RETRACED ROUTES II – VETERANS BRIDGE, PITTSBURGH

Each man’s destiny is personal only in so far as it may resemble what is already in his memory.

– Eduardo Mallea

In Akron the Hound counter rep says the bus is on time as far as he knows, yes. Neck tattoo with Cleveland snapback stares at you while talking on the pay phone, busted nose with slicked hair tells dusty XXL coat he just got out of prison, Kangol hat hands over $5 for a stack of DVD-Rs, gold tooth asks you for a dime, and tweeker sweatpants wanders with a Taco Bell bag. Sleep-eyed student is dropped off by his buddy and eats a burger while waiting for his bus to DC.

The Hound is 15 minutes late and the driver with fluorescent green vest’s name is Janek, says he’ll only warn anyone once whose music is bleeding out of their headphones or who starts cussing or getting loud on the phone, he wishes everyone a good ride and jokes he likes Pittsburgh but he loves Cleveland so he’s glad to be moving so he can get back there tonight, tells earing’ed driver-in-training in the front seat he’s from Slovakia originally and his son is a cop, Greyhound called him at midnight to take this route, he’s been working seven or eight days straight.

Across the aisle two ladies share a can of Vienna sausages and say they’re heading home to North Carolina and are they on the right bus? 76 to Youngstown, cornfields, snow melting, oddly warm and bright. Ham with Muenster cheese and mustard, necessary Hound fare, like when Mark when was leaving out of Cleveland and you dropped him off with a cheese sandwich your mother had made him, he described for years after how he slowly savored the texture on his way to Binghamton. But at this point, anytime you take a sandwich out of your bag, especially when it is thin and wrapped in foil, you feel like a Pole on a slow train from Kraków to Rzeszów.

Pull down into Youngstown to the station right across the street from Mahoning County Jail, no break cause you are running late but a few get off to smoke and Blackhawks cap comes back in talking about how the Hound from Detroit to Akron had no heat so this is great. Finish William Vollmann’s essay on his FBI file and being mistaken for the Unabomber, get on the turnpike you used to drive while listening to that Aphex Twin cover of Seefeel on repeat, follow the hills peripherally.

Soon enough you’re barreling into the Burgh cross the Veterans Bridge over that high brown Allegheny, all those hills and rivers and yellow bridges (your favorite the 10th Street), always construction and detours, all that brown and grey and evergreen, less coal and steel or slag than those Rust Belt connotations glimpsed through the truss of the Hot Metal Bridge, too much sun on brick and so much rain on Midwestern grime, a city with weight yet never without its smog comfort and iron-bound charm. The station is a few blocks away from where you used to work, pushing papers while listening to Howard Stern and Rye Coalition, where you never got up the nerve to ask out the girl with the huge burn scar on her face, where you first bought an issue of Artforum on your lunch break.

2Transcription of desire, a static forgottenness, or the movement of misremembering? The retraced route is forgotten and only then remembered so it can be forgotten again. Current memories of a trip to Pittsburgh as the current transcription, then. Decaying lattice of memories encountered, filtered, and reformulated during the route, next. Recollection once removed of primary memories recorded during the route, remembered now through revision after a longer period of forgetting, then transcribed. Secondarily removed memories on top of those remembered now of those sparked while there, of neighborhoods and persons only touched upon during the quick cruise and few jokes of the initial movement, finally. All that is and was forgotten between then and now, what was not recorded but somehow registered and then forgotten and not remembered until a point in the future (perhaps a further revision than this), as in, only what has been forgotten can be remembered, as in, only that beyond finality is unforgotten.

You are retracing the route of a visit to a city where you had once lived to spend time with the friend with whom you had once lived, after all. The city has become the friend, but whatever clarity of memory it admitted was a momentary thaw before further calcification. The city-as-friend and friend-as-city hides now more than during the visit but less than when you had resided there with so much unforgotten. The city is not of your youth but of a more trying age and so there it remains, all the more likely to provoke and prod. As the mnemonics self-defeated, the movement of the route was pulled towards a more collaborative forgetting. The trip, route, movement, cruise: the first level of memory and further establishments of forgetting – all of this occurred well over a month ago.

BA is nowhere to be seen when you get off the bus so you wait on the corner for him to pull up in a dirty black Nissan and shyly wave, you hop in and immediately have to make three u-turns to get towards the correct on-ramp, across the river’s the Warhol Museum where you saw Nobukazu Takemura with John Herndon on drums and you’d imitate Jean-Paul Belmondo in the basement photo-booth when you could help not looking too depressed, and soon you’re in Oakland, there’s Joe Mama’s, ever-corny, why did you go there so often, so many Friday evenings, BA with his Rock Hudson sweater, spinach-artichoke routine, you tried to become regulars as if that was possible at a place like that, one Monday even both calling off work to head down and buy used Shostakovich vinyl nearby and then consider Joe Mama’s for a martini lunch, but that seemed ridiculous so you got falafel instead.

