The Tasmanian Devil—all sinister fangs, seething anger, and whirling destruction—seems an odd candidate for the kind of precision work required for automotive repair. But there he is—crazy eyes, giant jaw agape, and squeezed tube of toothpaste body—clutching a box socket in one hand and a crescent wrench in the other on the brick wall of TNT Monster Mechanic in Beaver Falls.
Taz, as the popular Looney Tunes character is sometimes known, has a well-documented following that way outreaches the limited run of his original short cartoons. He’s a famously popular pop icon who exists in a sweet spot between lovable cartoon character and hyper-masculine bad boy who acts first and thinks … never. The podcast Decoder Ring did a terrific episode on tattoos that talked about Taz’ stranglehold on the upper arms of young men. Some of those biceps work on cars.
Auto repair shops are, almost always, structures of pure utilitarian economy. Typically constructed of brick or cinder block and lit by big fluorescent shop lights, they often contain no windows aside from what comes through the office door, garage openings, and the occasional glass block. This leaves a lot of exterior wall space available for decoration.
Most garages are as down-to-basics on the street-facing walls as the buildings that house them are plain … but not all of them. There is a particular phenomenon where mechanics have set down the wrench and picked up the paintbrush (or found others to do so) to elaborately advertise their businesses in ways both humorous and boastful, triumphant and goofy. These murals, 3-D painted cut-outs, and custom airbrush jobs all make up The Art of the Wheel.
Auto Repair artwork is a gift that just keeps giving. There seem to be piston-packing Picassos and revved-up Rembrandts just about everywhere people drive cars. If you’ve got a favorite we didn’t get to (this time), give us a holler and we’ll bag it for the inevitable sequel.
Until then, keep your foot on the gas and your eyes on the garage walls.
* The artwork for Henry’s feels like a clear homage to the over-the-top cartoon hot rod artwork of Ed “Big Daddy” “Rat Fink” Roth … but maybe it’s just coincidence.
** Yes, the mural for Auto Works, featuring the body of a 1960s Ford Mustang, does not include the chassis.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
It’s a striking image. Marija Stosic’s grave marker has deep-chiseled text that casts stark shadows in the day’s bright sunlight. The minimal epitaph, Ovoi počiva u miru bozjem, is—if Google Translate is to be believed—Croatian for Rest in the peace of God. Above, we see the familiar empty oval cutout where a ceramic portrait of Ms. Stosic would have been inset when the stone marker was first installed.
The design of the monument features a carved cross at the top with an image of Jesus in relief. Sometime over the last 94 years, the top has broken off leaving the Beloved Son not only crucified but bisected at the waist. Marija Stosic’s tombstone rests with another couple dozen (at least) fellow graves in a plot that’s now overgrown with the kind of scrubby barbs that will make this place difficult to negotiate by the time spring returns.
To be honest, we didn’t think Loretto Cemetery would produce another Orbit story. Our two-parter, from way back in 2016, on Loretto’s fine collection of pre-war photo graves and the ones that just about slipped away seemed like all we’d be able to squeeze out of such a small memorial park.
This time though, with a return trip on a lovely full sun midwinter day, we went all the way to the back and the bottom. The cemetery has an L-shaped extension that reaches down the hillside and runs out where the closely-clipped grass meets untamed snags and prickly bushes … but the cemetery doesn’t actually end there.
Come springtime, it’s unlikely anyone would even have the sight lines into this extra, lost, forgotten—take your pick—section of the cemetery. We imagine the winter’s long grasses and denuded vinery will produce the same sort of thick greenery that envelopes every square inch of untended, asphalt-free Pittsburgh making this parcel all but invisible to Loretto’s visitors.
The obvious question: why did this section of the cemetery—a plot maybe a few acres large, containing grave markers almost entirely with Croatian names, deceased in the 1920s and ’30s—stop receiving the care the rest of the park has? In lieu of any real journalism, we’re left to speculate.
