This Way Out: Arrow Collecting

yellow arrow painted on weathered plywood, Pittsburgh, PA

Esplen

A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.*

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

"Service & Parts" sign painted in shape of an arrow on brick wall, Pittsburgh, PA

Service & Parts, Manchester

day-glo green arrow painted on dumpster, Pittsburgh, PA

dumpster arrow, Shadyside

Oh, how much simpler life would be if we all just had a little more clear direction. Go that way. Do this thing. It’ll all be O.K.

The arrow is likely the boldest, simplest, and most direct (in a couple different definitions of the word) of visual statements; it is this magic voice from above. Where to go, what choices exist, how to find our way in the world. Without the arrow, we’d all be lost…literally.

tile building facade with number 223 and arrow directing around the back, Homestead, PA

Have you seen the back? 223, Homestead

ghost sign for former La Salle Electric, Pittsburgh, PA

Office this way / Pick-up that way. Former La Salle Electric building (now demolished), Manchester

Constructed with your choice of just three simple lines or as the beefier triangle + rectangle, the form is geometry at its most basic, graphic design boiled down to the last essential elements, universal in both meaning and comprehension. Go that way.

It’s also visually arresting. For such a simple shape, the arrow represents both incredible movement and a certain level of violence. It’s based on–and named after–the form of a projectile weapon, after all. Conflict is inevitable when the point of the spear impacts its target. The inherent tension in this implied collision charges every depiction of the mighty arrow.

detail of arrow painted on the wing of an airplane

airplane arrow, Boeing 737

arrow painted on white brick wall, Pittsburgh, PA

East Liberty

In a news week dominated by talk around the president’s embrace of Nazis, the alt-right, and his no-teleprompter invention of an “alt-left”, we thought it’d be as good a time as any to seek a little clear direction. [For the record, The Orbit has always considered itself alt-down-and-out.]

Here then, are some fine area examples of that most noble of graphic forms: the arrow. May you all get where you’re going.

white arrow painted on brown brick and cinderblock wall, McKeesport, PA

Down and out in McKeesport

sign for brewery entrance with directional arrow painted on bridge support, Pittsburgh, PA

Brewery Entrance, Lawrenceville

red brick house shaped like an arrow, Pittsburgh, PA

arrow house, West End

ghost sign for former Penn Bowling Lanes, Pittsburgh, PA

Penn Bowling Lanes, Downtown

red arrow painted on exterior column, Pittsburgh, PA

Manchester

ghost sign on former hardware store, Pittsburgh, PA

multiple arrow ghost sign: Home Improvement Needs, “The Contractor’s Department Store”, Hill District

detail of store entrance with arrow shape, Etna, PA

store entrance arrow, Etna

former school bus in field of wildflowers painted to advertise F&V Fireworks, Enon Valley, PA

F&V Fireworks, Enon Valley, PA


* Yes, someone needs to enlighten Mr. de Saint-Exupery that it may be she who is making the design decisions.

Highway to Hell: The House of Hades “Toynbee” Tiles, Part 2

House of Hades "Toynbee Tile" imprinted on city street, Pittsburgh, PA

House of Hades “Toynbee Tile” #4 (detail), Blvd. of the Allies, downtown

A cautionary tale: Whenever one thinks she or he has reached the end of the metaphorical line and is dangling by the very last fibers above the abyss, know that if you’re successfully converting oxygen to carbon dioxide, you’ve still got a fighting chance. Heck, maybe one day we’ll finally get the high-quality hemp rope N.O.R.M.L. promised us back in the ’90s.

Just a few months back, we bagged what we thought were the very last “Toynbee tiles” in Pittsburgh. Those two little street artworks, both found on Blvd. of the Allies downtown, are actually courtesy of the equally-mysterious House of Hades, which is believed to be either copycat or super-fan, depending on one’s viewpoint. [Our handful of “real” Toynbee tiles are, sadly, long gone.]

linoleum art of city scene at night, imprinted on city street, Pittsburgh, PA

city at night tile (detail), Blvd. of the Allies, downtown

And so, as we said in that post, that was all she seemed to write…err, carve into linoleum and press into the street.

But (yes: there’s always a big but) how wrong a blogger can be! Within mere blocks of those two specimens, we encountered yet another pair of wayward street tiles–apparently from the very same hands. The first of these is on Smithfield Street, right before the bridge; the other just around the corner and up a block on the Boulevard (at Cherry Way).

The former (we’re calling it House of Hades tile #3) includes the exact same message as tile #1 from the previous post: House of Hades / One man versus American media in society ‘2012. This one also has the added ominous zinger To punish them all.

House of Hades "Toynbee Tile" imprinted on city street, Pittsburgh, PA

House of Hades tile #3, Smithfield Street at First Ave.

Tile #4 is a little more difficult to parse. The Toynbee half of it contains what we’ve come to recognize as a naked lady’s shapely gam across the top (there was probably a right leg to go with this left, but it’s gone now), plus some of the familiar big headline text: House of Hades / The resurrection of Toynbee’s idea in society ‘2012. It also contains an extra stanza in relative fine print with the disturbing message I must work harder to punish these butchers for all that they’ve done.

The most unusual thing about #4, though, has to be that it’s also immediately abutting/overlapping yet another linoleum street tile of an entirely different mood and design. This one, vertical in composition with rounded corners, features a night scene in one-point perspective of a car driving toward a stylized big city skyline [notably not Pittsburgh]. A crescent moon hangs overhead against the star-speckled black sky.

It’s probably safe to say this nightscape is not the work of either the Toynbee or House of Hades folks. Aside from the medium itself, it just has none of the tell-tale style elements or apocalyptic messaging. That said, it sure is curious that the two ended up where they did. With all the available, naked pavement out there, how do two road tiles lie nearly right on top of each other? Can’t we all get along!

House of Hades "Toynbee Tile" imprinted on city street, Pittsburgh, PA

The full scene. House of Hades tile #4/nighttime city scene, Blvd. of the Allies at Cherry Way

Are these really the last of the Toynbee (inspired) tiles in Pittsburgh? We sure hope that isn’t the case and we’ll not make the mistake of trying to declare such a truth again. Fool me twice, as they say.

Plus, like that desperate hero watching the fraying strands of her lifeline unspool from its anchor above, we like to think there’s a little more life left in these streets and–with it now legal in 30 states–hemp is on the way. We haven’t given up just yet.


See also: Highway to Hell: The House of Hades “Toynbee” Tiles: (Pittsburgh Orbit, April 9, 2017)

Going Postal: Rogues Gallery

portraits of naked women holding their breasts drawn on US postal service mail labels and stuck to steel light pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Mail-order brides, Bloomfield

Tiny one-of-a-kind artworks decorate a bus shelter, steel light poles, a cross-walk signal, and the back sides of street signs. Pictured on them are the faces of fading-from-memory pop culture figures, a couple buxom babes, and a kind of high school outsider iconography we hope is never lost. More than any other subject, though, are the bad guys.

The little ink portraits, drawn in heavy black felt tip on repurposed U.S. Postal Service “228” sticky-back shipping labels, are never signed. That said, the common medium, subjects, style, and presentation locale, lead us to believe they’re all the work of a single actor. The fact that new pieces just stopped all at once earlier this year suggests the artist has moved-on–either to other media or, more likely, literally out of the greater Bloomfield-Oakland area where all these examples were spotted.

"mug shot" portrait of man holding arrest sign drawn on US postal service mail label and stuck to glass bus shelter, Pittsburgh, PA

Mug shot, Bloomfield

portraits of criminals drawn on US postal service mail label and stuck to glass bus shelter, Pittsburgh, PA

Rogues gallery, Bloomfield

We don’t know who did these, but we’ve watched enough Luther and The Fall to consider ourselves well-prepped for psychological profiling. The subject matter here–kitschy demi-celebrities Gary Coleman, Rodney Dangerfield, and Moe from the Three Stooges, the skull-and-headphones of a Hot Topic silk screen, and criminal anti-heroes like Al Capone and David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz–just feels a little too on-the-nose to deny. We’re definitely making an assumption, but this is the work of young man.

postal label with ink artwork of skull wearing headphones, Pittsburgh, PA

Skull & headphones, Oakland

portrait of person with head in hands drawn on US postal service mail label and stuck to glass bus shelter, Pittsburgh, PA

Head in hands, Bloomfield

The other thing we’ve got on this theory is “Cap Man“. Our story on the string of (apparent) self-portraits committed in awfully-similar medium and style ran earlier this year. In that, we saw the same “postal slaps”–also penned in black Sharpie, stuck to street signs in the vicinity of Craig & Forbes–very close to all of the Oakland specimens here. The Cap Man drawings, however, are not based on previously-published photos, but rather appear to be self-portraits of a young, white, ballcap-wearing male.

US postal service priority mail sticker with black ink portrait of Rodney Dangerfield, Pittsburgh, PA

Rappin’ Rodney Dangerfield, Oakland

US postal service priority mail sticker with black ink portrait of Gary Coleman, Pittsburgh, PA

Whatchutalkinbout, Orbit? Gary Coleman, Oakland

What became of Cap Man? In the earlier piece, we theorized that he’s a bus rider, taking the 54C from Bloomfield to Oakland–perhaps even drawing his portraits right there in the back seats, his telephone and Google Images as visual reference, one-a-day on the short 10-minute ride.

If so, his destination was likely central Oakland and Studentland, U.S.A. If so, he’s got umpteen different explanations for taking his big markers home for the summer and allowing the post office to restock its supply of blank shipping labels. Maybe–just maybe–Cap Man will return for another season of infrastructure decoration in the fall.

drawing of Moe from the Three Stooges on US Postal Service address label stuck to bus stop sign, Pittsburgh, PA

Moe, Bloomfield

faded US postal service priority mail sticker with black ink portrait of Moe from the "Three Stooges", Pittsburgh, PA

Faded Moe, Oakland

mail label graffiti, Pittsburgh, PA

likely copycat, Oakland

US postal service priority mail sticker with black ink portrait of smiling woman, Pittsburgh, PA

Ghosting postal: woman (partial), Oakland

 

The Serpentine Similar: Prop Rocks and Flood Stones

river stones labeled with peoples names and ages, Pittsburgh, PA

This is one obscure rock group. The Serpentine stones.

A most unique thing to find in the dirt. Twenty-some river stones, each inscribed with a person’s name, age, and mystery glyph. The collection is carefully laid out so all the written-on surfaces are upright, readable, and may be consumed from a single vantage point. Like the work of a patio builder, the flat stones have been arranged to interconnect gracefully with a minimum of negative space, but also just barely touching so as to avoid any awkward overlap.

Someone wanted these totems to be found, to be read, to be thought-about. But they didn’t want to make them too obvious either. Far enough off the bicycle trail, camouflaged against the stone foundation of a bridge support, darkened in the underpass, and dusted with months (years?) worth of grime, we only stumbled across them because there happened to be a new piece of intriguing stencil graffiti just above on the adjacent wall.

river stone painted with white text reading "Raymond Maat", Pittsburgh, PA

Rock star Raymond Maat

From any distance, the only legible names are the big ones out front: Raymond Maat and Viola Sayre. Written in white paint pen, each of names appears on its own, larger, burrito-sized brown stone. Even from several paces, the ink/background contrast was enough to catch this blogger’s ever-roving eye.

The Orbitmobile (Orbicycle?) never goes far without a couple bottles of water and it’s lucky we had them on this day. It would take gently emptying both containers to rinse off the thick layer of blown dirt and dropped bridge debris to get the stones to a point where they were reasonable to read (and photograph). Even so, we still could have used another bottle.

collection of river stones with barely-legible text written on them, Pittsburgh, PA

The collection as it was discovered (pre-rinsed)

It was only getting up close that would reveal the many other details. Henry McCallum (age 11)Catherine Krueger (age 61)Eduard Raven (age 24)Dennis Girvin (age 27), and a dozen or so more like them, each with one of a couple different symbols. Some have what appears to be feather; others an invented rune, shaped like a capital letter U with an extra wavy line bisecting the verticals. Two of the stones simply read unknown.

river stones labeled with peoples names and ages, Pittsburgh, PA

Henry McCallum (age 11), Catherine Krueger (age 61), Philip Piaza (age 19), Eduard Raven (age 24)

And then, there it is! Placed right in the center of the pack, its painted-on text further worn away than the rest of its buddies. A single stone has what appears to be an explanation for this obscure rock group: Victims of the 1936 St. Patrick’s Day Flood.

With that, it seemed so obvious. Stones–likely pulled from the river just feet away and smoothed by its waters–placed just at the riverbank like a sacrificial altar. This spot is well within the flood plain if (and when) the big one ever strikes Pittsburgh again. What a delightful, hidden, reverent memorial to one of worst natural disasters to ever befall the region.

river stone painted with white text reading "Victims of 1936 St. Patrick's Day Flood", Pittsburgh, PA

Victims of 1936 St. Patrick’s Day Flood

… or is it?

We don’t know what bloggers did before the computer Internet came along, but luckily The Orbit is well-acquainted with The Google Machine and we worked our index fingers to the bone hunt-and-pecking around for info.

It turns out “Raymond Maat”, “Viola Sayre”, and “Seth Jormundgander” (at least) were all characters created for an alternate reality game/immersive theater production called Serpentine put on by Uncumber Theatrics in 2016. It is entirely unclear from Uncumber’s web site what actually happened in the game or how these painted stones may have figured into it–but that’s likely on purpose. I guess you had to be there, man…and we weren’t. [Yes: we have added this one to our lengthy list of life regrets. Readers: if you played/participated in Serpentine we’d love to hear about the experience in the comments.]

river stones labeled with peoples names and ages, Pittsburgh, PA

Seth Jormundgander, James Green (age 65), Dennis Girvin (age 27)

Regardless of whether we got had or had the hadders, we love the fact that Uncumber made the unlikely choice to just leave this elaborate handmade prop right out in the open–hidden in plain sight, as it were. Those of us who might happen across it, scratch our heads, and take the time to think about the plight of poor Roland Mars (age 31) and Nathanial Peterson (age 39) can still get a little contact high off Serpentine‘s medical-grade Maui wowee. Does it matter if real people’s names were used for theatrical sport? What if they were simply invented entirely as color elements to move along the game’s narrative?*

We don’t have the answers to the questions. In the spirit, however, The Orbit has made the decision not to tell our readers any specifics on where to find the Serpentine stones. There are plenty of clues here (and elsewhere) if you want to go looking for them yourself. Or, just go out–anywhere–poke around, and keep the peepers open. Something will come into view soon enough.

river stones painted with white text reading "Nathanial Peterson (age 39)" and "Roland Mars (age 31)", Pittsburgh, PA

Nathanial Peterson (age 39), Roland Mars (age 31)

UPDATE (24 July): Like this blogger’s waistline, the plot has officially thickened. Astute reader–or perhaps, inside operative–“Fourth River Fortean” pointed us to a 1981 Pittsburgh Press article that details the death of one Dennis Girvin (age 27) who “drowned while partying and swimming” in the Allegheny River.


* We were unable to locate an actual list of the victims of the St. Patrick’s Day Flood to compare these names against, nor did Googling the names from the stones reveal any connection to the flood of 1936.

Pain’t That America: The Front Yard Patriotism of Gary Thumberg

brick house with many handmade wood cut Independence Day lawn decorations, Beaver, PA

Little America: Thumberg house, 3rd Street, Beaver, PA

It’s a cliché, sure, but you can’t miss it.

No, the sweet, pre-war two-story brick home would look a lot like many others found in Pittsburgh’s down-river boroughs but for the wealth–some might say overload–of red, white, and blue homemade patriotic holiday displays that fill every inch of its front, side, and rear yard space. Together, they lift this house from small town charmer to an explosion of full-on Yankee Doodle Dandydom.

handmade wood cut American flag lawn decorations, Beaver, PA

American flag

Beaver, PA. A picture-perfect embodiment of quaint. The town’s wide streets, stately manors, well-groomed lawns, and fancy boutiques look more country posh than the (ex-)industry brownfields and empty storefronts of almost all its Ohio Valley neighbors[1]. But it’s a pleasant, accessible, middle-class midwestern posh, rather than its harder-to-take New England old money cousin.

There was long bit about taking a bike from Monaca to Rochester and then here to Beaver, but our editor told us to cut the crap. Suffice to say, there are a bunch of interesting things in town and River Road is both aptly-named and bicycle-perfect. If you take it almost all the way around and then back to the main drag, your ride-around will conclude up on 3rd Street with the great homemade holiday decorations of Gary Thumberg.

Gary Thumberg with his handmade wood cut Independence Day lawn decorations, Beaver, PA

Gary Thumberg by his alley cannon and flags

Some of the displays may be what you’re expecting. There are dozens of eagles, their wings spread in majestic mid-flight glory and bodies brightly marked like sports jerseys. A couple of them have been framed in lumpy ovals to appear as if in an official seal. Uncle Sam is here–the red, white, and blue literally oozing out of him–as are many, many American flags in different sizes and variants.

handmade wood cut Independence Day lawn decorations including flags, eagles, and star flowers, Beaver, PA

side of Thumberg’s house with flags, eagles, and star flowers

In The Orbit‘s annual Independence Day post, we mused about why it’s so difficult for homemade flag-painters to get the 50-star count right. On this matter, we need to eat some Corvus brachyrhynchos (that’s all-American crow).

With so many homemade flags created by the same two hands, it’s exciting to see the umpteen different expressions that Gary Thumberg has come up with. For sure: flags that are near the exact design you’ll see flying above the courthouse are featured in the yard. But so are seven-striped models of minimalism, gestural two-star tree-hangers, and reverse-color mind-benders.

handmade wood cut American flag lawn decorations, Beaver, PA

American flag

handmade wood cut American flag lawn decorations, Beaver, PA

American flag

In addition to these familiar forms, the lawn display also includes some other interesting takes on America’s favorite color scheme.

Thumberg attacks the most effervescent of holiday imagery in his captured-in-time fireworks explosions. These wooden cut-outs–complete with smoke trails and star blasts–are repeated several times with different paint jobs. The image is perhaps Thumberg’s most impressionistic form–a daring move to represent so much motion and light, sound and fury in two dimensions, staked in grass.

handmade wood cut fireworks lawn decorations, Beaver, PA

fireworks

The most unique of Thumberg’s choices has to be a large teddy bear form that appears multiple times around the property[2]. How these relate to the declaration of independence, we don’t know–and didn’t think to ask at the time–but we’ll go with it. The bears are standing up for America with no identifiable facial markings and just the vertical red/white/blue stripes of the season. A human-sized teddy bear is out front riding a (real, decommissioned) bicycle.

handmade wood cut teddy bear lawn decoration on bicycle, Beaver, PA

show me what democracy looks like: patriotic teddy bear on bicycle

handmade wood cut Independence Day lawn decorations including teddy bear, fireworks, and Uncle Sam, Beaver, PA

patriotic teddy bear, fireworks, Uncle Sam

You’d think the 4th would be enough, but Gary Thumberg is holiday crazy. Independence Day is just one of four annual occasions that prompt the sixty-something year-old Thumberg to shuffle the contents of his storage shed/workshop/garage–taking in the previous event’s decor and prepping for the next.

With a holiday every season [Halloween, Christmas, and Easter are the others] and the weeks of work it takes him to remove the old, bring out the new, patch, paint, and repair any trouble spots, and finally lay out and line up everything for display, the decorations are a (nearly) full-time side occupation.

handmade wood cut eagles lawn decorations in back yard, Beaver, PA

back yard eagles and flags

The family came to this house on 3rd Street over 40 years ago, and Gary’s passion for holiday decoration goes back almost as long. The painted plywood decorations are all cut out by Thumberg with a jigsaw using various paper patterns or templates. From here, they’re sanded, painted, and hammered into the ground. The majority of the display is saved, stored, and brought back out again each year, but Gary tries to add one or two new pieces each season. Neighbors have gotten into the act by donating lights, wood, paint, and brushes.

handmade wood cut Independence Day lawn decoration of red, white, and blue Snoopy, Beaver, PA

Snoopy

The Thumbergs–Gary lives with his lovely 87-year-old mother Doris–want you to stop by and see Gary’s work. A guest book out front encourages visitors to sign in and leave their thoughts. Doris has volumes of past years’ entries with signees coming from every state in the country and all over the world.

Catching this blogger photographing the side of his house, Gary came out to say hello and led me around, acting as tour guide to the full display, which extends into the back yard and out to the alley. Then I got invited into the house, phone numbers were exchanged, and we were invited back.

We will be back–for sure. We’ll see you guys at Halloween, if not sooner.

handmade wood cut American flag lawn decorations, Beaver, PA

American flag


[1] Yes, Sewickley is the other obvious exception.
[2] We weren’t sure what these shapes actually are, but Gary Thumberg confirmed them as teddy bears.

Heavy Petting: The Anthrocon Fursuit Parade 2017

parade marchers in fursuits including large rabbit, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Tongues out, ears up, that’s the way we like to strut. Big bunny and other Fursuit Parade marchers.

Let’s get something straight: there is a lot of fake fur. Short pile like a hiker’s Thermafleece® and the deep shag of a drug lord’s living room carpet; zebra-striped, tiger-blazed, and leopard-spotted; black, white, and every color in-between.

Anthrocon’s annual Fursuit Parade features more plush, fuzzy softness than you’re likely to encounter in a lifetime…or until next year’s convention, whichever comes first. Like the allies storming Omaha Beach, wave after wave of fluffy fixed-faced cartoon cats and permanent growl ear-tagged wolves assaulted the senses and delighted spectators in their relentless pursuit of high-paws parade-route salutations and head patting approval. And we gave it to them–oh yes, we gave it to them.

group of fursuit-wearing parade marchers, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

A handful of the 1,890 different fursuited parade marchers

fursuit costume of cat with glasses in baseball uniform for team Piecats, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Baseball cat: Piecats manager.

fursuits various color dogs, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy? Orange fox* and friends.

Anthrocon, the “world’s largest convention for those fascinated with anthropomorphics” was back in Pittsburgh last weekend for its twelfth consecutive summer meetup and twentieth year overall. For the festival’s annual four-day run, both full-on suited-up furries and the dreaming-of-the-big-time ears-and-tail crowd carouse and kibitz throughout downtown streets. Whether you’re participant or gawker, it’s a lot of fun.

But if you really want to see the fur fly by–as well as witness the hyperbole of furry fandom–ground zero is down by the convention center on Saturday afternoon. There, the annual fursuit parade makes its short route out one door, around a horseshoe-shaped path nearly up to Penn Ave., and the back inside the other wing of the convention center. It draws thousands of local onlookers for their best, closest look at the full technicolor menagerie.

indeterminate fursuit costumes with shirts "#KRUMP" and "#VOGUE", Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Let’s party! Two-thirds of the #TWERK / #KRUMP / #VOGUE crew.

fursuit costume of bear with long rabbit ears, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Grrrrrr. A “crux”*.

fursuits of green and pink bear, blue and white bear, and evening attire fox in wheelchair, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Evening wear fox, blue-and-white tiger hybrid, and psychedelic friend*.

It’s a short route–certainly less than a quarter mile–but getting mummified in the nearly-universal head-to-toe blanket of fuzz and shuffling through stifling July heat and humidity takes the dedication of a marine. Up close right at the mid-point, we could hear participants breaking character to wheeze sotto voce support for each other, “keep going, we’re half-way there.”

Anthrocon’s FaceBook page puts the number at 1,890 participants for this year’s parade and I can tell you, it felt like even more than that. Forty-five straight minutes of uninterrupted disco mice and barbed-wire baseball bat-brandishing bears, seductive lady foxes and goofy tongues-out psychedelic mutts[1].

fursuit costume of bear with baseball bat covered in barbed-wire Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Someone needs to switch to decaf! Barbed-wire baseball bat bear.

fursuit costume of scary rooster with arms extended over head, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Drop nuggets! Atomic rooster FTW.

fursuit costume of white dog with purple features, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Move over, Spuds McKenzie–these dogs came to party.

There is a point, however, when it’s just too much fur. While each and every anthropomorphic costume is its own unique creation, there are a lot more similarities than there are differences. Sure, somebody went crazy with the color palette here and there’s a wacky prop, in-joke, or movie reference there, but it’s remarkable how much of the same each of these animal riffs ends up being.

Not knowing what’s in these (largely much younger) folks minds, the obvious touchstones seem to be the kind of grinning goofiness and high saturation of “classic” Saturday morning cartoons–think Scooby Doo, Deputy Dawg, Mighty Mouse, and Kung Fooey. Parade marchers would not be out-of-place in the worlds of Hanna-Barbera or Sid & Marty Kroft–although the frequent additions of ’90s style rave attire, wink-wink naughtiness, and anime sheen are deployed liberally.

fursuit blue bear costume, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

blue tiger*

group of fursuit-wearing parade marchers, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

parade marchers

fursuit costome of leopard wearing cheerleader outfit, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Go team! Cheerleader cheetah, rollin’ cougar*.

It seems strange that this subculture–as vulnerable and ripe for ridicule as any set of outsiders–would be as internally uniform as it is. (At least, to non-participant.) While the suits are all unique–don’t go looking for one at Target–they’re rarely handmade. Companies like Made Fur You and Kilcodo Costumes charge upwards of several thousand dollars for a full head-to-toe custom outfit that fits within a very narrow cartoon aesthetic. The inspiration may be animals, but this isn’t the world of Marlin Perkins’ Wild Kingdom; other than these few, rare outliers, it’s strictly the prolonged colorful, safe adolescence of Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

So it is a pleasant detour–a relief even–to see the off-script giant shark, an obviously homemade sad dragon, the couple birds with fully-articulated wingspans, and an alien lizard creature in clinking in metallic silver scales. It’s not The Orbit‘s place to tell furries what to do, but just like Chabad’s menorahmobiles, we’d love to see more fans take the costume-making (literally) into their own hands and create something truly original in the process.

homemade fursuit of green dragon head, tail, and gloves, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

A rare homemade (partial) fursuit. Green dragon.

costume with silver metal scales and wings, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Colonel Clink. Silver metal-scaled dragon*.

fursuit costume of dragon in police uniform, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Those don’t look like regulation footwear. Police dragon.

young woman in blood-spattered skirt and blouse, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Oops…wrong convention! Blood-splattered spoilt Victorian child.

If you’ve seen Fursonas, Dominic Rodriguez’ locally-made 2016 documentary on the furry community, you’ll not soon forget its most controversial figure. “Uncle Kage” (pronounced kah-GAY) comes off as a perpetually deep-pour rosé-swilling megalomaniac who lectures rapt convention-goers on a level of deceitful media manipulation that would make Steve Bannon blush.

In Kage’s mind, the world is out to get the fursuited few, and it is only through a strictly-committed loose lips sink ships effort of Trumpian loyalty and intensely mannered public relations that the community’s lifestyle is able to survive the forces hell-bent on destroying it.

man with lab coat and bullhorn in Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Uncle Kage (with bullhorn) and entourage

So the sight of Uncle Kage closing out the parade in his trademark lab coat, barking an abbreviated version of his patented stream-of-consciousness ranting through a bullhorn–a top hat-wearing lackey in tow–really did give this blogger chills on a hot day.

If Kage’s ultimate goal is acceptance, he’s got it. While the convention is in town, downtown’s burger joints and pizza parlors roll out the red carpet for Anthrocon’s tail-wagging attendees to walk their paws in for supper. Nice, suburban families drive in to take selfies with permanent grin pooch-people. Every local news outlet sends their perky human interest beat reporter to smarm and eyeroll through a two-minute feel good piece.

KDKA News photographer and reporter covering Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

The Orbit wasn’t the only media outlet covering the Fursuit Parade, but at least we weren’t invited. KDKA News.

Whatever goes on behind closed convention-rate Westin Hotel doors is those humanoid badgers’, muskrats’, and flying squirrels’ business. Maybe at one time the fears of freaky, deviant sex got people up in arms, but frankly, I don’t think anybody cares that much–at least, not anymore. There’s just a lot bigger problems in the world than worrying about whether some twenty-somethings are turned-on by polymeric fibers.

We certainly have them–bigger problems, that is–but every year that Anthrocon comes to town and puts on the dog (sorry) for us locals is not one of them. It’s an annual highlight, for sure, as well as a wonderful evolving get-to-know-you mystery in the way all long-term relationships are. Let’s hope it keeps growing.

two children posing for photograph with person in fursuit costume of sabretooth tiger at Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Good old-fashion family fun. Sabre-toothed tiger and fans.


* Many thanks to Reddit /r/furry community member Shetani (username acinonyxjubatusrex) with help identifying the species represented in these fursuits. Our original post was updated based on Cheetah’s personal knowledge. We appreciate the help.

[1] Having a blown a trombone for well over an hour during last year’s event, this blogger can tell you 2016’s parade was even longer.

Flag Post: A Very Orbit Independence Day 2017

garage door painted like American flag, Millvale, PA

garage flag (53 stars), Millvale

If congress ever grants Puerto Rico the right to become America’s fifty-first state, it will likely be a very good thing for the island–at least, its electorate are optimistic. The most recent referendum was just last month with a whopping 97% of voters opting for the change[1].

That said, Puerto Rico’s inclusion in the union will inevitably end up as a nightmare for the graphic designers tasked with figuring out how to artfully arrange the awkward number of 51 stars into coherent symmetry for the to-be-updated American flag. Fifty-one is not a prime number–you could do three rows of 17–but come on, it’s going to be a star-spangled mess.

plywood storefront painted like 48-star American flag, West Newton, PA

empty storefront cover flag (48 stars), West Newton

homemade American flag made from fence wood, Apollo, PA

fence flag (28 stars/7 stripes), Apollo

Anyone born here in the last half century has grown up with a 50-state America and its flag with a matching star count. That can make a lot of us feel like it’s always been that way, and always will be. However, we know what happens when we forget our history. Like that 51-star flag, it isn’t pretty.

The United States started as the thirteen original British colonies, each individually converted to statehood/commonweathdom. Over the next two centuries another thirty-seven expansion teams were gradually added to the league. Vermont and Kentucky formed the very first class in 1795; the most recent was Hawaii in 1960.

homemade American flag made from fence material, Carroll Township, PA

fence flag (39 stars), Carroll Twp.

garage door painted like the 13-star colonial American flag, Pittsburgh, PA

13-star colonial/”Betsy Ross” design garage flag, Stanton Heights

The flag–or, at least, the number and arrangement of white stars on its blue field–was redesigned many times in this span. These were often periods of just one or two years with a particular design until another new state was added. While the general stars-and-(thirteen) bars composition never varied, the arrangement of the constantly-in-flux star count sure did.

When that number added up to something nice and easily divisible–like, say, 20, 24, 30, 35, or 48–there’s an obvious grid to lay out. But on the years where you’re starting with a prime number, it doesn’t work out so nicely. Take, for example, the 31-star flag used in the 1850s or the 43-star flag of 1890-91–these are just plain raunchy. I’m sure Henry Clay was working overtime to convert western territories just to get out of using some of these ugly-ass banners.

concrete bridge support painted like American flag with slogan "Make the Channel Great Again", Pittsburgh, PA

“Make the Channel Great Again” (no stars attempted), 31st Street Bridge

American flag mural on V.F.W., Sharpsburg, PA

V.F.W. flag (50 stars!), Sharpsburg

It is so interesting that a person–heck, it’s Independence Day–a patriot–would dedicate this much time, effort, and public-facing garage-front property to hand-constructing and commemorating Old Glory, but not bother to paint the right number of stars.

The pattern is just not that difficult to match. There are exactly 50 stars on America’s flag, one for each state. These are arranged in nine rows that space to interleaved sets alternating between six and five stars. There are lots of models to look at.

Regardless, citizens taking up paint bucket and brush to turn an old section of fence, shipping pallet, or garage door into a crude rendition of the star-spangled banner is about as American as it gets. Not getting the math right on the star count only makes it more so.

Happy Independence Day, everyone!


Some of the other interesting flags and flag-like things we’ve come across in the last year:

American flag hanging in second-floor doorway of brick house, Pittsburgh, PA

doorway flag, Lawrenceville

Mary statue in front of brick porch with many American flags, Pittsburgh, PA

front yard Mary with flags, Oakland

We’re working on a whole piece around the front yard Marys of Oakland, in which this photo will inevitably be cross-listed. Until then, this combo of Mary, papa flag, mama flag and her eight sisters, plus a whole lot of baby flags stuck into a red, white, and blue base will have to get you through the holiday.

patriotic mural including soldiers, military cemetery, and American flag, Leechburg, PA

mural, Leechburg

male mannequin dressed as a woman standing in front of American flag, Hawley, PA

mannequin/flag, Hawley, PA

Little Hawley, PA–way across the state on Lake Wallenpaupack in the Poconos–is definitely not in the Pittsburgh “orbit”, but we loved this thrift shop’s repurposing of an obviously-male mannequin into a women’s clothes model with patriotic backdrop so much we had to include it.

metal rolling window cover painted with crossed American and Polish flags, Pittsburgh, PA

American and Polish flags, Bloomfield Bridge Tavern, Bloomfield

Sigh. Later this year, when the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern finally serves up its last Polish Platter and Dingus Day goes looking for a new home, this classic old world/new world unity image will (likely) be painted over in favor of the future new owner’s redesign. When that day comes, you can count on the mother of all Orbit obits. Until then, we can only hope it remains “Pittsburgh’s original Polish party house,” but don’t hold your breath.

American flag on pole split into two, Pittsburgh, PA

flag torn asunder, Esplen

While it’s tempting to think of the torn-right-down-the-middle flag we found flying in Esplen as a subtle political commentary, I have a feeling the real explanation is simple neglect along with the wear-and-tear on any fabric left out for a few too many Pittsburgh winters.

For the record, Section 8 (e) of the U.S. “Flag Code” states: “The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.” Further, under Destruction of Worn Flags, the code continues, “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”

The Orbit is in no position to tell anyone what to do about anything, but I think it’s safe to say this Esplen flag is still very much a “fitting emblem” of the deeply-divided America of today.

red metal flag drop box at Rochester, PA, Veterans of Foreign Wars

V.F.W. flag drop box, Rochester, PA

plastic light-up flag in window, Pittsburgh, PA

window flag, Bloomfield

yard sign reading "Kathleen's Beaver Supports our Troops", Beaver, PA

No snickering! Kathleen’s Beaver Supports our Troops, Beaver

homemade poster reading "America is Great", Pittsburgh, PA

America is Great, Lawrenceville

A pre-election 2016 homemade banner hanging from a Lawrenceville front porch wasn’t enough to convince Pennsylvania voters they were already living in a great country, sigh.


[1] Although only a paltry 23% of the population voted. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puerto_Rican_status_referendum,_2017.