Send In The Crones

street art sticker in shape of heart with word "Crone"
Love is for us old people, too. A “Crone” heart, Lawrenceville

Aging, your author’s bluntly-honest, not-entirely-tactful, and dearly-missed father-in-law used to say, ain’t for sissies. As someone with more yesterdays than tomorrows, I can attest to this firsthand. The body starts breaking down in all sorts of unexpected ways; the mind wanders off to Lulu land more frequently than we’d like to admit; young whippersnappers run rings around us in all ways that whippersnappers may run.

large hand-created sticker with words "Aging is Sexy"
Read the news: aging is sexy. Lawrenceville

… but I’m a dude—and that means it’s just easier for me. Older men are granted a kind of societal clout simply by virtue of their gender that women don’t enjoy. Graying men are often described as wise, established, and “silver fox” handsome. (Still crossing my fingers for that last one.) Women of the same age share no such common, stereotypical positives.

Far from it. American society is youth-obsessed, for sure, but it’s mainly obsessed with young women. Ms. Orbit—she of my same vintage—often describes the experience as one of “becoming invisible” and feeling “no longer relevant” to the outside world.

large hand-created sticker with word "Crone"
Crone crystal, Oakland

Just about one year ago, we spotted a small hand-written sticker attached to a residential parking sign post in Lawrenceville. The text was a simple double-entendre: Menopause is HOT. That got a snort-laugh out of yours truly and I bagged it for the road.

That little teaser was quickly followed by an array of more elaborate, hand-colored stickers spread on lamp posts and electrical boxes. They all contained simple messages proudly addressing the very uncommon subject—either in wider culture or here at the street level—of middle-aged women as real, present beings: Aging is Sexy; Crone; Menopause.

sticker on post reading "Menopause is hot"
Menopause is HOT, Lawrenceville

We don’t know who created these subtle, gently-subversive little works. None of the pieces we’ve found have any attribution and the Orbit hive mind was unable (or unwilling) to name names. We’re also left to interpret the artists’ message.

We do know the statements are attention-grabbing and hilariously out-of-context—seeing the word menopause bedazzled and glorified in the leftover spaces where taggers dwell is objectively funny.

large hand-created sticker with word "Crone"
Crimson crone crystal, Lawrenceville

Ms. Orbit and I have discussed the matter much in the course of our relationship, crossing into deep middle-age, and specifically with her experiences as a woman and an artist. For these reasons, I wanted to turn the rest of the story over to her:

large hand-created sticker with words "Aging is Sexy"
A(g)ing is Sexy, Bloomfield

Middle-aged women become invisible to a degree. But, rather than lamenting that fact, I’m enjoying the hell out of the invisibility, because it means a certain kind of freedom. It means the freedom of not having to matter to men, not worrying about being pretty, sexy, feminine enough, thin enough, demure enough, not too loud, not too opinionated. Men no longer care what I look like, sound like, say, etc. When I was younger, I often stepped outside the lines by being too loud, too bold, too feisty and was admonished by men and sometimes by other women. Now, those folks no longer care what I have to say or how I look and I feel the freedom to be fully myself, on my own terms.

large heart-shaped hand-created sticker with word "Crone"
Crone, Bloomfield

There are a lot of younger women now who are proudly and publicly themselves in a “give no fucks” way and I love it, admire it fully—Lizzo comes to mind. Of course, I have had my moments of feeling the negative side of aging and have grappled with thoughts that “I’m no longer relevant,” but the flip side is you can choose to matter to yourself and the important folks in your life. It’s beautiful to live without needing external validation. I wholeheartedly praise the artist or artists behind these stickers because it’s a way of shouting “We’re here! We exist! We matter!” and being proud of that. Ageism is real—just like racism and homophobia and sexism—but you counter that ugliness by fully owning and celebrating who you are.

large hand-created sticker with word "Menopause"
Menopause, Bloomfield

When Suzanne Werder and I did the Drawn Together: A Coming of Middle Age Story in 62 Portraits show this past April, the reaction from women over 50 who came to see the show was intensely positive, almost incredulous—they felt seen. “You showed your wrinkles, and bags under your eyes!” Now, we didn’t set out to make a point of our flaws, but in just drawing each other everyday, we can’t escape our truth: that we are getting older and we are not supermodels, and we’re okay with that.

large hand-created sticker with word "Menopause"
Menopause, Deutschtown

That show did a lot to make me more comfortable in my own skin. There’s a lot of push back culturally against the notion that people are supposed to look or act a certain way, that our world is supposed to mirror the narrow scope of idealized bodies in traditional advertising. Now, it’s more common to see images of people of all sizes, colors, ages, abilities, and sexualities represented, and the power of that is huge. It makes us realize that we are all relevant and beautiful and always were.

large hand-created sticker with word "Menopause"
Menopause, Bloomfield

Maybe It’s a Sign? Considering Mystery Signs

sign nailed to tree reading "Barber School?"
Pretty sure that’s not a barber school, but now we have to question everything. A mystery sign in Kilbuck Township

So many questions! One chunk of wood nailed to another is attached to the outside of a residential garage. Next to the wood hangs a length of braided twine with a sharp nail at the end. The wood is painted with a cryptic message: Its for my bac but by a man’s hand.

Bac may or may not have been cut off—or misspelled. Is it for the back? What is it—the nail on the string? Does this serve a real purpose—that’s hard to imagine—or is it entirely symbolic? Assuming the latter, the message is lost on me. Maybe it’s a Biblical or cultural reference your heathen author just doesn’t get?

