a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Thursday, April 30, 2009

An historic courthouse, exposed

The 1916 Neoclassical Palm Beach Courthouse was revealed in its full glory in March 2008 after an unusual wrap-around building came down in an $18 million restoration project.

The Florida county commissioners must have been dropping LSD in the late 1960s when they decided to hide this building with that ugly addition.

A different board of commissions in 2002 had no idea how much of this gem still existed when it had the foresight to approve money for this chip-away work, the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Preservation magazine reports in its May/June issue. The work involved salvaging the original columns that had been relocated to a cemetery.

The building now is used for some county offices, as well as a history museum.

While the quality of this video of the demolition is poor, it's pretty cool, nonetheless.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A convenience store with the best goods

Sheetz, we bow down before thee.

For one reason, your executives have our respect for going to battle against Pennsylvania’s archaic liquor laws that prevent the sale of beer in convenience stores. Keep fighting, though, because you are only able to sell six-packs of brew alongside bottles of natural spring water in Altoona, Pa.

Better yet, your sparkling stores seem to be the only places in southwestern Pennsylvania that sell bags of Sour Patch EXTREME Soft & Chewy Candy.

“It makes your mouth water before you even open the bag because you know your tongue is going to be assaulted,” said Amanda Gillooly, a colleague at the Observer-Reporter.

“They are sweet, but if you put dog food on the lazy Susan I’d probably eat it,” her coworker Michael Jones adds, while chewing a mouthful of white cheddar cheese coated popcorn. *

In this corner, I stop at Sheetz at every opportunity to buy these sweet and sour treats, partly because Gillooly has threatened to hurt me when they are not within her reach at work.

And she has because I occasionally keep bags of this gooey junk food to myself.

“Quit bogarting them, man,” Gillooly says as I type these words.

I flinch before handing them back to her with hesitation, and wonder how they would taste with beer.

* A lazy Susan purchased at a thrift store and usually filled with snacks sits at the center of the four desks that make up our pod in the newsroom. Right now, it also holds a bag of Goetze’s Caramel Creams, treats that Gillooly calls “old man candy.” But she eats them regardless.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dead microfilm reader stalls Donora series

For those of you who have been following the series of short stories titled "The Gamble on Donora Steel," it has come to a halt because of a technical glitch.

The primary source for researching these stories is the microfilm of old local newspapers at the Donora Public Library in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The library's only microfilm reader hasn't been working since last fall and it doesn't have the money to repair or replace the dinosaur. And the staff won't let any of its sister libraries in the Mon Valley borrow the precious microfilm.

So if you have some money to donate to the library to get that machine up and running, or know where to find one for free, I'm sure a donation would make us happy.

UPDATE: The library will be glad to accept donations, but it has finally purchased a new microfilm reader. It should be in operation by the end of November 2009.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Kudos to a coworker

Troops Leave for Iraq, originally uploaded by Celeste Van Kirk.

Congratulations to Observer-Reporter photographer Celeste Van Kirk for winning a spot news award today from Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors.
Celeste attacks every assignment with enthusiasm, a warm heart and a pleasant attitude.
Her winning photo, above, was shot in September of Justin Prettiman of Buffalo Township, a specialist with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, hugging his daughter, Nicole, 3, before his deployment to Iraq. It accompanied this story:

By Michael Jones, Staff writer

Justin Prettiman knelt down and hugged his 3-year-old daughter, holding her in his arms moments before boarding a bus that would initiate his journey to Iraq.

The specialist in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard had wanted to be a soldier since he was a toddler. But nothing fully prepared the 22-year-old Buffalo Township man to say goodbye to his young daughter, Nicole.

"It's the hardest thing a soldier has to do, in my opinion," Prettiman said, his voice cracking slightly as he spoke. "Everything else I can deal with."

He stood in a circle with his parents, Fritz and Frank Prettiman, and girlfriend, Jessica Hensler. His daughter held a coiled American flag.

