a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Friday, January 29, 2010

The peace sign, use it or lose it

By Scott Beveridge

The peace sign has crossed the line.

Once a revolutionary symbol of 1960s anti-Vietnam War movement, it went into obscurity for decades only to emerge, everywhere as a trendy fashion design.

It can be found throughout most malls on flip flops and water bottles, across T-shirts and purses and even as blig on key chains and necklaces. A year ago, Lucky Brand was selling a peace sign necklace with a miniature tambourine bearing the words “Peace Love,” items that would have made the perfect Christmas gift for a modern-day naked hippie chick who likes to attend Phish concerts.

Admittedly, US college students borrowed the peace sign from the British, who designed it for their nuclear disarmament movement, and used it to protest the war draft, Nixon’s secret bombings of Cambodia and police brutality against demonstrators. It became iconic for a generation that fought the establishment and commercialism while vowing to never conform. Well some of their promises would become broken.

But, the peace sign was worn proudly, even though some Christians at the time denounced the symbol as sacrilegious because, to them, it represented an upside-down cross.

Who knew then it would someday be worn as a pattern on a winter scarf by members of a new generation that might despise war, but does not have the convictions to stand up to its government.

The peace sign has become mainstream at a time when the US has spent more money in Iraq than it did in Vietnam, making the war in Iraq the “second most expensive conflict in American history, behind World War II,” the Los Angeles Times has reported.

Today’s youth certainly would feel differently about the use of its clothing to make a political statement if this county had returned to the draft to recruit cannon fodder for Iraq, Afghanistan and the illusive war against terrorism.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Obama anger on the road

Politics aside, I don't understand why someone would jeopardize safety by impeding the rear view from his van with this many angry anti-Obama "bumper" stickers. But, it appears this white motorist in Washington, Pa., had taken time to chip away at the one expressing his distaste with immigration laws in order to see behind some of his hatred and blind spots. (Scott Beveridge photo)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Art by accident

Art by accident, originally uploaded by Scott Beveridge.

I'm a klutz, but kind of dig the art that has come to life on my cell phone that I broke the other day.

Forgive me if I didn't return your text messages.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The after-Christmas party

Sometimes wonderful light sculptures develop on their own when such struggling towns as Donora, Pa., wait too long to take down their Christmas decorations. (Scott Beveridge photo)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The founding fathers had faults, a great book reveals

By Scott Beveridge,

The book “Founding Brothers” is easy to put down after a few pages of dry, historic reading, academia style.

But, that should not come as criticism to its author, Joseph J. Ellis, who does a brilliant job in his national bestseller of analyzing and critically reviewing letters and documents that were left behind by the founders of the United States. His efforts won him a Pulitzer Prize for crying out loud.

For those reasons, this book first published 10 years ago will periodically find its way back into the hands of readers who are interested in the lives of such revolutionaries as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison.

Ellis peels off the layers of history that has placed these men on pedestals, as if they were mythical gods, to reveal them as real men with faults and political ambitions that sometimes blinded them from the better good of the young nation. They made silly predictions and bad judgments while also laying the foundations of a new nation, sometimes flying by the seats of their pants.

My generation was never taught in public school that Jefferson could have been a back-stabber who often undermined President John Adams when he served under him as vice president. Some of his behind-the-stage maneuverings involved Jefferson’s disagreement with Adams over the president’s support of a peace treaty with France, giving birth to bitter bipartisan politics would become their legacies.

The polarization is made clear in the book near its end when Adams, in his waning years, wrote to Jefferson about the public outrage over a decision during his presidency to send a peace delegation to France.

Angry mobs had surrounded Adams’ house over that decision, while he stated he was certain Jefferson was “fast asleep in philosophical Tranquility.”

“What think you of Terrorism, Mr. Jefferson?” Adams stated in the letter. “Both parties have excited artificial Terrors.”

His words sound familiar these days when President George Bush has faced accusations of embracing a “politics of fear” in wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, acts of terrorism in New York and Washington, D.C.

And all anyone has to do today is turn on CNN to get a steady diet of the ugly divisions that exist between Republicans, Democrats, teapartiers and independents over heath care reform, bailouts, big government and spending.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

It's "Snuggie Time"

This is a silly video put together by Harry Funk, the online editor at the Observer-Reporter, and featuring staff members at the newspaper in Washington, Pa.