Park on Filmore and change into your houndstooth jacket cause it’s so warm out, walk down to Caliban Book Shop to be confronted with those same shelves of Evergreen Review and old black-and-white New Directions, Beckett, Ginsberg, Corso, Genet, BA puts one knee on the floor classically to examine HD’s Tribute to Freud, you find The Polish Peasant in Europe and America and tell BA you’re going to read passages of it aloud to your father when you get home, you purchase the study after asking about the price as it’s scribbled inside illegibly and with tax it comes to $8.02, you hand over a tenner and say you have no pennies, the owner still gives you a pile of change because it’s not like he has a take-a-penny-leave-a-penny going and you remember him always seeming rather unfriendly, which you mention later to BA and he says well he just seems depressed, and anyway BA had just been in there the day before cause he goes in there every week. You walk past where a video store used to be, you had rented Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I upon first moving to the city, continue to a coffee shop where they have a Jolly Rancher pop selection, seems a rather shocking product but here you are, back in America, order a chai tea and immediately regret it cause there is so much milk but end up putting all the change from Caliban’s in the tip jar anyway right when goatee eyebrow-ring turns around, a real George Costanza situation, one bad decision right after the other. BA drinks his coffee black and you talk about his father who is nearing retirement but what will he do with his time, he used to drive for work so much, all over TX and OK and AR, so maybe he’ll just have to keep cruising round Dallas/Ft. Worth while listening to the smooth jazz stations with names like The Wave and Breeze he likes, you know all about that driving from Pittsburgh to Dallas with BA and listening to those stations heading towards Memphis in tribute to his father, who also loves the “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida” drum solo, just like your father does.

Back in the car through Shadyside, you both used to work at the crepe shop on Filbert, crepes with soytang or whipped cream and overpriced Belgian mineral water and Smog droning on the stereo while in between customers you worked on scenes for the “lucky Situationist” who gets choked with a handful of clementines in a street fight, there is a dance scene modeled on Band of Outsiders and a nod to the Nim game in Last Year at Marienbad, you filmed it all between Filbert and the apartment on South Atlantic and your mother still watches it to see your starring role. Continue on South Aiken Avenue, down which you walked one gloomy Sunday afternoon in the snow for lack of anything better to do and ran into absolutely nothing of interest, a failed walk if there is such a thing, no less a nearly failed memory. Then up South Atlantic past the house where you lived on the top floor, Julio that slob of a landlord tried to cheat you of your deposit after you’d moved out, looks pretty decrepit now but while living there you called it The Palace, your downstairs neighbor clambered up that fire escape to bang on your window and tell you to keep it down during a New Year’s Eve party with D and J and Masako as well as BA’s girlfriend of the time known as “PhD” and her brother, woke up next morn to a punched-in clock, blood on the walls, a few holes in the drywall and doors ripped off their hinges, wine-soaked books (your Sensation YBA’s book with great purple stains), D had to come back twice to do repairs. Then two lefts past the corner store that used to be a 7-11 and somehow had a legal bar in the back with plastic and plywood tables, local yinzers chugging Yuengling, and then the beat back of the house down Asterisk Way where the two old ladies from the ground floor would put out a kiddie pool in the summer for splashing around and Shakes would come around, old and wiry with stubble, thick glasses, athletic shorts, a booming voice, he’d whoop it up with the ladies but couldn’t swim, and who else lived there, a long-hair with a huge metal and hardcore record collection, and a hillbilly who always wanted to sell you Vicodin and whose son stole his grandma’s car and was peeling around back early one morning kicking up mud, later that day he got arrested.

