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April 14, 2020 - April 20, 2020







STAFF Publisher/Editor: Charlie Deitch Charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com Associate Publisher: Bethany Ruhe Bethany@pittsburghcurrent.com Advisory Board Chairman: Robert Malkin Robert@pittsburghcurrent.com


Vol. III Iss. IX APRIL 14, 2020

NEWS 4 | Feeding the Masses 7 | Wolf's Partnership 8 | Morning Interuption 9 | Zoom Hackers 10 | A Jail of Two Timelines


Art Director: Larissa Mallon Larissa@pittsburghcurrent.com

OPINION 12 | Love, Loss, & Pandemics 14 | Searching for a Just Society

Music Editor: Margaret Welsh Margaret@pittsburghcurrent.com Visuals Editor: Jake Mysliwczyk Jake@pittsburghcurrent.com Social Justice Columnist: Jessica Semler jessica@pittsburghcurrent.com Contributing Writers: Jody DiPerna, Mike Shanley, Dan Savage, Larry Schweiger, Brittany Hailer, Meg Fair, Matt Wallenstein, Emerson Andrews info@pittsburghcurrent.com Logo Design: Mark Addison

ART & ENTERTAINMENT 16 | Digital Drag 18 | Record Reviews 20 | Can't Miss Food and Drink 21 | Day Drinking EXTRA 22 | Savage Love 23 | Will in New Orleans 24 | Parting Shot




The Fine Print

Senior Account Executive: Andrea James

The contents of the Pittsburgh Current are © 2019 by Pittsburgh Current, LLC. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this publication shall be duplicated or reprinted without the express-written consent of Pittsburgh Current LLC. One copy per person. The Pittsburgh Current is published twice monthly beginning August 2018.


The opinions contained in columns and letters to the editors represent the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Pittsburgh Current ownership, management and staff. The Pittsburgh Current is an independently owned and operated print and online media company produced in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood, 1665 Broadway Ave., Pittsburgh, PA., 15216. 412-204-7248. Email us or don’t: info@pittsburghcurrent.com.



We are an influence-free, Independent alternative print and online news company in Pittsburgh Pa. As we’ve been reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve seen firsthand the dramatic effect it’s having on businesses around southwestern Pennsylvania. This is especially true for small businesses like ours. While we remain steadfastly committed to reporting on the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak through the latest information and features, we need your help. Support independent journalism through a sustaining or one-time donation to the Pittsburgh Current. 80% of all donations go toward paying our staff and content creators, 20% will help keep the lights on. And 100 percent of it will ensure this city continues to have an alternative, independent voice. Even before canceling events and staying at home became the new normal, media companies like ours were struggling to keep things going. But we, like others, have found a way because people depend on our product, they like what they do and we feel that appreciation every day. We announced last week that we were temporarily halting our twice-monthly print publication and focusing on our online digital edition because people aren’t going outside, and the businesses where we distribute are all closed. The good news in all of this is that our digital edition will now be coming out weekly instead of bi-monthly. So beginning March 24, you’ll be able to get the Current every Tuesday (to make sure you get it delivered to your inbox, fill out our email signup on our homepage). We are a small team with a big mission and we’re stubborn enough to know that with your help we will get through this. The Current, like many small businesses, is at a crossroads. We plan on doing our part to get you the information you need to make it through this crisis, but we need your support to make sure we’re also able to report on the next one. You can donate by clicking the popup on our homepage or clicking donate below.

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Though the Food Bank asked people not to come before 11 a.m. there is already a long queue of cars stretching down South Linden Street when I pull into the volunteer parking lot around 10:15 a.m. I am issued a pair of freshly washed Uline work gloves and a yellow safety vest; volunteers who arrive without masks are given those, too. While we assemble and wait, the volunteer next to me is eating his own breakfast. "I woke up this morning and I fed the kids breakfast—I got a Red Bull and Snickers," he laughs. "This is not healthy at all." COVID-19 presents a whole host of obstacles for getting food to people in need, but the Food Bank is learning on the fly, creating new models in the age of contagion. At this, their main site in Duquesne, they were able to coordinate with the police and PennDot to set up efficient logistics. "The chief of police from Duquesne came to help us build a model to make sure we had what we needed to operate safely and direct the flow of traffic where it wasn't overwhelming to the community. We're learning as we try to pilot these things in other communities," Justin Lee told the Current via telephone. Lee is the Chief Operating Officer of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, an organization that serves 11 western Pennsylvania Counties, some as far flung as Somerset, Greene and Armstrong. At the moment, it is easier to control virus variables with monetary donations through the website. That money flows through operations here and out to about 365 different agencies, partners and community organizations. They are a powerful buyer with a large coverage area. By purchasing in bulk and through their various partnerships, they say they can turn one dollar into five meals. Lee points out that under normal circumstances, they love food drives because they are a really gratifying way to get people involved while providing assis-

tance. For now, though, the fewer hands that touch the product, the better. One of the ways they are trying to make food delivery safe, for both the volunteers and the individuals and families receiving food, is to load pre-packed boxes and bags into cars. These boxes are packed by regular staff, the National Guard and some freshly hired temp workers who were furloughed from other work. According to Lee being able to provide a few jobs while increasing their efforts to feed the region felt really good. It is an unseasonably hot day and it is vital that the frozen food not sit out in the sun. It needs to be loaded out to the sidewalks moments before volunteers can get it into the cars. While we wait, volunteer coordinator Kelly Schlick reminds us all to smile behind our masks. Even with the distance, we want to make connections. Grant Avenue is a four-lane road with a wide sidewalk dividing the east and westbound lanes. There will be two lanes of traffic heading west and each lane will load ten cars. The sidewalks already have pallets of the dry food boxes spaced about six feet apart. The forklift driver loads out the frozen pallets with such speed and precision, it feels like he's playing a video game. It's impressive. For volunteers like us, the job is simple. Ten cars are let into the chute. We load a box of dried goods and frozen goods into each car and another volunteer loads a bag with produce (milk, eggs, pears and cheese today). Once all ten cars are loaded, Adam, who is on traffic duty, waves them through. There is a police officer next to him to direct traffic from there. Another batch of cars comes into the chute and we repeat until we've loaded food into more than 860 cars—all the cars that showed up. We had enough for many more. What makes this unlike other times is how restricted contact is. A few times, people start to get out of their cars to open the trunk or something, but we have to firmly tell them to stay in their

A massive food distribution event took place outside of PPG Paints Arena on April 10. This is a small sampling of the more than 1,300 cars that showed up for food. (Pittsburgh Current Photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

cars. There are hoopties and high-end SUVs, but most cars are more midrange. The people inside are couples with kids and single people and folks with their dogs. They are white and black and Latino and Asian. They are old and young and middle-aged. I can't help but notice the disproportionately large number of cars with UBER and LYFT decals, an indication of just how

hopelessly insubstantial and tenuous the gig economy is. Even before COVID-19, the Food Bank stood as a bulwark against food insecurity, or lack of access to enough food for an active and healthy life due to economic hardship. More simply put, when members of a household are uncertain about meeting basic food needs, that is food insecurity, the webs CONTINUED ON PAGE 6



of which spill out to affect individuals and communities in all sorts of harmful ways. What kind of impact does it have to make a choice between buying food or keeping the lights on? Do you risk eviction to feed the kids? Do you re-up that asthma inhaler rather than buy groceries? Food insecurity forces families to grapple with life and death decisions and creates fertile grounds for life-long mental health issues. Food insecurity is one of the markers in a test score known as ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences), along with things like abuse, domestic abuse, community violence and neglect. According to the American Psychological Association, children with high levels of exposure to these kinds of adversity are more than four times as likely to develop anxiety, depression, PTSD and substance abuse disorders by the time they reach adulthood than children who have not experienced these forms of adversity. As to food insecurity specifically, the Department of City Planning for Pittsburgh reports that more than one out of every five Pittsburghers (21.4%) faces food insecurity. That is significantly higher than the national average of 12.3% or the average for Allegheny County, which is 14%. But those are pre-coronavirus numbers. We don't yet have good data on the number of households newly facing food insecurity, as so many more people are unemployed than previously. According to a Philadelphia Inquirer report on April 6th, one in six Pennsylvanians has applied for unemployment compensation benefits. What the Food Bank, their partners and other community organizations face is a two-pronged devil of a challenge: how to meet the increased need while maintaining healthy and the safe distances required by this exceptionally communicable virus. They've been running this drive through donation event weekly in Duquesne, but there is a pressing need to increase the amount and frequency of distribution of badly needed food. They have to take this show on the road.

