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See below my original draft of a "Next Page" article which will appear in this sunday's Pittsburgh Post Gazette (no doubt edited unmercifully). I got an award for starting the Northside chronicle last nite and after those folks read this on sunday they may storm my Mt. Lebanon home with pitchforks and torches but who can blame them?....happy TG.
Recollections from Larry Evans, founder and managing editor of the NORTHSIDE CHRONICLE (a monthly community newspaper celebrating its 25th anniversary at a banquet last week)
My adventure in journalism actually began in my hometown Baltimore where I "worked" as a cub reporter briefly under PJ O'Rourke, then the esteemed Editor of the underground newspaper "Harry", about which I'm sure Chronicle readers know pretty much next to nothing. I thought PJ was the funniest dude alive and he thought I was an expendable idiot so I was dispatched far and wide to duly cover endangered early 70s rock festivals in the jungles of Louisiana and — bingo! — the outskirts of Pittsburgh, where I met so many people just as hyper-activist as me.
I was out in the far flung fringe getting so radicalized that I went and got me a job with US Steel and started the magical Mill Hunk Herald Quarterly Magazine in my basement office at 916 Middle Street in 1979. O'Rourke promptly blessed the trouble-making Hunk, saying I could use whatever I wanted from the National Lampoon Magazine (where he got his next job), only that when I started making tons of money, he'd bleed me white with lawsuits.
In Pittsburgh's mill shutdowns era - why this was a prime time opportunity for shiftless radicals such as I - folks like Studs Terkel, Pete Seeger and Kurt Vonnegut began applauding the sizzling spunk of the Herald and Middle Street began reelin and a rockin out many a fun fundraiser like the Mill Hunk Ball at the Allegheny Starlight Ballroom just across that hiway there where all those houses used to be, a Mill Hunk Funk Disco at the long gone Islam Grotto, A Mill Hunk Junk flea market, Mill Hunk Munch dinner (to the appropriate accordion music), A Run of the Mill 10K, a Mill Hunk Dunk swim party (with or without…), Mill Hunk Bunk Pajama party (with or without… strange poetry) and the Mill Hunk Haunt Halloween Party at the Mattress Factory and so on …That's right, we beat it to death.
As the Mill Hunk poster boy, I also wrote some pithy, pro-labor op-eds for the Post Gazette and occasional features for In Pittsburgh newsweekly, Z, the Progressive and Pittsburgh Magazines. I appeared in two Tony Buba movies in Braddock back when they actually had a functioning hospital.
After getting laid off from doing anything truly useful on this planet (making steel is actually a very good feeling), my Steel Valley High School teaching wife Leslie and I steered our productivity inwards and made us a son, the "Duck," named after Ducky Joe Medwick, the last National League triple crown winner (and you thought I might not have my priorities straight…).
So to keep our darlin' deep in Pampers and Crispix, I began working 2 or 3 part time jobs just to come somewhere close to my steelworker wages. I drove a morning delivery truck, was a nite counselor for emotionally disturbed kids (actually they were disturbing – I was the one disturbed) and on sunny afternoons edited the Bloomfield Garfield Bulletin, a bi-monthly community newspaper edited by a nun – Sister Sally Witt – a tough act to follow for any lay do-gooder. To prove myself worthy, I hand delivered my first issue to every home in Bloomfield and Garfield and lived to tell about it. After working with such outstanding BGC community organizers like Aggie Brose (part Mother Theresa/Mother Jones) and the irrepressible Ricks Flannigan and Swartz for a few years, and upon reading my wife's battered copy of The Martian Chronicles and noting the striking similarities with our Northside life, I began publishing the Northside Chronicle just as the Mill Hunk mag was running out of steam.
