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#WIDEMAN CHALLENGE RAISING THE PROFILE OF PITTSBURGH AUTHOR VOL. 3 ISSUE 35

Oct. 13, 2020 - Oct. 19, 2020

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TO THE REPUBLIC... New art exhibit examines what's at stake in november election


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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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Climate Crisis and Corrupt Politics By: Larry J. Schweiger Free Shipping Paperback $29.95 or purchase an eBook for $19.00 (Read the first 25 pages for free) There is only one earth and our world is undergoing dramatic changes brought on by the climate crisis and other human-induced ecological disruptions. The world's top scientists studying these threats and the forces behind them have been warning us for decades to end the use of fossil fuels or face catastrophic consequences. Their long-ignored warnings have become more dire. Larry Schweiger has long been on the front line of efforts to enact rational clean energy and climate policies and has witnessed efforts to undermine our democratic system that has been rigged leaving America hoodwinked and held hostage to dirty fuels. Climate Crisis and Corrupt Politics pulls back the curtain on the central role of big oil, coal, and gas interests in American politics through the flow of money to fabricated entities for independent SuperPAC expenditures for mass deception through distorted advertising. Larry wrote this urgent message aimed at parents, grandparents and young adults who care about their children forced to live on the ragged edge of an unprecedented climate crisis. This book is especially for leaders who understand that we must act now with a "Green New Deal" scale response. Together, we must confront and overcome the many toxic money influences, reverse a failing democracy and retake the reins of government to enact policies that secure our shared future and the future of life on earth.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 13, 2020 | 3


STAFF Publisher/Editor: Charlie Deitch Charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com

contents

Advisory Board Chairman: Robert Malkin Robert@pittsburghcurrent.com

Vol. III Iss. XXXV Oct. 13, 2020

EDITORIAL

NEWS 6 | What's at Stake? 8 | AAP Show

Music Editor: Margaret Welsh Margaret@pittsburghcurrent.com Visuals Editor: Jake Mysliwczyk Jake@pittsburghcurrent.com

OPINION 10 | Larry Schweiger

Sr. Contributing Writer: Jody DiPerna Jody@pittsburghcurrent.com

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT 12 | John Edgar Wideman 14 | #WidemanChallenge 16 | Mockingbird at Prime Stage

Social Justice Columnist: Jessica Semler jessica@pittsburghcurrent.com

EXTRA

Contributing Photographer: Ed Thompson

18 | Dan Savage 19 | Matthew Wallenstein 20 | Parting Shot

info@pittsburghcurrent.com Contributing Writers: Jody DiPerna, Atiya Irvin Mitchell, Dan Savage, Larry Schweiger, Brittany Hailer, Matthew Wallenstein, Caitlyn Junter, Aryanna Hunter, Nick Eustis, Jessie Sage, Mary Niederberger info@pittsburghcurrent.com

COVER PHOTO: JAKE MYSLIWCZYK

Logo Design: Mark Addison TO ADVERTISE :

Senior Account Executive: Andrea James andrea@pittsburghcurrent.com Charlie Deitch charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com

The Fine Print The contents of the Pittsburgh Current are © 2020 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.

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OFFICIAL ADVERTISEMENT THE BOARD OF PUBLIC EDUCATION OF THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PITTSBURGH A DV E R T I S E M E N T F O R B I D S Sealed proposals shall be deposited at the Administration Building, Bellefield Entrance Lobby, 341 South Bellefield Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15213, on November 10, 2020, until 2:00 P.M., local prevailing time for: Pgh. Allderdice HS Domestic Hot Water – PE Wing Plumbing Prime

Pgh. Crescent ECC Boiler Replacement Mechanical, Electrical and Asbestos Abatement Primes

Pgh. Montessori PreK-5 Domestic Water Booster System Plumbing Prime

Pgh. Sterrett 6-8 Entrance Doors General Prime

Various Schools: Pgh. Classical, Pgh Perry, Pgh. Colfax Replace Electrical Distribution Systems Electrical and Asbestos Abatement Primes

Service & Maintenance Contracts at Various Schools, Facilities, Facilities & Properties: • Concrete Maintenance • Extraordinary General Maintenance and Repairs • Extraordinary Masonry Maintenance and Repairs • Extraordinary Electrical Service, Maintenance and Repairs • Extraordinary Roofing Maintenance and Repairs • Fire Extinguisher and Fire Hoses Service and Maintenance • Gas and Oil Burners, Boilers and Furnaces Inspection, Service, and Repairs • Integrated Access Control, Intrusion Detection, and CCTV Surveillance Systems Service, Maintenance, Repairs, and Programming • Plumbing Maintenance and Repairs • Chillers and Refrigeration Systems Service, Maintenance and Repairs • Vertical Transportation Systems Preventative Maintenance and Service Project Manual and Drawings will be available for purchase on October 12, 2020 at Modern Reproductions (412-488-7700), 127 McKean Street, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15219 between 9:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M. The cost of the Project Manual Documents is non-refundable. Project details and dates are described in each project manual.

REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS FOR GUARANTEED ENERGY SAVINGS ACT (GESA) PROPOSALS INCLUSIVE OF ENERGY-EFFICIENT BUILDING UPGRADES Sealed proposals shall be deposited at the Facilities Design and Construction Offices, School District of Pittsburgh, Service Center, 1305 Muriel Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203 on December 7, 2020, until 2:00 P.M., local prevailing time for: IMPLEMENTATION OF ENERGY CONSERVATION MEASURES ON A PERFORMANCE CONTRACTING BASIS AT THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PITTSBURGH Requests for a copy of the RFP and all communications including questions to District relating to this RFP shall be in writing to Aldo Mazzaferro, Director of Technical Services, by email at Aldo@theECGgroup.com copying Michael Carlson (Michael@theECGgroup. com). Project details and submission requirements are described in the RFP. PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 13, 2020 | 5


ELECTIO HE IS WHO WE THOUGHT HE WAS

TRUMP WILL CONTINUE TO STRIP AWAY WOMEN'S REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS IF RE-ELECTED

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aya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” This was great advice to college Jessica, who wasted time on annoying noncommittal bros. It’s also great advice for voters wondering what the hell Donald Trump might have in store if he’s given another four years to tear away at reproductive rights like they’re a withering piece of string cheese. Now, some of you may be clutching your pearls and thinking, “why goodness gracious, Jessica. I just had no idea what Mr. Trump was going to do. I feel TERRIBLE and wish I knew then what I know now!” Hold that thought. Let’s hop into the time machine to March 31, 2016, when then candidate Donald Trump said about women who have abortions: “There has to be some form of punishment.” Now let’s shift to October 7, 2016. Washington Post released the Access Hollywood video exchange, and the following words were played on all media platforms thousands of times: Trump: I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And

BY JESSICA SEMLER - SPECIAL TO THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT

JESSICA@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

WHAT'S AT STAKE? Jessica Semler

when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Bush: Whatever you want. Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything. On the day the “grab ‘em by the pussy” business went down, I was writing the keynote speech for the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event to be held the next day. The event’s goal was for cis-men to raise awareness in their community about the serious causes, effects and remediations to men's sexualized violence against women. I was used to getting on mics and yelling about reproductive rights, but for

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the keynote I was sharing my personal story of being sexually assaulted when I was 18. I was already terrified at the level of vulnerability this demanded. While the assault happened years before, it was on my mind a lot in 2016. In the preceding months, before the video emerged, there were so many allegations about Trump’s sexual misconduct. Every time I saw men (and women) in my life supporting this man, despite that, it was a message to me, and every survivor, that rape is okay. My rape was okay. People hid behind words like “alleged,” or just calling these women liars, but I felt a pang of hope when the video of him bragging about grabbing a woman’s genitals came out. They have to listen now. They have to re-

nounce their support for him now, right? Right? I added the following to my speech: “By now, you’ve read about the video of Donald Trump talking about how he could do whatever he wants to women: grab them, grope them, etc. This has been written off by some as just guy talk or locker room banter. I can honestly say that reading about how someone who may be my President bragging about assaulting women is triggering and absolutely terrifying.” Back to the present. I can’t talk about this shit without getting angry at the 53% of white women who voted for Trump in 2016. I fumed when I thought about how many of the women in pink “pussy” hats at Women’s Marches across the country probably voted for Trump,


ON 2020 or the Green Party, which was, I promise, doing the the same fucking thing. What did you think was going to happen if this man had the power of the US Executive Branch at his disposal? For folks who voted third party, or opted not to vote at all, was it worth it? Hillary Clinton was not a dream candidate for many people, me included. But I’d much rather be protesting a Clinton administration than Donald *I’ve enabled and empowered white supremacists* Trump and Mike *I’m obsessed with hurting gay people* Pence. This man told us who he was before November 8 2016, and has walked the walk for the past four years. A brief overview of what this administration has done thus far when it comes to reproductive rights: Planned Parenthood was shut out from Title X funds due to the domestic Gag Rule, slashing the program’s recipients’ capacity by half. Trump made Betsy DeVos Education Secretary, and she’s having a hell of a time undermining Title IX and more. The Trump administration has separated more than 2,700 immigrant children from their parents. Women are being sterilized without their consent at ICE facilities. This is LITERALLY Nazi shit. ICE admitted that nearly 30 women have miscarried while in their custody in the

What's at Stake if Donald Trump wins a second term? More judges like Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

past couple years. That is what they admit to. Trump ran in 2016 on the promise to deliver SCOTUS judges that would overturn Roe V. Wade. You need to know that when it comes to abortion access, Roe is the fucking basement, not the ceiling. January 2017- Trump nominates Neil Gorsuch. He’s sided with Hobby Lobby and thinks employers should be exempt from including birth control in their insurance coverage. He’s also written that there is ‘no constitutional basis’ for putting a mother’s life ahead

of the child’s. September 2018- Trump nominates Brett Kavanaugh: actual rapist, and giant baby who loves beer. Brett hates the Affordable Care Act, Roe V. Wade, and loves interfering in women’s reproductive decision making. Did I mention the rapist part? October 2020. Before Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s body is put to rest, Trump nominates Amy Coney Barrett. Girl power, right? No. She believes Roe (the basement, remember?) was decided incorrectly. In 2019, she disparaged

the trauma of survivors by suggesting that taking sexual assault seriously is evidence of sex discrimination against men in schools. She’s against the birth control benefit in the ACA, and was in favor of limiting birth control options at Notre Dame, where she was a professor. bell hooks said “patriarchy has no gender,” and this woman is an agent of misogyny. What is at stake when it comes to reproductive rights in the 2020 General Election? Everything. Vote accordingly.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 13, 2020 | 7


NEWS

PA G E 7

NEW AAP SHOW TACKLES THEMES GERMANE TO THE NOVEMBER PRIMARY

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ith less than three weeks to go before an undoubtedly historic Election Day, and a nationwide pandemic surging again, it is clear America is experiencing something unlike anything in its history. It is a moment to snapshot, if only to analyze just how much is happening. Fortunately, that snapshot can be created through the work of artists. October 12 saw the opening of “to the republic for which it stands,” the latest exhibition of work by the membership of Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, or AAP. The works of 26 artists currently occupy the Ice House Studio in Lawrenceville, each grappling with an idea relevant to this unprecedented moment in American history. The displayed pieces were chosen by a jury out of submissions from AAP member artists. That jury consisted of artists Kathleen Zimbicki and Sheila Cuellar-Shaffer, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman. “We opened it up to our members, and put it out there as a thematic show that’s looking at political,

