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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 at 1:00 PM


I’m a couple months late in raving about Gillian Flynn’s twisty new thriller Gone Girl, but I had to wait for my library copy to arrive. This was the most perfect piece of summer reading — mystery + dysfunctional relationship + mean-funny — that I am now recommending for fall.

In it, two thirtysomething married bohos tumble from their Brooklyn idyll to a small town in Missouri. (They are partially undone by the crappy economy: Nick gets canned from his magazine job, and Amy has been living off the fumes of her parents’ children’s book series based on her.) The tale opens on a seemingly ordinary day — in which Amy simply disappears.

Flynn, a former TV critic for Entertainment Weekly who has likely learned a thing or two about the effective pacing and cutting of a narrative, unfolds the story in two parts: One is told from Nick’s perspective, as the ongoing mystery of what happened to Amy, and how Nick becomes a suspect in her disappearance; the other is Amy’s diary, beginning some five years ago with the couple’s meeting.

Call it sweet and sour, as Amy’s chirpy entries collide with Nick’s fraught, and increasingly anger-filled, nightmare. The two tales don’t jibe, but then we haven’t a clue which party — if any — is a reliable narrator. Suffice to say, as much as these two streams reveal about Amy, Nick and their dinged-up relationship, there are even more jaw-dropping revelations ahead. Not to mention some entertaining critiques of cable-TV-crime-as-entertainment complex, people who think they’re smarter than you, and how gullible we can be when presented with “facts.”

Flynn’s smartly written thriller had me back at the library, requesting her two earlier thrillers — Sharp Objects, a Grand Guignol of a mother-daughter-sister tale, and Dark Places, which I’m still waiting for with happy anticipation.

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Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 at 12:17 PM

Pittsburgh's growing food truck scene, whose struggles and perseverance we reported on earlier this summer, has lost one of its newest members.

Originally set to open Aug. 15, James Rich, owner of the PGH Taco Truck, announced on his Facebook and Twitter accounts early this morning that his truck is for sale. Rich has chronicled throughout the summer his journey acquiring the truck and testing his taco recipes, gathering a devoted following.

"There's a ton of support for it," he says, adding that it wasn't the market or burdensome city regulations that stopped him. The decision is personal, he says.

"It's more than I can handle and manage in my life," he says. "I'm holding back tears about this. It was really the toughest decision I made in my life."

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Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 at 12:07 PM

I have a story this week on Fredrick's, a new soul food restaurant that recently opened up on Smithfield Street, Downtown.

I've had lunch there a couple times since it opened and I went to meet the owner one morning last week. He let me in the store and immediately introduced himself as Larry Ross. Which led me to the next obvious question, "Who's Fredrick?"

Ross tells me that Fredrick is a nickname that his mother used to call him when he was a kid.

"She grew up with this kid named Fredrick and he used to driver her crazy," Ross said with a chuckle. "So whenever I'd act a fool or get on her nerves she'd call me 'Fredrick Goosby' and tell me to knock it off."

The nickname stuck and since Fredrick's is a family business — mom actually works with Larry, helping him cook up soul food delicacies like wings, waffles and catfish nuggets — there's a chance you might get to hear a frustrated "Fredrick!" coming from the kitchen on your next visit.

Fredrick's Soul Food; 633 Smithfield St., Downtown; 412-232-1900

Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 at 8:29 AM

Story of the day: Republicans in Tampa said some stuff. It's all so dreary I can't bring myself to provide the full menu of links. So let's just look at the speech given by hometown Virginia hero Rick Santorum. Who trafficked in preemptively-discredited claims about Obama's welfare policies, but everyone expected that. And given Santorum's notable lack of enthusiasm for Romney back in the primary season, it's probably also no surprise that Santorum used the name "Romney" three times in a 1,200 word speech. (By contrast, he dropped his daughter Bella's name five times.) Sums things up pretty well. See you in 2016, Rick!

A pair of stories today about how city schools handle allegations of sexual misconduct. DA Stephen Zappala has announced an investigation into abuse allegations against a school cop that date back more than a decade. Our very own Lauren Daley, meanwhile, has a story on the district's admittedly fumbling response to more recent child-porn allegations against a teacher working with autistic kids.

Did you notice a sort of violent gurgling sound, like 1,000 enema bags being dropped on the floor, yesterday morning? That was the sound of stomachs dropping in newsrooms all across the state that the Harrisburg Patriot-News will be shifting to a three-day-a-week printing schedule next year. For readers outside Harrisburg, this may actually be a good thing: the Patriot-News plans to go all-in on online coverage, and it is of course perfectly positioned to keep track of state politics so the rest of us don't have to. But those of us in the business see job losses a-coming.

You've probably heard that former Senator Arlen Specter is being treated for cancer again. Early reports didn't sound good. But apparently he's out of the hospital now. May he yet take on Death in a game of squash ... and win.

So there's a thing called "The Majority Party PA" which believes that politicians should do what most citizens want them to do. Sounds dangerous to me. But however this newfangled "representative democracy" concept would work, a candidate for statewide office has signed up for it. Still waiting to hear if there's a "Tyranny of the Majority Party" in the offing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Posted By on Tue, Aug 28, 2012 at 2:45 PM

On a Liberty Avenue pole, near the Bloomfield Bridge, somebody has carefully pencilled the lyrics to Captain Beefheart's "Orange Claw Hammer." A tribute to the late musician? Or just bored waiting for the bus?


Posted By on Tue, Aug 28, 2012 at 1:28 PM

Hey, just a quick heads-up: Folks with a few minutes wouldn't waste it by reading this piece on The Verge. Verge features editor Lenny Flatley is a Pittsburgher (and was bassist in the wonderful Pittsburgh band Big Hurry). His piece is on the history of dubstep — and it starts with a scene at Belvedere's. Bon apetit!

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Posted By on Tue, Aug 28, 2012 at 12:39 PM

Last week, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the city's police department, alleging that its hiring practices discriminate against blacks. I'll have a column about that in tomorrow's paper. But in the meantime, here's the first of a couple posts that take a wider-angle look at the problem: First we'll look at where the bureau appears to be headed if present demographic trends continue -- and then we'll look at how we got here.

On the face of it, it might seem hard to understand what the ACLU is bitching about. Today's police force is about 16 percent black, according to the bureau's 2011 annual report, which doesn't sound all that bad in a city where the population is just over one-quarter black. By contrast, back in 1975, when federal judge Gerald Weber imposed new hiring quotas on the city's police, the force was only about 6 percent black.

But if you dig into the city's numbers a bit deeper, you realize that the current situation masks some potentially worrying future trends.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 28, 2012 at 7:55 AM

Story of the day: Republican Tom Smith, who has been running an uphill campaign against incumbent Democrat Bob Casey, becomes this week's Todd Akin by suggesting that an outside-of-marriage pregnancy is "similar" to rape -- at least from "a father's position." You can find take-downs of Smith all over the internet and on Twitter, so no need to rehash them here. I'll just say that Smith has, at least, figured out a way to address his lack of name recognition. He's also managed to make Bob Casey look like a champion of women's rights by comparison -- no easy feat.

Be the first on your block to own one: The state is now issuing its long-promised non-driver photo ID cards, perfect for use at polling places this November. Judging from the illustration accompanying this Philadelphia Inquirer story, the first card was issued to one "Francesca Sample." Seems like the Sample family gets dibs on a lots of stuff. Must be Republicans.

Meanwhile, hundreds of home-health care workers in the region have been waiting weeks to get paid by the Pittsburgh company tasked with issuing checks. WTAE has been sticking with this story about these often-overlooked foot-soldiers in the healthcare system.

Are Republicans giving up on Pennsylvania in this year's presidential election? Some observers think so, given polling this weekend showing President Obama over Mitt Romney by 9 points. Another sign: Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers' Super PAC, is pulling down ads. But progressives -- who can always find the cloud to every silver lining -- are worried the lack of attention might be a bad thing, at least for Democrats in down-ballot races.

Cue another round of self-pity from PSU fans: The school is scrapping the use of "Sweet Caroline" from football games. Already there is speculation that the song is being ditched because of post-Sandusky sensitivity to the lyrics "touching me, touching you ...." A Penn State spokesman, however, assures us that sensitivity is not to blame -- whew! I was worried there. Instead, the song is being scrapped because too many other schools use it -- and the song has no particular Penn State relevance. I mean, c'mon: Pitt uses it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Posted By on Mon, Aug 27, 2012 at 6:00 PM

As soon as I heard the music booming out of the open door of the 31st Street Pub and into the empty street last Monday, i regretted arriving late — only a song or two late, it turned out — and wondered if I’d regret forgetting my ear plugs. Though Scott “Wino” Weinrich and Conny Ochs were supporting their new acoustic effort, Heavy Kingdom, and performing with just a couple acoustic guitars and a kick drum, things still managed to get a little loud or, at least, loud in spirit.

An elder statesman of doom metal, most recognizable for his gruffly direct vocals and long, sea-shell colored mane, Wino’s been party to a ridiculous number of influential bands, including Saint Vitus, the Obsessed, Hidden Hand, Spirit Caravan, and stoner-metal super group Shrinebuilder. I’d seen him once before, also at the Pub, when Hidden Hand was touring with Weedeater and Kylesa about 7 years ago. That was quite a different affair than Monday’s appearance, which — with an entourage of just Wino, Ochs and their tour manager, Al (who apparently drove the van while the other two wrote songs in the back) felt like an impromptu living room show.

As metal dudes go, Wino’s never been particularly known for his darkness or preoccupation with evil, and the songs off of the Heavy Kingdom record -while certainly bleak— are more Woody Guthrie than Electric Wizard. Though I’d hoped for a wilder presence from the younger Ochs, the two shared an unmistakable chemistry, as if they’d been touring together for a decade. The opportunity to focus on Wino’s guitar playing , and to hear his always clean voice fully unfettered by the normal muddy vibrations really was a treat, though few were there to witnessing it on this particular night. I’d wager most Wino fans are probably saving their money to see Saint Vitus at the Rex Theater on September 23rd. Better play it safe and bring ear plugs to that one.

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Posted By on Mon, Aug 27, 2012 at 4:39 PM

Polish Hill Strangler
  • Polish Hill Strangler

You didn't think you'd get away without a new MP3 this Monday, did you?

This week's free stream and download comes from Polish Hill Strangler. The band, of course named for the Striking Distance villain, plays pretty good hardcore punk rock. See for yourself: The track below, "Destruction of the Human Race (Pt. 1)" is the first song on the band's debut full-length.

Polish Hill Strangler: "Destruction of the Human Race (Pt. 1)"

[Download link expired, sorry!]

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