Page 1



April 28, 2020 - May 5, 2020





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


Vol. III Iss. X1 APRIL 28, 2020

NEWS 4 | Difficult Recovery 7 | Nourishing the Neighborhood 8 | Protecting th People 9 | Housing Town Hall


Art Director: Larissa Mallon Larissa@pittsburghcurrent.com Music Editor: Margaret Welsh Margaret@pittsburghcurrent.com Visuals Editor: Jake Mysliwczyk Jake@pittsburghcurrent.com Social Justice Columnist: Jessica Semler jessica@pittsburghcurrent.com

OPINION 10 | Jessica Semler 11 | Rob Rogers 12 | Larry J. Schweiger ART & ENTERTAINMENT 14 | Lightning Striking Again 16 | Birth of the Condor 17 | Liberty Magic 18 | Amy Jo Burns 21 | The Can't Miss EXTRA 18 | Savage Love 19 | Indoor Outhouse 20 | Parting Shot

Contributing Writers: Jody DiPerna, Mike Shanley, Dan Savage, Larry Schweiger, Brittany Hailer, Meg Fair, Matt Wallenstein, Emerson Andrews, Atiya Irvin-Mitchell info@pittsburghcurrent.com Logo Design: Mark Addison




The Fine Print

Senior Account Executive: Andrea James

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


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



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

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

Charlie Deitch

Publisher, Pittsburgh Current charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com






ngela attends as many as four Narcotic’s Anonymous (NA) virtual sessions a day. She calls into an outpatient program nine hours a week. She checks in with her sponsor, doctor, counselor, case workers, old friends, and her mother who currently has custody of her children. Angela relapsed after five years of sobriety before the COVID-19 virus gripped the world into standstill. For the first month of the stay-at-home order, she had no human contact. She filled her days with NA meetings and worked the 12 steps that taught her how to overcome addiction the first time. 12-step programs like NA and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) encourage members to adopt a set of guiding principles called the 12 Steps. Following the steps in order has helped people achieve and maintain abstinence from substance use disorders. “An addict alone is in bad company,” she said, “being in my own head is the worst.” Seventeen years ago, an oxycontin prescription changed the course of Angela’s life. She never used drugs or partied in high school or college. She developed a habit seemingly out of nowhere at the age of 30. Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is rare. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, it affects one or two people in every 100,000 people per year. Angela was diagnosed 17 years ago while pregnant with her first child. GBS, an autoimmune disease that attacks the nerve cells, causes weakness, muscle pain, and in some cases, paralysis. Six months into her first pregnancy, Angela was paralyzed. She received an oxycontin prescription for her pain. Her doctor told her that the drug

was non-addictive. She had a chronic disease, a chronic pain; the medicine was a ticket to a normal life. But, she got clean. She stayed clean. Until she didn’t. A little less than a year ago, the stresses of single-motherhood fractured the support structure Angela so carefully constructed post-rehab. Before quarantine, Angela felt isolated. Over time, she began to abuse her anxiety medication, which she’d been taking as prescribed for years. After she slipped, she told on herself. She called her mother and said she’d relapsed. She needed help. “Somehow I made it though and that’s only defined by one thing--I


wanted to make it through. If I keep choosing to do the wrong thing, I am going to find myself very alone. For me, it was black and white. It was going to do very well, or I was going to die,” she said. Angela’s children are coming back to her, first, in unsupervised visits, and in two weeks, they’ll be re-unified for good. When they’re with her, she’s teaching them, feeding them, making sure the two youngest don’t argue (they’re less than two years apart) all while trying to make sure she is stable, present, and, most importantly, working on her recovery. “No one person--unless they’re superwoman--is going to raise three

children day in and day out with no help, especially if they’re in recovery, and not break at some point,” she says. “That’s facts. I’m human. When I am doing good, I am a great mother. But I’m an addict and I need that support when things get overwhelming.

“We need the ability for families to say, ‘This is really freaking hard right now.” Erin Troup is a licensed counselor who specializes in childhood attachment and family therapy. She emphasized that parenting is stressful under ‘normal’ circumstances;

NEWS mitigation efforts and recovery are factors that can compound that stress. Before COVID-19, most children spent the day at school, but now during school closures, many families are teaching their children online. “I’m thinking about parenting during COVID right now. [Before] you could send your kids to school and have a break, but now all the stressors are on you,” Troup saids. “The kids are stressed out. I’m thinking and holding in mind those folks who are in recovery and that added stress of parenting. There are minimal outlets, besides what you can get online.” In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, her organization Sprout Center For Emotional Growth And Development is offering free telehealth check-in sessions for parents or children. Families are experiencing a web of loss, transitions, and stressors which manifest in a host of different behaviors in both children and adults. “I imagine if you’re just getting your kids back and you’re sitting here going, ‘This is more stressful than I thought,’ who can you tell safely without the fear of your children being taken from you? We need the ability for families to say, ‘This is really freaking hard right now,’” Troup said. Troup advised folks who are interested in the check-in service to email Sprout Center and request a checkin: “If they feel like they need more intensive therapy service, if we’re the ones who can do it for them, we will. If we can’t we will help them find that resource.” Many therapists are providing sessions via telehealth and insurance companies are covering those sessions. Bryan Bass-Riley is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in individual and family therapy emphasized that many insurance companies are also waiving co-pay fees for mental health appointments

and sessions during the COVID-19 pandemic. “There are a lot of counselors who will make special arrangements for people who don’t have insurance. Don’t be afraid to call and ask about that. Mercy Behavioral Health and Western Psych often have resources for people without insurance,” he said. Bass-Riley has witnessed relapses as a result of the pandemic and many of his clients are on medicaid. They also do not have unlimited data on their cellphones or they pay-by-the-minute for phone calls. People without unlimited access to the internet and technology can’t regularly participate in virtuals meetings because of the digital divide. “What for me, as a pretty privileged professional person, is a kind of opportunity, is pretty devastating for someone in a lower socio-ecomic class,” he said.

“Because of the scare, a lot of people are fearful about going to rehab. The number of people attending rehab is down. Rehabs are still open.” B, (who requested to remain anonymous because he is a part of the Alcoholics Anonymous fellowship) said that AA teaches it's members, “The primary purpose is to help the still sick and suffering. The reason we exist, our whole reason for being there, is to help them. How do they find us, now?” Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous transitioned onto virtual meetings across the globe as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Links to daily meetings are available online at www.na.org/ and www. aa.org/. These meetings have been a lifeline for both those in long-term recovery and those who are new to the program. B misses the newcomers and encourages anyone new to sobriety to call into the AA and NA meetings because, not only would

it help the individual on their own road to recovery, but it gives people like B a sense of purpose. The digital divide still exists when it comes to these meetings, however. For members who have physical disabilities, the online transition has allowed for better access. B said he can only spend so many hours a day on his feet because of his disability: “A lot of times I had to choose between going to the grocery store or a meeting.” But now, because online meetings are available hourly each day, he’s attending more meetings than he has in years. A, another AA member who requested anonymity, echoed this new found accessibility. She wrote to the Pittsburgh Current: “For me, attending Zoom meetings has greatly increased my sense of fellowship and strengthened my recovery. I have multiple disabilities, and have not been able to attend meetings consistently for a couple years, so Zoom meetings have afforded me access I never had before...What a gift! I’ve attended meetings where other members connect not only from their homes, but from nursing facilities and from hospital beds. I've also seen this working for single parents and caregivers that can't leave the house, normally, etc. "These meetings have made community possible in ways it has never been before. So, my hope is when we return to “normal” that a good percentage of these meetings stay in place for those of us with barriers, beyond Covid19.” Dr. Sandy Davis, a private practitioner in Shady Side, has specialized in addiction for the past 35 years. She emphasized that right now is “wonderful” time to get sober and urged those struggling to seize the opportunity. Liquor stores and bars are under restriction and rehab center numbers have dropped. “Because of the scare, a lot of people are fearful about going to

rehab. The number of people attending rehab is down. Rehabs are still open. They can go for an evaluation. They’re practicing social-distancing, there’s tons of hand sanitizer and masks. Hop onto a Zoom meeting and tell someone you’re new to recovery,” Davis said. Mike V, AA member who requested anonymity, has 22 years of sobriety, said that following the 12 steps of the AA program has equipped him to handle the COVID-19 shutdown and echoed the importance of letting go of control in chaos. “I don’t worry about things I can’t control very much. I don’t sit around and stew about things. This forced isolation is a time where everything in your past comes up. I am used to examining that and being with that... If you’re doing a 12 step program and your mental and spiritual condition are pretty good, that’s an advantage for a situation like this. I don’t feel the need to escape into an alternate reality,” Mike V said. NA and AA meetings open and close with the Serenity Prayer, which teaches those in recovery to accept what they cannot control. According to Davis, this principle isn’t only applicable to addiction but also, the COVID-19 pandemic. “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference,” Davis said. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please call SAMHSA National Helpline Confidential free help, from public health agencies, to find substance use treatment and


