Easter Special: You Can’t Make an Omelet Without Finding Some Eggs

baby doll painted gold and hanging from telephone wires, Pittsburgh, PA

Golden baby, Lawrenceville

Matched ceramic salt and pepper shakers, ruby glass, bobbleheads, Hummel figurines, cookie jars–people collect all kinds of goofy stuff. Bakelite AM radios, Santas, and state plates, World’s Fair trinkets and glass insulators from telegraph lines. David from our West Coast rival Portland Orbit has some unique collections: cans of knock-off Dr. Pepper, eyeglass stems found on the street, other peoples’ grocery lists.

Easter may come only once a year, but every day can be the Orbiteer’s figurative egg hunt–which is really just the primordial collecting impulse–and it doesn’t cost a penny or take up any room on your shelves. Spotting is a lifelong and year-round habit: take the alley, poke behind the bushes, look down at the pavement and up in the telephone wires. [Oh, Golden Babies, how we pray we haven’t seen the last of you!]

Today, whether you’re a committed church-going, brunch-eating Easter reveler or full-on dance-naked-by-the-bonfire pagan, we celebrate some of the Orbit‘s favorite any-time/all-year-long city egg hunt targets.

protractor glued to metal driving barrier, Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh protractor, Allegheny River Trail, Millvale

Pittsburgh Protractors are the easy money, chump change, fish-in-a-barrel of local urban collecting. In that way, though, they’re a great entry point–the gateway drug–to hardcore egg hunting. Either way, you have to respect the work of the protractor perpetrator(s) and we couldn’t not include the protractors in the list. There are just so damn many of the little plastic doo-dads glued all over the place that if you’re in bicycle-accessible city limits and keep your blinkers open, you’ll probably spot a few even if you’re not really trying.

ghost sign for "Arsenal Brand Meat Products" painted on side of brick building, Pittsburgh, PA

Ghost sign: Arsenal Brand Meat Products, Hill District

Sal’s MeatsHipCo BatteriesMother’s Best FlourOwl Cigar. Who are these vendors and what is the business arrangement that traded a (presumably) single payment into a long-after-life of marketing products that may no longer be purchased?

The hand-painted, brick wall advertising of yesteryear was all put out of business (we assume) by the arrival of big, purpose-built billboards with their larger display areas, darkness-defying flood lights, targeted sight lines, and monthly rates. That’s part of what makes so-called ghost signs so enjoyable for the egg hunter: it’s pretty obvious that there won’t be any more of them[1], and what’s left is often fading fast.

brass marker showing the 46.0 high water mark for the March 18, 1936 flood of downtown Pittsburgh, PA

1936 flood marker, Blvd. of the Allies, Downtown

Waaaay back when, the very first story committed to these virtual pages concerned a cryptic message painted around two faces of an old brick building in Manchester. That [SPOILER ALERT!] turned to be a marker for the most famous rising of the waters in Pittsburgh’s history–the 1936 St. Patrick’s Day flood.

We’ve found a handful more of them around downtown and on the North Side, but surprisingly few considering the immensity of the event and the age of our building stock. That just makes the hunt all that much sweeter when we zero in on previously unseen prey.

Mary statuette in homemade grotto, Pittsburgh, PA

Front yard Mary and grotto, Arlington

The blessed mother, hands spread with her palms open in a welcoming embrace or–far less often–the pietà image of Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus or holding the once-and-future as a baby [see above]. Whichever way we encounter the statuary, this is Front Yard Mary [even if she’s in the side or back yard] and we’ll take her any way we can get her.

There are so many Marys out there that we’ve got separate future features planned for South Oakland, Homestead, and the South Side Slopes (at least), which hardly makes Mary the most difficult egg to hunt. That said, this is ostensibly an Easter feature…

painting of woman with three eyes by Clohn Art, wheatpasted to wood, Pittsburgh, PA

Clohn Art, Downtown

Clohn Art is the nom de plume–or perhaps nom de paintbrush–of one John Lee, whose crude extra-eyed men, women, and animal paintings are executed on the placemats of Chinese restaurants and unfurled brown paper bags. They’re found wheatpasted at construction sites, alley walls, and, in at least one case, a rusty bus shelter in Homestead.

