Pittsburgh is a blue city nestled in the red part of a purple state. A political bruise. Take, for example, the pizza place on Cypress Street with the sign high up on the side of it, a four-by-four poster that has a caricature of Hillary Clinton holding a megaphone and yelling all aboard the Trump train. A week after it was put up — by the landlord of the building? The owner of the restaurant? A pizza-maker? — someone had launched something wet and gray and slimy at it, the remnants now a dark smear across the train and Hillary and dribbling down the building. I can only guess as to the contents of the projectile. A leaky bag of garbage, maybe? A torn bag of fresh dog shit? It’s impossible to say. The place also sells halal burgers. It says so, proudly, in the window, though I can’t attest to quality of the pizza or the meat.
The Nazi Garage
On my street, six blocks east, there’s a detached garage that people hang out in. Adults, near as I can tell. They huddle in there, smoke cigarettes, drink Buds, maybe work on their motorcycles. I’ve never stopped to ask them. But it seems cozy, at a glance. A little clubhouse, a fort. Let my eyes linger a moment — there, along the wall, a swastika. Two. Perhaps a third. Spray-painted on the concrete, red and messy and permanent. I walk by every other day. I tell myself they’re Buddhists. All of life is suffering.
Beneath the bridge over the Allegheny River, where the river splits to flow around Herr’s Island, there was an American flag spray-painted on the gray concrete base on the island side, on the opposite shore. Beneath it, in letters large enough for a passing boat to read, Make America Great Again. I think of what those stars and stripes and colors mean. The people who have died for it. The people who have been killed by people waving it. I walk on.
Another intrepid graffiti artist has since overwritten it. It now reads: Make America Gay Again. The stripes have become the colors of the rainbow. I think of people again. Of the murdered and the murdering. I walk on.
On the back of a stop sign around the corner from my apartment, a sticker: Wild Kindness Records. I look it up. A local record company. I don’t click any links on their page. The name reminds me of a Silver Jews song by that title. I don’t know if the local company had it in mind but I like the idea of some kindness out there, wild, roaming free.
The closest park to me used to be an armory, back in the civil war. It exploded in 1862. According to Wikipedia, 78 workers died, mostly women. Last year, while new apartments were rising nearby, the construction crew found cannonballs deep in the earth. They had to call in the bomb squad in case any were still active. The removal was a success. None went off.
I think of the story when I walk by the apartments, now finished, the latest wave of gentrification. They are in the increasingly common decoupage style, boxy buildings incorporating a broad mix of materials, with little decks facing the street and black metal siding. In the summer, I imagine the decks are unbearable, the breeze off the pavement hot as breath, the dark siding incendiary.
I cross the Bloomfield Bridge on occasion, on foot, as part of a longer loop to tire out my dog, from lower Lawrenceville to Polish Hill and back. The cars whiz by. Below, freight lines trundle along. Some days my dog wants to give up before we’ve crossed. Her paws are cooking on the sidewalk. The air is stale, heavy with exhaust. But, like a personal note of encouragement, there’s graffiti scrawled on the sidewalk near the center of the bridge. Wolf Pussy Luvs You. That’s nice, I think. To be loved. It feels like a random line plucked from the Wild Kindness. Later, at home, I look up Wolf Pussy. It can refer to very hairy vagina or the smoke that comes off when a mortar is fired. Lust or war.
I cross the bridge again, dog-less this time, on my way to work. The tag is still here, clear as before. Wolf Pussy still luvs us, despite it all. It looks like it’s written in chalk but, given the rain we’ve had, it can’t be. I pause on the bridge again and think about work, about special chalk, about what endures and what doesn’t. And I walk on. The cars rumble by beside me. The train bangs along below. This world is loud. Loud as howls, as artillery. As anything.
photo credit: Kent Kosack