Not knowing what he would encounter during his first tour in Iraq, other soldiers advised him on what to expect while in a war zone and, most importantly, counseled him on saying goodbye.

"I've been talking to them about it, and they have helped me out quite a bit," Prettiman said. "It's tough, but they've helped prepare me for this day."

Prettiman and 100 of his fellow guardsmen from the 2nd Infantry Brigade's regional armory in South Franklin Township left on seven buses early Friday morning on a cross-state tour to pick up other soldiers. The brigade, part of the 28th Infantry Division, will join the 56th Stryker Brigade in eastern Pennsylvania before training at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Miss.

They are expected to deploy to Iraq in January and will remain there for less than a year. Where they will be based and the scope of their mission is unknown, but they are part of a "full-spectrum counterinsurgency" combat team.

Escorted by two state police motorcycles and a couple of police cruisers, the first white and blue touring buses rolled from the armory in South Franklin shortly after 8 a.m.

"We kinda don't know what's going on yet, so we're still getting everything straightened out with the mission," said Sgt. Ben Vorpahl of Monessen. "We've got a good group of guys here. We can handle anything. You get tight. You've got to trust your buddy to watch your back."

This is the second deployment to Iraq for the 29-year-old prison guard at the State Correctional Institution in Fayette County. Two years ago, he and many others in the unit were sent to the volatile Al-Anbar province.

Vorpahl's family was not able to travel to the armory to say their goodbyes. Instead, his wife, Corrina, was at home caring for their 3-month-old son, Eric, who was feeling ill. Although Vorpahl is somewhat accustomed to being deployed, it is especially difficult for his 5-year-old son, Evan, who has now watched his father go to war twice.

Vorpahl stood beside Sgt. Josh Cook, a 21-year-old student at California University of Pennsylvania, as they waited to board their bus. Cook, who also was deployed to Iraq two years ago, said they would help the "younger guys" during their first tours.

The two talked as they stood around their gear and slowly smoked their cigarettes.

"I think I'm missing out on a lot, but I'd rather be doing this while I'm young. It's for a good cause," Cook said.

"I don't have a wife or kids, so I don't have it as hard as this guy over here," he added and pointed to Vorpahl.

The atmosphere around the buses was somber compared to the joyous homecomings that have been celebrated at this armory.

Sgt. Ryan Clark, 26, of Rochester played with his 3-year-old son, Ryan Jr., and talked with his wife, Rachel.

"Just doing what my country asked me to do. It's a bittersweet day," Clark said. "You join the military to serve your country, but it's hard to leave your friends and family."

Nearby, other families hugged, posed for pictures or just stood in silence waiting for the buses to leave. One young couple kissed and then hugged each other, embracing for a few extra seconds before the soldier nodded his head and walked away.

"It's not easy, but he's wanted to do this since he was 3 years old," Prettiman's mother, Fritz, said. "It's just hard because he has Nicole. This was his dream, and we're just here to back him."

Before leaving, Prettiman hugged his father, Frank, and shook his hand. His dad gave him a thumbs up, reached for his arm and held it for a moment.

The son slowly backed away and stepped onto the bus.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Stray dog

Duke, originally uploaded by Scott Beveridge.

This lost dog found us Sunday, April 19, 2009, at Meadowcroft rock shelter, Washington County, Pa. That would be just east of the West Virginia panhandle.

He appears to be about a year old, some form of a pointer and house broken. Please contact me to get your dog back at the e-mail address along the sidebar, below the flying saucer.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

No feeding the mice at this historic hotel

Lobby, originally uploaded by xinapray.

ASHFORD, Wash. – First-time guests at Paradise Inn on Mount Rainier might expect an exquisite lodge with chic amenities.

But they won't be disappointed if their idea of paradise is an old, isolated hotel that lacks phones or televisions in its guest rooms, where rodents are known to make occasional visits.

"People come here and they think they are coming to a resort," said Pam Newlun, manager of the 92-year-old inn at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.