It’s the very definition of a mystery sign—a public notice set out for the world to consume but not entirely clear what the message is or who it’s meant for.

small sign on cinderblock wall reading "It's for my bac... but by a man's hand."
“Its for my bac… but by a man’s hand.” The Run
large roadside sign saying "No quid pro quo"
“No quid pro quo.” Duquesne

With some signs the mystery may not be that great but they’re still worth review and inclusion. We may assume the No quid pro quo sign [photo above]—photographed in Duquesne during some of the former guy’s obvious quid pro quo activity—is the work of one of the ex-president’s supporters expressing an opinion … but it still looks way goofy absent any other context.

Anyone who travels Babcock Blvd. in the summer knows the corn guys by Hastings Hardware, but still, seeing a lone day-glow CORN SOON sign [below] just feels like a cruel taunt. Found glasses [below] suggests someone did exactly that … but not any way to return the lost item to its rightful owner.

Handmade sign on utility pole reading "Corn Soon"
But when will there be corn NOW? “CORN SOON.” North Hills
hand-written sign with drawing of eyeglasses and text "Found glasses"
“Found glasses.” Lawrenceville
sign in front yard with spray-painted message "Who is John Galt?"
I don’t know—you tell me! “Who is John Galt?” Stanton Heights

Others aren’t so obvious. Who is John Galt? [above] has an easily Googleable explanation, but it doesn’t explain why a Stanton Heights homeowner feels the need to decorate their front yard with this message.

A chain link fence in a Bloomfield alley hosts an odd specimen. No violins, the sign declares, along with a fine folksy painting of the instrument, no crying, no crying [below]. We like to think violins are purely metaphor here—that crying is the only real objection—but where’s that coming from? Not a creature was stirring when the picture was snapped, but perhaps it rains with teardrops of a thousand tortured toddlers at other times of day.

hand-painted sign with violin and text "No violins, no crying"
Cellos only. “No violins. No crying. No crying.” Bloomfield
hand-written sign in barber shop window reading "See you Tuesday Guess Why""
You don’t want me guessing why. “See you Tuesday Guess ? Why.” Millvale

Every one of these gems has a story and it’s likely we won’t find out the explanations to any of them—and that’s OK. With the number of messages we humans push out to the world every single day, I’ll take mystery over hate, exploitation, cruelty, or narcissism any time. Wondering ain’t such a bad thing. Plus, like the sign says, … And that’s life right?

Sign on utility pole reading "Street continues around corner."
Perhaps the most Pittsburgh sign ever. “Street continues around corner.” Troy Hill
hand-painted sign on utility pole reading "Slow kid playin"
“Slow kid playin.” Millvale
wooden board with cryptic symbols painted on it nailed to utility poles
Runes, Oakland
wooden sign nailed to utility pole with hand-painted message "CJ's Spot"
“CJ’s Spot.” Hill District
cardboard sign in window of home reading "Someone else removed the stop work order."
Sure they did. “Someone else removed the stop work order.” Spring Garden
hand-written sign in Zip-Loc bad stapled to utility pole
“Psalm 91 over this neighborhood.” North Side
mirror in front yard of home with message "Please do turn around here."
Vampires, you’re on your own. “Please do turn around here.” The Run
hand-written sign in barber shop window reading "Closed until Tuesday for court stuff"
“Closed until Tuesday for court stuff.” Millvale
handwritten sign in hot dog shop window reading "We are completely out of chili ... sorry."
If only every restaurant was as up front about their chili status. “We are completely out of chili … sorry.” Frankie’s, Lawrenceville
empty aluminum serving trays in deli display case with Post-It note reading "Not for consumption. Only for religion purpose."
“Not for consumption. Only for religion purpose.” Scranton
Handmade sign reading "JACK"
You don’t know Jack. “JACK.” Lawrenceville
color printout of cat stapled to utility pole
Cat, just a cat. Spring Garden
pair of doors in brick building, one of which has handmade sign reading "ACES"
“ACES.” Vandergrift
hand-painted sign on utility pole reading "NO OUTLET"
“NO OUT LET.” Millvale
white paper taped to cinderblock wall with no text remaining
A mystery [blank/sunbleached] sign among mystery signs! Lawrenceville
hand-written sign left by highway
“Sun Ra / Alice Coltrane. I miss my friends …” Millvale
handmade wooden sign with section missing attached to utility pole
What was here before the middle went missing? Polish Hill/Strip District
plastic butterfly and small sign reading "... and that's life" on cinderblock wall
It sure is. “… and that’s life.” The Run

Attend Me: Collage Dropout in Deutschtown

colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Detail from large collage installation on East Ohio Street, Deutschtown

Attend me, hold me in your muscular flowering arms,
protect me from throwing any part of myself away.

These words, from self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” Audre Lorde, are printed and duplicated—silk-screened, most likely—in an ornate, curlicue typeface and accented by fronds of unknown origin.

The cut-out text is layered atop a riot of dozens, hundreds maybe, of other screen-printed elements. Torn paper with the same couplet printed over and over again; images of skulls and boxers, eyeballs and ghostly figures; photographs cut from magazines bedazzled with after-market patterns and paint jobs.

They’re all part of a new(ish) installation on the North Side that, by its very nature, won’t be around for too long. Just like Ms. Lorde, attend it while you can.

colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Collage (detail) including Audre Lorde quotes, Moravian Way
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Ghost boxer

The 400 block of East Ohio Street has seen its fair share of change, even in just the last few years. Google Streetview reminds us the retail storefront at 404 E. Ohio was Ike’s Barber Shop and then Mosley’s Barber Shop until going vacant in 2015. The larger building at the corner was the old Peanutz Bar & Grill, which closed by 2016. In between the two, Alex’s Ice Cream held on longer, but seems to have become a victim of the pandemic lockdown just two years ago.

