Bars, like the people who frequent them, have a variable lifespan; No one guarantees how long they will last. Only one thing is certain; if they survive infancy, they move into childhood, then adolescence, adulthood, old age, and finally, after years of serving patrons, they will die. Chiodo’s, the Homestead, Pennsylvania stalwart corner tavern, is now long dead.
Back when the Homestead steel mills were running three solid shifts, Porky Chedwick was the “platter pushin’ Poppa, your Daddio on the raddio” and the Pittsburgh Steelers were perennial also-rans in the NFL, not a powerhouse in the AFC, Chiodo’s was the place to be. The corner tavern, family-owned and operated since the year of the flood, closed its doors. The building disappeared, and (as Joni Mitchell once moaned), they “put up a parking lot” for the big, new Walgreen’s store.
While we can replace one drug with another, one building with a parking lot, we will never be able to replace the memories of the corner bar. Chiodo’s was the latest in a long line of cornerstones of the old neighborhood to disappear. The shot and beer tavern, just down the block, has gone the way of barbershop, the local radio station, the traffic cop and, for that matter, the steel mill.
Farewell, old friend.
If you had visited Chiodo’s during its last days of operation, chances are you understood why it is now gone. Its time had passed. People don’t hang out at the corner bar anymore. You can blame it on drunk driving laws, destruction and the downhill spiral of the old neighborhood system, or to ticking of the clock. The simple fact is that once the mills shut down, it was just a matter of time for the Chiodos and their bar.
Just like your grandfather, your grandfather’s tavern is now gone. Rather than mourn, try to think about the good times - a cold one after the last shift on a Friday, the Steelers on a black and white TV, or the night when Helen gave the bartender her bra.
Among the treasures seemingly haphazardly tossed up onto the shelves and walls of Chiodos, there, next to the autographed photos of Presidents and football players, displayed next to trophies and pennants, were bras – lots of bras. Depending on who you asked, there were different reasons behind the women’s undergarments on display inside the bar. Some said they were the result of bets. Others told tales of New Years’ celebrations past. Each brassier had it’s own story (just as in real life). They hung, randomly, for any customer to contemplate as he or she ate a mystery sandwich and sucked down a cold Iron.
I’m not sad for Chiodo’s. The Chiodo family did fine after the fall of the bar. We, the customers, found a new haunt. The neighborhood, having bottomed out a few decades back, will rebound, or not. If not, it will be replaced by a new, better place to live. That’s the cycle of life. Neither do I worry about the stuffed alligator, the photo of Khrushchev or green weenie, all of which stared down at us for years from behind the bar.
I am concerned about those bras, though.
They held an auction to sell all the strange memorabilia that once formed the centerpiece of that completely unique watering hole. Photos of Babe Ruth, John Kennedy, Honus Wagner and Steelers known and forgotten were auctioned off, as was the famous shuffleboard table and the giant sign from the back of the building that once proclaimed Homestead of the “Steel Mill Capital of the World”. There were plenty of bidders from far and wide for those items.
But who gave a dollar for those used bras?
At one time, they meant a lot to somebody. For each of the dozen or so under things that once hung from the walls, there was a story, probably a damned good story. No one knows what those stories are now. No one remembers who once wore those bras. And soon enough, no one will remember Chiodo’s either. That’s how it goes with bars. They’re born, they grow, live, and die just like the people who frequent them. Bars come. Bars go.
Bras live forever.
We still have a landline at our house. When people come over to visit (especially cool and hip and mouthy people) they will often ask, “Why do you still have that old peice of crap phone with the answering machine?”
It’s a good question.
Although my wife and I, along with one of the dogs and at least three of the chickens each have smart phones, we kept the old phone and the old phone number. It serves as yet another filter.
Anyone who knows me well also knows my cell number. The rest of the world, people like “bill collectors” and “political candidates”, know only the landline.
When someone calls that number, it means one of two things: someone wants money or someone has died.
That’s why it came as such a surprise late last night when the old answering machine phone rang downstairs and a few moments later my wife was yelling up to me the news – Mike Tomlin had called and I had been drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
The coach was really nice on the phone. He explained that although my combine wasn’t the greatest, they understood (as I had explained to the scouts in Indianapolis) that my prostate had flared up and I had had to pull over once on the interstate to change a flat tire and I’m not really good at sleeping in strange beds anymore. Furthermore, coach added, they discounted my Wunderlich Test score due to the fact that I had forgotten to bring my bifocals on the trip.