Click here to read the story it promotes.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Rude airheads break up this way

Anna Kendrick stars as Natalie and George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham in Paramount Pictures' "Up in the Air." Photo: Dale Robinette.

By Scott Beveridge

Halfway into the hit movie, “Up in the Air,” actress Anna Kendrick’s anal, uptight character unloads tears over a text message she receives from her boyfriend.

She breaks down after he uses their cell phones to end the relationship in this movie revolving around her employer with a cold heart that specializes in firing people in other companies that do not have the gonads to do it themselves.

The movie starring George Clooney comes at the most-appropriate time when America’s economy is in a backwards mode, and its addiction with text messaging has taken rudeness to a new level.

Kendrick’s youthful character is a rising star in her company who has the bright idea to fire people via video computer linkups to avoid the costs of airfare, hotel and meals to send a live body to do the bitter job. Breaking up that way just seems to be especially cold and cowardly.

“I followed a boy,” Kendrick later explains after she resigns and interviews for a new job.

It was her response to a question about why such a young, intelligent college grad as herself would move to Omaha to take a job firing people.

The answer humanizers her in a era when thank you cards for such things as thoughtful birthday or wedding gifts have been replaced by fleeting, meaningless cell phone text messages.

Staying connected with the people who care just takes too much work.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"Mosaic of Patty"

The Patty Mosaic , originally uploaded by Scott Beveridge.

By Scott Beveridge

The “Mosaic of Patty” portrait was the result of my brief stint as public schoolteacher in the spring of 1983.

It was produced when the Bethlehem-Center School District hired me for one term to fill in for its high school/middle school art teacher who was absent on a sabbatical.

The poor, rural school district in the heart of southwestern Pennsylvania’s then-dying coal industry had just about run out of art supplies. The unemployment rate was 10.8 percent, a bit higher than it climbed in today’s recession, but we didn’t then have 24-hour television news to constantly remind us how soured the job market had become.

Beth-Center paid substitute teachers $33 a day that year, and the sum barely paid for the gasoline to get my car over the hilly terrain to the schools each day. But, it was a job, something that filled in the banks on the résumé, even though it turned out to be a dead-end career opportunity.

Yet the experience was one I wouldn’t trade in a heartbeat. Many of the kids were poor, living in single-parent home and eager for attention. They discovered art as we bonded over the five months were share in the classrooms, despite the challenges.

The Intermediate Unit that was supposed to offer better supplies to teachers than their respective districts could afford was of little help. It had just one badly outdated movie about art to motivate student about the famous mosaics of Rio de Janeiro. The jerking, scratchy film would work miracles.

The students learned a fancy new word. Later they broke to pieces stained glass that we ripped off from another teacher and glued the shards in various designs onto plywood, filling in the spaces with plaster of Paris. Meanwhile, to keep the motivation going, I stuck tiny pieces of cut-up magazine pages on paper to create a portrait of Patty, a beautiful cocktail waitress at Four Points by Sheraton in Greensburg, Pa.

We had worked together the two previous years, sharing good times while I poured the vodka, gin and whiskey and she mixed the drinks at the fancy pick-up joint with live music. To this day, she doesn’t know her likeness appears in paper mosaic.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Round houses were the work of an architractor

A round house built by Walter Rockwell Sr. after World War II on Seventh Street in North Charleroi, Pa.

By Scott Beveridge

CHARLEROI, Pa. – Walter Rockwell Sr. had a fascination with 19th century carnivals that could explain his fondness for building whimsical, round houses in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The builder who honed his skills while creating amusement rides went on to construct 35 unusual houses in the Charleroi area, including two round ones that could have doubled for World War II-era pillboxes.

"He had a bug for round things," said Walter Rockwell Jr. of nearby Carroll Township, who for a time followed in his father's footsteps.

In the years since the elder Rockwell died in 1974 at age 88, his legacy has been largely overlooked in the Mon Valley, said Nikki Sheppick, chairman of the Charleroi Area Historical Society, which is now building a Rockwell archive.

But in his time, he served on North Charleroi council and as president of its volunteer fire department while earning a "reliable and trustworthy" career as a self-taught architect. He "worked along legitimate lines and high ideals," Earle Forrest wrote in 1926 about Rockwell in the "History of Washington County, Pa."

After apprenticing in carpentry as a young man, Rockwell went to work as a traveling showman in a territory that included every state east of the Mississippi.

