bob knows

Every once in a while you’re sitting around nursing your grudges and you switch on the damn radio and the perfect song comes on…..

You got a lotta nerve to say you are my friend
When I was down, you just stood there grinning
You got a lotta nerve to say you gotta helping hand to lend
You just want to be on the side that’s winning

You say I let you down, you know it’s not like that
If you’re so hurt why then don’t you show it?
You say you lost your faith, but that’s not where it’s at
You have no faith to lose and you know it

I know the reason that you talk behind my back
I used to be among the crowd you’re in with
Do you take me for such a fool to think I’d make contact
With the one who tries to hide what she don’t know to begin with?

You see me on the street, you always act surprised
You say, “How are you? Good luck,” but you don’t mean it
When you know as well as me you’d rather see me paralyzed
Why don’t you just come out once and scream it?

No, I do not feel that good when I see the heartbreaks you embrace
If I was a master thief perhaps I’d rob them
And now I know you’re dissatisfied with your position and your place
Don’t you understand, it’s not my problem

I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment, I could be you
Yes, I wish that for just one time, you could stand inside my shoes
You’d know what a drag it is to see you

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The mysterious other video from a local business is good enough for the CPRB

From the Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh’s Citizen Police Review Board this week found allegations that an officer improperly handled a woman’s arrest at PrideFest “unsustained.”

Executive director Elizabeth Pittinger noted that video from a nearby business showed that Ariel Lawther, then 19 of Harmony, contributed to the confrontation that led to her arrest and also that the video was most consistent with the statements of Officer Souroth Chatterji, who wrote in an affidavit that he tried to intervene and was struck by Ms. Lawther.

I wouldn’t mind seeing the other video, however I trust the CPRB’s analysis. The way the OMI has been secretive about this evidence doesn’t exactly set a comforting precedent.

Andrew Zimmerman from the Pittsburgh City Paper has written extensively on this issue.

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Thought it was time to clean the slate again

New year and all.  I’m keeping up some articles I put the most effort into, as well as a link one of those projects I started but never stuck with, called the Penn Avenue Journal.




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Beating Back Progress on the Pennsyltucky Streets

A pristine June day, downtown the streets decorated with rainbows, an arts festival at the Point. Pittsburghers are celebrating in the wake of the historic legalization of same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania via a beautifully scripted decision from an unlikely source, Bush-appointed U.S. District Court Judge John Jones III (the WASPiest name ever), in which he concluded, “We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.” Mayor Bill Peduto marched proudly in his official black robe, behind newlywed same-sex couples he had the honor of legally marrying that morning. KDKA-TV did a cute piece on it, and it’s about as mind blowing as the moon landing, for those of us born early enough, to see the media treat gay people as human beings worthy of respect, or anything other than criminal perverts who hang out in seedy bars (no offense to the criminal-perverts-who-hang-out-in-seedy-bars community, of which I am a proud member, or CPWHOISBs as we prefer to be acronymed). The news segment ended with a quote from a well dressed, smiling middle-aged man: “Freedom. Freedom and liberty, you don’t have to hide and run anymore.”

It was an emotional and historic event for both the gay and sane communities of the city. For the new mayor, it was a moment to officially usher in a welcoming, progressive New Pittsburgh, all a part of his agenda to attract new residents and develop some semblance of a working economy in a city plagued by decades of greased palms, looting of public funds, bonehead decisions, and a greedy land-hogging tax-exempt healthcare empire. Along with the robe we can imagine Bill with a torch and crown, dressed in drag as the Statue of Liberty, lifting his lamp beside the Golden Triangle, his voice echoing out to the hills and river valleys… “Give me your same-sex couples, your immigrants, your manufacturers, your filmmakers. We got all the tired and poor we need, no offense.”

That evening free concerts were held within ten blocks of each other downtown. I was in a theater on the South Side that night, celebrating the life of a musician who had passed at a fundraiser for his family, his friends all around and in good spirits. The Rex was a respite from the weekly bacchanal of stupidity going on all around it.

June 15, 2014 was one of those beautiful Pittsburgh days when you’d rather be nowhere else in the world.