"They ask for the pools, hot tubs. The big question: 'Is there a place to plug in my computer?'" said Newlun, admitting the answer to that query isn't one those with addictions to computers want to hear. Cell phones don't even work at the hotel, 100 miles east of Seattle and high in the clouds beside an active volcano.

Paradise Inn is constructed of Alaskan cedar salvaged from a forest fire in the mountain in 1885 and hauled by horse-drawn wagon to the base of the glacier. It is among 191 hotels and resorts that are members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Historic Hotels of America program.

People choose to stay in hotels listed with the program because they have an appreciation for well-preserved architecture and want to stay in a room with ambiance. They also seek out hotels in historic settings, said Mary Billingsley, the program's public relations director.

The National Park Service is dedicated to preserving the 235,625-acre Mount Rainier, 97 percent of which is designated as wilderness in the 104-year-old park. Hikers can be arrested if they are caught wandering off trails and trampling on grass, which damages the park's precious ecosystem.

Guest Services of Fairfax, Va., which manages Paradise Inn, is even prohibited from using poison or traps to kill mice, which are equally valuable to the food chain at the park.

Hotel guests are warned to keep food out of their rooms, or they may have an uninvited visit by one of the "many species of animals" that abound in the park.

"We are working hard with the park service to maintain the historic nature of this hotel," Newlun said.

This is a place where families gather at night around two massive stone fireplaces and play cards or board games. Or they can be found outside, at the base of Mount Rainier's famous glacier, hiking or snow-shoeing in June when as many as 8 feet of snow can be found on the ground.

Park employees take turns in the lodge playing soothing music on a piano that was hand-hewn from native pine trees not long after the hotel opened.

Walt Disney reportedly honeymooned at the inn, which also was visited by President Truman. He tickled the ivories on the piano and had dinner in the hotel, Newlun said.

Most of the member hotels have interesting stories to tell about famous guests, even those who some claim have refused to leave.

The mysterious "Pink Lady" has been sighted at The Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa in Asheville, N.C. Some believe she is the ghost of a young woman dressed in pink who fell to her death in the hotel atrium 80 years ago. One guest as recently as two years ago said his hair stood on end and he felt a tug on his ear when he walked alone in the atrium, Billingsley says.

There is another tale about "romance gone awry" that is still told at Brown Palace Hotel in Denver. The scandal involved a married resident, Isabelle "Sassy" Springer, and her new boyfriend, who shot her old boyfriend and two others in the hotel in 1911.

The 77-year-old and finely appointed Mayflower Park Hotel is known for romance and relaxation, having earned the distinction of being the "best getaway hotel" in the Seattle area. The 171-room hotel prides itself on having restored its deep porcelain bathtubs in all-white bathrooms dating to 1927. These tubs have old-style rubber corks hanging from chains attached to the faucets.

"The hotel's tubs are nearly twice the depth of a standard hotel tub, which makes them perfect for a relaxing after-work or after-shopping soak," said Paul Ishii, the hotel's general manager.

The Mayflower has advertised "rub a dub, dub" packages aimed at treating the body and soul. The packages include a loofa sponge and luxury bath salts.

The hotels affiliated with the National Trust come in all shapes and sizes and at a wide range of costs for a night's rest.

The American Hotel in Sag, Harbor, N.Y., has just eight rooms, and the Waldorf-Astoria in New York boasts 1,380.

A night at the Paradise can cost as little as $79 for a room without a bathroom. Someone wanting a suite at The Plaza in New York, however, would need to shell out $15,000 for a night.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New Donora smog show to premier

The former steel town of Donora continues to draw audiences to its infamous story about a mysterious, deadly fog.

A new documentary about the Pennsylvania smog tragedy is set to premier at 8 p.m. Thursday on WQED-TV in Pittsburgh.

Rumor of Blue Sky, produced by Pittsburgh filmmaker Andy Maietta, tells the Donora story entirely through the eyes of 25 local residents who survived the deadly smog of 1948.

