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Vol. II Iss. XVI August 6, 2019 NEWS 6 | Surviving the ICE Storm 9 | “Brewed on Grant” OPINION 10 | Thoughts and Prayers 11 | Marianne Williamson 12 | Cat Lady Life ART 14 | 15 | 16 | 22 | 23 |
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SURVIVING THE ICE STORM
FEARS OF IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT RAIDS HAVE MANY IN THE LATINO COMMUNITY RUNNING SCARED
rom New York to Los Angeles when President Donald Trump announced Immigration Customs Enforcement agents would conduct a series of raids feelings of worry and fear rippled through immigrant communities throughout the nation. Although the promised raids
BY ATIYA IRVIN-MITCHELL - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM appear to not have materialized, the worry lingers. Pennsylvania has a relatively small population of undocumented immigrants at 170,000 according to the Migrant Policy Institute’s estimation, but also has the country’s highest rates of arrest for the undocumented. As the Trump administration
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doubles down on its zero-tolerance stance and murmurs of agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) approaching residents are spread on social media, despite Pittsburgh not being one of the cities originally slated for raids, its immigrant and Latinx community hasn’t been immune to the anxiety.
By necessity Laura Perkins has a phone on her at all times. As the emergency response coordinator for Casa San Jose, an advocacy organization for Pittsburgh’s Latino community, the calls she receives can be about anything from a runaway child to a death in the community to an ICE detention.
United We Dream flyer posted outside of the Current office. (Current Photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)
Usually, she said, the emergencies she’s called about pertain to ICE detention. “We’ll lend resources depending on what the emergency is,” Perkins explained. “If it is ICE which is common we have an emergency response team which is comprised of Spanish speaking volunteers and volunteer attorneys.” If Casa San Jose gets the report fast enough, Perkins said, the organization will try to gather as much information as possible and provide services for the family members. “Most of the time [ICE] detains males and often times those are the providers for the family,” she said. This can create an inability to pay rent or purchase food for the family. “We’ve been getting a lot of calls asking ‘what should i do if this happens’ and ‘have you heard anything’,” Perkins recalled. “We
have been contacted by various allies with reports especially in the east end but it’s very difficult to confirm this because the department of homeland security doesn’t operate like police do.” ICE was established in 2003 in the wake of September 11, under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security with the mission statement of promoting homeland security and public safety. Prior to that, those duties were handled by the INS--United States Immigration and Naturalization Service. In 2003, the duties of the INS were split between three new agencies: ICE, U.S. Customs and Border Protections (BCP) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). So, once where all immigration services were handled under one umbrella agency, the duties are now divided and Perkins says the only goal of ICE and Homeland Security isn’t safety,
but investigation and detention. The agencies, she says, are often less transparent than police officers, making confirmation harder. Perkins told the Pittsburgh Current that Casa San Jose has seen more ICE agents in Pittsburgh more than they ever had seen them in the past and with that presence comes fear among the community the organization serves. “With increased ICE presence or especially with increased reports of ICE presence the community gets very scared obviously,” Perkins explained. “Even if they themselves have documents or they themselves have legal status they’re often fearful for their family members or neighbors. Also ICE agents are very aggressive in their tactics.” Perkins pointed to viral videos of ICE agents forcibly dragging passengers from vehicles as an example.
“I can’t say that that’s happened in Pittsburgh, but people see those videos and when they see someone they suspect to be an ICE agent they get scared and they get nervous,” she said. Familiarity of these occurrences has left many on edge. This, Perkins explained, can cause the members of the community regardless of citizenship to feel the need to withdraw. For some people this can mean avoiding grocery stores, not signing children up for extracurricular activities and generally disengaging from community activities. “Even if someone has their documents and are legally here being questioned by an ICE agent is traumatic,” Perkins says. The Los Angeles Times found that between 2012 and 2018 ICE had wrongfully arrested roughly 1,500 American citizens.
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Scenes from an ICE protest on December 5th, 2018 in South Side. (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)
Locally the Pittsburgh Police Department has “no agreement, no partnership, and or contract with ICE, according to department spokesperson Chris Togneri. Katharine Kelleman, the CEO of Port Authority, went as far as stating during a board meeting that transit police had no policy of or the intention of working with ICE. “Everyone riding with us deserves to ride with dignity and respect and not have to worry that this is the last trip they’re going to take from their family or with their family,” Kelleman said. With regard to the Allegheny County Jail, according to a document shared by county spokesperson Amie Downs, the ACJ doesn’t detain
any inmate or delay the authorized release of inmates as a result of detainer requests and or ICE administrative warrants. According to the policy, for example, “any inmate who has bondable charges upon admission shall be allowed to post bond to secure his or her release. An immigration detainer request or an administrative warrant shall not inhibit an inmate’s ability to post bond.” The rights of individuals confronted by ICE agents can vary depending on the situation. “If they are in a vehicle or in their house, they don’t have to open the door unless there’s a warrant signed by a judge which is extremely important,” Perkins explains. “If
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there’s an administrative warrant, which means it’s signed by an agent, they don’t have to open the doors, even if it has the name and address, if it’s not signed by a judge.” The latter applies to cars and homes. If a person is walking on the street, they have no obligation to divulge their citizenship status. In the case of arrest by ICE agents individuals have the right to inquire why they’re being detained. Casa San Jose has received frequent calls from community members wondering about what to do should they encounter ICE, Perkins says. But, one important request the organization asks regarding possible sightings of ICE agents that circulate on social media
is that people err on the side of not sharing them. For example, recent social media posts about possible undercover ICE agents approaching people on the city’s east side not only went viral on social media, but was also covered by some media outlets. “If there is any suspected sighting of ICE in the area we ask that they don’t share on social media but that they rather contact Casa San Jose,” Perkins says. “It’s my job to respond to that and by resharing it on social media it just kind of plays into the hands of this administration that wants to sow fear in the community.”
BREWED ON GRANT
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President Donald Trump sends his thoughts and prayers Monday morning following two mass shootings over the weekend. (White House Photo)
THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS
BY CHARLIE DEITCH- PITTSBURGH CURRENT EDITOR CHARLIE@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
n the wake of two mass shootings over the weekend, one in El Paso and one in Dayton, I, as our Republican leaders have done, wanted to offer my thoughts and prayers to all those touched by these tragedies. Part 1: Thoughts • The right to own a gun that is capable of killing nine people and injuring 24 more in less than 60 seconds, apparently supersedes the right to not die in a mass shooting. • President Donald Trump blames video games as the main tool in this country’s “glorification of violence,” he neglected to mention the roughly 10 million guns manufactured here every year. • Trump also blamed mass shootings on mental illness. My dad lived every day of his adult life as a diagnosed schizophrenic. He never killed anyone by any means.
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The GOP’s answer to mass shootings, like those in schools, was to arm teachers. But why should we stop there. People of color and members of the LGBTQ community are obviously targets in these mass shootings, so, why aren’t we urging more of these folks to arm themselves for personal protection? When one woman was killed during the Charlottesville protests, Trump refused to condemn white supremacists and said there were “good people” on both sides of the debate. Over the weekend, 31 people die in mass shootings and Trump finally condemns racists. At least we now know where he draws his line. Trump hinted after the shootings that he may be willing to discuss gun control talks as long a there are concessions on his draconian, fear-mongering
and race-baiting immigration policies. It’s like offering to help your neighbor put a roof on his house in exchange for the house. Trying to console someone after losing someone they love isn’t easy under any circumstances. What do you say to someone who loses a child, parent, spouse, friend, co-worker in an act of violence that has occurred time and time again because no one will take action to at least make the scenario less likely to happen if not stop it all together. Here’s a two-parter: The NRA responded to the shootings thusly: “We will not participate in the politicizing of these tragedies but, as always, we will work in good faith to pursue real solutions that protect us all from people who commit these horrific acts.” Last year the NRA’s Texas branch, according to the Los Angeles Times, had one of its most successful years of lobbying in the state of Texas. They supported 10 bills to “loosen” firearm laws
ROB ROGERS / Andrews McMeel Syndication
and all ten were signed by the governor. Among their “victories” was to block a ban on bump stocks and allow people to carry their weapons in airports. Just wanted to point that out in case you thought the citizenry actually had a voice in setting policy. Thoughts and prayers has become the new “no comment.” It allows politicians to dodge questions about 31 people murdered in cold blood, support the president’s offkilter rhetoric and invoke the name of god to play to their base.
Part 2: Prayers: If you can’t beat’em, join’em. Dear lord, Since most Republican leaders respond to mass shootings with “thoughts and prayers,” they apparently assume you’re going to fix this thing. However, since there has been an average of one mass shooting per day since 2013, I can only come to one conclusion. You’re a fucking Republican too. Amen
Marianne Williamson (Photo: CNN.com)
IS MARIANNE WILLIAMSON THE DEMOCRATS’ DONALD TRUMP?
