Writer: ANDY NEWMAN
It's in the latest Community College of Allegheny County "Personal and Professional Development" catalog between "Assertive Communication: Dealing with People and Problems" and "Birds of Pennsylvania." The course is called "Betting on Thoroughbred Horses," and it promises to provide, among other things, "in depth analysis of the Daily Racing Form." When "equipped to predict the outcome of horse races with greater insight and accuracy," graduates might gain something better than assertiveness or aviary aptitude: cold, hard cash.
The instructor is Leslie Cookshott. At the TV-screen-filled Meadows Off-Track-Betting facility in West Mifflin, where he spends three or more days a week, the regulars and the waitresses call him "Les" or "Duke." Observing him in a booth there at 11 a.m. on a recent blustery Thursday morning, just after OTB opened and 90 minutes before post time for the first race at Aqueduct in New York, there is not a hint of the beleaguered look one might acquire from spending a good chunk of the last 30 years at racetracks and off-site betting parlors. He's a bespectacled 55-year-old whose denim jeans and shirt are crisp, whose hair is neatly parted and who has a spring to his step, especially when, as happens at one point, he jumps up from the booth to demonstrate some of the moves he teaches at another CCAC course: country-and-western dancing.
"I've already got the first three races at Aqueduct handicapped," Cookshott says, pouring a cup of coffee from the decanter the waitress leaves. Cookshott actually pays little attention to professional handicappers, who pick the favorites at the track. He rarely bets "chalk," the expression from the days when bookies wrote on chalkboards and favorites' odds would keep being erased and rewritten. "Favorites only win 32 percent of the time," he says, "so why bet chalk?"
Yes, Cookshott has a "system," dozens of priorities and rules he's developed over three decades of betting horses. He says he lost for the first 20 years and then, 10 years ago, started taking notes. "Every time a horse won that I didn't have on my ticket, I studied that horse to no end," he says.
The first thing Cookshott does, and this is not as simple or as obvious as it sounds, is find which horses are the fastest in a given field. (The Racing Form doesn't list the horse's time in its past races, but rather the winning time and how many lengths it was behind the winner, so Cookshott adds a second for every five lengths the horse was behind.) Then he determines the horse that has the best "class," which has been earning money in races at the current purse level. Horses that have been winning at lower purse levels may be, literally, outclassed, at a higher level, while horses that have been racing at higher purse levels have likely come down because they're slowing down.
Those two factors allows Cookshott to determine one of his favorite rules for finding a winner, which he calls the "Murray" rule: If a horse has a pattern of dropping in purse sizes, yet finishing closer to the winner each time, then he's bound when he gets low enough to be the fastest in the pack. "Others would say he's headed for the glue gun," when they see the horse's downward trend, Cookshott says, because they ignore the fact that horse keeps, as he puts it, "gaining in lengths as it drops in class."
Cookshott doesn't pay as much attention to jockeys as many handicappers. "You've never seen a jockey carry a horse across the finish line, have you? That's why I don't handicap jockeys." For any given race, the racing form has "300 bits of information for each horse, and 280 of them is bullshit," Cookshott says. "But you have to be able to decipher it. There's an old saying, 'You've got to know the truth to love the truth.'"
There you have it: Horse wagerer as truth seeker. While that may sound far-fetched, Cookshott says he is one of the estimated 5 percent of gamblers who are actually ahead. He said he's been winning for 10 years and that last year, after the federal government took its share, he made $61,000 in net profit.
No matter how far ahead he is, he doesn't place big bets. "Why don't I have the cojones to bet $50? Because then I don't bet loose. I have to bet loose. When I make big bets I get nervous and I choke. Most people do. They just won't admit it." Those would be compulsive gamblers, about whom Cookshott says, "A lot of them aren't very smart. They do not exercise good stewardship of their finances. They're out of control. Today in my pocket is $220. That's the most I can lose no matter what. I'm not going out to the MAC machine."
He has no interest in slot machines or the lottery. "I do this because I have an edge," he says. "But how can you handicap a ping-pong ball?" On this Thursday, his handicapping edge looks sharp. After the final race at Aqueduct, Cookshott's up $381. "Ask anybody here who cashes the most winning tickets," he says, looking around the OTB. "If anybody else does, he's real quiet about it."