This story was made possible

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






ood insecurity is not a COVID-19 issue. It's an issue that already exists, it's just exacerbated," Shanon Williams said and pre-coronavirus data backs that up. One in ten Americans, one in eight Pennsylvanians, and more than one out of every five Pittsburghers struggled with food insecurity before the pandemic. As Food Banks race to meet increased needs for food distribution in the region, smaller organizations are stepping to provide healthy meals in underserved and traditionally African-American neighborhoods. A social worker, activist and founder of the Wellness Collective, Williams created a model on the fly for a free, community-based, volunteer delivery service. Between deliveries and planning meetings, she talked to the Current about how she and 17 volunteer drivers pick up free meals from neighborhood restaurants, like Peoples Indian in Garfield, and Arnold's Tea on the Northside, and deliver them to people in need who have contacted them through a hotline. The drivers are also kept really busy delivering food prepared by a collaboration between the Hill District Consensus Group and Feed the Hood. The Program Coordinator for the Hill District Consensus Group, Neashia Johnson moved quickly when COVID-19 cases started showing up in Pennsylvania. Almost overnight, she set up a grab-and-go dinner service at the Neighborhood Resilience Project food pantry on Bedford Avenue and at Community Forge in Wilkinsburg. She started serving meals the week of March 16, the same week Gov. Tom Wolf moved to shut down non-essential businesses in the state. It was a need that was already there, but this operation was "definitely something born out of a re-

Neashia Johnson scoops spaghetti into a takeout container. (Current photos by Jake Mysliwczyk)

sponse to COVID-19," Johnson said. The risk of infection, combined with the economic hardships created by efforts to flatten the curve, make for the perfect storm that endangers the lives of the most vulnerable members of our society. And as time wears on, more and more people will become economically vulnerable. Between March 15th and April 22nd, new unemployment claims filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry totalled close to 1.6 million applications. The ripple effect of job loss will certainly result in more families cutting back on nutritious ingredients, skipping meals, or simply going without. Rather than provide dried goods and canned goods (known as


shelf-stable products in food pantries), Johnson wanted to offer healthy, hot meals. Nutritious food is hard to come by in the Hill and in Wilkinsburg, as both neighborhoods are already classified as food deserts. She knew she wanted to feed spirits, as well as bodies. "In this moment, honestly, I feel very grateful for the fact that I'm still able to do this work. I'm trying to do what I can because I'm okay. I can't just stay at home. I need to do something," she said. Johnson got in touch with Chef Carlos Thomas, most often affectionately known as Chef Los, the owner and operator of Confluence Catering. In addition to catering,

he teaches cooking to kids and runs a program called 'Feed the Hood,' which does exactly what it says. He agreed to do the actual food services. "As far as COVID-19, we got in the mode of what we've been doing over the past few years -- which is just posting up somewhere and feeding the 'hood," Chef Los said. He and his three man crew (professional cooks who would otherwise be out of work) do their food preparation at Third Presbyterian Church in Shadyside in the mornings and deliver the prepared food to Neashia and her volunteers at the Hill and Wilkinsburg locations. This past week, they made things like Salisbury steak, roasted potatoes,

NEWS spinach and tomato salad, zucchini and smothered chicken. One of Chef Los' major goals is to adapt the menu day by day based on what they can lay their hands on. "We cook what we can, but it's important that it fits into a cohesive, nutritious meal," he said. The lack of a full-service grocery story within walking distance (onehalf to one mile) is one of the chief indicators of a neighborhood being a food desert. But there are others. "Are there high rates of obesity? And are there transportation problems? We overlaid data for those particular things to identify neighborhoods," Dr. Tiffany Gary-Webb explained. Gary-Webb, PhD, MHS, studies epidemiology, community and behavioral health at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and has spent her career gathering data and information on food insecurity and food deserts. She points out that city neighborhoods such as Northview Heights, Bedford Dwellings (Hill District), Garfield, California-Kirkbride (Northside), Homewood, Hazelwood, and Mt. Oliver are all food deserts, as are Wilkinsburg, certain census tracts in Penn Hills, Braddock, Duquesne, McKees Rocks, Turtle Creek and McKeesport. There are more, of course. "Let me say a few things about food insecurity and the link to health. One of the issues is when people have to make trade offs. Food is a necessity. If they don't have money to buy food, or they can buy food but they don't have money to buy medicine," Dr. Gary-Webb said. "It creates this vicious cycle where you don't have money for food, you end up not buying the most nutritious food and you end up having more health complications; you need medicine and you have to trade off medicine for food. It's this vicious cycle." There are multiple barriers to obtaining food and goods in poorer neighborhoods. Some is simply logistics, which is to say, no nearby grocery store and/or no transportations. "But others are not healthy enough to go. Mental-health wise, there are dif-

ferent mental illness barriers. There are so many invisible people in our communities. These are the people I have been screaming and hollering about for forever," Williams notes. Food insecurity in childhood can lead to a whole host of medical, educational and psychological problems later in life. And one in six children in America have stress around where their next meal might come from. "Food insecurity affects your general sense of security in the world. That can increase toxic stress and from there you can go on to a whole cascade of traumas," Dr. Daniel Salahuddin told the Current. Salahuddin is a third year resident in the combined family medicine and psychiatry program at UPMC, where he works out of both Western Psych and McKeesport Hospital. There are myriad ways that lack of access to healthy food can influence the economic and physical health, but food insecurity can also present immediate dangers right now, in the time of coronavirus. "As you have increased stress levels going through your body, cortisol is going through your body, which can also lead to a decreased immune response. So your immune system doesn't function as well as it usually

does. That has tremendous implications for COVID as it relates to varying immunity. If you're food insecure, that's already setting up a risk factor for someone who is already at high risk, given the initial data we have on who is being affected. It's continuing to perpetuate the disparity," Salahuddin said. Institutional racism is a large part of the issue and contributes to the African-American community being disproportionately affected by this pandemic. We don't have great data about the racial breakdown of cases in Pennsylvania, but the data coming in from other states and cities indicates that people of color, poor people, the homeless, and those living with disabilities are being and will be disportionately affected by COVID-19. An NPR report on April 2nd showed that Black Americans have been less likely to receive the COVID-19 test than White Americans, even when reporting the same symptoms. A Propublica report on April 3rd showed that African Americans made up almost half of Milwaukee County’s 945 cases and 81% of its deaths -- in a county whose population is just 26% Black.

Food insecurity is a public health crisis within a public health crisis. It will take a long time for researchers like Dr. Gary-Webb to aggregate hard data, information vital to implementing better and permanent systems for improving health and safety. But that process takes time and time is something we don't have right now. Nimble, grassroots organizations that can adjust in real time are an invaluable shield against the storm of coronavirus for those communities most at risk. When Johnson and the Hill District Consensus Group started the grab and go meal program, they got a $500 donation from the Hill District Charitable Credit Union to buy some produce and meat and other supplies. In order to keep it going, Johnson has set up a GoFundMe which she hopes will enable them to continue to feed those most in need. Though many of those prepared meals go out via the delivery hotline, it's gratifying to connect with people in the neighborhoods, particularly with social distancing protocols in place. "There are a lot of people walking up who live nearby. We've seen a lot of older people come past. There are people who have multiple children. When people come in, they actually share some stories with us," Johnson said. In her poem, 'Perhaps the World Ends Here,' American Poet Laureate Joy Harjo writes, "The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live." The Hill District Consensus Group's mission is to build a community where residents have access to living wage jobs, affordable housing, high-quality education, and a voice in policy decisions. But it also, and very fittingly, describes itself as the Community Table.