The Northside Chronicle experience got me much more deeply familiar with East Allegheny all-stars like eventual school board head/city councilwoman Barbara Burns, devoted VISTA Volunteers like Sheila Weirth and Val Washington and economic development rising stars Mark Schneider and Tom Cox. And never to forget yodelin' alkie A-Ooo Elmer who reminded us that miller time was all the time. Then there was passionate War Street veterans like Randy Zotter and Mz. Northside Conferencer Nancy Schaefer and majestic Manchesterites Will and Susan Thompkins and Stan "Forever Feisty" Lowe; Troy Hillers like the brilliant Horgan brothers and the simply historic Mary Wohleber; and of course Perry North Avenuers/City Councilmen "Don't Bum Rap Da Nor'side" Baldy Regan and Sir Tom Murphy (who somehow never got around to hiring me as his publicist). BTW, the Northside must eventually erect a statue to former mayor Tom Terrific maybe near the Priory to form an artful triangle of swamp thing resemblages in the Mayor Caliguiri/Mister Rogers milieu.
The Chronicle instantly inspired neighborhood poets, scribes and go-getters like Don Walko, Nick Kyriazi, Bill Conway, Sue Stein, Wilana Carter, Jesse Cavileer, Carol Montgomery, John Freed and would have never gotten off the ground except for timely seed funding from the Community Technical Assistance Center.
Our early editorial meetings attracted much of the same riff raff that the Mill Hunk managed to wash ashore but the issues debated were a bit more grounded, sometimes even subterranean. They had a lot to do with community survival and self determination in the Grand "Old Allegheny City" and preserving its unique heritage and kind of grass root beerish flavor. You see Northsiders have a deep foreboding and rather accurate sense of being perpetually screwed by Burgh bigwigs and thus they carry a chip the size of Honus Wagner's bat on their shoulders. They got wowed then wounded by the 60's Urban Renewal demolition derby which gutted their town center, threw up a nifty urban mall that thrived then dived and later slapped a massive highway through the heart of the community which provided a quick escape outta town to bigger and better malls, leaving Allegheny Center and surrounds quite emptyish. Hometown historian John Canning chronicled the ups and downs of this "new village within a city" seeing in his 2010 eyes the ghosts of promises past – Sears, A & P, Woolworths, IBM et al – and wondered if there will be yet another resurrection anytime soon via plans for a newer and shinyier town center. And this…just as the disgusting Garden Theatre and Apache Lounge are finally getting some decades-overdue rehab up on North Avenue, in coming is a friggin' Hustler strip joint to overlook the Chateau!
Lordy - is the Northside some sort of covert sociological experiment or what?
Hey - I do know that the Northside is not kind to motor vehicles, especially to my mill car – an almost classic 65 Dodge Dart slant 6. The doors did not lock well due to the rust factor and it got unmercifully joy ridden right out from under my doorstep – not once, nor twice - thrice. I remember that last time being awakened in the middle of the night by a PD #9 paddy wagon and the dreary-eyed officers telling me that my Dart was involved in a chase up Pig Hill only to be found wrapped around a tree. Two dudes split out each side door and disappeared into the Troy Hill thicket leaving behind a luded-out teenie bop gal with no shoes on still trying to find a decent station on my car radio. My Dart was totaled and all that gal would utter was that everything is "F—kin' Louie's fault." Okay – flash forward a few months and my wife and I are walking back home in our fineries after ushering at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre – something she insisted I do to smooth out some of my "rough edges". We suddenly observed a car full of kids in hot pursuit of a shaggy-haired, black-jacketed, chain-rattlin' creature in full gallop. A girl occupant of the car tossed a beer bottle at the refugee screaming something to the effect "you glue-sniffin' mother f--kin' LOUIE!"
The driver jumped out of the car and winged a baseball bat – it looked like a 35", thick handle Willie Stargell to me – at my man Louie as he scampered into Thropp Way, an alley any Nor'sider with half a frontal lobe would look every which way before entering. In a surprise move unanticipated by the lumber-chucker, Louie swaggered out of the darkness with a smirk on his face and bat in hand. "Now who's got the F—kin' bat", quoth Mr. L. Wife Leslie and I frose in our non-combatant pose as the chase reversed itself back to the car. The driver got in safely but Louie was able to encircle the unlucky vehicle and brutally shatter every window to the horror of the occupants. Louie got carried away in his spiteful revelry and went a second time around the car to administer some body work and broke the bat clean off the handle. The car doors then sprang open and the occupants with renewed resolve chased Louie back down Thropp and – rumor has it – into a quick dip in the Allegheny River out from which he was flushed and later checked in to Huntington prison (his alma mater).
