Tin Can Pole Art, Part 2: A Date with Some Little Devils

tin can lid painted with sad devil and the words "She's gone", Pittsburgh, PA

Hell & Oates[1]: “She’s Gone”, Bloomfield

Farewell to all these smiling angels….I’ve got a date with some little devils.

That auspicious message, artfully paint-penned to the cut lid of a large-size steel can, is nailed to a wooden utility pole on South Aiken Ave. in Friendship. Immediately above it appears one half of another can lid, cocked upright, suggesting a single bunny ear–its mate either removed after-the-fact or just never made it to the pole the first time.

However nutty this inscription might seem, little devils are absolutely on the loose in the greater East End. And while pious Christians worry about getting right with God or facing Lucifer’s pitchfork in the keister for all eternity, the city’s devils clearly have their own concerns to stress over. Indeed, the red one appears on a couple different poles both broken-hearted and teary-eyed.

steel can metal painted and nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

“Farewell to all these smiling angels….I’ve got a date with some little devils,” Friendship

She’s gone were the only two words Messrs. Oates and Hall really needed as shorthand to heartbreak–that, and close falsetto harmony over a slinky Fender Rhodes groove. Here, the simple message is a clue to the devil’s distress (above).

A cat-like devil has an inverted pink heart for a nose and a topsy-turvy screwed-up mouth (below, top). Those sad eyes may say just as much with no words at all. There’s one more teary-eyed devil, this time with cupid’s arrows literally piercing his visible heart (below, middle).

steel can painted with sad devil and nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

sad devil, Friendship

painting of devil with arrows piercing his chest, nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Friendship [photo: Susan Peake]

steel can metal painted and nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

“I try momma…”, Friendship

I try momma… implores a blue devil, rendered in stark silhouette and levitating an electric martini with one hand, the other raised in salutation (above). A different pole devil clutches the circle-A anarchy flag while waving to friends (below)–no doubt shopping for bargain Clancy’s chips at the nearby Aldi.

This same common imagery of devils, hearts, anarchy, and martini glasses showed up a couple times in our first story on tin can pole art earlier this year. These were clearly no coincidence as the themes get even more of a workout this time around.

metal can lid painted with devil holding anarchy flag nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

anarchy devil, Friendship

tin can lids painted and nailed to a utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

“So lost … pray for me, I’m down,” Garfield

Somebody needs to get this guy into therapy! Or maybe we all just need to be better friends to the devils we know. Whatever it is, she’s gone and the plea to appease momma aren’t the only cries for help on the city’s telephone poles.

So lost…pray for me, Mom, I’m down reads a Garfield alley two-fer (above); the simple message Struggle, along with a fire-dancing, heart-balancing devil, turns up on a nice, rust patina’d single-color piece in Shadyside (below).

small painting of devil with heart on tin can nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Struggle, Shadyside [photo: Lee Floyd]

While that’s a lot of devils clinging to East End telephone poles, they’re far from the only specimens in this tin can pole art roundup. We also spotted a number of other pieces with the same stylistic DNA as the devil-doer dealt–we’re talking about the tell-tale cryptic calligraphy, hearts, flowers, martinis, and anarchy.

BUT…[yes, there’s always a big but] there are some outliers in the collection, too. We’ve seen the swirling, psychedelic television/VCR combo scrawled on all sorts of walls and dumpsters, as well as turned into back-of-sign decals. But this nice, two-color paint can lid outside The Glitterbox Theater (below) feels like a giant leap forward–even if the perpetrator still can’t get his or her mind off the TV.

tin can lid painted with TV and nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

North Oakland

steel can with painting nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

“I try to stop…and smell the flowers (in life too),” East Liberty

steel can metal painted and nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

“My worst enemy has always been time, 2001,” Friendship

tin can lid painted with abstract face and nailed to telephone pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Garfield

can lid painting of flower with crying face, Pittsburgh, PA

sad flower face, Bloomfield

tin can lid painted with the message "It's all I know", Pittsburgh, PA

“It’s all I know,” Bloomfield

tin can lid painted with indecipherable image and nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Shadyside [photo: Lee Floyd]

tin can painted and nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Shadyside (partial) [photo: Lee Floyd]

While asking one’s mother for her prayers may or may not be common practice, doing so via painted kitchen tool on side-street telephone pole seems an especially unlikely way to share one’s feelings.