BY JESSICA SEMLER - PITTSBURGH CURRENT COLUMNIST INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
he second round of Democratic Party debates happened last week and I was overwhelmed with joy. I enjoy debates and politics like some folks enjoy sports. I couldn’t tell you how the Pirates are doing, but I can tell you that Joe Biden fumbled the ball multiple times while my queen, Elizabeth Warren, slayed and handled attacks against her healthcare plan like a fucking gazelle in the forest. That is as close as I could get to a sports analogy. While I’m talking about the 2020 presidential debates, let’s be clear, we DO have an election coming up on November 5th, 2019. In Allegheny County, we have a chance to unseat 20-year incumbent District Attorney Stephen Zappala, who has a positively abysmal record. Care about social justice and equity? Vote for Lisa Middleman! Back to the debates. Don’t feel bad if after 4 debates and 20+
candidates you don’t feel like you have a horse in the race (sports, again! I did it!) The field is crowded and this is the time for candidates who will never get within spitting distance of the Oval Office to talk about policy positions we might not hear about otherwise. People might scoff at Andrew Yang and his $1,000/month stipend for everyone, but conversations about what economics look like in the age of automation and artificial intelligence are happening. That’s good! All that said, I need to talk about America’s New Age Aunt: self-help guru and author Marianne Williamson. She used to be Oprah’s spiritual advisor! This woman referenced psychic dark forces when she discussed the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. She has some kooky ideas on how to heal AIDS and other diseases (hint, one tip imagining Darth Vader). She has a history of being anti-vaccinations, and very dangerous views on mental
health. The first I heard of Orb Mother was in an article detailing the Democratic candidate’s favorite comfort foods. Marianne’s response was that she didn’t have any, and honestly, who can trust that! It gets worse when you find out this wacky non-comfort-food-having person wrote a book about weight loss that reads like a manual on anorexia. During her first performance, Williamson looked directly at the camera and challenged President Trump to an epic smackdown on the spiritual plane: “This man has reached into the psyche of the American people and he has harnessed fear for political purposes. So, Mr. President — if you’re listening — I want you to hear me, please: You have harnessed fear for political purposes, and only love can cast that out. So I, sir, I have a feeling you know what you’re doing. I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field, and sir, love will win.”
I’m seeing more progressive folks than I’d like giving her support and, perhaps due to her unique views, mainstream media outlets have been eating it up too. After the debate, in 49 states she was the most Googled candidate. The New York Times published an op-ed titled “Marianne Williamson Knows How to Beat Trump.” The Washington Post wrote about her having a big night. For an example of her approach to issues, here’s what she said about the catastrophic BP oil spill in 2010: “Visualize the oil spill plugged. Close your eyes for 5 seconds and see angels coming over it, filling it with sane and sacred thoughts.” In another world I wouldn’t be concerned that a woman encouraging us to employ psychic angels to fight an environmental disaster was on the debate stage. But four years ago, a lot of us watched the crowded 2016 field of Republican presidential candidates and thought Donald Trump was a joke. Now, Here we are in 2019; we have actual concentration camps at our border. Union rights, LGBT rights, and reproductive rights continue to be stripped away by Trump-appointed judges at every level. This is in large part because this feckless, terribly tanned oaf ran for president, and no one took him seriously. Novel and entertaining are great personality traits for a tv star, not a world leader. Let’s not to confuse the two. To be clear, it isn’t like I have a fear of the unconventional. I light sage in my house. I do monthly sabbath rituals with my girlfriends. I read tarot cards, have a wide array of candles and stones, and I regularly practice loving-kindness meditation. This practicing witch rejects what girlfriend Marianne is selling. We need someone formidable to take on Donald Trump in 2020; a fighter armed with progressive policies who can address the larger context of why Trump rose to power to begin with and can connect with voters on a gut-level. A charlatan like Williamson ain’t it.
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CAT LADY LIFE IS NOT FOR THE WEAK
BY SUE KERR - PITTSBURGH CURRENT COLUMNIST INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
his spring, one of the feral cats we had been feeding turned up with three, then four, then five kittens. They were exactly adorable as you would expect, as they tumbled into the bowls of dry cat food while Mamma cat (Jennie Jane) watched. I literally scooped up the first kitten (Sun Volt) in my hands from our back porch and deposited him in a cat carrier. We took him to our bathroom and turned to the Facebook cat ladies for help. Within a week, we had trapped all five kittens using sardines and patience. They took up residence in our (only) bathroom at a tender age and proceeded to fill our lives with joy, while testing every shred of sanity. You can check out their adventures via our public photo album. Their mother was a wiley thing. She returned to our feeding station time and time again along with cats we had dubbed Oxsana and Mx. Pajamas. Both have tipped ears showing that they’ve been previously trapped and altered. Balancing the needs of five young kittens, with cat trapping and other life demands was exhausting. We continued to try. Did I mention we have three resident cats and a dog? One night at 11 p.m., a very young racoon tripped the trap. We covered the trap, opened the door, and nothing happened. It was
terrified. So I propped open the door and eventually they dashed out. It is important to note that this is the time of year when young racoons are stumbling out on their own. They are not rabid, just young. Shoo them away and learn more with Scrap the Trap Pittsburgh. When trapping cats, you must always have a plan: a place to put them in the trap to keep them safe and minimize their terror; a place for veterinary care, either a prescheduled spot with the local spay and neuter clinics or the capacity to take them to a walkin clinic; and a plan for after the surgery. We are in the midst of ‘kitten season’ that means every animal welfare and rescue group is overflowing with kittens, mamas and other cats in need. Resources are stretched to the max. That weekend my partner had dental surgery, so we had hours to kill just sitting around while she recovered. It seemed a good time to intensively try to trap Jennie Jane. We had two traps, plenty of bait, and time. We confirmed with the clinic that they could spay her the next day. So we set up on Friday around 1 p.m. This is an abbreviated account of what transpired. For more robust details, visit my blog. • At 2:30 p.m., the wrong cat walked into the trap. He is now known as Konstantin
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and he is clearly a tomcat with a bad-ass attitude. I was able to release the trap and let him run away. 3:30 p.m. One of our resident groundhogs wanders into the trap and gets stuck. As in the trap door was stuck. Once I got the door open, the occupant decided to remain. I propped it open with a bucket and walked away. The groundhog left a few minutes later. I reset both traps and refreshed the food lures. 4:02 p.m. Jennie Jane is in the yard, exploring both crates, pulling out whatever food she can reach and very tentatively walking just far enough in to snatch other tidbits. 4:32 p.m. Jennie Jane is crouched under our chaise lounge in the shade, staring at us with woeful eyes as she considers her options. 5:32 p.m. Jennie Jane 1, cat trap 0. She grabbed some more food and got out before it closed on her. 5:52 p.m. Jennie Jane is now crouched in another section of our deck staring at the traps. She’s a very sad cat. She eventually wanders off. She’ll be back. 6:30 p.m. Oxsana wanders partway into the trap, changing course when I call to him with a tasty plate of food. 7:02 p.m. Mx. Pajamas wanders into the trap. His look of fury when I free him is duly noted. 7:37 p.m. She’s back, on the deck near our kitchen door. She’s staring into the window. 7:57 p.m. Oxsana is back. He comes up onto the deck near the kitchen door so I was able to touch him and offer him some food. 8:15 p.m. Oxsana and Mx. Pajamas are both lounging around the kitchen door. We
have an outdoor elevated pet bed they like to use for napping. We are furtively feeding them to avoid their tumbling into the trap. • 9:09 p.m.The other groundhog showed up in the trap. He’s pissed. And the trap is once again jammed. • At 11 p.m., we call it a night. I close the traps and we remove everything but water from the deck. That made our weekly trapping total: 1 young racoon, 2 groundhogs, 2 ½ wrong cats. Plus, we had the leftovers of a 12 piece bucket of KFC and about a quarter-pound of turkey lunchmeat. We went through dozens of pages of newspaper, two sheets, a tablecloth, two screwdrivers, and countless paper plates. Jennie Jane still proved elusive. A few weeks later, an experienced drop-trap volunteer came over and caught her after four hours. She was spayed, vaccinated, chipped, and ear tipped. She is recovering and will be released soon into our yard. We have no one who can take her in and give her the time & room she needs to earn her trust to have a better life inside. We can only do our best to give her resources for her outdoor life. Taking care of homeless domestic animals and urban wildlife is a shared responsibility. ‘crazy cat lady’ memes aside, it really is impressive how many lives are saved and bettered because of the mostly volunteer efforts of the few folks who take up this responsibility. We can do better with local public environmental policies, with our personal choices, and with the resources we invest. If you can’t trap or maintain a colony, you can donate cat food or find other ways to help. For more information, follow the Homeless Cat Management Team and Pittsburgh CAT on Facebook. Also, check out Alley Cats Allies on the web. To learn more about urban wildlife issues in City neighborhoods, visit Scrap the Trap Pittsburgh.