He left that business after seven years, settled in North Charleroi and befriend a well-known local showman, Robert Coyle, who established the Coyle Theater in Charleroi.

Coyle hired Rockwell in the early 1900s to convert a vaudeville house on McKean Avenue into a movie palace. Rockwell gutted the interior, built a 22-foot addition and erected a 66-ton steel beam to support the balcony, his son said. The theater, which has been closed for nearly two decades, is being restored by a local nonprofit cultural trust.

The Coyle-Rockwell partnership also developed Shady Grove Park near Uniontown, where the elder Rockwell was born April 26, 1886.

He went on to construct a number of buildings in downtown Charleroi, making a show of his building skills while they went up. For example, he raised the first floor of a building at Sixth Street and Fallowfield Avenue and set it atop two new floors to expand a furniture store, his son said.

Then father and son turned to building in the round, beginning with a garage behind a mansion at the end of Prospect Street that some locals have nicknamed the "Hobbit garage." His round roofs can also be found on two service stations in the downtown that were constructed in the early auto era.

When the private garage was new, its floor rotated with the help of a crank and ball bearings and chains to turn a car around to face the front door after it pulled into the building.

Next up, the Rockwells built their first round house in 1947 on Seventh Street hill in North Charleroi with white-faced concrete blocks. Then Walter Rockwell Sr. built the second in Carroll Township for his family, not far from the mansion he built for the Coyle family on Coyle-Curtain Road.

Many of his houses have scaled-down English Tudor-inspired designs, and some include over-sized chimneys or small turrets at their facades.

The two round houses have a central rectangular hall with the rooms shaped like wedges of a pie without points, said Walter Rockwell Jr., 80, who spent his career in the remodeling business and restores and builds furniture in his spare time.

"The rooms meet in the middle," he said. "He liked to do things differently."

Because the elder Rockwell wasn't exactly an architect, he called himself an "architractor," his son said.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Travel with a Snuggie

Hail the mighty Snuggie, originally uploaded by Scott Beveridge.

Until last week, it seemed I would get by without receiving a kitschy Snuggie, the blanket with long, drooping sleeves that became the hottest-selling item under the tree at Christmas.

Blame it on blogger, Mike Jones, for letting it slip that he and another furloughed friend had bought me one of the polyester monk-like coats as a surprise gag gift for Jesus’ birthday.

“How did you like the Snuggie?” Jones asked, without realizing the present was late in coming from his co-conspirator, Amanda Gillooly, who missed the gift-giving deadline of Dec. 25.

It seems she wanted to iron on the letters, TWAB, to stand for Travel with a Beveridge, but didn’t have the domestic skills to use that appliance on Polyester. Gillooly promised, though, to give it another try now that she has been outed for holding out on my Snuggie.

If would be funny if it showed before Thursday when my employer, the Observer-Reporter of Washington, Pa., shoots a video to accompany a silly story I am writing for the newspaper about this fleece phenom.

The producer is talking about superimposing photos of me in a Snuggie as a spoof over those of the Eiffel Tower, the pyramids of Giza and the inauguration of President Barack Obama. This should be a hoot. Check back next week to see the outcome of this creative venture.

(Note: Scott Beveridge models a Snuggie in the photo, above, provided by a co-worker who received three for Christmas and brought one of them to the office for us to share, separately, on cold days.)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Las Vegas Elvis

An Elvis impersonator pitches margaritas last year on The Strip in Las Vegas. Today would have been the Kings 75th birthday. (Scott Beveridge photo)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A college apartment that came with pizza

The Pizza House and its upstairs apartments have miraculously survived at Indiana University of Pennsylvania as the school expands and replaces its outdated housing with hotel-like dorms.

By Scott Beveridge

The last college dump where I lived as a student had character.

Its 1940s-era in-wall kitchen unit in the living room was no more than 4 feet wide and 5 feet tall. Yet it held a small dead refrigerator, two stovetop gas burners that worked but stayed off for our safety, a sink with a dry faucet, a few drawers and a dish cabinet. It was nothing more, really, than a conversation piece in the two-bedroom apartment I shared with the friendliest of roommates.

He drank nearly a case of Heineken himself a day while also smoking enough marijuana to sedate a moose, and still he managed to ace his courses in the late 1970s at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

We shared the place above Pizza House on Oakland Avenue at the outer edges of IUP’s Oak Grove during the fall semester in 1977 when I was a senior and before I forever said goodbye to the campus as a student. It was time to student teach and return to the real world.