“I’m glad we were able to capture their oral histories,” Maietta said Tuesday. “They are valuable to history. The story is told entirely through firsthand. There is no narrator.”

The story has many great sound bites, including one about birds dropping dead upon flying into the fumes at the open hearth. Another involves steelworkers suffering the zinc work jitters while toiling in that plant whose smoke greatly contributed to at least 20 deaths over a foggy Halloween weekend in 1948.

My only criticism about the film is that it almost entirely overlooks Webster, the downwind neighbor of Donora where four decades of pollution had killed most of the grass and trees.

There wouldn’t have been much of a Donora story without the constant complaining then from Webster residents about the sour air. Donora wanted the story to go away after the smog. Webster kept it in the news until clean air laws were enacted.

It took Maietta, a digital filmmaking instructor at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, at least five years to complete the project, and many of the people he interviewed have since died.

The film is available for sale at the Donora Smog Museum, 595 McKean Ave., Donora.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Arriving at Nerdville

The other day I reached into a jacket pocket and pulled out a USB cord that confirmed one of my biggest fears: I have become a nerd. And yes, there were two ink pens in the unprotected breast pocket of the starched white shirt I was wearing at the time.

There is no dodging this attribute because I am about to learn how to operate a vintage trolley, one not too different than Line 69 to Kennywood. That restored streetcar is shown in the above photo taken at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Chartiers Township, Pa., where these driving lessons are offered.

Step aboard.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

51 Things in the Newsroom

The publisher, writers, editors and young reporters known as Flipsiders at the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pa., share their favorite things in the newsroom in this silly video.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Inn pampers around the clock

By Dawn Keller

SHARON, Pa. – When we saw photographs online of Buhl Mansion Guesthouse and Spa, we thought we wanted to get married there.

As soon as we walked in the doors of the bed and breakfast in Sharon, Pa., we knew it.

It's not just that the bed and breakfast looks like a castle on the outside. Or that each room has a Jacuzzi.

It's the classy yet ornate detail throughout the whole building that creates a unique
atmosphere. The antique globes they have downstairs are fabulous.

We were amazed at everything from the beautiful artwork to the grand stairwell.

My fiancé and I can't wait to get married with this castle in the background as the sun shines over our ceremony, and its staff to take care of everything for us.

Buhl is not just for weddings and elopements. It also can be used for conferences or vacations, said General Manager Laura Ackley.

"Whatever you want – 24 hours a day," Ackley said the philosophy of how they take care of guests. "You can almost visually see the stress relief."

Perhaps that's why Buhl was chosen as one of the 2008 Top 10 Romantic Inns by IloveInns.com, a partner with American Historic Inns. These 10 romantic inns have been selected for their many attributes – luxurious decor, hospitality and overall romantic mystique, plus a sense of history, according to the Web site.

"The desire to escape and get pampered speaks to everybody," Ackley said.

"You can escape reality."

Buhl's day spa offers luxury and pampering, and the rooms have Jacuzzis and fireplaces. The spa offers 100 treatments, including massage therapy, facial skin care, and body treatments.

Entrepreneurs Jim and Donna Winner opened the bed and breakfast Dec. 31, 1997. A room package includes lodging, bell and valet service, a welcome tray with fresh fruit, cheese and champagne, evening turndown service, breakfast and discounts for dinner at Buhl's sister property, Tara – A Country Inn. Tara is six miles away, and the staff at both properties work together to give guests what they need, Ackley said.

The building took six years to complete by 150 stonemasons.

The bed and breakfast is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Romanesque stone castle was built in 1896 by steel baron Frank H. Buhl as a wedding present for his wife, Julia.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Jazzy duet at Cal U.

Members of the California University of Pennsylvania Jazz Ensemble, lead by Max Gonano, let loose a nice rendition of The Isley Brothers' 1966 hit, "This Old Heart of Mine."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Remembering the first couple of Harley-Davidson, Ernest and Oliva Cerini

There was nothing more fascinating than having a river beyond the front porch while we were growing up in America’s industrial heartland.