Mind over Mat
Writer: AL HOFF
In my mind, I'm using a string to pull my belly button through the small of my back, a zipper to yank up my pubic bone, a pair of suspenders to hoist my abdomen and a big fish hook to lift my rib cage -- all while I'm trying to inhale through my nose and exhale through my mouth. And I haven't even begun to move my arms and legs. Now: one leg out, inhale, one leg in, exhale, hands over head, hold breath by mistake, pull, exhale, switch, think, in, over, out, exhale, yank ... wait, what? I'm fixated so intently on various imaginary devices and flexed feet that I am simply forgetting to breath.
Tracy Pelkowski, my instructor at the weekly Pilates mat class at Dance Alloy, is sympathetic. "Thinking about the navel to spine, the zipper, the suspenders -- imagining all those things while at the same time trying to keep your chest soft or fingers flexed ... the multi-tasking that's going on in your brain can be overwhelming until your muscle memory starts to pick up."
An early 20th-century interest in "physical culture," which included regimes of exercise, diet, positive thought and other mainstays of healthier living, spawned many new practitioners, Joseph Pilates among them. Pilates was a German national working in the British Isles when the outbreak of World War I forced his relocation to an internment camp. Undaunted by circumstances, so the legend goes, he taught his physical and mental strengthening system, which he called "contrology," to fellow internees. In 1926, he opened a Pilates Studio in New York City, where his exercises soon found favor with dancers. Today, they're increasingly popular with anybody who wants to be more flexible and toned.
Pelkowski certainly makes it look easy and desirable to, say, bend over at the waist and place her palms flat on the floor. She's been dancing since age 5, practicing Pilates since 1999, and teaching it since 2000. "I started it because I had a lower back injury from dancing, and I wasn't able to dance anymore. I started taking Pilates from Gwen Ritchie (who also teaches at Dance Alloy) and I found out that there are all these muscles that I could be using more effectively to protect my lower back. Within a year of starting Pilates, I was able to dance again."
Dancing is grand, but I'd just like to get up off the couch without groaning at the effort. Pelkowki is emphatic about Pilates' benefits for even the most tentative beginner. "Anyone off the street who is not a dancer will automatically find increase in strength and have better posture. They'll be able to move with more ease and have an increased awareness of the body."
Pilates, like yoga, has the distinct advantage that once you master the exercises, you need only time and a few feet of space to perform them. No equipment to buy, no monthly fees -- though having an instructor guide you is extraordinarily helpful. "A good teacher is talking you through it all the time, so you can focus more on the subtleties. And the great thing about Pilates is that I can have a class with three total beginners and several other people who have been doing it for a while, and I can teach them at the same time. While I'm teaching beginners the basic ground work, I can come up with modifications to make those exercises more difficult for the more experienced people."
I'm starting my "contrology" campaign however modestly: I've been practicing my breathing all week waiting for the bus, and feeling better for it. Pelkowski avers: "You could have not done anything your entire life and you'll get something out of your first class."
Irish Traditional Music Repertoire
The Humours of Lawrenceville
Writer: JUSTIN HOPPER
In the back of a crammed pub in Western Ireland, men and women sit stoically while bashing away on banjos and whistles and fiddles, passing instruments to their neighbors, while all around them the tables and chairs come up to make way for dancers. In the corner with the other tourists, you clutch your blue passport as a sort of talisman: physical proof that there's no reason you should know how to pick up the whistle and play "The Humours of Ballingary."
Sure, that'll work at Dick Mack's in Dingle, or the Quays in Galway, but what about Emma's coffee shop in Lawrenceville, or Mullaney's Harp and Fiddle? What if the players aren't slick-haired Kerry men but the woman whose Office Space-like cubicle is down the aisle from yours? How do you tell her that, yes you've toyed with the fiddle since you were 9, but you're scared to sit down with the lads?
Believe it or not, there're enough others like you to get the Calliope folk music society's school to sponsor a class in Irish Traditional Music Repertoire -- the first step towards sitting down with the big boys and picking out "Silver Spear" over a pint. Members of the Pittsburgh chapter of Irish-music society CCE (Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann) have joined with Calliope to teach students the basics of joining in on a traditional Irish session in Pittsburgh: the basic repertoire, etiquette, and most of all, the basics of learning to play by ear, on the spot, at the moment. Because in an Irish session, things are a little bit chaotic at best.
