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MEDICAL MARIJUANA COMPANIES HAVE FEW OPTIONS WHEN IT COMES TO COVID-19 ASSISTANCE VOL. 3 ISSUE 13

May 12, 2020 - May 18, 2020

PGHCURRENT

PGHCURRENT

PGHCURRENT

AT A CROSSROADS PA G E 6


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.

PA I D A DV E R T I S E M E N T

2 | MAY 12, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT


PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 12, 2020 | 3


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

contents

Vol. III Iss. XIII May 12, 2020

From the Publisher 6 | At a Crossroads NEWS 8 | No Prescription 10 | Path to Education 12 | Mr. Yuk 13 | Gov. Wolf

Art Director: Larissa Mallon Larissa@pittsburghcurrent.com

OPINION 14 | Safety Concerns 16 | Rob Rogers

Music Editor: Margaret Welsh Margaret@pittsburghcurrent.com

Food 17 | Day Drinking

Visuals Editor: Jake Mysliwczyk Jake@pittsburghcurrent.com

ARTs & ENTERTAINMENT 18 | No Laughing Matter

Social Justice Columnist: Jessica Semler jessica@pittsburghcurrent.com

POP 20 | Legend of Battman

Contributing Writers: Jody DiPerna, Justin Vellucci, Atiya Irvin Mitchell, Dan Savage, Larry Schweiger, Brittany Hailer, Meg Fair, Matt Wallenstein, Emerson Andrews, Matt Petras info@pittsburghcurrent.com Logo Design: Mark Addison FOR ADVERTISING RATES :

Bethany Ruhe Bethany@pittsburghcurrent.com Charlie Deitch Charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com 4 | MAY 12, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

EXTRA 22 | Savage Love 23 | Feral 24 | Parting Shot

COVER:

PHOTO BY JAKE MYSLIWCZYK 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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PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 12, 2020 | 5


FROM THE PUBLISHER AT THE CROSSROADS

'LIKE A LOT OF SMALL BUSINESSES, WE NEED HELP TO STAY ALIVE.' BY CHARLIE DEITCH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT EDITOR

T

CHARLIE@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

hey say most new businesses fail within the first two years. When Bethany Ruhe and I published the first issue of the Pittsburgh Current on July 11, 2018, we were acutely aware of that old chestnut and we've had July 11, 2020 circled on our calendars since day one. We were never naive enough to think that hitting that mark flipped some imaginary switch that deposited a couple of million dollars into our account and immediately gave us the number of employees that we actually need. But it felt like that was the checkpoint that meant we made it and everything would be smooth sailing from there. But then we realized that we weren't starting just any business, we were opening a newspaper/media company. Even under normal circumstances this is a tough racket to be in. Add in a quarantine, the closing of hundreds of businesses made a manageable, impossible situation an impossible, impossible situation. That's why today, I am here to announce that there is a chance that we might not be here next week. If we are here, there's a chance we won't be the following week and if we are here. .. I'm sure you get the point. The fact is, like a lot of small businesses, we need help to stay alive. I would never come out here and say that we are worse off than anyone else. Or that we are more deserving of help than anyone else. Because, the fact is, we're all lying in this bed together and if things don't change,

sooner or later, we're all getting screwed. I would be remiss if I didn't say that without a $5,000 grant from the Facebook Journalism Project, the Lenfest Institute and the Local Media Association, we'd already be closed. But that money is mostly gone, spent on providing what I think has been some pretty great content over the past several weeks. The content produced by people like Jake Mysliwczyk, Jody DiPerna, Brittany Hailer, Atiya Irvin-Mitchell, Nick Eustis, Amanda Reed, Matt Petras, Meg Fair, Jess Semler, Mary Niederberger, Larry Schweiger, Margaret Welsh, Mathew Wallenstein, Larissa Mallon and others has been some of our best. The grant also allowed me to contract with these writers for content and that allowed me the time to cover the issue of COVID-19 at the Allegheny County Jail. We've also been posting on social media and continuing to podcast through this entire pandemic. We've always been able to do more with less. We play the same numbers game that a lot of people are doing during this time. Can I skip the light bill and pay the gas bill; can I push back the wifi bill. The flipside is, we also owe other businesses money. I will go on record and say that we have one of the most patient landlords in the history of commercial real estate. If we can't pay, he can't eat. It's an endless cycle that we are living in. We are trapped in a whirlwind of uncertainty that threatens everyone's survival not just ours. And now we are at the point where

6 | MAY 12, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

forward momentum is impossible to gain. We, like a lot of businesses, are running out of time, running out of money and running out of options. In order to survive, we need help. Trying to navigate the CARES Act and PPP loans and grants is a full time job on its own. Earlier, we set up a fundraising website and that money is also why we are still alive and kicking. I come today to ask for a few bucks if you can spare it here: https:// us.commitchange.com/pa/pittsburgh/pittsburgh-current. But we're also looking for long term solutions, not just help. If anyone has expertise in navigating the city's foundations, we would love a chance to pitch our case about why we are vital to this community.

We are completely independently owned. We don't have a corporate parent that can toss us a couple bucks if things get tough. In terms of content and impact, this project has been a smashing success. This paper was and is needed in this community. We have long called ourselves an alternative publication and that word can have a lot of meanings. We have in recent months started calling ourselves what we are: An Unapologetically Progressive, Subversive Media Company. And at this time in our world, we are needed more than ever. And we plan to be here as long as we can be. At this point, unfortunately, we just don't know how long that will be.


SUPPORT THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT AND THE FUTURE OF INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM

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.

Donate to the Pittsburgh Current and the future of Independent Journalism Thank You,

Charlie Deitch

Publisher, Pittsburgh Current charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 12, 2020 | 7


NEWS NO PRESCRIPTION FOR MEDICAL MRIJUANA COMPANIES, FINANICAL ASSISTANCE DURING COVID-19 CRISIS IS A CURE THEY CAN'T GET BY JUSTIN VELLUCCI - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER

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INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

hris Kohan is staring down some tough economic decisions. His business, which boasts three Pittsburgh-area locations, is doing well, all things considered, but he continues to dole out “COVID pay” to a handful of employees worried about coming to work due to health concerns. Pennsylvania has deemed his business “essential” during the pandemic but he is not eligible for Small Business Administration (SBA) or Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding from the federal government. And his tax situation is so complicated, he’s hoping Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. help resolve it. “In this time, the one thing we’ve learned is we are an essential business,” Kohan said. “The fact that we’re not treated like an essential business is troubling.” Kohan doesn’t run a health clinic or a manufacturing line dedicated to churning out PPE. He is part of Pennsylvania’s fastest-growing industry, one that has generated more than $520 million in sales in the past two years. Kohan dispenses medical cannabis and, like many in the industry in the age of COVID-19, he needs help. Kohan, who previously worked in media sales, is the CEO and co-founder of The Healing Center, which runs dispensaries in Monroeville, Washington and Cranberry.

