Stuff I Write, Stuff I Like

Stuff I Write: You Say Pittsburgh, The Lights Say Pitetsbkrrh,

In Uncategorized on May 10, 2013 at 3:40 am

Pittsburgh is, like I said, hard to describe. Still it’s important to try. Here’s another short excerpt from my new book, The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious. I hope it gives you a glimpse of my Pittsburgh, my Pitetsbkrrh, this one beautiful homebound heart-filled real and gritty thing.


From one window of my South Side apartment I can see the Grant Building. Thirty-three stories. The lights on top of the building are a flashing beacon. They’re supposed to spell out Pittsburgh in Morse Code, but as a girl I thought they spelled “I love you.” The lights are red, like a lit cigarette. They look like a beating heart.

grant building

A while back, a retired pilot translated the lights and found that they really spelled out Pitetsbkrrh. Maybe this way, the wrong way, is prettier.

Along Carson Street there are coffee shops where sad tattooed teenagers sit and play Scrabble all day. There’s Dee’s Bar, where the bartenders are all older women who pull their gray hair back in ponytails or wear wife-beater shirts to show off their muscular arms. They’re good at what they do, don’t tolerate rowdy drunks, barely tolerate the hipsters that come in on weekends.

Dees Cafe

Once when I was at the bar a young guy came in. The kid was pierced everywhere, his lips, his eyebrow. He had a big silver stud in his chin where a dimple should be.

“What will you have?” the bartender asked. “My usual,” the kid said. His smile was a smirk, a swoosh. “Honey,” the bartender said, “I don’t know your usual.”

When she poured, the veins along her arms popped like the mountains all around this place.

There’s a rickety deck off the back of the apartment where I could sit and see all the houses wedged into those mountains. Pittsburghers call that part of the city The Slopes. Like many things here, it’s an understatement. The streets going up to those houses are so vertical it feels as if a car would tumble off backwards. During bad snows, people get trapped on The Slopes and can’t come down. Snow plows can’t get up. At night, no matter the season, The Slopes are so dark it looks like the houses are suspended mid-air, constellations of porch lights.


“The Paris of Appalachia,” the great writer Chuck Kinder calls Pittsburgh.

Chuck Kinder Photo

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