Adam Reger | Freelance Writer

Pittsburgh-based freelance writer

Category: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Pools: Reason #6 to Love Pittsburgh

Whether you’re cross-training, nursing a sports injury, or just love the water, swimming is always a solid option. It tends to drop off the radar once the weather turns cooler, but for my money that’s the best time to start up. Indoor swimming during the cold months puts me in mind of all those great moments when you’ve been shut up inside someplace that’s gone overboard on the heat—a stuffy lecture hall, a smelly gym—and at last you burst out into the cold air. For a brief time, it doesn’t register as cold at all, only as a bracing and welcome change. So it is when you’ve been swimming: your hair is wet, your lungs are stung by chlorine and exertion, and the sharp edge of the air takes you by surprise.

I sing in praise of indoor swimming because I recently discovered one of Pittsburgh’s real municipal treasures, the Oliver Bath House on the South Side of the city. The city has a quite good pool system, with most of the pools open during the summer only. But only the Oliver Bath House remains open through the fall and winter months. So far, it’s been a great experience. I’m lucky in that I work only about a mile from the Bath House, and can get there by 5:30 p.m., a few seconds before the bulk of the post-work rush, thus allowing myself about 20-25 minutes of lap-swimming. The pool is well-maintained, if a little small, the staff are friendly, and there’s a general willingness among the patrons to share lanes when things do get a bit more crowded.

The best part, though, is the price. It costs $4 to go for the day, $3 for a child’s pass. But a season pass costs an adult only $30. I was genuinely surprised, upon signing up, to find that “season” doesn’t mean the fall, or even fall and winter, but that my pass will cover me all the way to June. That is the kind of steal that makes me proud to be a Pittsburgher, and to pay the taxes that make such a thing possible.

“Being Dead in Pittsburgh” (Reason to Love Pittsburgh #6)

Fascinating article at Boing Boing about the huge number of cemeteries in Pittsburgh—not the ones you see every couple of miles, in every corner of the city, but the very old ones that have been displaced and/or that are under your feet. (Or just under my feet, if you don’t live here.) Of special ghoulish interest is St. Anthony’s Chapel of Troy Hill, whose claim to fame is housing the most relics anywhere this side of the Vatican.

Pittsburghers, as much as residents of any city or nation, love touting the things about their home city that they see as special, singular, amazing. Sometimes, as with Pittsburghese or Primanti Brothers sandwiches, the things are dumb and overstated—seriously, it is a sandwich with french fries and cole slaw on top that’s likely to give you indigestion for the better part of a day. But oftentimes Pittsburghers’ claims are legit. This is one where Pittsburgh’s unique mix of topsy-turvy landscape and its rich history of immigrant communities, combine to make something pretty weird and amazing.

A Movie Theater in Homestead, Pennsylvania

(After (and with apologies to) Allen Ginsberg)

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Al Jaffee, for

I walked past the storefronts under the trees with a headache

self-conscious looking at the neon displays.

In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went

into the neon movie theater, dreaming of your enumerations!

What thrillers and what rom-coms! Whole families dallying in line! Cashiers leaning on their counters! Ushers whisking popcorn into their butlers!

I eyed the box-office boy. Are you open, I asked of him. I am open if you are ready, said he.

Where are we going, Al Jaffee? The movie begins in six minutes. Which way does your beard point tonight?

One for Scott Pilgrim, I said.

Do you mean Scott Pilgrim versus the World, he asked of me.

Where are you tonight, Al Jaffee, with your snappy answers to stupid questions?

Yes, that’s the one, I murmured, and felt absurd.

Will we walk all night through solitary streets, Al Jaffee? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely and fail to produce timely zingers to inane questions.

Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past black SUVs in strip malls, home to our silent apartments?

Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Alfred E. Neuman quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

Nyjer Morgan and the unwritten rules of baseball

On Sports Illustrated‘s website there’s an interesting article about Nyjer Morgan, the Washington Nationals outfielder who’s gotten in a bunch of incidents in the last week or so. The facts of the case are interesting enough in themselves (and I’ve heard that the brawl Morgan incited is pretty lively, although I am too squeamish about that stuff to have clicked through yet; after replays of football players getting injured, watching athletes brawl is one of my least favorite elements of televised sports).

But what the author of the piece, Jason Turbow, focuses in on is Morgan’s repeated flaunting of baseball’s “Code”: the unwritten rules that governs how players comport themselves. This kind of stuff is, in general, fascinating to me, and I also find it interesting the way these sorts of insights are creeping more and more into public view. There is so much more information now, so many more media outlets, it seems increasingly difficult for there to be anything left “behind the scenes.” (I am thinking generally about reality shows where things are produced, “Behind the Music”-type programming, document and information leaks, etc.)