Ours was the Monongahela, where, during the 1960’s, a steady stream of powerful towboats pushed barge after barge filled with coal to power plants and steel mills.

Hugging both banks in Webster and Donora, Pa., were rails that carried trains hauling iron ore pellets to a coking plant or more coal from the mines to unknown destinations.

But nothing was more thrilling than seeing an older couple cross the Donora-Webster Bridge into Webster nearly every Sunday afternoon on their Harley-Davidson motorcycle attached to a sidecar. At every opportunity, we rushed there at the same time to witness the spectacle with wide-eyed wonderment.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned the man and woman were Ernest and Oliva Cerini, Italian immigrants who established what went on to become Pennsylvania’s oldest Harley-Davidson dealership in Donora. The Cerinis went everywhere on that cycle because they never owned a car, as they were extremely loyal to the Harley-Davidson name. He went as far as to tell non-Harley owners to park their rides across the street from his shop at 1507 Meldon Ave.

The business dating to 1920 passed to a son, August “Babe” Cerini, and then to the third generation while the motorcycle brand went from something for renegades to a favorite of yuppies who pretend to be bad boys on weekends.

All the while, the Cerini name became a brand in the Harley industry almost as popular as fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers are to the National Football League.

That’s why bikers are stunned by the news that the family decided to sell out to its competition, Triple S Harley-Davidson Buell in Morgantown, W. Va., a deal that is expected to be finalize this week.

“Everywhere I go, they ask me what happened,” said Jim Cerini, a cousin to the Cerini brothers, Eric and Ernie, who ran the Rostraver Township and Uniontown dealerships, respectively. He can only speculate.

The brothers haven’t said a word in public about their decision to move on, paving way for a flood of rumors about the split to spring up as fast as a noisy Harley on the open road.

"It wasn't just a business. Every rider felt they were part of the place," Jim Cerini told the Observer-Reporter two weeks ago.

He purchased the old shop in Donora two years ago, and plans to turn it into a museum. It’s a lofty goal because the place needs a lot of work, and the rundown Donora isn’t exactly a tourism destination.

Although the building at one time was so important to Harley-Davidson that it wanted to dismantle and relocate its facade to the corporate museum in Milwaukee. The family declined the offer.

"That's how much it meant to us," Jim Cerini said.

So we are left with our memories of that shop at the north end of Donora. And Harley-Davidson has a fading photograph of the Cernini shop at its museum, one showing local police officers on their motorcycles outside the two-story brick building.

(Captions: Ernest and Oliva Cerini on their Harley-Davidson, top, circa 1925, and their dealership in an undated photo when local police purchased cycles in Donora. Photos courtesy of Jim Cerini)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Snapshots from the funeral for three slain police officers

Blogger Jason Togyer sent this photo along to announce that Monongahela Police Department showed up today at the funeral for the three Pittsburgh police officers who died in the line of duty.

Officers from the small Pennsylvania city were among the "sea of blue" that gathered to say final goodbyes to Paul Sciullo II, Eric G. Kelly and Stephen J. Mayhle who were shot during a family dispute Saturday in Stanton Heights.

Togyer shot the photo on Forbes Avenue near McKee Place, and he also noticed cruisers from the Washington County sheriff's office and Cecil and Peters townships police departments.

"More than 1,000 units supposedly were in the procession," he said. "They were parked for blocks on both Forbes and Fifth, from roughly the Carnegie Museums all the way to Eye & Ear Hospital."

The Post-Gazette, meanwhile, posted an interesting slide show today of shots the newspaper's photographers captured during the funeral. Click here to take a look at its best shots of the day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Amanda's Musings: Dear Extenz...

(image originally uploaded hopeandmegan)

Dear Extenz Customer Service Representative,

Despite my love, respect and deep admiration for the comedic genius known as Chevy Chase, a girl can watch “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” only so many nights in a row.

So it was then, in the wee hours of the morning a few months back that I flipped on the boob tube, saw your company’s infomercial about “male enhancement” and gave you a holler.