After a nice discussion, he explained that some guy named Kevin would be calling me to go over the details and that he was looking forward to seeing me down at Steelers headquarters and out at Latrobe.
“Well, that was interesting,” I told the Missus. She has good sense for these things and told me that she got a good vibe from the coach, who, she added, sounded like an intelligent man and would probably be a fun boss to work for. “Should we invite them over for dinner?” she asked.
I have to admit the whole thing is a bit surprising for me. I mean, I dropped out of college after three or four semesters (depending on whether you count Introduction to Bowling as a class). I’ve haven’t played a down of football since I was 13. And, in about a month, I’ll be turning 54 years old, which, if I recall, is old.
And yet, a few minutes later, the landline rang again. It was, as the coach foretold, some guy named Kevin, who wanted to know all about my agent and my doctor and whether or not I had a financial counselor or arrest record.
And that’s when it got sticky. You see? This one time I was in the passenger seat when my friend Mike threw an open can of corn out the driver’s side window after we’d been fishing. I tried explaining that to this Kevin guy, but was interrupted by my wife, who was yelling like a banshee in the living room.
“You’re on Sportscenter!” she yelled. “They’re using your 8th grade picture, the one where you look cross-eyed!” I apologized to the Kevin guy, explaining that I’d go into more detail about the whole tossing the corn incident when I saw him at Steelers headquarters or Latrobe and then rushed into the livingroom, where Mel Kiper was saying something about me having great “upside”.
“I always liked your upside,” said my wife.
And that’s when it all fell apart.
The two of us were jumping up and down and kissing and grabbing body parts, because we’d realized that, for the first time in my life, I’d actually get to have a posse, a ridiculously large SUV, a whole drawer full of bling and a stable of bitches, when the dogs, who do not like commotion, started barking and biting at our heels (I don’t know why. It’s what they do).
Well. I tripped over the black dog and wrenched my back.
This morning my wife called this Kevin guy from the Steelers and explained that I wouldn’t be able to play football for them, unless there was a job where I could sit quietly in a chair and not have to turn to my right. And then she asked if Kevin would give her Coach Tomlin’s number so that we can have them over for dinner.
Whoever they are.
And we’ve been waiting for the landline to ring ever since.
I hope they call back. If they don’t we might have to send back the posse, the ridiculously large SUV, the whole drawer full of bling and the stable of bitches. The guy I bought all that stuff from, on credit with the promise that I’m going to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, is going to call and want his money soon.
And that’s why we still have a landline.
This week the Pittsburgh Pirates, losers, won. They won consistently against teams that each contenders for the World Series. After sweeping Cincinnati, splitting a pair of games against the St. Louis Cardinals and (as of this writing) taking two of three against the team with the best record in baseball, the Atlanta, Braves, the Pittsburgh Pirates are showing they are, once again, a competitive ball club.
For some that is just not good enough.
Since the decade-long explosion of public opinion, whereby anyone with a computer keyboard can tell you what they “think” on any post-heavy social site or news outlet, the inmates have not only taken over the asylum, but they’re burning the mother to the ground.
This week, following the Bucs’ run, I have read a multitude of comments from posters who are not only unimpressed with the team’s play, but also go so far as to tell the world why they’re “not buying in”. The snarky sideline snipers go on to criticize the ownership, management and players and, most tellingly, any fan who has gone public with his or her own belief in the team.
“How stupid! Anybody who uses this mini streak as hope for the future or rest of the season is blind. Wake me in October,” wrote one guy in the comments section of Bob Smizik’s blog from the Post-Gazette’s website. Another added, “Haven't we learned our lesson yet? Let's talk in October.”
So, what are we to take from this? It would be easy to say that these are just two examples of the general population’s self-love affair with the ability to take pot shots from afar without fear of ever having to prove an argument. They are drive by side effects of the new, open public communication.
We could also draw the conclusion that sports fans, at least those inclined to voice an opinion, are not happy unless their team wins.
Having spent a disillusioning period of time as a sports talk show host, I can honestly say that most outspoken sports fans (the types that call talk shows and post comments on sportswriters blog pages) will find something to complain about in the best of times, much less during a twenty year stretch of losing.