This story was made possible

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






hree months ago, much of 1Hood Media’s work was focused on using art to raise awareness around social justice matters. While those interested could still attend a virtual poetry slam, like many nonprofits 1Hood Media’s work has changed in the time of the COVID-19 Pandemic. “For us, it went from what we normally do, to trying to have a conversation with our community about the dangers of the coronavirus,” Jasiri X, executive director of 1Hood Media said. In the early days of the virus, misinformation and concerns about access to testing were widespread. Jasiri X recalls a lack of focus on how the pandemic would impact black residents. “We saw townhalls early on that had no black representation so we began to have a conversation with black Pittsburgh about a lot of myths,” Jasiri X said. In response, the organization teamed up with the UrbanKind Institute to host virtual town halls centered on black Pittsburghers. Jasiri X, explained the response was so great the town halls became a weekly occurrence consisting of medical professionals, advocates, and the occasional elected officials addressing the concerns black residents have about the pandemic. “What we’ve seen is a need for information and advocacy directly to our community,” Jasiri X told the Pittsburgh Current. “It’s just different when you see folks who look like you, speaking directly to you and have a vested interest in your community.” Early data from Michigan, Louisiana, and Florida has shown that black Americans were dying at high-

er rates from COVID-19 in comparison to their white counterparts. “The reality of the black American experience is that we have a distrust of the medical establishment and that’s rooted in history, it’s not pulled from the sky it’s rooted the experiences black people have had,” Jasiri X said. Jasiri X added that issues such as disparities in care for black patients and institutional racism weren’t new issues, just one of many forms of inequity that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Furthermore, he doubted the inequality would vanish after the pandemic. Another need, in addition to helping residents stay informed, 1Hood Media is seeking to fill is the need for protective face masks for frontline workers across the county. “We made the decision to purchase masks so we could give them out to front line workers in our community who are trying to serve and protect,” Jasiri X said. During the pandemic although the Center for Disease Control recommends that all citizens wear protective face masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus, it’s become clear that the workers most likely to come in contact with the virus lack protection. Jasiri X said the response the organization got from the offer of KN95 for essential workers was “incredible.” “We have nurses and CMAs [certified medical assistants] that are asking us for masks and it’s kind of scary in a sense,” Jasiri X admitted. “I would think that they would have access to those types of masks, so to see how many people responded to us we just saw a need that needed to be filled.”


The New York Times reported in early April that hospitals were running low on protective gear during this unprecedented time. So much so that some medical professionals had resorted to reusing masks and had turned to social media for appropriate personal protective equipment. 1Hood Media is distributing 2,000 masks to frontline workers only at no cost. This means first responders, grocery workers, public sanitation workers, social service workers, pharmacy workers, and hospital workers. “While COVID-19 does not discriminate, the virus is disproportionately impacting black and

brown people across the country, some of whom do not have access to personal protective equipment,” Jasiri X said. “The least we can do is help ensure they have some form of protection.” Frontline workers can request masks by texting 77948 to receive a form online. The organization is allowing up to workers to request four masks at a time to be dropped off a designated location or mailed.


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



During a time of unemployment and uncertainty, Pittsburgh United hosted a virtual town hall on housing, displacement, and protections for renters and homeowners. After a two-hour conversation on Monday were advocates, legal counsel, and elected officials fielded questions and laid out possible solutions the consensus among panelists was that there was much to be done to prevent displacement during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. From the county level Allegheny County Councilwoman Olivia Bennett recalled at council’s previous meeting they’d passed a motion calling for a moratorium on eviction and utility shutoffs. However, Bennett lamented that the motion wasn’t binding, therefore they could do little to protect tenants struggling financially due to the pandemic. “The challenge for us at county council is yes we passed this motion but it’s a motion,” Bennett observed. “It is not binding, it’s not a law or ordinance it’s not really doing anything to make this enforceable. Motions are great but they’re statements, we need something that’s lasting that’s going to protect folks in the county.” Bennet called on viewers to reach out to county council and make their desire for enforceable legislation known. Furthermore, Bennett expressed frustration at the concessions she and Councilwoman Bethany Hallam have had to make due to co-councilmembers “not having the courage.” During the pandemic, Bennett believed it was necessary to legislate aggressively. “If there’s any time to be stepping over boundaries and doing things that should protect folks it’s now,” Bennet said. “In my view, we should ask to [give] apologies, instead of asking for permission.” From the capital, Rep. Summer Lee would voice similar frustrations about the road to achieving protections for tenants during the pandemic. Although

Lee is sponsoring a memo for a rent and mortgage freeze, she explained the feedback she and her colleagues had gotten was that a freeze might not be enough. “What we’ve been hearing from folks is that a rent freeze is not sufficient right now because if this money is able to accrue throughout the longevity of this crisis, which we don’t know how long it will last, we stand to create a bigger disaster if folks are then expected to pay all at once,” Lee explained. Lee questioned the legislature’s priorities in that there seemed to be little political will to move on matters such as housing and or paid sick leave, despite the overwhelming need. “We’re a month into this crisis and we’re not voting on housing bills, we’re not voting on healthcare bills, or worker protection bills and to be perfectly honest I don’t know that we will due to the nature of our legislature right now,” Lee said. Lee added that in addition to trying to gain support in the legislature lawmakers had begun circulating a petition asking commonwealth residents to voice the urgency of a need for the mentioned freezes. Furthermore, Lee observed the potential for a greater housing crisis was one of many interconnected symptoms of systemic inequality that had been highlighted throughout the pandemic. The representative hoped this time would be used to work on system-wide changes such as universal healthcare and creating an equitable education system. “We’re not going back to normal, normal is what got us here and there’s no space for us there nor for any of the communities we represent,” Lee asserted. At the beginning of April, the commonwealth’s Supreme Court issued an order extending a moratorium on evictions. Though this had many tenants breathing sighs of relief due to pandemic related hardships, with the order set to expire April 30 Kevin Quisenberry,

Litigation Director of the Community Justice Project worried where the order’s end would leave vulnerable tenants. Quisenberry said that every county court could exercise its discretion to extend their own moratoriums through the end of May due to the Supreme Court’s order. Landlords, Quisenberry said, ought to call on local president judges to do that in the event the Supreme Court doesn’t act to extend the order past April. Quisenberry added that without rental assistance programs that helped pay back rent for tenants who couldn’t afford to pay after job-loss, when moratoriums lifted then many tenants could be left behind. “We're going to be facing a group of folks that may still have protection through the federal moratorium and another group who have no legal protection,” Quisenberry said. He’d make the case for communicating with landlords to help them see what they could do besides pursue eviction. As the financial losses due to the pandemic are unlikely to be recovered for low-income renters, Quisenberry

said, eviction would create a lose-lose situation. “We’re all in one boat, every one of us has to have stable housing for health reasons due to the health crisis,” Quisenberry said. “This is not the tenant’s fault, it’s not the landlord’s fault either this is a global pandemic which has caused an unprecedented unemployment rate.” Quisenberry added his organization was encouraging landlords to explore proactive options such as mortgage deferral and forbearance if their tenants are unable to pay rent. He’d point to an open letter authored by Jamil Bey, director of the Urban Kind Institute, and signed many several local organizations as a place for landlord resources. Currently Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac owned mortgages is allowing payment forbearance for homeowners impacted by COVID-19 for up to 12 months. Locally, Quisenberry stated many banks such as PNC Bank and Dollar Bank were offering a mortgage deferral option for homeowners enduring hardship due to the pandemic. “It’s a matter of the landlord reaching out and asking for it,” Quisenberry said.