Usually, I would just scroll through my collection of trashy reality television episodes or reruns of something like “The Adventures of Pete and Pete” but alas, my DVR was depleted. That night, not even Cousin Eddie could hold my meager attention. Unfortunately for both you and me, the uber-happy middle-aged couple featured on your program did.

As a reporter by vocation and a nebby-ass by nature, my curiosity was immediately piqued when the way-too-exuberant Ken doll spokesactor said something about how Extenz really came through for him with its promises of “male enhancement.” His equally enthused girl-piece nodded in eager agreement, and that’s about the time I picked up my cell and dialed.

I guess I’m writing to apologize. For the record, I wasn’t crank calling you. There was simply no succinct definition of what the product was gonna do. And ashamedly, you weren’t the only customer service representative who has received a past-midnight phone call from me.

See, I’ve never been a good sleeper. I wouldn’t call it “insomnia” as much as “lack of talent.” And trust: It sucks being bad at something that billions of people do completely normally each and every day.

When I recently expressed my concern to my dad over whether those phone calls could be considered a sort of neurotic obsession, he let me in on a secret: I’ve always sucked at sleeping. He said as a kid I would insist that someone sit in the room with me until I fell into a slumber – even holding my arm up at a 45-degree angle to ensure that Mr. Sandman wouldn’t be able to enrapture me so easily.

“Yeah, you would just fight sleep, Mand,” he told me. “It wasn’t like you were scared of a monster in the closet or something. You just hated going to sleep.”

Flash forward 25 years and it’s much the same. And with nothing on television and no one to talk to, my bedroom can be a pretty lonely place at that hour.

You were very informative. You basically confirmed what I thought, and told me a few things about the pills I wasn’t aware of. I know you were upset when I told you that I didn’t want to sign up for the free trial – you know, since I have neither a penis nor a boyfriend at the moment.

But I didn’t think our brief verbal encounter was all for naught. You made me laugh – without really meaning to – and that was just as helpful at that moment as your explanation of how the drugs work.

I never expected anyone to say to me, “Well, we are referencing the penis, ma’am.” But you did, and I laughed. And somehow, someway, I was able to get a few winks shortly thereafter.

Warmest Regards,

Amanda “please don’t file harassment charges” Gillooly

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A trolley ride would be nice in these hard times

It wasn’t the car that put the trolley lines out of business in Pittsburgh’s hinterlands.

They actually started to fade after gasoline-powered buses hit the streets May 1, 1933, in the Charleroi area some 37 trolley-car miles south the big city, local historian Mitch Steen reported in 1971 in an article for The Valley Independent.

Old 1721 made it final run to Charleroi, Pa., on June 29, 1953, having met up with huge crowds along the line. Tony Malnerick of Finleyville at the controls while a Lock Four Fire Co. pumper truck escorted the trolley car into the borough as fans and foes of the noisy transportation service said their final goodbyes.

Pennsylvania’s transportation department soon began to rip out the Pittsburgh Railways and cover the line with concrete, a process that continued for at least a decade, to accommodate increased car and bus traffic.

I remember the rough rides in the backseat of a car over the rails that lingered, but never had the pleasure of riding a trolley around the valley towns. In an era of gas prices that helped to cripple the U.S. economy last year, it would be nice to have a reliable interconnected public transportation system like the trolleys still moving as an alternative to doing business.

(Photos courtesy of Charleroi Area Historical Society.)

Friday, April 3, 2009

Yoda misses the groove

Yoda's Playlist, originally uploaded by Orange_Beard.

“Humor is just another defense of the universe.” – Mel Brooks

By Amanda Gillooly

I finally got over myself the other day. I get in some pretty weird funks, and it doesn’t take much to set me off into a downward spiral of depression and self-loathing. And while I know Yoda advises that fear and anger lead to the Dark Side, I respectfully disagree.

You can harness fear, and you can harness anger and make those emotions work for you. My fatal flaw is a horrible sense of self-pity. Sorry, Yoda, but I think that’s what leads people to the Dark Side.