BY NICK EUSTIS - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

cultural and social events,” said Madeline Gent, executive director of AAP. While some themes are more prevalent than others, the gallery features a wide range of different views on many topics. Gent attributes this to the sheer volume of major events that occurred this year. “There’s a lot to make art about right now, there’s a lot to think about,” said Gent. “COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, the Postal Service, the election, Alexis Johnson, freedom of the press, Donald Trump is President.” Some of the largest works in the gallery are those of Penny Mateer. Each of her works is a blanket, hung from the wall, representing a major story from this year. Mateer juxtaposes the comforting nature of blankets and quilts against the discomfort and anxiety associated with each moment. One of her blankets, titled “Trump Stays Quiet on Toll As U.S. Nears Milestone,” features a section of the New York Times column memorializing those who died of COVID-19, after the death toll topped 100,000 in May. In front of the

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Above: Artwork by Penny Mateer. Opposite Page: Some of the exhibits at "to the rebublic."


NEWS names of the dead, a pickup truck drives off, flying two American flags from its bed. Another of Mateer’s blankets, “Treatment of Black Colleagues Roils Pittsburgh Papers,” depicts Alexis Johnson, a Black journalist, standing in front of the office of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, her former employer. Johnson was barred by Post-Gazette management from covering the Black Lives Matter protests after the death of George Floyd on May 25. This decision was widely criticized, and ultimately led to Johnson’s departure from the paper. One of the reporters covering those protests was photojournalist Nick Childers. Five of his photographs, four of which are from the May 30 protest downtown, are on display, showing several aspects of that day’s events. His father, Dennis Childers, is also featured in the exhibition. His creation, titled “Dooms Day Door,” is a full sized front door for a house, partially charred, as if it had been through some kind of apocalypse. It has also been wired for light and sound effects to accompany the visual. Walking through the gallery makes obvious that the past year has brought so many issues in our country bubbling to the surface, all in conversation

with each other, all clamoring for our attention. For Gent, she hopes viewers walk away from the show thinking about those issues a little differently. “You can’t help but think,” said Gent. “If you’re ready to come in and contemplate other points of view, this is a good space to do it.” “to the republic for which it stands” will run from October 12 to November 11 at Ice House Studio, 100 43rd St., Lawrenceville. Viewings are by appointment only. To make an appointment or learn more, visit aapgh.org. PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 13, 2020 | 9


OPINION

THE POLITICAL DEBATE OVER OUR ENERGY FUTURE BY LARRY J. SCHWEIGER - PITTSBURGH CURRENT COLUMNIST

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

Much is on the line on November 3rd. This Presidential election is about our energy future as much as it is about containing the runaway pandemic, rebuilding a more just society, and protecting our democracy. The Trump-Pence ticket would like us to believe our energy future is in fracking. The Biden-Harris ticket promises to create five million new jobs while making a two trillion-dollar investment in a new energy economy. The Biden energy platform is a populist economic vision with a tagline “Build Back Better” to address Trump's K-shaped recession where the rich got more wealth and the poor lost their jobs and are struggling today. The ubiquitous “Trump digs Coal” signs that once dotted Pennsylvania’s coal country roadways in 2016 are absent in 2020. At a West Virginia miners' rally in 2016 while wearing a miner's helmet, Trump promised, “If I win, we're going to bring those miners back to work – you're going to be so proud of your president and your country. You're going to be back to better than ever before, and that means all kinds of energy." Ignoring the dangers of climate change, mercury, and other toxic coal pollution, Trump promised to relax environmental regulations. A surge in cheap renewable energy that started during the Obama administration has inflict-

ed a devastating blow to Trump’s promise. In 2014, coal supplied 38.6%of the nation's energy. More than 50 coal companies have gone bankrupt in recent years, leaving a legacy of mine scars and water pollution. Over 100 gigawatts of coal capacity has been retired or has announced plans to retire. Despite Trump’s empty promises, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that coal has dropped to 19% in 2020, while renewable energy produced 20% of our electricity this year. Wind, solar, combined with batteries are now far cheaper than coal and are dominating it for the first time. So Trump's promises to move back to coal generation by gutting

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environmental protections have failed have any impact on the rapid decline of coal. His promise to coalminers like so many promises he has made failed to materialize. While metallurgical coal will still be mined for coke production to support the steel industry, the end of steam coal is in sight. In Pennsylvania, the dying coal industry leaves behind a sad legacy for Pennsylvania taxpayers to clean up. Surface mining laid waste to over three hundred thousand acres of stripped lands. Sixteen hundred culm banks full of abandoned wastes and many continue to pollute waterways decades later. Numerous boreholes and drift entrances discharge water from deep mines loaded with

iron, aluminum, and sulfuric acid. Pennsylvania had about 4,000 miles of orange rivers and streams at the peak when the Commonwealth and watershed organizations began the lengthy and costly cleanup. Homes lost drinking water while others buckled, cracked, and collapsed under the stress of mine subsidence. Miners got black lung, disabled, and poverty-stricken from lung disease or suffered crushed bodies from roof falls. Others lost limbs from alltoo-frequent mine accidents. With the end of coal in sight, black lung relief and mine reclamation are stranded liabilities. We face about ten billion dollars in abandoned mine scars. In their respective debates


OPINION against Biden and Harris, both Trump and Pence attempted to make fracking an issue to gain Pennsylvania voters' support by accusing Biden of wanting to ban all fracking. We should not be surprised by Vice President Pence’s vigorous defense of fossil fuels during the debate. Pence had cashed in when his family bankrupted their “Midwestern empire of more than 200 gas stations” that provided Pence with an upbringing as he claims to be on the “front row of the American dream.” The Pence family got rich while leaving the Kiel Bros. Oil Co. bankrupt in 2004. They walked away, leaving a string of liabilities in Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois. The state governments are “on the hook for millions of dollars to clean up more than 85 contaminated sites across the three states, including underground tanks that leaked toxic chemicals into soil, streams, and wells. Indiana alone has spent at least $21 million on the cleanup thus far, or an average of about $500,000 per site. Both Biden and Harris have made it clear that they do not intend to ban fracking. However, during CNN’s primary Climate Townhall in September 2019, former Vice President Biden promised to end any more fracking on public lands, saying, “I would not allow any more [fracking]. I’ve argued against any more oil drilling or gas drilling on federal lands.” He also promised to re-examine existing wells on public lands. When asked about the future of coal and fracking in July

WHAT'S AT STAKE? 2019, Biden vowed to end fossil fuel subsidies. “We would make sure it’s eliminated and no more subsidies for either one of those, either — any fossil fuel.” Since the oil and gas reserves under the Allegheny National Forests are privately owned, this proposed ban on Federal lands would not impact Pennsylvania's fracking industry. Heavily subsidized by taxpayers, Pennsylvania’s fracking is widespread in the Marcellus shale formation covering over half of the state. Pennsylvania laws have long tilted towards boom-bust fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and now frack-gas. By enacting weak environmental laws, underfunding enforcement, and massive tax subsidies amounting to over 2.2 billion dollars for gas-powered plastic and fertilizer plants, the legislature has tilted the playing field in the direction of fracking, with privatized profits and socialized liabilities—that destroy communities with inadequate protections. Past oil and gas exploitations have saddled Pennsylvanians with more than $7 billion to secure and

seal somewhere between 475,000 to 700,000 orphan and abandoned wells to reduce groundwater contamination and methane emissions. Abandoned wells add an estimated 50,000 tons of methane per year (Methane molecules are 84 times as potent as carbon dioxide molecules accounting for 5 to 8 percent of our greenhouse emissions.) The Biden/Harris climate platform focuses on advancing clean energy through new investments, not on outlawing fracking. However, clean energy will eventually wean us off fracking for electric power generation by changing free market forces. Biden’s climate plan calls for an emissions-free electric grid in 15 years, and a goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions across the entire economy by 2050. In a piece entitled, “Clean energy is catching up to natural gas: The natural gas “bridge” to sustainability may be shorter than expected," David Roberts suggests: “Natural gas’s value proposition is no longer taken for granted. Gas’s purported dominance was based on neces-

sity — it is cheaper and cleaner than coal but able to do things renewables can’t. That sense of necessity is crumbling. There are now emerging alternatives, packages of clean energy resources that can do all the same things, at competitive costs, with no greenhouse gas emissions." Clean energy is now cheaper than frack-gas in many places. It will soon overtake gas as the most cost-effective energy solution and gas-fired powerplants will be stranded assets. With the rapidly declining costs of wind, solar and batteries, the future of clean energy is unstoppable. As was the case with the COVID-19 crisis, Trump has once again ignored the world’s leading scientists. Every major science organization has repeatedly warned that all nations must accelerate its carbon reduction ambitions to avoid a climate calamity. The Biden-Harris plan would speed the move to clean energy in the U.S. By rejoining the Paris Accord, the U.S. can advocate for all nations to expedite their transition to clean energy to avoid a more deadly climate crisis with increased fires, floods, extreme heat, and sustained droughts. We should embrace the move to clean energy and build a powerful clean energy industry that can spawn 25 million jobs while marketing advanced American technologies to the rest of the world. The net zero energy future can be ours if we move fast and tap into American ingenuity.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 13, 2020 | 11


ARTS

#WIDEMANCHALLENGE SEEKS TO HONOR AND SHARE THE WORKS OF AUTHOR JOHN EDGAR WIDEMAN

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hen the great writers and creators of Pittsburgh are listed, names like August Wilson and Annie Dillard come up over and over again. As Pittsburghers, we love to toot our own horns and crow about the city's contribution to culture and society, from Mister Rogers to Josh Gibson to Rachel Carson to Billy Strayhorn. Heck, Andy Warhol has his own museum. And yet the great John Edgar Wideman doesn't get much love from his hometown. He somehow wasn't even named to the 2018 50 Greatest Pittsburghers list published by Pittsburgh Magazine. Born and raised in Homewood, Wideman has written novels, short stories, memoirs and essays. There is little he cannot do. He was the first person to win the PEN/ Faulkner Award for Fiction twice. In 1963, he won a Rhodes Scholarship to attend the University of Oxford, making him only the second African American to do so. Denise Graham, a librarian for the Carnegie Library who works at the Homewood branch, grew up in Homewood herself. She studied at Chatham and then at Pitt and she's been a librarian within the Carnegie system for 40 years now. Though she

BY JODY DIPERNA - PITTSBURGH CURRENT SENIOR CONTRIBUTING WRITER

JODY@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

John Edgar Wideman. (Photo Courtesy: Emmai Alaquiva)

herself is a huge admirer of Wideman, she cannot quite put her finger on why we aren't shouting his name from the rooftops. "He's a darn good writer. The one book people know about is 'Brothers and Keepers.' I think it's that literary stigma he got -- he's a gifted writer rather than a popular writer," she told the Current. 'Brothers and Keepers' is

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Wideman's searing memoir which examines his relationship with his brother Robert, who was convicted and served 40 years in prison. Originally published in 1985 while Robert was still an imprisoned person. In it, Wideman delves into both of their lives, while at the same time scrutinizing the American criminal justice system, classism, and urban despair.

In the Homewood Trilogy, a collection of fiction writing from the early 1980's, Wideman presents a unique, lived in portrait of Homewood. His singular voice and descriptions bring the neighborhood as it was to life. "I would say you should read these books to get a flavor of Homewood, to get a glimpse of Homewood, but it's a glimpse of Homewood's


ARTS past," Graham said. He has written about basketball, about the Move Fire in Philadelphia in 1985, about fatherhood and about race. In 2016, he published 'Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File,' about Emmett Till's father. Emmett was just 14 years old when he was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 and his murderers were acquitted. This book is Graham's favorite book in the Wideman catalog. "The depth of the research he did to find out about this man that nobody knows about," she noted. "Everybody knows about his mom taking that stand to make sure the casket was open. But nobody knows about the sad and almost tragic life his dad had. I like the depth of his research. He turned this forgotten person into a person." A skilled researcher, brilliant thinker and generous writer, Wideman is one of Pittsburgh's brightest literary lights. But he is not what people call a beach read and, in fact, Denise Graham pointed to Wideman's cerebral and challenging prose. His cuts deep and demands much from the reader. "He's writing about what people don't consciously think. He's going very below the surface." As part of the #WidemanChallenge, the Current is running two guest essays about Wideman's work in this issue.

#WIDEMANCHALLENGE: NEW CONTENT OFFERS NEW INSIGHTS INTO BROTHERS AND KEEPERS BY ERIC BOYD - FOR THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

In his 1984 classic book, Brothers and Keepers, John Edgar Wideman explores the paths he and his younger brother Robert took, questioning how he became a respected author as Robert went to prison for his part in a botched robbery. Wideman doesn’t give an inch. Every angle of his life is surveyed; every stone in his philosophy is overturned. This is a writer of incredible power attempting to reconcile his own notions of Blackness, manhood, and family while also making sense of some of America’s most senseless institutions (primarily those of racism and the prison system.) Wideman’s ideas are nuanced and refined, but it feels as though we’re reading his thoughts as they evolve organically. Refusing even a standard book form, Brothers and Keepers employs everything from conversations—both real and imagined—to interviews, letters, and poems. In this latest edition of the book, there is a new afterword written by John

Edgar's brother, Robert Wideman, who was released from prison in 2019, after more than 40 years in. There is a familiar honesty in his interrogation of the self— a moment of self-reflection turns into thorough examination. Robert Wideman explores notions of spirituality which are at odds with logic. He leans into a variation of Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox, insisting that two people can never meet if they continually split the difference between them by half. To cover half the distance, you must cover half of that half, and then half of that

half. It goes on forever. Because it cannot reasonably end, it can never reasonably begin. With this, he tries to understand how we can ever reach the other side of tragedy, hope, or redemption when it’s so easy to break every instance of bitterness and grief down into infinite moments of hurt. Throughout the book and new afterword, I found myself, as a formerly incarcerated writer, recognizing these kinds of unrelenting thought patterns. As a white man, I cannot pretend to understand many things that John and Robert have gone through and continue to go through in America. But I can say that when you’re inside, every idea can become like that paradox. You split a thought in half ad infinitum because what the fuck else is there to do? There’s no reason not to turn over every concept that floats through your brain -- it’s either that or having to focus on the flavor of the cheese whiz you just plopped into your sardine and ramen Continued on Page 14

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ARTS Continued from Page 13

chi chi. It’s that or listen to the screams all around you. In jail it’s easy for your mind to become an endless spider web. Parallel, intersecting, and divergent ideas all coalesce into digestible forms because the alternative is to go mad. We see this time and again throughout Brothers and Keepers. In the course of only a few pages, John Edgar Wideman examines the power of language and the ways it is lacking: the origins of the word jail, the impossibility of making prisoners invisible from society, and the unstoppable force of time itself. He considers every possible way that the inmates might view his children when they visit. Do they see them as sexual objects, or as their own lost family members? Ultimately he concludes that he’s probably attaching his own biases to strangers; however the inmates may view others is understandable given the context and also none of his business. It is a noble resignation. How can two Black men with the same upbringing end up so differently? How can the prison system provide so little to inmates when it’s been proven that the more programs a prison has, the fewer inmates return? This was something I was especially drawn to, as I remember being forced to help dismantle the Allegheny County Jail’s library in

2010 when they discovered the only thing they had to provide the inmates was a legal encyclopedia, which came in the form of Ipads on every pod. Half of them were broken. It is the kind of situation that leaves you up at night, staring at the ceiling. It feels safe to assume both Wideman brothers have spent many nights this way. Robert Wideman’s new afterword generously answers John’s most burning concern, his exploration of “the nature of the difference” between them. Pondering if math and science always add up—in a way addressing John’s tireless pursuit of understanding throughout the book—Robert says it is faith that gets us through to the other side of the paradox. The nature of the difference matters less than the fact that we can overcome it. Throughout these pages Wideman takes everything and leaves nothing, but his clean, sharp prose keeps everything accessible, even when it feels almost impenetrably personal. You know in your bones everything he says in Brothers and Keepers is right. You know that all of it’s true. There are no easy answers here. Eric Boyd is a winner of a PEN Prison Writing Award. He is currently working on a novel.

14 | OCTOBER 13, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

#WIDEMANCHALLENGE: 'THE HO TALES THAT REFLECT A NEIGHBOR

BY MICHAEL BENNETT - SPECIAL TO TH

John Edgar Wideman and I attended the same elementary school, fifty years apart. I didn’t hear his name or know his work until I left Pittsburgh for college. When I read his books, I read about neighborhoods I’d never stepped foot in as a child—Black communities rich with history, but also plagued with desolation and poverty. Wideman’s trilogy, The Homewood Books, is a collection of neighborhood stories. All three books—Damballah, Hiding Place, and Sent For You Yesterday—have their own distinct form, but like any neighborhood, the characters and conflicts resurface again and again, often through folk tales told from bar stools and corner stoops. A father finds a dead baby in the alleyway behind his house; an old woman at the top of the hill predicts the lottery; a fugitive returns home after years on the run for killing a white policeman. Wideman’s characters live through their vernacular, their storytelling, and the dynamic histories which feel too real to be imagined. They are the folklores of a people, inseparable from their place. The history of a single

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alleyway, Cassina Way, acts as a center point for all three books. In Sent for You Yesterday, Wideman writes: “Rows of wooden shanties built to hold the flood of black migrants up from the South. … a narrow, cobbled alley teeming with life, like a wooden-walled ship in the middle of the city … And the city around them which defined and delimited, which threatened but also buoyed and ferried them to whatever unknown destination, this city which trapped and saved them, for better or worse …” This is the paradox of being Black in Pittsburgh -- defined and delimited, courted and confined.


OMEWOOD BOOKS' TELLS RHOOD'S PAST AND PRESENT

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Generational trauma, false opportunity, and cold displacement haunt his writing; the stories are surrounded with loss, and more loss, and nothing to gain. Wideman’s prose transcends any singular plot or perspective. When Albert Wilkes returns to Homewood to face his inevitable execution at the hands of the police, Wideman narrates for the neighborhood, “course everybody knew it was the cops who shot Wilkes, but what counted wasn’t the murdering puppets in uniforms so much as it was the ones who pulled their strings.” He exposes the larger power structures at work, "those ones whose lily-white hands held Homewood like a lemon and squeezed pennies out drop by drop and every drop bitter as tears …" Today, Pittsburgh has some of the largest economic divides between Black and white residents in the country which are not getting better, but worse. A recent report warned that Black youth in Pittsburgh, and Black girls in particular, are ten times more likely to be arrested and enter the juvenile justice system than their white counter-

parts -- a rate much higher than the national average. I learned this firsthand, when I began teaching a group of juveniles incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail. The teenagers in my class were being charged as adults for crimes that could send them to prison for anywhere from 10 to 60 years. Nearly all were Black. And while some of them may have been guilty of their alleged crimes, which brought pain to other families and communities, there is no question that all of them were victims first—victims of growing up in a city where Black people, more specifically Black youth, are over-policed and undernourished. In 2017, I found out that Wideman was returning to Pittsburgh and was planning to visit my class at the jail. We read excerpts from several of Wideman’s books. In Hiding Place, we followed Tommy, a young Black man on the run from police, roaming the streets of Homewood. Tommy is the fictional embodiment of Wideman’s brother Robbie, who spent months running from police after he was an accomplice to a failed heist that left one man dead, and spent 40 years in prison before he was pardoned in 2019.

ARTS In fiction, Tommy is never caught or sent to prison. He finds safe haven behind the house of the old woman at the top of Bruston Hill who offers him food in exchange for yard work and his company. The students could easily identify -- they all knew what it was like to run from police, scared for their lives. Some of them had close ties to Homewood and recognized the street names; the characters were reminiscent of people they knew growing up. We read passages in class, then wrote creative responses. I wasn’t surprised to hear that many of the students at the jail had experienced more loss and hardship than most adults. They wrote of visiting their friends’ graves, of running from police, of long summers going hungry. They wrote about the power of guns, and how they never felt safe leaving the porch without one strapped to their waist. When Wideman visited our class, he filled the room with wisdom and encouragement. Instead of reading his own work, he shared the stage with our students. Each took a turn reading creative pieces; it also served as a practice run for a formal reading with all the other creative writing classes at the jail. This practice session just so happened to include coaching from one of the most preeminent writers in the

country. His main piece of advice was to speak up. He told them to be proud of their words and to know their own self-worth. He discussed the discipline and reward of time management, and always listening, reading, and working toward your goals. He urged them, and all of us, to push back against anyone and anything that wants to make them, as individuals, irrelevant. The students were curious about his childhood and his brother, and about how much of his writing was based on real events. They asked him what street he grew up on, and if he knew any of their relatives. Wideman told them that coming back to Pittsburgh was always a bittersweet experience. He spoke of the neglect of his neighborhood and walking around and seeing empty space once filled with life. He reminded us of the life that remains in Homewood and there are many stories which still need to be told. Michael Bennett (he/him) is a writer and educator born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. He holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Chatham University, and teaches young writers at Pittsburgh's Creative and Performing Arts High School and the Allegheny County Jail.

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ARTS

ORIGINALLY SIDELINED BY COVID-19, PRIME STAGE'S DEBUT OF P A G E PREMIERE 7 KATHRYN ERSKINE'S 'MOCKINGBIRD' GETS VIRTUAL

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ooks have been a refuge for many since the COVID-19 pandemic gripped America, shutting down many public venues for consuming art, from movie theaters to concert halls. To bring these stories we’ve sought to life, local theater company Prime Stage Theatre is working to bring books to the stage, through the screen. Through a collaboration with the Autism Society of Pittsburgh, Prime Stage will virtually debut “Mockingbird” for two showings only on October 18. The presentation is based on the novel of the same name by Kathryn Erskine, and tells the story of Caitlin, a 10-yearold girl living with Asperger’s syndrome, struggling to cope with the recent death of her brother in a school shooting. “It sounds like it’s a really depressing story, but it isn’t,” said Prime’s Production Artistic Director Wayne Brinda. “She makes friends, she is taken in by a counselor who really helps her, she discovers painting.” Erskine was inspired by her own daughter’s diagnosis with Asperger’s, and how she felt people on the autism spectrum were misunderstood by the general public. For that reason, she decided to tell the sto-

BY NICK EUSTIS - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

ry from Caitlin’s perspective. Erskine also drew from Harper Lee’s seminal classic, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” inspiring the book’s own title. “Mockingbird” also has dialogue with the themes of its namesake, particularly regarding the destruction of innocence. “To Kill A Mockingbird” is also referenced directly in the story, with Caitlin strongly identifying her own family with the family of Scout Finch. “She saw her father as Atticus, she saw her brother as Jem, and she saw herself as

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Scout. She kind of lived within that world,” said Brinda. For Brinda and the team at Prime Stage, a story like “Mockingbird” is one they’ve wanted to see on stage for some time. “I wanted to do a play about autism and the spectrum for a long time, because I have a real affinity for that topic,” said Brinda. “It was a matter of finding the right script, and this book is just perfect.” Once the script was decided on, it was slated to close the 2019-2020 season for Prime Stage, but the rise in

COVID-19 cases forced plans to change. Considering that, now seven months in, nearly all live performances remain postponed for the foreseeable future, Brinda decided to find another way to stage “Mockingbird.” “All of us in the company felt that this was such an important story... that we decided we need to do it, we need to do it now, and we need to find a new way of doing it,” said Brinda. Prime Stage also strives to represent the stories they produce authentically, so another


ARTS glimpse into what life is like for a young girl on the spectrum just trying to make it through everyday life. The production will be broadcast via Zoom, but has been pre-recorded and edited into a multimedia presentation, featuring graphic art and special film effects to create a truly unique theater experience. “It’s going to be Zoom, but it’s not going to be Zoom,” said Brinda. “It’s going to go way beyond what you normally see with Zoom.” “When Caitlin paints something, they can paint. When Caitlin does something, they can do something at home,” said Brinda. “It makes it more than just watching a Zoom presentation.” The production is accessible to elementary school aged children and above, and has been produced with sensory inclusivity in mind. “We’re very much committed to accessibility, so this is definitely sensory-inclusive,” said Brinda. “Mockingbird” will be broadcast at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on October 18. For tickets and more information, visit primestage. com.

Julia Lang

priority for Brinda was finding a lead actress who could deeply relate to the struggles Caitlin experiences in the play. “The other thing that was really important on this was to find an actress to play the lead who was on the spectrum,” said Brinda. “It’s really, really important to make it authentic.” Julie Lang, a recent graduate of Seton Hill University, will portray Caitlin in the production. Her first formal acting credit since high school, Lang “is so happy to be able to play a character that shares so many similar experiences to her own,” according to her online biography. Like the character she’s playing, Lang is on the Autism spectrum, a “conscious casting decision” by Director Steven Wilson. “Autism is truly a spectrum that affects everyone differently and in so many unique ways” says Lang. “A misconception is that autism only affects boys. Autism is indeed present in all genders. Girls on the spectrum might just experience autism differently from what people expect. “Caitlin is only one of the well written autistic female characters I have personally seen in the media. It warmed my heart to see a character that was actually like me for once. She is artistic, creative and genuinely a compassionate person whether she knows how to show it or not. It is rare to see a female character on the autism spectrum and when one does they usually are written in a very stereotypical male way. Caitlin really does give a

OFFICIAL ADVERTISEMENT THE BOARD OF PUBLIC EDUCATION OF THE

SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PITTSBURGH Sealed bids will be received in the Bellefield Avenue Lobby, Administration Building, 341 South Bellefield Avenue until 11:00 A.M. prevailing time November 4, 2020 and will be opened at the same hour in the administration building cafeteria:

Refuse Removal/Recycling ServicesVarious Locations General Information regarding bids may be obtained at the Purchasing Office, 341 South Bellefield Avenue, RM 349 Pittsburgh, PA 15213. The bid documents are available on the School District’s Purchasing web site at: www.pghschools.org: Click on Our Community; Bid Opportunities; Purchasing - under Quick Links. The Board of Public Education reserves the right to reject any and all bids, or select a single item from any bid. We are an equal rights and opportunity school district

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCTOBER 13, 2020 | 17


SAVAGE LOVE Savage Love Love | sex | relationships BY DAN SAVAGE MAIL@SAVAGELOVE.NET My husband recently passed away. He was a wonderful person and we had twelve great years together. He was also very, very organized. His death was an accident but everything was in order. He even left a note in a sealed envelope for his lawyer to present to me. It was one last love letter, Dan. Our relationship wasn’t perfect, no relationship is, but that’s who he was. Or that’s who I thought he was. My husband was a very good-looking man who took meticulous care of his body. We actually met in a gym at a hotel. He wasn’t a conceited, which I think may be because he didn’t come into his looks until he was in his twenties, but he enjoyed the effect his appearance had on others. In addition to his last love letter and other documents, I was given a list with the passwords to my husband’s social media accounts. I made the mistake of looking at his messages on Instagram. He exchanged private images with hundreds of women and gay men all over the world. Not just photos of him shirtless. Photos of him fully nude from the front and back, images of his genitals, even video clips of him masturbating with his face clearly visible. I knew he had exhibitionistic tendencies. Years before we met he got in legal trouble for exposing himself in a public place. He

sought help for impulse control and never did something like that again. But he always had a very high libido, much higher than mine, and he masturbated frequently, and public sex remained his biggest fantasy. I didn’t judge or shame him for any of that. We jokingly called masturbation “his thang” and sex, which we had roughly once a week, “our thang,” and one time, when it seemed safe, we did manage to have sex in public. He expressed an interest in opening up our relationship years ago but I am monogamous by nature and he agreed to keep our relationship closed. And I believe he did: I’ve read through all his messages with these strangers and there are no mentions of any meetings. I’ve seen dozens of messages from people wanted to meet in person and he always turned them down. But he never turned down a request for more photos. Help me understand this. I can’t tell anyone else about this and I hate sitting here feeling like my marriage was a lie. Wishing Instagram Didn’t Open Window P.S. Also, men? My husband was straight. Why was he sending photos to gay men? I am so sorry for your loss, WIDOW, and I’m so sorry your grief has been complicated by what you found in your hus-

18 | OCTOBER 13, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

band’s Instagram account. But you shouldn’t for a moment doubt the love of a man who wanted to make sure you got one last love letter if he should die unexpectedly. That’s not something a person would think to do for a someone they didn’t truly love. Your husband was who you thought he was. Your marriage wasn’t a lie and your husband wasn’t a liar, WIDOW, it’s just that your grief—like you and your husband and your marriage and anything human beings do or feel or touch—is imperfect. So far as you know, WIDOW, your husband never cheated on you—and after reading thousands of his DMs, and since your husband didn’t think you would ever see those DMs, it’s safe to say you know everything. And what you know now that you didn’t know before is that sharing pictures with strangers was one of your husband’s “thangs.” Now I’m going to ask you to make a leap, WIDOW. Instead of seeing what you found on Instagram as evidence of your husband’s unfaithfulness, WIDOW, try to see it as something that made it possible for a man like your husband to remain faithful. Think of those DMs like a pressure-release valve. On Instagram your husband could expose himself to strangers who wanted to see him naked—avoiding both consent violations and legal trouble—without exposing himself to the temptations of face-to-face encounters, WIDOW, temptations that might’ve led him to violate the monogamous commitment he made to you and, like all people who make monogamous commitments, sometimes struggled to

keep. One person can’t be all things to another person sexually. People can ask for monogamous commitments, of course, and we all have a right to expect consideration and compassion from our partners—and not having the needs we can’t meet or the ways we fall short thrown in our faces is one way our partners demonstrate consideration and compassion. Your husband needed more attention than any one person could ever provide. He didn’t rub that in your face. He cut an ethical corner by swapping DMs with strangers to meet a need you couldn’t—but if getting that need met the way he did made it possible for him to stay in your marriage and stay faithful to you, perhaps you benefited too. And while your husband should’ve asked for your permission— while he should’ve gotten your okay—if you had found his DMs while he was alive, WIDOW, he would no doubt ask for your forgiveness. Think of the years he gave you and the love he showed you and ask yourself if you could give him the forgiveness he would be asking for if he could. Then give him—give yourself— that gift. P.S. Your husband’s willingness to accept attention from gay men is another sign he was ones of the good guys. Straight guys who are secure in their sexuality are much more willing to accept compliments from gay men these days—some straight guys, like your husband, even seek them out. P.P.S. I am, again, so very sorry for your loss.


ESSAY

KUDZU BY MATTHEW WALLENSTEIN - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER

O

ne afternoon when I was in high school my dad told me he had cancer. He said it was looking pretty serious, that he probably didn’t have a lot of time. I didn’t tell people much about my life in general and I kept this to myself too. He worked two full time jobs to pay for treatment and keep us in that third floor apartment on Liberty. I tried to do things to help but it didn’t add up to much. There were things mounting in me from a lot of messy years and I didn’t do as much as I should have. I was failing out of school, roaming, taking off sometimes. I didn’t know how to care for him or myself. My dad would call all my friends’ houses sometimes trying to track me down. One of the houses I spent time at was P’s. He and I were pretty close. We played music together, made art together, he was better at both, but knowing him made me improve. We did a lot of our growing up together or next to each other. I was chosen to take part in this thing for “gifted” artists who were still in high school. It was at the Art Institute in a city about a half hour from where I lived. It meant an excused absence and a day of drawing so I liked the

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idea. P’s mother worked at the Institute and told me she would be happy to drive me because she had to go there anyway. I rode with her. I assumed she had something to do with me getting picked for the program but I didn’t say anything. After it was over we met up by the stairway near the exit and walked out to her car together. We sat in the car without going anywhere or saying anything for a little while. I never wore a seat belt but I put my seatbelt on. There was a lot of sun and it was very yellow. “You know,” she said, “your dad came by the house a couple weeks ago, I think he thought you were there. We had a nice talk and then when he was leaving he grabbed my arm and said, ‘I don’t know why I’m telling you this but I have cancer and I think I might die soon.’

He talked to me for a while and told me the whole story.” I sat there, dug the nail of my ring finger into my thumb, and looked to my right. I looked at the corner of the dashboard, I looked at the side view mirror, the sun on the fingerprints on the window. My biggest fear was anyone knowing anything about me, had been since I was a little kid. Vulnerability made me feel dirty, made my stomach feel dirty. “I want you to know that I talked it over with Randy and if something happens, happens to your dad I mean, if he dies, we agreed you could come live with us. We could take care of you. We have the room and the money. I just want you to know that.” They were stable good people with a stable good life. I said okay, I said that I appreciated it. I sucked at the blood coming from my thumb. I didn’t say thank you though, not in the way I wanted to, not in the way I should have. We started driving and I put my fingernail back into my thumb and we didn’t say much else on the trip back to Concord. By some miracle of endurance and nature and medicine my father made it. Time moved forward and P and I got older. We remained friends and his family did other small benignities for me. P and I saw each other through a good

deal. More time passed. Year after year went by and we saw less and less of each other. I didn’t see either of his parents for a very long time. I remember him telling me when they knew. It was in the kitchen, he was leaning against the counter and she was on the phone. She had been talking for ten minutes or so and she started to look confused, like she had just woken up that moment and someone had dressed her, put the phone in her hand, and placed her there in the kitchen among her pieces of life. After she hung up P asked who had called and she said she had no idea. Her condition worsened. Her mind was on short loops, recall and chronology and comprehension in a discursive tangle. I lived in another country and worried by the time I got to see her again she would be too gone and I wouldn’t have the chance to tell her in a real way what she said in the car that day had meant to me. When P got married I flew to New Hampshire for it. I finally saw P’s mom and dad again. I stopped them and grabbed her arm and I looked her in the eye. I said what I wanted to. She said she really would have taken care of me. I told her she did, I told her thank you. Then I went back over and sat down at my table.

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Pittsburgh Current. October 13, 2020. Volume 3, Issue 35  

What's at stake in the upcoming primary. What is Pennsylvania's Energy Future and Prime Stage debuts 'Mockingbird'

Pittsburgh Current. October 13, 2020. Volume 3, Issue 35  

What's at stake in the upcoming primary. What is Pennsylvania's Energy Future and Prime Stage debuts 'Mockingbird'

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