ast week, the Pennsylvania State Legislature passed a doomed Telemedicine Bill intended to expand healthcare access across the Commonwealth. Some House Republicans added an amendment, a “poison pill,” using the bill as a vehicle to ban medication abortion coverage. This is the third time in three years that something similar has happened, and it isn’t just Democrats who are disappointed in this tactic. "It's just totally confounding to me… and I'm pro-life," said former House Rep. Mark Mustio, who also said the amendment was unconstitutional. At the time he even credited the last-minute amendment from State Representative Kathy Rapp as an example of why he wasn’t running for his seat again. “This puts the cap on the reason I'm retiring," Mustio said. "Because it is absolutely asinine up here, when you have an issue that passes unanimously but you can't get it across the goal line." In October of 2019, before the House added in the abortion restriction, the Senate passed the bill with near-unanimous support, 47-1. Citing the COVID-19 crisis as a reason to bring up this legislation again is valid, but with the presence of the abortion amendment, the Senate voted along party lines, 29-21. Governor Wolf says he will veto the bill. I explained this to my partner, who was perplexed. “To be clear: a bill that had already been passed in the State Senate, had been amended by a State Representative so that abortion-related services could not be provided over Telemedicine?” Yes. That’s how this start-

ed and it doesn’t get better. State Representative Michelle Brooks said that she was disappointed with Gov. Wolf for letting their “philosophical differences” take precedence to granting healthcare access to folks in rural communities. It’s infuriating that Republicans are laying the third failure of the Telehealth legislation at Wolf ’s feet, when they are the ones that added an amendment that is definitively incompatible with healthcare access. To be clear, this ceases to be a philosophical difference of opinion about abortion when it becomes enshrined in law, which is what these Republicans are attempting to do. Like other efforts to restrict abortion, their reasoning is not based in science and reinforces stigma. Senator Larry Farnese summed it up perfectly: “We are in the middle of a pandemic and for some reason, we cannot control ourselves in this building because we seize on every opportunity even in the middle of a pandemic, we frustrate a woman’s legal right to abortion.” The amended bill prevents the


use of telemedicine for abortions, along with other reproductive services, under the guise of “safety.” Mifepristone is one of the two medication abortion drugs, and under the FDA is still listed under REMS (Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy), which requires the medication to be dispensed only by certified prescribers and only in clinics, medical offices or hospitals. This isn’t justified, however. Major medical organizations including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommended removing the REMS restrictions, because of the drug’s high degree of effectiveness and the risk of a minor complication. It’s also wild that medical abortions would be restricted by this telehealth bill when there is such a massive dearth of options for folks who need reproductive care in Pennsylvania, especially in rural communities. It always bears repeating: there are no rights when there is no access. Half of U.S. counties lack an OB-GYN in 2017, and 85% of counties in Pennsylvania have no abortion providers. The burdens that accompany obtaining an abortion are unnecessary. So many people have to drive several hours, spend money on gas and hotel rooms, pay for childcare for their existing children, all to have a procedure that has fewer complications than getting wisdom teeth removed. For a procedure that continues to be so politicized and stigmatized, telehealth would be a game-changer. Mike Straub, Press Secretary

to the PA House Republicans, tried to assuage folks’ concerns by saying, “There’s no effort to restrict people within existing abortion law, and people trying to obtain that medicine could obtain it in the same way that they can obtain it today.” This argument gets to the heart of anti-choice folk’s long game. For years, abortion has been forcibly separated from other types of reproductive care, and healthcare at large. Due to the Hyde Amendment and Title X restrictions, abortion clinics have to exist completely separately from family planning clinics so places like Planned Parenthood can continue to help folks get their needed gynecological care. Standalone clinics have been subject to thousands of legislative attacks all over the country and been forced to shut down as a result. Every OB-GYN practice in the country should be offering abortion care; one-third of people with uteruses will have an abortion by the time they are 45. We must challenge folks who treat this necessary care as something to debate, or something to philosophize about. By being purposely siloed from the infrastructure and resources given to other forms of health care, abortion access continues to be peeled away. Telemedicine can and should revolutionize the way folks experience healthcare. Our underserved communities need and deserve this care. It is imperative that as we move forward into this new world, abortion care cannot be written off, or purposefully excluded. Abortion is healthcare. Healthcare is essential. Legislators can leave their personal beliefs out of it.





t has been fifty years since the first Earth Day when protesters, wearing gas masks and dressed in black, carried a coffin down Pittsburgh's Fifth Avenue. They protested the air pollution that plagued the region. Some participants complained while others used the moment as an opportunity for environmental "teach-in's" to inform a growing constituency for environmental action. Earth Day-1970 was a milestone in the effort to protect and restore our environment. Industrial Pittsburgh's famous pollution was a poster child for the abuses of unregulated air and water pollution. After all, this city once had the worst air pollution in the Nation and was second only to the London fog for its lethal load. In 1948, during a four-day inversion, a deadly toxic cloud threatened 12,000 residents of Donora. Twenty died, and 5,910 were deathly ill before the fresh air front finally moved in. Over one hundred tons of soot fell to the ground in Allegheny County each month for many decades. Fresh snow was blackened within twenty-four hours. So much soot fell on the city that the soil was soot-black down more than six inches. The Monongahela River was contaminated with cyanide-laden pickle liquors from the mills, and Allegheny River ran with raw blood from the slaughterhouses on Herr's Island. The late Dr. Graham Netting, then the head of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, declared that the "water was more dangerous

than a poisonous snake." Lake Erie was becoming anoxic from oxygen-depleting algae stimulated by nutrients from sewage that flowed from lakeside cities and towns. Cleveland's Cuyahoga River that flows into Lake Erie had so much petroleum wastes that it caught on fire on eight separate occasions. The last Cuyahoga fire was so hot that it warped the steel supports on one of its bridges. Pennsylvania had over ten thousand miles of rivers and streams that were impaired by mine drainage. It was common practice that coal washing facilities dumped their wastes in nearby waterways. The Schuylkill River ran black for decades. So much coal waste floated down the Susquehanna River that the Holtwood Steam Generating station set up a dredge and collected enough anthracite coal to run the plant for thirty years. They purchased their first coal in 1972 when sediments from Hurricane Agnes buried the last of the coal silt in the river bottom. As a social cause, the environmental movement engaging people from across the political and social spectrum made meaningful progress. I was inspired by being a part of an "environmental awakening." In 1970, the Federal Clean Air Act passed the U.S. Senate one hundred to zero and it passed overwhelmingly in the House. At the same time, by an 83% majority vote, Pennsylvania voters approved Senator Frank Kury's legislation amending our state Constitution: "The people have a right to


clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain

them for the benefit of all the people." Following the Clean Air Act and Section 27, Article 1 Amendment of Pennsylvania's Constitution, many other landmark environmental laws were enacted at both the state and the Federal levels. Lake Erie has rebounded from its death spiral

