game against the Cubs 10-8 in the 12th inning.

In all likelihood, the music had died down by the time the drunk-on-food fans from Section 147 reached the exit gates.

Heroin addiction hits home

The scrappy village of Webster, where I’ve lived for five decades, might be called the best-kept secret in the mid-Mon Valley.

The property taxes there are incredibly low, yet local kids attend Belle Vernon Area School District, which has long been considered the Cadillac of schools in the area. About the only time Rostraver Township police are called to town is when vehicles collide at a confusing set of traffic signals at the entrance to the Donora-Webster Bridge.

We don’t need a newspaper to keep up with weddings or obituaries because most of our 164 neighbors know each other on a first-name basis.

However, we have a dirty little secret that few people whisper about. In the past decade, according to unofficial statistics, we have buried five neighbors who succumbed to their heroin addictions.

It seems that every family, including mine, has become a victim of the tragedies that surround those chasing this drug.

The addicts all seem to be reinventing the wheel by being unable to hold down a job, so they steal from relatives to support their habits. Their families fall to pieces, while some relatives deny the problem exists altogether and others are too embarrassed to face up to the fact that someone they love is skidding out of control.

Along the way, these family members become enablers by their failure to deal with the problem.

The news that neighbor Gerald L. Szakal Jr. had been arrested last month on charges of double homicide left many of us wishing we could have done something to get him the help he needed to quit heroin.

But most of us didn’t know him in the year or so that he lived around the bend and before he was accused of shooting coin dealers Howard and Nancy Springer of Carroll Township.

It wasn’t until the details of the crime began to leak out that I learned that his mother was the former Christeen Mackey, someone I’ve known since she was a girl.

It appears that her 25-year-old son, sick for drugs, decided to kill the Spingers to prevent their records from proving that Szakal had sold them jewelry and coins that he stole from his mother. The day before the murders, he reportedly told his co-defendants that his mother was going to turn him in for the thefts unless he entered drug rehabilitation.

Now, her son’s relatives on his father’s side of the family are blaming her for Szakal’s arrest. It’s a shame, because her heart bleeds for her son, whom she still loves, a son who faces the death penalty in the case.

Justice will be served, no doubt, but no one is going to come out better from this tragedy. If only someone could give us the right approaches for dealing with heroin addictions.

(Caption: Gerald L. Szakal Jr. is led to his preliminary hearing in March to face charges in a double slaying.)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

"Across The Universe - I am The Walrus"

"Across the Universe" is the one movie from 2007 that I wish I'd seen on the big screen.

Director Julie Taymor delivered a brilliant film featuring The Beatles' songs sung by such artists as Bono who out-performed the Fab Four. It's almost like watching a painting unfold on screen under the influence of LSD.

A clever love story is wrapped around the music and groovy choreography. Together they also tell the story of the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, including the Vietnam War conflict and assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in a way that has never been shown on film.

I'm sorry that I waited to see this movie until it showed up on Comcast's menu.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Drug series wins award

Amanda Gillooly, a blogger at Couch Potatoes, and Scott Beveridge, publisher of this blog, have won first place for enterprise news writing in the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors annual contest.

Their winning series, “Havoc on the Hill,” appeared in the Observer-Reporter over three Sundays in July. The articles chronicled the decline of a once-prospering neighborhood in Washington, Pa., after drug dealers from Detroit set up lucrative businesses in a string of crack houses. The stories explained how this drug trade thrived in a city with an under-funded police department, and left impoverished residents living in fear of gunfire. Click
here to read the series.

Gillooly and Beveridge will accept the award May 2 at the PAPME conference in State College.

The writers also are finalists for a Golden Quill Award from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania.

(Photo by: Christie Campbell)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Try this Thai

It’s easy to miss the Asian-style door beside a futon shop that leads to a trendy Thai restaurant in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill section.

So if Thai food is on your mind, take a minute to and pop into one of the upscale gift shops on Forbes Avenue and ask for directions to Bangkok Balcony.

Rated number one for Thai cuisine in two Pittsburgh newspaper readers’ poll, the restaurant is worthy of a visit. That said, I have never allowed newspaper polls to steer me to a restaurant because I usually suspect that the winners won because their dishwashers had the most friends who sent in ballots. But Thai food is enough to get me to the door.

At the top of a steep, narrow flight of stairs to Bangkok Balcony, beside a second door, is a sign, “Open this door, we open our hearts, for each fragrant mouthful has just one chance to keep its promise. The Nareekomai family.”

The flavor of Thai food, its fragrant blend of spicy, sweet, sour, mint and lime, is what sets it apart from other Asian dishes. And this restaurant’s owners, Norraset and Eileen Nareekomai, have been known to deliver on their promise of great food. They also own a second Thai restaurant around the corner on Murray Avenue, The Silk Elephant, which is my favorite place to eat in this city.

Last weekend, I was more impressed by the couple’s efforts to bring Thai food to the Burgh than the entrée during my first trip to Bangkok Balcony at 5846 Forbes Ave. The small bowl of Thai stew in a sesame broth contained vegetables that were a bit limp and shrimp that was somewhat tough from overcooking. The appetizer, crab Rangoon blended with cream cheese, was perfectly delicious. The bill, at $28, seemed a bit pricey.