Theory 1: Cost savings for the cemetery. The geography of the hillside is just too severe and Loretto’s management decided they couldn’t justify the expense of sending their grounds crew into an untamable wild to tend a set of grave markers so old they rarely—if ever—receive family members.
Theory 2: This was never a part of Loretto and instead it was a separate, independent cemetery. We find these tiny cemeteries—often associated with a particular church, faith, or national origin—all over the place. They’re also often immediately adjacent to larger cemeteries. Perhaps the Hilltop’s Croatian community purchased or sub-leased this plot of land back in the 1920s with their own maintenance agreements that Loretto is not responsible for.
A wander through the cemetery—any cemetery—always brings up questions of permanence. Grave markers—cut from granite, weighing hundreds of pounds, placed on land with this specific purpose—carry the unrealistic expectation that they will exist in this state forever. But we know it ain’t going to play out like that.
In our previous story on Loretto’s photo graves we discuss the irony that some of the ceramic photos on grave markers have outlived the carved text, such that we don’t even know the names of people whose images we still have—and it’s been less than a hundred years.
Loretto’s forgotten cemetery takes that and says hold my beer. You’re not even guaranteed a reasonable way for visitors to access your plot—and it may have been that way for decades.
You’re still reading this? The rambling rarely stops, but here we are.
If you do want to check out Loretto’s forgotten cemetery, we recommend doing it before the poison ivy, viney overgrowth, and legit jaggerbushes come back to life.
* That should be something like Here rests the forgotten cemetery.
On the day the photo was taken—the burning sun high in a cloudless sky, light shimmering in the sweltering heat—twin pointed peaks glimmer on a horizon of mysterious black obelisks. In the haze of midsummer’s full, drenching humidity, it seems we must have been transported thousands of miles away and centuries back in time.
Of course, what’s really going here is far more prosaic. The vision of Egypt’s great pyramids is but a wishful hallucination in the blur of summer sun and the deceitful dual sheet metal roofline of General Tire Service’s big building on Smallman Street.
On this of all days, however—February twenty-two, twenty twenty-two (2/22/22)—the photograph takes on new life as a daily double. It’s not alone, this twofer, this double from another rubble: a couple memorialized in a ceramic grave photograph, two stencils of a cartoonish astronaut flashing us the OK sign, a pair of broken plastic Christmas candles left out as a matching set for someone … who doesn’t know it yet, but they’ve arrived at their daily double.
The double gooses (not “geese”) of 46th Street have long donned their gay apparel—for Christmas, yes, but other prominent holidays too. On this day, however, what great fortune—as if God herself was dealing Jacks or better on a blanket by the stairs—to locate a second double goose up on Penn Avenue just as we’re headed to press. These (plastic) feathered fellows have already gone green in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day (we assume?), but the camo Army fatigues suggest they may be doing double-duty (ha!) serving up through Memorial Day, too.
However you celebrate this very literal once in a lifetime occurrence of numerological planets in alignment, know that while a couple may give you trouble and twins may do you in, there’s still time to double down on a second chance. Don’t think twice, it’s alright.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Sweet Jesus! How much more can we say on the evergreen topic of Pittsburgh’s downtown skyline getting stylized, abstracted, and turned into commercial art? If we didn’t run out of things in last week’s post (about murals), then we most certainly did if you go back to the previous eight editions of skyline roundup preceding it.
Finding skylines out in the wild and collecting photographs of their many representations is still a labor of love slash limitless egg hunt. Writing about them—again—is like describing the contents of one’s sock drawer. There’s just not that much (more) to say.
So we’ll keep this extra short and get you onto what Orbit faithful have been pining for: graphic representations of downtown Pittsburgh on food trucks and banks, law offices and pizza boxes. Keep warm, be safe, and look up.
Tall towers thrust skyward into a night sky lit up in aurora borealis-like technicolor fantasia. The buildings, black in darkness but each lit from hundreds of glowing window insets, cant in wild directions with the hyperextended angularity of so much German expressionism.
