Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Air That We Breathe

Do Things go better without coke in the air?

First you say you will and then you won’t: Anybody who has ever ridden the Kennywood Jackrabbit or Racer or any other roller coaster knows what the ups and downs do to one’s stomach. Similar ups and downs by U.S. Steel executives must be keeping Clairton residents in a state of constant Maalox moments. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear when the thundering hoof-beats of the great steel producers wafted through the Clairton foothills. Such were the noises of the greatest coke producing mill of all time – the Clairton Works.

But then, what I call the great salami tragedy occurred. You see, just as nobody notices when a single slice is missing from the entire salami, so did nobody notice the little events that would cause the demise of the steel industry. The U.S. helped Japan and Europe get on their feet economically (slice, slice). Japan and Europe began to produce steel (slice, slice). Their plants were newer (slice), their labor was cheaper (slice). U.S. Steelmakers shared their steelmaking technology with foreign companies (slice). U.S. steel continued to use old style open hearth furnaces (slice) while Japan used modern oxygen furnaces (slice). Japan developed continuous casting (slice) ten years ahead of the U.S. and introduced computers years before U.S. steel makers (slice). U.S. steelmakers were arrogant and refused to accept the fact that they were falling behind (slice, slice, slice) and in the 1980s, the salami, along with U.S. Steel production disappeared from the Mon Valley.

Fast forward a couple of decades: U.S. Steel Corporation a couple of years ago announced a $1.1 billion Clairton Coke Works rehabilitation project. The project would reduce air pollution significantly and jobs would be created. It was a boon to the community that had languished for decades due to the near fatal blows to the steel industry. The community breathed a collective sigh and many jumped for joy. Finally, FINALLY, something positive would change the Clairton Works reputation for emitting the third and fourth ranked most unhealthy air in the country. But the happy times were short lived. Within months U.S. Steel placed the plans for upgrading the mill on hold. Since that connection two tragedies that resulted in death and nationwide news coverage of the Clairton Works occurred. Perhaps those events pressured the powers that be into re-adjusting their plans, or maybe it was coincidence. Regardless, the Allegheny County Health Department recently announced plans to move ahead with an even grander plan.

Return to a time when air was clean and sex was dirty: In a memo of understanding, U.S. Steel agreed to cut the plant's particulate emissions by at least 320 tons, or 70 percent. Such a drastic reduction exceeds the requirements of original plan agreed upon two years ago. The project’s scheduled to be completed by the end of 2013.

Within three years that stinking, sickly air that blankets the Liberty-Clairton area in violation of national air quality standard for fine particulate pollution will be scrubbed, filtered, and spewed out in a healthier manner – so say the High Mucky Mucks who currently mucky-muck the air.

The U.S. Steel plan is to reduce the emissions by replacing two coke quenching towers with low-emission quenching towers, and by bringing three old coke batteries into compliance. Thus they will not need to be shut down. The two new quenching towers are projected to reduce more emissions than replacing the three coke batteries and will be cheaper than building new batteries.

The plan includes a shutdown three of its oldest batteries in 2012 and replacement of the quenching tower with the low-emission quenching tower. The current plan will meet the federal Environmental Protection Agency air quality standards, unlike the original one. This time residents of Clairton and surrounding communities are holding their breath in hopes that they will not have to continue holding their noses.

No known connection: In the old days miners used to take a canary with them into the mine. When the canary croaked it was an indication that the air was bad enough to vamoose. Perhaps the bad Clairton air finally reached up the hill to the Blue Bird. Former Clairton Ralph Posmoga recently returned from a visit to our old hometown and tells us that one more Clairton icon has disappeared from St. Clair Avenue. According to Ralph, the Blue Bird Restaurant has packed up all its cares and woe and there they go, there they go… Bye, Bye, Blue Bird. But for those not averse to swimming across the Monongahela, or perhaps driving across the Elizabeth Bridge, Al Barna tells Ralph that the Blue Bird has not flown the coop any farther than downtown Elizabeth.

Ribbit… ribbit…ribbit: It started over a century ago. A group of African American men from Clairton and surrounding communities formed a social group. They called themselves FROGS, an acronym for FRIENDLY RIVALRY OFTEN GENERATES SUCCESS. Each summer the group celebrates FROGS week and gets together for fun and camaraderie. The organization has survived two World Wars, the Great Depression, and social changes. Members have been leaders who include a baseball team owner, doctors, dentists, lawyers, newspaper owners, entrepreneurs and even Steeler players. The club’s charter limits membership to 60 and today’s members range in age from 28 to 92. Just one of the many activities of Clairtonians that seems to receive little notice. Bravo.

A little blogging music Maestro... Barry Manulow singing “Heart of Steel.”

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Piano Ladies of Clairton Churches

Clairton Today and Yesterday

Welcome to Clairton, City of Prayer: We have written many blogs on the fact that Clairton is and was a place of worship. The closing of most of the mills along the river may have dampened the economic stature of our hometown but it has done little to dampen the faith and spirit of residents who’ve remained. Take Lillian Gibson for example. As fair young lass she played the piano very well. Her skills were requested in many venues but none gave her the enjoyment of playing during Sunday services at Gethsemane Church of God in Christ. Of course, that was back during another time of economic downturn in Clairton, the 1930s and beginning of the Great Depression. But regardless of the economic climate outside, inside the church Lillian continued to play that church piano for the next 40 years.

Time has a way of restricting the physical prowess of the body and as Lillian became elderly she began to relinquish the bench to other, younger pianists during worship services. But although she no longer plays at services, that does not mean she no longer contributes to her church. Lillian continues her church work as a food bank volunteer coordinator and as a district missionary and altar guild member of the church. She began to worship at Gethsemane Church of God in Christ in 1926 and continues to this day, at age 94.

Mrs. Gibson was a charter member of Gethsemane church, and she is the last remaining of that group. Although she no longer creates the music by pounding the ivories on Sunday morning, she still rejoices in the music and hymns just as she did nearly a century ago.

Lillian has received much well deserved recognition for her contributions over the years. On a recent Sunday she was given one of the most prestigious honors one could have received when seven local women who played piano or organ at their respective churches for decades were honored with the first Mrs. Lillian Gibson Music Award during a Jazz Brunch for Musical Legends.

The event was held at the Georgetown Centre in nearby Pleasant Hills and sponsored by the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Clairton. Honorees included: Edith Worthy, First African Methodist Episcopal Church, Clairton; Aubrey Harper, Morning Star Baptist Church, Clairton; Betty Fort and Asaline Peterson, Mount Olive First Baptist Church, Clairton; Mae Etta Grimball, St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, McKeesport; Mildred Everson, Gethsemane; and Bishop Thelma Mitchell, Living Waters International, Clairton.

Mr. Melvin C. Long who plays at Clairton’s First African Methodist Episcopal church and was co-chair of the event presented the original idea. He dubbed them “the piano ladies” and planned to give them some recognition.

Edith Worthy, one of the honorees at the presentation played the piano and organ at Mr. Long’s church for 62 years and served as his inspiration me to play at the church. Ms. Worthy became Mr. Long’s mentor, and in a typical act of paying it forward, Mr. Long presented the idea of recognition.

Among the honorees Mrs. Aubrey Harper has played the piano at churches since she was age 18 and at Morning Star Baptist since she was 30. Today, she plays only the organ and serves as minister of music at Morningstar Baptist. Mrs. Fort has played the piano at Mount Olive and Morning Star Baptist churches since 1941. Mrs. Asaline Peterson started playing the piano at age 7 and continues to play for her home church. Mrs. Etta Grimball has played the keyboard, piano and organ at local churches for 61 years, beginning at age 14.

Mrs. Mildred Everson began her piano playing for the young people's and senior choirs. Thirty years later in the 1970s, she was still playing at church.
Bishop Mitchell had her first music lesson at age 7, and a year later played during devotions at elementary school and in Sunday School. Sixty-two years later, she still plays the piano at church and in concert.

A tip of the hat to the golden fingers and inspiration of the wonderful “Piano Ladies” of Clairton and surrounding communities.

A Sunday Smile: We could not end this post without providing something to smile about so we reached way back into our bag of Sunday humor and came up with the following story: One Sunday morning before church began, while the pastor was greeting the congregation as they passed through the foyer, he noticed one of his younger members staring at a display in the lobby. The pastor walked up to the boy of about six or seven and asked him what he thought of the display. The display included a beautiful plaque with names and photos of young men and women, most of whom were in uniform. The plaque was draped with American flags and the sign above said, “In Memoriam.”

The pastor asked the lad if he understood the purpose of the plaque and the boy admitted he did not, so the pastor explained that the young men and women pictured and listed on the plaque had died in the service.

The boy stood for a few minutes deep in thought then in wide-eyed innocence asked the pastor, “Which service? The 9:00 or the 11:00.”

A little blogging music Maestro... “Ebony and Ivory” by the musical group Wings.

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The old changeup pitch

Today we will switch gears and simply do a little humor. Wordplay has always fascinated me. Today's wacky dictionary had me laughing my tukus off so I'll share it in hopes that you chuckle as well. Read and enjoy.

The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again invited readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.
Here are the winners:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

3. Intaxicaton : Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation : Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone ( n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

7. Giraffiti : Vandalism spray-painted very, very high

8. Sarchasm : The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

9. Inoculatte : To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Osteopornosis : A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11. Karmageddon : It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido : All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.

And the winners are:

1. Coffee, n. The person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

3. Abdicate, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade, v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly, adj. Impotent.

6. Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

7. Lymph, v. To walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle, n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle, n. A humorous question in an exam.

12. Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon, n. A Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism, n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent, n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men

A little blogging music Maestro: Do you know "Words" by the BeeGees?

Dr. Forgot