OPINION but continues to struggle with algal blooms from non-point pollution. Bass are now being caught under the West End Bridge at the head of the Ohio River and all along the rivers in Pittsburgh. Innovative solutions to old problems were discovered. The late Senator John Heinz, a Republican, made sure that the free market was employed in the cause of pollution abatement. To get the most sulfur control for the least number of dollars, Senator Heinz and his close friend Senator Tim Wirth (Democrat from Colorado) led the effort to amend the Clean Air Act creating a means for companies to achieve a least-cost pollution abatement approach while updating the toxics provisions of the Clean Air Act. As I reflect on the span between this Earth Day and the first, I am reminded that we had made steady progress cleaning rivers, purifying the air from carbon monoxide and soot, curbing acid rain, controlling hazardous wastes. With the help of "Growing Greener," Conservancies purchased and protected critical wildlife habitats. DDT has been restricted, and bald eagles, osprey, and peregrine falcons have come back in numbers sufficient to be removed from the endangered species list. Pittsburgh, the once polluted city, now has three nesting bald eagles, including one not far from Rachel Carson's birthplace, feeding on fish in the three rivers. Having worked in the field of conservation and environmental protection for nearly fifty years, including nearly ten years with the Pennsylvania General Assembly, I have played a small part in passing twenty-eight environmental laws. I have been a part of environmental cleanups and sound land protection efforts. But things are far different now. In recent years,

environmental protection has been under siege by well-funded lobbying efforts paid for by polluters and fossil fuel interests to undercut environmental laws. This relentless attack has been running at a fever pitch, particularly during the past three years as Trump has allowed the industry to capture EPA and the Energy and Interior Departments. Over ninety environmental regulations have been eliminated or severely watered down during Trump's presidency. Trump has leased nearly every significant holding on public lands and offshore that has fossil fuel resources. He even opened up the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploitation. Ironically, the oil industry has gotten everything they demanded. As a result, supply had been outrunning demand since late in 2019, and smart money has been moving away from the fossil fuel industry in the face of the climate crisis. The collapse of the industry was inevitable. The virus brought it on sooner. It will be an enormous mistake to pump more tax dollars into a failing incumbent sector that desperately needs to change. We must shift to clean energy investments to avoid planetary calamity. I think it is essential to take a moment to pause and reflect from time to time. Earth Day is one of those moments. While scientists tell us that we need to be cutting our carbon emissions dramatically to avoid catastrophic climate disruption, we are spending our limited energies defending historical air and water protections against big oil, coal, and frack-gas corporations bent on keeping America distracted and hoodwinked. How can it be that fossil fuel interests have so captured our political system and blinded so many to the reality? Democracy works only when the citizenry work. It fails when

we fail to do our part. The secret deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 had just ended when Benjamin Franklin emerged from the Hall in a chair carried by several men. Suffering from a severe bout of gout, Franklin was unable to walk. Standing among the anxious crowd gathered to learn their fate was Mrs. Powel, who asked the question that was on everyone's mind, "Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" Franklin uttered his now-famous response, "A republic if you can keep it." Franklin understood that its "keeping" would require the vigilance and informed involvement of all the voters throughout the generations to come. Our democracy is being hollowed out by polluters and other special interests who have been buying lawmakers with excessive campaign spending. Hidden "toxic money" paid for sophisticated efforts to compromise the electoral process by rigging electoral districts through advanced

gerrymandering and aggressive voter suppression. It seems politics override public health and safety. In the face of CDC warnings that the coronavirus outbreak will continue through the fall, Trump and the GOP are blocking Senator Kamala Harris’ Vote Safe Act that would protect all voters by nationalizing vote-by-mail this November. (Fortunately, Pennsylvanians can vote by mail. Here in Allegheny County, every voter should go to www.alleghenyvotes.com to vote by mail.) Every American voter needs to pause long enough on this Earth Day anniversary to see who is distorting our republic beyond recognition into a corporate state. By so doing, the fossil fuel industry and other polluters are wrecking our children's future. We voters are the keepers of this republic and protectors of our environment. We must stop this deception before it is too late.






etween 1980 and 1988 -- the year Tony Buba released his feature film Lightning Over Braddock -more than 12 million American steelworkers lost their jobs due to plant closures. Twenty-five thousand of those workers lived along the 20-mile stretch of the Mon Valley. The town of Braddock, once known for its thriving business district, fell into a steep decline. This is the backdrop of Lightning Over Braddock. But unlike Michael Moore’s Roger and Me, which came out the following year and is often mentioned in tandem, it’s not a straightforward documentary about the plight of the working class. Lightning mixes interviews, protest footage, surreal fantasy sequences (including a steelworker-themed new-wave musical number), vignettes from Buba’s previous work, quasi-autobiographical meditations on fame or lack thereof, and a good-humored sprinkling of Catholic guilt. On the film-festival circuit Lightning bedeviled the organizers tasked with categorizing it. With each viewing it becomes less obvious where the documentation ends and the fiction begins. In March, film distributor Kino Lorber released a newly-restored collection of Buba’s films on Blu-Ray; the two-disc set includes Lightning plus a couple-dozen shorts from the 1970s onward. Buba, who is 77 and still lives in Braddock, spent the late ’60s and early ’70s in school, first studying psychology at Edinboro University, in Northwestern, Pa., and then film at Ohio University. When he’d return to his

Tony Buba in 'Lightning over 'Braddock'

hometown to visit, “it was like when you don’t see your grandparents for a while, you realize how much they’ve aged,” he says. “That's what I saw with the town. The type of characters I knew were going to disappear.” One of these characters was Sal Carulli, a skinny, trash-talking, wanna-be wise-guy with a cavernously lined face and wicked smile. In 1979 he was the subject of Buba’s short film Sweet Sal. That work, and others, attracted the notice of iconic filmmaker (and another champion of oddballs) Werner Herzog. This brush with mainstream recognition becomes a plot point


in Lightning. Sal, thinking that it’s his acting abilities that captured Herzog’s fandom, turns on Buba and, in a series of vaguely threatening answering machine messages and under-the-breath mutterings, rages at him for stealing the spotlight. “I wanted to play against that whole thing of the filmmaker having all the knowledge and sort of presenting it to the audience, being the voice of God, the superior,” Buba says. “I wanted to do [a movie] where the audience would get pissed-off at the filmmaker because all these steelworkers are losing their jobs, and he’s fooling around

with this guy Sal. And the main issues are in the background.” Buba knew that this unconventional approach would limit his reach. But Lightning Over Braddock found an audience in its own time, and was screened at major film festivals. It earned a nomination for Best First Feature Film by the Independent Spirit Awards. Over the years Buba has shown his films all over the world, and has received a number of prestigious grants, including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. And every several years, Lightning -- “This quirky film from the ’80s, or

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT whatever they want to call it,” -gets rediscovered and Buba hits the road for more screenings. Film critic Nick Pinkerton, who joined Buba on the director’s commentary for the BluRay release, notes that -- unlike contemporaries Peggy Ahwesh and Stan Brakhage, who were also working in Western Pennsylvania -- Buba was not a hardline experimental filmmaker. Documentary filmmaking of that era had an eye turned to the destruction of working-class America, particularly in the Rust Belt. Buba was heavily invested in these themes too, of course. “But he [wasn’t] a particularly good fit with this documentary school at the time, in that he’s very very character oriented, there’s very little in the way of finger-wagging didacticism,” Pinkerton says. “The characters that he’s attracted to are not necessarily credits to society … but he likes hustlers, he likes small scale chislers.” Pinkerton, who is originally from “Rust Belt adjacent” Cincinnati and currently lives in New York City, likes to compare Buba to Harvey Pekar, the late author of the American Splendor comic book series. “Tony’s not self-presenting, in the film or in life, as a bohemian amists the ruins of industry. He very much regards himself as a working-class guy who easily could have wound up on the factory floor, if indeed there was still a factory floor to wind up on.” In other words, Buba -- like his old friend George Romero -- is nothing if not a regionalist. Despite their vastly different aesthetics, both directors stayed in the Pittsburgh area. Romero traveled when he needed to, but wanted to avoid the influence of Hollywood on his work. And while Buba always knew that moving to New York would likely have advanced his career, he admits, in Lightning, that he enjoys being a “big fish in a

small city.” Even so, there’s conflict between his role as a director of small, politically-conscious films, and a desire for a different kind of success. In one scene, he visits his priest to confess his most grievous sin. “Father, I no longer want to make social documentaries,” he says. “I want to make a Hollywood musical!” Buba’s recent work remains Braddock-focused. Currently, he’s putting together a documentary about Pennslyvania State Representative Summer Lee’s campaign for reelection (Lee is a native of neighboring North Braddock). He’s also working on a project about his mother and grandmother, as well as something called Thunder Over Braddock. When we spoke in midApril, he was using quarantine as an opportunity to sift through harddrives of old footage, in hopes of producing some small pieces. And he’s in the process of sending odds and ends from his collection to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where his work is being archived. “If you had asked me back then if [my work] was going to hold up for 40 years, I would have said no.” But as the failings and false promises of the free market become clearer every day, the anti-capitalist heart of Buba’s filmmaking remains resonant. Braddock has, of course, enjoyed some good PR over the last decade or so, thanks in large part to efforts by the ambitious former mayor John Fetterman, who is now the state’s lieutenant governor. As with many other revitalization-ready locales, news outlets were eager to paint the struggling town as a haven for artists and entrepreneurs. But Buba understands the fuller story. “You drive into Braddock, you get down to 5th Street and you have the Fettermans running the Free Store, and then you go

