a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Friday, October 29, 2010

Marilyn Monroe: Life as a legend

By Scott Beveridge

It struck me years ago while painting the portrait, above, of Marilyn Monroe that she had a perfectly symmetrical face except for that famous mole on her lower left cheek.

That balance of genetics could have gone a long way to explain why the screen icon was so beautiful and photogenic, and also became the subject of works created by internationally-known artists.

This phenom has been wonderfully documented in a new exhibit, Marilyn Monroe: Life as a Legend, at Pittsburgh's The Warhol museum dedicated to the artist whose career was launched by his images of the blond actress. Andy Warhol's earliest Monroe portraits were included in his first solo show at Stable Gallery in New York in 1962.

Warhol's "rise to fame is inextricably linked to his art" of Monroe, the museum explained in a description of the Monroe exhibit. This has become the largest museum in the world dedicated to one artist, and the perfect place to celebrate the life of such a gifted and tragic Hollywood legend.

The elevator to the top floor opens to a large photo of her from the Ballerina Series captured by photographer Milton H. Greene, the shot with her pointed toes, body leaning forward and right index finger extended toward her face. It had to be among the most-recognized pictures of Monroe, having been included in millions of pinup calendars since her 1962 death.

The Warhol attempts to explain Monroe's allure and sex appeal in a nearby wallboard that states the portraits around these rooms captured her "determination, innocence and vulnerability," as well as her "vibrant personality, femininity and sensuality."

Around the corner the walls are lined with black-and-white photos, including many movie stills, that caught Warhol's eye, including the one of her wearing that white pleated dress blowing upward while she stands on a subway grate outside Wright's Food store to promote the 1955 film "The Seventh Year Itch." Nearby is the portrait that inspired Andy's Monroe silkscreens, 10 of which also line a wall there.

The following telling Monroe quote can be seen on a wall: "An actress is not a machine, but they treat you like a machine." Yet the many images survive as evidence she might have found much pleasure in toying before the lens. The same went for Warhol, who posed for a series of photos on display showing him dressed in drag and wearing a blond Monroe-style wig.

Monroe's final photo shoot months before her apparent suicide probably gave her fans her best performance for a photographer. Bert Stern forever caught her then-beautiful mature body, breasts fully exposed behind see-through material.

"I want to be an artist, an actress with integrity," she told a reporter for Vogue magazine, which published Stern's images. She also told that writer she "didn't want to look like a joke."

Visitors at the museum today lingered silently before the images as if they were worshiping her features. No one was laughing. I walked away reminded of my own brief obsession with her, and understood it better.

This exhibit on the seventh and fourth floors at 117 Sandusky St. runs through Jan. 2, 2011.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Scary art

"The Three Graces," by Jennifer Dinovitz exhibited in the jury show at Three Rivers Arts Festival in Pittsburgh last June might have been better shown in October. Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Menaced by stink bugs

Stink Bug, originally uploaded by juliealicea1947.

“Laugh it off, laugh it off; it’s all part of life’s rich pageant.” – Arthur Marshall

“He is a man of courage who does not run away, but remains at his post and fights against the enemy.” – Socrates

By Amanda Gillooly

I don’t want to get all Tom Petty on anybody, but I don’t scare easy.

Unless it has to do with needles, open wounds or bugs.

While I can steer clear of most enterprises that involve the first two, I’ve been unable to avoid that last one. In fact – stink bugs have been an aggressive menace to my mornings.

I’ll admit: I’m a bit of a superstitious writer. To successfully compose copy on deadline, many things must go right – myriad stars must align. My handwritten notes must be neatly extracted from the legal pad from which it came, stapled at the left-hand corner and placed in a manila file folder before I can even begin. 

To continue, I also need a bandanna or other hair band to keep my unruly short hair from hanging precariously in my eyes while I type.