As if parenting weren’t difficult enough, kids are always coming up with new ways to communicate. First SnapChat, now GreatChee. “How’s our youth doing, honey?” We imagine a clueless Dad asking, “Why, not so good,” the response from Mom, “Haven’t you checked East Liberty for cheese graters?”

painted cheese grater nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

cheese grater pole art! “Mom – pray for me”, East Liberty

There are also a couple more of these giant, five-gallon driveway sealant drum lids, tagged-up and screwed-into poles/trees along Spring Hill city steps. The pair clearly begs for a deeper investigation of the neighborhood’s walkways as we’re guessing these aren’t the only two out there[2].

steel can lid painted and attached to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

“I am home 16” / “free Rakan” / “R.I.P. Syzer”, Spring Hill

large metal can lid painted and nailed to a tree, Pittsburgh, PA

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Basin Street steps, Spring Garden/Troy Hill

Finally, a couple pieces that are absolutely metal and pole art, but don’t have their material origin in discarded soup cans. They’re a little off-topic, but we’re not going to sit on these waiting for a collection of stray non-tin can-but-still-metal pole art.

The triptych of embossed blank verse into sheet metal that hangs on a Harriet Street utility pole (below, top) gets high marks for its innovation in the genre, but the execution feels a little, you know, “smoke a little dope, skip a little rope”… but maybe this blogger just doesn’t get it, man.

Similarly, A boy from Frankford… (below, bottom) really feels like somebody who doesn’t know what he’s trying to do. Then again, I guess he says it right there: like anyone in the tin can pole art game, this “boy” is just trying to find his way.

metal sheets stamped with words and painted, nailed to utility pole in Pittsburgh, PA

Friendship

metal sheet painted, lettered, and screwed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

“a boy from Frankford … trying to find his way,” Spring Hill

Thanks to Susan Peake for tipping us off to a number of the Friendship pieces and co-assistant cub reporter Lee Floyd for his work in Shadyside.


[1] Thank you, Chris Caldwell.
[2] Greater Spring Hill: if you spot more of these, let us know!

Birdwatching, Clarence the Bird Watching

Clarence the Bird artwork stapled to wood covering empty storefront, Pittsburgh, PA

Penn Avenue, Garfield

Traditional birdwatching likely takes place at a more inviting season. Not only is it nicer for the spectator to be outside in a warmer, drier climate–one filled with the bright colors and in-bloom flora of the other three-quarters of the year–but (we assume) there simply must be a lot more birds to look at.

This blogger imagines typical northern birders–just like baseball fans–consider winter the long dark off-season. Weather and the absence of fowl require avian fanciers to temporarily retire binoculars and sun visors, instead spending their time curled up by the fireplace leafing through back copies of Birder’s World magazine and plotting strategies to snare an up-close photo of the green-winged teal, surf scoter, or greater white-fronted goose when the season turns.

Clarence the Bird artwork stapled to empty storefront, Pittsburgh, PA

Penn Avenue, Garfield

Clarence the Bird artwork stapled to telephone pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Friendship Avenue, Friendship

So it’s a right fine unexpected treat to spot the friendly face and outstretched, oversized wings of Clarence the Bird peering back at you as a fellow makes his or her rounds throughout the day. There he is, tacked to a telephone pole on a residential throughway and mingling with the high-minded street art on Penn Avenue.

For the most part, we didn’t get too close. Not wanting to scare poor Clarence out from his various perches, we caught him here in the wild, hiding amongst the traffic signs, crumbling plaster, and effluvia of street handbills and stray graffiti.