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AMERICAN ADDICTION JOURNALIST’S BOOK DIVES INTO THE OPIOID CRISIS
BY JODY DIPERNA - PITTSBURGH CURRENT LIT WRITER JODY@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
n the first day of 2017, seven people in Allegheny County died of accidental overdoses. By the end of the year, there would be 730 more deaths. Toxicology revealed some combination of heroin, fentanyl, and synthetic opioids contributed to most of the deaths. Mt. Oliver, McKees Rocks, the Northside and Carrick were hit particularly hard. But you can’t make the citizenry care about 737 senseless deaths by dumping data and statistics on them. Veteran journalist Beth Macy wanted to tell the story of the opioid epidemic which has taken more than 200,000 lives since 1996, the year
that oxycontin was introduced. The former Roanoke Times reporter and author of Factory Man (2014) and Truevine (2016), set out to bring the story to life. The result is Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America (Little Brown, 2018), her heart-rending, sprawling chronicle of the crisis. She describes how easy it is to become physically dependent, how it can happen in just 10 days, and how the shame of addiction helped fuel the epidemic. She takes the reader into boardrooms and courtrooms where greed is laid bare, into kitchens and bedrooms where families are ripped
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apart, and into clinics, hospitals and jails to bear witness to communities reeling from the flood of drugs. The makers of oxycontin, Purdue Pharma’s game plan was to blitz on every down to playbook to deluge distressed, vulnerable regions with oxycontin. “They bought the data that targeted people who were already prescribing opioids,” Macy told the Current via telephone, pointing out that in the poorest counties throughout Appalachia, those where doctors were already prescribing pain medicines. Where there were lots of workplace injuries and also job loss were easy marks. More opioids were dumped in West Virginia than any state. The coalfields in the southwestern part of Macy’s Virginia were flooded, as were western Pennsylvania, Kentucky and parts of Ohio. In some ways, it feels like the next inevitable step after the rapacious exploitation of the region by the robber barons and their political lackeys. “[T]hey would know in which counties they would have the best chance of making sales. They incentivized the reps with these incredible bonuses -- six figure bonuses in a quarter. If they could talk the doctor into prescribing a higher dosage, which is more addictive, the rep got an even bigger incentive, a bigger bonus. That’s just incredible,” Macy said, still clearly shaken by the brazen indifference. One of the ways that Macy gets inside this agonizing story is to take a page from Mr. Rogers’ book and look for the helpers. She talked to lawyers advocating for devastated families. She talked to medical researchers. She talked to first responders and DEA agents. She talked to activists, like Doctor Art Van Zee and Sister Beth Davies, who treat addicts with compassion and save lives to this very day. Macy says that Dr. Van Zee and Sr. Beth are saints walking around on earth. She talked to families -- too many families touched by the crisis. Macy brings real humanity as she reports what it is like to have your life wrecked by addiction and deal
with the pain of being in acute withdrawal, the titular dopesick. Her accounts from parents who have buried their children are some of the hardest passages to read. For years Purdue fraudulently marketed their drugs as being less prone to abuse, and as having fewer narcotic side effects than competing drugs. As a result, three of the company’s top executives were sentenced for misbranding in 2007. None of the suits did jail time. And the pills kept coming. “[They] flipped the narrative that ‘opioids are safe’ when we knew for 100 years that they weren’t,” Macy said. “But once all these people were hooked, these other companies entered the market, manufacturing, dispensing and distributing the pills.” Once Purdue lit the tinder, other distributors and manufacturers like Mallinckrodt and McKesson poured gasoline on the flame. Between 2006 and 2012, they pumped a staggering 76 billion hydrocodone pills into the country. “Why, in less than two decades, had the epidemic been allowed to fester and to gain such force?” Macy writes. Pharma reps wooed doctors in all kinds of ways, dumping swag bags along with opioids. Macy laid her hands on a particularly revealing freebie: a mug with the oxycontin logo on one side and, on the other, the phrase, ‘the one to start with, the one to stay with.’ “That says everything. They wanted you on that pill and it’s a really good business model if you’re on that pill forever,” she said. The first overdoses were from prescription drugs themselves, but as prescription meds became hard to come by, illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl entered the picture. Overdoses climbed even further. In the simplest terms, people got hooked on prescribed opioids, could no longer obtain prescriptions, and turned to other drugs with disastrous results. Fentanyl is particularly dangerous and was found in the toxicology for 75% of those 737 ODs
in Allegheny County in 2017. Macy does not ignore the fact that heroin has been prevalent in inner-cities for decades before this crisis and was rarely, if at all, talked about by politicians and the national media. But her concern is for the addicted, from the cities to the coalfields to the suburbs. Even now, doctors are ill-equipped to help people get off drugs safely. There are few safety nets in place and no coordinated systems to help the afflicted. It’s compounded by a hard pendulum swing from prescribe and then prescribe some more, to stigmatizing those who seek medication for both addiction and pain. The only beneficiaries of those attitudes, according to Macy, are the pharmaceutical companies and the drug dealers. Death and hopelessness ripple out. The opioid epidemic has decimated entire blocks and entire neighborhoods. In western Pennsylvania and the places where Macy was reporting from, these are your neighbors, friends and family members. When it happens in your town, it is not something you read about, but something you live and die with. “It wears families out to the extent that they can’t do it anymore, which is why we need to have systems in place, or just be transparent about the fact that you’re simply going to let people die. Are we just going to let them die?” Macy wants to know. Beth Macy is traveling to speak to advocacy groups and those affected by the opioid crisis. Dopesick is being released in paperback today.
will present a lecture on her book, Dopesick, at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 20 at the Carnegie Library Lecture Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland
Everybody at 12 Peers Theater (Photo: Greg Messmer)
12 PEERS’ ‘EVERYBODY’ IS SOLID BUT STALE
BY TED HOOVER - PITTSBURGH CURRENT THEATER CRITIC INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
n a seemingly unrelated topic (although it will eventually illuminate my main argument, I swear) all movies are manipulative. Sometimes you hear people slagging off Spielberg for the emotional pornography of his filmmaking, but that’s missing the forest for the trees. Spielberg’s painful to watch, not because he’s manipulative, but because he’s so hamfistedly obvious. Hitchcock, after all, is the epitome of cinematic calculation but it’s done with such enormous elegance it’s thrilling to see. Similarly (and here’s my main argument … finally) theater is really nothing more than a stunt – taking something completely unreal and, for a few hours, making it seem real. To me, that’s a stunt. And, further, it’s the greatest, most artistically noble stunt there is. So when I call the play Everybody by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, now receiving it’s Pittsburgh premiere from 12 Peers Theater, a stunt I want you to understand, that’s not necessarily a complaint. Jacobs-Jenkins is the white-hot playwright of the moment having been shortlisted twice for a Pulitzer Prize (once for Everybody,) winner of a MacArthur Fellowship and nabbing an Obie for what is perhaps the most thrilling play I saw last year, the theatrically scalding An
Octoroon. Everybody is Jacob-Jenkins’ modern update of the classic Everyman. If you’ve ever had to take a “History of Theatre” class as a requirement, you know Everyman. It’s a 15th century Christian Morality play in which God calls home Everyman – the humanity stand-in. Death is to help Everyman down the path and allows the doomed soul an opportunity to bring along someone on the journey. To make a long story short (I can’t really say ***Spoiler Alert** since the play is 700 years old) Everyman discovers most of life is a lie and only good deeds and the love of God are gonna get you into heaven. You have to take my word on this – it was the Hamilton of 1495. To stage Everyman these days you’ll need to try every theatrical stunt in the book to make it playable. Jacob-Jenkins realizes this and seems to be saying: “If my Everybody is going to be a stunt, then let’s make those gimmicks radioactive!” So in his version there’s a cast of nine actors. Four play the same character at each performance; at 12 Peers it’s Sara Ashley Fisher, Elizabeth Glyptis, Maddie Kocur and Jane Scutieri Tinker as Usher/ God, Love, Little Girl and Death respectively. The other five actors are playing Everybody, Friendship, Kinship, Cousin and Stuff; Bre
Brown, Jahir Christian, John Feightner, Paul Fields and Brittany Tague. But here’s the stunt, they don’t know who they’re playing until, at the top of the show, an onstage lottery assigns them their characters for the evening – so they have to learn all the lines for all those scenes. On the evening I saw the show, Brown played Everybody – she did a thoroughly fine job as the other eight did as well. I suppose if I was really dedicated to the ancient art of theater criticism I would see every production to catch all possible combinations. (Of which there are 120.) But, ah, once is enough. I have to say the stunt really doesn’t add much to what is, and resolutely remains, a historic, theatrical curio. Jacobs-Jenkins hedges his bets and gives the actors a bit of a “line memorization” breather; parts of the script -- prerecorded and played over speakers in the dark -- are dialogues between Everybody and other cast members on the Nature of Things. (Apparently all the variations have been taped to accommodate the results of the nightly “character lottery.” So hats off to stage manager Caitlin Skaff and the run crew for keeping it all straight.) But these voice-overs seem as remote as the script but less visually interesting. At no point is this 12 Peers production, directed by Vince Venture, anything less than solid. But the “meta” elements just serve to remind you that this is a fiercely theatrical experience which I think probably only holds interest for theater people. Debates about life, death, sin and redemption are best hashed out by drunken friends around a kitchen table late at night. Even all of Jacob-Jenkins stunts can’t freshen up a 15th century mothball.