On its surface this seems like a negative development, that the joy of these illusions is vanishing. But maybe it’s more complicated. I’m wondering, for instance, whether anyone really keeps all these unwritten rules in his or her mind. It seems to be in the nature of unwritten rules—or, calling back my 10th grade social studies class, folkways and mores—that they’re embedded somewhere deeper than mere software, that we basically don’t think of them. And in any case, it’s an outside, authorial presence that is calling our attention to the rules; it’s not Morgan or any other player who is pointing to the nebulous framework of rules, and when they do so it’s situation-specific, not some calculated effort to pull back the curtain. As an example, see Dallas Braden calling out Alex Rodriguez, earlier this season, for jogging back across the pitcher’s mound after a foul ball.

As a sidenote, Morgan started his career as a Pittsburgh Pirate. I’m curious to see whether there’ll be a local media report about the Pirates shipping him out for just this kind of insanity; going from the Pirates to the also-dirt-cheap Nationals, it doesn’t make sense to assume he went the way of Freddy Sanchez, Jason Bay, etc., etc., and got bought up for more money.

More Sports (Pan-Pennsylvanian Edition)

Two sports-related posts within a single (sports-related) post!

As a kind of follow-up to this post, on the woeful Pittsburgh Pirates, some recent stuff in the news about the team and, especially, the reasons for its awfulness:

A Slate article asking the question, “Should the Pirates Spend Money to Win Ballgames?” and looking at the ins and outs of how they’d even go about doing that. Fascinating tidbit:

“Sabermetricians . . . have figured out ways to determine how much an individual player’s performance contributes to his team’s victories. Correlating those performance metrics to actual market prices for free agents shows that it costs management something like $5 million to purchase each additional win. (For example, by signing a $10-million-quality free agent, a team might improve its record by two games.)”

It does present more of an obvious dilemma for the Pirates’ ownership, as well as casting attention back on the greater disparities among large- and small-market teams within MLB.

Then again, if you’re feeling overly sympathetic, you might look back to the revelations that provided the impetus for the Slate article: leaked financial documents showing that the Pirates, among several other teams (most egregiously the Florida Marlins), made bank despite being among the worst-performing teams.

Moving over to football, I should say by way of preface that there’s only one professional team whose doings I give a fig about: the Philadelphia Eagles. The much-maligned, long-suffering, beleaguered Eagles.

Yet also the perennially in-contention Eagles. It’s true that, at this time of year, hope springs eternal for all 32 teams. Hope seems to be springing a bit too forcefully for the Eagles, by my estimation of their chances this year. Having dealt Donovan McNabb in favor of back-up and heir apparent Kevin Kolb, they’ve been tabbed by many to go through a rebuilding phase this year. I mostly agree with that: I have them finishing in the 8-8 or 9-7 range, and think it’s more likely they’ll finish a game or two below that than above it. And to that I say: That’s life. It’s rare that any team can rebuild on the fly, and still maintain—in spite of what I’ve just said—the chance to surprise people and remain a playoff contender.

That said, I’ve been cheered by reports like this ESPN profile and this Peter King column item that say Kevin Kolb is the real deal. I love that he’s getting this kind of praise, and that by all accounts it’s coming from inside the locker room. But I’ve periodically felt the need to throw cold water on myself, because buying into this sort of sports reportage feels like a shortcut to some kind of jinx: there’ve been so, so many big-money rookies and (as with Kolb, third-year) heirs apparent who’ve been similarly pumped up and anointed, only to fail dramatically or quietly, but in the end to fail, and to slump away into obscurity. Philadelphia, certainly, has had no shortage: Shawn Bradley and Mike Mamula are the first names that come to mind.

I don’t expect failure from Kolb. It’s just that, on the hype versus realistic-attainable-results spectrum, I don’t want to raise my hopes quite so high, at least not yet.

With that said . . .

E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles!!

Book Beat

I’ve lapsed in writing about anything I’ve been reading recently. My bad!

I just picked up (from the fantastic and ever financially imperiled Carnegie Library system) a copy of David Winner’s Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer. I’m quite excited to start reading it, the more so because my interest in the topic—the Netherlands’ idiosyncratic “Total Football” soccer style—has survived the artificially inflated excitement of the World Cup. Yes, this still sounds like an awesome book. The jacket copy indicates that “[t]he cast stretches from anarchists and church painters to rabbis and skinheads to Holland’s beloved soccer players.” Wowza.