Negativity is the fuel that runs social media, and serves as honey in attracting opinions.
The difficulty arises when snipers offering little constructive criticism (other than the constant calls for ownership, management and player changes) take it a step further to call out Pirates supporters. They scoff at those who praise the team’s good play, then go to explain how they, being more intelligent and insightful, won’t be fooled again, refusing to “buy in” because they’ve been “burned” by the Bucs in the past. Judging from these arguments, rooting for a sports team is some kind of commitment to be upheld by law. If the team plays poorly, the sniper argues, they "owe" him for his time.
They, the wary sports fan, know the truth. They are wise. If only the rest of us would stop being so “stupid” about wasting our passion on some team that’s just going to “burn” us in the end…
It reminds me of when the eight year old, having learned the truth about Santa, can’t wait to ruin the four-year old’s day by “educating” her.
Year after year.
Believing in your team (sometimes against all odds) is part of the fun.
Deal with it.
Let us sing.
Cleaning of the sheath! The Cleaning of the sheath! We will come rejoicing, cleaning of the sheath!
The vet came by the other day, proving that some doctors still make house calls. It was not an emergency, but a routine maintenance. The horse had reached 25,000 miles. It was time to have his teeth floated and his sheath cleaned.
I’m pretty new to the farm animal game. Sure, I’ve been the overseer, feeder and beater of plenty of domestics in the past, including some that could be called animals. In the past, we’ve kept dogs, maids, cats, gardeners, fish and in-laws by choice, as well as housing mice, rats, snakes and at least one insane chipmunk. I’ve been present at births, held pets during their last moments on Earth and scraped several off the road to have them stitched back together again, Humpty-Dumpty style. I’ve buried a few and kept others from digging them up again.
However, nothing prepared me for the horse’s routine maintenance.
The Vet unpacked her instruments of mass inspection as I tried to convey to the horse that we couldn’t possibly attach a metal clamp to his gonads again. They were no longer there. That particular inconvenience was a once-in-a-lifetime amusement park ride that, I assured the big fella, would never, ever happen again. There’s no reason to pin your ears back, I told him. The Vet just here for your 25,000 mile check up and tie rotation.
That’s about the time the doctor came in with the biggest set of metal files I’ve ever seen. From what I could tell by the way the horse was rocking back and forth and looking toward the pasture, they were also the biggest set of files he’d ever seen.
“Don’t worry, big guy,” I told him. “I don’t think that’s for your sheath. I believe she’s going to use those on your teeth.”
A lot of reassurance that brought.
It was then I discovered how close humans are to the animal kingdom. You see? None of us likes to go to the dentist either. For horses, the experience is completely frills-free. There was no easy-listening music to relax him. There was no cool chair to grip him in place. There was no poster of the beach at Maui tacked to the ceiling to take his mind off what was going on in his mouth. There was only the Vet, a huge set of files, a bucket to catch his blood and me.
Did I say, “Catch his blood”?
See? Just like when humans go to the dentist.
I’m not sure what the term “floating” the teeth means. The actual process turned out to be filing the teeth down. As medical procedures go, this one was rather simple. To file a horse’s teeth down, the veterinarian takes a gigantic file, sticks it into the horse’s mouth and, well, files until her little arms quiver.
To think that at one time, back there in high school metal shop, I was so close to becoming an animal doctor and didn’t even realize it.
A visit from the horse doctor requires participation from the horse owner. While my teeth were not filed and my sheath was not cleaned (at least, not by the doctor) I was needed to hold the valiant steed’s head up while the Vet filed away, deep inside his many-toothed mouth. This was not, as I suspected, because the horse would be scared and want to run away. It was, instead, because the horse was drugged and wanted to lay down. Once again, just like in college, my job was to keep the big smelly guy who was full of drugs upright until it was time to go home.
It wasn’t easy.
As Jethro Tull once sang, horses are heavy.
His teeth having passed muster, once again ready to chew corn right off the cob, our new favorite hobby animal was now prepared to have his sheath cleaned. If you’re like I was (up until a few days ago) you probably don’t connect the word “sheath” with any part of the anatomy, either human or equestrian. To help you along, while trying to be as non-offensive as possible, I will describe it in this manner.