"I think we're concentrating more on their musicality," says Kathy Fallon, guitarist and teacher with CCE. "They can play it as simply as they want -- some players will have a lot of ornamentation, some will play just the basic parts of the tune, and that's perfectly acceptable."
Tonight, Fallon and co-instructor (and tin-whistle player) Carla Dundes are playing tunes for a small group of Irish dance enthusiasts in the unlikely setting of the Squirrel Hill American Legion post. Gigs such as this reinforce to Fallon the need for that musicality.
"A couple of months ago, we were playing here and [the others] were playing a tune and I'd never heard it. I asked, 'What's that tune?' and one of them said 'We don't know the name of it,' and another added, 'And we don't know how it goes!'"
According to Dundes and Fallon, their class (co-taught with other CCE musicians) concentrates on teaching a basic repertoire of dance tunes -- reels, jigs, polkas, hornpipes -- including both standards that are played around America, and tunes that are specifically favorites here in the 'Burgh.
"Starting out as a beginning player," says Dundes, "there seems to be this huge volume of tunes, and people really get overwhelmed with it. I think it really helps to have someone show you what's actually played here in the city; it narrows down what you should start out learning to play. What we tried to do with the class is come up with some really common tunes played here in Pittsburgh, and so they could certainly join in and play with us, but also they could go to other cities and other areas or camps, and play with other people."
It's an interesting idea, since most or all of the tunes CCE teaches could be learned from CDs or books. But this is an oral tradition, after all, and there's something unnecessarily lonesome about sitting alone in the home with a Chieftains disc. That's the real treat of ensemble learning -- at the end of each class, a short session leads the students out with some real playing, and you can't get that digitally. Similarly, the teachers get something they can't get otherwise: more players. According to Fallon and Dundes, while there's a strong and growing Irish dance scene in Pittsburgh, the number of musicians participating seems mostly stagnant.
"This is a very social music; it's much more fun if you're doing it with other people," says Dundes. "The students tend to feel that by having someone actually teach them the tunes, teach them a little bit of etiquette, and then we end each class with a little bit of a session, they feel like they're able to walk into a place and sit down and maybe play."
The Contemporary Muslim World
Giving Islam a chance
Writer: CHRIS POTTER
Dalia Mogahed and her family picked an inauspicious date to move from Wisconsin to Pittsburgh: Sept. 11, 2001.
"We had everything packed, but at 8:30 in the morning we heard what happened and we were like, 'Guess we're not driving across Middle America today,'" she recalls. They drove to Pittsburgh the next day instead, but it wasn't until they went to the mosque in their new home that she began to feel comfortable.
"Close to half the people there were non-Muslims showing support for the community," says Mogahed. "That turned the atmosphere -- the feeling of being in hostile territory -- around for me."
But Mogahed, a graduate student at Pitt's Katz School of Business, says she often feels "helpless and frustrated by the misinformation about Islam that's propagated by so-called experts." And Pittsburgh is perhaps less equipped to sort out fact from fiction than other places: Regional colleges rarely offer more than the occasional class in Islam. So far "there hasn't been a push for it, which is amazing since it's such a huge number of people in such a large part of the world," she says.
To address that blind spot, Mogahed directs the outreach program for the Consortium for Educational Resources for Islamic Studies, an umbrella group for local educational institutions trying to increase people's understanding of Islam. She's also teaching a not-for-credit evening class titled "The Contemporary Muslim World," that begins in February.
"The biggest challenge is to explain Islam to people who are stuck in a bipolar view of the world," she says. "If I say Muslims refuse to exile God from the public sphere, people assume you must be a theocracy. But there's a third way. God said that after the Quar'an, there will be no revelation." And because the Quar'an is literally the last word in Islam, "That eliminates the idea that anyone today can speak for God, and that immediately translates into the idea that we are all equal. Democracy is enshrined in the Quar'an."
What about Afghanistan under the Taliban, which most Americans see as being governed by a brutal fundamentalist sect bent on subjugating women? What about the infamous fatwas, in which Muslim religious leaders have called for the death of Salman Rushdie? Mogahed says fatwas "are equivalent to a doctor's medical opinion": Muslims are free to get a second opinion if they like. In fact, even the phrase "Muslim religious leaders" can be misleading. Since Islam is nothing more or less than what is in the Quar'an, Mogahed says, "We don't have a clergy. What we have are scholars, just like professors at a university. There isn't a body that decides a correct opinion."