He doesn’t prefer to talk about The Healing Center in dollars and cents. “Our business has grown – I’ll tell you that,” he laughed. On March 20, the state Department of Health announced temporary suspension of some restrictions on medical cannabis, including the waiving of purchase limits, the elimination of caregiver background checks, and allowing for remote consultations for renewal of medical cannabis ID cards. Since then, The Healing Center locations have been operating on a different level, Kohan said. They were some of the first businesses in the region to install customer-separating Plexiglass dividers and use electrostatic fogging to clean overnight. They only allow a maximum of 10 people, including staff, in their buildings at once. People with special needs can pick up their medical cannabis curb-side. Security is jacked up. But because marijuana, federally, is listed as a Schedule I drug – the same as heroin and LSD – businesses directly or indirectly related to the sale of it are not eligible for federal loans from the SBA. Janet Heyl, a spokesperson of the SBA’s Western Pennsylvania District Office, declined the Current’s request to interview the head of the district office. “Since SBA doesn’t provide federal loans to that industry, we would not be able to comment,” Heyl

8 | MAY 12, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

wrote in an email to the paper. But, in Pennsylvania, medical cannabis is no small industry. Nearly 300,000 Pennsylvanians – a group roughly the size of the population of the state’s second-largest city – are registered for the medical marijuana program, health department spokesman Nate Wardle told the Current recently. More than 295,000 patients have been certified for the program and more than 183,000 patients have active certifications. There is a growing industry that

serves that population – more than 1,300 certifying practitioners, 80 operational dispensaries and 23 growers and processes, Wardle said. “In the midst of COVID-19, we need to ensure medical marijuana patients have access to medication,” state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said in a press release. “We want to be sure card-holders in the medical marijuana program can receive medication for one of 23 serious medical conditions during this difficult time.” The nation’s medical marijuana market employs 240,000 – making it


NEWS

nearly five times the size of the U.S. coal industry in terms of manpower – and is estimated to reach nearly $8 billion in sales in 2020 with annual growth of around 17 percent. Nearly four in every five U.S. states currently have some type of medical marijuana program. An estimated 3 million Americans legally use medical cannabis. “The cannabis industry, like all the essential businesses, is suffering but they’re not able to access the same resources,” said Michael Sampson, a partner at Leech Tishman Fuscaldo

& Lampl and co-chair of that firm’s cannabis practice group. “On one hand, you have the cannabis industry deemed essential and, on the other hand, they can’t get an SBA loan.” Industry advocates in the nation’s capitol take that criticism even a step further. “The cannabis industry employs nearly a quarter of a million Americans and has been deemed essential in state after state, yet many businesses will not survive the pandemic without help,” said Morgan Fox, a National Cannabis Industry Associ-

ation spokesperson. “They already face disproportionate financial burdens during normal conditions, and the pressures created by the coronavirus response are putting them at an even greater disadvantage and jeopardizing their ability to provide vital healthcare services, or to recover at the same pace as other industries.” Some people in Washington, D.C. are paying attention. Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2019. If signed into law, the act “prohibits a federal banking regulator from penalizing a depository institution for providing banking services to a legitimate marijuana-related business.” The matter was referred to the U.S. Senate’s committee on banking, housing and urban affairs in September. U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, PA-18, doesn’t mince words about the SAFE Act, which he co-sponsored. “I believe that cannabis-related businesses should be eligible for SBA assistance like the Paycheck Protection Program,” Doyle recently told the Current. ”I would support legislation to change the SBA policy that prevents these businesses from receiving federal loans and other financial support.” “On a broader level,” Doyle added, “I believe that the federal laws regulating cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug are outdated and need to be changed. The same goes for our criminal justice system, which has filled our prisons with too many individuals – disproportionately minorities – for low-level non-violent offenses linked to marijuana.” There also is movement in Harrisburg to address the unequal treatment.

State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, has introduced a measure to separate IRS Tax Code 280E – which places restrictions on banking for medical cannabis businesses – from state law, so Pennsylvania-approved medical marijuana businesses could at least make certain deductions on their state taxes. He hopes the bill, which may appeal to tax-cutting conservatives and social liberals, gains traction when legislators return to Harrisburg in person. “It would be helpful if the federal government would repeal 280E,” Leach told the Current. “In the absence of action, we can only do what we can do.” Patrick Nightingale of the advocacy group Pittsburgh NORML feels there are big-idea issues at play here. “The cannabis industry does not have adequate access to bankruptcy relief or to normal rates of banking,” said Nightingale, a criminal attorney in private practice. “It doesn’t surprise me that compromises for SBA could exclude the cannabis industry. There are plenty of conservatives in Congress who would turn a blind eye to this nation’s fastest-growing business.” Kohan, the southwestern Pennsylvania dispensary co-founder, is not holding his breath. “Our business can’t get loans – all these things that are struggles for other businesses get heaped onto the patient,” Kohan told the Current. “It just drives the price of the medicine higher. The only person who gets punished is the person with cancer, the person with epilepsy.”

EDITOR'S NOTE

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

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 12, 2020 | 9


NEWS THE PATH TO REMOTE EDUCATION HASN'T BEEN AN EASY PROBLEM FOR PITTSBURGH PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO SOLVE

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he switch from brick-andmortar schools to remote education has not been a smooth pivot for the Pittsburgh Public Schools. It took the administration more than five weeks to resume classes for students and even two weeks after classes started, the district did not have a tally of how many of the 23,000 public school students it is reaching. In early March, local educators were in the midst of annual routines that included preparing students for upcoming state assessments and battling the predictable spring fever fidgeting among students. Two weeks later all normalcy disappeared as the coronavirus descended on Pennsylvania, forcing the closure of schools and the overnight responsibility of educators to figure out how to move their district’s lessons into students' homes. In Allegheny County, a handful of districts, including Elizabeth Forward, Fox Chapel Area and Pine-Richland were almost immediately out of the chute with online remote education. The effort was easier for those districts because they already had one-to-one technology programs that provided a device for all students. But at the end of the line was the Pittsburgh Public Schools, where students were without instruction from March 13, when Gov. Tom Wolf ordered schools closed, until April 22, the day remote learning was instituted for all students. Pittsburgh seniors started remote classes on April 16. The five-and-a-half-weeks without formal instruction — including six days previously scheduled for spring break — has frustrated some parents and advocates. Those frustrations have spilled out through online forums and testimony at the April public hearing of the Pittsburgh

BY MARY NIEDERBERGER - FOR THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT

INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM

school board. “I guess it’s just a sense of shared frustration about why it took so long,” said James Fogarty, executive director of the advocacy group A+ Schools. “PPS students' last day of school in a brick-and-mortar building was before spring break; the remote learning was a slow roll out with homework collection beginning April 22. A lot of education time has been, and continues to be, lost,” wrote Felicia Williams in her testimony at the April public hearing of the school board Some parents cited the lack of time out of school for supporting lenient grading in the final quarter. Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said all students will pass the final quarter. Lamont Jones, grandfather of students at Manchester K-8, asked in his written comments: “Why was the district, compared to other districts, so late to begin educating our children?” District spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said there were a number of factors that made it more difficult for Pittsburgh schools to transition to remote learning. But the main obstacle is the fact that Pittsburgh’s education model was created for a brick-andmortar setting, with few students set up to access a cyber school. “Other districts already had a oneto-one environment and already had a platform. We had a few schools using Google Classroom or Schoology, but that was it,” Pugh said. In recent remote public forums, Hamlet has said that moving 23,000 students to a remote setting has been a difficult task and took a lot of planning. He has not been specific about what obstacles the district faced beyond a lack of computer devices and internet connections for all students.

10 | MAY 12, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

Pugh said the district had conducted an internal technical device inventory by March 20 but that tedious process involved team members visiting all 54 schools to find devices. Before the computers could be transported to the district’s 10-member tech team, each device had to be cleaned and sanitized by district custodians. After delivery to the tech team, the devices were tested to see if they worked and then had to be reimaged to support the Microsoft Teams platform. That process took about an hour per device, Pugh said. On March 23, the district announced it was conducting a district-wide survey to find out what technology families had available for their students.