continues through August 18. Richard E. Rauh Studio Theater, Cathedral of Learning. University of Pittsburgh, Oakland. www.12peers.org
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | AUGUST 6, 2019 | 15
Looking for Violeta: Kelsey Robinson, Raquel Winnica Young, Eugene Perry, Emily Pinkerton, Carolina Loyola-Garcia, Jerreme Rodriguez. (Photo: Heather Mull)
THREE YEAR SEARCH
QUANTUM THEATRE BLENDS MUSIC AND HISTORY WITH “LOOKING FOR VIOLETA”
BY AMANDA REED - PITTSBURGH CURRENT STAFF WRITER AMANDA@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
or Carolina Loyola-Garcia, it’s not everyday that you get to embody one of your icons. “It’s like somebody asking you to play God,” she says. “It’s like, how do you even start doing that?” The icon in question is Violeta Parra, a Chilean composer, songwriter, social activist and visual artist known for helping found “Nueva Canción,” or “New Song,” a genre of Latin American music combining the folk genre with socially-conscious lyrics. Quantum Theatre recounts Parra’s life with “Looking for Violeta,” which runs now until Aug. 25. A sonically colorful retrospective underneath a tent, or peña, in Frick Park — a nod to the singer, who used the traditional gathering place as a place of love and solace for
indigenous peoples and the poor — “Looking for Violeta” blurs the lines between play, opera and historical biography. The artistic process for “Looking for Violeta” began in 2017, when Quantum Theatre artistic director Karla Boos visited Santiago to attend the Santiago a Mil International Theatre Festival as preparation for the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts in 2018. Loyola-Garcia — a longtime Quantum artist who has appeared in “The Red Shoes,” “María de Buenos Aires” and “Ainadamar” — invited Boos to stay with her and her family in Chile. “Her sister [Gloria] played Violeta Parra in the car as we drove around and I fell in love with it,” Boos says. “Gloria said at a certain point, ‘Oh my goodness, you and Carolina
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should do a show about Violeta Parra.” Boos and Loyola-Garcia then began to gather the creative team for the production, some who have a connection to Parra and Pittsburgh: Composer and ethnomusicologist Emily Pinkerton of local folk duo The Early Mays studied Chilean folk music for her master’s and doctorate degrees, with an emphasis on Parra’s work; Santiago-born playwright María-José Galleguillos is LoyolaGarcia’s former collegiate classmate. Although the composition process can be beautiful in its solitude, Pinkerton says she found joy in working with the entire team to create the music for “Looking for Violeta,” which features a five-piece band and an ensemble of singers. “It’s lovely to have part of the
composition process be in the live experience of everybody coming together,” she says. “It’s fun for composition to be that and not just you alone at your computer for hours and hours.” The production also touches on Parra’s work as a visual artist. The set features fabric panels with sewn recreations of Parra’s arpilleras, folk tapestries made by Chilean women to protest Augusto Pinochet’s regime. Parra displayed her arpilleras, paintings and sculptures at the Louvre in 1964, becoming the first Latin American woman to have a solo show at the museum. “Looking for Violeta” runs around 80 minutes, but the complexity of Parra’s life and Chilean culture goes beyond a show or a 500-word article about it. Loyola-Garcia hopes audiences take the time to learn more about Parra and Chilean culture after the musicians play their last beat and the cast takes its bows. “I hope that this show will inspire them to research a little bit and go find more about her and listen to her music, which is beautiful,” she says. “I also hope to bring a little tease to Chilean culture to audiences here, which for me is a beautiful thing to try to do because it’s my adoptive home.” For Boos, this work — three years in the making — is a chance to showcase Violeta Parra’s impact on music, art and history. “It’s really wonderful to be making a work about this person who taught the world that artists have a voice and have a role to play in resistance of oppressive regimes and that they can unite people across boundaries,” she says.
QUANTUM THEATRE, “LOOKING FOR VIOLETA.” 8 p.m. Wed., Thurs.
and Sat.; 7 p.m. Sun.; Fri. 9 p.m. Through Aug. 25. $38-$55. Frick Park Lawn Bowling Greens, 7300 Reynolds St., Point Breeze. 412-362-1713 or www.quantumtheatre.com
Current Comics Rob Jones
18 | OCT. 23, 2018 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT
by Andrew Schubert
Phineus: Teen Wizard
By Barry Linck
Â© Barry Linck phinmagic.net
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCT. 23, 2018 | 19
Heroineburgh By H-Burgh and Zeus
Sucks to Be an Animal
By Sienna Cittadino
CARTOONISTS CARTOONISTS WANTED WANTED pittsburgh current is looking for local artists who would like to have their comics featured on our twice-monthly funny pages.
20 | OCT. 23, 2018 | PITTSBURGH CURRENTemail: email@example.com
Best in Show
By Phil Juliano
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | OCT. 23, 2018 | 21
Mulch much? Get free wood chip mulch from local tree companies. Delivered for free.
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | AUGUST 6, 2019 | 21
Artist Stefani A. Allegretti stands in front of her gallery (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)
ARTIST STEFANI ALLEGRETTI EXAMINES THE ART OF SOUND
BY EMERSON ANDREWS - PITTSBURGH CURRENT INTERN INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
tefani Allegretti never expected to remain in Pittsburgh when she was accepted to the University of Pittsburgh to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in studio art. A New Jersey native, she figured the move would last the couple of years she needed to complete the degree. “But my husband...moved here and we just ended up really loving Pittsburgh. The art scene basically is really amazing. There’s a lot of support for artists and opportunities for artists,” she says. “Also, just the city itself is a very unique city.” Allegretti says that unlike other metropolitan areas, Pittsburghers do not have to travel far to find quieter, rural areas. This appeals to the interdisciplinary artist, whose
work focuses primarily on the environment and nature. Her new solo exhibition Reverberations of Love, presented by ASSEMBLE through the end of August, is no exception, though it takes a different form. The new exhibit is inspired by sound and the positive impact it can have on people. Allegretti achieves this both by visually presenting the sound waves in pieces such as “Peace, Love, Light” and through the use of music. That music will be played on instruments the typical attendee might not be expecting, singing bowls. Drawing on a tradition that reaches back to Chinese Taoism, singing bowls were part of meditation and today can be part of sound therapy or healing practices.
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Different bowls are related to different parts of the body, mind or spirit, depending on the size of the bowl and what materials it is made from. “The singing bowls are different in that they’re more of a curve,” Allegretti says, in reference to the visual presentation of sound waves. That was something new she discovered in creating this exhibit. As a solo exhibit, Allegretti had to create most of the pieces before submitting a proposal to be accepted at the venue, which makes for a much longer planning process than submitting work as part of a group exhibition. Allegretti had help in the form of family, including her sister, Nicole Allegretti, who is a certified
sound-healing practitioner. Nicole Allegretti has experience playing singing bowls, and it is her playing that attendees will hear when they visit the exhibit. Some of the pieces will be accompanied by an mp3 so that visitors get the full experience of sound. This is not just limited to the singing bowls, as one piece in particular, “You Are Loved” has an accompanying mp3 player recording as well. “I actually recorded twelve individuals, different voices, all saying ‘you are loved,’ and then kind of combined them and layered them. And they’re different ages, genders and race,” Allegretti says. “That was one of my favorite pieces in the show so far.” The sound waves were given color as well, sometimes utilizing color theory such as in her two different versions of “Peace, Love, Light” done in warm and then cold colors. In the future, Allegretti has no plans for another solo exhibit for some time but will continue to create pieces for group shows. Her next focus is on using recycled materials in a mixed-media format. One such example from her portfolio includes the use of coffee cup sleeves to mimic the roofing on a house. She enjoys getting to work in multiple different areas, though the majority of her work, including most of the pieces made for Reverberations of Love, is done in digital art. Allegretti hopes that people who view the exhibit come away from it recognizing the importance and the role of sound in our day to day lives, as well as the positive and healing aspects it can provide. “Because of advances in technology we can actually kind of see the vibrations of sound, and it’s something I don’t know if people really think about a lot of the time,” she says. “All of the recordings are recordings of words or phrases that are supposed to evoke a positive — like a sense of love or something positive.”