Ahhh Sunday morning… Father’s Day and Pridefest… this weekend will end well, won’t it? Won’t it?

But what’s that noise? Just ignore it! Just ignore it! Oh dear God! Not Deliverance Banjo! Get outta here Deliverance Banjo, we’re trying to have a civilization!

Here Come the Jerks

“Pennsylvania is Philadelphia in the East, Pittsburgh in the West and Alabama in the Middle.” – space alien James Carville

On Sunday morning June 16 in Butler County, Tea Party Weirdo Daryl Metcalfe, the state Rep. from Cranberry Township, was busy hacking away in the batshit mine with the nutty pickaxe. With a wormlike complexion, choppy script-reading skills and a vocal delivery like an engorged tick in your ear canal, Metcalfe was on Youtube ranting against unions. Metcalfe is proudly anti-LGBT and a total fucking dick about it.

In Pennsyltucky in 2014, while same-sex marriage has been legal since May, you can still be fired from your job and evicted from your home for being gay. For this reason, some same-sex couples are waiting to be married.

That could end if PA House Bill 300 passes. The bill has wide support in both the state House and Senate. Even the conservative Republican Governor Corbett, who’s up for usurpation this November, pledged to sign the bill. If it can get to his desk.

Not if Professional Asshole Daryl “Darth Vader unmasked” Metcalfe can help it!

Metcalfe is engaged in what amounts to a cock-waving campaign for Chaturbate tokens* from the Christian Taliban. As chair of the PA House Government Committee he is refusing to bring the bill to debate, which leaves in stuck in the committee with no hope of passing.
(*Some writers do movie references. I do perv references.)

Any reasonable objection about the status of the bill, such as the one by Rep. Jordan Harris from Philadephia, is met with smug arrogance and a joke about Rep. Harris’s mother.

Further North in Butler that Sunday, in a Harmony trailer park, an adorable teenage lesbian named Ariel Lawther was gearing up for a trip to the city for Pridefest, in rainbow socks, beads and a “I heart my crazy girlfriend” t-shirt.. looking like Rainbow Brite going to a big gay mardi gras. Later that day Lawther would run into a gaggle of Westboro Baptist-style preaching lunatics who get boners provoking gay people into angry confrontations, then finish her day at the festival taking a atrocious beating from a rookie cop.

Negative attention can be lucrative in the field of show business. Pro wrestling, Andy Kaufman and reality TV proved this. Ann Coulter and the Westboro Baptist Church made careers out of it.  It’s a poison that works like heroin.  The immediate high is addictive, with great potential for long term disintegration.

The preaching freaks at Pride show up at sporting events, concerts, parades, and anywhere they can get negative attention. Their basic message is this…conform or burn in hell.  Personality-wise, these irritating Christ-nazis are cut from the same cloth as the rubes that infest the Southside from the exurbs like stinkbugs every weekend and trash the North Shore when a horrid faux-country pop star comes through. Instead of walking around with a smug, stupid expression in shorts and duck-feet flip flops looking for casual sexual assault, light beer, and jello shots (to be puked up on a little old bubba’s Sarah Street stoop), this cult of wankers cut straight to annoying the shit out of residents. And at an event like Pride, it creates fertile grounds for violence.

On Saturday morning the jerks congregated outside the City-County Building with the sole purpose of pissing off the 19 same-sex couples who’d just been married by Bill Peduto. As the couples stood outside for a photo with Peduto behind a large “Just Married” banner and doves were released, the preacher scumbag held a sign that said “perverts” and barked at them through a megaphone, “You are not married! You are an abomination!”

Sunday they were set up near the corner of Liberty Avenue and 6th Street, doing much of the same, goading the crowd through the megaphones. In several videos posted on one of these douchebag’s Youtube account, Pittsburgh Police officers appear to be doing their jobs in trying to prevent a violent situation from happening by suggesting the preachers move to another spot (3:00 in the following video), or stepping in when Preacher Dickhead succeeds in angering someone in the crowd who decides to get in their face (3:25).

