There are two primary qualifiers for the great American city. The first is the presence of decent Ethiopian food. I like Ethiopian food, I'm not nuts for it. Probably why I find it such a reliable indicator, that in its failure to arouse me personally it still manages an emissarial statement. The second is that of at least one annual birthday dance party honoring Morrissey.
Pittsburgh, I learned today, qualifies on both terms.
Lately I've found the signage of this city curious. The first example concerns our annual birthday party honoring Morrissey. Among the selling points of the bash, listed first in fact, is 'Fresh Pastries.' But then at some point after the sign was posted--the copy I saw was posted in the vestibule of Brillobox, 'Delicious Pastries' had been crossed out. Barring either a myopic act of vandalism or an equally bizarre tribute band named 'Delicious Pastries' I had to conclude that there was a falling out between the venue and the baker, or between the party-thrower and the baker. Or perhaps between the three of them. It amused me to imagine--whatever the cost to actual human emotion, the fraught exchange, the revoking of baked goods, and finally, the revised notion of a Morrissey dance party with no baked goods, as had been promised. Even bakers have problems. But in the end we all stand to gain from celebrating Morrissey's birthday. Here's hoping they patch things up in time.
The other rash of signage I mention touches on a sensitive subject here in Bloomfield: three slain police officers. Before I come off glib let me, for the sake of all due respect, say that officers Eric Kelly, Stephen Mayhle and Paul Sciullo III died valiantly on Saturday April 4th of this year, killed by an enthusiast of the Second Amendment and outspoken opponent of our Zionist state. Infamy being a kind of fame only vaguely--and I'd say imperceptibly, dimmer in apprehension I'll refrain from repeating his name. Sufficed to say the community has, as the saying goes, come together in the face of it. There was a service up the street with bagpipes and a choir. I took Ella for a walk and watched the procession. I wrote to my parents, and recall a sense of grief I had not felt for fallen law enforcement since September 11th.
In the time since the shootings I've witnessed a distressing proliferation of flyers papers nearly every store front along Liberty Avenue. It started with one that appeared, as do candidate election placards in regular distribution. But over the weeks more personalized ones have popped up--a barbershop down the street posts seven--and a sandwich board. The message, though given to slight variation consists of three basic tenets: we show gratitude; we remember (vigilantly staving off the abnormality that is a forgetful mind); and we take single-faith comfort in knowing the slain police officers are with God now. Several businesses have taken to peddling "Fallen Heroes" bracelets. They're $2.00 each.
There really is no way to segue through to my point now without coming off as a cynical, aloof collegiate liberal. So fuck it. The fact is these signs, these advertisements and souvenirs have become highly distressing. They fetishize the grief, ignore the very valuable banalities of living, but most importantly they trivialize the world of death that surrounds just these isolated three.It s a funeral that refuses to end--an abnormality. What began as personal expressions of grief and gratitude for honorable service has turned into a drone loop masking several unsettling elements of the crime and how it affects the community below its surface.
First, when not mourning slain police officers many of us, to varying degrees of course, live in fear of them. It makes the slayings no less tragic, and in fact as cop-fearing citizens many of us reveal our unconditional sympathies in just such moments. We too were moved to great sadness. The deferment of our fears has lasted nearly as long as the fundraising efforts.
Another aspect of this incident which has been obscured is the poor custodianship we have, on so many levels, made of the Second Amendment to the Constitution. As a gun-owner myself it wasn't until the Cheney-Bush Administration's Department of Homeland Security was instituted that the real impetus for this provision was felt in earnest. Til then I just took it as an outdated entitlement to personal and organized defenses against the government (which it is) misused to ensure unstable persons will, on principle alone, be able to buy dangerous weapons (which it does). I remain convinced that the Amendment is valuable to individual freedom. But the all or none approach, as this incident bears out does not work. Furthermore the one-sided focus on the victims is an unjust distraction from a great problem: The criminal element responsible for, and Constitutionally enabled in, the commission of these heinous acts.
I overheard a wingnut on the radio lay the blame on the police dispatcher for not giving proper advanced warning to the doomed officers. Imagine the firestorm had air traffic been blamed for 9/11 as opposed to, you know, the terrorists.
And you know I don't do myself any favors by writing things like that: There are columnists and comedians who do it much better than do I, more articulately and fearlessly, with firmer insights into the framing legislation and debate. But Jesus Christ, the signs.
So it is with a confessional heart and the sincerest desire to get off the burning path into the cool spring grasses of inconsequence that I come to the photograph included above.
Seen in the tableau are a bag of wheat flour, a bottle of Angostura bitters, a photograph of Truman Capote taken in the 1950's by, I believe Arnold Newman--or maybe Irving Penn, and in the foreground a plastic bottle of distilled white vinegar wearing an ill-fitting stopper. You see, last night as I sat watching It's All Fair Weather at Gooski's with Dave & Sarah, John, the bartender uncorked a bottle of Blanton's bourbon. The cap is a pewter racehorse--perhaps a subliminal emblem for its complementary effect on the mint julep, sitting atop a real cork stopper. On removing it John said, 'I always tell myself to hold onto these. But what would I do with them?'. So I grabbed it, knowing I would wake up to find my hoodie pocket smelling of (a better brand of) bourbon the next morning. So I awoke and so it did, and so it still does. Somewhere in my reasoning too was the idea of creating a momentary piece of art in which the stately stopper was tucked into a cheap bottle of no real consequence. King for a day. There you have it. I made good, but the effect, even I have to admit, is kind of poor. I suppose there is some fabulous consolation in that I tried.
Truth be told I discarded the stopper after snapping off the picture. And I suppose that when all other messages of expression fail they succeed at least in lighting the end.
Update: It's Delicious Pastries not Fresh Pastries. Delicious Pastries. They're a band. Kinda sounds like they're in the wrong line of work. I regret nothing.