Wherever we happen to see the artist’s distinctive little paintings, they always pop off the wall surface and bring a twisted smile to our merely two-eyed faces. Mr. Lee declined The Orbit‘s request for a feature interview [John: we’re still interested!] so we’re left to troll the back streets, hoping to grab another of those rarest of eggs: a fresh, new Clohn to nestle in the wicker basket.

teddy bear and plastic flowers left on curbside, Pittsburgh, PA

Reasonably happy-looking sad toy, Fairywood

Like some mangy old teddy bear, dropped casually from a toddler’s stroller and forced to spend purgatory face-down in the weedy berm, Al Hoff brought the concept of “sad toys” into this blogger’s life and then cruelly left us by the side of the road to fend for ourselves.

Stuffed animals with their fur matted, flattened, and filthy; a basketball, punctured and concave in an oily culvert; doll parts dismembered and jettisoned like the work of a Lilliputian serial killer. So much pathos in such tiny candy-colored doses! It’s almost too much to bear…almost. But when we find them–and these are truly both the most random and the most reliable, renewable resource of today’s eggs–we can’t help but bag them.

outline of previously-existing "ghost house" against larger brick building, Pittsburgh, PA

Ghost house, North Side

Ghost houses–the imprint of one, now-extinct building upon its still-extant neighbor–is hardly a concept unique to Pittsburgh, but we’ve got the perfect environmental conditions to produce them here. Older building stock constructed right up against each other in a previous era when the density supported a pedestrian-based workforce, coupled with decades of “benign neglect” that demolished many–some falling all on their own–and landlords caring little about fixing-up the weird negative spaces on their vacant lot-facing windowless walls.

Like many of the other ova that occupy our oculi, ghost houses are special because–like a petrified forest, or the career of Steve Guttenberg–they’re the result of such a peculiar series of historic events, circumstances, and (non-)actions over a great period of time that we’ll likely not encounter the same perfect storm here again.

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

Clarence the Bird pole art, Bloomfield

With Clarence the Bird, the egg hunt changes parameters. Like picking up pawpaws, where there’s one of his handmade, ink-on-cardboard Make the World Beautiful instances, there tend to be a lot. Find a Clarence and you can safely spread out–looking up and down at the adjacent-blocks’ neighboring telephone poles and bulletin boards–and you’ll likely spot more.

So far [to our knowledge], Clarence has stuck to the greater Lawrenceville-Bloomfield-Garfield-Friendship portion of the East End, but that may just be where we’ve crossed paths with his big wings and pointy beak. I’m sure if we do see his trail elsewhere, we’ll see it everywhere.

poems of The Dirty Poet taped to a lamp post, Pittsburgh, PA

Poems of The Dirty Poet, Oakland

To call locating the telephone pole and street lamp verse of The Dirty Poet “egg hunt” material is a little bit of a stretch. His Dirtiness (yes: the writer is a he) wants the short, dittoed poems he authors to be read, after all. They’ve been taped and stapled at eye level on prominent foot traffic corners for just that purpose.

Regardless, it’s still neat to run across the prickly prose and lurid lines of the Bard of the Backstreets, knowing that one is literally standing in the creator’s footprints, inhaling his boozy breath, and shimmering in what’s left of his groovy vibes. To you, Whitman of the walkways, Dickinson of the downtown, Angelou of the who are you? may we always encounter your offspring sunny side up.

Toynbee Tile reading "Toynbee Idea in movie '2001' resurrect dead on planet Jupiter"

Toynbee Tile (no longer present), Downtown

It almost feels like cheating to include the so-called Toynbee Tiles in the list–we ran a feature on the House of Hades tiles just last week. But when you get lucky enough to spot one of the remaining, legit, first-generation street pieces, well, it’s a good day indeed.

As we reported, it is The Orbit‘s conclusion that none of these still exist in metro Pittsburgh and we’re left with a pair of ersatz Hell-bound tributes. But you never know! What does Easter–and, by association, spring–offer but the arrival of new hope, possibility, and opportunity. It is a new season: the sun is shining, birds are chirping, and flowers are popping with their tiny blasts of color across late winter’s gray-brown backdrop. Go out there and get you some eggs!