Sorry but I had to get that off my chest…This would have been my Dart's 45th anniversary (sniff).
Anyway, for the Chronicle and the Northside, t'was a good thing a steady guy like the late John Lyon stepped up to take over the newspaper because, being a defrocked crock of a steelworker, I was to be soon high stepping it over to Rutgers on a gravy graduate fellowship that would take me headlong into my life's traveling stage where I eagerly exploited exotic new sister city playgrounds like Donetsk (Ukraine), Novokuznetsk (Siberia), San Isidro (Nicaragua), Plzen (Czech Republic), and union advocacy gigs in Washington, D.C. and Baton Rouge, La. Let's just say I didn't sell many band uniforms and it is a wonder that I am still alive. But a life's lesson imprinted on my dented cranium is that community publications contribute tons to our fragile democracy. They are the Paul Reveres for our struggling neighborhoods. This is especially true at a time when corporate naming rights for the 2012 Fall Election Classic apparently are being peddled by some guy named Murduch. It is a blessing that in my old digs something as homegrown and pure as the Chronicle is still kickin'. Though the Mill Hunk Herald blasting away at plant shutdowns and right wing shannigans lasted only one exhausting decade late last century, I have since had to apologize repeatedly for folding that mighty mag to countless languishing poets and scribes who have confronted my writer's block in various eateries around town. For some reason, I get the most poignant finger wags from rust belt rebels hangin' out at the Waterfront Eat n Park in Homestead. Alright already, so maybe 24/7 shopping is not the answer…go figure.
So there you have it. Today, while former soccer star son Ducky (27) bounces between Manhattan and LA making really bad reality TV, my new wife Karen and I (going on 64 and Kar keeps humming that Beatles song about needing and feeding me) reside in Mount Lebanon with our Duck-add-water current soccer daughter "Sunny" Jen (14), nicknamed after "Sunny Jim" Bottomley, a teammate of Ducky Medwick's doncha know. My ex Leslie is a tri-athlete who took up mountain climbing with new hubbie Greg in order to get as far away from me as possible. From the mid 90s to present, I managed a few suburban indoor soccer centers and sold synthetic grass (the kind you play on, not turn on to, damn it) doing my part to fulfill "The Graduate's" profound prosperity prophecy... "Plastics!"
And yeah, I and my whole liberally extended family got involved in the Obama campaign by organizing Citizen Athlete SoccerFests at Robert Morris and Chatham Universities in election year Ought 8 and a Pittsburgh v Persia coed Soccer match at CMU during the G20 to stick it to all things Talibanish. Currently, as a Mount Lebanon Democratic Party Committeeman, I am of course very busy lickin' my wounds from the recent midterm election backlashing.
Now I am semi-retired - and a veteran enumerator for the 2010 census. I enjoyed my G-man work immensely by the way – wore an Elliot Ness overcoat covering my always at the ready imaginary tommy gun, parked anywhere I damn pleased and made census avoiders scurry like rats into their basements and defiant libertarians spew their bizarre conspiracy theories all over their front porches while peering ever so nervously up to the sky at my hovering black helicopter friends…but I digress.
Here is one last thingy that just might say it all.
At one of our dark and stormy late nite editorial gatherings at 916 Middle (of the Northside Universe) Street our blatherings were interrupted by desperate pounding at my front door. There stood a teenage lad in a somewhat catatonic state. His quivering voice asked "are you the community newspaper guys?" We all nodded affirmative and then noticed he was pretty much bleeding to death from gunshot wounds. Got him to Al Gen just in time - he had only minutes according to the doc. He survived and his dad cried as he delivered a thank you basket of booze which of course made me cry. Memories like this of the Northside make me smile in that maybe we goofballs laying out a funky newspaper could help some dude get 25 years older and wiser and hopefully - living a good life just as we all strive quite ardently to do.
God bless, publish on and pass the mighty pens!
417 Kurt Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15243