As for Afghanistan, "that's a special case." Given the chaos wreaked on the country by the Soviet Union's occupation in the 1970s and '80s, "The Taliban was the lesser of two evils. They were extremist, but they brought order where there was complete chaos." And as those of us living under the PATRIOT Act can attest, "People are willing to give up some liberties for security." Women suffered during the Taliban era, certainly, and Mogahed is no defender of the Taliban. But women were also the greatest victims in the civil war that preceded their rule. "Women were regularly gang-raped and sold between tribes," Mogahed says. In fact, the notorious Mullah Omar began his rise to the head of the Taliban after he saved a young woman from being raped.
Americans often focus only on the harshest element of Muslim law, sharia: "People always talk about hudood, the maximum criminal punishment for a crime -- stoning adulterers and cutting off the thief's hand," Mogahed says. But Islam teaches that such punishments can be administered only in societies where there is enough charitable support that there is no reason to steal. "If you steal from hunger, you aren't punished," she says. "Islam sets up a justice system that concentrates 99 percent of its efforts on prevention and 1 percent on punishment."
In six two-hour sessions, Mogahed's class will address these misconceptions, what they mean in the "war on terror," and the history of Muslims in America (they have been here for centuries). At the end of the course, she hopes, people will find that Muslims "are not people to subjugate or even to liberate, but people to understand and interact with as equals."
Run, Baby, Run
An elective for the electable
Writer: MARTY LEVINE
Even if politics makes for strange bedfellows, Lawrenceville activist Gloria Forouzan doesn't want to tell you whom to sleep with. She's more concerned with finding the bed, the right sheets and maybe even the best breakfast afterward.
"I call it a kamikaze workshop," she says of "Run, Baby, Run," a one-day seminar she has organized for January and June on the practicalities of politics. "We're not going to talk about the ethics or morals of running," she explains -- just for instance. But she hopes to teach people the nitty-gritty of running for city, county or even bigger offices: from filling out the right forms to attracting enough attention. The workshop is aimed especially at turning one part of the electorate into the elected -- young people. It includes presentations and panel discussions by fresh, young office-holders (such as new school-board member Patrick Dowd and state Rep. Jake Wheatley), the people who helped put them in office, and the unavoidable media (including City Paper's Julie Mickens). Forty people are registered so far, says Forouzan -- two-thirds of them women.
Monica Douglas believes she knows why there has been a dearth of young people in politics. Douglas, 33 and a long-time Republican supporter, was recently elected to the Elizabeth Borough council and coordinated 750 volunteers for County Executive Jim Roddey's unsuccessful re-election bid this fall. She'll be instructing the workshop on the use of volunteers.
"At the college level [people] have the time and the interest" in politics, Douglas says. "But there seems to be a gap, from about 22 to 35," in people's political involvement. "They're trying to find out who they are, they're in the workforce, they may be married and have a young family." The other obstacle for political novices may be even tougher: "Often in Allegheny County you're running against the establishment, against people who have been in office 20 to 30 years. It can be a little bit intimidating."
She is heartened by the recent election of Wheatley and two young city council members, Bill Peduto and Luke Ravenstahl.
Still, the tiniest gaffe has the potential to send voter-virgins running from a race, says long-time political adviser Wayne Gerhold, another workshop presenter. "Simple little things that [candidates] don't think about at the beginning of the campaign can result in disaster -- getting kicked out," says the Downtown lawyer, who since 1979 has been walking candidates through the maddening minutiae of filing dates, petition signature rules and the like. Most recently, he was the treasurer for Doug Shields' successful city council bid.
Don't get Gerhold started on candidates' record-keeping: "They're collecting money and paying bills and not keeping track of it. Next think they know, they have financial reports to do. They're up until 3 in the morning, trying to recreate everything that happened in the last three months."
Forouzan -- the former executive director of the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project whose first foray into politics was helping out the Dowd campaign -- says she'll be concentrating on the big questions: "How to determine whether you should run. Have you worked on any issues in your community? Is your spouse or significant other totally behind this? Are you healthy and are you sane? Do you look healthy and do you look sane? I'm serious -- it's really quite grueling, both mentally and physically."
If the experience of the youngest workshop presenters is any clue, Pittsburgh may have to breed politicians.