Finally, I need coffee. And if I don’t consume that first cup during a few quiet moments of reflection while perched on the swing on my front porch, the ledes just don’t seem to materialize with any ease.

So, despite the stink bug infestation Pittsburghers like me have been bemoaning (and openly cursing with profanity in some cases – mine included) I refused to let the enemy win and stay indoors with my morning cup of Joe.

But bravery comes at a cost, and for me I paid it about two weeks ago when one of those bastardly bugs dove into my cleavage, briefly becoming trapped between my bosom and its harness.

Not wanting to squish the thing (I’d never get that stain out of a white bra – do you have any idea how much a Body by Victoria demi will cost you?), I reacted calmly and rationally.

After emitting a hearty “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I stood up and brushed at the ugly little bug, causing it to fall further down into the depths of my 38-Cs. After that, it was pure panic.
For a moment of true terror, I almost ripped the blouse off – but just then the stink bug in question took his cue and flew away.

And I immediately felt like an ass, looking around to see if any of my long-suffering neighbors had witnessed my lapse into momentary stink bug insanity. They didn’t.

I’m usually a jolly enough Irish girl, but I was not pleased. It wasn’t funny. It was an assault to both my boobs and to my ability to do my job.

On the defensive, I started wearing a hoodie at all times while on the porch to prevent any wayward insects from making their way near any of my under things. It was by no means a decisive victory against the enemy as much as it was an attempt to live in peace until they all die with the change of the season.

Hey, I’m a humanitarian like that.

But then, as I was enjoying my coffee and trying to invoke the Muse earlier today, I felt a creeping up my leg – a movement that stopped midway up my right thigh. Under the yoga pants.

But I had learned my lesson. I didn’t mess around with any brushing, although I will admit I let out a hell of a yelp as I promptly dropped trou on my porch.

Problem = solved.

Just this time, I laughed and laughed. 

At myself. 

I was thankful for the whole exchange.

Sometimes just when you are taking yourself too seriously, a stink bug comes along and makes you jump around like a fool.

And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was thankful for cute panties, too.

Amanda Gillooly is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh, whose stories appear in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and publications of the Innocence Institute of Point Park University. She has an over-sized cat named Lincoln that some people have mistaken for a raccoon.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A vigil hymn

Members of the California University of Pennsylvania Choir perform "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" before a candlelight vigil Thursday for Jeron X. Grayson, 18, a Pittsburgh man who was shot and killed Sunday at an off-campus homecoming party.

The are singing in front of a sculpture of Vulcan, a god of fire and also the school's mascot.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A rodeo queen's frumpy potato sack dress was trumped by Marilyn Monroe

By Scott Beveridge

BLACKFOOT, Idaho – The 1994 Idaho rodeo queen "appropriately" wore a calf-length dress made from burlap sacks when she appeared in the national contest.

Unfortunately for then-Queen Carol Young, her dowdy costume hangs in the Idaho Potato Museum near a 1950s publicity poster of a sexy Marilyn Monroe wearing a miniskirt made from an Idaho potato sack and standing in a potato field.

But, at least Young appeared to have had a date for the ball because her shabby and shapeless outfit bearing appliques of small potatoes decorated as Indians hangs next to a tackier burlap tuxedo once worn by an Idaho potato commissioner.

This museum has found a perfect home in a greystone former Oregon Short Line Railroad station in Blackfoot, for no other reason than most Americans likely recognize the Idaho as a potato.

The small town also boasts itself as the potato capitol of the world, situated in the Snake River Valley where weather and soil conditions make it the perfect spot on the continent to harvest spuds. The hot summer days and cool nights in an area with well-drained light, wind-blown and nutrient-rich soil have blessed Idaho with its number one industry.

Visitors to this tiny shrine to the potato pass a display explaining that Spanish explorer Francisco Pizzaro discovered the plant while conquering Peru in the 1540s. The tuber eventually made its way to Virginia in 1621, but it would take botanist Luther Burbank to develop the variety of russet that has taken root in Idaho.

