book ‘em.

Catch22This is another Facebook meme, brought to you by my friend Jacob, who asked for an almost stream-of-consciousness list of ten books that have stuck with me over the years. Without much thought, here you go:

Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut: Sort of ties together nearly everything else Vonnegut wrote. And I’ve read them all.

The Power Elite, C. Wright Mills: Has a lot to do with my political leanings.

Catch-22, Joseph Heller: There is no better portrait of the military (and, by extension, government).

A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving: Delves into questions of faith vs. religion.

The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers: We’re all related. Our myths say so.

Grateful Dead Gear, Blair Jackson: I have dozens of Grateful Dead-related biographies; this one, which tells the story of the band through its guitars, sound systems and recording studios, may be my favorite.

High Fidelity, Nick Hornby: I see myself all over this book.

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, Hunter Thompson: I still want to do this.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe: When I first read this decades ago, it tied together all kinds of interests in one place for me.

Sweet Thursday, John Steinbeck: Picking one Steinbeck book is tough; this might be my favorite because it’s the funniest.

18. about me.

How you can tell it’s a NaBloPoMo month — we’re only two weeks in, and this is the second Facebook meme I’ve stolen from the blog.

I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this one, the *insertnumberhere* Things You Didn’t Know About Me meme. The rules and conventions for this one state that you like a friend’s post and they assign you a number; I liked Mel’s post last week … and she assigned me 15.

FIFTEEN. As in, the most she assigned to anyone who liked her post. I’m choosing to be flattered that Mel thought I could come up with that many reasonably interesting things about myself — even if myself thinks that’s probably a stretch.

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Before I begin, let me make it clear that I’ll follow the rules here — comment on this post here, like or comment on FB and I’ll give you a number. And if you don’t have a regular outlet for Internet Fun, feel free to leave your list in the comments here.

Mushrooms and olives. I really want to like them. But I really, really don’t.

My first craft beer. I was visiting Juan in Brooklyn, and we stopped at his corner grocery in Park Slope to get some, uh, supplies before we went out for the evening. There, in the cooler, were six packs of Brooklyn Lager. I later found Brooklyn Brown in The Union, my home bar in Athens. And my life hasn’t been the same since.

Certified weather freak boy. I’ve always been curious about what makes weather work, ever since our childhood babysitter let me stay up and watch a thunderstorm light up Leighton Road. That fascination has continued well into adulthood, when I’ve voluntarily attended National Weather Service storm spotter certification classes multiple times — the basic class twice and the advanced class once. Understanding the weather helps professionally, but c’mon — as nerdy stuff goes, it’s pretty cool, too.

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Shorts, man. I love this time of year. When the weather turns, I love digging out sweaters and coats and scarves and all the other accouterments. But let’s be clear — if it’s above 30 degrees, I’m wearing shorts.

I’ll die with a beard. The last time I shaved off my beard entirely was late in my collegiate career. I had an interview for an internship with an editor from a major metro paper in Ohio, and I wanted to make a good impression. But I’ve always suspected that I blew the interview because the editor had a glass eye that pointed up and to the left by about 45 degrees. I was so distracted that I don’t think I uttered a complete sentence the entire time we talked (and it’s always been my guess that the paper sent this guy to interview college kids FOR THAT VERY REASON). I didn’t get the internship and Mrs. Crappy liked the beard, so I grew it  back immediately. And seeing old pictures of beardless me are more than enough to help solidify the decision to keep it forever.

My cause: skin cancer. I’m not a preacher. I generally think it’s best to let people make their own decisions. But for the most part, preventing skin cancer is so simple — and it seems that so few people ever worry about it. I’ve written a bunch about this over the years, starting the time the second tumor was hacked out of my left arm. I’ve had three taken from my arm and one burned off of my forehead. And if I had just put on sunscreen when I was a kid, chances are decent that I wouldn’t have had the trouble I’ve had. It’s not a huge deal — none of my tumors have been serious — but given that skin cancer is largely preventable, it’s a thing for me. And yeah, I’ll probably try to make it a thing for you too. Sorry in advance.