Dancers rehearse for Moriah Ella Mason’s ‘Queer, Jewish’ (Photo: Heather Mull)
NEW DANCE PRODUCTION EXAMINES THE INTERSECTION OF TWO IDENTITIES
BY STEVE SUCATO - PITTSBURGH CURRENT DANCE WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
n 2017, dancer/choreographer Moriah Ella Mason’s Sex Werque, a one-woman dance-theater piece about working as a stripper in Pittsburgh, became the Carnegie Stage’s big box office hit and was one of Pittsburgh’s best dance productions that year. Following up that triumph, Mason now returns to the Carnegie Stage, August 8-18, with her latest thought-provoking dance-theater piece entitled Queer, Jewish. Choreographed and directed by Mason in collaboration with 5 other area performers who are either queer, Jewish, or both, the 80-minute work is a collection of dances that explore intersections of queer and Jewish identity in diaspora. Mason is a Trafford-native who began her dance training at age 10 and went on to study dance and choreography at Sarah Lawrence College. She danced professionally in Tucson, Arizona before returning to Pittsburgh where she works as a massage therapist, filmmaker, visual artist and freelance dancer/
choreographer. She has performed with the Pillow Project, STAYCEE PEARL dance project, Maree ReMalia/merrygogo and Double Blind Productions. A tumble down a flight of stairs last fall in which she broke a bone in her left foot and partially tore a ligament in her right ankle, while slowing her down as a performer she says, gave her the time to develop Queer, Jewish whose genesis comes from an autobiographical solo she created and performed a few years back called “Funny, She doesn’t look Jewish,” about her experiences growing up as the only Jewish kid in Trafford. “A lot of what came up in that exploration were the difficulties of having both queer and Jewish identities,” says Mason. “It took me a long time to accept my queerness and come out of the closet. It felt really hard to claim two marginalized identities in an extremely white, predominately conservative Christian town.” Mason says she experienced a
lot of anti-Semitic bullying in her elementary and high school years including fellow students physically abusing her in a game they called “Kick the Jew” or telling her she was a devil and was going to hell for not being Christian. She even received death threats. “It feels especially important to me now to claim a space for Jews and queers and queer Jews that is joyful and vibrant and not just focused on the trauma we have been dealt from the violence we were dealt,” says Mason. To do so in the work Mason turned to an unusual source, singer Barbara Streisand. “Looking at her as this Jewish icon and also a popular gay icon of the last generation, we drew choreographic ideas from the gestures she used in her films, her press persona and the types of films that she does where she feels like an outsider and is treated like one but manages to find a way to carve out a place for herself in the larger culture and even become admired for it, get the guy, or claim a different version of femininity,” says Mason. Also a large part of the work, was material gathered from stories in The Hebrew Bible and from Jewish folklore. With the help of cast member and dramaturge Olivia Devorah, who works as Program Coordinator and Executive Assistant to Rabbi Sharyn Henry at Rodef Shalom Congregation, Mason and Devorah looked for places in those ancient stories one could read in queerness or female power. Devorah contextualized examples from several stories including Lilith, the most notorious demon in Jewish tradition and Lot’s wife who is depicted in the Book of Genesis as a disobedient woman who looked back when told not to and was turned into a pillar of salt. “That was her town and those were her people and of course she turned to look back,” says Devorah. Using that story Devorah says the cast began thinking about their own queer experience when they were told to walk in a certain direction and not to deviate,
and what was gained or lost when they did. Lastly, Mason and her collaborators layered into the work reinterpretations of Jewish rituals and traditions that she says “feel resonant with what we need as part of our own healing process today.” One such reinterpretation was paralleling the ritual of “tefillin,” the wrapping Jewish prayer straps with that of the practices of BDSM erotic play. While all of those elements stem from narratives, Mason says Queer, Jewish does not have one. “It is more like a bunch of stories and influences thrown together in a blender to give the audience a dance-theater experience.” Performed to a recorded original and atmospheric soundscape by Pittsburgh’s slowdanger, the hope for production says dancer Ru Emmons, is that it “will draw people into the deep emotion of these myths and stories and relay the message that queerness has existed all throughout history, across cultures and will do so into the future.” For Mason the work represents much more. “Tradition is an intergenerational artistic process,” says Mason. “In every generation I think we get to decide how we contribute to that artistic process. We get to look at what has been handed down, see what serves us and improve on it, carry it forward, add new things to it and reinterpret it. I find that really exciting and I see this dance work as one small way I and my cast get to engage in that artistic process.”
MORIAH ELLA MASON’S QUEER, JEWISH will be performed, 8
p.m., August 8, 9,10, 15, 16, 17 and 7 p.m., August 11 & 18. Carnegie Stage, 25 W Main St., Carnegie. Tickets are $20 general, $10 artists/ students. Call (724) 873-3576 or visit insideoffthewall.com/queer-jewish for tickets and information.
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | AUGUST 6, 2019 | 23
A SLICE OF REALITY
VR DOCU-SERIES LOCAL SHEDS LIGHT ON PITTSBURGH’S DIVERSE MUSIC SCENE
BY MEG FAIR - PITTSBURGH CURRENT MANAGING EDITOR MEG@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
ittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own flavor and flair, history and aesthetics. The ecosystem of Pittsburgh music is similar—there are many musicians performing different styles of music at different venues around town. There’s something to offer in each of these musical neighborhoods, so it’s time to cross the nearest bridge and go experience something new. That’s the mission at the heart of LOCAL, a virtual reality docu-series that highlights the lives and music of four local artists over the course of a few months. “There are these pockets of really cool things happening with their
backs to each other, and this year has very much felt like a bunch of people making that choice to turn around,” says Will Juergens, one of the minds behind LOCAL. As his project PM Mirror, he’s also one of the artists featured in the docu-series. The earliest version of the LOCAL project began at the end of 2017. Elliott Conway and Will Juergens (who happen to be cousins), first collaborated with virtual reality when the two made a music video for the PM Mirror song “Sophi.” The two then brainstormed how they could use VR and 360 video with live music. It was essentially a liv-streamed music variety show shot in virtual
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reality, pulling together different musicians and playing with the possibilities VR, 360 video and streaming had to offer. In August 2018, Juergens, Conway and Alex Grant began formulating a larger project based around the concept of profiling Pittsburgh musicians. “Whenever you say you’re a local musician or local anything in Pittsburgh, I feel like a lot of people have a homogenous idea of what it means to be a local artist,” says Conway. “So if we’ve done our job well, the documentary will show the differences in experience these four musicians have.” “And VR is a very good medium for showing you inner worlds and
letting you live through the inner worlds and actual lives of people,” adds Conway. LOCAL will feature musicians Benji, Tap Shorts, Synova and PM Mirror through interviews and performances taped over nearly half a year. The project is meant to give a glimpse into the lives of four different creatives living in the same city, pursuing the same passion. Benji is a hip-hop artist with magnetic energy and a disarming smile to accompany his distinct flow and bouncy beats, while PM Mirror makes heartfelt alternative pop interlaced with delicate piano composition. Tap Shorts’ acoustic folk music is sincere and vulnerable with moving lyrics delivered by a beautiful, gentle voice. Synova is a Pittsburgh-raised electronic musician currently living in LA who makes crisp, smooth songs with soaring choruses. “It’s all Pittsburgh music, but it’s all different types of music,” says Conway. “And all the artists have fans around the country, so there’s a tinge of irony in calling them local artists.” All four musicians will gather live in person to perform as the punctuation of the filming process. The show, much like the series, will be a celebration of the musicians’ differences in sound, with an emphasis on getting folks to hear something new. Benji is very enthusiastic about LOCAL’s mission to bring together different sounds and people, because it’s his part of his ethos too. “This year, we made it a point to be on bills [like LOCAL - Live]. It’s one thing to be a hip-hop artist at a hip-hop show, but what about a hip-hop artist at a country festival? At a pop or alternative show? If you’re like me, and I accepted this show, you’re going to like something else on this show,” he says. “Go see a show that has an off-kilter bill and enjoy it, I guarantee you’re gonna like it,” he adds. Sofia Sparks, who performs as Tap Shorts, sees the lack of mixed genre bills as an issue in the scene.
“The purpose of this project is taking people outside their musical comfort zone,” says Sparks. “You wouldn’t necessarily see all of these people on the same show, and that’s part of the fundamental problem we have in music, because our shows are catered so specifically to one group.” Another interesting aspect of LOCAL is its emphasis on making artists feel comfortable to be 100 percent themselves. That means filming on the artists’ respective turfs during interviews, but it also means that each artist at the live show will have their own visual set on stage that’s true to their personalities and preferences. “The idea is that nobody has to put on airs,” says Juergens. “We want everyone to feel as comfortable as possible.” Tying these four acts together for a night at Spirit and giving them a platform to be authentic and free is an exciting prospect, especially at the end of half a year of shooting
footage. A lot has changed for the team involved, and after the shooting ends the world will keep on turning. But where the scene is going excites the LOCAL team. “I think how we perceive local musicians is going to change, and I think [the live show] is going to be a peek into the moment of passage from what a local musician has been considered to be and what a local musician can or will be,” says Conway. “This concert is a snapshot of this moment in time in the city and a snapshot of this moment in time for these artists,” he adds with a smile. “And if you want to be a part of that snapshot, then you can.”