In this video at 0:19, notice the strange behavior by one of the cops.

An officer (who looks similar to the officer in the video of Lawther’s arrest) strolls by with his arms folded and a smug expression. Other officers are standing to the side. At 1:40 this same officer movies into the picture once again, takes out his cell phone, plays with it a bit, then takes a picture of a woman screaming into the megaphone of one of the preachers. At 2:00 we can see Ariel Lawther standing there with a woman (possibly her girlfriend), calmly laughing and just soaking in the scene. Just after she moves out of the picture there is a man hollering and becoming confrontational… After the man says “I’ll fuck you up”, one of the police officers steps in to diffuse the situation. At 3:05 a man pulls down his pants and taunts the preachers by showing him his underwear. The policeman steps over with his finger up appearing to give him a warning. Then people are dancing with their asses toward the preachers in order to taunt them (which is hilarious btw). The preacher with the megaphone says, “This is Wicked as Hell… isn’t that right officer?” (He was trying to condemn the dancing with what sounded like a compliment. My theory is that 100% of these anti-gay people are in the closet, as we’ve seen with politicians.)

Ariel Lawther would presumably succumb to the atmosphere leading up to the time of the video of her arrest.  Though I’ve seen her break no laws in any video that came out from that day, the preachers seemed to have gotten what they wanted by firing her up, as well as the friend who took the video.

The first video to hit the news was was 16 seconds of a policeman identified by news media as Souroth Chatterji holding Lawther by the hair and delivering uppercuts to the midsection with the full strength of his body. If that wasn’t insane enough, a day or two later a longer video was released, showing not only the punches but showing the officer move toward Lawther at the 3:03 mark and by 3:05 was pulling her backward by the hair like a deranged caveman. Here is a breakdown I did of the video.  The only cop in the video has been identified by media as Souroth Chatterji, who filed the criminal complaint.  The preacher was identified as Eric Moure by the press:


0:14 cop seen in the frame. Woman’s voice “I would spit on you if you weren’t here” the first “you” apparently refering to Moure, the second to the policeman

1:39 cop seen again in the frame

2:45 Woman’s voice “I just wanna like pour this on him” holding water bottle

2:53 The camera gets closer to Moure, a water bottle is waved in front of him as the woman with the camera speaks, as if to make a point. Nothing touches or strikes Moure in view of the camera

2:56 Moure preaches without pausing or indicating he was struck at all “Jesus is God. i know a lot of people can’t believe you. But it’s true. Jesus is God”

3:01 police officer moves in front of the camera to the right, camera follows him
3:03 smiling man in bike helmet and orange shirt points and says “She should be arrested” as cop moves forward.

3:05 cop has lawther by the back of the hair and is pulling her backward

3:06 lawther’s right arm is raised as she falls backward

3:07 we see part of the policeman then a shadow which appears to be a reflection of him holding her hair

3:08 shadow of the policeman’s arm moves upward and down rapidly

3:09 Lawther is on her hands and knees in the street with the policeman standing over her

3:10 view obstructed by woman in white pants pleading with the cop

3:11 cop bends down further then comes up as if lifting, lawther obstructed

3:12 officer holding lawther by the front of the hair with his left hand

3:13 lawther has her right hand on the cop’s left arm, still holding her hair
3:14-3:15 cop pushes her head down and delivers three or four rapid blows to the abdomen or ribs using the strength of his entire body, still pulling her hair with his left hand

3:16 cop appears to have his right hand on her chest as she holds his right arm

3:17 crowd hollering, view of cop and lawther obstructed

3:20 policeman walking to left of view

3:26 cop looking back and forth to the crowd

3:28 camera moves closer to cop as he cuffs lawther, who is standing relatively still
3:41 cop appears to say “fuckin” something, and escorts lawther away from the crowd in cuffs as several people in the crowd scream at him

Chatterji’s statement as reported by WTAE doesn’t sync exactly with what took place in the video:

In the criminal complaint, Officer Souroth Chatterji wrote that he was standing inside the PNC community center building at Sixth Street and Liberty Avenue when he looked outside and saw Lawther hitting a man, identified as Eric Moure.

“As I came outside, a large crowd of approximately 50 people were gathered around Lawther and Moure. I pushed through the crowd and stepped in between Lawther and Moure in an attempt to break up the conflict. As I did so, Lawther began to push and strike me in the chest with her hands and groin area with her legs,” the officer wrote. “Due to the proximity of Lawther to myself and the crowd, I tried to push her into an open area where she could be handcuffed. I had the crowd pushing against me so I could not push Lawther by her shoulders. I had to push Lawther at a high angle thus pushing her by the upper chest and neck area.”

It was at that point, according to the complaint, that the officer was struck in the groin and shin with “significant force” and feared for his safety in the crowd — describing it as a “rapidly evolving and tenuous situation” — so he grabbed Lawther by the head and swung her out of the crowd.
While the officer was doing that, he was struck “numerous times” by Lawther and others, the complaint said. Lawther was also being pulled to the side by people in the crowd, and she grabbed at “my vest, chest and belt area in an attempt to injure me,” the officer wrote.

“I turned to look who had been grabbing and hitting me from the back when I was struck in the head from the behind with force causing me to become dazed. I turned and saw Lawther who still had her hands up in a combative stance and her head lowered, thus I grabbed her hand. Again Lawther violently pulled her away in an attempt to fight me again,” the complaint says. “Thus to diffuse the situation quickly before I was attacked by the crowd once more, I punched Lawther in the left abdomen several times to distract her enough so I could handcuff her. I quickly moved Lawther and I away from the crowd for her and my safety.”

After the officer and Lauther were away from the crowd, Lawther apologized and said, “I’m sorry I did not see you were a cop, I am sorry I hit you,” according to the complaint. But the officer wrote that he had been in the area and in full uniform since 1 p.m., and that he had spoken to Lawther previously at about 3:30 p.m., asking her “not to be physically offensive towards the demonstrators because she was clenching her fist and stating, ‘I’ll (expletive) kill you.'” He wrote that Lawther said she was in a “rage” and did not see him.

Within two seconds of approaching the officer already had Ariel Lawther by the hair and was pulling her backward. This allows no time to give her commands for her to abide by. He literally walked over to the woman and grabbed her by the hair. This is in contrast with his account of him attempting to first push her out of the crowd by the chest. There is no evidence in the video Lawther struck the officer’s chest with her arms or his groin with her legs. There’s no evidence of Lawther assaulting anyone in the video. If she broke any laws, it was off camera. The policeman was in front of her, pulling her back to the ground by the back of the hair. Naturally as she fell her arms and legs went up, as anyone’s would. She is not moving her arms or legs in a striking motion as she falls. Part of the struggle is obstructed for less than two seconds, and when the camera comes back Lawther is on her hands and knees. Resisting is not evident in the video. If the officer was pulling her hair with the same force that he delivered those uppercuts, her natural reflex would bring the hands up to protect from having their hair ripped off her scalp.

Chatterji writes in the complaint, “I turned to look who had been grabbing and hitting me from the back when I was struck in the head from the behind with force causing me to become dazed.” But during this moment, he had Lawther’s hair in his hands, on the ground in front of him. It doesn’t appear she gets behind him at all.  The only other member of the crowd near the two was a woman in white pants, pleading with her arms out, not at all in an aggressive posture.

“I turned and saw Lawther who still had her hands up in a combative stance and her head lowered, thus I grabbed her hand. Again Lawther violently pulled her away in an attempt to fight me again,” the complaint says. “Thus to diffuse the situation quickly before I was attacked by the crowd once more, I punched Lawther in the left abdomen several times to distract her enough so I could handcuff her. I quickly moved Lawther and I away from the crowd for her and my safety.” — There is no evidence in the video that other members of the crowd were doing anything but pleading with the officer in very non-aggressive slow-moving mannerisms. The crowd seemed stunned at first, and only started to get angry after the uppercuts.  There is no evidence Lawther even had the chance to get in a “combative stance” as the cop for most of the video was grabbing and pulling her hair.

And as we learn from this SFgate story, the assault Lawther is charged with, which I see no evidence of, was so bad, “the man she allegedly punched didn’t wish to press charges, the complaint said.”


Reality up for grabs – Deference to Authority in the reaction of some media

Anyone familiar with the Milgram experiment shouldn’t be surprised that a handful of people can watch an authority figure abuse his power in a striking and obvious manner and still defend him.  She has a criminal record!  Nobody saw what went on!  She kneed him in the groin!

The Fraternal Order of Police (the union) reacted predictably.  From the Post-Gazette:

Officer Howard McQuillan, president of the Pittsburgh police union, said after he watched the video that Officer Chatterji “was obviously assaulted.”

While Trib scribbler Bob Bauder wrote about Lawther’s prior arrest and referred to Chatterji’s criminal complaint and the FOP head’s insistence that the emperor was wearing clothes into his story as established unbiased fact:

A Butler County woman at the center of a video showing her scuffling with a Pittsburgh police officer on Sunday during Pride events Downtown is awaiting a hearing on charges that she assaulted her mother, who wound up with a black eye.
Lawther is charged with simple assault and disorderly conduct, said Lancaster police Officer David Sitler. Her mother also was charged.
“It appears that he was assaulted and he effected an arrest with the force that it took to make the arrest,” said Howard McQuillan, president of Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge 1. “It’s just a shame that his actions are being second-guessed by people who weren’t in his situation.”

Bauder left out key details, like the Lancaster police report stating Lawther’s mother allegedly was drunk and started the fight in the first place.  From the Cranberry Eagle:

Lawther admitted to hitting her mother, telling police she pushed her mother’s head into a wall after being shoved by her. Pitman then fell on a table and then the floor, hitting her head in the process, before Lawther “struck her mom with her fists while wrestling on the ground,” according to the report police filed with the district court.
Pitman was eventually taken to a hospital, while both mother and daughter were charged with simple assault and disorderly conduct.
Police determined Pitman had consumed alcohol before the fight, while both women were charged for their roles in the fight.

Despite the typical reaction from the likes of the Tribune-Review and pro-cop violence commenters, the overall reaction to a video of a cop beating a woman was the same kind of sickness you’d get from watching a snuff film.  The story went viral and made national news, once again reminding everybody that we’re sure as hell not New York or San Francisco.

Mayor Peduto’s Response

As calm about it as he was in public, I can’t imagine Peduto to be anything less than furious.  A month after same-sex marriage was made legal, a day after the first gay weddings in Pittsburgh, a cop beats a lesbian in the streets.  What national news he had hope for to promote Pittsburgh as a world-class, progressive city became overshadowed by a vile stain on the events this cop’s actions left.

Peduto’s statement to the press begins with “I just want to reassure the people that this is a new day, we won’t look the other way when incidents like this happen. ”  Instead of muttering some soft-language bullshit about being reassigned to desk duty, Peduto said “The officer has been taken off the street and will remain off the street for the next 30 days.”

Peduto has a long road with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, and incidents like this don’t help.  Peduto is in the process of appointing a new police chief after former chief Nate Harper was fired and imprisoned for shady dealings with public funds.  The mayor wants to be able to assure the public that incidents like the vicious beating of Jordan Miles by cops who stopped him for no reason won’t happen again, even after a federal jury in March did not find the police to be guilty of using excessive force.  He has to work with the Fraternal Order of Police after they opposed him in the election.  The Fraternal Order of Police have to protect their boy.

Perhaps the best thing for the mayor, the police, and the city would be to convince Officer Chatterji to voluntarily step down.  He is young.  And it is much easier to change careers than to face the wrath of history. He can say he mishandled the situation, he can say lost his temper, but he should apologize and resign.  Otherwise he’ll be known  forever in the history books as the cop who beat up a lesbian the day after the first gay weddings in Pittsburgh.

 In conclusion…

As progressive and metropolitan as the mayor and others would like to make the city, Pittsburgh first has to deal with the putrid stench of idiocy all around it.  Whether it comes in the form of police violence, mass-polluting of its banks by a pop-country concert, or the infuriating impasse of a goofy bigot in the state legislature, there’s a reminder for every pothole in its streets that Pittsburgh cannot will its way out of being a cash-strapped town in the Pennsyltucky mountains.  As always in history, any measure of sanity is only gained after a long battle with ignorance.




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Penn Avenue Journal April 2014

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Walk Down to the River

Walking around the new town for exercise had me dodging free range dogs, a power crew and bad drivers, and finally trudging through a muddy drainage ditch on the side of the road with my legs killing me from wearing flat-bottomed skateboard shoes.

So I bought a pair of ugly, white, old-people looking running shoes imprinted with a big diagonal N and stepped on a rusty old treadmill I paid $25 for, and immediately felt like a hamster on a wheel. The last thing a factory worker needs is recreational interaction with machinery off the clock. I needed a city with sidewalks or a park with hiking trails.

Walking for calorie burning alone is a waste of time, it’s also about exploring and discovery and the silence in the changing scenery. I was in the mood to walk, so I stepped off the treadmill and went out into the small town and walked.

I live in a trailer park that sits atop a hill above a river valley. I started on foot on Main Street down the hill toward the river and came to a bridge. Access to the river on the near side of the bridge was blocked by overgrown briers. I started to cross the bridge, stopped in the middle and took a picture of the Haw River.

Then the town air raid siren went off, left over from The War and now used for fires. The siren back in my childhood neighborhood was used for fires as well, and also to remind everybody it was noon each day. So every time you heard the siren it was either noon, somebody’s house was on fire, or the Russians were attacking.

The siren droned on annoyingly and I thought about the four dogs up on the hill behind my trailer. They’re tied up in the yard of an old falling down mill house with inside furniture on the porch and they howl each time a police siren goes by. I don’t know if they’re howling because it hurts their ears or because they get the same feeling in their guts as I do when cops are around. Dogs are as good as people come, so it’s probably the latter.

That same gut-feeling turned into a paranoid fantasy involving the cops shaking me down for taking pictures on a bridge, the siren sounding to warn them of my treasonous activities. There were articles in the immediate post-9/11 era about local cops shaking down nature photographers who got too close to bridges. A decade later it’s now codified into federal law that anything can be considered terrorist activity and any American citizen can now be detained by the President forever without a trial. I wish that was a paranoid fantasy, but it’s simply the way the powerful behave when the walls of their castles are crumbling all around them, imposing arbitrary rules impossible to follow.

I crossed the bridge, my old-people running shoes tramping over little pebbles and tiny bits of glass. I noticed a little grove on the flat river bank so I took a right on the road leading down to it. There were bluebirds and it was well maintained and peaceful and green in the warm 2012 January.

Over yonder I saw a professor-type with a silver beard and an Indiana Jones hat and outdoorsy vest-jacket, and he had a feminine little poof dog running around freely. Either a professor, or some kind of doctor, definitely a guy with a PhD, a guy who doesn’t mind looking like he just stepped off a page of the LL Bean catalog. You don’t expect to see a guy like that in Haw River. They were nonexistent in my old neighborhood too.

I crossed a walking bridge over a little stream to a parking lot with two park signs. Parks can’t just have plain signs on posts, they have to have big signs built out of logs with tin roofs over them, so bears don’t knock them over, or the raindrops don’t block your view of the park rules, or something. This park was tiny for those kinds of signs, nothing but a parking lot, the little grove, and a big open field where you could play football, or volleyball or even futbol.

The sign said there’s a kayaking trail on the river, and this here was stop #16, and plans were being made for a hiking trail, if only they could get the government and landowners and philanthropists and volunteers and donations from little people like me to work together to make it happen.

The feminine little poof dog came up to me, I said hello but then ignored him so he wouldn’t be alarmed. The professor called the poof dog with more intensity than was warranted for the dog’s size and behavior, I guess because some inner air-raid siren reminded him “we live in a litigious society”.

Then I went down to the river and saw this:

It was precisely the kind of place I sought out for peace as a kid. Greater Pittsburgh is rife with industrial wasteland playgrounds which started to appear in the 1970s and 80s as the steel mills were closing and left to rust. For me the wasteland playground was around Chartier’s Creek – a distributary of the Ohio about as big as the Haw. There were certain spots down there where all you could see was river and forest, so it gave you the illusion of being in nature, but it stunk like raw sewage, because that’s exactly what the towns were dumping into it. The chemicals from industry all the way from Canonsburg to the Ohio River were just settling when we used to go down there and fight and smoke cigarettes and drink Mad Dog and start fires and break glass and try to catch fish but get our lines stuck on garbage, and all the things boys do, or at least used to do, and sometimes I’d go alone and sit for hours and dream about building a raft like Huckleberry Finn and sailing it down the creek, down the Ohio and further down the Mississippi, or jumping the nearby train and taking it to parts unknown.

The town of Haw River is a lot like where I grew up- I hadn’t been up close to a place like the big old decaying goliath on the river since I moved from the Rustbelt over a decade ago. A place where a graveyard of industry sits right up against natural beauty, nature occupying and reclaiming it like the ocean eating a sandcastle, and it’s evident in the broken windows where kids threw rocks and in the grass growing through the cracked pavement, and in the vines crawling up the sides of the crumbling walls and the steel rusting into the color of the dirt below, the bricks tumbling into the river the plant once polluted with its waste, and a monolithic smokestack still with the company name, staring at it’s reflection on a calm stretch of water while it slowly collapses, like Narcissus …

The crumbling old textile mill is the biggest structure that remains in town, and there’s not much else but parks full of beat up old trailers like the one I live in, and little churches, a few remaining mill houses and some worn down gas stations where you can buy bait and beer and hot dogs. About the time my grandparents were born, industry was building places like this. About the time I was born, after decades of labor struggles, when American workers finally got the goliaths to give them a fair living for hard work, industry went abroad to exploit cheaper labor and devastated countless little towns like Haw River and cities like Pittsburgh and left the inhabitants without a future…

Right on the heels of the Vietnam War, I was a borne into an era of no-future. We played amid the wreckage of industry as images of a once great society flashed on Reagan’s campaign commercials and fantastical sitcom reruns, we skipped on crumbled bricks and cut our knees on rusted nails, and our parents didn’t speak about their war in a different way than our grandparents didn’t speak about theirs.

Now we’re getting older and able to finally shake off the poison and disease of industrial waste in all its manifestations and begin to build new things out of the raw materials found in the junk pile.

Down the river South, another old mill on the Haw in the town of Saxapahaw is Cinderella transformed into a ballroom, a beautiful venue for touring bands, with a coffee bar and a view of the sunset from the deck. In the same building is a pub serving high-end food and craft beer, a gas station with a five-star lunch counter with menu items like soft shell crab tacos and sandwiches made with locally raised meats….Across the street, a farmers market each Saturday with more beer and bands in the park, drawing a multitude of Orange County professor-types and feminine dogs intermixed with the natives, a community being built on good food, good beer, good entertainment and in contrast with nearby Truman Show like environs – the pre-fab communities, always creepily clean and uncomfortably well-manicured, and nothing much going on at all.

Of course then the inevitable happens, property values shoot up, pushing out the natives and the artists, as in nearby Chapel Hill/Carrboro in the wake of the famous music scene of the 90s, shooting up alongside vacant “green” condos into infinity and everything disappears into a money cloud.

For now Saxapahaw is a place with personality.. A new sense of community built on the ashes of industry, as the mayor of Braddock, PA is trying to do with bleaker circumstances, as many human beings are discovering this is what we all have to do in our own way, as we watch the pillars of the old industrial/corporate universe give out and the hierarchies we were once subject to crumble into the rivers of time, to make way for the next phase of human evolution…

I walked up the hill homeward and heard the train howl It was only a few Amtrak passenger cars going along the adjacent railroad bridge, traveling old school. I stopped in the middle of the lower bridge and waved up at the train like an idiot. I don’t know if anyone saw me. If I was in there I’d be looking down toward the river.

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