to the end of the town and you have a restaurant where you can spend three or four hundred dollars on a dinner,” he observes. “Within that one-mile stretch it's the whole economy of the United States. All the disparities right there in one mile.” Pinkerton puts it this way: “You can go in and start your own wine place, or your artisanal fromagerie, or whatever: You have the leeway to do that. But the fact remains, however many Etsy shops are set up in Braddock or Rochester, or in Detroit, it doesn’t go anywhere in replacing large industrial concerns that employed tens of thousands of people in the community. “My feeling [is] that Tony, as a very dyed-in-the-wool blue-collar guy, has a very healthy dose of circumspection and cynicism about this.” Part of the lasting appeal of Buba’s work is, Pinkerton reckons, that he's something of a canary in the coalmine. “The things that he’s particularly

concerned with as they impact his home town are things that have been very much part of the dreaded ‘discourse’ over the past four or five years.” At a time of intense generational tension and growing class conflict, not to mention mass unemployment, it's easy to forget that many members of Buba’s generation “got it in the neck very badly,” Pinkerton says. “The boomers that we think of as living through the sweet spot of history are not working class people.” With that in mind, seeing Lightning in 2020 feels like a gentle challenge to look as closely at our communities and our neighbors as Buba has at his own for decades. “Certain things that we’ve chosen to pay attention to over the last five years, the forgotten man that we’ve recently expressed some concern for,” Pinkerton says, “these are things that Tony has been paying attention to for a very long time.”

Sal Carulli and Tony Buba



National Aviary says egg is 'a beacon of hope' during pandemic BY NICK EUSTIS - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER



he COVID-19 crisis has undoubtedly changed the daily life of every Pittsburgher, with social distancing guidelines forcing people to stay home and away from others. But behind the walls of the National Aviary life continues unchanged, except for one addition. The Aviary’s Andean Condors, Lianni and Lurch, are now parents-to-be, with Lianni laying an egg in early April. The egg is expected to hatch in early June, according to Dr. Pilar Fish, the Aviary’s director of veterinary medicine. “The average incubation period is 58 days, but each chick develops at its own individual rate and hatching time can vary by several days,” said Fish. Native to the Andes Mountain range, the Andean Condor is one of the largest living bird species, with a wingspan greater than 10 feet. A national symbol of six South American countries, it is a major figure in Andean folklore and mythology. While not as threatened as its close relative, the critically endangered California condor, the Andean condor is very vulnerable to human activity. Hunters using lead ammunition has caused secondary poisoning of condors, who subsist largely on carrion. Farmers have also killed condors perceived to be threatening livestock. Andean condors have evolved to lay very few eggs, as they have very low adult mortality with no natural predators. As a result, it has become extremely rare in the northernmost portion of its natural habitat. Similar to humans, however, condors mate for life, and both

parents take part in egg care. “Both the male and female Andean condors share the responsibility of sitting on the egg. Parents actually develop an abdominal fat pad called a brood patch which keeps the egg at the perfect body temperature,” said Fish. Both parents also participate in raising the fledgling, although they will have help from the Aviary’s experienced caretakers. “The Andean condors are comfortable and familiar with their National Aviary caregivers, allowing us to monitor the egg, and eventually the chick,” said Fish. “The National Aviary’s aviculturists provide a nutritious diet and daily care to support the parents, as well as to assess the chick’s development.” This egg is a milestone achievement for Lianni, as she was on the brink of death just eight years ago. “In 2012, Lianni fell ill and extreme measures were needed to keep her alive. She needed a blood transfusion, a procedure that had never before been done on a condor,” the Aviary said in a press release. “A team mobilized to safely collect small samples of blood from 15 birds of prey, and a first-of-its-kind blood bank was established.” As a result of these unorthodox procedures, Lianni pulled through her illness and now lives a normal, healthy life. On April 23, she celebrated her 36th birthday by incubating her new egg. While the public unfortunately will not be able to gather in the Aviary to see the condor egg, those passing by outside can view as they please. “In fact, Condor Court is


Lianni, an Andean Condor recently laid an egg at the National Aviary on the North Side. (Photo: Molly Titus)

one habitat that the community can still safely see while we are closed since it’s visible from Arch Street. Passersby can see Lianni incubating her egg and enjoying other natural behaviors like sunning and bathing,” said Fish. Updates about the condor parents and their egg will also be regularly posted through the Aviary’s online channels. Those who want to support the Aviary can also donate through those avenues, with UPMC Health Plan and the Weber Group offering to match donations to emergency relief programs. “An Andean condor egg is a

beacon of hope during this pandemic and the National Aviary will continue to share the good news on our social media pages and on our website,” said Fish. “We hope everyone is inspired by Lianni’s story to follow the condors’ journey and to help support their care.” For information on the condors, as well as how to donate, visit aviary.org.


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




t wasn't exactly an evening at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Liberty Magic theater, but the first installment of "Liberty Magic @ Home" felt like a bit of a return to normalcy. The Trust announced last week that the new show would air each Friday night at 7:30 p.m. on the organization's Facebook and Youtube pages. It's all part of a larger iniative that the Trust has been using to engage people in the arts during this COVID-19 Pandemic. The first episode featured Eric Jonrs, Liberty Magic's first resident magician, and Ana DeGuzman, a performer known as the Queen of Cardistry. DeGuzman performed at the venue shortl before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, shutting down everything in its wake. The show was a mix of interviews, performances and some audience interaction. It was obvious that some time went into the concepting of this show

because even the opening credits was one of the more slickly produced packages that I've ever seen on a web series. Jones, backed by a shelf of pop cuture collectibles and memorabilia, talked about how he had been weathering the pandemic in his "small cell-like apartment in Philadelphia." "A normal day for me is a lot like a day off when the world was open," Jones said. "I get up sometime between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m., get out, go for a little walk, cook a meal, play some video games, practice magic and talk a lot of trash with my friends. The show's livestream was fairly popular for its first outing, with live views hovering between 450 and 500.

The Queen of Cardistry, Ana DeGuzman, live on Liberty Magic @ Home on April 24 (Screen Capture)


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

Magician Eric Jones, live on Liberty Magic @ Home on April 24 (Screen Capture)





wanted to write a book about legends and myths, as they relate to religion and maybe faith in America, but I wanted to do it in a way that felt like a myth itself. Or like a murder ballad," Amy Jo Burns said of her new novel, 'Shiner.' Now based in New Jersey, where she lives with her husband and two young children, Burns grew up in the wilds of Western Pennsylvania in Mercer Township, about an hour north of the city, equidistant between Slippery Rock and Grove City, population 1,200. She and her family attended pentecostal church until she was about 12 years old. Faith healing churches fall outside the average American experience of worship and exist most often in rural areas, dotted through Appalachia. "I felt such a tension about people speaking in tongues and laying hands on people. I couldn't do those things. I never wanted to do those things. But everything else I've read about that sort of faith feels very outside looking in -- I never felt like anything in fiction captured what it was like to live inside that culture," she said. In 'Shiner' (to be released May 12th by Riverhead Books), Burns moves around inside the strangeness that makes people uncomfortable and blinds them to the appeal for true believers. There is a sense of mystery in this brand of faith, a feeling of being both sacred and special. Those are strong pulls. The dangerous and illogical can be tut-tutted away by those absolute in their faith. "What's foolish to the world is holy in God's eyes," Burns

explained. The novel is set in an untamed, remote corner of West Virginia where Wren Bird lives with her parents, Ruby and Briar. The closest neighbor is Ruby's lifelong friend Ivy, who lives about a mile and a half away but visits daily. Briar Bird is a preacher. He believes in taking small amounts of arsenic as part of his religious practice; he is a faith-healer and snake handler whose congregation meets in an abandoned gas station. He doesn't believe in western medicine or doctors or modernity, and the further he can get his people (both his immediate family and his flock) from the reaches of contemporary civilization, the better. Preacher Briar believes he is special -- believes that he is actually marked by God. His mother says, 'he is going to save this mountain.' It leads the reader to all wonder what it might mean to save a place? What are the multiple conversations and meanings we can be having, even as we use the same words? Burns is able to explore questions which often go unasked. What does it mean to be saved? What does it mean to be a good person? What does it mean to be a godly person? "In my experience with evangelical men, or maybe I should say, pentacostal men, they were not concerned at all about kindness or even about other people. All they were concerned about was how God was manifesting his presence in some way. What did that look like? That meant healing people from limps and aches and pains, or saying someone was absolved of their