LOCAL - LIVE
featuring Benji, Tap Shorts, PM Mirrors and Synova. 7:30 p.m. Fri. Aug. 9. Spirit Hall, 242 51st Street. $10. www.spiritpgh.com PITTSBURGH CURRENT | AUGUST 6, 2019 | 25
Urns. Photo courtesy of Mike Myzak
RISING FROM THE ASHES
PITTSBURGH’S URNS KEEPS IT LOUD ON ITS LONG-AWAITED NEW RECORD
BY JUSTIN VELLUCCI - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
ittsburgh’s Urns descends from the dirgy, often glacially paced punk-metal of Melvins, Earth, Sunn O))) and other icons whose guitar riffs are sludgy and molasses-thick. But the quartet is releasing its self-titled debut this week, and frontman and Urns founder Mike Myzak is hesitant to break down the minutia of his band’s sound into careful categories. “I don’t want to try to put a genre on it,” the Bloomfield-based musician says. “I want it to be versatile. I want to be able to throw out a bunch of different looks. I like how Ween has a million different styles – they can sound like whatever they want.” For the record, the music on the new five-song LP – which Myzak, bassist Justin Gizzi, drummer Rick Fontanese, and synth-man Mitchell Cochran will mark with a record release show at Howler’s Friday, Aug. 9 – sounds nothing like Ween. Tracks like the 11-minute-long “Curse,” the album-opener, are epics of restraint,
with Myzak’s crunching guitar chords only occasionally giving way to the trebly caterwaul of a solo. Vocals, sometimes clean, sometimes wickedly guttural, cut in and out of the landscape. This is a group less concerned with verses and choruses than pure volume. “The principles of the music, as far as what I was thinking when I started the band? I wanted it to be slow and heavy, and I wanted to have a combination of harsh vocals and calm vocals, with harmonies and layered guitars,” Myzak says. Not every song draws down the needle slowly, though. “Pyre On High,” another choice cut off the record, is a thrashing dose of adrenaline, complete with pummeling refrains and wonderfully freeze-dried roars. Friday night’s show at Howler’s, which also will feature performances by Swampwalk and Derider, is Urns’ first live set in more than six months. Longtime fans, patient with the band while it laid down the new
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album at South Side studio Plus/ Minus Recording, will be thrown a few curveballs. For one, the band will feature synths – a new addition, planned, in part, to segue between songs instead of random stage banter. And Myzak, a wrestling aficionado, plans to work with stage props and lighting to make more of a wrestling-style entrance. “I want it to be more of a spectacle,” he says. “I want a theatrical element and that’ll be one of the first times we do that.” At least one person is psyched to be along for the ride. Anna Hale, the singer-songwriter performing under the nom-de-guerre Swampwalk, has never seen Urns perform live. But that’s not exactly the full story. Hale and Myzak met in Lawrenceville two or three years ago, where they took part in The Rock Lottery competition to write and perform three original songs and one cover with randomly assembled collaborators in 24 hours. Their band name was Love dronesssssssZsssssss
(that’s seven S’s, one Z, followed by seven more S’s) but, for the sake of clarity and brevity, we will abbreviate it as Love Dronez. “Love Dronez didn’t sound like Urns but, just knowing Mike, it makes sense, what Urns sounds like,” says Hale, a writer and office-worker who lives in Baldwin. “It’s heavy but it’s still laid-back in a way.” Don’t count on a Love Dronez reunion at Howler’s; Hale – whose third EP was released by Unread Records this spring – will perform solo. “I always fit weirdly on bills – this is more of an avant-garde placement of Swampwalk,” she laughs. “I’ll bring my Big Muff pedal, play some dirtier tracks – play to the crowd a bit.” That crowd could include local scene-setter Shy Kennedy, an avowed Urns fan who is the frontwoman of local doom band Horehound and the organizer of the Descendants of Crom festival, due to return to this fall. “Urns have been in the background writing heavy and dark music with a knack of dank doom that has been missing in this city,” says Kennedy, who also manages to make time for Blackseed Records, Design and Production. “It’s intense and delicate at once and, while simple in delivery, their brilliance shines through this balance.” There’s also at least one more familiar name tied to the growing Urns legend. Seattle producer Jack Endino, who recorded landmark outings by Washington state natives Soundgarden and Nirvana, mastered the Urns LP. “I’ve known who Jack Endino was since I was 12,” Myzak says. “If my 12-year-old self knew about this … I would be too excited to think.”
URNS WITH SWAMPWALK, DERIDER. 9 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 9. Howler’s, 4509 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. $5. www. howlerspittsburgh.com
LET’S GO TRIPPIN’ PITTSBURGH’S SURF-ROCK DISCIPLES GATHER FOR ONE BIG BLOWOUT
cool,” said Koch, who lives in the Squirrel Hill/Greenfield area. “You don’t see garage and surf musicians hitting a chord on the guitar and holding one arm up in some cheesy rock star pose. They don’t cajole the audience to clap along to the beat. They simply get up and they play, and if they’re great then they’re rewarded with a following.” Spagnolo buys into that ethos. His sister was a big Ramones fan and after inheriting his Dad’s turntable at age 16 he spun lots of classic ‘80s punk and hardcore like Minutemen, Minor Threat and Black Flag. Some of that punk D.I.Y. energy, paired with the trappings of more conventional rock ‘n’ roll, creeps into The Spectre’s bombastic, two-man delivery. “I think we may embrace sloppiness or chaos more than others in our immediate vicinity, while still holding on to pop sensibilities,” he said. “There’s an ugliness or a scar to it that you can’t look away from. But it’s not some
hyper-intellectual soundscape, either.It has that earworm element to it that keeps it accessible.” But what does the existence of surf-inspired or reverb-heavy bands like Vertigo Go and The Turbosonics mean to a wave-less place like Pittsburgh? Ben Vivio, who fills out Los Vampiros Amarillos’ rhythm section with Koch, said he, for one, is kind of unsure. But, despite the abundance of good punk and metal in the Steel City, he’s not counting out surf or garage rock just yet. “I’m not sure exactly how or if we fit into the Pittsburgh music scene -that’s not a good or bad thing,” Vivio said. “That being said, we’re lucky to have some bands that have been close to us through the years - most of which are playing at the Beach Blanket Blowout Show.”
BEACH BLANKET BLOWOUT. 8 p.m.,
Sat. Aug. 10. Cattivo, 146 44th St., Lawrenceville. $7 cattivopgh.com
BY JUSTIN VELLUCCI - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
ny musician’s urge to worship at the altar of Dick Dale has to start somewhere. For Kevin Koch, drummer for Los Vampiros Amarillos, the gateway to surf and garage rock was guitarist James Calvin Wilsey, who provided the crystalline six-string ambience for Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” in 1989. For Dan Spagnolo, guitarist for The Spectres, it began a decade ago during his days as a radio-station disc jockey at Swarthmore College, where he gained access to “Nuggets,” “Pebbles” and “Back From The Grave” box-sets. And what about the secret agents – stress on the “secret” – behind local surf rock band Vertigo Go? “We like to keep an air of mystery as to exactly who and what we are,” said one band member, who spoke at an undisclosed location under the strictest conditions of
anonymity. “We rarely talk on stage, only occasionally using a bullhorn to announce song titles.” All those surf-rock origin stories – and many more narratives – will come together on Cattivo’s stage in Lawrenceville Saturday, Aug. 10 for the musical shindig dubbed Beach Blanket Blowout, a night of surf and garage rock. Los Vampiros Amarillos (formerly The Me Toos), The Spectres and Vertigo Go will be joined by Pittsburgh riot-surf act Go Go Gidget. Koch, a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier by day, said he feels surf and garage rock are the purest distillation of the energy released during the rock n’ roll Big Bang of the 1950s. “Before pop turned rock ‘n’ roll into a multi-million dollar industry, garage and surf was more guttural -- much more exciting, an overall aesthetic based on a lifestyle rather than just standing there and posing PITTSBURGH CURRENT | AUGUST 6, 2019 | 27
Brittany Alexis. Current photo by Gab Bonesso.
THIS TASTES FUNNY:
HAPPY HOUR AT THE COMMONER WITH BRITTANY ALEXIS
rittany Alexis seems like a modern-day superhero. She’s a criminal prosecutor by day and a standup comedian by night. She keeps our humble city both safe and entertained. It’s hard to believe she’s not some super-creation by the late Stan Lee. Since this is my first installment
BY GAB BONESSO - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM of, “This Tastes Funny,” I let Brittany choose the spot. She wanted to try the rooftop bar at the Commoner which is located in the Hotel Monaco near the Courthouse. I’ve never been to the hotel or the bar so I was excited for the experience. I walked into the lobby and was advised by the concierge to
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take the elevator to the top floor. Like most adults with ADHD, I can’t just ride the elevator without also playing on my iPhone. Hence when the elevator door opened I got off of the elevator without realizing that I was not on the correct floor. I began walking through the halls of the hotel which were creepily
reminiscent of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. Seriously, the dark, floral wallpaper was both claustrophobic and hallucination-inducing. The only thing missing were twin girls with pigtails insisting that I play with them. I couldn’t wait to get back onto the elevator and away from this
Stanley Kubrick nightmare. Focused and fearful, I got back onto the elevator to finally reach the correct destination. Alexis arrives looking like a legal badass wearing this orange/red business suit that definitely gave her a Wonder Woman vibe. Neither of us were very hungry nor were we in the mood for booze, so we opted for a couple of appetizers: fresh pretzel sticks and homemade potato chips. We split a bottle of sparkling apple juice and connected over memories of childhood New Year’s Eve parties
where that was the non-alcoholic drink of choice. As with all superheroes, I needed to know Alexis’ origin story in comedy. I knew she started while finishing up law school/preparing for the bar exam, so I was curious if she also took a standup comedy class. “It’s super weird. Essentially what happened was I went to Hambone’s with my neighbor because I kept seeing cool food specials they had on the menu,” Alexis says. So, we went one Monday when we were both free and there was a comedy show. I met
Joey (Marchi) who was hosting, and I said ‘That was really cool, I want to try it,’ and he said all right. And I went back the next week and that’s it. It’s super weird.” That was June 2017 when she started her comedy journey. I first worked with Alexis in November 2017 and was immediately impressed with her content and her stage presence. A joke of hers that always gets a laugh is when she opens her set saying, “I’m sure when you heard my name you were expecting a blonde, white girl. That’s okay. Jobs expect that too, and I get a lot of interviews as a result.” Our pretzel sticks arrive and they were half the size of a Louisville Slugger. They are charged individually and when I inquired how big they were, our waiter said that they are a quarter of the size of a full pretzel. I asked how many he recommended we order and he suggested 3-4. I got 4 (since the Current is paying) and we ate 2. Dammit! Server Up Charge: 1, Current Bank Account: 0. Our homemade chips also arrived and well… We barely ate them. I would have preferred a bag of Utz to be honest. I was curious what Alexis’ comedy goals are since she has a such a demanding day job. “It’s a hobby. It’s good for me,” she says. “It forces me not to just work, work, work. My family is very happy I have this outlet. It also makes me stronger as a public speaker. It’s for fun. If it ever stops being fun then I’ll stop, but I don’t see that happening.” At this point I tell her that I hope she never quits because currently she has my favorite comedy bit in the city. She does this whole thing about how she wants to be rich or as she calls it, “flat-earth rich.” She then talks about people who believe the Earth is flat like the rapper B.O.B. (“which is just long for Bob”). It’s such a funny bit and she builds her case for the Earth being round with funny punchline after
funny punchline. She’s really figured out a way to use her skill set as an attorney and translate that into her comedic voice. That combination is definitely what sets Alexis apart from other young comics. She already knows her voice and now she’s just building her material to grow her set. As both an attorney and a comedian, Brittany Alexis is young and just getting started. She’s a self-described Type-A personality (but only about things that pertain to her life). She is content focusing on the now of her career rather than worrying about tomorrow. I’m a full-time daydreamer so I had to ask if she would be willing to put law on hold if she were offered an incredible comedic opportunity. “If it was a good enough opportunity I think it would be worth it,” she says. “I would definitely keep my license active and I have a very deep love of the law so I don’t see myself leaving it entirely; but it’s also a profession where you can go on to do other things and always come back to it.” We finish our sparkling apple juice like two seven-year-olds on New Year’s Eve night and wrap up our Commoner experience. I don’t think we tried the right items on the menu and I’m sure if we were drinking, it might have made the chips taste better. I insist Brittany rides the elevator with me because I’m afraid of Jack Torrence and room 237. We get to the lobby and walk together towards our cars. As we separate I begin to imagine her first Netflix special-Brittany Alexis: A Round (the) World Tour.