Our horse is not Jewish.
Compounding this problem is the fact that he has no opposable thumbs.
Frankly, he can’t do it himself. If he could, I’m sure that’s all he would be doing.
That is, if he wasn’t a gelding.
Although he has been surgically qualified to sing soprano with the Vienna Horse Choir, his equipment does need the occasional tune-up and cleaning. For this, the veterinarian put on rubber gloves.
I must pause in this story for a moment to let you know how funny I think the word “penis” is. It’s one of those formal, medical words that no one uses unless they’re in an embarrassing situation; therefore, I have always found it hilarious. Clinical words make me laugh. If my company provided free analysis in our so-called medical plan, I’d get it checked out. Until then, let’s just say penis makes me laugh and leave it at that.
Because I am a relatively new horse owner and this was the first visit from a relatively new vet, she found it necessary to explain each procedure she performed, making sure to say the word “penis” about eleven hundred times in fifteen minutes.
Later, I explained to the horse that I was not laughing at him. “Really,” I said. “You’re just fine. It’s not funny looking at all. It’s just the word. As a matter of fact, to be frank, you’re hung like a horse.”
Midway through the sheath cleaning, the doctor noticed that my boy had become sunburned.
All we white boys have a problem with that. Ask anyone who just returned from his first visit to the nude beach.
“It’s an easy problem to fix,” she said. “You can just apply some regular old sunscreen, just like you use.”
You mean like I use on my penis? I wondered.
After the horse received a good report and his new inspection was stuck to the inside of his windshield, the Vet left with some of my money and the two of were left alone. He was still a bit woozy from the drugs. I was still a bit tired from holding him up. But neither of us were too tired to talk. After I reassured him that he’d only have to go through this exercise twice a year, I told him that, if he didn’t mind, he was going to be sunburned this year.
I like you, I told him.
I just don’t like you quite that much.
Stay out of the sun.
As truck owners and hookers will say, you never know how many friends you have until it gets around that you’ll share your bed.
A quarter after midnight.
I never questioned as he lifted a tool kit into the back of the truck. I was more amazed that anyone with a prosthetic leg could balance enough to hoist tools.
I was young.
It was my first time.
He asked that I drive him to 31st and Powell to get some “plumbing parts.” We arrived to find no plumbing store, no hardware store, no store of any type. That’s when he asked if I could help him lift a shower stall into the truck.
“Grab that,” he said, pointing towards the toolbox. He lead, I followed, down the street to a construction site where they were building the new Huntington Holiday Inn. Taking a pair of tin snips from the toolbox, he cut away four metal bands holding the sides of a wooden crate together. He then pried some nails from the crate with a hammer. One side fell open, and in the moonlight was revealed a brand new shower stall. “A buddy of mine works for Holiday Inn,” he said. “We made a deal.”
He was a short, heavyset man in his mid-forties who had a red face, a constant coating of sweat and often wore the look of a dog just returned from picking apart someone’s garbage. Completely different from anyone I had ever met, specifically people I rented from, he never seemed to be concerned when I explained how his payment would be late by a few days, never seemed interested in hearing my sad story of how I came to be broke or seemed offended at my lack of funds. I thought at first this was a reaction to being disabled – maybe the leg lack made him more forgiving of others’ inadequacies. Soon I realized that I was shown rental pity for an entirely different reason.
I owned a truck.
In actuality, the bank owned the truck. If, on the first of the month, I could not come up with 125 dollars a month for rent, it was usually because I had already given it to the bank to pay for one more month with the truck. There were months when it was a toss up – after all, I could, if forced, sleep in the truck, but I could not, conversely, drive the apartment. Thanks to the fat man letting me slide until the fifteenth a time or two that decision never happened.
In return for the courtesy, he expected the occasional favor, like, oh, “picking up some plumbing parts.”
I learned three valuable lessons that night. One – single-legged people aren’t much good when it comes to lifting shower stalls onto truck beds. Two – people who become your friends soon after you buy a truck are not real friends, they’re just truck friends. Three – I would not have to pay rent for a while.
I passed him in the hall a few days later. “Hey, man,” he said. “About that late rent? I’ll let you slide ‘til next month.” As I closed my apartment door, he was still talking.
He was asking if I was busy that weekend.
He needed to use the truck.
Two months later I moved.