The South Side

Blanche told Shana she could fire a tiny laser beam from her fingertips if she pressed her palms together and focused, just right.

If she were to fire a laser beam, it would be at TED, the unofficial mayor of the South Side, a short Italian guy with no neck or whites in his eyes, who was always smiling and eating our bagels without paying, when they first got delivered in the morning.

Cynthia was Lloyd’s friend, who wore a lot of make-up and a scarf over her bald head, which was either shaved or the result of chemo; either way, she smoked like a chimney and had the voice to back it up. She was one of the only in the neighborhood with a young kid, and dragged him into the cafe every morning like a piece of carry-on luggage.

Lloyd was the appointed sage, with his plume of white hair, cobblestone pipe, and suede elbow jackets. The kids crowded around him like a prophet, but he was just as flawed as the rest of us. Myki said he pinned Bob Ziller to the floor and might have choked him on the night of Bob’s gallery opening.

Bob went by the moniker Bingo Quixote, and took on the character of a circus promoter when he read at the Open Stage.

Angel was the moniker of an acne-faced girl who showed up sporadically, read strange, guilt-laden poetry, then tore the pages, threw them in the air, and ran out into the middle of the street, crying.

Thomas Jefferson was a skinny black guy with an afro who wore Members Only jackets, trousers, and photographed all the pretty girls in town. He was quiet, demure, and never drank or smoked. No one ever went to his apartment except the models.

Rick Bach was the big shot artist in town, who also led a punk rockabilly band called Hellbelly. They set up shop on the corner of 12th and Carson and played on the street with a small amp. They were cooler than shit. Unfortunately, Rick knew it, and seemed to be bouncing back and forth between being a dick and being cool, unsure where exactly he belonged.

Andrew the Shrewboy was friends with Rick, and ate live bugs in the Circus Apocalypse show, along with Beanloaf, the tall, Manson-like hippy who rarely appeared in public, but was the main attraction at the Circus Apocalypse for his famous fire-breathing stunts, and strait-jacket, Houdini gyrations. Legend had it that Beanloaf stayed in his apartment most of the day smoking pot. It was also rumored he had smoked the ashes of his dead cat or mother.

John Purse was probably the best guitarist in town, who got stuck playing with a punk band called 210. The origin of the name was cryptic and when they explained it to me I missed the punchline, something about being 21 and over. I became their manager and never made any money from it, or got them any gigs to speak of. In fact, their show at Arabica ended a six-month run of Open Stage performances after the neighbors complained about the noise and threatened our landlords.

Myki was my best friend, and neighbor: hair down to his ass, goatee, skull cap, trench coat. He taught me how to make a roux, which often took at least an hour, with a lot of careful studying and heads turned, tilting the fry pan to make sure the flour browned just right, thick and dark like peanut butter.

I learned how to roast coffee from Christian Downs, who spent much of his time doodling tattoo designs in his notepad. He befriended the cafe’s mailman, a guy in his 50s, ex-military. They sat and had long, extended chats. It wasn’t sexual or overtly weird, but they got so close that Christian persuaded the mailman to procure an official, U.S. Postal Service jacket for him and when the deal came through, Christian wore that jacket every day.

Other than the Open Stage which I hosted, my big contribution to Pittsburgh was the Beastie Boys CD release party for Ill Communication, which I organized at McCardle’s Pub, on Carson.

McCardle’s had no amount of popularity, but the owner Mike was a good guy: quiet, big-tipper, Irish. One day I asked if we could have a CD release party at his pub, which meant I would control the music for the evening, invite a ton of people, and expect drink specials. He said sure.

I got a promo copy of the CD from the record label before it came out, along with some stickers. They even invited me to a label-sponsored party out in Shady Side, but it wasn’t as much fun as the one I put together, at McCardle’s.

McCardle’s was a small, Pittsburgh bar. Picture working guys in there, lazily pulling at pints and glazed over at a TV screen. That night, we turned McCardle’s into a hotspot. I helped myself to long-necks from behind the bar, while Mike smiled at me, and raised his glass in my direction.

Before I left Pittsburgh, Bob encouraged me about the writing and said, maybe you just need to go quiet a bit, live a little more. That was 20 years ago.

Mr. Jones

Categories: humor, MöbiusTrip

Tags: , , ,

10 replies

  1. Wow – you’ll never have a shortage of material or characters to build your writing on! If you hadn’t provided links, your character descriptions were done so well, I would have imagined it a piece of fiction.


    • Nice! Thank you – yeah, I was really blessed to be a part of that scene. Surprising that it appears to still be going, with many of the same characters. Have a great weekend and thanks for your note…I listened to Starting Over last night 🙂


  2. This is the best one yet- you are onto a vein of gold with characters like these.


  3. You wrote ALL this in 15 minutes? How is that possible?? That’s not human. (But I really enjoy it!!!)


  4. That was such an innovative way of sharing something that is/was such a big part of your life. I looked at the Lloyd video and just got a kick out of that guy. Thank you for sharing.


  5. Is it the Victorian architecture of Carson Street that lends a Dickensian quality to its characters? Or are they just drawn that way 😉 Hard to say. Nice job capturing the scene and spot on about R.B.


    • Too funny! I love your comment and it’s nice to connect with someone who knows the neighborhood. I look forward to sharing more, and you can flip some of your observations to me anytime… Best, – Bill



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