Meanwhile, I’m neck-deep in James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential. Man, it is rad. Read it, if you haven’t. I was hesitant to pick it up, and then to get into it, because I thought, “I’ve seen the movie.” But, two things: 1) I do not even remember the movie, so whatever significant twists there may have been have no bearing on my reading; and 2) As has been mentioned by everyone, forever, the book is far superior to the movie as a general principle. It’s certainly true here. There’s a ton of stuff that never showed up in the movie, tawdry, disturbing stuff. Something I like about Ellroy’s work is that it supports this (not very sophisticated or surprising) theory of mine that the fifties are unfairly smeared for being dull. A Catcher in the Rye, On the Road, The Adventures of Augie March all came out in the fifties. It wasn’t all sock-hops and poodle skirts. Ellroy, a bad-ass even when one factors in his gifts for self-promotion, confirms this.

New MFA Week

I just updated my “Non-Fiction” page to include a cache of newly discovered blog posts over at Hot Metal Bridge, the online lit mag of the University of Pittsburgh’s MFA writing program.

In doing so, I re-discovered the fruit of one of my more inspired moments as an editor: “New MFA Week.” Being a mighty third-year at the end of the summer, I thought it would be cool to have various people contribute tips and advice to students who were at that moment finding apartments, registering for courses, and making travel arrangements to get to wherever they were starting their new lives as Masters students.

Some of the entries, like this dispatch on Pittsburgh’s vibrant food scene, are Pittsburgh-specific.

Other installments include how to go about locking down funding for your grad-school education; how to go about submitting your work to literary magazines; and some more general ruminations here and here (that one’s mine).

I feel most of the advice holds up, and should be of interest to non-Pitt soon-to-be-MFAs. (And the food stuff should certainly be of interest to non-MFA Pittsburgh people.) I wish we’d gotten to go a little more in depth, and there are people who I think could have contributed useful insights who I ended up not asking. But, you know: regrets, I’ve had a few / But then again, too few to mention, etc.

Marathon training begins (AND, Reason to Love Pittsburgh #5: The Pittsburgh Marathon)

As of yesterday, I am in training for the 2010 Philadelphia Marathon, to beĀ  held November 21. According to the Runner’s World plan I am following this time around, I began my training with . . . a day of rest. I know, anticlimactic.

This will be my second marathon, as I ran the 2010 Pittsburgh Marathon. As you’ll deduce from my running a second one, I loved the marathon. It was rough stuff, but I had fun doing it and was immensely proud of the accomplishment. (My Facebook status several hours after the race: “Holy shit. I ran a marathon.” I feel that still about sums it up.)

I’m pretty excited to train right this time—I had kind of a nebulous training schedule last time, wherein I’d do two weeknight runs per week, of whatever distance I felt like (rarely going above 6 or 7 miles per outing), and steadily upped my Sunday long-run distance, getting as high as 20 before tapering down. It wasn’t a terrible training regimen, and it left me ready to do fairly well in the race (my time was a respectable four hours, fourteen minutes). But it was sort of a lazy way to go about it, and rather unfocused. My goal this time is to break four hours. With proper training I should roll up to the start line (or, you know, a cattle pen half a mile from the line) confident I can hit that target.

Anyway, this post is by way of introducing this topic to the blog, as it will become more and more of a preoccupation over the next 3+ months.

Bonus Marathon News: I also, yesterday, signed up for the 2011 Pittsburgh Marathon, which places me among the hooked. I was surprised to see that the race will start at 6:30 a.m.! and 5:30 for walkers! It’s one of those things that can’t dissuade you from signing up for an event that’s more than eight months in the future, but damn, that’s early.

List for this week: beard-shaving scenes

The time has come to get rid of the mangy beard I have been cultivating since the great snow event of February. Some time this week or over the weekend, it’s happening. It’s a feeling I’m waiting for, a moment whose rightness will be self-evident. Also, I keep forgetting to buy shaving cream.

But, towards bucking me up to just do it, a list of portentous beard-shaving scenes from movies. I’m not sure I like the suggestion that these are symbolically weighty (and thus that my ditching the beard will be, too), because things have gone well with the beard; I suspect, though I imagine it would be impossible to prove, that men with beards get more respect in Pittsburgh than without (it’ s just that kind of town).

Cheeseburger Bulletin (or, Reason to Love Pittsburgh #4: Noble Cheeseburger)

I did not want it to pass unremarked-upon that I ate a truly superlative cheeseburger this week at the Brillobox, one of my favorite Pittsburgh bars. Others’ takes here and here. Grass-fed beef (cooked medium) with gruyere. Amazing. And as a side: mixed greens! What a world!

The cheeseburger was off a “transitional menu,” as the new menu is coming out in a week or two. The menu is here and it’s full of other stuff that sounds more exotic and appealing, perhaps, than the Brillo burger. And it’s true too that there’s a distinct vegetarian bent to the menu, that would lead one to look askance at the burger. But this burger is not to be dismissed.

The conventional wisdom on the Pittsburgh cheeseburger scene is that Tessaro’s is tops. And it is quite a good burger. But the Brillobox is serving notice to all comers. Watch your back, Tessaro’s.