Clarence the Bird artwork stapled to former storefront, Pittsburgh, PA

Penn Avenue, Garfield

cardboard sign with pen drawing of a bird and the text "Clarence the Bird...", Pittsburgh, PA

Main Street, Lawrenceville

This blogger knows what you’re thinking: Someone sure missed the memo on that whole flying south for the winter thing, right?

Certainly, even in these darkest, gloomiest, and most dreary of days, Clarence the Bird eschewed a sun-filled January of jello shots in Daytona Beach or working up a savage tan in Belize to instead rest his wings right here at home in the East End. Whether Clarence is a loyal Steeler fan hoping for the best in the playoffs or just too lazy to make the trip south, we don’t know. Either way, we’re betting he’s regretting that decision right about now. That said, The Orbit is selfishly very happy he stuck around.

Clarence the Bird artwork stapled to telephone pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Penn Avenue, Garfield

cardboard "Clarence the Bird ... Make the World Beautiful" artwork stapled to telephone pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Friendship Avenue, Friendship

Like the Pittsburgh protractors–or men wearing Zubaz–once you start looking out for Clarence, he’s everywhere. On cardboard with crude Sharpie and in fine lines on card stock and curlicues, Clarence gets around. This most urban of avian creatures loves to nest in the protective plywood covering abandoned store fronts on Penn Avenue, mingling with wheat pasted street art and course slurred graffiti. On one Main Street pole, Clarence isn’t even present but has left us a bold-faced title card with his name followed by a tantalizing ellipsis begging the question where is Clarence the Bird and what is he up to?

Clarence the Bird artwork among collage on empty storefront, Pittsburgh, PA

Penn Avenue, Garfield

cardboard sign with the words "Clarence the Bird..." stapled to telephone pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Main Street, Lawrenceville

The last time we crossed paths with Mr. The Bird he was urging us to Make the World Beautiful in three of four consecutive Butler Street telephone pole hang-outs. After migrating up the hill to greater Garfield/Friendship*, Clarence seems to have both cloned himself many times over and abandoned the explicit message almost entirely. [The one photo included above is the only exception we spotted.]

While this blogger still agrees with the sentiment–and misses Clarence’s fine calligraphy in the inscription–it’s safe to say that actions speak louder than words and Clarence is out there doing his best to decorate the landscape without ever having to brag about it. You go, bird!

Clarence the Bird artwork stapled to info kiosk, Pittsburgh, PA

Fourth Presbyterian Church, Friendship

Clarence the Bird artwork stapled to info kiosk, Pittsburgh, PA

Fourth Presbyterian Church, Friendship (detail)


* The way Lawrenceville rents are going, we can’t blame the guy.

More Golden Babies! [or] A Golden Baby Boom!

Golden baby hanging from power lines, Pittsburgh, PA

Off-kilter: Golden Baby #3 (aka “Butler Baby”)

It started innocently enough. That is, if a baby doll, its flesh painted gold and wearing a white onesie, suspended by a wire on its ankle and dangling upside down from a set of power lines counts as “innocent.” A couple weeks ago The Orbit spotted golden baby #1 near the corner of Penn and Main Streets, roughly in front of Constellation Coffee in Lawrenceville. We wrote about our amused and bemused impressions of it in these very annals. It was a fun little piece of street art (?) or possibly a goofy prank (??)–maybe a little bit of both–but that seemed like the last we’d hear from the golden dangling baby.

Then the tips started rolling in. First, reader Meredith reported a second golden baby, strung in the same manner, farther up Penn Avenue, at the corner of Winebiddle Street–she even included a photo. Another golden baby? we thought–we hoped–we fantasized. Where there’s two, there’s got to be more! Everyone knows that golden babies don’t arrive in pairs!