YOU CAN CATCH BRITTANY ALEXIS for a free show
at the Brillobox, 4104 Penn. Ave., Lawrenceville. 8 p.m., Tuesday, August 13.
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | AUGUST 6, 2019 | 29
KEEPING UP WITH PITTSBURGH’S CRAFT BEER SCENE BY DAY BRACEY - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CRAFT BEER WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM July 9, noon: I’ve been invited to brew at this obscure brewery no one’s heard of in the middle of Pennsyltucky called Troegs, for a three-way Fresh Fest collaboration between Apis Mead and Drinking Partners. It’s a dry-hopped honey ale brewed with peaches and apricots. The end result is
supposed to mimic peach cobbler. Typically, when I’m invited to brew beer it’s just me pouring hops in to a large vat for promotional shots. I like to call them photo hopportunities, because I’m clever. But this time, I’m actually being asked for input on the ingredients. Not 100% comfortable with this, given my lack of brewing skills and the expense of this beer; but mama ain’t raise no punk. I walk up to a table full of weed grinders, only to be slightly disappointed that they are filled with hops. Dave Cerminara of Apis and John Trogner of Troegs have narrowed down the choices to eight varieties of hops, two locally sourced honeys, and one peach. They’ve been here since early in the a.m., and if you’ve followed this column long enough, you know I don’t do a.m.. We rub bits of hops in our hands, cupped with peaches to see how the aromas pair up. Dave is getting hints of fruit and spice. John is picking up notes of Himalayan yak milk and gunpowder used in the battle of Gettysburg. I smell hops with a bit of peach and hops. After about an hour of hemp huffing, we narrow it down to Vic Secret, Lemon Drop, and Huell Melon. This
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Fresh Fest collab, smartly named “Fresh Fest Collab,” will debut on Aug. 10 at Fresh Fest, alongside 45 other local collabs and 25 black brewers from across the country. Afterwards, it’ll make a limited run around the city in kegs and cans. So, get you some and tell me what you think! July 9, 4 p.m.: We roll up to Zeroday Brewing in Harrisburg. It’s a cool little hipster spot with art on the walls, rotating food vendor in the back, and women brewing in the kitchen. When Did We Get A Dog is an amazing hefeweizen brewed by Hannah Ison. I’m not usually a hefe fan, but this has a nice breadiness to it that plays nice with my palate, and a low ABV that plays nice with my liver after a day of heavy ales. There’s a cheesesteak guy in the parking lot claiming to have legit Philly cheesesteaks. I’ve never had a legit cheesesteak outside of Philly. Pittsburgh & New Jersey are full of menus with lies, but no legitimate milk beef sandwiches. So many years of disappointment, I can’t go down that road again. July 9, 6 p.m.: I don’t know if I’m drunk or if this sandwich is really hitting like this but yes. This is as close to a legit Illadel dairy cowich as I’ve ever had outside of the city. July 13, noon: We’re at the Jeron X. Grayson Center for a mini beer fest called Very Local, Very Fresh: Meeting The People Where They Are. We’ve brought in Union Craft, Harris Family, Zeroday, Freewill, Apis, Rhinegheist, Hop Farm, and East End to pour beer while DJ Hollyhood spins music and Casa Brasil provides food to keep us upright. The event
is only $5 and is being held in a predominantly Black neighborhood with the goal of lowering barriers of entry into the craft beer industry, such as cost, location, demographic, & culture. It’s hard to get into craft when your closest brewery is in a white neighborhood, full of white people, pouring prohibitively expensive beer, with the best of Toby Keith on rotation. There is a diverse panel discussion with people in varying positions within the industry. It’s important to let people know that brewers are simply cogs in a massive system. It takes reps, taptenders, farmers, suppliers, designers, financers, writers, and a slew of other people to keep this industry alive. It also requires diversity and innovation, if it’s going to continue to grow. There are only so many stories straight white males can tell through a hop. It’s time we listened to some new tales. Take pages from the history and culture of other people. Dare I say: it’s time for a fresh perspective?
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Corey Dickerson (Photo: Justin Berl/Icon Sportswire)
PIRATES TRADE-DEADLINE ACTIVITY WAS MORE DISAPPOINTING THAN THEIR SEASON
ometimes the anticipation around the Major League Baseball trade deadline has all the tension and drama of a TV series finale like Breaking Bad. However this year, the trade deadline wound up being about as enjoyable as an episode of According to Jim. You don’t remember According to Jim? My point exactly. The best news that came out of this dud of a deadline is that Felipe Vazquez will remain a Pittsburgh Pirate. The greedy Los Angeles Dodgers, who’ve been to the last two World Series but haven’t won it since 1988, wouldn’t give up super prospect Gavin Lux to get the Pirates closer. Vazquez as their setup man would almost have made them unstoppable, but good for the Pirates for not budging. Before the All-Star break, we all
BY MIKE WYSOCKI - PITTSBURGH CURRENT BASEBALL WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM wondered if the Pirates would be buyers or sellers this year. However, starting off the second half by losing 15 out of 18 games, answered that question loud and clear. First, Jordan Lyles was traded to Milwaukee, the same place where he was traded to at the deadline last year. The Brewers should just sign him so they don’t have to trade for him every year. Yes, the Jordan Lyles era is finally behind us now. He spent four months in our city and the first two were pretty respectable. He then reverted to his normal subpar hurling and was the first victim of the Pirates fire sale. Lyles gave up 16 runs in 18 innings in his last three starts. In return, the Buccos got a 25-year-old AA pitcher named Cody Ponce. Nobody even knows if he’ll even make it to the majors before he’s kicked off his parents’ health
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insurance, but he probably can’t be worse than Lyles. The only other Huntington action involved trading Corey Dickerson to that team across the state. The Pirates received international bonus money and a player to be named later. So, basically nothing. Dickerson won a Gold Glove and hit well in his short stay. His .317 average will be higher than any of his new Phillie teammates. The money saved by dumping Dickerson could go toward purchasing a new zipline at the Bob Nutting-owned Seven Springs, because they don’t like to spend money on baseball. The Pirates have Gregory Polanco coming back and Melky Cabrera is still here. Jose Osuna is also trying to break into the outfield cluster. Bryan Reynolds has emerged as a starter
and Marte is not going anywhere, so Dickerson was in an overcrowded outfield and a free agent at the end of the year anyway. The best news for July was seeing the Pirates get into a bench clearer with the hated Cincinnati Reds. It was just good to see a little fight in them. You gotta give a little credit to Yasiel Puig, too. He only played for the Reds for four months but managed to get into two fights with the Pirates. Even after it was announced he was traded to Cleveland, he still got in one last scuffle as a Red. So, an underwhelming trade deadline has passed, the Regatta was canceled, and Jordan Lyles is gone. How much more can we take in this town?
Inez. (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)
THE CAN’T MISS BY EMERSON ANDREWS INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM FEATURED EVENTS IN AND AROUND THE PITTSBURGH REGION
Join the Heinz History Center for the 10th Annual Bocce Tournament and Festival. Enter a raffle for the chance to win a red 2019 Vespa 150. Proceeds from the fundraiser go to the Center’s Italian American program, which has the largest collection of artifacts and other materials in the country. 11 a.m. 1212 Smallman St. Free. firstname.lastname@example.org or heinzhistorycenter. org/events The buzz is high surrounding this
installment of Pittsburgh’s Very Own, the quarterly curated concert series held at Mr. Smalls Theatre. Four of the city’s best young artists will take the stage in what promises to be a dynamic night of music featuring four black female artists. Each of these performers, Inez, Leila Rhodes, Sierra Sellers and Simone Davis are genre-bending artists that you can’t just put in an R&B or hip-hop, or soul box. Their ranges are wide and their talents, immense. This will no-doubt be a front runner for Pittsburgh concert of the year.
Learn the eco-friendly art of solar dyeing at Full Pint Wild Side Pub. This all natural process can be used to create small pieces of dyed fabrics for quilts and other sewing projects, thread or yarn and even baby onesies. The class is for adults only and ticket price includes all materials plus one beer or nonalcoholic beverage. 2:30 p.m. 5308 Butler St. $39. 412-408-3083
Children ages 3-4 and 5-7 are invited
to attend two workshops at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre inspired by author and illustrator’s series Ella Bella Ballerina. Young dancers will explore various ballets with their own Ella Bella over the course of a week. 9 a.m. 3-4 year olds, 10 a.m. 5-7 year olds. 2900 Liberty Ave. $178 for 3-4 year olds, $356 for 5-7 year olds. 412-281-6727 or pbtschool@ pittsburghballet.org
Row House Cinema partners with Humane Animal Rescue to pair
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The Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival
moviegoers with puppies. Meet the pups and learn about adoption, then enjoy a screening of John Wick. 7 p.m. 4115 Butler St. $10. rowhousecinema.com
The Mattress Factory Musuem of Contemporary Art holds a screening of the documentary Kusama: Infinity, based on the life and work of artist Yayoi Kusama, the top-selling female artist in the world. Guests may also tour two of Kusama’s permanent installations at the Mattress Factory and participate in a Kusama themed costume contest with a oneyear membership to the museum as the prize. Drinks and light snacks will be provided, and student and membership discounts are available. 6 p.m. 500 Sampsonia Way. $15 for students and members, $20 general admission. 412-231-3169 or info@ mattress.org Bloomfield’s Little Italy Days kicks off and continues through Aug 18, hosted by Patti’s Pastries. Enjoy good food and great people the whole weekend long. 6 p.m. Liberty Ave. Free. pattispastries.net
dison Mountain Stars will be outfitted and following the rules common to the 1860s. The event is included in regular admission. Senior, student, veterans, and member pricing are available. 12 p.m. 401 Meadowcroft Rd. Avella. $15 general admission. email@example.com or heinzhistorycenter.org/events The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention holds a Pittsburgh Out of the Darkness Walk at Highmark Stadium to raise awareness and funds for new research and support survivors of suicide loss. Same-day registration is available, though pre-registration is encouraged. 9 a.m. 510 W. Station Square Dr. Free. afsp.org/pittsburgh The Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival opens this weekend. From now through Sept 22, enjoy performers, games and vendors selling crafts and turkey legs. Cheer on knights as they face off in the jousting ring, and watch the king and queen go by in the parade. Child discounts are available, and those under five are admitted for free. 10:30 a.m. 112 Renaissance Ln. West Newton. $11 for kids age 5-12, $23 general admission. pittsburghrenfest.com
The Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village invites spectators to come and cheer at a vintage base ball game. Players from the Somerset Frosty Sons of Thunder and the Ad34 | AUGUST 6, 2019 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT
Savage Love BY DAN SAVAGE MAIL@SAVAGELOVE.NET
I’m a 42-year-old single, straight female who recently started dating a 36-year-old man in a somewhat exclusive, long-distance relationship. We have known each other for a short time, but have clocked hours upon hours on the phone. I have specifically stated many times I don’t want kids of my own (he does), am extremely safety conscious (only when I see someone’s STI results and know we’re 100 percent monogamous will I go “bareback”), and am against hormonal contraception. Therefore, I’ve insisted on the use of condoms since our very first encounter, which he at first reluctantly agreed to, but has since obliged without incident. He is expressively into me and treats me better than any guy I’ve dated; cooks for me, gives me massages, buys me gifts, showers me with compliments, listens to me at any hour of the night, and has shown nothing but respect towards me since Day 1. Until our last sexual encounter. He woke me up in the morning clearly aroused and ready for sexy time. He asked if he could enter me, and after I said yes, I grabbed a condom for him and he put it on. We were spooning at the time so he entered me from behind. At one point early in the encounter, I reached back to grab his hand, and all of a sudden, felt the condom he had been wearing laid out on the bed. Shocked and outraged, I immediately stopped and turned to him asking, “Why did you take this off?” To which he replied, “Because I wanted to cum faster.” All I could muster back was, “Do you have any idea how bad that is? I can’t even look at you.” I covered my eyes and cried uncontrollably for a few minutes. After getting dressed, showering, and exiting without a word, I started to process the atrocity of his actions. It’s clear that he does not respect me, my body, my health, or my reproductive choices, and made his
physical pleasure as top priority. He has apologized profusely, been emotional about his actions, and has definite remorse. After sending him several articles on how it’s criminal (including the one about the German man who got eight months in jail for stealthing), he now seems to grasp the severity. It’s hard to reconcile his consistent respect for me with a bold and disrespectful act like this. The best case is that he’s a dumb-ass, the worst being that his respect and care for me is all a façade and I’ve been a fool. Is there any reason I should consider continuing to see this guy? Is it remotely forgivable? Stealthed On Suddenly Nope. The obvious (and objectively true) point is that anything is forgivable. People have forgiven worse—I mean, there are mothers out there who’ve forgiven the people that murdered their children. But moms who’ve found it within themselves to forgive their children’s murderers... yeah, they don’t have to live with, take meals with, or sleep with their children’s murderers. I’m not saying that forgiving the person who murdered your kid is easy (I wouldn’t be able to do it), but most people who’ve “forgiven worse” never have to lay eyes on the person they forgave again. So while it may be true that people have forgiven worse, SOS, I don’t think you should forgive this. And here’s why: You only just started dating this guy and all the good qualities you listed— everything that made him seem like a good, decent, lovely, and possibly loving guy (the cooking, the massages, the compliments, etc.)—is the kind of best-footforward fronting a person does at the start of a new relationship. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, SOS, but you wouldn’t want to date someone who didn’t do that
at the start… because the kind of person who doesn’t make the effort to impress early in a relationship is the kind of person who can’t be bothered to make any effort later in the relationship. We all erect those façades, SOS, but some people are slapping those façades on slums you wouldn’t wanna live in, while others are slapping them on what turns out to be pretty decent housing. And if I may continue to torture this metaphor: when the first cracks appear in the façade, which they inevitably do, and you get a peek behind it, you aren’t a fool if it turns out there’s a slum there. You’re only a fool if you move in instead of moving on. Anyway, SOS, everybody fronts, but eventually, those façades fall away and you get to see people for who and what they really are. And the collapse of your new boyfriend’s façade revealed him to be a selfish and uncaring asshole with no respect for your body or your boundaries. He was on his best behavior until he sensed your guard was down, at which point he violated and sexually assaulted you. Those aren’t flaws you can learn to live with or actions you can excuse. Move on. I am a 27-year-old man in an open marriage with a wonderful partner. They’re my best friend, I smile whenever they walk into the room, and we have a ton in common. We don’t, however, have that much sex. I’m currently seeing someone else and our sex is great. We’ve explored some light BDSM and pegging, and I’m finding myself really enjoying being a sub. I’m kind of terrified that, as a man, I might accidentally violate someone’s boundaries. I’m also autistic, which makes navigating cues from partners rather difficult. Completely submitting to someone else weirdly makes me feel totally safe and free for kind of the first time. The problem is, my spouse is also pretty
subby. When they do try to initiate sex, it’s often so subtle that I totally miss the signals. In the past month, I’ve had sex with my spouse maybe once, compared to four or five times with my other partner. My question is this: have you seen examples of people in open marriages who essentially fulfill their sexual needs with secondary partners, while still maintaining a happy companionable partnership with their primary? Sexually Understanding Butt-Boy I’ve personally known people in loving, happy, sexless marriages who aren’t leading sexless lives; their marriages are companionate— some can even be described as passionate—but both halves seek sexual fulfillment with secondary, tertiary, quaternary, etc., partners. But companionate open marriages only work when it’s what both partners want… and your partner’s feelings are conspicuously absent from your letter. How do they feel about being in a sexless or nearly sexless marriage? Your spouse would seem to be interested in having sex with you—they occasionally try to initiate—but perhaps your spouse is just going through the motions because they think it’s what you want. So… you’re gonna need to have a conversation with your spouse about your sex lives. If you’ve found being told what to do in unsubtle ways by your Dominant second partner to be sexually liberating, SUBB, you could ask your spouse to be a little less subtle when they want to initiate—or, better yet, ask them not to be subtle at all. Nowhere is it written that subs like you and your spouse have to be subtle or sly or stand there waiting for others to initiate. “I am feeling horny and I’d really like to have sex tonight” is something submissives can and do say.
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– Simon Cowell, AMERICA’S GOT TALENT
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TRUSTARTS.ORG/MAGIC 36 | AUGUST 6, 2019 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT