It’s a cheap visual joke. The self-consciously retro POST NO BILLS painted in big white block letters on the black brick wall of the former Joe Mama’s Italian restaurant in Oakland. Right next to it, jokesters have taped–nay, “posted”–a slew of pictures of famous people named Bill. There’s Bill Murray and Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Bill Maher, Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and the wall’s most arcane inclusion, Buffalo Bill Cody. Bill Cosby makes a de rigueur appearance begging the question: is it bad taste or mockery to include a disgraced Bill in one’s (relatively benign) act of prankdom?
It’s a sad state of affairs when one gets a nice chuckle out of some college kids’ first nights back jape and then we jump immediately to skepticism. This is probably a thing–maybe it counts as a “meme,” I think to myself, something somebody thought of and now folks do as a cliche, like adding love locks to the nearest bridge, or “this gum tastes like rubber,” or flossing.
So off to the Internet I went, and sure enough, Google Images was stocked with variants on this joke. Color copies clipped to a chain link fence; Xeroxes stapled to plywood; Clinton, Gates, and Murray as Run-DMC; and nice, spray-painted stencils on plywood of the same group (plus Cosby) at various urban construction sites. A template clearly exists and the canon established.
So, what would it take to make this bit more interesting? If this prank-loving blogger was going to have at it (and he’s not) he would at minimum throw out all the obvious candidates. Pittsburgh young people: make it your own! Here then, for anyone considering a future rendition, are a handful of Orbit suggestions for great Pittsburgh “Bill”s that you could use, without getting into the Post No Bills rut. Make us proud.
William Pitt: A guy who liked Pittsburgh so much he named himself after the city. Hold it. No, it was the other way around. And maybe the city didn’t get any choice in the matter. Whatever. “Ol’ Bill” is the namesake of both Pittsburgh and Chatham College/Chatham Village and a host of other places all over the country. Tell me the image of William Pitt’s ridiculous powdered white wig wouldn’t look great wheat-pasted to the side of Joe Mama’s.
Mayor Bill Peduto: This one is pretty obvious. Even if you’re a student here in your first semester, you should be aware of your mayor. You’ll likely even have the opportunity to vote in the next mayoral election, so you should pay attention. Though Mayor Peduto probably would not condone vandalism (even if it’s only committed with photocopies and packing tape), I’ll bet even he would get a little kick out of being in the Order of the Bills.
Bill Mazeroski: “Maz” gets credit for one of the most dramatic moments in Pittsburgh sports history: a walk-off home run to win the 1960 World Series over the New York Yankees. You might not be able to pick his face out of a Post No Bills line-up, but this iconic photo of the ecstatic game-winning stride around the bases will resonate with even the casual Pirates fan–there’s even a bronze statue of it at PNC Park. Oh yeah: and this all happened at Forbes Field, which is now Schenley Plaza/Pitt campus.
Bill Cardille: This blogger didn’t move to Pittsburgh until the 1990s, so I missed out on Chiller Theatre, Pittsburgh’s entry in the bygone era of local hosts introducing late-night B-movie features on broadcast television. But I still know of it, so you should too. Cardille is equally famous both for his role as a TV news reporter in Night of the Living Dead and as a longtime radio host on (former) “music of your life” station WJAS (R.I.P.). I don’t know how many dozens of times I heard him spin “Theme From a Summer Place” or “Close to You” while I patched plaster and sanded floors. Those tunes, just like Cardille’s bedroom baritone, never got old. The patching and sanding, on the other hand…
Billie Nardozzi: As Pittsburgh’s (unofficial) poet-laureate, Nardozzi published his verse weekly in the Post-Gazette classified ads for at least a decade. Every Tuesday, you’d get the same photo of himself with some rhyming, quoted “words” of “wisdom” on subjects like kindness, true love, loneliness, home cooking, etc. You make yourself a spray paint stencil of that mug with that mullet and the people of Pittsburgh will “lose” their “minds.” Guaranteed.
Honorable Mentions. Other great Pittsburgh Bills:
- Billy Conn: Professional boxer, mostly known for the oxymoronic title of World’s Light-Heavyweight Champion (1939-1941) and for taking on (and, yes, losing to) Joe Louis, who was a weight class above him. There’s a Billy Conn Boulevard in Oakland (actually just a ceremonial section of Craig Street) and a line of photos up at Hambone’s, some of them with googly eyes stuck on the glass. Make it happen.
- Billy Strayhorn: Jazz composer, arranger, lyricist and Duke Ellington’s right-hand man. Just try taking an ‘A’ train or living a lush life in some small dive without him.
- Bill Bored: Drummer for the late great new wave weirdos The Cardboards and star of Stephanie Beros’ Debt Begins at 20. That movie contains a ton of great shots in Oakland and Bloomfield of places that don’t exist anymore. I’m dying for an Orbit interview with Mr. Bored!
- Bill Cowher: He of the most-noteworthy mustache, beard, and flying saliva–oh, and he coached a football team, too. Another person with features so strong they scream out to be abstracted into two-tone.
- Billy Buck Hill: Obscure sub-neighborhood of the South Side Slopes. Yes, this counts as a “Bill.”