"I was pretty much born into political activity," says 28-year-old Marimba Milliones, whose father succeeded her mother on the city school board two decades ago Today she is CEO of the five-year-old Milestone New Media Group, which specializes in public relations, printed materials and Web sites -- the subject of her workshop presentation. She has done work for numerous campaigns, including Wheatley's.
"I definitely think that young people are disgruntled and have lost faith in our political system and have become apathetic," she says. "That's proven every election," by low voter turnout.
If Pittsburgh can't breed them, we'll apparently have to rely on the mesmeric powers of television.
"I started when I was 11," says Mike DeVanney, executive director of Republican Committee of Allegheny County, now in his mid-20s. He'll be talking to the workshop about forming a campaign team. "A woman who worked with my mother called and said, 'We have this great guy running for Congress -- Rick Santorum.'" His parents weren't interested in helping out, says DeVanney, but he was. "I can actually remember watching the 1988 Republican convention, and that grabbed my interest. If George Bush and Dan Quayle can excite you, you know this is your field."
Look, Ma! No lens!
Writer: BRENTIN MOCK
When peering through the lens of your 35 mm or digital camera, what you see, for the most part, is what you'll get.
Not so with pinhole photography -- a grassroots process that produces true-life images without the use of a lens, shutter, aperture reading, timer, memory card, photolab software kits or even a camera ... kinda.
Your tools of choice for this stripped-down form of photography can be an old shoebox, an empty container of cheesy poofs or that Quaker oatmeal box you've been meaning to throw out.
What you do is take the Quaker dude's head and carve a block out. After affixing a square sheet of aluminum foil over the opening, you take a sewing needle and put a hole in his head like he was the target of an assassination, right through the aluminum. Band-Aid the hole with electrical black tape and then spray the inside of the container with black paint. After inserting photographic paper or film opposite the hole and closing the container, place the box in front of your subject and lift off the black tape. As light slowly filters through the hole, anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes, an image is produced.
But, "What you see is never what you'll get," says Lauren Elmer, the fresh-out-of-college teacher of pinhole photography adult classes at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild.
"It's very unpredictable," says Elmer, "You never can tell really what the camera's going to capture, and there will always be this dreamlike effect."
An image Elmer took of herself kneeling before the MCG building would have an observer believe she was positioned at a corner edge of the building when in fact the wall behind her is a flat side. Images are picked up inside the contraption with a fish lens-like appearance: hazy and smeared backward at the corners.
Just as intriguing as the image, though, is the device itself and how it can be constructed from your everyday, laying-around-the-house items instead of dropping a few hundred dollars on the more technological specimens and their must-have accessories. Which is why this class has been a huge draw for the middle school and high school kids Elmer has taught pinhole photography to in the past. Elmer says she's confident this class will have the same kind of appeal for the older demographic.
"It's just a beginning, for the most part, for students to grow as a photographer or an artist in general," says Elmer, "and we welcome any kind of student at any level."
Pinhole photography is one of six adult classes MCG will offer this winter and has never been taught before at MCG. Pinhole, in fact, is rarely taught anywhere in this region. It's a more popular artform in Europe where Elmer first took classes on it while studying abroad in Florence, Italy. While the optical principles behind pinhole photography were experimented with as far back as the Egyptian pyramid architects or Michaelangelo and da Vinci, it gained popularity in the '70s when photographers sought to prove the point that cameras could be made out of anything. Hence, artists constructed pinhole cameras out of paper bags, vegetables and their own kitchen appliances ... such as refrigerators.
And as with many things in life, with pinhole photography, size matters. The bigger the container, the bigger the image. But there's something to be said for motion, also! Within the course of the one or two minutes it takes to produce the image, if the subject is moved to a different spot for a short amount of time, but then returned to its original location, a soft image of the brief movement is captured within the picture. The end result shows what looks literally like a ghost in the machine.
At the end of Elmer's six-week course, selected pinhole photos will be exhibited at a Penn Avenue gallery Downtown.
Digital cameras are sexy and all -- offered in cell phones and key chains and other inconspicuous items. But for its aesthetic value Elmer says she'll take her pinhole over the digis any day. Besides, nothing beats walking around with a Quaker oatmeal box around your neck.
New Riffs on Old Harmony
Writer: JOSHUA SCHRIFTMAN
I am a prophet and am called to be one. Father Frederick Rapp's words, not mine. He said them in 1781, under the distinct impression that the return of the Lord was imminent. He also said them in preparation for a career as the leader of a separatist religious movement. His followers called themselves the Harmony Society, and they opened their first peaceful and prosperous commune in Harmony, Pa., in 1804. These business-savvy zealots -- whose successful ventures included textile manufacturing -- followed Father Rapp through three different settlements, finally settling down for good in Old Economy.
The only thing that kept them from becoming a shaping force on the young American landscape was that they were also celibate. By 1905, they'd all died. No aliens, no cloning, no ritual suicide. Just the eventually desolating precept of celibacy. I decided to be their groupie for a day. Sort of a Rapphead -- you know, following around Papa Rapp and the Harmonites, smoking in all the parking lots, selling hemp necklaces for bus money, practicing celibacy to save my soul.
Seriously, though, tracing their path turned out to be a welcome and easy winter diversion. I left Pittsburgh late Sunday morning in my trusty, rusty Civic and pulled into a snowy, drizzly Harmony around noon. The museum, which seemed to be the main Harmonite attraction in Harmony, wasn't slated to open until 1, so I walked around town while I waited.
Ancient-looking log and brick cabins stood next to modern suburban-style homes, and a pea-green river ran through the back end of downtown. Along the sleepy riverside, a snowy bench, a burnt-out fire pit, and a slew of nearby Harmony-related knickknack shops all suggested that sunnier times might bring a bit more revelry to these banks. In fact, consulting my handy Off the Beaten Path guide to Pennsylvania, I found that come Labor Day something called "The DankFest" fills the town with revels. Hmm. Do I see a return to Harmony in my near future?
After a short, cold wander along the river, I ducked inside a small tourist place called "Bear Bottom Antiques." I found the shop's proprietor hidden between a strange selection of ancient 45s and washing boards, and I asked him for directions to a good place for lunch. He directed me to the Harmony Inn, located in an impressive old building just down the street. The food was excellent, and although I was literally generations younger than my fellow diners, the place was still fireplace-cozy. Anyhow, the clock struck 1 and I was off to the museum.
The museum was still closed. But serendipitously, I met the museum's treasurer, a more or less round man who spoke through his mustache and said things like "Hmmph! Well! It says here that it should be open! Well ...!" He invited me into his warmly decorated home next door and, amidst apologies, explained that their museum was privately run by volunteers, not funded by the state like the one at Old Economy. He offered me some phone numbers of other volunteers, excused himself graciously, and was off to something very important. Setting the numbers aside, I accepted that my first attempt to experience the Harmonites had failed; I hopped back into my Civic and set off down Route 68 to Old Economy in Ambridge.
Along the way, I had a chance to catch the end of the Beaver County Sunday Turkey Shoot at the American Legionnaires' outpost, held weekly at 1 and open to all. Another roadside stop at the Lapic Winery, just off Route 68, provided one of the least pretentious tastings ever hosted by an actual winery. "Now this one," the winery worker told me, "it tastes a little more ... you know ... winey."
Having happily experienced both a yummy wine-tasting and a turkey shoot (but never, ever in that order), I finally arrived in Ambridge, where I obtained my entrance ticket for the Old Economy commune. I walked through the gate on a self-guided tour, as my 4 o'clock arrival made me too late for the guide-guided tours. Then I stood in an authentic 19th-century garden grotto for 30 minutes or so as the rain poured down around me. While the grotto was really very atmospheric, this wasn't so exciting, so I made some calls on my cell phone to pass the time. The other buildings in the compound -- the granary, the schoolhouse, a museum -- all looked like they might be a bit more worth seeing than the grotto, but unfortunately the sun had started going down before I could really get a good wander around. In lieu of the missed historical exploration, I decided to check out downtown Ambridge.
Pretty much everything closes down on Sundays in Ambridge, except for the Dominion Full Gospel Church, which was rocking away like the Second Coming was about to go down and the Harmonites were right after all. A few blocks down the street, a cinema exuded the smell of popcorn, and children's laughter broke the surrounding silence. Across the street from the theater, a darkened shop called "Attic Upstairs" advertised "Balloons for All Occasions!"
Eventually, after a meaty dinner and a cup of coffee at Maple's Restaurant (where it seemed all the Ambridgian Sunday-night diners dined), I was on my way back to the city. I had to admit that I never did learn much more about the Harmonites, but somehow the trip still felt like a success. I wondered briefly if there were a parallel to be drawn between exploration, travel and the Harmonites' celibacy: something about acting in good faith and journeys without ends, something about the process and not the product being the important thing. Before too long, however, I decided that I was reaching. Satisfied that I'd gotten to go to a turkey shoot and to hang out in a garden grotto, I just kept driving.
Live and Learn
More places to work your brain -- and the rest of you
Calliope School of Folk Music
Winter Calliope classes begin Feb. 2 on Chatham College campus, Shadyside. For more info or to register for this or other Calliope folk music classes, contact Calliope at 412-432-0333 or email@example.com by the Jan. 26 registration deadline. A complete listing of Calliope classes is available at www.calliopehouse.org.
Offers classes for children, teens and adults, from "First Steps" for 3-year-olds to the ancient practice of yoga. Ballet, ballroom, modern, Latin, hip hop. For questions, call 412-363-4321 or visit www.dancealloy.org. Also meeting at the Dance Alloy space (in Friendship) are classes in the Chinese martial art Baiyuan Tongbei Quan (call 412-361-4030 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) and the Gong Lung Sing Si Deui Steel Dragon Lion Dance Team (412-362-7543 or www.steel-dragon.org).
Manchester Craftsmen's Guild
Besides its well-known youth programming, the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild offers six art classes in its Winter-Spring term for adults, in photography, ceramics and digital arts, some starting the first week in February and others beginning in March. www.manchesterguild.org. 412-322-1773 ext. 301.
Pittsburgh Center for the Arts
Classes feature traditional art offerings -- including the largest ceramics program of its kind in Western Pennsylvania -- as well as unique workshops, such as a quilting class based on the Underground Railroad quilt patterns, and "Turn Your Art Into a Business." (Teens are welcome in PCA classes; classes for younger children are also available.) Open-studio enrollment also available, and a limited number of need-based scholarships are available. Most classes hold their first sessions from Jan. 17 to Jan. 26; register by mail, phone or fax; first-come, first-served. www.pittsburgharts.org. 412-361-0455.
Western Pennsylvania Field Institute
Offers a full schedule of winter sports and nature-appreciation outings and instruction for novices as well as experienced adventurers. Most events are open to everyone, while some are targeted specifically to senior citizens, children, singles or women. For a full schedule see www.wpfi.org. 412-255-0564.
Southwestern Pennsylvania Red Cross
Know that you'd be useful in an emergency: Red Cross classes in first aid, CPR and other lifesaving skills are practical and inexpensive. Check out the current schedule at www.swpa.redcross.org. 888-217-9599 (Downtown Pittsburgh).
Connelley Technical Institute, Pittsburgh Public Schools
The city schools' "adult division," Connelley offers free English-as-a-Second-Language instruction, Adult Basic Education classes, and GRE classes and testing. Also, tuition-based trade and certificate programs for 6, 12 or 24 months are available in fields such as nursing, cosmetology, automotive technology and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning). www.trfn.clpgh.org/connelley/. 412-338-3700.
Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council
According to the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, one in five adults functions at the lowest level of literacy. GPLC teaches reading and literacy, writing, basic math, computer skills and English-as-a-Second-Language. Scheduling is flexible and most instruction is given via one-on-one tutoring or in small groups. www.gplc.org. 412-661-7323.
EVERYTHING BUT THE KITCHEN SINK
University of Pittsburgh
In addition to for-credit programs aimed at adults, University of Pittsburgh's Learning Solutions program offers stand-alone noncredit classes in "personal enrichment" -- for instance, the history class "Presidential Assassinations" -- and professional development, featuring topics like grant-writing and understanding legal contracts. www.solutions.pitt.edu. 412-624-6600.
Community College of Allegheny County
From accounting to welding technology, CCAC is possibly the largest adult-education provider in the area. For-credit students should begin by contacting the admissions office via CCAC's Web site, or start by calling admissions at the Allegheny campus at 412-237-2700. Noncredit students can search for courses and register online. www.ccac.edu. 412-244-5206.
Though not listed here, most of the area's colleges and universities offer services and support -- including financial aid -- for adult students who are serious about beginning college, returning to finish a degree or continuing their educations with for-credit classes. Also, there're more enrichment classes out there than we could round up. For more ideas, browse the Carnegie Library's list of lifelong learning links at www.carnegielibrary.org/subject/education/lifelong.html.
-- JULIE MICKENS