Bemoaning yourself is like quicksand – the more you think of all the travesties in your life you just keep sinking deeper into a pretty useless place. Because, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “People grieve and bemoan themselves, but it is not half so bad with them as they say.

It wasn’t half so bad for me, either. But when I’m in a Gillooly-style funk, I pile up all the unpleasantness in my life and sweep it into one of the corners of my mind. And when they’re all piled up, things look a lot worse than they are.

For me, no number of inspirational speeches can help bring me out of my melancholy. I pout, sulk, sigh, and convince myself that a correction I had to write makes me unworthy of being a writer. That leads me to question my ability as an aunt/friend/sex goddess. If left alone for too long, I can convince myself of pretty much anything.

That is until the laughter arrives. In the midst of a grade-A funk last week I snapped out of it when I watched an octogenarian gentleman wearing a “Sopranos’-style jogging suit paired with a black leather fanny pack. Sitting there, miserable and searching for more reasons to hate myself, I looked down and saw that, as an added bonus, his bright white shoes were adorned with Velcro.

I laughed. Out loud. And I realized again that life is too damn funny to be a cranky ass all the time. For so many years, I've wondered why I’ve always been privy to these Velcro relics, and seem to always find myself in the midst of situations that none of my friends ever understand.

So thank you, Mr. Velcro Fanny Pack Man. I owe you a shoe shine, buddy. Because I think that might be life’s way of shaking me back into my senses by helping me remember that there are few things that can’t be laughed at.

And laughter seems to melt away all that funktasticness.

One of my college girlfriends, Apple, clued me in on this a few years back. When undergoing her first annual pap exam, she was told she first had to give blood. To her horror, the doctor who would be examining her was maybe one of the hottest dudes on the planet. And having never been naked, unmentionables to the wind, they asked her to sit up and walk to another room for the draw.

Already dizzy and nervous, Apple took a few steps, passed out and urinated all over the floor.

And it took Velcro to have that hit home.

"One Love" shared around the globe

Playing For Change | Song Around The World "One Love" from Concord Music Group on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Fake tree wins newspaper contest

McGuffey High School didn’t quite follow the primary rule for a contest that challenged students to turn a standard newspaper vending machine into public art.

Yet the school in Washington County, Pa., walked away with first prize among the 14 that entered the contest sponsored by the Observer-Reporter.

The rules, among other things, required a design that would survive the outdoors in a climate known for gray skies and rain. McGuffey students surrounded their metal box with a sculpture of a fragile-looking tree with a newspaper kite stuck in paper leaves covered in clear plastic.

While students coated the thing with outdoor sealant, the newspaper is looking for location to park it indoors over doubts that it’ll survive hurricane-force winds like those the region sustained last month.

It did survive the trip from the school to mall in the bed of a pickup truck traveling 40 mph, losing just three leaves," McGuffey art teacher Pam Bubash said.

Bubash told her kids to "think outside the box" and enter something different because the rest of the schools would likely just paint things on theirs. And she was right.

She suggested her students design a concept for their box around William Holmes McGuffey, a Claysville, Pa., native and author of the McGuffey Readers, one of America's first series of textbooks that became widely popular in the 1800s. But they opted, instead, for tree because newspapers are printed on paper made from trees. They used old newspapers for construction to also make a statement about the importance of recycling.

Local artists and newspaper representatives judged the contest, taking into consideration the amount of money each entrant earned in donations when their designs debuted over a recent weekend at Washington Crown Center mall.

“The schools loved it,” said Jasmine Blussick, who organizes corporate events at the Washington newspaper. “The parents loved it. The kids thought it was the best thing.”

Some employees of the small-town paper aren’t sure what to make of the entry that features a rat nibbling one of its daily editions. But chances are that school will still be invited to enter the contest again next year.

McGuffey’s art department will receive a $500 prize for winning what has to be the slicking promotion the newspaper has come up with in years.