The most recent time Google documented the street, in August, 2021, it included another interesting detail. 408-410 E. Ohio hosted a large, double-door-sized collage piece on the temporary plywood covering the entrance. This is unmistakably the work of the same artist(s).

two vacant retail storefronts in disrepair
406-410 East Ohio Street, most recently Alex’s Ice Cream and Peanutz, in August, 2021 [photo: Google Streetview]

As observers, curiosity-seekers, speculators, we naturally look for meaning and theme when a piece this elaborate is exhibited—and there is plenty to work with here, if that’s your bag. Black icons Jack Johnson and Audre Lorde are an obvious entry point as are reverent photos of everyday folks and revolutionaries, updated with kente cloth, polka dots, and leopard skin patterns.

There’s also plenty of grim, foreboding imagery here. The repeated use of skulls, a menacing monster-like figure with its giant jaw agape, what may or may not be a nuclear blast, and the Virgin Mary in a hostage-taker’s ski mask.

colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront

We’ll not make the mistake of assigning any specific message to the collection. The artist (or artists)—there is no attribution on any of the pieces that I could find—kept themselves anonymous (although, we have our suspicions). So there’s no one to go to for clarification, which is fine.

Update (March 19, 2022): Following initial publication of this story, Pittsburgh Orbit was informed that the artists involved are Quaishawn Whitlock, Bekezela Mguni, and Darrell Kinsel. The three have a current show called Alchemical, created as part of their residency at AIR: Artists Image Resource on nearby Foreland Street.

colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Collage (full), Moravian Way

Whether we’re supposed to think anything at all about a stirring work, heavy on the iconography, or just enjoy the blast of layered color from a voracious screen-printer cleaning out his or her workspace is missing the point.

Someone created this, and it’s beautiful. It’s also unexpected, fun, head-scratching and gets us out of our heads and into the world. It’ll also be gone before you know it. The wheatpasted paper is already peeling at the corners and between unpredictable Pittsburgh weather and a property manager trying to rent the spaces, the whole thing will disappear before you know it.

Protect me from throwing any part of myself away feels like it might be a way of life for whoever did this. Embrace the piece by holding its visage in your muscular flowering arms, err … thoughts, dreams, and travels.

colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
The noses know this
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Mind/blown
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Mary Maskstillon
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Collage installation at 406 East Ohio Street

Love Anarchically: Valentine’s Day Hearts, 2022

Halloween jack-o-lantern carved with large heart
Love: you can’t always see your way through it, but sometimes there’s a fire that burns bright. Lawrenceville

Love, noted relationship counselor Patricia Benatar once informed us, is a battlefield. It’s a powerful metaphor whose cuts-to-the-bone directness is no doubt part of her 1983 chart-topping song’s lasting appeal. Other pop music pseudo-therapists have broken the news that Love Hurts and Love Scars, Love Bites and yes, Love Stinks.

These sentiments may or may not reflect each of our individual experiences but we know it can get wilder than even this. Sometimes love is pure anarchy.

graffiti heart with large letter "A" painted on concrete steps
Love isn’t always a battlefield—sometimes it’s anarchy. Polish Hill

The red heart spans three concrete treads of the Downing Street steps in Polish Hill. Its black outline is pretzel-curved into the verticals of a capital letter A. Sure, this may be a vigilante Valentine left for (or from?) an Anna or André, Alex or Audrey, but it sure resembles the circle-A symbol would-be anarchists leave all over the place. Perhaps not coincidentally, that call-to-arms also often shows up spray-painted on public infrastructure.

The anarchy heart image is not alone. Looking through this year’s street Valentines, a certain theme emerges—not of the joy and perhaps unrealistic Hallmark special expectations of love—but rather, as a certain Bunnyman called it, The Back of Love.

Valentine's Day heart decoration on front porch with caution tape
Love: proceed with caution. Etna

Big red hearts aglow against caution tape; hearts chaotically strewn across back alley walls; crumpled hearts in derelict windows. These—and plenty more where they came from—all seem to say, Yeah, love is out there, but be careful, buddy. Here, that advice is gifted to us from Pittsburgh’s Krylon Cupids, available wherever people take out the trash and tack tin cans to telephone poles. This year it’s more true than ever.

wall with much graffiti including large red heart
Sometimes love doesn’t quite know what’s going on. Bloomfield

That said, even without the pressures of a global coronavirus pandemic it’s always that kind of year when it comes to affaires d’amour. (That’s French for the love thing.)

So whether you’re in love, all out of love, or you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling, whether love is like oxygen or love is the drug—heck, even if you give love a bad name—this Valentine’s Day, know that you’re not alone. There are lots of folks out there who are experiencing the same exact thing and it cut them deep enough to spray paint that feeling on some city steps.