At the conclusion of the internal and community survey, it was determined 17,000 devices were needed. The district purchased 5,000 new laptops to be added to the 2,500 in its inventory. Another 559 were donated by the University of Pittsburgh. But the total fell far short of the need and a remote learning fund was established to raise money for additional computers. Though more money has come into the fund — including a $360,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments — a backlog in the supply chain means that those computers won’t arrive until late this month. Currently, all students in grades nine-12 have computers and the district is setting up distributions for students in grades six-eight. The district also plans to distribute iPads


NEWS to students in grades K-2. Another factor in the delay of the delivery of lessons in Pittsburgh and other districts was a directive from the U.S. Department of Education in mid-March which stated districts must provide equitable remote education to all students under the Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) provision of federal law. That message meant: If you can’t provide the same quality of education for all students, you should not provide it to any students. In a March 25 message to families, Hamlet said that provision prevented the district from providing formal, graded lessons because officials knew they could not reach all students given the lack of computer devices available for students and because special education and other services to vulnerable student populations could not be provided as effectively in a remote environment. By the end of March, the U.S. Department of Education revised the original message to indicate that FAPE allowed for flexibility and that districts were free to educate students to the best of their ability in a remote setting. Within days of that clarification many suburban districts were starting to offer remote lessons, often via a mixture of online and paper packets. The 42 Allegheny County districts outside of the city are considerably smaller than Pittsburgh and many have fewer economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, and English language learners. Other school districts in the county range from North Allegheny with about 8,500 students in grades K-12 to the Duquesne City School District with about 250 students in grades K-6. In Pittsburgh, teacher training on the Microsoft Teams platform was held the weeks of March 30 and April 6. “It was a whole new way of work for teachers,� Pugh said. At the same time, the Pittsburgh curriculum team had to create lessons that were aligned with state standards for each grade and have

27,000 paper copies produced because officials did not know how many families would choose packets rather than online lessons. The lessons had to include adaptations for students with disabilities and English language learners. The district then had to determine the best locations from which to distribute the packets because families were not consistently showing up at the Grab-and-Go sites where breakfasts and lunches were being distributed to families. A map created by the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center now shows 47 sites — including some schools — around the city for packet pickups. Pittsburgh launched its remote system April 22, earlier than the School District of Philadelphia, which didn’t start district wide remote learning until May 4. However, other large urban districts, including New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., were providing remote lessons to students weeks before Pittsburgh. But Washington, D.C., is planning to end classes at the end of the month, three weeks early. Some of the remote programs that started locally and nationally before Pittsburgh ran into rough spots. There were complaints about slow-moving online platforms, parents' frustrations about their inability to navigate the platforms and grumbling about student workloads that seemed excessive. Pittsburgh has faced the same complaints since launching its remote program. Fogarty said he understands the difficulty in moving a large urban district to remote learning. But, he said, he wonders if earlier planning and device purchases could have gotten things moving sooner. But Pugh said district officials were working on remote learning even before the governor closed schools. She said Hamlet was ready to announce a phased closing of

This article is being co-published by Print and the Pittsburgh Current and has been funded by Print readers who donated to the Print Journalism Fund.

Pittsburgh schools, which would have allowed teachers and students to gather materials, just before Wolf closed schools on March 13. Another frustration for district families was that so few computer devices were available to distribute to students for online learning. A small number of Pittsburgh schools, including Pittsburgh CAPA six-12 and Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy six-12, had one-toone technology for students. As of publication deadline, district officials still did not know how many students are participating in remote learning. Pugh said teachers were given attendance protocols the week of May 4. The fact that paper packets have run out at some locations “is a good indication that families are participating,� Pugh said. Hamlet has said in public forums he was focusing district funds on in-classroom technology before moving to providing personal technology devices that students could take home. He has acknowledged the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the district to move to a one-to-one technology program by fall so all students have equitable access to online learning if remote education continues. During a May 7 Facebook Live session sponsored by the Pittsburgh Black Elected Officials Coalition, Hamlet did not address the delay in the district’s launch of remote learning. He acknowledged, however,

that not all families are happy with the program. His message to those families: “We are committing to continue in providing the quality education that students deserve.â€? Currently Pittsburgh students are receiving asynchronous learning, which means for the most part teachers are posting lessons and videos, and students are learning independently. He also reiterated a pledge he made last week to have computer devices for every student in the Pittsburgh schools by Fall and have the ability to provide daily synchronous learning, so that students will receive educational guidance from their teachers, instead of relying on their own understanding and their parents’ help to figure out what they need to know.         

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PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 12, 2020 | 11


NEWS PITTSBURGH POISON CENTER, MR. YUK IS A HEALTH-RESPONSE TEAM WORTH DUPLICATING

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BY JODY DIPERNA - PITTSBURGH CURRENT LIT WRITER JODY@PITTSBURGH CURRENT.COM

ittsburgh has given many gifts to the world, from Mr. Rogers to August Wilson, Annie Dillard to Andy Warhol. Just as important, is the gift of Mr. Yuk, the iconic green face indicating toxic danger, introduced in 1971 by Pittsburgh pediatrician Dr. Richard Moriarty when he ran the Pittsburgh Poison Center. In the nearly 50 years since Mr. Yuk started his vital work warning kids not to drink the Drano, the Pittsburgh Poison Center is still saving lives and soothing anxieties, as personal and responsive as ever. At a moment of crisis and complete panic, this human lifeline is a gift. What if you accidentally took your dog's heart medicine at the end of an exhausting day? Or your toddler just ate an entire tube of cortisone cream meant for your poison ivy? Maybe your grandfather is not as expert at mushroom foraging as he thought and he's eaten something dubious? Call the poison center. No, really. Call them on the phone, like in the old days. "We were tele-medicine before there was tele-medicine. At a time when there are a lot of questions about chemicals and disinfectants and medications that may or may not work, this is exactly what we do," Michael Lynch, MD, medical toxicologist and the director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center, told the Current. "When people call, one of the things we'll have them do is read the label to us. We take the time to make sure we know exactly what the product is, so we know exactly what your scenario is. What did you take? How much

Dr. Michael Lynch

of it? How old is the product? We can give you an answer specific to your situation." The voice on the other end of the line in that critical moment is a nurse, one with emergency department or intensive care experience, who is additionally trained and certified in toxicology. They have answers at their fingertips. There is no time wasted bungling around in the dark, so most calls are short and only a few (5 or 6 percent) are referred to the hospital. The information is out there on the internet, but civilians don't have the skill-set or knowledge to replicate what a trained toxicology nurse can do. They can analyze a boatload of information quickly. Just as importantly, ER and ICU nurses stay calm in a crisis. If you wanted to design a medical response unit built for the coronavirus pandemic, you

12 | MAY 12, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

couldn't do much better than one where you don't have to go anywhere and you can get situation specific, tailored, expert information at no cost. "Right now, there is fear, there is anxiety. There is a lot of uncertainty, which is natural," Lynch noted. "Having a resource available -- legitimate and trained to answer those questions -- is important now more than ever." The world is a dangerous, sometimes deadly place, but poison centers didn't spring up until man-made dangers became ubiquitous. The first poison center started in Chicago in the early 1950's, as more people began using chemical products to clean their homes. Pittsburgh's poison center started in the 1960's working out of Children's Hospital. As Dr. Moriarty fielded more and more calls about household disinfec-

tants, he identified the need for a better warning system. "There were kids I knew growing up in Natrona who drank Drano and burned their esophagus, they burned their mouths and eyes," Rita Kaniecki Stanko recalled. A retired CRNA who spent 37 years working as a nurse anesthetist, Stanko crossed paths with Moriarty when she was still a student nurse. Through trial and error, and then by using a dedicated focus group, Mr. Yuk was born. One way Moriarty's classic green stickers made their way to families was through local fire departments and Stanko laughs that her main role back then was gopher. "It was so minor -- I ran stickers around, taking buses to fire departments," she laughed, but she is proud of that work, noting that Mr. Yuk is still effective and still saving lives. The number below Mr. Yuk's frowning mouth is a national number that can reach one of the fifty-five poison centers nationwide, based on area code. If you're in Western Pennsylvania, you'll get Dr. Lynch's Pittsburgh crew, but no matter where you are, you'll get an experienced, calm voice at the other end of the line. "There are a lot of sources of dubious information available from many different sectors. We can be very clear: people should not ingest, inhale or inject any disinfectants of any kind. Outside of what is specifically recommended, disinfectants should not be used in any new or different ways, or in any way placed inside the body. Now or ever," Lynch said. Good rule of thumb -- if you store it under the kitchen sink, don't put it in your body, no matter what anybody tells you. However, if you do, call 1-800222-1222 and somebody will be there to help.