Amy Jo Burns and her new novel, 'Shiner'

sins. I don't know why they sort of missed the message on all the other things -- why they missed the core of Jesus' message," she said. A balance to Briar, to his self-absorption and ego, is his wife. A mountain woman, Ruby is steeped in the old ways; she makes soap by hand and knows all the local flora and fauna. She knows which herbs can be used to heal and treat sickness, and she knows how to build things, how to make things, and how to make do. "I was interested in exploring some kind of story that was about a man of great faith who had this legend about him, but it was the women around him who paid the price for it. That

was the theme I felt really deeply in my heart," Burns said. The story is largely told from the point of view of Wren, the daughter and one of the women who pays this price. You also get the story of the titular moonshiner, his love of his craft and his relationships to Ruby, Briar, Wren and the place. The writing about the moonshine and how it is uniquely of this region are some of the most beautiful in the book. Burns' previous book, 'Cinderland,' (Beacon Press, 2014) is a memoir about a very specific time in her childhood and a local piano teacher who had sexually assaulted several of his female students. That book digs at the price paid by the girls who came forward, how they were ostra-




cized, and how lying, or staying quiet, was rewarded. This is a truth that most women and girls have faced at some point in our lives. It is especially true within the confines of fundamentalist religions of any stripe. 'Shiner' deals with some of these themes, but also grapples with the pull of the place, even when it's a hard place to live. It understands the pull of a man like Briar, even though he's a hard man to love. And it honors the strength of the women in this untamed, rugged land. "You hear those stories and it's always about the man, it's always about the preacher. But there was a woman and what was her story? What was her life? That's what I wanted to write about," Burn said.



Veterans Leadership Program and Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank hold a free food distribution for veterans and military families. Drive-through and walk-up are both available for no-contact pickup. Drivers should make space in their trunk or on a seat beforehand. 12 p.m. 2934 Smallman St. Free. facebook.com/ events/225255045481080

Make-A-Wish Greater PA and WV hold a Virtual Coffee Break to mark the 40th anniversary of wish-granting to children with critical illnesses. Staff members from Morgantown, WV, will present on the operations of their office and participate in a Q&A. The event is free with reservation. 10 a.m. Free. facebook.com/ events/248635893187958

Washington Area Humane Society holds an Emergency Pet Food Distribution Drive-Thru for families needing assistance keeping their pets fed during this time. Participants must stay in their car at all times for the no-contact pickup. Those who are able can donate to Agway in Eighty Four to add to the food bank’s supplies. 1 p.m. 1527 Route 136. Eighty Four. Free.

Mixologist Abbey Farkas holds a virtual mixology session for Shalom Pittsburgh Young Adult Division. Learn to make cocktails and mocktails at home. Pre-register to receive the Zoom link and to check the list of ingredients and supplies. 5 p.m. Free. jewishpgh.org/event/ yad-mixology-2

Association of Women Surgeons holds a panel for PittMed students on Diversity in Surgery with Dr. Frances Okolo in General Surgery and Dr. Lorraine Boakye in Orthopedic Surgery. 7 p.m. Free. forms.gle/sEah1pbyapmzcRef9 or pitt.zoom.us/j/94951077699 Baby Yoda fans rejoice! Miss Gabi’s Art is Good Studio hosts a free, virtual art class on how to draw the alien that stole everyone’s heart. Using supplies at home, anyone can complete the project at any time, as the stream will be uploaded to YouTube for those who can’t make the time work. 1 p.m. Free. facebook.com/ events/227155395226093 Contemporary Craft hosts a free Show and Tell for people to share the art projects they’ve been working on while stuck at home. Attendees can register as participants or observers. 1 p.m. Free. eventbrite.com/e/craft-show-telltickets-103189221740

Arts & Crafts: Botanica & Occult Shop holds a virtual meet-up for Practitioners of the Craft. Get in touch with others during this time by reserving a spot to receive the Zoom link. 7 p.m. Free. artsncraftspgh@gmail.com

APRIL 30 Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania holds another Virtual Patch Program, this time in pie-making. Parents can check beforehand to make sure they have all supplies needed at home. The program is open to all kids whether they’re girl scouts or not, and it is free to participate. To have the patch mailed upon completion of the program, parents must fill out an online order form and pay a $1.25 fee. 6:30 p.m. Free. bit.ly/piemakingpatchprogram DJ Rukkus holds a Virtual Rave at home featuring Audio X, Mannik, Dag and more. 4 p.m. Free. facebook.com/ events/242377920293733

The Pub in the Park holds another Virtual Trivia session. Participants must purchase a $10 gift card to the Pub for either their use or someone in need, as well as provide an email address to be sent the Zoom link. 8:30 p.m. $10. facebook. com/events/211056066859143 Tech workers can meet online to discuss Collective Action in Tech during the crisis with Pittsburgh Association of Tech Professionals. Registration is required. 5:30 p.m. Free. tinyurl.com/y7bkj24u

MAY 2 Brawling Bard Theater and Pittsburgh Fringe Festival partner for a virtual premiere of Compleat Guide To Murder And Mayhem By Will Shakespear. The performance is free with registration. 7:30 p.m. Free. us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/ WN_rDz3XPPPTTaqujFbpHnm9w

MAY 3 Those participating in the Virtual Pittsburgh Marathon can do so in support of The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh. Register in advance of a safe, socially-distant run to help fundraise for kids and their families. 7 a.m. Free. bit. ly/2FKiksb or thepittsburghmarathon.com/VirtualRace

MAY 4 Follow Hello Neighbor’s Instagram Live series on Nonprofit Leadership. Each day, a different nonprofit leader from around the country will discuss how to stay positive and continue to help out during COVID-19. 1 p.m. Free. bit. ly/2x5aeK9 or @helloneighborhq



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

I'm a 31-year-old female. Last week I suddenly started to experience an overwhelming, compulsive, and near-constant state of physical arousal. I've masturbated so much looking for relief that my entire lower region is super sore and swollen and still, its like my whole body is pulsating with this electric arousal telling me to ignore the pain and do it again. I have no idea if it's normal to suddenly have suck a spike in libido and I know a lot of people will say they wish they had this problem but its interfering with my daily activities because I cant focus on anything else. My college classes are suffering because of it. I've even had to remove my clitoral hood piercing, which I've had that for over 10 years! I feel like I have all of the reasons—high anxiety related to the pandemic, being stuck with alcoholic boyfriend in the house, tons of homework, finances are low—to warrant a lack of arousal so why am I drowning in it? Everything I'm learning in class states that sexual desire lowers through out the life span so why am I literally pulsating with it? I really don’t want to call my doctor if I don’t have to. Any insight would be appreciated. Chronically Aroused “There’s a general belief that sexual arousal is always wanted—and the more the better,” said Robyn Jackowich. “But in reality, persistent and unwanted sexual arousal can be very distressing.”

