I will be posting pieces from Chronicles of Chaos here, along with accompanying music. Enjoy, and remember, there is always an underground.
Everything everyone loves and loathes about me is Pittsburgh. My blue-collar work ethic, my willingness to help out however I can, my tendency to let people know where they stand, for better or worse, my sardonic sarcasm. What you see is what you get. To put it another way: my best friend, who I’ve known since kindergarten, calls me blunt and abrasive. He says if you didn’t know me, you’d think I’m an asshole, but I’m really a big teddy bear. Those are his words, but I guess he’s right. It’s really not for me to say or care about.
To be fair, I grew up in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, a borough on the Monongahela River less than 20 miles south of Pittsburgh proper, as the crow flies. Its only claim to fame is that Lewis and Clark bought one of their boats there before exploring the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. When I was growing up, the former boat-making business was a bar, The Shamrock, that served teenagers. Probably still does.
A hooker the townsfolk nicknamed “Whorey Lori” walked a particular stretch of busy roadway. No one knows exactly how long she’d been at it, but my parents seemed to remember her from their high school days. If that’s the case, she had to be around 50 years old by the time I became aware of her profession. She looked like it, too. I can’t recall the details of her face, but a ghost of who she was haunts the back of my mind. Her clothes were always tattered and dirty, and she never wore shoes. She’d smoke long cigarettes and walked as if one leg was shorter than the other. Lord knows the interactions she had with desperate passersby.
With aliens like Whorey Lori roaming about, Elizabeth might as well have been Mars. Everyone my age seemed to reproduce with each other before they could legally drink. All the schools I attended were next to farms, including the cornfield across from the high school football stadium that was used for parking on Friday nights.
A porno shop was the longest-running business in town. Probably still is. Since they never carded anyone, my friends and I used to get bored and wander in there and giggle at all the sex toys, especially the dildos. There were deep purple dildos and jet-black dildos. There were dildos so big we’d wonder who would want to shove a dildo that size inside themselves. There were dildos so small we’d wonder who would want to shove a dildo that size inside themselves. But people in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, apparently do.
As we matured, the definition of a good time meant drinking moonshine — that’s what we called all homemade grain liquor, but it wasn’t quite high-proof ethanol or else we’d all be blind or dead — and getting drunk around a bonfire. We’d built a fire ring in my friend’s backyard — about 50 yards from his parent’s house in the woods. Seemingly every weekend, we’d steal some beers from his dad’s mini-fridge in the garage. His neighbor would come over with a jar of moonshine. He’d explain the different flavors. It’d be apple pie sometimes or black cherry now and then, but it always tasted like lighter fluid. We’d share drinks around a fire. We’d get drunk, or at least act like it, and laugh about high school drama like dildos and prom dates. We didn’t get much play in high school.
After graduating, if you cared enough to get a diploma, you started working. College was for cake-eaters, but I saw it as an opportunity to finally leave Elizabeth. A football scholarship helped. I always felt alien in my hometown, like I was too big for such a podunk town. I was going to be somebody. They’d write my name in local history books and name a small rural park after me. There’s something to be said for ambition, or ignorance, but I can’t say what.
I wanted to flee to a faraway place where no one knew my name, partially because the people in Elizabeth didn’t feel like my people. I refused to settle in that decaying part of the country, so I made my way to the Colorado Rockies.
But as the years passed, my Pittsburgh roots have become more evident, especially since I’m so far from home. I now take a certain amount of pride in where I came from and how I grew up. It was salt-of-the-earth, honest living. I’ve come to see that it ain’t like that for everyone everywhere.
That’s part of the reason why I still fly the Pittsburgh colors, no matter where I’m at. Even if they’ve never been there, when people see my Pirates hat or Steelers jacket, they know what it stands for. It’s a no-nonsense, work-hard-play-hard sensibility. We take care of our own. Like Charlie Daniels said, “You just go and lay your hand on a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and I think you're gonna finally understand.”
Enough time has passed to soften any sour memories and unjustified resentment, and I find myself going home for the holidays more often. It’s always a time spent with family and friends, visiting old stomping grounds, and reminiscing, even though it’s not the same place I left. The Steel City, which saw numerous steel mills shutter in the 1980s, has undergone a Rust Belt revival recently as tech has become a booming industry, but she still has her scars and never-say-die character.
I miss Primanti Brothers sandwiches and Iron City beer, tailgating on the North Side during Steelers games, Attic Records in Millvale, and the view of downtown from Mount Washington, to name a few things.
I’ll never miss Pittsburgh traffic, though. The numerous tunnels and bridges in and out of the city makes driving feel like a real-life game of Mario Kart. I’m a pretty easygoing guy, but stick me in Pittsburgh’s rush hour traffic and I’m liable to snap, stomping across the hoods and roofs of cars, smashing windshields with my fists, and climbing to the highest point nearby with a hostage on my hip. I’ve been meaning to ask my friend in urban planning how the hell traffic still happens despite our brightest minds continuously working toward building the city of tomorrow. Is it just chalked up to chance, or is it an accepted outcome like typos are for writers? At least typos don’t lead to mayhem and aneurysms. Well, maybe sometimes.
Anyway, another year comes to a close as I write this, and it’ll be nice to again share it with loved ones back home.
As for my end-of-year thoughts this time around, here it is: It’s been a decade of dead ends and deterrents, broken hearts and brain farts. Thank Lemmy it’s all in the past.
To think, I’ll be 40 by the end of the next decade. A friend told me that your late 20s and early 30s is an important time in figuring out who you truly are in accordance with the planetary alignment and stars. I told her that those stars she bases her life around have most likely been dead for longer than she’s been alive, and we’re just down here creating some sort of meaning out of the night sky’s nonsense in acting like we can read the stars’ twinkling shadows, but I understood her point.