Keep on, everyone, and happy Valentine’s Day.

homemade heart decoration in front window of house
Love ain’t always perfect, but we keep trying. Lincoln-Lemington
decorative skeleton wrapped in Christmas garland with Valentine's Day hearts
Love: it’s a killer. Etna
painting on abandoned building of woman with afro, green snake, and glowing yellow heart
If you’re falling in love, watch your asp. Garfield
side of house decorated with both Valentine's Day hearts and black bats
It’s great, but love is spooky too. Etna
mural of realistic human heart over stylized mountains
Your heart may float like a balloon, but watch out for those dangerous peaks. Lawrenceville
tin can lid painted with red hearts and figure on bicycle
Tin can pole (he)art. Garfield
large mural of many hands around a multicolored heart
Sometimes love takes a village and a helping hand. Strip District
heart painted on wooden fence slat
Good love can heal pain and peel paint. Uptown
sidewalk chalk drawing of a heart and a snail
Love can be slow … and messy. Sharpsburg
graffiti heart painted blue and red
There are no red hearts and there are no blue hearts—there are only American hearts! … and hearts from other places. Lawrenceville
fence with heart-shaped cutout in wooden slats
Sometimes we’ve got a heart-shaped hole in us. Lawrenceville
wheatpaste street art of heart-shaped face with Xs over eyes
Big heart, dead eyes, can’t lose. Greensburg
street art sticker in shape of heart with word "Crone"
Love is for us old people, too. Lawrenceville
wheatpaste street art of heart-shaped face with Xs over eyes
Love: it’s fine … until it’s not. Friendship
wheatpaste street art on dumpster of heart-shaped face with Xs over eyes
Sometimes love can get you down in the dumpster. Garfield
truck trailer with graffiti heart and word "Luv"
You can’t fabricate luv. Bloomfield
wheatpaste street art of heart-shaped face with Xs over eyes
It’s always decorative gourd season when your heart’s on the fence. Garfield
graffiti heart with name Paul painted on cinderblock wall
Paul may be gone, but he’s still in our heart. Lawrenceville
pair of cardboard hearts attached to utility pole
You can’t break a cardboard heart, but it may just get blown away. Garfield
shiny heart decoration attached to utility pole
Love may look great on the outside, but there’s often duct tape holding it together. Lawrenceville
cinderblock wall painted with many small hearts
Maybe there’s love right around the corner. Strip District
mural of flowers and words "with Love"
Happy Valentine’s Day, with Love, from us to you

No Dogs Wasted Here: Dog Police, Part Deux Deux

no dog poop message spray painted on wood covering garage door
Think of the children! No dog poop. Kids walk to school here. A warning message from The Dog Police, on patrol in Wilmerding

Stuck to the aluminum siding of a little house up the hill in Millvale, a set of peel-and-stick letters spells out a curious message: No dogs wasted here.

Is this a rehab clinic for hooched pooches? An embetterment program for down-on-their luck pups? A recycling center for man’s-best-friends at their wits-last-ends?

sticker letters on siding reading "no dogs wasted here"
No dogs wasted here. Millvale

Of course not! Don’t be ridiculous! Diligent Orbit staff know when The Dog Police are on patrol, keeping the streets, alleys, and—especially—residential trash receptacles safe from the terror of incoming canine caca. Foreign or domestic, but always unwanted, Fido’s doo-doo and Scout’s dishonor are a deeply divisive feature of the pedestrian experience.

Having neither a mutt to strut nor publicly-available trash can, your author—excuse the expression—doesn’t have a dog in this fight, so we’re but mere spectators from the cheap seats as the daily doggo drama plays itself out just about everywhere.

hand-written signs on garbage can to stop putting dog shit in cans
Stop asshole no shit in my cans / Dont put your dogs *shit* in my cans. Lawrenceville

What’s the right thing to do?

The responsible pet-owner takes their furry friends out for daily constitutionals, lets them sniff all the fire hydrants and boxwood hedges they care to, and picks up the droppings inevitably jettisoned from their mutts’ butts right there on the sidewalks and grassy patches along the way. Do we expect the human companions to carry the scat sachet all the way home? Or are public/city trash cans an acceptable end point for the excrement?

Alternately, the home owner doesn’t want to deal with that (quite literal) crap—either on the sidewalk or in their street-facing waste bins. It doesn’t make a lot of sense—it’s just trash, right?—but people feel a sense of violation when anyone uses their bins, and when that trash is dog shit—that’s where it gets ugly—and smelly.

hand-written sign on utility pole saying "Pick up after your pups poops"
Pick up after your pups poops. Dravosburg

Like certain other ages-old, inconsolable rifts, it’s unlikely the poop-scoop-and-scoot crowd will ever reach a peaceful accord with the all-volunteer dog police, but we can dream.

Until then, please curb your dog, no peeing on the plants, use the trash can across the street, and make sure none of your possessives or contractions include apostrophes.

"No dogs" sign in front of large garden
Forget the poop, some dog police go straight to the root of the problem. NO DOGS. Millvale
hand-written signs on garbage can to stop putting dog shit in cans
Stop!! Take your dog shit home!! Not a public can!! Lawrenceville
message to keep dog poop cleaned-up on parking sign
Semi-official-looking dog police. Keep you dog shit … cleaned up. Lawrenceville
"No animal waste" handmade sign in front garden
Not into species-shaming dog police. No animal waste. Lawrenceville
handmade sign in front yard to not let dogs do their business
Gender-inclusive dog police. Do not let your dog do their business ((here)). Highland Park
message hung from tree limb to not let dogs pee on grass
Think of the children! (again) Kids on the block play here, please do not let your dog go potty. Lawrenceville
handmade sign to clean up dog droppings
Clean up dog droppings. Bloomfield
hand-written sign on gate asking owners to stop their dogs from shitting
Please stop *your* dog from shitting on my property!!! Thats very inconsiderate of you. Stanton Heights
hand-painted stone with message "Please curb your dog"
Dog cop rock. Please curb your dog. Millvale
foam pad with message "no peeing on the plants" written
No peeing on the plants. Lawrenceville
message to clean up doog poop in stickers on side of house
Have a bag clean your dog — poop, Millvale
street sign with owner scooping dog poop
Drop cops, from the butts of mutts. Etna
pumpkin lawn sign with message to keep dogs off lawn
The dog police, all decorated for fall. Please keep dogs off my lawn. Munhall [photo: Lee Floyd]
cinderblock wall with "no dogs" stenciled
No dogs. (Just smile) Millvale
sign across row house airway reading "no dog poop"
The dog police at the end of the tunnel. No Dog Poop. Polish Hill
handmade sign to keep dogs out of yard
Keep dogs out of yard!! Thank you. East Liberty
egg carton with "no dogs please" written on it
If you bring your dog around, start carton their poop home with you. No dogs please. Lawrenceville
message to clean up dog poop taped to front door of house
Hey! Please use the trash can across the street instead of our storefront for your dog poop. Thx. Lawrenceville
message taped to garbage can saying "no poop bags"
No poop bags in my garbage cans. Thank you. Lawrenceville
message taped to garbage can saying "no poop bags"
Attention! Please do not put your dog’s poop bag in my garbage can. Thank you. Lawrenceville
message about dog poop bags use written on styrofoam plate
Please do not leave ‘green’ poop bags on trails or throw off trails. Dispose all poop bags properly. Thank You. Frick Park
hand-written signs in house front windows asking for owners to pick up their dogs' poop
Smile you’re on camera / Please pick up your dog’s poop. Free bags below. Lawrenceville
message to clean up dog poop on chain link fence
It is your job as the dog owner and not mine as the homeowner to clean up after you and your dog… Be respectful of other homes. Larimer
message to clean up dog poop on chain link fence
Attention dog owners and walkers: if your dog poops on our grass please have the courtesy to scoop it up so that we are not stepping in your dogs poop. Larimer

See also: “The Scoop on Poop or Hill Street Doo Doos: On Patrol with the Dog Police” (Pittsburgh Orbit, Sept. 22, 2019)

Collage Dropout: The Return of The Midnight Montagier

colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments hung on chain link fence
A lot to take in on one’s morning commute. One of the Midnight Montagier’s large collages, Bigelow Blvd. pedestrian overpass, 2018

There is a lot going on here. Three bleached-blonde bikini babes take center stage in the strange artwork, but each has her face plastered-over with a large sticker or morphed into freakish skeleton-like distortion. On either side, big colored cartoon-like images have been pulled from a big book, or maybe a glossy calendar, or poster–who knows? Surrounding all this is a riot of other, smaller imagery: faces, sections of classic paintings, pop culture icons, and recycled Hello, my name is identification tags.

The whole thing is probably six feet wide, mounted on cardboard backing, and has been zip-tied to the chain link enclosure on one of Bigleow Blvd.’s two pedestrian overpasses. It is not alone.

colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments hung on chain link fence
Bigelow Blvd. overpass, 2018
colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments hung on chain link fence
Bigelow Blvd. overpass, 2018

They appeared all at once, in one glorious technicolor explosion. At least, that seems like what happened.

One day–it was late June, 2018–these protected walkways were surprise-decorated (aka bombed) with more than a dozen giant collages, all in a singular style. Taken as a whole, the jumble of assembled images added up to a distended fever dream of dark cartoons, chopped-up advertisements, random photographs, and belongs-on-a-skateboard sticker art.

Attempting to discern meaning from any particular collage–let alone the installation writ large–is a fool’s errand. Sure, there’s plenty to work with if you really want to impose a theme on a collection of random Manga frames, postal slaps, and Obey stickers–but you’re not doing yourself any favors by wading into that particular murky sea.

colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments hung on chain link fence
Bigelow Blvd. overpass, 2018
colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments hung on chain link fence
Bigelow Blvd. overpass, 2018

One after another, attached to both faces of the chain link fence with zip-ties, the eye-popping pieces felt like the magnum opus of an artist (or artists?) who we’re calling The Midnight Montagier. (You know, from the French.)

Weeks, months, maybe years worth of work must have gone into hoarding visual imagery and curating the contents, the cutting-out and gluing-down. All this quiet energy was blasted out to the world–or, at least, the handful of pedestrians who regularly walk the overpass–in one giant salvo, three summers ago.

colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments hung on chain link fence
Bigelow Blvd. overpass, 2018
colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments hung on chain link fence
Bigelow Blvd. overpass, 2018

The pieces felt less like an organized statement of purpose and more like a compulsive saver finally admitting I’ve got to do something with all this stuff. There are worse motivations for artistic expression and many lesser attempts at beauty and/or messaging on city infrastructure.

The gift of these carefully created pieces to the few of us who experienced them before either nature or the Department of Public Works decided their time was up was fascinating and much appreciated.

colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments hung on chain link fence
Bigelow Blvd. overpass, 2018
colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments hung on chain link fence
Bigelow Blvd. overpass, 2018

With this much creative energy and such obvious dedication to the medium, the person or persons behind the Bigelow installation would have to strike again. Once they got their first taste of anonymous glory and release to the world, there’s no way they wouldn’t want to go back for more … right?

Well, we waited, we watched, and over the last three annums, we’ve trundled down every side street, back alley, bicycle lane, and flight of city steps the city has to offer, always looking, always searching. Days turned to weeks and months turned to years. But alas, that was it. The Midnight Montagier seemed to have saved it all up for a single epic go-down-swingin’ exorcism of every creative demon and each loose bit of visual ephemera to wash up on their desktop.

colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments hung on chain link fence
Bigelow Blvd. overpass, 2018
colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments hung on chain link fence
Bigelow Blvd. overpass, 2018

… until just last month.

Three years later the Montagier finally struck again! Why we didn’t run a piece on the collages at Bigelow back in 2018 still seems goofy, but perhaps the blogging gods knew there would be more to the story–we just needed to wait through a global coronavirus pandemic (Phase I, sigh) to get there.

Regardless, our old collage buddy returned–and in such dramatic fashion! In a similar kind of overnight secret art drop, new pieces arrived en masse across Lawrenceville’s utility poles, free publication boxes, and at least one mailbox early this August.

colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments attached to mailbox
Lawrenceville, 2021
colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments attached to utility pole
Lawrenceville, 2021

It took your author about two seconds to recognize the tell-tale blocky hodge-podge of colorful visual jetsam, this time glued to a utility pole on Butler Street. Other pieces were spotted in quick order–mostly along Butler Street, but also up the hill on Penn.

Several very rainy weeks on, the pieces are still holding up, if sun-faded and with some edge peeling. The style of collage is exactly the same, but the delivery mechanism has shifted ever so slightly. Gone are the big cardboard backings and loose zip-ties. These pieces are smaller, maybe 11×14–sized to curl around roughly a quarter of the big steel traffic signal poles–and glued or wheat-pasted directly to bare metal.

colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments attached to utility pole
Lawrenceville, 2021
colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments attached to utility pole
Lawrenceville, 2021

To The Midnight Montagier, Thank you for distributing your collections in such an exciting, egg-hunting, head-scratching way. For keeping the spirit of the street alive and coloring the world. For making the morning constitutional a mental exercise as well as physical. If you’d ever like to tell your side of the story, we’d love to connect. Until then, we’ll be looking out for you, at Midnight.

colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments attached to utility pole
Lawrenceville, 2021
colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments attached to utility pole
Lawrenceville, 2021
colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments attached to utility pole
Lawrenceville, 2021
colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments attached to utility pole
Lawrenceville, 2021
colorful collage of cartoon images, stickers, advertiments attached to utility pole
Lawrenceville, 2021

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Wigged-Out On Tumbleweave, Part 2

large mass of false hair on road surface
The Jellyfish, Hill District. One of the many species of tumbleweave we routinely see throughout metro Pittsburgh.

It is the fine excesses of life that make it worth living.

Richard Le Gallienne

Anyone who has lost something they thought was theirs forever finally comes to realize that nothing really belongs to them.

Paulo Coelho

There’s more to hair than real hair.

George Willard
sandy blond colored wig on road surface
The Mop Head. Lawrenceville
full head of hair including ponytail covered with road grit
The Baccala: head to tail and covered in salt. McKees Rocks

When last we considered Tumbleweave–the unique phenomenon of loose hair running buck wild throughout the city–it was to ponder the begged question What causes a person lose a full head of hair, all at once, right out in the street? Sadly, we’re no closer to achieving enlightenment on this (or any other) subject.

Still, the weave, wigs, braids, plugs, and other faux follicles keep a-tumblin’ and we’ll be the ones putting kickstands to pavement and taking the photographic evidence. Rest assured: as long as people are dropping hairdos on sidewalks, you’ve got a reliable proxy in the fourth estate to keep everyone honest.

braided ponytail on cracked cement
The Slithering Snake. Etna
section of black hair on black asphault
Black top on blacktop. The Knot. East Liberty

So this time around The Orbit is taking a more academic approach. The discarded, lost, stolen, or torn-from-their-roots heads of hair we find may have lived a dozen lives by the time they end up here–or maybe they’re freshly arrived from last night’s revelry–we just don’t know. Like stargazers of yore, we have the rare opportunity to look deep into their mesmerizingly-random shapes and placement, isolation and juxtaposition and speculate on how they got here and what their inkblot forms spark in the subconscious.

Science is built on the backs of its predecessors. Legions of well-intended scientists before us have attempted to categorize and classify nature; when that involves human behavior and the cut-loose coiffures within it, we’re dancing with the devil. Remember: it is only through spectacular failure that we may ultimately achieve sublime success. Let’s assume we’re in the early days of this particular journey.

Finally, if you’re out-and-about and spot a particularly nice ‘do drop or mop top at the street stop, tag us–we’d love to see what our readers are finding and what they see in them. Until then, we hope everyone is wigging-out in the best of ways.

single false eyelash still in its packaging
Leftover Lash of the One-Eyed Lady, Hill District
dyed red hair braid on road surface
Don’t fear the red reaper: The Crimson Scythe. Strip District
section of fake hair on road surface
Aloha! The Hula Skirt. Lawrenceville
section of false hair on leaf-strewn ground
Surf’s up! The Crashing Wave. Lawrenceville
mass of hair on muddy sidewalk
Mudbound: The Fossil. Beltzhoover
small tuft of false hair on road surface
Fall fuzz: The Puffball. Oakland
section of false hair on leaf-strewn ground
Calling home: The Head with Antennae. Oakland
large mass of false hair among large roadside weeds
Tumbleweave in the weeds *or* knotweave: The Dead Poodle. Hill District
large mass of false hair in bicycle lane on city street
Bike Lane Roadkill. East Liberty [note the Orbitmobile sneaking in for a mise en scène cameo!]
small tuft of false hair on road surface
Like Bruce Willis, even tumbleweave takes Bigelow. The Gutter Other. North Oakland
false hair mixed with cigarette butts and other trash on weed-covered sidewalk
All butts, no ifs: The Garbage Collector. West Homestead
blue belt and clump of false hair on sidewalk
Still life in black and blue: The Tied-up-in-a-Bow. Strip District
long braid of false hair on street surface
Product placement: The Swoosh. Hill District
full head of hair covered with dry leaves on street
Who’s Sylvester? The Unmade Bed. Marshall-Shadeland
small tuft of false hair on road surface
It’s cicada season somewhere! The Cocoon. Bloomfield Bridge
small tuft of fuzzy false hair on sidewalk surface
Late night fuzz: The UFO. Strip District
plastic doll's hairdo with attached hair found on roadside
It’s come to this! Even dolls wig out. North Side
sandy blond colored wig on road surface
Under Pressure (Chemical): The Mop Head (again, in context). Lawrenceville

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: Stop Signs with Bonus Lines

stop sign with added sign reading "Call your mom," Pittsburgh, PA
STOP! Call your mom … unless you don’t get along with your mom and then maybe you should just keep on going. Altered stop sign, Bloomfield.

It is one of the more iconic images we see every day on nearly every corner in the built landscape. Bold, red, and shaped into a perfect octagon, outlined with a white border, the sign has the simple, impossible-to-misconstrue message: STOP.

But, as these things go, they don’t always carry only that text. Pranksters and jokesters, the graffiti-addled and social justice-minded have taken the (traffic) law into their own hands hither and yon. Their doctored stop signs take the familiar to the absurd and hopefully give us a laugh or a ponderable notion while we apply the brakes and look both ways.

Stop sign alterations are so common that mass-produced white-on-red stickers are available for just this purpose. We included a couple examples of these (see STOP the Trump Kleptocracy and STOP elder neglect, below), but The Orbit generally considers these “corporate sign-jacking” that isn’t nearly as interesting as the bespoke variety.

There’s really not much more to say on this topic, so now we’re just going to …

stop sign altered to read "Stop in the name of love"
A supreme alteration. STOP! In the name of love I. Highland Park
stop sign with letters added reading "in the name of love," Pittsburgh, PA
Think it over. STOP! In the name of love II. Bloomfield [note the bonus protractor]
stop sign altered to read "Don't Stop Believing"
Every Journey has to stop somewhere. Don’t STOP Believing. Lawrenceville
stop sign with graffiti addition of "the pig," Pittsburgh, PA
STOP the pig. Just one pig, though. Friendship
stop sign altered to read "Stop Rad City"
Where is Rad City and why do we need to stop it? STOP Rad City. Friendship
stop ahead sign with added extra sign reading "free range children"
STOP (ahead): free range children, Shadyside
stop sign with added sticker to read "Stop elder neglect"
STOP elder neglect. Spring Garden
stop sign altered to read "Please stop Trump"
Done, sort of. Please STOP Trump. Homestead
stop sign with added sticker to read "Stop the Trump kleptocracy"
STOP the Trump kleptocracy. North Side
stop sign altered to read "Stop killing"
Less killing, more living. STOP killing. East Liberty
stop sign with added text "... hatin'"
Less hatin’, more lovin’. STOP hatin’! South Side
stop sign with added text "I love you"
STOP! I love you. We love you, too. Friendship

Let’s Put the X in Six: The Graphics of Coronavirus

stickers and sidewalk stencils marking 6 feet distances during coronavirus
Six feet by two feet: some of the ubiquitous six-foot social distance waiting markers found on sidewalks

One day this will all be over. With vaccines going into arms as we speak and new alternatives arriving from just-approved sources, it’s not that unrealistic to see a day in the near-ish future when we’ll be able to see friends again, to go out to theaters and rock-and-roll shows, to have the freedom to travel, throw a party, or just quaff a beverage at the tavern.

Along with this, it’s easy to predict “after times” celebratory events that ritualistically destroy the physical reminders of the year+ we’ve all lived in some level of coronavirus lockdown. Mass bonfires of face masks seem like the most obvious expression, but outworn sweatpants and pajamas, abandoned first novels and knitting projects are likely targets in the same group exorcism.

sidewalk stencils marking 6 feet distances during coronavirus
animal tracks

The collective scar on the nation’s forehead signifying the half a million (and counting) human lives lost will not be forgotten any time soon–nor should it. The shuttered storefronts of businesses of both the mom & pop and big box varieties will ultimately be rented to new merchants, but unswept sidewalks under For Lease signs will be with us for a while.

One of the most obvious visual elements of the coronavirus pandemic is the stencils applied to sidewalks, stickers on retail floors, and makeshift duct tape delineations to mark pedestrian traffic flow and spaced six-foot waiting points. These ubiquitous graphic additions to the landscape all popped up overnight early in the pandemic and then seemed frozen in time after this single application.

Despite the obvious advertisement for the incredible adhesive tenacity to survive a very snowy Pittsburgh winter, these markers are, by definition, temporary. When bars and restaurants are allowed to open at full capacity and mask orders are finally lifted, shop stewards will peel back the big round decals and scrape off the gaffer’s tape once and for all. [Pro tip: forget GameStop–invest in Goo Gone now!]

collage of six foot markers made from black tape on cement sidewalk
six feet/two tone

It is this moment when historians should be alert to these soon-to-disappear markers of a time we think we’ll never forget. Fear not: we will. Humans have famously lousy memory and we’re hardwired to move onto the next thing. Your author has been laughed-at for still using a five-year-old iPhone–you think this society is going to be thinking about six-foot distance markers in a few years? A new generation of Covid deniers will inevitably force the narrative that the whole thing was a collective fever dream. Heck, in ten years we’ll probably have no one left that can still bake sourdough bread.

collage of tape markings on sidewalk in multicolor duct tape
the colors of coronavirus
collage of Xs made with tape on sidewalks
let’s put the X in six
stickers and sidewalk stencils marking 6 feet distances during coronavirus
six feet [includes photo contributions from Michele Timon]
arrow made of black duct tape on cement sidewalk
this way out

When Orbit readers Alyssa Cammarata Chance and Michele Timon submitted photos of some of the big round floor decals we see all over, we first scoffed at these as “corporate coronavirus.” No, they’re neither as creative or interesting as original stencils, nor as randomly oddball as the tape directives. But with a little reflection and a whole lot more re-examination, they make for their own unique experience worth documenting. We’ve included the best of them here.

collection of coronavirus six feet distance markers on pavement
please stand here [includes photo contribution from Michele Timon]
collection of social distance markers on brick sidewalk
Condado Tacos: winner of corona-variety award [includes photo contribution from Alyssa Cammarata Chance]
collection of coronavirus social distancing decals on sidewalks and retail floors
and even more! [includes photo contributions from Alyssa Cammarata Chance, Lee Floyd, and Michele Timon]
coronavirus decal advertising hand washing
wash up!

Special thanks to The Orbit’s co-executive assistant to the mailroom intern Lee Floyd for suggesting this fascinating topic.

If you’ve got some good photos of six-foot separator markers–or anything that speaks to the last year in lockdown–let us know and maybe we can include it in a follow-up story.

Stamp Collecting: A Tale of Filbert, Falvo, Frank, and Ferrante

brass sidewalk plaque for G.H. Filbert, Pittsburgh, PA

“F” is for stamp collecting. Hundred-year-old(-ish) brass sidewalk plaque for mason G.H. Filbert, Shadyside

You’d think a person pounding greater Pittsburgh’s pavement, eyes glued to the surface in an intense review of its cracks and crevasses, would run out of new sidewalk inscriptions … eventually. But lucky for all of us, there is a lot of cement in the world.

So much so that after years of meticulous street-by-street inspection we can still regularly turn up absolute jewels in the field like that of G.H. Filbert’s big brass F (above) on a Shadyside cross street or the gorgeous compressed-lettering typeface of Falvo & Son’s stamp (below) on the same day, on the same block. That’s what makes this particular egg hunt so eternally rewarding.

sidewalk stamp for Falvo & Son, Pittsburgh, PA

Falvo & Son, Shadyside

What about the Putchs? Frank and Edward (father and son? or possibly brothers?) had their own sidewalk-pouring empire throughout the greater North Side. Sure, we had a pair of different Edward Putch stamps one of the times we did this, but he turns up here with yet a third variety of the stamp design, this time as E.W.

sidewalk stamp for E.W. Putch, Pittsburgh, PA

E.W. Putch (version #3), Marshall-Shadeland

One could cut the excitement around Chez Orbit with a knife when another Putch entered our lives in the form of the first-initial-only F. Now, usually Googling any of the names on these older stamps gets us exactly bupkis, but this time around we hit paydirt. The great online photo and map archive HistoricPittsburgh.org happens to have an August, 1918 photo of Frank Putch Stone & Concrete world headquarters on Brighton Road in Woods Run (see photo, below).

Don’t look for that little shack today–it’s long gone–but the three-story tavern/apartment building across the alley is still there and one imagines the ghosts of Putchs past still hoisting lagers after long days of building walkways in Perry Hilltop and Marshall-Shadeland.

sidewalk stamp for F. Putch, Pittsburgh, PA

F. Putch (#1), Marshall-Shadeland

sidewalk stamp for F. Putch, Pittsburgh, PA

F. Putch (#2), Perry Hilltop

photo of Frank Putch Stone and Concrete company, Pittsburgh, PA

Frank Putch Stone & Concrete, Brighton Road, Woods Run, c. 1918 (photo: HistoricPittsburgh.org)

After that, we’ve got a bunch of one-offs. These all count as rare breeds, deep cuts, and/or white whales. With the exception of the Ferrante brass plaque (we got his more pedestrian stamp in 2018), Luick & Sons (there are a couple variants of this one), Ricci & Ciotola (at least two of these exist in Bloomfield), and John Heubel (Erie isn’t really “in orbit” and therefore hasn’t gotten the full dragnet yet) the rest of these all amount to one and only one spotting anywhere.

brass sidewalk plaque of John Ferrante & Son, Pittsburgh, PA

John Ferrante & Son, Point Breeze

brass sidewalk plaque for John Heubel, Erie, PA

John Heubel, Erie

sidewalk stamp for A.B. Gray, Pittsburgh, PA

A.B. Gray, Lawrenceville

sidewalk stamp for Anthony Frank, Beaver, PA

Anthony Frank, Beaver

sidewalk stamp for Joseph Franceshini, Pittsburgh, PA

Joseph Franceshini, Lawrenceville

sidewalk stamp for Saccacione Cement Contractor, Pittsburgh, PA

Saccacione Cement Contractor, Bloomfield

sidewalk stamp for Riccla Ciotola, Pittsburgh, PA

Ricci & Ciotola, Bloomfield

sidewalk stamp for D. Dalia, Pittsburgh, PA

D. Dalia, Bloomfield

hand-written sidewalk stamp for Joe Palmiera, Pittsburgh

Joe Palmiera, Friendship

sidewalk stamp for Supreme Masonry, Pittsburgh, PA

Supreme Masonry/S. Dunkovich, Uptown

sidewalk stamp for Luick & Sons, Pittsburgh, PA

Luick & Sons, Lawrenceville

sidewalk stamp for Battaglia & Sons, Pittsburgh, PA

Battaglia & Sons, Shadyside

sidewalk stamp for Avelli Construction Crop., Beaver, PA

Avelli Construction Corp., Beaver

sidewalk stamp for R.C. Coccaro, Pittsburgh, PA

R.C. Coccaro, Friendship

heart-shaped sidewalk stamp from Allegheny Concrete Co.

Allegheny Concrete Co., Brighton Heights