The painting covers a full exterior wall on a little building on Gist Street, Uptown. Whether or not it’s supposed to represent downtown Pittsburgh is questionable, but with the spiky spires of PPG Tower clear in the foreground the mural must at least be inspired by its host city.
Like tribbles, vape shops, and yes, Omicron cases, art and design representations of downtown Pittsburgh’s skyline seem to mutate and regenerate at an exponential rate. Why this, our ninthstory on the subject, had so many new skylines collected in just the last few months that we’re breaking the recent arrivals into two parts.
This then is Part 1: Let’s talk about murals where we get down with original artistic creations painted directly to brick, cinderblock, and plaster (plus one “outside art” painting). Next week, we’ll be back with Part 2: Designs, Signs, and Outlines.
Until then, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the skyline.
“A gallery for all,” declares artist Kirsten Ervin. That mission, inspired by Mayor Gainey’s pledge to make Pittsburgh a city for all, is one of the guiding principals behind the city’s newest, tiniest, and Covid-accessible…est art spaces.
The Silver Apple Gallery, located on Main Street in Lawrenceville, is a project of Ms. Ervin (aka Ms. Orbit) and yours truly. It has but a few cubic feet of display space, parking may be scarce, and don’t count on filling up on hors d’oeuvres at openings, but there’s a lot we can do with this little addition to the art scene.
We plan on running the gallery in two modes, alternating month-to-month—but don’t hold us to that; we’re still making this up as we go along.
On the odd-numbered months (January, March, etc.) the space will operate as a little free art gallery. It will remain unlocked and available for artists to drop off their work to show and give away. (Just, please, keep it community-friendly: nothing depicting violence, hate, or overly-sexual.) Like little free libraries, passers-by, collectors, and fellow artists are encouraged to take a piece of art if one speaks to them.
On the even months, we’ll turn the space into a full-on tiny art gallery. These will have dedicated shows by individual artists, created for the unique environment. Silver Apple, uh, staff will assist in the hanging, presentation, and lighting the shows. During this time, the gallery will be locked and artists have the option to sell their work directly to those interested. In the Art All Night model, this exchange will be entirely between seller and buyer—The Silver Apple will neither charge a fee nor take a commission.
In February, we’ll be hosting the first individual two-week shows by artists Suzanne Werder (Feb. 1-14) and Ricardo Solis (Feb. 15-28). If you’re an artist who’d like to show at The Silver Apple in the future, either get in touch with us through our Instagram account (@silverapplegallery) or here at the Orbit. When it becomes virologically safe to do so, maybe we’ll even have some little openings on the front porch.
“We want The Silver Apple to be accessible, fun, and delightful,” Ervin says, “Hopefully, for people that just stumble across it, the gallery will lift their days. This is our gift to the community and ourselves.”
So please, if you find yourself somewhere around Lawrenceville, stop by, take a peek at what’s in the gallery (it changes every day!), and bring a dog biscuit for Halo, the husky next door.
Silver Apple Gallery is located at 255 Main Street, Central Lawrenceville. Hopefully it will contain something interesting every day of the year, but it may be a little hard to see after dark. To keep up with goings-on at The Silver Apple, we recommend following our Instagram account: @silverapplegallery.
Patrick Kenzie is tough private investigator from the mean streets of south Boston. He drinks too much, isn’t afraid to take a punch to the nose, and grew up with a “hero” fire fighter for a father who liked to knock him and his mother around.
Kensie and his partner have taken a case from some back room-dealing politicians that will lead them from fancy downtown Boston to cop bars, rundown mill towns, and burned-out ganglands in an action/suspense-filled journey that, you guessed it, will see more twists and turns than a shore-leave midshipman with a stack of dollar bills in his pocket.
Shakespeare, it ain’t. Dennis Lehane’s A Drink Before the War (1994) is full of clichés and develops its characters just enough for us to not really care about them. But its brutal honesty about the way race and class color greater Boston’s poorer boroughs was an impressive subtext to this otherwise standard-issue genre story.
Despite its dubious literary merits, the book was a completely enjoyable—if, I’m sure, ultimately forgettable—potboiler that read just fine with one’s feet up by the fire on a weekend retreat to the Laurel Highlands. Inside the paperback’s front cover, an after-market rubber stamp informs readers This book visited the Fisk Street Little Free Library.
At this time last year we were all neck-deep into coronavirus lockdown, mach I. If you’ll recall, the entire Carnegie Library system was inaccessible for some time. When it opened again, it was with a phased approach that first included a strict no-browsing/request books online/contact-free pickup approach.
That all makes perfect sense and your author applauds everyone at CLP for everything they did to make the full catalog available as soon as possible … but it’s just not the same. One wants to go into the library, poke around, allow the displays of new titles and seasonal picks to catch the eye, let some kismet have a chance to drop something unexpected into our hands and inject it into the brain.
It was under these circumstances that the now-omnipresent little free libraries (LFLs) really started to make sense. I had seen them all over—everyone has seen them all over, they’re everywhere!—but never gave the libraries much time or deep catalog consideration.
And then suddenly, these same little free libraries were the only libraries available. At some point in 2020, this blogger found himself poking more, bringing a few titles home, and contributing already-consumed books to replace the ones borrowed.
As a new year’s resolution (for 2021), I decided to dedicate the year’s book-reading entirely to items found randomly at whatever little free libraries I happened to stumble upon.
The year started with bang—or maybe with dessert. The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King (2012) is Rich Cohen’s amazing history of how Sam Zemurray, a Russian immigrant to the American South, hussled his way into becoming the don of big fruit and transformed (physically, agriculturally, and politically) much of Central America in the process. This includes, among other things, inciting a war in Honduras.
Zemurray is an amazing (true life) character, but the history of how bananas came to, and took over, America (at least, where fruit is concerned) is truly riveting. I went from thinking of bananas as a pleasant enough year-round option for my morning yogurt to imagining them the way visitors to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair or immigrants arriving at Ellis Island first experienced them. Recommended … although I don’t think it’s still available at the 37th Street LFL where I both checked it out and returned it.
If you could hang with A Visit from the Goon Squad‘s non-traditional narrative, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (2012) took the same unorthodox approach on the page, but wrapped it in an engrossing—and legit laugh-out-loud—tragi-comic skewering of modern tech yuppies slash pull-at-your-heartstrings family drama. Yes, it’s “now a major motion picture,” but trust me: read the book; skip the movie.
Harold Robbins’ The Betsy(1971) marries the ambitious world of automotive innovation with enough male fantasy soft-core sleaze to keep the motor running and the pages turning. Robbins’, it turns out, is still the highest-selling American author of all time—a fact that’s hard to believe. Read The Betsy and the reality that those superlatives rarely match artistic merit is made all too clear, but this reader has no regrets.
In-between, there was some British detective novel; one from Oprah’s Book Club; a suspense novel set in Weimar Berlin with a plot about ex-pats attempting to locate the last heir to the Romanov dynasty—I should have kept a list.
But this isn’t a book review site or even a book review post. Today, we’re just trying to appreciate the loving acts of community that are the creation of little free libraries … and little free pantries, community resource centers, art galleries, and everything else people offer up as gifts to their neighbors, visitors, and random passers-by.
If you host a little free somethingorother, hats off to you [side note: we’d love to hear about the experience]; if you “check out” materials provided from them, hopefully they’ve brightened your days. They have mine—so much so that we’re installing one at Chez Orbit. More about that later.
Until then, keep (or start!) reading, visit your neighborhood little free library, and have a happy new year.
 The history of where the books in little free libraries have been, and where they came from, would be really interesting. We encourage other LFL stewards to do something similar.
 The actual timeline is so foggy at this point, CLP may well have been fully open by January, 2021. Regardless, the experience of being without full access to the library during the first part of the pandemic was very real.