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Chateau de Blanc. I have eaten White Castles for breakfast. When we drive from Thanksgiving dinner in Pittsburgh to my parents’ house in Columbus, I will bring home a bag of White Castles for a Thanksgiving night snack. I once picked up 60 White Castles for my father’s poker night (along with another dozen for me) . If there was was a White Castle closer than Canton, Ohio, I’d be there right now.

Best concerts by non-hippie bands. Wilco, especially the show at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland a few years ago. Little Feat, on a sweaty August night at the Newport. The Stones, on the Steel Wheels tour in Louisville, especially because that’s the first time I heard them play Sympathy for the Devil (otherwise known as the Greatest Rock ‘n Roll Song of All Time) live. Cowboy Junkies at Metropol, which had temporarily lost its liquor license, making for a quiet, respectful audience. Jorma Kaukonen and Michael Falzarano, in front of me and maybe eight other people at Another Fool’s Cafe in Athens.

Bourbon. The Manhattan is the family cocktail. I come by it honestly.

Irish kid, Italian cook. I have no Italian in me whatsoever, but I love me some Italian cooking — and, uh, eating. Some of this comes from the family spaghetti-and-meatballs recipe, which was born decades ago when the family owned a restaurant somewhere in Columbus; I suppose it also comes from it not being too difficult to do Italian pretty well. Lasagna? Yep. Carbonara? Yep. Improvising and tinkering with pasta dishes? Yep.

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Meeting famous people. It might have something to do with my job — I’ve interviewed senators, congresspeople, Timothy Leary, Graham Chapman, and many others — but I have no difficulty marching up to someone I recognize and saying hello (and it still kills me that I wasn’t with Mrs. Crappy the time she walked right by Ringo Starr in Aspen a few years ago). As a caution — that goes for Internet-famous people as well. If we haven’t met before but I think I’ve spotted you while we’re out, I will stop you and introduce myself.

Best job ever. I have been a paperboy. I have worked in restaurants. I have made it through multiple holiday seasons at a chain of Hallmark stores in Columbus. And I am now a journalist, the fulfillment of the closest thing I’ve had to a lifelong dream. But without question, the most fun I’ve ever had was working at the Bagel Buggy in Athens every Friday morning for one of my senior-year spring quarters.

Work is surreal. I am a trained professional journalist. And nearly everything I do professionally now didn’t exist when I was a student at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

The moment I first set eyes on Mrs. Crappy. I was never really sure love at first sight was possible until it happened to me. I was starting a late night at my college paper, and I walked through the business offices just as the general assignment staff — where most of us got our starts — was wrapping up a meeting. I looked over and there was a new girl — long, light brown hair. Round, almost Lennon glasses. Big smile and a big laugh. I was thunderstruck; I think I actually stopped and stared for a second before moving on to the production room. I tracked down the GA editor as soon as I could and was filled in, because she also happened to be Mrs. Crappy’s resident assistant. It took a while for us to connect — although not for a lack of effort on my part — but, yeah, it’s worked out pretty well.

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Hats. In the summer? I’m a ballcap guy. But when the weather turns cold — as you may have gathered from the photos — I’m a fan of hats with stuff on them.

10. i get around.

Continuing my long-standing tradition of ignoring Facebook memes in favor of posting them here, today I present: The States To Which Uncle Crappy Has Traveled.

travelmap

That’s the same map that’s been popping up all over Facebook in the last few days, courtesy of Defocus Blog. Here’s the key, based on the specs of the creator:

  • White: I haven’t been.
  • Red: A brief stop or a drive-through.
  • Orange: Spent a day or two.
  • Blue: Multiple trips.
  • Green: I’ve lived there, stayed there for more than a couple weeks or taken multiple multiple trips.

Naturally, I have more information:

Greens:

  • Ohio: I was born and grew up in Columbus. Athens is my spiritual home.
  • Pennsylvania: Uh, I live there. Here. Whatever.
  • Kentucky: I lived there for just over two years, while stationed at Fort Knox. If you haven’t heard it already, ask me to tell you my Kentucky Derby story.
  • Wisconsin: I spent several summers at the lake houses of Dr. History’s family, on a chain of lakes between Woodruff and Minocqua. Love that area.
  • Florida: This is perhaps a borderline green state for me, but I’m including it because of our nearly annual trips there to spend time with my sister’s family.

Blues:

  • It’s interesting to see how many of these are included in the list because of Grateful Dead, Phish or other miscellaneous hippie-band touring over the years. Several — Indiana, Georgia, Virginia, New Jersey and probably New York — were bumped up from Oranges or Reds because of the shows I’ve seen.
  • Texas: The result of the residence of my mother in law and her husband, and a long family vacation that led to the discovery of the Whataburger chain. That was the same trip when I thought I’d be good an order a water at a restaurant in Nuevo Larado, Mexico; my mother quickly told the server that I would have a Coke instead, leading young me to believe that Mexico was the coolest place on the entire planet.
  • Colorado and Utah: Ski trips. And I need to go back soon.
  • Michigan: The State Up North would have made the list for several ski trips to Boyne, but there have also been football games at East Lansing — a good one — and two trips to that other college town. Those weren’t so good.
  • Hawaii: A family trip — the one that led to our brush with Pele, the state’s goddess of fire — and our honeymoon. The family trip also led to my only appearance in California; our flights to and from the islands both went through LAX.

Whites:

  • Man, I need to spend some time in New England.

aucnffc wall of champions.

I can’t think, off the top of my head, of a more prestigious award in all of sports than to be named champion of the Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Final Four Challenge.

And starting this week, you have a chance to add your name to that illustrious list (which you can do by participating in the Eighth Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Final Four Challenge (Brought To You By Bocktown).

Here’s a year-by-year recap of our contests — and our champions.

2006: AUCNFFC had a modest beginning. So modest, in fact, that it warranted just a single paragraph in an entry that was mostly about our cat. The modest start attracted a modest field; just seven people, three of whom were badgered by me into participating and a fourth who flat out refused but was entered by me against his will, entered. Of course, that tiny field resulted in a three-way tie for the championship: Mr. Burns (you’ll be hearing his name again shortly), Fred and Yours Truly. I think Mr. Burns and Fred each got a fabulous prize* of some kind, and I may have bought myself a beer.

2007: This was the year that I learned to hate the entire state of Florida; not only did my football Buckeyes lose to the Gators in January’s national championship game, but the basketball Buckeyes lost to UF for the hoops title as well. But it was a good year for Mr. Burns, who won a share of the AUCNFFC championship for the second year in a row.

Fabulous.

Fabulous.

2008: We had 18 entries, and if I recall, a whole bunch of us picked North Carolina to win that year’s title. Kansas was the champion, and the Most Reverend Father Spoon was one of the few to pick the Jayhawks making it to the title game. I don’t honestly recall what all of the fabulous prizes* were over the years, but because I took a picture of Doug, I know he won a trophy, pictured above, and an autographed, circa-1984 picture of me, which I’m sure he still cherishes.

2009: We bounced to 24 entries, including the by-then standard paragraph-long annual opus by Kewyson and the first year that Gina allowed her pets to make her picks for her. Mrs. Crappy was a winner, in the sense that North Carolina won the title — something she didn’t actually witness, because she went to bed early — but Kewyson was our FAUCNFFC champion.

2010: This was the year that the prizes became actually fabulous — because this was the year that Chris Dilla began offering up a Bocktown gift card to the AUCNFFC winner. Who got the first one? Out of 37 entries, Mr. Burns — who would have made me draw his picks for him again, until I threatened to write him down for all 15 seeds — won an unprecedented third AUCNFFC championship.

2011: Another year, another Bocktown gift card — and another increase in the number of contestants, up to 38. This was the year that I swore off ever picking Pitt to win an NCAA tournament game again (good advice for this year, boys and girls); it was also a close one, with Tim and Ted both picking the correct champion — UConn — and Bocktown regular Tim winning on the tiebreaker.

2012: And hooboy, would that tiebreaker thing become important. Three people — Barb, Otimemore and Casey — not only correctly picked Kentucky as the eventual NCAA champion, but Barb and Casey both picked the same total — 151 points — as their tiebreaker. Fortunately for both, Chris Dilla stepped up and gave both a Bocktown gift card, making both Barb and Casey happy and setting a potentially dangerous precedent for the future.

2013: We’re in our eighth year, Bocktown is on board again — and although it’s already Monday, I have exactly zero entries for EAUCNFFC. If you’re not sure how it works, you’ll find everything you need to know right here.

Get your entries in soon, boys and girls — the fun is about to begin.

*Prizes weren’t actually fabulous at that point. That started in 2010, when Chris Dilla began Bocktown’s sponsorship.

pittsburgh history.

Part one:

Even before I got my first post-college job in Butler and moved here from Ohio, I knew who Rick Sebak was. On a couple of visits to Mrs. Crappy and her mom — long before she was Mrs. Crappy — we caught a couple of Sebak’s shows on rainy afternoons at her mom’s house in Kittanning. I know the Kennywood show was the first one I saw; that was followed by the national diner show and one or two of the “Things that aren’t there anymore” documentaries.

I was taken immediately by the warm nature of Sebak’s narration and the breezy pace of the films. They are captivating, and I couldn’t get enough.

I’ve watched many more of Sebak’s Pittsburgh history and neighborhood shows over the years, and it’s not a stretch to say I learned much of what I know about my hometown from those documentaries.

And, even better, I learned from Rick last fall that I belong here. It’s not unusual that I recognize people from his shows, but they’re generally the people who are the subjects of his interviews. As I watched the premiere of 25 Things I Like About Pittsburgh in November, I noticed that I wasn’t seeing business owners who looked familiar; I was instead seeing friends. In the footage from the Steel City Big Pour, the footage from the Toonseum and even in shots from the porch party, there were familiar faces.

Rick Sebak helped me learn the past and present of my home. And, after I’d been here for 22 years, he helped me realize that Pittsburgh was my home.

Part two:

I was one of a couple people assigned by our editor to take Megan Miller to lunch and make sure we convinced her to take a job at the paper.

As we talked over sandwiches at Brady’s Run Grill, Jenny and I learned one thing about Megan — she called herself a history nerd. She lived up to that self-imposed title as well; in her not-quite-a-year at the paper, she came up with some really cool weekend features about the county’s past.

There is another manifestation of Megan’s fascination with history, one that she wears on her back. Megan has an awesome tattoo, copy of a highway sign that marks the Lincoln Highway, name for one of her favorite figures from the past.

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As I said before, we didn’t get to spend much time with Megan — she moved to New Zealand, where she still lives and works today. Just a few days before she left, she got to meet Rick in person — she had talked with him on the phone after he completed A Ride Along the Lincoln Highway — when he visited the new Bocktown in the Beaver Valley Mall.

And the resulting picture was priceless.

Part three:

My friend Derrick and a few others had tried for a couple weeks to convince Rick to visit Piper’s Pub on one of our, uh, traditional Thursday nights there. Rick said he would try a week ago, but wasn’t able to make it; this week, though, the outlook was better, and sometime just before 9 p.m., Rick Sebak walked through the door.

Jenny arrived a short time later, but walked past him while he talked to others in the front of the bar. I finished my dinner, and we concocted a plan: we’d find Megan’s picture from Bocktown and introduce ourselves as her former colleagues.

Rick remembered the picture instantly; in fact, he said he still has people ask him about the Route 30 tattoo woman photo now, more than a year after it was taken. He also seemed pleased to hear that he had been with me during every step of my Pittsburgh indoctrination. He is a genuine guy, a nice guy, and completely open to strangers new friends handing him glasses of beer from out of nowhere. He also took an honest interest in our jobs, even offering a tidbit of historical trivia about Beaver — I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you now — once he learned where Jenny and I work.

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Tonight’s convergence would have been made perfect only by the presence of Megan, who is still half a world away. But it was great to find that Rick was who I thought he would be; if you’ve seen any of his shows, I think you have a pretty good sense of who that is, because the guy on TV seems to be the same as the one who visited Piper’s tonight.

There is one additional thing to mention. Much of Sebak’s shows feature things — neighborhoods, buildings, food, roller coasters — but the at the bottom of everything he shoots are people. And while I love the stuff of Pittsburgh, the people are what make Pittsburgh what it is.

And my Pittsburgh friends — the ones I work with, the ones I noticed in Rick’s latest documentary, the ones I see at Piper’s every Thursday and all the others — are what make Pittsburgh home.