[1] There are, however, several efforts out there to restore/repaint old ghost signs as new mural projects. There’s a big one on Penn Avenue in Garfield and several in Braddock that we know of.

Street Beat: Who is the Dirty Poet?

Three of The Dirty Poet's poems taped to a light post, Pittsburgh, PA

In the wild: The Dirty Poet’s work where most people experience it

You’ve seen his work. At least, you have if you’ve loitered around any less-than-respectable tavern, coffee shop, or music venue in Pittsburgh’s East End over the last decade.

Xeroxed in small batches–usually two or three bite-sized poems at at time–cut down to vertical half pages, and taped to light poles, left on bulletin boards, and passed hand-to-hand (if you know who to talk to), The Dirty Poet is an old-school bard of the boroughs, a tale-teller of the tarmac. Like the clergyman preaching to drunkards on Skid Row, The Dirty Poet takes the mountain to Mohammed with that very deliberate pre-Internet mass communication, the flyer and handbill.

The Dirty Poet sits on a set of Pittsburgh city steps with his face hidden behind an open copy of his book

The Dirty Poet: his head is always in a book

The Dirty Poet, who spoke with Pittsburgh Orbit on condition of anonymity, claims he is the best read poet in Pittsburgh. Admittedly, this is probably not a high bar, but it would be difficult to name any competition for this title*. “People read these poems that would never read any other poetry,” says The Dirty Poet, and he’s right.

The work is taken out of the English department, out of the bookstores and coffee shop readings, hell, you don’t even have to enter a building–it’s right there on the sidewalk. One needn’t have a college degree or even a library card. [Spoiler alert: you do need to be able to read.] By taking the poems directly to the streets, taped up on light poles, it’s as populist and mass accessible as it could be. Whether he’s reaching people hungry for an unslaked thirst for verse or just bored and waiting for the bus, they’re all [OK, some of them] joining the revival in this tent.

Photocopy of "It's Always Sunny in New Brunswick" by The Dirty Poet, taped to a light pole, Pittsburgh, PA

The Dirty Poet has also been at this a long time. Writing his whole life, he began the practice of pairing his Xeroxed literature with the other gig flyers, ads for weight loss studies, and rock band stickers that litter the street some fifteen years ago. That’s more time than most poets have cumulatively spent in grad school, getting rejected by literary journals, and giving up writing entirely.

In our conversation, El Dirtero spoke with obvious pride about the many chance meetings he’s had with readers as he’s plied his trade on the pavement. “Guys in their twenties come up to me and tell me they’ve been reading me since they were teenagers,” the Dirty One says, “I think I speak to a universal feeling of alienation.”

The Dirty Poet sits on a jersey barrier with the graffiti "Your vulgarity is a virtue"

The Dirty Poet: vulgar, virtuous

But what of the poetry itself? It’s loose, personal, true, vulgar, cynical, sly, smart-alecky, profane, and, yes, possibly (but not usually) dirty. It also doesn’t rhyme and it’s definitely not for everyone. “I write poetry to process my experience,” the Soapless Shakespeare tells us. Subject matter ranges from the topical (politics, gun violence, race relations) to observational (hypocrites of all faiths and isms, technology dependence, media and mass culture) to many personal anecdotes of characters and experiences throughout his life. The Great Unwashed assures us these are all true.

Three poems by The Dirty Poet taped to a light pole on Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA

One final note: Pittsburgh Orbit was planning to reprint a couple of The Dirty Poet’s pieces here, but in the spirit of his work, we thought it only made sense to urge our readers to take the time, step outside, and check out the poetry where it lives, right on the streets of Pittsburgh. If you don’t see it, you’re not trying very hard. And if you don’t live around here, well, this is just one more reason to come pay us a visit**. The Dirty Poet will still be at it when you do.


* Billy Nardozzi, the “Chaucer of the Classifieds,” seems like the only legitimate competition for this title, but when you get into pay-to-play territory, the water gets muddied pretty quick.

** Those looking for a more substantial collection of The Dirty Poet’s work can find the collection Emergency Room Wrestling on Words Like Kudzu Press.