NEWS WOLF: COUNTIES THAT REOPEN IN DEFIANCE OF STAY HOME ORDERS ARE 'SURRENDERING' TO COVID-19

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BY JOHN L. MICEK - FOR THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT INFO@PITTSBURGH CURRENT.COM

acing a growing rebellion from county officials who say they plan to defy state stay-at-home orders, Gov. Tom Wolf threw down the gauntlet Monday accusing those leaders of “choosing to surrender” in the fight against the coronavirus, and were jeopardizing their share of federal relief money. In an online news briefing, the Democratic governor also said that non-essential business owners could be putting their state-issued licenses, occupancy permits and their insurance at risk if they choose to resume operation before their counties are moved from red to yellow zone status by the administration. “We Pennsylvanians are in a fight for our lives. The enemy is a virus bent on destroying us,” Wolf said. “Some of us have chosen to surrender to the virus. They are choosing to desert in the middle of a war that we Pennsylvanians are beginning to win.” On Friday, 24 counties in north-central and northwestern Pennsylvania took their first steps out of lockdown, with businesses being allowed to resume operation with social distancing and mask-wearing requirements in place. On Friday, 13 additional counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, including Allegheny County, are slated to follow suit. That would have meant that 37 of the state’s 67 counties would have moved to yellow status. Over the weekend, however, officials in several counties who believe their low case counts merit reopening announced plans to move ahead on their own. County district attorneys in York and Lancaster counties, along with the elected prosecutor in Beaver County, announced that they would not enforce violations of those orders. Officials in Dauphin County said they planned to move into the yellow phase ahead of any administration order, PennLive reported. County sheriffs in Perry and Cumberland counties also said they would not enforce violations,

PennLive reported. County commissioners in Cumberland County said they planned to stay in red status, PennLive reported later on Monday afternoon. Through midday Monday, the state Department of Health had confirmed 57,154 cases of COVID-19 in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, with 3,731 confirmed fatalities. “This is not the time to give up. This is not the time to surrender. We are fighting a war that has taken the lives of too many people,” Wolf said. “It calls for sacrifice. It calls for a heroism we never have seen before. It calls for us to fight together. I intend to keep fighting. The overwhelming majority of my fellow Pennsylvanians intend to keep fighting.” Wolf’s latter comment appeared to be a reference to a Fox News poll last month showing 69 percent of Pennsylvanians approving of Wolf’s management of the pandemic. Nearly two-thirds of respondents, 62 percent, said Wolf’s stay at home order struck the right balance. On Monday, Wolf said he would not pursue litigation against counties that take unilateral action. But he did say those counties risked losing any share of discretionary funding included in the federal CARES Act. “Discretionary funding won’t go to counties that are operating illegally,” Wolf said. The governor had equally sharp words for businesses owners in red zone counties who might be considering following local officials’ lead: Their license status “depends on your doing everything you can to keep patrons safe.” Violating the orders is “not only morally wrong, it’s bad for business.” Wolf further warned that “businesses who follow the whims of politicians will find themselves uninsured,” if something goes wrong before they have legal clearance from the state to reopen.

In a statement issued after Wolf’s news conference, the administration offered additional clarity to the governor’s remarks, saying that: “Counties will not be eligible for federal stimulus discretionary funds the state receives and intends to provide to counties with populations of fewer than 500,000. “Businesses in counties that do not abide by the law will no longer be eligible for business liability insurance and the protections it provides. The Pennsylvania Department of Insurance released details of this earlier today. “Restaurants that reopen for dine-in service in counties that have not been authorized to reopen will be at risk of losing their liquor license. “County residents receiving unemployment compensation will be able to continue to receive benefits even if their employer reopens. Employees may choose not to return out of concern for personal safety and safety of co-workers.”. In a statement, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, welcomed Wolf’s action. “The governor is doing everything he must to lead us in this war against a deadly enemy. Pennsylvanians have made untold sacrifices and ending the fight now would betray all those efforts and weaken our defenses,” Dermody said. “It’s beyond reckless to assume that areas of our state are in the clear without any evidence to prove that. The enemy waits silently for the next chance to attack. Rash decisions made against the weight of medical advice will open the door for even more tragedy. That must not happen.” In a joint statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, to stop “threatening local officials and communities.” “Pennsylvania residents have done an outstanding job of rising to the cause of reducing community spread and flattening the curve. Instead of

threatening local officials and communities, the Governor should listen to the outcry in response to his dogma,” the two lawmakers said. “Local elected officials are the ones hearing from their neighbors and communities instead of sitting in Harrisburg or on Mount Wolf. Instead of name calling, he needs to follow our lead and engage with local elected officials who are the best measure when it comes to knowing if their communities can return to their livelihoods in a safe way,” they continued. Scarnati and Corman said the GOP-controlled chamber will “move ahead this week with legislation that puts the power to open communities and employers into the hands of local decision-makers who know their area best. Our approach will allow counties – in consultation with local emergency and health officials – to make the best decisions for their communities. This includes allowing employers to reopen if they adhere to Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Pennsylvania Department of Health safety requirements.” “This legislation is not only the right approach, but is the best approach for the public health emergency with which we are dealing.” U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-12th District, a former GOP House member who represents counties impacted by Wolf’s orders, slammed Wolf, accusing him of “denying Pennsylvanians their freedom, exacerbating the societal effects of this virus, and creating a situation where the cure is worse than the disease.” “Trying to feed your family is not ‘cowardly.’ The vast majority of Pennsylvanians rely on their jobs to put food on the table and pay their bills,” Keller said. “Pennsylvanians have shown they can safely shop and work in mega-retailers while the Governor unilaterally keeps small businesses closed and is now threatening them if they re-open. Pennsylvania’s small business owners and workers are smart enough to operate safely and feed their families.” John L. Micek is the Editor for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star where this story first appeared.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 12, 2020 | 13


OPINION NOTHING ABOUT THE REOPENING OF STATES' ECONOMY IS SAFE BY LARRY J. SCHWEIGER - FOR THE PITTSURGH CURRENT INFO@PITTSBURGH CURRENT.COM

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early everyone would like to get our lives back to "normal," but overwhelmingly most Americans understand that our health and safety must override economic issues until the virus can be contained. Yet most states, including Pennsylvania, are re-opening their economies and easing restrictions on businesses and social activity despite public health expert warnings that this increased activity is likely to cause a second surge of new infections. None of the states re-opening have met the CDC's core benchmark for at least a two-week decline in reported cases. In a new poll conducted by Ipsos in partnership with ABC News, Americans, by a 30-point margin, believe the risk to human life of opening the country outweighs the economic toll of remaining under restrictions. Only about one-third believe that an immediate re-opening is beneficial to minimize the negative impact on the economy amidst the coronavirus pandemic that has killed 80,000 American lives. They want to re-open even if the elderly and vulnerable die.

Protests to Reopen With only a third of the public supporting premature re-opening, "AstroTurf" protests in state capitols, city, and county buildings are creating the illusion that Americans want to ignore the evidence and re-open. Some protests have been complete with masked terrorists dressed in full camouflage toting military-style rifles, displaying

Scense from a reopen Pennsylvania rally two weeks ago (Pittsburgh Current Photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

swastikas, and rebel flags. Anti-government rebels, gun advocates, white nationalists, and the ill-informed have responded to a well-funded effort by dark money groups to spawn rally at state capitols. They gathered in tight crowds ignoring safe distancing, face masks, and stay-at-home orders. Many protesters claimed to be pro-life while they point out that most deaths are among the old and infirm. They suggest that some are expendable "collateral damage" to opening the economy. Republican lawmakers and angry protests organized by an active AstroTurf campaign funded by corporations have pressured Governor Wolf to abandon his prudent approach that was consistent with CDC guidelines and re-open much of Pennsylvania, including most

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Southwest counties. How can anyone take actions that will force a societal retreat in the middle of a pandemic and possibly kill thousands of lives for the sake of recklessly re-opening the economy? Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, who also claims to be pro-life, tweeted a graphic suggesting that the sick, disabled, and elderly people do not matter when it comes to re-opening of our economy. He also cited health data that indicate that 79 is the average age for coronavirus-related deaths in the state and that nearly 68% of those deaths occurred in assisted-living facilities. To be clear, residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have suffered the most with estimates of more than 16,000

deaths Nationwide attributed to COVID-19. Republican lawmakers, following House Speaker Turzai, ignore the best health scientists and depreciate the lives of the weak and elderly, passed legislation to pressure re-opening of Pennsylvania. Early on during the COVID-19 health crisis shutdown, Turzai advanced House Bill 2400 to restart public and private construction activities. This bill would force construction workers back to crowded worksites like the Beaver County cracker plant where workers have complained about the risks involved. Turzai claimed the construction sites would follow CDC guidelines when, in fact, they would not be consistent because of premature opening. The effort to force workers to return to work


OPINION prematurely is rejected by nearly two thirds (65 percent) of the respondents to a NPR poll who said they do not want to go back to work without more thorough testing. Eighty percent of respondents do not want schools, restaurants, or large sporting events until there is more testing.

Who is behind the curtain with the many reopening campaigns? The Center for Media and Democracy obtained documents that reveal a powerful corporate lobby and quasi-legislative front group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) played a lead role in creating in the movement promoting premature re-opening of the economy. ALEC has been working closely with the Trump administration to advance Trump's strategy to force opening the economy while the projected doubling of deaths be damned. Emails obtained through public records requests by the Center for Media and Democracy reveal the troubling connections to ALEC. ALEC is a corporate pay-to-play legislative scam where legislators and corporate lobbyists vote behind closed doors to adopt "model legislation" on a broad range of environmental and public policy issues. These bills are later introduced and enacted in various state legislatures. Secret ALEC sessions allow corporate lobbyists to have an equal vote with elected lawmakers. Corporate lawyers are producing draft bills that are increasingly shaping final legislation passed in Harrisburg and other state capitols. At a time when state budgets are at the breaking point, and the medical community is struggling with the lack of federal leadership, ALEC is calling to "bring the economy back to life through a free-market approach

that gets big government out of the way."

Who is funding ALEC's AstroTurf campaigns, and why? ALEC is deeply tied to the Koch Industries political network. Charles Koch gave ALEC $334,000 in 2018, and Koch's toxic "Americans for Prosperity" was a major sponsor of the 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting that saw sixty-nine Koch lobbyists in attendance, according to an attendee list. Koch is one of many wealthy libertarians who happen to be the chief beneficiaries of an extreme laissez-faire government that funds the advocacy to block any state closures. While often recruiting conservative Christians, these ideologues have long ago rejected sound science, and morality, and has purged ethical considerations from their libertarian worldview. The ALEC's libertarian network forcing premature opening is interconnected to other groups that value restarting the economy over the lives of others. For example, ALEC's CEO serves on the national leadership council of the recently launched "Save Our Country Coalition." SOCC is led by economist Art Laffer creator of the discredited Laffer Curve that proposed flattening tax rates to boost economic growth and revenues.

America's economic future and dangerously escalating our national debt; Incentivize the rapid rebuilding of our economy through proven formulas: tax cuts, deregulation, and lawsuit reform; Preserve federalism within the rule of law and respect the rights of the states in dealing with crises such as the coronavirus pandemic; Protect the individual liberties of our citizens from unconstitutional power grabs by the federal, state, and local governments. The hypocritical American Legislative Exchange Council is in favor of protests when they advance corporate interests but vehemently opposed to protests that challenge corporations. After tribal protests at Standing Rock, ALEC tried to shut down future demonstrations by

drafting a model anti-protest law that was enacted in Louisiana in conjunction with the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, including Energy Transfer Partners, TransCanada, Enbridge, and Philips 66. This perverse law makes trespassing on "critical infrastructure" facilities, including oil pipelines that pass over private property a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of $1,000, or both. This ALEC anti-protest legislation has been introduced and enacted in several pipeline states. Americans overwhelmingly believe the risk to human life outweighs the economic toll. Yet, here we are driven by radical special interests to an outcome that neither benefits the economy or our lives.

Save our Country Coalition's "key principles:" Immediately re-open the economy, while (voluntarily) implementing the best workplace practices to protect the health of our citizens; Restore the essential principles of limited government and fiscal responsibility by stopping the trillions of dollars of federal spending that is imperiling PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 12, 2020 | 15

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FOOD & DRINK DAY DRINKING A REALLY DRY MONTH IN A REALLY BAD YEAR BY DAYBRACEY - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CRAFT BEER WRITER

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April 1, Midnight: I’m on a dry month. I started these dry months last year as a response to the increased alcohol consumption I’ve experienced as a result of becoming more entwined with the brew industry. Most self aware alcoholics take a break in January, to mitigate the wear and tear holiday boozing has on the body. But in addition to tolerating my family, I need my hooch to extend the four hours of sunshine we’re allotted during those dreadful winter months. Imagine the sun going down at 1pm on a 23 degree day and only having corny shit like yoga or children’s laughter to get you by. I’ll pass. I’ve also seen a lot of people turning to booze to get through the quarantine. Nothing wrong with this, but alcohol is a social drug for me. The one thing going for my liver is my lack of alcohol at home and reluctance to drink alone. It would be nice to leave the quarantine healthier than I entered it. I mean, isn’t that the point in all of this? To slow down hospital traffic? April 2, Noon: No. It was not an April Fool’s joke. I’m really doing a dry quarantine month. In other news, Fresh Fest was named 2nd best brew fest in America by USA Today! Thanks to all the people who voted and whoever invented incognito mode. April 2, 9 p.m.: All lead up events for the festival have been rona’d, so we put together a Zoom happy hour hangout, Fresh Fest Mash! We tapped DJ

Arie Cole to spin some tunes and invited folks to hangout and share stories while drinking safely from home. The longer I live a hermitted existence, the more I see the benefits therein. I imagine I’m not the only one. Maybe we should permanently add digital content and hangouts to supplement our services as a society? Can’t make it to the next Drinking Partners comedy show because your 2017 pullout game was weak? No worries! Just log on and laugh out while your kids are asleep, dreaming of ways to drain your bank account! April 3-19: What the fuck, 2020… April 20, 4.20p: How do we get back to the Berenstein Bears timeline? April 30, 2 p.m.: I’m almost at the end of what feels like 3 years of sobriety. I fully understand the need to drink through this and am ready to let alcohol wisk me away into the land of “Fuck it.” The beer geeks have been raving about recent releases from Four Points in Charleroi, & I’m eager to get out of the house for a joy ride. I hop online and order a 4 pack of 400, a juicy IPA featuring Vic Secret and Lotus hops with notes of pineapple, passionfruit, and creamsicle. An hour later I pull up to Fourth Street BBQ, next to the brewery, to claim my prize. I bump (figuratively) into Adam Boura (brewer) and Dave Barbe (owner) while I’m there. We have a covid-friendly

Day Bracey breaks quarantine, just for a minute.

chat, masked up and six feet apart, about life, love, and the coronavirus. It’s very weird seeing people I’m not related to for an extended period of time. I mean, this conversation is cool, but is this even legal? Of course nothing feels legal when you’re doing it through a mask. And I passed a lot of American flags on the way here, so I shouldn’t overstay my welcome. Don’t want any casual strollers to confuse this friendly exchange for a robbery attempt. I grab a quick pic and make a speedy getaway to the next stop. April 30, 5 p.m.: I’m at East End Brewery in Larimer. Andrea Shockling, tap tender and comics artist, is busy as ever. She gives me the rundown of what’s in stock through a mask and thick sheet of hanging plastic. I order Windgap, a pineapple and mango milkshake IPA in their

Neighborhood series, Homewood Reserve, a chocolatey barrel aged stout at only 6.7% ABV, and get a bonus Resilience pale ale, a nationwide collab with Sierra Nevada to aid those affected by the Cali forest fires. Four more orders come and go while I’m there, and I learn that shit is terrible everywhere, but people are drinking in record amounts. So, you shouldn’t worry about your favorite brewery going under any time soon. If you want to help the industry, I’m sure there’s some money in your beer budget to throw at the many crowdfunds supporting furloughed service workers. I mean, it’s not like you’ve been tipping much lately. May 1, Midnight: I’ve got sunshine in a cloudy IPA. It’s corona outside, but I’ve got the month of May...

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 12, 2020 | 17


A&E NO LAUGHING MATTER

PITTSBURGH COMIC SHOPS TAKE A BIG HIT DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC BY MATT PETRAS - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER

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Phantom of the Attic Comics in Oakland usually uses its wooden racks to display newly released comic books, but, during the COVID-19 pandemic, physical comics have largely not been distributed. Owner Jeff Yandora has been using the racks to display comic book series he recommends, and then he takes a picture for social media to advertise mail orders. It’s been odd, he says. “Usually I’m here by myself, and seeing the store, one, without any people in it is kinda weird,” Yandora says. “It’s like a ghost ship. The phantom ghost ship.” Just like comic shops around the country, comic stores in the Pittsburgh area appear to have been hit hard by the pandemic, forced to lay off employees and find revenue through online sales. Business has been tough for retail shops of any kind amid the pandemic. Comic shops are in a particularly vulnerable position because they typically draw a relatively niche customer base of collectors and enthusiasts. Diamond Comic Distributors, the chief distributor of new release mainstream comics, stopped shipping books a little more than a month ago, and government offices have prevented most comic stores around the country from allowing customers inside. Eide’s Entertainment, a four-floor comic book and collectibles store located in Downtown Pittsburgh, actually received a waiver from the governor’s office allowing them to stay open, according to Greg Eide, who has owned and operated the store for nearly 50 years. Eide’s has a small convenience section at the entrance of the store with snacks, drinks and magazines, which has allowed it to cautiously operate with a slew of restrictions.

Phantom of the Attic in Oakland has been trying to get the word out about their inventory and shipping options

Eide says he requests people call first and follows standard COVID-19 safety precautions. Still, few people have been entering the store, according to Eide. The store is lucky if ten people come in throughout a given day, he says. “Some of our best regular customers come in… very big collectors,” Eide says. “People who are very addicted to collecting.” Sales have dropped significantly as the store leans more into eBay, Eide says. All that being said, Eide has allowed all of his full-time employees to continue working if they feel comfortable. He also received

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money from the Small Business Association for the store. He’s concerned that other shops may not be as fortunate, but he’s comfortable about his shop’s future. “I own the building outright, so I don’t have to pay rent, I pay property taxes. I feel I’m far, far, far better positioned than stores of my ilk, comic stores or music stores or book stores or whatever,” Eide says. “I have plenty of money behind me that I can keep things going through this hard time, and I plan on keeping it going.” Business at Pittsburgh Comics, a shop in Canonsburg, was down

about 40 percent in March and 77 percent in April, according to owner Colin McMahon. He also had to lay off his one full-time employee. Unlike some shops that stock old and rare comic books, Pittsburgh Comics primarily focuses on getting new releases to its customers. “For the store itself, it was pretty much completely stopped,” McMahon says. “Especially with no books coming in, there was really nothing going on here.” The Book Industry Charitable Foundation, a national non-profit that assists struggling book stores, has teamed up with comic book


A&E publishers like DC Comics to donate funds to comic shops in need across the country. McMahon says Pittsburgh Comics received $800 from this effort, which he says made paying the shop’s bills less of a headache. “Overall, we’re okay, and we should be able to get out of this, I don’t want to say unscathed, but not dire,” McMahon says. “The big question for me is, ‘are the customers going to come back?’ I know most of them will, but I’m sure there are people out there who haven’t gone back to work yet or may not be able to go back to work.” Some counties in Pennsylvania have already moved to the “yellow phase” of reopening on May 8, which allows businesses to allow customers in so long as standard social distancing guidelines are followed. This allowed the New Dimension Comics location in Ellwood City to open, as it’s located in Lawrence County. On the first two days of reopening, a Friday and Saturday, the store brought in revenue equivalent to about one-third of a normal month, according to Todd McDevitt, owner of the New Dimension Comics franchise. “The heavy-hitters really came out, the real die-hards,” McDevitt says. “I think some people maybe opened their purse strings a little wider to support us because they knew we’ve been struggling for two months.” Throughout the pandemic, McDevitt laid off the vast majority of his 78 employees and says revenue has drastically plummeted. Online sales represented only about 3 percent of his businesses before the pandemic, so that component was only able to help so much. Despite a strong start at one of his six stores across Pennsylvania and Ohio, McDevitt expects a slow recovery because he imagines many of his customers will be forced to more carefully spend their disposable income. An extra hurdle for his businesses is how to approach table-top

"Cosmo" and the staff at Eide's Entertainment have been facing tough tmes during quarantine. (Eide's Facebook)

gaming, a staple of his stores. He assumes table-top gaming will only be able to resume when restaurants can, because of the close, crowded environment it requires. Restaurants won’t open until the green phase of reopening, which Pennsylvanians don’t know when to expect will happen. In Southwestern Pennsylvania, comic shops will soon be able to open. Gov. Tom Wolf recently announced that counties like Allegheny, Washington and Westmoreland will move to the yellow phase on May 15. Soon after, on May 20, Diamond plans to resume distributing comics. Still, even with that reopening date, it’s unclear how well comic shops will be able to recover. At Phantom in Oakland, Yandora had to lay off his two full-time employ-

ees and says sales have slowed to about 10 to 20 percent of their normal numbers - maybe a little better sometimes. “We applied for some of these loans, and we still haven’t heard anything back, so we’ll see what happens,” Yandora says. “I’m pretty optimistic. I’ll be more optimistic if these grants come through.” He says the comic book community is supportive and that he’s been receiving some mail orders from customers out of state who heard of the shop from Pittsburgh-area friends. It’s hard not to think of what things would be like for these stores if the pandemic didn’t happen, though. Last week would have been Free Comic Book Day, a huge event for comic shops around the world that often brings in loads of peo-

ple who never go to comic shops normally. Yandora remembered this recently. “It was funny, because it finally hit me,” Yandora says. “I was here by myself, I think, packing a mail order or working with some mail orders. Normally, this place would be mobbed with lots of happy people, lots of happy kids. It’s a happy event, and we’re so far away from happy at the moment.”

EDITOR'S NOTE

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

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 12, 2020 | 19


POP HOLY FAKE NEWS BATTMAN! IN 1966, TONY MARINO'S 'BATTMAN' AND TOM FOTI'S 'ROBIN' WERE A POPULAR TAG TEAM DESPITE NEVER ACTUALLY BECOMING ONE

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BY THOMAS LETURGEY - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER

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or many fans of Pittsburgh’s Studio Wrestling, Tony Marino’s “Battman” was a pretty big deal. The gimmick, which could never happen today because of the obvious copyright infringements, was popular with fans and is an iconic part of wrestling’s history. A new TV show made the character and his sidekick, Robin extremely popular. In pro wrestling, Marino was Battman, and Robin was portrayed by Canadian wrestler Tom Foti. But when and where did the gimmick start? And when did Battman and Robin join forces? Like the original Batman, there is a complicated history. Origin Story: Battman Tony Marino’s local incarnation of the then-TV character burst onto the scene, not in Pittsburgh, but according to Wrestledata.com, in Cleveland on March 31, 1966. There, Battman defeated Paul DeGalles in 5:15 at the Cleveland Arena. But there were earlier sightings. Battman showed up earlier that March wrestling preliminary matches at the NWA in Detroit. Even earlier that year, there was a Battman listed as the tag-team partner of the legendary Gorilla Monsoon. But it isn’t likely that the caped crusader of the squared circle would make his debut for a loss in a random tag match. The original comic book character was becoming popular after the The Adam West-helmed Batman television show debuted on January 12, 1966. It’s common knowledge in wrestling fan circles that Marino’s “Battman” featured the double T to differentiate, and

Tony "Battman" Marino in action. (Screencap from youtube.com)

presumably avoid lawsuits, from the TV crime fighter. However, the DC-comics spelling is frequently used in everything from Civic Arena wrestling programs to news filings, results and other promotional pieces. Like the TV show and comics, if there was a Battman, there had to be a Robin. Origin Story: Robin Around this time, John Foti was wrestling almost exclusively in Canada for Stu Hart’s Stampede promotion. The 38-year-old 5’9”, 215-pound Canadian, and the 35-year-old Marino, 5’9” and 235-pounds,

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were on cards together in 1965, months before the show debuted. Foti, was asked by the promoter to be the Boy Wonder. But despite what you might think, it wasn’t to fight along Battman’s side. But, despite urban legend, there’s no proof whatsoever that the Dynamic Duo ever actually teamed up to fight crime or throw dropkicks. In fact, there is little proof that the two appeared together beyond a photo session with photographer Roger Baker. More on that in a minute. In April, Battman wrestled all over the east, from Buffalo to Cincinnati, Toledo to Toronto.

