Opinion

Lessons from the Farm

Out at the farm, there’s an old trailer that my parents bought about 30 years ago after the farmhouse we’d been restoring burned to the ground. I’m sure that when Mom and Dad were alive and used it on weekends, the trailer had enough of Mom’s touches to make it seem homey and nice. But …

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On a Pedestal: National Flag Foundation, Clarion Quartet

The National Flag Foundation—What’s in a symbol? One great thing about pittsburgh is that, as long as you may have lived here and made a study of the area, surprises always pop up to greet you. Case in point: Pittsburgh is home to the National Flag Foundation, a nonprofit that is celebrating its 50th anniversary …

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Opining on Eponymy

It used to be you had to die to get your name etched in stone. Not anymore. Now all you need to do is fork over enough cash to your local school or library and you can purchase a brick with your name chiseled on it while you still register a pulse. Bricks are only …

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Contemplating the Death of Mice

I sit in my living room on a quiet winter morning dimmed by an opaque, gray sky. I hear crunching, first thinking a squirrel is playing on my roof, or winter snow and ice is starting to slide. The intermittent sound is persistent and peculiar. I walk toward it. It stops. I stop, looking, listening, …

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Man’s Best Friend

There once was a dog named Stormy. When he was very young, a man became his friend and carefully introduced him to all sorts of people, places and situations. He kept little Stormy away from frightening things, and Stormy grew up to love people and the world. Every morning of his life, he jumped as …

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An Open Letter to Amazon

With cities across the nation primping and preening to be the fairest of them all and win the prize of becoming Amazon’s second headquarters, I’d like to let the Amazon decision makers know about a quality which I doubt has been part of any sales pitch thus far. But first, a preamble. Pittsburgh is now …

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A Love Story

I met Rita on our mutual first day of employment in the kitchen of a suburban Pittsburgh family 13 years ago. Our boss, Betsy, was delighted with our installation, as it meant that her long and inconvenient kitchen renovation project was complete. Rita and I were placed on either side of a white, 36-inch wide, …

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Standing Tall

This fall’s NFL national anthem controversy was an opera whose bloated cast of characters would be hard to match—from President Donald Trump, to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, to team owners across the country to rich NFL players professing social concern. And as many problems as the world seems to have, for a solid week, the …

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Nailed It

I recently received a nail salon gift card, which I thought was a bit unusual, because I have short, raggedy nails and giant “Man-Hands.” My “Man-Hands” are definitely passed down from my father’s side—my Uncle Willis could bend bottle caps into little tacos just using his thumb and index finger—and my Dad had thick strong …

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Don’t mess with Mel Messmer

My buddy Bill Downes and I were in good spirits. It was 1960, and after enjoying a light movie at the theater, we were strolling along California Avenue, the main street of Avalon, a small suburb north of Pittsburgh. It was a steamy, red-sky summer evening. We were chattering away, when we suddenly heard a …

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Breaking the Ice

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak takes the Carnegie Music Hall stage Oct. 10, it will mark the 10th anniversary of what started as the Pittsburgh Middle East Institute and has grown to become the American Middle East Institute. The brainchild of founder Simin Curtis, the Institute has become an important player in the region’s economic …

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You’re Having a Really Bad Day

Marital Secrets

If there is one thing I have learned after being married for 17 years, it is that every marriage has secrets. Anybody who tells you different has never been married. Most secrets can be classified into three categories: Benign: “I don’t see what the big idea is, a lot of middle-aged men collect ‘Hello Kitty’ …

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Investigating a Suicide. Me?

As the sergeant drank cheap whiskey one night at the NCO Club on Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, his wife overdosed on pills. Because suicide is a homicide, the Office of Special Investigations on base, meaning my two colleagues and me, got the case. The base security police had roped off their trailer, and …

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The Newspapers & Rico the Baker

Pittsburgh’s old morning newspaper was the small dog in town—feistier, funkier, more colorful, more daring and, compared to the larger afternoon paper, far more fun. Its “personnel department” was Agnes who worked in an alcove full of office machines from the Roosevelt years. The Teddy Roosevelt years. Ray took over. He was bright, funny, had …

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Train Shows & Guys

When they hit male menopause, some men buy a sports car, or a sailboat, or take off with a young woman named Amber. Others take the cheaper and more benign route: buy electric trains and go to train shows. A local volunteer fire department held one Sunday and it was jammed, mainly by men who …

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Reunion-ited (And it Feels OK)

I recently attended my 30-year high school reunion, or as I affectionately call it—Operation “Glory Days.” Quite the surreal experience, and one I approached with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. High school was a weird time for me. I was incredibly self-conscious, didn’t really have a ton of friends, and was never a member …

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Pittsburgh Dark and Light

Depending where you look, you can get two different views of Pittsburgh’s economy. On the gloomy side of the street, Pittsburgh dramatically underperformed its 15 benchmark regions last year. We had virtually zero job growth. We had the highest unemployment rate. And our average weekly wages rose just .8 percent—only a third of the benchmark …

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Journalism 101?

I’ve been a reporter or editor almost continuously since taking over my high school newspaper 39 years ago. So when President Trump called journalists “among the most dishonest human beings on earth,” it did get my attention. But journalists get attacked so often that rather than take it personally, I considered whether any truth lurked …

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Confession: Cops and Kids

I done got busted for breaking-and-entering (cue the blues harp and slide guitar). This is a sad tale but I must spare all young people the same sordid fate. One sunny Saturday morning six decades ago in Seattle’s Ballard district, two kids blew open the door of a playground field house, and the rest of …

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Passing the Torch

Earlier this fall, a group of about 250 civic and cultural leaders gathered to pay tribute to Teresa Heinz Kerry on the occasion of her handing over the chairmanship of The Heinz Endowments to her sons. From creating Riverlife, to championing causes from the environment to social equity to the Cultural District among many others, …

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On a Lonely Stretch of Road

I had occasion recently to pet a wild animal for the first time. For 55 straight summers, I’ve visited Michigan’s eastern Upper Peninsula, but I’d never driven to its rugged, western side, which borders Lake Superior and Canada. Pittsburgh friends were celebrating the relaunch of an old family boat they’d restored, at the top of …

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