Jackowich is a PhD candidate at Queen’s University, where she works under the supervision of Dr. Caroline Pukall in the Sexual Health Research Lab. Jackowich has published numerous studies on Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder (PGAD), a condition characterized by a constant or frequently recurring state of genital arousal—sensations, sensitivity, swelling—in the absence of sexual desire. “In other words, there is a disconnect between what is happening in one’s body and mind,” said Jackowich, “and this can be both distressing and distracting.” And while you would think stress would tank your libido— and preliminary research shows that the pandemic is tanking more libidos than it’s not—stress and anxiety can actually be triggers for PGAD. As you’ve learned, CA, you can’t masturbate your way out of this. So what do you do? Unfortunately, it’s the thing you’d really rather not do: call your doctor. “It’s important to meet with a knowledgeable healthcare provider to ensure there is not another concern present that may be responsible for the symptoms and to access treatment,” said Jackowich. “Research on treatments for PGAD is relatively new, so it can be helpful to meet with a team of different healthcare providers to find what treatments would be most effective for you specifically. This could include a gynaecologist, urologist, pelvic floor physical therapist, neurologist, and/or psychologist with expertise in sex therapy.” Talking with your doctor about this may be embarrassing,


I realize, and it doesn’t help that many doctors are unfamiliar with PGAD. Jackowich actually recommends bringing printouts of information pages and research papers about the condition to your appointment and sharing them with your physician. And if your doc doesn’t take your distress seriously and/or refuses to refer you to the specialists you need to see, CA, then you’ll have to get yourself a new doctor. (You can find those information pages and research papers at sexlab.ca/ pgad, where you can also learn about currently available treatments and join support groups for sufferers.) “More awareness of PGAD and research on this condition is needed to help understand the symptoms and develop effective treatments,” said Jackowich. “If you experience these symptoms and would like to contribute to ongoing research efforts, the Queen’s University Sexual Health Research Lab is seeking participants for an online study.” To take part in that online survey, go to sexlab.ca/pgad, click on “participate,” and scroll down to the “OLIVE Study.” I’ve rekindled a romance with an ex from a decade ago. We are long distance right now but getting very close. We have one recurring problem though. She does not like that I am friends with another ex. That ex has actually been a close friend for a very long time and our friendship means a lot to me. Our romantic relationship only lasted a few months. But since we did have a romantic relationship once, my current girlfriend sees my ex as a threat. I have reassured her several times that the relationship is in the past and we are now only friends. But my girlfriend doesn’t want me to communicate with her at all. She wants me to un-friend her on Facebook and un-follow her Instagram and at least once a week she asks if we have been in contact. It is hard for me to throw a friend away in order to be

in a relationship. Even though I don’t talk to my ex/friend all that regularly, I would like the option to at least check in every once in a while. Cutting her out of my life completely feels like a kind of death. I wish there was some way I could find a compromise but this seems to be one of those “all or nothing” things. I also don’t like this feeling of not being trusted and fear it could lead to other problems down the line. Unhappy Girlfriend Has Sensitivities I can see why your current girlfriend might feel threatened by your relationship with an ex, UGHS, seeing as she—your current girlfriend—was until very recently just another one of your exes. Since you got back together with her, the green-eyed monster whispers in her ear, what’s to stop you from getting back together with your other ex? What the green-eyed monster doesn’t say, of course, is that you had every opportunity to get back together with your ex and didn’t. And cutting off your ex now doesn’t mean you can’t get back together with her later. And what’s to stop you from getting together with one of the 3.5 billion women you haven’t already dated? You have to take a hard line on this. Tell your current you’re happy to provide her with a little reassurance when she’s feeling insecure about your ex but you’re not going to un-friend or un-follow her or anyone else. You can make an appeal to reason—you wouldn’t be with your current girlfriend if you were the sort of person who cut off contact with his exes—but if your current girlfriend is the irrationally jealous type… well, an appeal to reason won’t help. Irrationally jealous people are by definition incapable of seeing reason, UGHS, which is why they must be shown doors.



e were sitting by the fire in his living room. The smoke was clearing up from a minute ago when we both forgot the flue was closed. My father, as usual, eating a bowl of Turkey Hill coffee ice cream, and me telling him he was eating too much of it. I stood up, poked the fire with a stick, watched it turn and loop and pop. I wanted my friend to hear one of my dad’s stories. I knew one day he would be gone and I hated the idea of recounting one of his stories and saying, “Oh you should have heard him tell it though.” I never got tired of hearing them either, stories always seemed like spellwork to me. His were funny as hell. “Tell the one about the outhouse,” I said. “When Andy thought there was a bear pooping in the outhouse?" “No, about the people who lived down the hill from you when you were a kid in Weare.” “Oh you mean the Whitakers. Well, there was Gertrude and John and David. David was about 40, John and Gertrude were his parents. And old Gertrude never let David get married because they needed him around to work the farm, it was their only source of income, on account of John had some kind of ailment in his back. He was all bent over like this. I mean if he was any more bent over he would have been doing a summersault. “The way it was set up, the barn was attached to the house in the back, and the outhouse was attached to the corner of the barn. It was on a hill, so if you were

on the ground level of the house and walked back to the barn you were on the second floor. And that’s where the chicken coop was. And the outhouse was a sort of indoor-outhouse, it was attached, part of the barn. It had this tiny little window on it. “Anyway, they were shoveling chicken shit from out of the coop into a big pile next to the outhouse. It was probably ten feet from the coop to the top of the pile of chicken shit and I’d guess the shit was, oh, probably about ten feet deep. The pile of manure leaned right up against the outhouse. Now, I said they were shoveling, but it was really David. John just sort of leaned on his shovel and pushed some of the chicken shit around on account of his bad back. And eventually John realized he had to poop, had to do his business, and went over to the outhouse. A couple minutes go buy and David walks over and locks the outhouse.” “Why was there a lock on the outside again?” “Yeah, well, you know in the kitchen over there that cupboard I made, has that spinning piece of wood, you turn it and it holds the door shut? That one over there?” “Yeah.” “Well it was like that. So anyway, he turned the lock and walked back over to the chicken coop and went back to work. After a little while John finishes his business and tries the door and it won’t open. He says, ‘David come over here and unlock this door,’ he says. And David pretends he doesn’t hear him and he starts whistling like this, ‘hwuttt, hwutt, wutt wuttt,’ you know. And so John says a little louder, he says, ‘Daviiiid. Daviiiiiiiid, open up this door right now.’ And David starts to hum louder, ‘hmmmm hmmm hum hmm hmmm.’ John, he can hear him so he gets really mad and says, ‘Daviiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiid, you get

your ass over here and open this goddamn door right now.’ Oh man.” “Yeah?” “Yeah. And David, he starts to sing and just keeps shoveling that chicken manure ignoring John, pretending not to hear him. After long enough John must have said to hell with it. I don’t know how he did it because of that back condition but he stood up on the, you know, like the toilet, and he must have somehow gotten that window open. And here comes old John jumping out of that window and landing right in the middle of that ten foot deep pile of chicken crap. Oh boy.” “Damn. How deep do you think he sank?” “Oh I don’t know, he sank right on down in there.” The fire went on for a little while and the three of us sat there and

laughed and told more stories. My dad got more ice cream, and apple pie, and put cheddar cheese on top of the desserts, which were amounting to a small mountain. I took my dog out. My friend stayed inside and I could hear the two of them talking through the wall. My dog smelled the cold dirt of the driveway and peed on it. I kicked a stone loose, walked around with her leash in my hand, smelled the air. I went back in. I left the dishes for the morning and brushed my teeth. My friend settled into his sleeping bag on the couch. My dad took out his hearing aids, lay down in his room, snored. My dog farted, lay down on my bed, snored. I gave up fighting her for the blankets. I knew enough to know when I was outmatched.





Profile for pittsburghcurrent

Pittsburgh Current, Volume 3, Issue 11, April 28, 2020  

Dealing with Recovery during COVID-19, Community Groups are taking the lead on feeding their residents, Tony Buba's 'Lightning Over Braddock...

Pittsburgh Current, Volume 3, Issue 11, April 28, 2020  

Dealing with Recovery during COVID-19, Community Groups are taking the lead on feeding their residents, Tony Buba's 'Lightning Over Braddock...

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded