Adam Reger | Freelance Writer

Pittsburgh-based fiction writer

Category: Reasons to Love 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.

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.

Onward and upward for the Pittsburgh Pirates

Last night baseball’s worst team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, lost to the Florida Marlins 4-2. They’ve lost many times this year, but this one was notable because it was their 81st loss of the year, ensuring that the 2010 campaign will not be a winning season; and that, almost certainly, this will be their 18th straight season with a losing record. (They could still end up at 81 and 81 on the year, but a 40-something-game winning streak seems beyond them right now.) To go all Mindset List, a Pittsburgh-based student entering college later this month could not remember a winning Pirates campaign in his or her lifetime.

Next up for the Pirates is trying to avoid a 100-loss season. You’d think that would be no big deal, but, though the franchise has done it a number of times, during the current dynasty of poor teams (in the monetary and athletic senses both) it’s only happened in 2001 (and that was with exactly 100 losses, no more). Last year, they finished at 99, with a make-up game against the Atlanta Braves being mercifully waved off. It looks like a lock, and like they could even demolish the franchise record of 113 losses. But who knows? With something to play for, maybe they’ll come through.

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.

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.

Reason to Love Pittsburgh #3: Keystone State Wrestling Alliance

The Keystone State Wrestling Alliance is a local pro wrestling outfit that holds monthly (usually) events at the Lawrenceville Moose. It is awesome. I’ve been going intermittently for several years and it is a real joy. If you’re remotely interested in this, you should go. Go once, try it.

For the flavor of the KSWA, check out these profiles of the wrestlers and the photo gallery. In the latter, please note the wood paneling and drop ceiling of the Lawrenceville Moose. That is just the start of the atmospherics you can expect when (not if but when) you attend a wrestling show. There are all kinds of Pittsburghers at the Moose: yinzers, kids, diehard wrestling fans, confused newbies, grad students, hipsters (quite a lot of them, actually), families, girls’ basketball teams, and a number of other categories I’m probably omitting.

Anyway, the KSWA is having its “Summertime Bruise” event this Saturday, July 24th, at 7:30 PM. The Moose is at 120 51st Street, just off Butler Street in Lawrenceville. Tickets are (I’m pretty sure) $10. It’s one of my favorite Pittsburgh things and I cannot count the number of friends, classmates, friends of friends, and friends of classmates I’ve compelled to go to the Moose for a night of wrestling insanity and local color. Also, cheap beer.

Freemasons Open House in Pittsburgh

I am deeply regretful that I will not be able to go to this Freemasons open house this weekend, and am jealous of anyone who is able to go.

Compounding that regret is this tantalizing quote from Mike Marcus, one of the members: “There is always an interest in boosting membership numbers, but we’re not opening our doors only to try to sign people up.”

Always an interest in boosting membership. Only to try to sign people up. Implying that, yes, they are trying to sign people up! Suggesting that I could go to this thing (if I were not heading out of town for a sure-to-be-raucous Reger Family Reunion) and come out some hours later an initiate into the secrets of the Free and Accepted Masons. Oh, cruel and fickle fate. Oh, teasing cosmos. Going out of town while this is going on could be my biggest regret since I had class while my friends were initiated into the Braddock Elks Lodge. Why didn’t I ditch that day? Why? I still don’t know.

Reason #2 to Love Pittsburgh: Gist Street Reading Series

(As mentioned here, I’m enumerating reasons in random order, but giving them consecutive numbers (as opposed to “Reason #6,387 to Love Pittsburgh”).)

Pittsburgh definitely punches above its weight class when it comes to the literary scene. A lot of that is due to the universities: the deep-pocketed Carnegie Mellon University brings in some jaw-dropping readers every year, and the University of Pittsburgh and Chatham University (nee College) both have MFA programs that both bring in and incubate talented writers.

But it’s sort of de rigeur for universities to pull the weight. The really impressive thing about the city’s literary community is the Gist Street Reading Series. Independent of the universities, and with only a tiny bit of funding from the Pennsylvania Arts Council, Gist Street is a local, homegrown phenomenon. The set-up’s simple: the first Friday of the month, two writers—one fiction, one poetry—read from their work in a loft space in Pittsburgh’s Uptown neighborhood (a tiny, isolated, somewhat sketchy neighborhood just on the cusp of Downtown). It’s BYOB—and B.Y.O. Food, Dessert, Anything You Want to Eat or (Preferably) Share with a Bunch of Strangers. As the Series’ slogan goes, “It’s not about suffering.” And it’s not: there’s always ample eating, drinking, and conversation.

And, remarkably, it’s always, always filled to capacity. Stories abound of people getting to the space twenty minutes before the slated start time to find a sign taped to the door: “We’re Full. Sorry.” I’ve been shut out forty minutes before the reading was supposed to begin.

Tonight I got there well ahead of time. It was the annual cookout, done in tandem with a small press of note. Last year it was McSweeney’s. This year it was Michigan-based Dzanc Books. The full line-up of readers is here. All were excellent; for my money, Jeff Parker’s selection from “False Cognates” stood out, but its being funny and straightforward probably helped. As much a part of the experience, however, was the food. It was a feast. Pittsburghers can cook, or at least Gist Street loyalists can. Many, many delicious items were eaten, by me, tonight.

But I am sort of beating around the bush. I must admit a deep bias I have in favor of Gist Street. It involves the raffle they hold at each reading.

Upon entering, each person writes his or her name on a slip of paper and tosses it in a basket. At the end of the reading, names are drawn for a variety of prizes. Each reader puts up a copy of his/her book. There is locally grown produce. Sometimes someone will offer a homemade ceramic piece, or a hand-knit scarf (which a friend won once).

Tonight, I won a most excellent prize: a medley of vegetables from the garden of Sherrie Flick, one of the Series’ founders and organizers (and also a published novelist and flash-fiction writer (what a combination!)). (In the box: a cup of blackberries; two carrots; two radishes; a zucchini; green onions; two plums; a tomato; and a small pepper-ish sort of thing.) Of even further note, though, is that this marked the third time I’ve won something in Gist Street’s raffle. (I won a galley copy of Cathy Day’s The Circus in Winter, and a copy of Dean Young’s Primitive Mentor (which is sort of a raffle within a raffle, for me, because I am utterly stymied by most poetry and Dean Young is on the very short list of poets whose work tends to make sense and please me more than it baffles and irritates me).) It’s to the point, now, where I expect to win something when I go, and am kind of miffed and incredulous when I don’t.

Anyway, consider this a full-throated, whole-hearted recommendation of the Gist Street Reading Series. Even subtracting out the great prizes I’ve won over the years, it’s a great experience and a definite credit to Pittsburgh’s literary community.

The Great Staycation of 2010 + The Saturday Problem

I’ve cleverly taken Friday off from work, giving me a four-day weekend. I’ve been salivating over it all week, as I was recovering from one of those weekends where you don’t really get a moment’s rest, and walk into work thinking something like “Really? Already?”

And now. My staycation. Is. Here.

I’ve generally been dubious about the notion of a “staycation” (or, for that matter, any of this kind of neologism you’re apt to read about in the New York Times Style page or wherever). It sounds like a lazy vacation, or a vacation for unimaginative people. But if you’re stressed, and just want to chill out for a few days, the idea of chilling around the house can be really, really appealing. Especially as compared with thoughts of getting to the airport, going through security, renting a car, checking into a hotel, etc. etc.

So far I’ve done nothing special—I ran, ate well, ran some errands, and have been watching both World Cup matches. (Yeah, Netherlands! And Go, Ghana!) And it has been great.

But, as often happens on lazy weekends, there’s an obligation hanging over my head. And its name is writing. I haven’t done any today. I call this the Saturday problem; it’s the problem of having, seemingly, all day to take care of the task of writing, leading one to put it off and put it off until there’s a half hour left until you’re due to go out for dinner, or it’s 11:30 p.m., or you’re about to sit down to it when a friend calls to see if you want to come out for a drink.

I’d imagine this is a common problem for writers. It seems like just another species of the procrastination problem, that cliche about writers having very clean houses because there’s always some suddenly-pressing task to be done before he/she really sits down to do it. I don’t know that I have any readers yet, but I invite any of them to chime in on this matter.

For whatever it’s worth, I do plan to get down to it as soon as the Uruguay-Ghana game ends. For real, y’all. In this instance, I’m inspired by not having completely limitless time: I’ll be going later to see the most recent film from M. Night Shyamalan, The Last Airbender. Not because I’m particularly excited about it; I haven’t seen one of his films in the theater since Signs, which I thought was pretty absurd. I also recently saw Unbreakable, which various people had talked up, and which I also thought was preposterous. And if I had limitless time and no obligations, I might take the trouble to see The Happening, which from various YouTube clips I’ve seen seems pretty amazing.

No, I’m not going for the aesthetic edification of it. (See the paragraph below.) I’m going because I am proud to bursting that my own flesh and blood, my younger brother, was a production assistant on the film and for the first time in his career I’ll be able to sit rapt through the credits, as his name will appear somewhere in there. (The premiere was this week and I got a late-night photo texted to me, a blurry screen shot of the credit scroll.)

Sadly, though, the film appears to be terrible. (Here’s a withering review from my go-to source for media reviews, The AV Club.) But on the plus side, I’ll be seeing it at a drive-in movie theater. Check it out: the theater’s website is a masterpiece of clip art. In any case, if the movie is terrible I’m hoping the novelty of the setting will help me pass the time until the part I want to see (the end credits) comes up.