Golden baby hanging from power line, Pittsburgh, PA

Look out below: Golden Baby #2 (aka “Winebiddle Baby”)

As a gloomy daylight broke over that first post-tip Saturday, this blogger took the bicycle on a chilly mission to cruise Penn Avenue in search of other babies–golden or otherwise. From 40th Street all the way to East Liberty we went–slowly, block-by-block, eyes in the wires–scanning for lofty abandoned newborns. Stop honking you jagoffs! I’m reporting here! We found the little lost soul Meredith had tipped us to and snapped some pictures, but that was it. Otherwise: bupkis.

This one had a marked difference from Constellation Baby, though. Not in appearance–the size, shape, gold paint, white onesie–heck, even the unclipped tag–were identical. No, Winebiddle Baby just looked a lot easier to install. First of all, he’s mere feet from the second-floor fire escape of the brick building on Penn. Anyone with access could easily hang this baby right off the landing. Second, the power line is much closer to the ground than Constellation Baby’s. The perpetrator didn’t even have to get up on the fire escape–he or she could have just stood on the roof of a car–or set up a stepladder–to reach the low wire.

Golden baby hanging from power line near brick building with fire escape, Pittsburgh, PA

Winebiddle Baby [note the easy access from the fire escape]

Two golden babies found, but the trail had gone cold. That is, until we happened to run into reader John one cold morning on the 93A heading to Oakland. Imagine this blogger’s eyeballs ka-boinging out of their sockets as John casually dropped the news “you know there’s another one of those golden babies down on Butler Street, right?”

No, John, we didn’t! And it’s lucky it snowed or my ass would have been on the shoe leather express frustrated that only two golden babies have been found instead of riding this bus talking to you! This is why tip lines exist!

Golden baby hanging from power lines, Pittsburgh, PA

Hang in there, Butler Baby!

John’s willingness to come forward with evidence may be suspect, but his information is spot-on. Right there, in the wires above the 5300 block of Butler, dangles golden baby #3–and what a beauty she is! Glistening in an impossibly perfect deep blue January sky, gracefully spinning in the softest of breezes, Butler Baby is at peace with the world. Content to let the afternoon sunlight illuminate her golden skin, impervious to the cold weather, she’s lifted, weightless, and totally blissed-out. If only she’d let us know if–and where–she has more golden siblings similarly drifting through the ether.

Lackzoom Acidophilus

Terra cotta facade storefront in Pittsburgh with the engraved names Lackzoom and Acidophilus

5438 Penn Ave: Lackzoom Acidophilus

I must have passed it a thousand times or more.  Certainly I’d noticed the white terra cotta facade and its odd trapezoidal shape, canted in such a way that it doesn’t quite align with the street, like a mis-set bone.

But it wasn’t until very recently that I happened to actually look up and take in the detail above the doorway/windows.  Two names (?) permanently formed into the ceramic tile that read like ancient runes, some hep jazzcat jive, or a preposterous stage name: Lackzoom Acidophilus.

The small, two-story building at 5438 Penn Avenue turns out to have been the one-time laboratory and corporate headquarters for the lineal parent of the General Nutrition Corporation (or GNC), the Pittsburgh-based retail giant that made a fortune over the last half century urging America to “Live Well” vis-a-vis shopping and popping (malls and pills, respectively).

Terra cotta tile reading "Lackzoom"

It’s no surprise that I’m not the only one to ever spot this curious storefront, but there’s remarkably little information out there on it.  The definitive piece seems to be a short Western Pennsylvania History Magazine article written in 2003 by Chris Potter.

Potter’s story details David Shakarian, founder of GNC, whose:

… Armenian parents ran a business called “Lackzoom” which sold yogurt, buttermilk, and Bulgarian acidophilus–milk fortified with the bacteria lactobacillus acidophilus to intestinal bacteria that make digesting milk difficult for some.

Apparently the original Lackzoom never survived The Great Depression, but Shakarian would go on to found his own health food store, and eventually the GNC chain. In 1983, the year before his death, Shakarian was named by Forbes magazine as the wealthiest Pittsburgher on their annual list. Live well, indeed.

Pittsburgh ghost sign reading "Lackzoom and Acidophilus"

Ghost sign, obscured by flora: “Lackzoom and Acidophilus”