And like the superhero, this Caped Crusader got the win wherever he went. In singles competition, he remained undefeated in May, but lost in a tag team contest with Lou Klein against Nicoli Volkoff (not the Nikolai Volkoff of later WWF fame) and Boris Volkoff. Foti spent the vast majority of his time north of the border for Stampede. He was never involved in a recorded tag team match with Battman during this time, and “Robin” can’t be found in singles competition. The two reportedly debuted at the Maple Leaf Gardens, but actually didn’t compete in a match


POP together. On July 24, 1966, WWWF Champion Bruno Sammartino defended his title in the Maple Leaf Gardens against Dr. Bill Miller (Bruno won by count out). On the same card, Battman lost in a tag team match with partner Johnny Powers. Although they knew each other before this, Sammartino had never seen Marino as Battman before. But he liked what he saw in the character. Exactly two months later, Battman debuted in Pittsburgh on Studio Wrestling’s September 24, 1966 broadcast in a win over Jim Grabmire. He would become a staple of weekly television broadcasts and mid-card house shows for several years. Heck, there was even a video of Marino’s Battman driving to the Civic Arena in an Adam West version of the Batmobile, all with the TV show theme.

Battman and Robin Unite, Sort Of A short time later, the Dynamic Duo were featured in a huge photo on the cover of Wrestling Revue Magazine. In a feature remembering Foti, Greg Oliver’s Slam Canoe Sports featured a photo gallery of Battman and Robin, most likely taken by Baker on May 1, 1966 (based on match results). One photo appears to be staged as the in-ring Battman and Robin sign autographs for fans standing on the outside. Another photo shows Robin standing on the apron and chatting with Battman. Behind them is an empty arena. Plus, the article confirms that Robin is Battman’s “second and confidant.” Robin did get involved momentarily when a rival had Battman illegally on the ropes. The magazine had to reinforce to fans that Battman and Robin were on the scene. However, the team didn’t last long, if they

Despite the claim that Battman and Robin "Menace Mat Villains," Tony Marino's Battman, popular on Pittsburgh's studio Wrestling and Tom Foti's Robin, who competed in Canada, weren't actually a tag team, except for on photoshoot in 1966. (Phots top and bottom right are Youtube Screen captures)

really worked together at all. When Marino returned to Toronto, he didn’t often bring the mask in late 1966. He wrestled as Tony Marino, the respected Italian. Most of the time, Foti wasn’t on those cards. It’s interesting to note that on November 7, 1966 (after the magazine’s release and at the height of the TV show’s craze) Battman defeated John Foti in one-on-one action in Lethbridgem Alberta Canada, as well as the next day in Edmonton. Both events were for Wildcat Wres-

tling, the NWA and Stampede. Foti wrestled for the rest of his short life. Sadly, Foti took his own life on April 29, 1969. He was 41. Battman spent most of his time in the Pittsburgh region, which was now owned by Sammartino. By February 1967, Battman was routinely tagging with The Living Legend. Later he would tag with “Jumpin’” Johnny DeFazio. There’s never been a suggestion that Foti was ever in Pittsburgh or Western Pennsylvania at all.

The Batman TV show went off the air in March, 1968 but continues to live on famously in syndication and cultural lore. Pittsburgh’s “Battman” wasn’t as omnipresent after the cancellation, however, Marino would continue to wrestle in the cowl for many years after. His last appearance in Pittsburgh was at a roast for Dominic DeNucci and the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance (KSWA) FanFest, both on December 3, 2011. Marino, who lives in Florida, recently turned 89.

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 12, 2020 | 21


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

It's taken a lot to do this but here goes. I am a 38-year-old gay male. I have been dating this this guy for one year and ten months. It's been a lot of work. He cheated on me numerous times and he lives with me and doesn't work and I've been taking care of him for seven months now. He always accuses me of cheating or finds something to blame me for. What I am angry about now is how for the past four months he has been accusing me of playing games by conspiring with people to make him hear voices. If I look up at the ceiling or look around he said I am communicating with "them." I keep telling him I do not hear or see anything but he insists that I am lying. He also says I put a curse on him. One day I got up and he packs his bags and said he had enough and walked out. He said I was not being loyal. This is a man who has been doing coke since age of 14 and he is now 43 years old. He does meth and whatever else. He said until I come clean about hearing the voices too and admit I cast some sort a spell on him he won't talk to me or see me. Mental illness runs in his family and one sibling already committed suicide. He didn't want professional help because, he says, "I am too smart for that." I'm hurt and angry and want some advice. ANY ADVICE. Please. Desperate For Answers I don't see the problem. A delusional and potentially dangerous drug addict with mental health issues who refuses to get help packed his bags and walked out of your life. Yahtzee, DFA, you win. It was his presence in your life (and your apartment) that was the problem and your boyfriend—your ex-boyfriend—just solved it for you. Block his number, change your locks, and pray he forgets

your address. You might wanna seek some professional help yourself. You need to get to the bottom of why you wasted nearly two years on this asshole. Being alone can't be worse than being with someone who cheats on you and then accuses you of cheating—to say nothing of someone who abuses drugs, hears voices, and makes other irrational/delusional accusations. He wasn't just a danger to himself, DFA, he was a danger to you. He's out of your apartment—now you need to get him out of your head. About a month ago I broke up with my boyfriend after I found out was cheating on me. Long before we broke up I freaked out about a rash and looking back I think it was probably herpes all along. I found out for sure three days ago and I'm honestly thinking about not telling him. He doesn't show any symptoms and he's the type of guy who will call me a slut if I tell him. He'll blame me his wrongdoing and just keep going and going. I honestly don't know if I should tell him, since he's asymptomatic. This is going to cause a huge problem between us. He has a lot of anger issues and he could use this as blackmail. I’m legitimately scared. Her Ex Reacts Personally Letting a former sex partner know you may have exposed them to an STI—or that they may have exposed you to an STI—is the decent, responsible, courteous, and kind thing to do. Not just for their health and safety, HERP, but for the health and safety of their future sex partners. But people who are unkind, scary, and violent have no one but themselves to blame when a former sex partner/girlfriend/ boyfriend/enbyfriend is too afraid for their own safety to make that discloser. Provided your fears are legitimate, HERP, and you’re not inflating them to avoid an awkward or unpleasant conversation, you don’t owe your ex a call.