There is so much more ahead, as any potato toy lover would be overwhelmed by the special display case dedicated to Mr. Potato Head.
Around the corner is a roomful of implements used through the ages to plant, nurture and harvest the Idaho potato.

Not to miss is the extensive display created by an Eagle Scout of hundreds of hand-held potato mashers collected by Byron Randell of Tomales, Calif. The implements with the ruby red wooden handles are especially sexy.

It gets better.
There is another case protecting the world's largest Pringle, created in 1991 by Proctor & Gamble engineers. The dehydrated processed potato chip, while unfortunately cracked, weighs 5.4 ounces and stretches 25 inches at its widest point.

The admission last summer was $3 to tour this unusual roadside attraction at 130 N.W. Main St.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Today's news conference on the arrest of a suspect in the Cal U. homecoming slaying

California University of Pennsylvania's student newscenter did a fine job today filming Washington County District Attorney Steve Toprani outlining the arrest of 19-year-old Keith Edward Jones of Monessen.

Jones is accused of firing five or six rounds into an off-campus Cal U. homecoming party, killing Jeron X. Grayson, 18, of Pittsburgh.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Pittsburgh monument reborn

Watch a brief history of Pittsburgh followed by the story of renovations to its Great Depression-era U.S. Post Office and Courthouse.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A profound exchange on the beach

The prolific Amanda Gillooly, shown with her nephew and niece at Pittsburgh Zoo, takes on the "elephant in the room" while vacationing with her family.

“Monsters are real, and so are ghosts. They live inside us and sometimes they win.” – Stephen King

“A child understands fear and the hurt and hate it brings.” – Epictetus

By Amanda Gillooly

I boast that I’m the Greatest Aunt in the World, but truth be told, I have the Coolest Nephew in the Galaxy.

We’ve been BFF since the beginning, and as he’s gotten older I’ve discovered that our bond is directly attributed to two things: a goofy sense of humor and shameless curiosity.

Although Nicholas’ running commentary about life in general has provided richness too broad in scope to mention here, it’s always been his questions that have impressed me – both as his aunt, and as Amanda Gillooly, wordsmith for hire (freelance reporter).

For a little guy, he's always had depth, and he usually chooses to swim into the deep end of the conversational pool when we make the short trip from my home to his.

Once he asked me, “Aunt Mandy, why do some people want to be mean and grumpy all the time? I like to laugh and have fun.” Another time he asked, “Um, Aunt Mandy, who thinks this rocks?” when the radio station played one of that summer’s cookie-cutter pop singles.

I wasn’t prepared for him to dive into that pool as we were wading out into the Atlantic Ocean during our recent family vacation – but there we were, freshly covered with SPF 75 sunscreen and ready to play in the waves when he abruptly jumpstarted a heart-to-heart.

Just as we got out to the point where the water lapped up to my shins (his waist) Nicholas said (eyebrows scrunched together like they always are when he’s super serious): “Aunt Mandy, I’ve been meaning to ask you something. What’s a fag?”

While I’ve had almost seven years to practice my aunting poker face - I've always hated the mildly surprised, mildly amused facial expressions adults gave me as a child when I started to ask uncomfortable questions because they always came off as patronizing - but it failed me.

I must have gaped a little bit, because Nicholas stood there with eyes wide for the few seconds it took for me to compose myself.

I know my explanation wasn’t perfect. He’s almost 7, and I tried to tow the line between what he needs to know and what he should know. But I didn’t want to belittle his intelligence or the question with a blow-off response.

Yes, it has been brought to my attention that I could have rightly explained that a fag was either: A.) A bundle of sticks or B.) a British term for a cigarette. But neither of those explanations would have helped to improve anybody’s perspective.

But I can tell you the first thing I told him was also the absolute truth: “I’m glad you asked me, babydoll.”

And I was.

I’m especially thankful for the opportunity to explain a few things to him given the recent spate of young people committing suicide after their peers tormented them for being gay.

And then just yesterday, CNN and other news organizations reported on the hate-filled speech of New York gubernatorial candidate and esteemed homophobe Carl Paladino.

He spewed some rhetoric about children, explaining he didn’t want them to be “brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option. It isn’t.”

Although Paladino, a Republican, showed some restraint in rewording his prepared statement,  he further extrapolated his position about gays in copies of it that were handed out to reporters.

“There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual,” Paladino opined in that statement. “That’s not how God created us.”

…which brings me back to my “Wonder Years” moment with Nicholas.

I took a deep breath and a long pause and told Nicholas that “fag” is an offensive word some people call gay dudes. I told him that another word he might have heard is “homosexual” and that neither that, nor “gay” is a “bad word.”

After he told me he understood "fag" was on the Bad Word List, I explained that a gay person is a dude who likes to date other dudes, or a girl who likes to date other girls. And I told him that it could sound a little weird to him because he might now know anybody like that, but to trust me: They are just other kinds of normal people.

I explained that there are all kinds of bad stuff people call other people – words for being black or Irish or Jewish, and that I never wanted him to use any of them.

Then I told him my theory: That some people are so afraid of stuff that’s different that they don’t know what else to do but hate it, and that maybe the people who call gay men “fags” just don’t have enough friends.

And I told about watching Steelers games with my college BFF Ean Gensler and also making chicken noodle soup for my former ailing roommate, Derek Parker.  I told him he hasn’t heard rocking until he listens to some of the tunes my pal Jayson Brooks belts out (but to see him live, you'll have to travel to Spain where his tour is now). In short, he learned some things about three of the most fabulous gay men I know.

For his part, Nicholas took the information in quickly, and nodded his head to let me know my explanation was palatable.

Then he went running wildly into the waves, giving a decent karate chop and yelling, “I don’t want a piece of you – I want the whole thing.” What can he say? He digs Adam Sandler movies.

Clearly, the exchange at the moment was more profound for me than him. But I hope the answer helps him understand that “the gays” are just like anybody else – potential friends.

If he can understand that at his age, he won’t be a Paladino when he’s an old man, right?

Monday, October 11, 2010

A conversation with Paul Jacobs

                                                                         Stefan Cohen photo

By Karen Mansfield

Paul Jacobs is widely regarded as one of the most gifted organists in the world.

Described by The New York Times as a "brilliant young organist and evangelist for the instrument," Jacobs, 32, is recognized for his splendid technique, a repertoire that spans five centuries and a dynamic onstage presence.

The Washington, Pa., native is chair of the organ department at The Juilliard School, where he began teaching in 2003 and became one of the youngest faculty appointments in that school's history.

He travels frequently across the country and internationally to perform concerts, teach masters classes and offer lectures, dedicate new and renovated organs at concert halls, universities and churches, and judge international organ competitions.

A 1995 graduate of Trinity High School, Jacobs was appointed head organist at Immaculate Conception Church in his hometown at the age of 15. He studied at the Curtis Institute of Music, where he double-majored in organ and harpsichord. He received a master of music degree from Yale University, where he received a Distinguished Alumni Award.

Here's a conversation with Paul Jacobs.

Q. You have played the complete organ works of Bach and Messiaen in marathons, and made history at the age of 23 by playing an 18-hour nonstop marathon in Pittsburgh on the 250th anniversary of the death of Bach. How physically and mentally demanding was the performance?

A. Surprisingly, one doesn't notice hunger or fatigue when playing invigorating music like this. It's so engaging to play that I needed nothing more than water and chocolate pudding to get me through the day. Following the18 hours, though, I was famished and quite exhausted.

Q. You began playing piano at age 6, then added organ at age 13. Why did the organ appeal to you?

A. I suppose that's rather mysterious. I was entranced with the visual splendor as well as the kaleidoscope of color that the organ could produce. In terms of tone, it can sound red hot and overwhelmingly powerful one moment, and the next be gentle and delicate.

Q. You do not own a television. Why not?

A. Most of television does little for me. The gross disproportion between the large number of channels available and programs that are actually worth watching is shocking. The act of watching TV seems to be dangerously passive, turning the brain to mush. I'm convinced our culture would benefit by watching far less television, and getting out and living life.

Q. You were appointed head organist at Immaculate Conception Church at age 15. Is there a connection between the organ and your faith?

A. Very much so. I am an exponent of the organ existing outside of the church, in concert halls and secular settings, but the instrument has served the church for several centuries and continues to do so.

Q. You are on the faculty at The Juilliard School. How important are the arts, including musical education, in our public school system?

A. They're crucial. A substantial musical education has been virtually wiped out of the school systems. Learning music history and being able to read music will ultimately result in a person valuing music more highly. I suppose a modern danger is that we've become far too practical.

Q. You are entering your eighth year of teaching at Juilliard. Why do you enjoy teaching?

A. I find myself, most of the time – when students are prepared for their lessons – to be inspired by the students themselves and their ideas about the music. I'm often inspired by the journey that we take together, improving and making a more powerful and clear artistic statement.

Q. You have played on some of the best pipe organs in the world. How does the quality of pipe organs in Southwestern Pennsylvania stack up?

A. Pittsburgh has some tremendous pipe organs. Andrew Carnegie gave over 7,000 pipe organs to churches and concert halls around the United States, and he donated many fine pipe organs to area churches. He loved pipe organ music; it was something important to him.

Q. Who has influenced you, professionally and personally?

A. I couldn't begin to list all of the individuals who have molded and shaped my life. Certainly, my family. I've been blessed with very generous grandparents (Gino and Marie Novi, and Paul Jacobs, who is deceased). Outside of my family, Father John Bauer, former pastor of IC Church, who appointed a 15-year-old head organist. Father John remains a very dear friend and I will always be indebted to him. I also owe much to George Rau, music director at First Presbyterian Church, and Dr. Susan Woodard, chair of the music department at Washington & Jefferson College. George was my organ teacher, and Susan, my piano teacher. They played a primary role in my formative years, both artistically and personally. These three individuals are exceptional human beings.

Q. How do you view the growth of the arts in Washington County, Pa.?

A. It has been heartwarming to see the arts grow and develop here in Washington, with the symphony and other endeavors. I think of other young musicians who have made a living, violinist Zachary Piper and Matthew Campbell. There are a host of gifted young musicians here in Washington who must be supported. It's something we have to remain vigilant about.

Karen Mansfield is a writer for the Observer-Reporter in Washington, Pa. Her interview with Jacobs first appeared in the newspaper's magazine, Living Washington County, in its September/October edition.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Give me a real beer and sandwich

New Holland Ichabod Ale, originally uploaded by straylight6.

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Give me a beer that tastes like, well beer, at happy hour and I'm happy.

No. I don't want one of those girlie beers flavored with apples, oranges, lemons or limes. The worst, in my opinion, have been brewed with cloves and should be used for a higher purpose to oven roast an Easter ham. When I am feeling most like a beer snob, I'll reach for a venerable, high-test coppery and malty India Pale Ale.

But, I must say it caught my attention over the past week as my twitter feed became filled with tweets about pumpkin beer on tap at Bocktown Beer and Grill. It wasn't hard to miss them among the F-bombs posted by beered-up Steelers fans who were angry about their beloved team's 17-14 loss Sunday to the Baltimore Ravens.

Bocktown can be found in the real world at a nearly-abandoned strip mall in the otherwise bustling Robinson Township shopping sprawl district off the Parkway West. Its a locally-owned and bit pricey small place with a large selection of specialty beers on tap and a great food menu.

Its owners have surfaced as being masters of the art of using social media to boost business, a move that has helped to keep the room filled with customers on most nights.

Speaking of that, a tweet from Bocktown just moved on my twitter feed and it reads as follows:

"If you make it to Bocktown today or tomorrow, try a fun pumpkin beer flight! Ichabod 4 ways: Plain, infused with..."  followed by a link to its Facebook feed about that beer being infused with Old Whiskey Hollow soaked oak.

Whatever it takes to get people here, but Bocktown is certainly worth the trip for anyone hankering for polite conversation among friends and strangers and something to drink other than Coors Light.

Tonight, New Holland Brewing of Michigan has beeb giving away samples of its pumpkin beers. I try two of them and decide they don't taste too pumpkin obnoxious and that I probably would drink two with dinner had I not already decided on an IPA.

The brewing company's T-shirts are much more attractive, as they bear over black cotton a headless horseman holding up a pumpkin in his right hand. I would have bought one of them had the creative geniuses at that company thought to have stocked some to sell at this party.

Then I am gently interrupted by the guy to my left dressed in a starched shirt and looking over the menu with his pretty, thin girlfriend who appeared hungry.

"I'm sorry to bother you, but what are you eating?" he said. "She thinks its really looks good."

"Oh it's no bother," I respond. "It's the adventureland burgher. It's delicious. Everything on the menu is good, especially the steak sandwiches."

He goes back to her because I could hardly turn my attention away from my food basket.

This has to be one of the best burgers I have ever tasted. It's set atop a nest of creamy coleslaw, special sauce, pickles and onion crisps.

It certainly would not go good with a fruity beer.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Daisy and Maisy Washing Faces

Daisy and Maisy Washing Faces, originally uploaded by whaas987.

Here is a long overdue cat blog. Can we all say, "Ah how adorable."

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A creative use of Spam in hard economic times

Barbara S. Miller, a newspaper writer in Washington, Pa., with her odd Spam porcupine. (Scott Beveridge photo)

The story assignment about people turning to eating that cheap ham loaf known as Spam during America's great recession of 2009 was a bright spot amid the economic tsunami that gutted newsrooms.

And  writer Barbara S. Miller provided the best laughs at the Observer-Reporter in Washington, Pa., with her version of the Spam Porcupine featured in the 2000 British recipe book, "Spam - The Cookbook," by Marguerite Patten. It includes a nostalgic look back at the canned Hormel produce that arrived from the United State to England in the dark days of food rationing during World War II.

The books recommends cutting the processed meat into cubes and threading it onto cocktail sticks with such ingredients as gherkins, ripe avocado dipped in lemon juice and baby white onions.

From the pages of the book:
Spam is sufficiently firm to allow the sticks to be pushed through the meat 
without breaking. It is also pleasantly moist and enhances the flavour of the other ingredients. Press the selection of miniature kebabs into a small 
red or green cabbage or a large grapefruit. The cabbage or grapefruit can be 
used afterwards.

Miller - the Martha Stewart of the O-R - selected chunks of cheddar cheese and pineapple and green and black olives and cherry tomatoes to accompany the Spam. She then poked the hors d'oeuvres into a savoy cabbage, whose texture and curly leaves made the thing all that more hysterical.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Adventures with Travel with a Beveridge

CALIFORNIA, Pa. – This was adhered to the driver's side window of my car while it was parked all of 10 minutes today in what appeared to be a private driveway to a friend's apartment in California, Pa.

There were a number of odd things to note, including the fact that the sticker does not indicate who put it there or why the car was illegally parked. There wasn't even a traffic ticket under any of the car's windshield wiper blades to further explain the warning.

This comes nearly two weeks after someone left half the air out of all four of my car's tires while I spent much of that day doing some investigative journalism in this small college town.

P.S. A subsequent web search revealed any fool can buy these stickers and use them to deface cars. It also requires a razor blade and hard work to remove them.