The clapboard Victorian-era pizza shop was then next door to the Theta Chi house. I first visited the apartment in the spring of 1977 when it was home to the fraternity’s officers before they decided to give the place up for good. The guys were happily preparing a “meal” for hell night, the big party before their pledges were welcomed into the club.

One frat brother urinated into the newer refrigerator in the living room, straight into a bowl of punch that would soon be served to the minions. Nearby, a few other brothers were preparing the evening’s appetizers, mini crèpes topped with shaving cream.

Oddly, it was the same night the fraternity brothers invited me inside for a tour, hoping that I would agree to sublease the apartment. The party-preparation scene was enough to convince me that I had made the right decision to follow a path independent of such fraternal organizations. This one would later be sternly disciplined for its hazing practices.

The apartment, though, would safely be mine for the next few months.

It also came with another benefit that was especially welcomed by this starving artist. The owners of the joint on the first floor generously gave us the leftover pizzas each night at closing time. And, it was not uncommon for us to place an anonymous order late in the evening to make sure there was some warm grub on our coffee table.

The Pizza House is still there, relatively unchanged save for a few new coats of paint.

Fortunately this house has survived as the campus gobbles up property and constructs new dormitories that have all the comforts of suites in a Marriott Hotel.

It’s hard to imagine a sterile room in one of those new dorms could ever compete with the charm of those living quarters above the Pizza House. College, after all, was supposed to be about roughing it and building scrumptious memories while also earning an education.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Freaky cat Tuesday

can i go out please?, originally uploaded by Moon over Belgium.

It was just a matter of time before we subjected readers of this blog to another cat post.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The human salt spreader

Jamie Stache must wear out the heels of his boots fast while dragging his feet and also spreading sidewalk salt, seated in a cart pulled by a mini snow plow. The Washington County Housing Authority worker is shown today at Lincoln Terrace in Washington, Pa. His coworker, Clyde Myers, is steering the rig. (Photo: Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter)

Barber retires after 70 years in business

By Christie Campbell

AVELLA, Pa. – Dominick DeFilippis was only 14 years old when he began cutting men's hair.

Now 84, DeFilippis plans to retire from the business he has been in for 70 years. Within the next month or two, he plans to close his shop in the small community of Avella.

Many of the men who had been DeFilippis' customers have passed away, and the younger generation is no longer interested in going to a barber shop, he said.

His shop on Campbell Street is a reminder of days when life was simpler and men stopped at a barber shop for a close shave and a haircut, taking the time to joke and gossip with friends and neighbors.

The shop has a vintage flavor with its three barber chairs dating to 1915, marble-topped antiseptic cabinets and razor strops. Unfortunately, the old red, white and blue striped barber pole outside his shop was stolen about 10 years ago. It was too costly to replace, he said. Today he turns on a revolving red light to signal when the shop is open.

An avid hunter, DeFilippis has photographs of his hunting trophies such as deer and turkey hanging in the shop, as well as photographs of his family. He won't miss working that much, he said, because it will give him more time to hunt.

DeFilippis initially learned the business from his father.

"I watched him, and I learned how to cut hair before I went to barber school," he explained.

He attended the Ideal Barber School in Pittsburgh during the summers, staying with his uncle. The school also operated a shop where customers paid 25 cents for a haircut from the students.

"When they saw what I could do, they put me up front," he said.

In the DeFilippis shop, haircuts were once 50 cents. Today he charges $10, $12.50 for long hair.

"I can give a nice haircut in 15 minutes," he said.

DeFilippis isn't too fond of today's hairstyling salons, and confesses he chuckles when he sees the way some women cut men's hair.

"They don't know how to do it," he said.

In addition to his dad, DeFilippis' brothers Pat and Frank cut hair. Back then the coal mines were operating, and DeFilippis remembers two theaters, a lumber yard, a bakery and a half-dozen grocery stores being in town. There were many men in Avella needing their services.

"We were busy all the time," DeFilippis said.

Although his customer base has dwindled, he still has a few who come from Follansbee or Wellsburg, W.Va., and one woman calls for an appointment whenever her son from Cleveland is planning to visit.

He and his wife, Mary, had four children, but only the youngest, Frank, followed in the family's business. He operates a hairstyling shop in Waterdam Plaza in McMurray.

(This article first appeared in the Observer-Reporter newspaper.)