22 | MAY 12, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT

I'm a bi guy, living alone. At the start of the year, this new guy moved into the house where I live in—we share communal areas but have private rooms—and he's a bit of a slacker but holy shit is he hot. I've had regular fantasies about him. And now with the quarantine, those fantasies have increased along with the number of times I see him in a day. I've been feeling the urge to ask him if he's interested in anything but my friends have advised me to “not shit where I eat.” But due to the quarantine, the only other option I have is masturbating and that's not doing the trick. Should I take the plunge and ask him? Household Entirely Lacks Pleasure Health authorities have advised us to shit where we eat for the time being. The New York City Health Department recommends masturbation, HELP, because you are and always have been your safest sex partner. But your next safest partner during this pandemic is someone with whom you live. NYC Health has advised us all to “avoid close contact—including sex—with anyone outside your household.” That doesn’t mean everyone inside your household is fair game, of course; some people are quarantining with their parents. But if there was ever a time when you could approach a non-related adult with whom you live to see if they might wanna fuck around, now’s the time. Apologize to the hot slacker advance for potentially making things awkward and invite him to say no. (“If you’re not interested, please say no and I promise not to bring it up again.”) But if the answer is yes, HELP, send video. I’m a gay bondage bottom. My boyfriend of four years is 100% vanilla and we solved the “problem” of my need to get tied up—and it’s a real need—by outsourcing it. (Can you tell we’re longtime readers and listeners?) I was seeing two regular FWBs/bondage buddies but that’s obviously on hold right now. (I’ve reached out to both my FWBs to let them both know I’m thinking about them and that I care about them, Dan, like you’ve been urging people to do on your show.) The issue is I still really need to get tied up and my boyfriend is willing but he’s so bad at it that I don’t want to bother. He knows how much I need it and he’s hurt that I’d rather go without than let him put me in bondage that isn’t really bondage because I can easily

get out. We used to fight because I wanted him to tie me up and he didn’t want to do it and now we’re fighting because he wants to tie me up and I won’t let him do it. Any advice for a fan? This Isn’t Exactly Desirable If people can teach yoga, give concerts, and conduct first dates via online streaming services, then one of your bondage buddies can—if they’re into the idea—give your boyfriend a few bondage tutorials online. I’m glad to hear you already reached out to your bondage buddies, TIED, since now you’ll be asking them to do you and your boyfriend a favor. But I imagine it’s a favor they’ll enjoy doing. I’m a teenage girl with a female friend who keeps joking about having sex with me. We’re both into girls and sex, but while I find her really hot, she probably doesn’t feel the same about me. How can I tell if she’s joking about it because she finds the idea ridiculous or if she’s joking about it because she actually wants to? Once everything goes back to normal COVID-wise, what should I do? Getting Into Real Life The ability to ask someone a direct question—particularly someone you’re interested in romantically and/or sexually—is an important skill, GIRL, and getting some practice now, when stakes are relatively low, will benefit you all your life. So get your friend on the phone and ask her this: “Are you serious about wanting to have sex with me? It’s fine if you don’t want to, but I’m actually attracted to you. Please say no if the answer’s no.” If the answer is yes, you can make a date to get together once circumstances/pandemics allow. But if the answer is no, GIRL, then you can get some practice making declarative statements: “I don’t want you to make those jokes anymore. They’re hurtful to me.” And if she continues to make jokes about having sex with you after you’ve made it clear she’s hurting your feelings, then she’s just being cruel and doesn’t deserve your time, attention, or friendship. The Savage Lovecast, every Tuesday. This week, with Marc Maron! www. savagelovecast.com


ESSAY FERAL BY MATTHEW WALLENSTEIN - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM Boats used to come here, I think they parked between these. I don’t know, it’s pretty, who cares,” Chris said. “I can’t wait for drones to start delivering food,” Jack said. “I’m so hungry. Wouldn’t it be nice just to stay here and have food brought to us?” “I’m hungry too,” I said, “but, damn.” We were sitting on a slab of cement about twenty feet above the very dark water. Grass and dandelions coming out of cracks between beer cans and ancient broken pieces of wood. The sun was heavy, it was hot. Chris and I were taking rocks and chunks of concrete we pulled off the platform and seeing who could hit the garbage floating in the water. Jack, Chris and I met up in Philly for the day. I had driven there with Max but he was doing business across town. I was going to stay there another couple days with him then head back to Pittsburgh. I hadn’t had a day without work in three months and it was something just to sit and talk and be there with people I didn’t often see anymore. Eventually, as I knew it would, the subject of Feral came up. Chris started talking about the last time he saw her. “I didn’t really know her, that was after I moved out,” Jack said. Jack, Chris and I used to live together in New York. “Feral moved into 203 probably a few months or so, or like, maybe 6 months after you moved out, I don’t know. She lived in the room Ben built, that 7-by-3 foot one off the living room, the one Ben built after he and T— split up when they both still lived there. After they moved out Feral moved into that room,” Chris said. “Oh the break-up room, okay. Didn’t Mei Ling live in there after you guys broke up, Matt?” Jack said. “Yeah,” I said. “The break-up room, yeah. Thanks. After all that, when Feral moved into that room, there was this one time a girl came down from New England to see me. And she and I built a tent out of blankets and chairs in the living room. We set up a laptop to watch a movie. I think we made it to about the end of the opening credits

when Feral came in thinking she was doing me a favor, like being my wingman. I kept dropping hints that she should go but she would keep telling the girl all these things about me to talk me up and give these sneaky winks and thumbs up and so forth to me like she was really helping me out. Anyway the girl fell asleep and Feral went to her room. I lay there, not making out. After about an hour the fort collapsed on us. The girl didn’t even wake up. And I just lay there in the living room with a knocked over chair on my belly and a sheet over my face.” I didn’t know where to start with explaining Feral. Before I knew her as Feral I knew her as Riley and, before that, Fritz and, before that, Justin. During that time she was transitioning and there were a lot of all-night sessions of her crying and going through it pretty hard. She would go back and forth between Chris one night, then me, then Chris and so forth. She was a pretty unhappy person before the hormones and they hit her like a second puberty. A lot of times Chris or I would give her shots in her dark little room. She would draw a square on the cheek of her butt with a Sharpie to show me where to inject it and I would do my best to get it in the right spot. The needle was long and I knew it hurt. She would drive us both crazy sometimes but there was a lot of good in her. Some nights we would watch horror movies and I would draw her and she would draw those weird little monsters she drew. I still have a couple of them. They were Dungeons and Dragons characters but they would have saggy old breasts and dangling penises. Mostly I miss walking around late at night with her, throwing rocks at windows, talking, listening, it made me feel like a person. Feral died in a fire in Oakland, California. It was at a party in a warehouse. I hadn’t seen her in a few years. New York and some of the people in her life there were making her very unhappy. Many were not very understanding of what she was going through. For all their punk phraseologies and activist lexicon there was very little kindness or real-world application. She moved

Illustration by Matthew Wallenstein

down to North Carolina, wore country dresses, found some people. Chris lived in the same town while he was attending an artist residency. I went to her house once when I was down there visiting him. He was friends with the people living there, but she was out of town. Chris was a part of her life a lot longer than I was. I think the last time I saw her was when Chris and I drove her up to her parents house in Connecticut. I had driven her up there twice before, once when her friend died and once to pick a few things up from her old room. I remember sitting in the driveway watching the snow in the headlights while she was inside talking to them about her transition. The house was large and surrounded by dark trees. She came back to the car and was toughing it out. Her parents still called her Justin. But she got a lot closer than most of us do to being the person she always felt like she was. On the platform the sun was bright, I was squinting. I scratched my face,

I needed to shave. I needed to shower. I went to the edge of the platform and peed off of it. Chris finally hit one of the soda bottles floating on the water. “Hey look at that. You actually got one,” Jack said. I picked up a log. It was dry and grey and about the length of my arm. I threw it off the edge and it didn’t hit anything floating down there. The water splashed, oil shined blue and purple on its surface. “What about Vietnamese?” Jack said. We started walking back. “Yeah that sounds good. Chris, my two favorite pictures you ever took were that one of Anna in the bathtub and the one you took of Feral flicking the syringe, sitting on your bed. Actually, you know what, I really love the one of her in the leopard print jacket, all dressed up and smiling in the city at night. I think you took that after the last time I saw her, though.”

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PA R T I N G S H OT

PITTSBURGH CURRENT PHOTO BY JAKE MYSLIWCZYK

PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MAY 12, 2020 | 24

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Pittsburgh Current Volume 3, No. 13, May 12, 2020  

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