Scenes from the April 10 Food distribution held by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. (Pittsburgh Current Photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)


our days later, we're in the employee parking lot opposite PPG Paints Arena. Being April in Pittsburgh, if we needed sunblock on Monday, we all could have upped our coat and hat game on Good Friday. It is in the low30s and there are nasty gusts of damp wind swirling around us. This is the first such event here and the Food Bank has received an assist from the Penguins. The police are funnelling cars into all of the open lots to wait; those cars will be released into a chute on Fullerton Street, very similar to Monday's event. Today, there is no produce, just the


frozen and dried goods. "Before COVID, we had a very strong focus as an organization to move in the produce direction, just from the health standpoint and what we wanted to focus on," Lee said. "We are still distributing produce. It's not as intensive as it used to be, but we're still trying to distribute that, as we get more efficient and get a better understanding of the flow." You don't have to meet any criteria or prove need or even residence to come and receive food. Working here fosters a deep sense of shared humanity and understanding. We all know that for some, accepting help is hard. This sys-

tem — drive up and get some food — cuts out any bureaucracy that could lead to people being too ashamed to come. All that is required is a car and a bit of patience. [It should be noted that there is a tent set up for walk-ups at the main site in Duquesne.] A younger guy stops to talk to one of the TV crews, which are legion. He tells them that he's picking up for family members. He's okay, but he knew they needed it and waiting for three-hours in his car seemed like the least he could do. We don't have hard data on who is receiving donations and what demand will look like as the nation continues to


respond to the threat of coronavirus. We do know that the need for food is increasing at lightning speed. "We're still learning what the need is and how we can respond," Lee said. "The number I've calculated for purchase orders we've placed in both March and April totals about $1.7 million dollars. That same period in March and April last year was about $600,000.00 or so. It's over a million dollars more in product." "Stay safe, stay home," my volunteer partner says as she loads boxes. As a group, we will provide food to about 1,300 cars today. Combined with the numbers from Monday's event, more than 2,150 people will have gotten food from the Food Bank in just two days. Most of the drivers wave at the line of volunteers as they pull away. Some give us the thumbs up through their sunroof. Some blow kisses behind the windshield. A woman in a stars and stripes hijab waves a hand-made cardboard sign of thanks as she passes through. One woman opens her window to tell me happy Easter. Then she gives me a level, old-school Pittsburgh look and says, "No ham, though."


This story was made possible through a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Local Media Association.

Speaking in unison with six other chief executives, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday that Pennsylvania and other northeastern states would create an interstate COVID-19 council, charged with coordinating business reopenings as the pandemic slows. “We need to come up with a specific and a smart plan for this uncertain future,” Wolf said Monday in a press call. But the cooperation is also, to let “the citizens of our states know that we indeed do have a future,” he said. There was still no timeline for reopenings, but Wolf and his fellow governors — all Democrats representing Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island — said they planned to share information, resources and expertise to allow for a smooth economic reset. One state with a Republican governor, Massachusets, announced it was joining the compact Monday evening after the announcement. The coordination will come through a council, made up of each state’s top public health official, economic development chief, and each governor’s chief of staff. With northeastern residents around New York City and Philadelphia often commuting and shopping across state lines, botching reopenings, the governors argued, could backfire with economic or public health consequences. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for example, pointed to interstate transit as an issue. If transit worker staffing levels

aren’t increased early enough, then commuters on their way back to work might not even get to the office. “This virus doesn’t care about state borders, and our response shouldn’t either,” Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said. The northeastern states weren’t alone in forging a statebased coronavirus response. California, Oregon and Washington — all governed by Democrats — announced a similar compact Monday afternoon. The efforts of the states were noted by President Donald Trump in two tweets he sent Monday. In the social media messages, Trump said that reopening individual states “is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons.” He did not elaborate on the reasons. Wolf and his fellow governors however, held that until they saw Trump take charge, they would continue making state-level decisions. “Considering we had the responsibility for closing the state down,” Wolf said, “I figure we have the primary responsibility for opening it back up.” In announcing the council, Wolf gave some hope after weeks of warning citizens to expect the worst. Over the weekend, his health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine laid out the conditions for reopening the state, mostly based on a downward trend in cases, but said the state was “not there yet.” Levine added at a Monday press conference that Pennsylvania’s increase in cases and deaths is slower than rates seen

in other states. This is proof, she argued, that the states’ social distancing policies — such as school and business closings and stay at home orders — are working. However, Levine did not argue for removing any public health measures yet. In fact, she said that she had argued for Wolf to adopt stricter social distancing measures. But even if Monday’s announcement was meant to signal hope, it was greeted with sour irony by others. In particular, the council rang hollow for Republicans, who have pushed for the Republican-controlled General Assembly to gain a voice in the coronavirus response. Just last week, the House voted to create a task force on the pandemic recovery last week, over cries of partisanship from Democrats. Republicans and business leaders have also increased their critiques of Wolf ’s business shutdown order of late, which they say lacks transparency and consistency. The House is expected to vote this week to match the state’s business opening standards to federal standards. Those have been used as a guide for some neighboring states, such as New York. As of Monday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health raised the state’s coronavirus case count to 24,199. Of them, 524 people have died. STEPHEN CARUSO IS A STAFF WRITER FOR THE PENNSYLVANIA CAPITAL-STAR WHERE THIS STORY FIRST APPEARED.




ilieen D’Amico watched her father’s burial from a distance, even though she was told she couldn’t, even as pedestrians walked by his grave, even as kids threw frisbees. St. Mary’s Cemetery in Lawrenceville has barred mourners from attending the burials of their loved ones, but has not, however, closed its gates to the public. D’Amico’s family-friend died two days after her father. He, too, was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery. His family stood in the adjacent Allegheny Cemetery and watched their father’s burial through the fence, according to D’Amico. “The worst part is the Catholic Church wouldn’t send a priest, even to the burial.They dropped the ball when people needed them the most. My father was so Catholic, he went to church every day, and he was buried without a priest there. Everybody and their mother is walking their bikes and walking their dogs, but we, who should have been there, weren’t allowed,” said D’Amico. In Pittsburgh, cemeteries often double as public parks, and at a time where families aren't allowed to do much else, there’s been an increase in outdoor activity. And while the Catholic cemeteries have remained open to the public, a March 28 letter Bishop Zubik wrote to clergy states, “ ...cemeteries have already indicated the prohibition of even a small number of people gathering for burial.” The Catholic Cemeteries Association of the Diocese of Pittsburgh issued an update March 30 that stated in part, “Families are welcome to visit the cemetery after the burial has been completed to pay their respects.” In an email to Pittsburgh Current, Mike Sinnott—of the Pittsburgh Diocese’s Catholic Cemeteries Association, whose purview includes St. Mary’s Cemetery where D’Amico’s father was buried—wrote: “The decision to switch from limited attendance of 10 or less people to direct burials was a very difficult, but necessary one. For a few weeks we tried to accommodate the smaller funeral groups but

that did not work as the vast majority of the groups were still exceeding the limit. Our workers interact with many funerals every week, potentially exposing themselves with each one and all of the attendees. In order for us to continue fulfilling our mission, it is imperative that they remain healthy and safe during these very serious and contagious times with COVID-19.” The Washington Post reported April 8th that the Chicago coronavirus outbreak was traced to a funeral gathering where one individual infected 16 people between the ages of 5 and 86. Three of those infected died. Across Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, funeral homes, cemeteries, churches and mourners are adjusting to how COVID-19 social-distancing measures are impacting funerals, burial traditions, grief, and anxiety. Without a state or federal mandate on how services or burials should be conducted, businesses are left to make their own decision, which leaves Corporate, private and parish cemeteries permitting different gatherings or not permitting gatherings at all. Essential employees like funeral directors, undertakers, vaulters, grave diggers, or religious leaders also do not have specific mandates issued from the state or federal government. On March 19, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that all but “life-sustaining” businesses in Pennsylvania must shut down immediately. Funeral homes across the state of Pennsylvania are not impacted by the order and continue physical operations. Also on March 19, The Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association (PFDA) released a memo that suggested funeral homes consider limiting their services and delaying public memorials. No official mandate has been issued to funeral homes from the PFDA. On March 29, President Trump extended his "15 Days to Slow the Spread" guidance to April 30 which recom-


(Adobe Stock)

mended no public gathering of more than 10 people.

“We’re the forgotten frontline employees” Natalie Jackson, a funeral director at Warchol Funeral home in Bridgeville enters nursing homes, hospitals and private residences on a weekly basis. She is often one of the first people to walk in the door after a death. She must also wear a mask and gloves on a daily basis.

She must enter rooms where grieving family members are tightly packed and mourning. She must take the body and embalm it, then prepare a service for no more than ten people. And then, at night, she goes home to her partner and children, and decontaminates. She hand-washes and hopes that she hasn’t contracted COVID-19. “We’re the forgotten frontline employees,” Jackson said, “No one thinks they have a family and kids and they can get sick.”

NEWS In Pennsylvania, funeral directors are required to promptly prepare and bury the deceased within 10 days. This “10-day rule” was extended to 30 days by the Pennsylvania State Department on March 30th. Jackson worries that keeping bodies for later burial or cremation will further stress a system during the pandemic. If folks are waiting to bury their dead, her funeral home could reach capacity--then what? “Say we have 35 calls,” she said, “I don’t have enough room for 35 people.” Frank Perman, funeral director of Perman Funeral Home in Shaler Township says that he has to assume that everyone he comes into contact with has been exposed to “some sort of pathogen.” “We are the back-end of first responders,” Perman said, echoing Jackson. But, when asked if he feels he is at risk he said, “The answer is no. I’ve been through the AIDS epidemic, strains of tuberculosis, hepatitis, the flu.” Businesses like Jackson’s and Perman’s have been implementing changes to services to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols and guidelines, which includes limiting services to 10 people or less. Mourners must stay six feet apart. If someone feels sick, they are told not to attend the service. Perman has removed all cushioned or “soft” furniture from his building, replacing them with folding chairs which are easier to wipe down and disinfect. Mourners are not permitted to touch the deceased, not for fear of contracting COVID-19 from the body, but because the clothing, coffin, or other surfaces could become contaminated by those attending the service. “But if a widow wants to hug her husband and we’re about to close the casket, yes, we’re going to allow it,” said Perman. Jackson expressed frustrations with no set and clear mandates or guidelines from the PFDA. “The CDC has more information for funeral directors than we do,” Jackson said.

“People wanted to send food and I was like why? There’s no one here except me” Jackson said her biggest fear when it comes to the COVID-19 pandem-

ic is that families will not be able to grieve. She said that traditions cannot be upheld, families cannot travel, there won’t be closure for many mourners for months. “It’s going to come out later,” Jackson said. D’Amico described feeling isolated, both in the days leading up to and the days following her father’s death. “We entered him into hospice care at our house...but I am stuck in the house. No one can come here. I can’t leave. And I am watching my Dad die a slow death. In normal times, I would have had a million people around me. People wanted to send food and I was like why? There’s no one here except me,” D’Amico said, “I just felt that he was so robbed of his funeral because he was so well-known.” Perman mentioned that floral shops are non-essential businesses, so families cannot receive flowers. He suggested that family and friends who want to support grieving families donate to food banks or local organizations that need support during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Isn’t it interesting, though, that stuff is no longer important?” asked Perman. Ellen Schnieder’s mother passed away March 27th and the family did not hold a service and did not attend the burial. “We decided it wasn’t worth it,” she said, “People would have to wait outside the door of the funeral home. The cemetery called it ‘drop-off service only’ How nice is that?” Schneider has not been able to be with her daughters since her mother’s passing. She also must handle her mother’s estate in the bank parking lot due to social-distancing restrictions. She isn’t permitted inside the building. Schneider said she and the bank employees stand in the lot holding umbrellas and clipboards. “But the most difficult thing for me—I have three daughters—we have not been able to get together to mourn my mom. That’s the most painful thing,” she said.


This story was made possible

through a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Local Media Association.




hree Pennsylvania auditor general candidates who are women of color have been the subject of a new form of harassment taking place on Zoom meetings in recent weeks, candidates confirmed to the Capital-Star this week. Democratic hopeful and Bangladesh-born Nina Ahmad, of Philadelphia, said she was the subject of two such attacks, one of which involved two more female candidates for the seat. The first occurred during a March 28 Zoom meeting hosted by Bucks County Young Democrats that included Ahmad and fellow Democratic candidates Tracie Fountain and Rose Davis. In a video of the session, viewed by the Capital-Star, a voice can be heard hurling racial epithets and using profanity against the candidates. Shira Goodman, director of the Philadelphia Anti-Defamation League, said she “wasn’t surprised” by the fact that hackers waited until the women of color were speaking to interfere, citing the strategic placement of propaganda by white supremacists that’s designed for the most impact. “We see this all the time,” Goodman said. “They’re going to leave it in a place where they can get a lot of impact.” In a statement, Ahmad detailed the incident, saying that as she was finishing her remarks, and waiting for Fountain, also a woman of color, to start speaking, “I heard some strange grunting sounds. Tracie … and I heard the perpetrators spew awful racial slurs including wide use of the ‘N’ word.” According to Ahmad, organizers tried to mute everyone on the call, and were finally successful when it was Davis’ turn to speak. Ahmad said party officials were working with Zoom to secure the channel and take “appropriate next steps” to identify the reported three perpetrators. One of the user profiles of the perpetrators was captured in an image by those on the call. Ahmad continued on to other scheduled Zoom meetings that day without incident, but said she was “disturbed by what occurred.” The second incident occurred the next day, March 29, during an afternoon Zoom meeting with Pittsburgh’s 14th Independent Ward. In her recount of the video call, Ahmad said she “heard the perpetrators spewing sexual and racial slurs including the “N” word as well as degrading slurs targeted at women.” Before the perpetrators were blocked by conference organizers, the video recording caught perpetrators issuing a direct threat to Ahmad saying, “I am going to f*** you up.” “I don’t think you ever take anything like this lightly,” Ahmad said. “These are people who are seriously disturbed and who knows how much further it might go. This is what a lot of people of color and women face everyday.” Ahmad’s campaign has since turned to other platforms in the wake of the hacks, while working with Zoom to resolve security issues. A survivor of violence and genocide in Bangladesh before coming to the United States, Ahmad said attacks such as these won’t stop her from running for public office. “This doesn’t deter me from doing the things that I have to do,” Ahmad said, “but these are the kinds of things that add up to my experience. It starts with minimizing people.” CASSIE MILLER IS THE ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF THE PENNSYLVANIA CAPITAL-STAR WHERE THIS STORY FIRST APPEARED.




March 2: County departments are

given printable posters about hos to battle the spread of COVID-19, including instructions to “clean and disinfect” frequently touched objects.


t the beginning of March, Allegheny County officials and the rest of the state started preparing for the onslaught of the coronavirus. By the middle of the month, a coalition of advocates, citizens and elected officials demanded that as many inmates as possible be removed from the county jail to mitigate a major outbreak once the COVID-19 Virus got inside. While there is still some discussions on whether everyone that could be released was released, a bigger problem was occurring inside the jail’s walls. Very early in this crisis, the media and members of the community were asking for more details on what was being done at the jail to stop the spread of the virus among inmates, employees, contractors, visitors, etc. Information was sparse. Even two prominent members of the County Jail’s Oversight Board, County Controller Chelsa Wagner and Allegheny County Councilor Bethany Hallam couldn’t get updates and regular information. In the past several weeks, jail employees and others have reached out to the Pittsburgh Current to tell stories of serious failure by the jail’s management to adequately prepare for and mitigate the arrival of the virus at the Jail. The following timeline has been compiled from public documents, statements, interviews with employees and internal emails and documents obtained by the Current.


March 10: A health Department

press release issues guidance on workplace safety, saying sick employees should stay home and that there needed to be routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces and that employees should have access to disposable wipes to do so.

March 12: The State DOC cancels all visits at

state-run facilities and enhanced screening measures are adopted for all who enter the jail. Anyone with a temp over 100.4 will not be admitted.

ty annou tive case tion pro and wor home if nounced the coun two wee able to v

March 4: Dr. Debra Bogen is named the new director of the Allegheny County Health Department.

March 13: A press release f

legheny County says large gath should be avoided and stresse tinued washing of hands and c of surfaces. President Trump d a national emergency in respo the virus.

March 6: The state of Pennsylvania announces its first positive COVID-19 cases.

March 11: COVID-19 Cases in the

state increase 25 percent in 24 hours. The pa Department of Corrections announces that there will be increased screenings of visitors and employees at the facility.




March 12: Another employee request for

March 10: A corrections officer at the jail sends an email to administrators requesting that a spray bottle of bleach and alcohol-based hand sanitizer to the cart that carries cleaning chemicals. There is no response from jail officials regarding the employee’s request.

March 11: No Screening policies are enacted at the county jail.

A second corrections officer emails Warden Orlando Harper asking for bleach or bleach wipes for certain areas of the jail, including the visitation room. If not provided, the officer asks if employees can bring their own. Harper responds back that “the request is denied.” A third Corrections officer alerts the staff and administration that alerts from the health department offering guidance on proper virus mitigation procedures cannot be opened. The employee writes, “how can we keep updated about our health and safety if we can’t open the links.” No response is given.

bleach wipes in the visitor’s area is denied. A corrections officer raíces concerns about the jail’s intake area writing in an email, “Are the non-alcohol based hand sanitizers effective enough to stop the spread of the coronavirus? … Inmates have no soap within the cells and little running water to wash their hands after using the restroom. Will the bleach solution be enough to combat any exposure or spreading of the virus?” A senior corrections officer informs employees that a bleach solution is forthcoming.

March 1

jail employ changed; n and contra March 16.

MARCH 13: Employees are told bleach cleaning

solution will be disseminated to take care of “common areas” and not inmate cells. In an email, Warden Harper says, “In our facility, we are receiving recommendations and guidance from the Allegheny County Health Department and other government agencies.”

h 14: Allegheny Coun-

unces its first two posies of COVID-19. Mitigaocedures are reiterated rkers are urged to stay they are sick. It is and that personal visits at nty jail will be stopped for eks. Attorneys will still be visit clients.

from Alherings es concleaning declares onse to

March 17: A day after advocates and elected officials ask that the county inmate [population be reduced, an update on jail operations is given by the county. “Confined areas at the Allegheny County Jail undoubtedly present challenges, but through experience and defined policies, jail staff is adept at taking precautions to mitigate and eliminate the spread of illness or disease. The jail faces hurdles each year in dealing with influenza and other infectious illnesses between inmates and staff, and, through infection control procedures, the facility has been able to curb these conditions.” The release says additional actions have been taken including increased availability of cleaning agents, reducing access to the jail, new intake procedures of new inmates and screening for new inmates at point of entry and incoming jail staff.

March 16: OSHA releases guid-

ance on protecting employees from COVID-19. They include the following: identify and isolate suspected cases of COVID-19, Use control measures like Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) like masks, move “potentially infectious individuals” away/ Allegheny County calls for the closure of all non-essential businesses.


March 23: The state DOC further changes its intake policies and indicates it has been in contact with local and county jail facilities regarding best practices for fighting COVID-19. For example, whole state facilities began screening anyone entering state facilities on March 12, no such screenings, except for new inmates, has begun at the ACJ. An email containing CDC guidelines entitled “Interim Guidance on Management of Coronavirus … in Correctional and Detention Facilities.” On the list: provide adequate inmate soap, offer alcohol-based hand sanitizers, recommends face masks, including N95 where applicable, which should be fit tested, if space allows, reassign bunks

March 22: County and state health departments continue to tell citizens not to go to work if you are sick. Also, Warden Harper sends out an email saying that he consulted with the county health department regarding interactions between healthcare professionals and inmates during the intake process or medical care. “Healthcare professionals aren’t required to don an approved mask unless the inmate’s condition would warrant that protective measure.” Harper says the jail has “taken steps to combat the arrival of COVID-19 in our facility.” THat includes the removal of 203 inmates from the facility.

March 27: Allegheny County announces that COVID-19 has made its way into the jail through an employee who had no direct contact with staff. Warden also sends an internal email.

March 20: Warden Orlando

Harper emails jail staff telling them that inmates will now be limited to one roll of toilet paper per week.

March 30: The State DOC says that “Quarantining the entire system is in the best interest of our employees and our inmates.” Inmates remain and are fed in their cell and given time out of cells for phone calls and law-library visits. There will also be in-cell programming. According to a release: “All inmate movement will be controlled to conform to social distancing recommendations.” A day later, federal prisons will do the same for its nearly 150,000 inmate population.

March 29: A county jail supervisor emails officers and orders them to stop using internal email to complain about weak bleach solutions.

April 5-Present: On April 7, the Current reports that because hundreds of inmates have been released, there are 224 empty cells at the jail. However, instead of spreading out inmates, they are packed closer together. On April 8, a federal class-action lawsuit is filed against the ACJ by three inmates with high-susceptibility to COVID-19. That same day, the county announced that an inmate had contracted COVID-19. A second case was announced April 11 and a third on April 12. As od April 13, the ACJ was still not on quarantine.

April 3&4: Warden Harper releases social-distancing policies. “In following the suggestions of the ACHD and CDC, management at the Allegheny County Jail is recommending all employees, contractors and inmates practice social/physical distancing across the facility until further notice. By practicing social/physical distancing, we reduce the number of contacts we have each day. It can have a big impact on the ability of COVID-19 to spread. By limiting the spread of the virus, we can protect those around us. Across the entire facility, the recommendation is to distance yourself six feet from each colleague or inmate you come in contact with.” On April 4, nearly two weeks after employees are sent the CDC guidelines, N-95 masks are handed out to any employee or inmate who wants them. However, the masks are not required.

COUNTY JAIL - TIMELINE March 17: Employees

14: Despite the county’s release, yees say the visitation policy is unno screening of visitors, employees actors. This will not change until

say no additional operational changes are made, except for the addition of bleach cleaner.

March 22: A corrections officer sends out an

email warning that employees should not abuse the jail’s leave policy or “it will be bad for all of us.”

March 18: Seven days

March 16: Personal visits are

finally halted at the county jail (legal visits continue). However, advanced screenings are still nonexistent, no PPE is provided and there is no guidance on what to do if COVID-19 is suspected. A corrections officer asks specific questions of his union president and receives no answers. Employees complain of no written instructions given on sanitization.

after the state announced its new procedures, new intake procedures for the county jail are explained, including screening and a plan for isolation and quarantine of new arrestees. However, employees tell the Current, the arresting officers who come in contact with jail employees are not screened.

March 19: Two days after the county says new screen-

ing procedures have been implemented, employees say oo screenings of employees, vendors or contractors is conducted and PPE has not been provided. NOTE: The County Jail WILL NOT start advanced health screenings until March 28, a full 11 days after the county announced it was already happening.

March 23: Despite the

CDC guidelines, employees say they have not received PPE, hand sanitizers are running out and the amount of soap is not increased. Officers say bleach is scarce and when it does arrive, it seems severely watered down.

March 29: Officers are com-

plaining about a weak bleach solution. Also, quarantined inmates are left on the housing unit instead of transferring to medical.

March 28: The day after the employee tests positive, advanced screening finally begins. Despite employee requests, jail administration won’t release any information about what inmates or employees have been quarantined. Not only are masks not being handed out in the jail, but they are also forbidden.

April 1: Employees say

the ACJ is still not in quarantine, despite the recommendations of the CDC and other detention facilities. There is still PPE made available.

March 27: Employees say they were bothered by Harper’s failure to respond to questions regarding his above email. One employee emails Warden Harper: “I find it bothersome and genuinely concerning that responses to your email regarding a colleague of ours testing positive for COVID-19 have gone unacknowledged. With the fluidity of this pandemic, my fellow co-workers concerns/suggestions should be, at least, acknowledged. We all have families, some with children, others with elderly, and others with high risk individuals. We would all like to be assured that our concerns are truly being addressed and considered.”

April 3&4: Employees say they find Harper’s decision to release the policy odd given other policies that remain in effect. For example, They are not allow to wear masks into the building. They are screened on the way in and then are packed into an elevator to get to their posts. Once N95 masks are finally given out, inmates aren’t given instructions on how to properly wear them and there is no fit testing. Employees who wanted a mask had to sign a waiver that they were receiving the mask, however, no fit testing would be given. Masks are now mandatory.

April 2: As reported in the April 7 edition of the

Pittsburgh Current, two corrections officers are hauled in front of administrators because they refused to remove masks that they brought into the facility during a search of cells. One of the employees refuses to return to work without the mask and is suspended. And the other, according to records viewed by the Current, was reminded that they were still within their probationary period and not following orders might not go well. That officer returns to work without a mask despite the fact that she told officials she cares for an elderly relative.



ver the past month, the world as we all knew it has been completely dismantled. COVID-19 has changed everything about how we live and work, and we don’t know how long this massive shift will continue. And on the cusp of everything shutting down, just a few weeks ago, a big part of my own world ended. My dad died. I moved back home to Pittsburgh at the end of 2012 so that I could be close to my parents. My dad’s Alzheimer's was accelerating, and I wanted to be around him while he still knew who I was, and to be close by when he inevitably would not. He was my hero, my favorite person. Watching him these last few years has been absolutely gut wrenching, as I witnessed him slowly forget who I was. There is a strange dance and balance to grieving the loss of someone whose hand you're still able to hold. I visited my father on Saturday, March 7. He was in his bed, a dinner tray next to him. I sat down and fed him his meal. He hadn’t been able to speak for a couple of months, but working with him to eat was communicative and intimate. After dinner, I held his hand and commented on the news channel that was on in the background; I bet he would have been a Bernie person this time around. He wore his “Bill for First Gentleman” shirt proudly when he first went into the nursing home, four years ago. After a while I told him I was going to go, but I’d be back soon. I started to stand up, but he wouldn’t let go of my hand. I almost lost it. It meant so much

that it seemed he really knew I was there and wanted me to stay. My partner, Mike, came behind me to squeeze my shoulder. I gave Dad a hug and he kissed my forehead. On Wednesday, March 11, I visited my dad during my lunch break. He was asleep most of the time. I rested my head on him and read a book. When I gave him a hug goodbye, he woke up and his eyes were wide, as if he were smiling. On Thursday morning, March 12, I got a call that my dad’s nursing home would no longer be allowing visitors in light of the coronavirus epidemic. I was devastated, but knew they were taking the right precautions. The next afternoon, Friday, March 13, I was shopping for my wedding dress when I got the call from my mom. My dad was


likely going to pass in the next day or two. Despite the lockdown, his home would make an exception and allow both me and my mom to see him. I hung up and looked in the mirror. I was wearing a sparkling white wedding gown, tears pooling in my eyes. This is it, I thought. I was with him for hours that night. He couldn't move, but his eyes were open and wide nearly the whole time my mom and I were there. He was more alert than he’d been in ages. I said, “Hi, Dad,” and touched his face, his hair and kissed his head. His eye muscles scrunched up like he was smiling. I hugged him with my head on his chest, and he kissed my head. I will never forget my last bit of one-on-one time with my dad. We stared into each other's eyes for a long time. I tried, and

failed, to talk without crying. “Thank you for always believing in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself… Thank you for teaching me what love is… thank you for showing me what compassion is, what being loving and caring is. How to be tender.” My dad and I always had a relationship where we would say “I love you” and hug all the time. I'm so grateful that we had the type of relationship that none of this was anything I hadn't told him before, but the finality of this time weighed heavy. I talked to him about my nose, which I’ve been self-conscious about for years. I told him about my amazing future husband, Mike, and how one of the first things that drew him to me was my nose. “How about that? After all of that, this nose, our nose is what got him!” I gently tapped his nose and giggled, my face so similar to his. “There is no doubt that you’re my dad and I’m your daughter.” More crying. I told him not to worry, that mom and I were going to take care of each other. Mom came back after a couple hours, and I got up to go home to sleep. She said that I had the best dad ever, and I agreed. I gave my father hugs, kissed his head, touched his face, looked into those eyes and told him I loved him again. That he was the best dad ever, and the world is a better place because he was in it. I was in tears as I held my hand to his chest and looked into his eyes, which were still looking into mine. “You are always with me. And I am always with you.” I kissed him and told him that I’d see him in the morning. Mom called early that next morning, March 14. My alarm

NEWS had just gone off and I was getting ready to go back. She told me she was laying next to him the whole night, holding his arm. She dozed off for a bit, and when she woke up, he was gone. She closed his eyes. I guess that means the last thing he saw was his wife of 44 years, sleeping next to him. When I answered the phone Mike intuitively grabbed me, arms wrapped tightly around my waist. I collapsed, convulsing in tears as my mom told me the news. Shortly after I rolled out of bed and sat down in front of my laptop, typing everything I could remember about the night before. I didn’t want to forget any of the moments we’d shared. The last few weeks have been a blur for me. Stay-at-home orders immediately followed dad’s passing. I’ve been home in a cocoon, grateful that I had bereavement time off and working from the safety of my house after that. I’ve been perpetually oscillating between painstaking sorrow over my dad, and the frantic anxiety about the scary moment we’re in. People losing their jobs, getting sick, dying. At this moment I’m grateful that my fear response is to freeze, since we’re supposed to stay home, but what about folks who are stuck in fight-or-flight? Aside from the great economic impact of this pandemic, what about the mental health of folks most impacted? We are all experiencing grief and loss right now. For some folks these losses are compounded. Losing a job means losing a paycheck, but in our society it can also mean a loss of identity. Students missing graduations, jobs, going back to school. Small businesses unsure if they’ll have to close their doors for good, unable to weather this storm. Weddings, celebrations, all canceled. So many plans, thwarted. Now that it’s been nearly a month and all but essential busi-

nesses are shut down through at least May, I’m grateful that my dad passed when he did. I can’t imagine a world where he’s still here, but completely alone, not allowed visitors. I realize so many others don’t have that luxury. People have lost family members without being able to say goodbye, without a final hug and touch. Funerals are out of the question, so the closure that comes with them is on hold. Even moments that should be joyful are tainted. I’ve known a couple folks who’ve given birth in the past month, and knowing their parents couldn’t be there to welcome their new grandchildren into the world is heartbreaking. So much beauty tainted by the fact that we need to be distant from each other to keep one another safe. I’ve begun to step back into the world, metaphorically of course, because for the first couple weeks, I couldn’t take anything in. I shut down, and I’m grateful that my circumstances allowed me the space to process my loss, and especially thankful for my partner who’s made sure I stayed fed this whole time. I’ve felt overwhelmed by my grief many times, crying so hard it physically hurts. I try to catch myself in those moments: “don’t run away from this,” I think. Sit in the pain, honor it. I understand that grief this big is only possible because I have something so wonderful to mourn. I don’t know what the answers are to any of this. We are all grieving in some way right now. For many there’s already been a constant fight to survive poverty, and now millions of us are shuttered at home hoping we and our loved ones survive this virus. The magnitude of the fear and trauma in this moment is real. As we continue down this uncertain path, let’s be gentle with ourselves, and each other.

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e are witnessing food insecurity in Pittsburgh. Thirteen hundred vehicles lined up for two boxes of emergency family food from the Food Bank, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Allegheny Fayette Central Labor Council. When a record-breaking 17 million job losses were reported on April 9th, the DOW jumped up 779 points. Let that sink in. These two examples present the most unequivocal evidence that despite the best efforts of Speaker Pelosi and the House Democrats, the GOP-driven rescue plan and the Trump administration's implementation of the emergency spending law is working for the wealthy but not for those who cannot afford to miss a paycheck and are now in dire need of help. Over forty million people in the United States, or about 12 percent of the population, meet the definition of living in poverty and many live paychecks to paychecks. According to the "Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2017," published by the Federal Reserve, "four in 10 adults in 2017 would either borrow, sell something, or not be able to pay if faced with a $400 emergency expense. One in five adults cannot cover their current month's bills, and one in four skipped a medical treatment in the past year due to an inability to pay." Many young college graduates are underemployed, strapped with massive student debt, have little upward mobility, and increasingly they are counted among the poor. The pandemic has ripped the bandage off a deep wound revealing how corrupt political and crony capitalistic abuses

are destroying America. Lobbyists have successfully rigged the system in favor of the rich and corporations oppressing the poor and shrinking middle class. I recently detailed this exploitation in my second book entitled, The Climate Crisis and Corrupt Politics. The American labor movement has been deliberately dismantled over the past several decades with so-called "Right to Work" laws that defund unions, court decisions that tilt in favor of the corporations, and other unjust labor laws. We have also witnessed several regressive tax policies that favored the rich including the recent massive tax cuts. Ironically, bucking the warnings of their labor leaders, far too many Trump voters were union workers who bought the rhetoric. Our system is far more racist and unjust toward those who serve us. Many in the once expanding middle class are now among the "working poor" who live paycheck to paycheck. Essential workers are disproportionately minorities, including African Americans and Latinos. They work in frontline jobs in the food, transportation, and service sectors where they are experiencing the brunt of the pandemic with no protective masks and gloves. These workers are often unable to socially distance in their workplaces or even in their home communities. They have no health insurance and are paid woefully inadequate minimum wages. Many are forced to work multiple jobs and long hours to support their families. We have long known that many working poor Ameri-


cans have no financial freeboard to handle a crisis yet nothing has been done to help them. There are 2.5 million agricultural workers who are some of the lowest-paid workers in America. They have been identified as essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic, yet they have no healthcare, food security, or any safety net if they get sick. According to NPR report, in a heartless act, Trump's new Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is working with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to find ways to reduce wage rates for foreign guest workers on American farms. A new Harvard study established the first clear link between long-term respirable air pollution and COVID-19 death rates. The study found a "large overlap" between communities with dirty air and those who succumb to coronavirus. The findings are particularly important for African Americans who live near significant sources of pollution and exposed to higher levels of toxic and harmful air pollution. Not surprisingly, a Washington Post analysis of early data from jurisdictions across the country found that the COVID-19 appears to be affecting and killing black Americans at a disproportionately high rate compared to white Americans. The majority-black counties have three times the rate of infections and nearly six times the rate of deaths as majority-white counties. The pattern is consistent across America; chronic exposure particularly by minorities to microscopic pollutants and ozone damage our lungs and dramatically increase asthma, cardiovascular diseases, and

other chronic diseases that put minorities at greater risks for COVID-19. Environmental Justice groups have long focused on the essential connections between health and various place�based environmental threats. To date, the struggle for social justice has been unable to overcome the siting of pollution sources. Far too many hazardous waste sites, landfills, petrochemical facilities and power plants are built in poor and minority communities where residents don't have the political power or money to advocate for themselves. Ignoring the risks to the disad-


vantaged communities, Trump has been advancing fossil fuels in the face of an historic health crisis. Despite confirmed linkage between air pollution and human health, fossil fuel CEO's continued to lobby for relief as part of COVID-19 relief efforts. Republican senators have called for a bailout for the dying coal industry. Oil, gas, and transportation industries have successfully moved EPA to gut fuel efficiency standards and suspend nearly all environmental law enforcement by arguing economic losses as justification to delay implementation of pollution limits and other enforcement

actions. COVID-19 injustice has spread to the military as Trump's acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly fired Captain Brett Crozier of the Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier for trying to defend his crew after twenty COVID 19 infections were diagnosed onboard. As Crozier warned, the virus spread like wildfire on the aircraft carrier with over 416 now sick, including Captain Crozier. An additional 1000 crew members needed to be tested and are pending results. If that were not bad enough, Modly spent nearly $250,000 to fly to Guam

to harshly rebuke Crozier in front of the Teddy Roosevelt crew. Modly arrogantly told the sailors that Captain Crozier was "stupid and naive." His outrageous speech attacking a beloved captain triggered an intense backlash. Like so many other Trump appointees, Modly had no qualifications whatever in any armed service. In the face of the backlash, Modly was forced to resign. Economists have estimated that $15/hour is needed to provide a living wage in today’s economy. The failure of the Pennsylvania state legislature to address minimum wages and

other safety-net programs has now come into full view. The General Assembly has not raised the minimum wage since July 2007 which was then about 39% of the median salary ($18.23/hr.) for full-time workers. With the Pennsylvania minimum wage now fixed at the federal minimum of $7.25, minimum-wage earners currently earn less than 29% of what typical workers earn. ($24.44 in 2019) Pegged to the inadequate federal minimum wage, Pennsylvania's minimum wage has gotten grossly out of balance. "Back in 1968, Pennsylvania minimum-wage workers earned over half (51%) of what the typical Pennsylvania worker made." In Washington, the House of Representatives recently passed the "Raise the Wage Act," making $15 an hour a reality for nearly all workers by 2025. Majority leader Mitch McConnell warned that this bill, like other House-passed bills, is dead on arrival in the Senate. The pandemic makes it clear that we have shameful and grossly unjust public policies that threaten millions during an extended pandemic crisis. We must confront the perverse ideology that puts profits for the super-rich over the suffering of people of color and the poor. In a democracy, every adult must seek a just society. We are responsible to seek and support political leaders who will address these injustices. We must collectively show our love one another and care for the least of these who daily serve us in so many ways. We must confront the truth of democracy run aground and change this unjust treatment of the working poor before it is too late.



DIGITAL How Kings, Queens and in-



n one wild night, Princess Jafar lip syncs to the debut of a brand new saccharine pop tune called “Gummi Girl;” dance duo and nonbinary entity slowdanger emerges from behind tulle to electronic cacophony; absolute drag powerhouse Maxi Pad brings a tear to the audience’s eyes with a heartwrenching lip sync of “Dangerously In Love” by Beyoncé; multimedia artist and drag performer Gia Fagnelli serves cult-exploding alienness; and that’s just scratching the surface of the “Princess Jafar and Friends Easter Eggstravaganza.” Usually this kind of performance takes place in a club or a theater, but because of the stay-at-home orders and quarantine surrounding the COVID-19 Pandemic, it took place over Zoom with screen-shares and a live chat, strangers and friends and performers interacting and virtually cheering on and tipping the performers. Princess Jafar’s highly produced events, like prior Princess Jafar and Friends variety shows, usually happen three to four times a year, and require months of preparation. “My drag is performance art, and it's a stage show, and it's written and produced by a team,” Jafar says. “It’s like if I were to produce a movie and that was my art.” After spending four to five months preparing the Princess Jafar game show that was cancelled, it was a tough realization for the “Disney villain-princess-for-good” that probably more events would be cancelled. “So now, how do I make sense of myself not just a drag performer, but as a performance artist, as a stage producer, as an event producer that produces events for audiences from 100 to 250 people?” asks Princess Jafar. “So I had to remember, you know, ‘Remember who you are,’ like Mufasa says and I really started writing. I started writing the treatments for a bunch of online shows.” Princess Jafar is one of many performance artists and drag stars

Princess Jafar

who are trying to entertain in spite of the quarantine and stay-at-home orders. Performers are using platforms like Facebook Live, Instagram Live, Twitch, Zoom, and YouTube to keep active. Some performers are pre-recording and uploading content, while others are doing live numbers on streams or curating shows. But it’s not easy to take such an interactive art form and put it into the digital world. “Taking drag digital is heartbreaking for those of us who thrive off of the special magic that is created by the community when they show up to interact with drag. The energy and risk of performing to a live audience is thrilling, and any imperfections in my opinion can add to the grit and improvisation of the whole thing,” explains performer Moon Baby, one of


the performers featured on the Princess Jafar and Friends Eggstravaganza, absolutely SERVING “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” out of their window. “Livestream type shows where the main risk is that your wifi might cut out, well, that's just miserable. I have been using it as an opportunity to create strong visuals. The silver lining is that I'm not at a bar, so I can perform on my roof or through a window or in my bathtub--it's an opportunity to elevate forms,” says Moon Baby. Scene queen Venus Doom (@ thevenusdoom on Instagram) is the co-host of Element’s open stage, but right now she’s working 40+ hours a week at Rite-Aid. On her days off and after work Venus Doom gets into drag and films numbers as a way to keep busy and entertain people despite the

quarantine. “But it’s very exhausting,” explains Doom. “I never thought being behind a camera would be so tough compared to entertaining an entire room full of people drinking.” Doom is not alone in feeling the strain of a medium shift. Pissy Mattress also has been learning what it’s like to perform for a camera instead of people. “Being comfortable going live and being entertaining in that [digital] sphere is a cool challenge I am facing. I like having something to bounce off of, whether a co-host like my drag sister Maxi Pad or an audience,” explains Ms. Mattress. “That is how I feel my comedy works best. I am starting to learn to trust my comedy and my craft without direct audience involvement.”



betweens are taking their shows online


“And as far as shows...okay, yo. Performing in your basement is a 180 from the usual drag business. I kind of feel like a young gay kid again dancing and performing in private but trying not to be too loud. I miss having space to run around, people to laugh with, and microphones,” says Ms. Mattress. “If you have ever been to one of my shows I do a lot of bouncing off the audience. I feed the kids and the kids feed me. On the flip side I would call myself somewhat of a social media queen,” says scene queen and electric performer Bambi. “So while navigating how to host a show, from my

Maxi Pad

living room, on my iPhone is just as challenging as it sounds...digital drag isn’t a reach. Just need some time to fine tune and fuck up.” For Doom, keeping up with other performers with more resources can be a challenge. “I only have my phone to record, edit and share. I’m lucky to have a roommate who has helped film a couple of my numbers so far,” says Doom. Venus Doom is not alone, and it’s something Princess Jafar is aware of and working towards changing. “Some artists can’t do live, they don’t have the Wi-Fi, so maybe they

Moon Baby

can do a pre-recorded video. But some artists can’t do live or a video because they don’t have phones that have that quality, or they don’t have the lighting, or they don’t even have one clean or presentable space in their house because of the conditions they have to live in,” explains Princess Jafar. “One performer had to say no because they’re living with their parents during this and they’re closeted again.” Princess Jafar is currently figuring out how to get ring lights and recording equipment to those who don’t have access to it. “Hopefully we can get these people involved because it’s really unfair. It’s really going to be disproportionate which queens have access to [digital performance.] I saw a drag brunch happening on Sunday and it really broke my heart because it had the same five white cis male queens that are at every drag brunch every week,” says Princess Jafar. “I felt like it was a really wasted opportunity to expand and bring people in. It’s just interesting what we can do together online.” Some queens believe that access to the digital sphere and glossier performances can be a total game changer for smaller performers. “I think before the quarantine, performers with strong followings really ruled social media,” says Doom, “But it has been interesting because

there is a slight shift happening where performers with fewer followers are shining in digital shows and on Twitch and TikTok, so the playing field is kind of opening for newer people to shine, which I love.” If you’re looking for ways to help queens and performance artists, try The Pittsburgh Artist Emergency Fund, started by Julie Mallis, Sarah Huny Young and Josh Orange and now assisted by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, is one fund to donate to that is helping all artists including performance artists and drag artists. So far 90 artists total have received compensation through the fund, and 50 more artists are slated to receive aid. The fund ceiling was raised to accommodate the number of incoming requests being made. Tipping is also always an option. “Follow [performers] online and see what their situation is. If they’re producing content for tips, tip the dolls. If they’re not in a position to create and are struggling, tip the dolls,” says Bambi.


Princess Jafar Redubs The Movies: Home Alone. Fri. April 17. See @ princessjafar on Instagram for more details. The Dope Show: A Digital Drag Show hosted by Virus Eleganja and Saliva Godiva. Fri. April 17. 9 p.m. (hosted via Virus Eleganja’s YouTube and Instagram, Venus Doom is a featured performer) BROAD DAYLIGHT - A Digital Drag Matinee w/ Pissy Mattress on FRIDAY APRIL 24TH @ 3PM. Find @pissy.mattress on IG for details.


This story was made possible

through a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Local Media Association.



The Stars of Disaster Love Won’t Save You [Railroad Ave. Records] www.thestarsofdisaster.com

Late last year, Anthony Schiappa put out a record of songs he’d been writing since around 2014, under the name, The Stars of Disaster. Leading up to that, he’d followed a series of odd life turns, working as an airline baggage handler in upstate New York, an academic in New York City, and a self-described “exile in Scandinavia.” From there he found his way to Steubenville, Ohio where songwriting became a kind of lifeline, and finally to Pittsburgh where he started recording. Love Won’t Save You was recorded in a variety of odd places, with a variety of Schiappa’s friends. The record came out last November but sounds, on both an auditory and spiritual level, like 1995. Schiappa counts early R.E.M, and Ween as influences -- he seems to have learned plenty from each band’s alt-rock chops -- as well as Guided By Voices. Love Won’t Save You shares GBV’s freewheeling confidence, and it’s anyone-cando-it lo-fi sound, though, for the most part, The Stars of Disaster are hardly as messy, or as audacious. Despite its shambly aesthetic, this is, at its heart, a solid collection of wry power-pop, offering a mishmash of familiar elements, Frankensteined together into something that’s

enough its own thing to avoid being distractingly nostalgic. “Oh, My Darling” and “Endless Transition” put slightly dissonant Thurston Moore-ish vocals against jangly ’80s guitars. “I Need a War,” one of the more straight-ahead tracks, offers lovely shadows of Big Star. The reverby, Teenage Fanclub-esque “Talkin” flips somewhat dizzyingly between wobbly minor-chord hooks and anthemic major chords: Raw sounds are matched by lyrics that are either painfully honest or perversely romantic, depending on your


perspective: “I'm sick of always trying not to talk to everyone about you … I like talking ‘bout you more than I like making love to you.” The songs are surely fun to play and see played live; for that reason (presumably) Schiappa put together a proper band, including Kate Daly on bass, David Brockschmidt on drums and Jesus Geoffery Martinez on lead guitar. But until we return to in-person performance, Love Won’t Save You offers a nice dose of unfakeable rock ‘n’ roll energy. MARGARET WELSH


Go Big [Self-release] benefitspgh.bandcamp.com Mike Baltzer has presented the Pittsburgh music scene with atmospheric synth-pop, harder rock and pure indie pop, in bands like Joybox, Fangs of the Panda and Hard Money, to name just a few. With a diverse track record like that, the opening seconds of “Depilatory Scream” still come as a jolt. “Get yourself a razor/and take a good look in the mirror,” he wails in a double-tracked, high-and-low combination vocal, as Benefits charge in behind him, following the first phrase. The riff they play sounds as catchy as any of Baltzer’s past work but the vocal delivery — like the Cure’s Robert Smith hopped up on espresso — ratchets the mood up several notches. Although the lyrics and punny title deal with nothing heavier than shaving (“depilatory cream” is used for hair removal), “Depilatory Scream” implies that Go Big might be more than just the title of the EP. The group follows it with “Empty Set,” where Baltzer and Joe Serkoch sound like they’ve transposed a Sonic Youth riff into standard tuning, with the two guitarists keeping all the tension intact. “Ice Breaker” and “Off The Light” keep the energy flowing. The latter track slows the tempo a bit but also becomes a bit anthemic thanks to a climax fueled by Bill Bernstein’s keyboards and Dave Brockschmidt’s drums. Go Big follows Introduction to Digital Recording, the band’s debut (not a tutorial as the title implies, but another four-song EP), which came out last summer. While that was a strong opener, Go Big features slightly stronger production qualities, albeit a little less emphasis on the keyboards. Both releases can be



found on the band’s Bandcamp page making it easy to hear Benefits’ whole catalog in one fell swoop, like one (mini) album. MIKE SHANLEY

Laika, the Astro-Hound

You Can’t Stop Being Anything [Self-released] Aikatheastrohound.bandcamp. com

When Sean Jackson put together his new solo record, he intended it to be a new project, called Cedar Shrine. When he changed his mind and decided to release it under Laika, the Astro-Hound, the alias he’s been using for years, he didn’t miss the irony. Referencing the record’s title, he wrote in an email, “Hey, I couldn’t stop being Laika, the Astro-Hound! Jackson has grown increasingly adventurous in his compositions over the years, moving from the quasi-improvisational solo piano of 2015’s Simple Songs of Contem-

plation to the percussion-driven traditional song-structures of 2016’s Kairos. You Can’t Stop Being Anything continues in that direction, though Jackson -- with keyboards, piano, loops and vocals -- seems to still be digging around for paydirt. This release feels more like a collection of sketches and odd journal entries than a fully-formed record. Sometimes it fades into meandering background noise, but there are some stand-out moments, like the soulful, atmospheric “Useless Anecdote,” which reminded me a little of James Blake. Jackson really goes for it, whatever he’s doing, not shying away from ambitious vocals or compositions. Sometimes those attempts are successful and sometimes he overreaches, but You Can’t Stop Being Anything feels like an honest exploration, from which the best parts might be taken on to future releases. MARGARET WELSH PITTSBURGH CURRENT | APRIL 14, 2020 | 19



irl Scouts Western Pennsylvania continues their virtual patch program with the Leave No Trace patch, teaching kids how to take care of outdoor environments for generations to come. The programming is free, but parents have the option to order a patch for their child upon completion for $1.25. The program is available to all children, not just girl scouts. 1 p.m. Free. gswpa.org/ patchprograms United Steelworkers invites those at home to join a virtual call where the union’s legislative experts discuss how the new COVID-19 laws affect workers and their families and how to best protect them. Limited virtual seats are available, so reserve a spot for guaranteed access. 7 p.m. Free. facebook.com/ events/256946995477954 Turn on the lights, step onto the porch or front lawn and join #LoveFromPgh in applauding the efforts of all essential workers supporting the community in this difficult time. This Illumination Ovation is a coordinated effort keeping in mind social distancing practices while uplifting those working to keep us all safe. 8 p.m. 25 Carrick Ave continues their Live at 25 The Pandemic Series to support local artists. Tuesdays through Fridays each week feature live virtual performances and industry talks, hosted by Patrick Jordan and Alexi Morrisey. Viewers are encouraged to donate to the


group’s GoFundMe page set up to support a variety of local performers, and artists are encouraged to apply to perform. 6:30 p.m. Free. 25carrickave.com

APRIL 15 Songbird Artistry is connecting people who need face masks with people who can make them. Those in need email their name and how many masks are needed, and will receive an email back when they are ready. Those who can make masks but have no way to distribute them should email to arrange for Songbird Artistry to get them to others. The drop-off and pick-up area will be located in Highland Park. The masks come at no cost. 7 p.m. Free. bhlarman@ gmail.com or songbirdartistry. com/events

APRIL 16 Pittsburgh Public Theater begins a new virtual play, presented live by Artistic Director Marya Sea Kaminski. The first part will air Thursday, Apr. 16 with the second part following on Friday, Arp. 17. The event is free, though donations are welcomed to support the arts. 7 p.m. ppt.org/playtime

APRIL 17 City Theatre continues their CT Live series of free weekly virtual performances. 1 p.m. Free. facebook.com/CityTheatreCompany


Alan Stanford continues hosting The Irishing of English Theatre for PICT Classic Theatre. This week’s free virtual lecture is on Oscar Wilde. Register to attend or to receive a link to the completed lecture for viewing after. 2 p.m. Free. pictclassictheatre.webinarninja.com/ series-webinars/1912/register Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens hosts a screening of Plastic Wars followed by a discussion led by Justin Stockdale, managing director of the Pennsylvania Resources Council. The event and film are free, though reservation is encouraged. 7 p.m. Free. phipps. conservatory.org/calendar/detail/environmental-film-series White Whale Bookstore hosts a virtual book event with authors Stephanie Gorton and Maggie Messitt. The discussion is free and will be hosted on Zoom. Order Citizen Reporters online to read to prepare for the discussion. 7 p.m. Free. facebook.com/ events/809495186129479

APRIL 18 Pittsburgh Opera and WQED-FM partner to bring listeners a series of specially curated performances throughout Pittsburgh Opera’s history. 12:30 p.m. Free. 89.3FM or wqed.org/ fm Right TurnClyde hosts a virtual telethon to raise $20,000 for Pittsburgh area hospitality

workers. Over 60 acts will be performing in this 12-hour event to help raise the money. 12 p.m. Free admission. facebook.com/ groups/601575137064410/?epa=SEARCH_BOX

APRIL 19 Body Rock!, an event by Early: Media Collective and UPMC Health Plan, move their event online to encourage community and movement. The event is free, though donation links will be available to support the instructors and Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Greater Pittsburgh Area. The site will go live Apr. 19 and remain available for weeks. 8 a.m. Free. bodyrockpgh.com Pittsburgh Earth Week begins with a virtual teach-in, followed by a 24-hour Youth Climate Strike on Apr. 22. Multiple local organizations, speakers and artists have collaborated to move the free event online in order for Pittsburghers to declare a climate emergency on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. 1 p.m. Free. facebook.com/ events/233475844491431 Shalom Pittsburgh holds a virtual young adult game night, hosted by Matt Sandler. Gamers will need a phone to act as their controller, and registration in advance is required for access to the Zoom link. 8 p.m. Free. jewishpgh.org/event/young-adult-virtual-game-night



pril 7, 2 p.m.: The fucking world is burning!

March 7, 6 p.m.: I’m at Stick City Brewing in Mars, PA. As the name suggests, mostly sticks, not a lot of city. The weather is fairly decent and there is a fire out back for the folks. The place is packed and very few seats are available. No flights, so I grab a 10oz glass of “Dark Wilderness,” a 6.8% stout with “roasty scents and flavors of dried fig, dark chocolate, and a touch of silked espresso.” Sometimes, I take pictures of the menus like a real journalist. I grab a seat at a high table next to one of the local regulars and fire up a conversation that doesn’t involve awkward silence after inevitably veering into political beliefs, as is ought to happen after prolonged drunken discussions with older white burbans. He gives me a background of the craft scene in the area, the folks he likes and dislikes, and some recommendations on booze. I order a “4WD” hazy IPA. No description necessary, it’s hazy and IPA. Very well done. We exchange a couple of “Fuck Trumps” and I’m off to the next boozery. March 7, 8 p.m.: I’m at On The Point Brewing. They have a lot of TVs and they also serve beer here. March 7, 9 p.m.: Missing Links is also packed. We made it just in time to catch the end of the live band’s set. I order a flight from the diverse menu and chat it up with co-owner Dan Kos who gives me a fine education of the various styles I’m enjoying. “We only use four ingredients


here.” My favorite combination of those four comes in the form of “Bigfoot ESB,” a 5.8% English Ale that is “evenly balanced between malt and hops with a slightly spicy and sweet profile.” Sometimes, I take pictures of the menus like a real journalist. March 11, 9 p.m.: We just wrapped up our first in-person staff meeting for Fresh Fest, only to find out Tom Hanks has the Rona, and the NBA just canceled the rest of the season. Looks like this will be our last in-person meeting for a while. I should probably go grab some beer and maybe some toilet paper. Shit just got… reel. March 17, 2 p.m.: I stop by the local beer distributor to panic shop. The place is decimated. Luckily, I’ve been recently exposed to a couple of overlooked gems. Namely Troegs “Haze Charmer,” a 5.5% dry-hopped pale ale, and Sly Fox “Softly Falling Darkness,” a 5.9% oatmeal stout and by far one of my favorite new beers this season. Have I mentioned how much I’m loving these lower ABV options with full body and flavor? Don’t get me wrong; my heart will always belong to 9% imperial breakfast pastry beasts with everything thrown into the mash except a few fucks to offer the style guidelines, but there is a time and place for everything. And sometimes, I want all the roasty, toasty goodness with a stout core and a light hammer. Bang the drum slowly. March 21, 2 p.m.: You might be sick of hearing about Apis Meadery but there are other

columns to read. It’s one of the few vices the lady and I can both enjoy. They have pick-up bottle service to combat the spread of the Rona. We call in advance, place the order and pay over the phone, and are greeted at the car by a gloved & masked employee. WHO approved service. March 21, 3 p.m.: I get a call from a friend. “You want to grab some Birdfish?” I don’t not want to grab some Birdfish.

tomer they see for the foreseeable future. We head inside and grab some four-packs of “The Dude” imperial white Russian stout (I prefer the term “coffee blonde”), a growler of “Dope,” a beautiful specimen of hazy IPA, and some other things that slip my mind. I don’t always take pictures of the menu like real journalists. The grilled cheese is perfectly crisp with buttery edges. A solid base for the pounding about to take place.

March 21, 4 p.m.: We arrive at Birdfish and there is a food truck outside. I just ate, but order a grilled cheese anyway, because I may be the last cus-

March 21, 4:30 p.m.: Fuel is $1.85 here. The world may be burning, but at least we have cheap gasoline to pour on the flames.



Savage Love Love | sex | relationships BY DAN SAVAGE MAIL@SAVAGELOVE.NET

I am a super queer presenting female who recently accepted that I have desires for men. My partner of two years is bisexual and understands the desires, but has personally dealt with those desires via masturbation while my desires include acting. Her perspective is that the grass is greener where you water it and that my desire to act is immature, selfish, and has an unrealistic end game. What gives when you don't feel fulfilled sexually in a monogamous relationship? Open Or Over? Something definitely gives when a person doesn’t feel fulfilled in a monogamous relationship—sometimes it’s an ultimatum that’s given, sometimes it’s a one-time-only hall pass that’s given, sometimes it’s an agreement to open the relationship that’s given. But the relationship sometimes gives, e.g. the relationship collapses under the weight of competing and mutually exclusive needs and desires. If you want to open things up (if allowed) and she wants to keep things closed (no allowance), OOO, it’s ultimately your willpower—your commitment to honoring the commitment you’ve made—that’s likely to give. I have a close friend who’s cheating on her girlfriend. It has been going on for over a year. At first I actually supported the exploration because my friend has a really unsupportive girlfriend who has done really crappy things to her over the course of their relationship. I kept pushing for her to make a decision and use this affair as a way for her to free herself, but she is just coasting along with her girlfriend and her lover. She’s under a lot of stress and she’s turned into a major liar and

first. If the issue your friend expects you to ooze sympathize while she goes on and on about the mess she’s made of her life, IMFAA, simply refuse to discuss the mess that is her love life with her. Remind her that she already knows what you think needs to do—she needs to break the fuck up with her shitty girlfriend—and then change the subject. I'm a cis het woman who loves men and loves dicks. I love dicks so much that I fantasize about having one. Nothing brings me to orgasm more quickly or reliably than closing my eyes and imagining my own dick, or imagining myself as my partner, and what they're feeling through their dick. I love being a woman, and I'm afraid to bring this up with any partner(s) of mine. Is this super weird? Am I secretly trans somehow? Am I overthinking this? Perfect Minus Penis It’s not that weird, some people are trans and you could be one of them (but fantasizing about having a dick ≠ being a male), and you’re overthinking what you should be enjoying. Buy a strap-on, tell your partners about your fantasies, and enjoy having the dick the dick you can have.

it’s creeping me out. I'm considering either telling her girlfriend myself (though I promised my friend I wouldn't) or maybe I just need to end this friendship. My friend’s double life upsets me. It’s just been going on too long. Is My Friend An Asshole? If your friend—the one leading the double life—is asking you to run interference for her, if she’s asking you to lie to her girlfriend, or if she’s asked you to compromise your integrity in some way, she’s an asshole and you’re a sap; tell your friend you’re done covering for her and that you won’t be able to see her again until the deceit or the pandemic is over, whichever comes


I wonder if you might be able to put a label on this sex act: It has to do with overstimulation, in this case of a penis (mine). After receiving a wonderful hand job, the giver kept stroking me purposefully. My penis was in a heightened, super-sensitive state. It was almost like being tickled, if you’re ticklish. I was being forcefully held down (consensually), and just as I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, I had a second amazing orgasm. I didn’t ejaculate again, it was more of a body orgasm. It came in waves and everything was warm. It was mind-blowing, spiritual, galactic, unique, and very similar to how I’ve heard women describe their orgasms. Ever hear of anything like this? Is this some sot of Japanese underground kink thing?

Witty Hilarious Overzealous Amateur The act you’re describing already has a name, WHOA, and an entry on Urban Dictionary: apple-polishing. Most men find the sensation of having the head of their cock worked so overwhelming that their bodies involuntarily recoil, which makes it difficult to polish someone’s apple if the “victim” isn’t restrained in some way. But it’s not painful—it’s like being tickled; indeed, the victim usually reacts with desperate laughter and gasping pleas for it to stop. (Don’t ask me how I know.) That all-over feeling of euphoria you experienced when your apple got polished was most likely a wave of endorphins—like a runner who pushes herself past her physical limits and experiences an full-body “runner’s high,” you were pushed past your physical limits, WHOA, and experienced the same sort of high. I’m a 35-year-old straight guy. I recently started seeing an amazing 34-year-old girl. We love being around each other, but during sex, neither of us can come. It’s infuriating, to say the least. She has no trouble when she masturbates and I know I have no trouble when I masturbate, so why can’t we come together? Can’t Understand Matter If you can come when you masturbate and she can come when she masturbates, CUM, masturbate together and you’ll be coming together. Mutual masturbation isn’t a sad consolation prize—mutual masturbation is sex and it can be great sex. And the more often you come together through mutual masturbation, CUM, the likelier it gets that you’ll be able to come together while enjoying other things. mail@savagelove.net Follow Dan on Twitter @ FakeDanSavage www.savagelovecast.com



his was a while before Corona took over, when life was staid in different ways. She let me pick her up from work like I used to. It was raining. My car was still dirty like it had always been and it still embarrassed me and I still didn’t clean it. We started in, just saying a few easy things. Our words shuffling along. I was thinking of our feet on rocks between railroad ties when we used to break bottles on the tracks. I had things I wanted to ask and she had things she wanted to ask but neither of us did anything about it but sit there. I pulled the car over, maybe a half mile from her house. It kept on raining. I had all these ideas in my head of what was supposed to happen. The rain going on harder. “Remember New Years when we were going to walk down to the water and have sex under the railroad bridge at midnight, but you fell asleep at 11?” I said. “You probably fell asleep.” “No, you did. I just let you sleep, I didn’t want to wake you up. And there was that guy outside yelling at his wife over the megaphone. It woke you up and we just lay there listening to them and laughing. He was on that megaphone and just kept criticizing her and she must have been right there next to him because we could hear her just as easily when she said You sound like an asshole. And he said I don’t care if I sound like an asshole. And he just kept on going telling her why he was mad at her, saying good, I hope they do hear me, everyone should know you’re lousy. Fireworks going off, and him on the porch talking into that megaphone like he was at a protest. Barking right in her face.” Our words, each word, like tiny bugs chewing on dust. She looked at my hand every time I moved it, every time I adjusted something

or reached for my water. I wanted to be reaching for her hand. I drove her home. I gave her my hat because it was still raining. She left it on the seat. I wanted to do better, I wanted to tell her all of the things that brought me there, but that would have been unfair too. She told me once that I just wait a couple years and write things down and act like I’m sorry, which I understood. But I was sorry.






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Pittsburgh Current, April 14, 2020, Volume III, Issue IX  

Pittsburgh food banks deal with food insecurity in light of COVID-19; Virus Lockdown makes saying goodbye to loved ones even more difficult,...

Pittsburgh Current, April 14, 2020, Volume III, Issue IX  

Pittsburgh food banks deal with food insecurity in light of COVID-19; Virus Lockdown makes saying goodbye to loved ones even more difficult,...

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