Leave Bloomfield and “Welcome to Friendship” up Stratford Ave. to the other place, The Library, ground floor, smoking drugstore corn cob pipes while watching Through a Glass Darkly, reading Studs Terkel’s Working in the bathtub, listening to “In the Air Tonight” on repeat, being asked endless questions on the porch by Alik from Georgia, you ask BA about him and he says Alik lives in North Carolina where he either owns or works in a textile factory, which are both astonishing propositions. As you enter into rush hour traffic along Penn Ave. the memories come more quickly, Jasmine, Jesse, Janelle, David, Terry, Rick, Hot Cup of Soup and her waitress friend with dyed-red hair from The Squirrel Hill Cafe, that cellist, Sun Ra’s Space Is the Place, “Paperback Writer.” BA says he doesn’t like to encounter people he knew from back then too much, like Josh, he came up in your phone conversation a few days prior after BA’d run into him in front of Spice Island and it was awkward, the guy hadn’t aged even though he might be almost 40 now, he used to deliver flowers, you ask if he still dresses like he’s in The Strokes. You head to Giant Eagle to buy beer, the Celebration Ale on BA’s tip and some classic Christmas Ale and you want chips and salsa too, spend a while goofing on these difficult choices, decide to go with the Tostito’s “cantina-style” all around and say whew a lot because it all sounds so festive and tasty, debate buying queso but decide against it as  you’re supposed to have a very rich pasta dish for dinner or something, then head to a state liquor store where you check the vodka selection even though you have a gift bottle of Śliwowica in the trunk and they have nothing interesting anyway, no good Polish vods and you know American Żubrówka is a poor heavy-chemical substitute. BA wants to buy some Scotch for E, he mentions Dewar’s which brings you back to the second-floor of the Zephyr in Kent, a double Dewar’s kept the couple repetitions of “Sister Ray” you’d put on the jukebox tolerable but it’s still a nauseous recall, so BA gets a bottle of Woodford Reserve on your encouragement which no one ends up touching that night, he later puts it on his liquor cabinet next to a bottle of Pimm’s and when you ask why he has Pimm’s he says he doesn’t know. While paying you wonder why BA doesn’t get carded, and come to think of it you didn’t got carded either, how exactly are you both showing your age?

3You agree with BA about picking up more beer and head back to D’s Sixpax and Dogz where he parks in an odd though legal spot, you jaywalk confusedly but this place is supposed to be good, they do vegan dogs too, which is always the first thing you remember about Toronto, the street vendors selling vegan hotdogs, and you confirm with others at Thai Gourmet a couple days later that that is what you mention when the city of Toronto comes up, so you duck back to the “beer cave” and pick out a few choice bottles, none of which you sample that night, and then out past the Regent Square Cinema where you saw Le Cercle Rouge and watched Lee Ranaldo and Text of Light play to the films of Stan Brakhage, which were amazing on the big screen but the drummer played his snare upside down and picked at the snares like he was deboning a fish, you’re still not sure of your feelings on his playing, and you associate that area of the Burgh more with the first song off The New Year’s first album, a vague sense of disappointment aligned so well through music with certain neighborhoods of the city.

Finally to BA’s place, which looks like a lodge of some sort from the outside and inside it is all wood and crown molding and beams and pictures of Proust, Stendhal, birds, Thoreau maybe, Napoleon’s death mask, steamships, books on Baldessari and cave art and The Prado, copies of War and War and A Minor Apocalypse bought on your tip, plenty of old New Directions and Evergreen Review from Caliban’s in the shelves, some Ionesco, busts of Beethoven and Lincoln, photos of you and D from a previous visit when BA lived on Liberty Ave. back in Bloomfield, a tray of old bottles of Diptyque interior scents (figuier and musc particularly resonant). You meet BA’s girlfriend E formally before settling in to drinking at the dining room table, break open the cantina with whispered exclamations of whew while shaking your heads a lot and then you present the Śliwowica, which is taken slowly with expressions of burn while you pet the cats whose names escape you. BA has an old camel-hair jacket that doesn’t quite fit him and he wants to pass it on to you, it’s a little tight and short in the sleeves but it’ll work and be your first jacket of that kind, you keep it on, staying careful not to spill any of the cantina salsa on it. There is a tour of the tiny kitchen with its three varieties of coffee-making devices and the cheese paper BA bought for E as a “gift” because she claimed he wrapped cheese improperly, and you all look out the front windows at the Episcopalian church next door, which they describe as basically chill with a nice red door, and in another two hours BA gives you the tour upstairs, there is an old Penguin paperback of Against Nature on his night table, and you sit in his Eames chair in his office and gaze up at shelves of ontology and violence and rhetoric, you would joke the next morning about the difficulty of being an ontological subject which you both knew was misguided and lame, you talk about Elull and techné and how the cats are not allowed in his office soon realizing it’s getting late and no one has mentioned cooking or dinner yet, which is to be a delicious pasta with three kinds of cheese and a salad with radicchio, you say you can really taste how well the cheese had been wrapped recently, and you go for seconds realizing it all could wind up a brick in your stomach and wake you up at night like when you stupidly ate the massive grilled cheese-pierogi-kraut Parmageddon sandwich at Melt with J and D in Lakewood and woke up on J’s west-side couch with a horrible immoveable gut anchor sinking you into sweat and headache at 3am, that was the same day J took you to see a professional wrestling match down by the Cuyahoga, but after dinner E offers you a “sweet bite” in the form of a caramel, which she pronounces in a manner you suppose may be non-Ohioan with three syllables, and after a while you even dip back into the cantina, why not. Finally it is time for bed so you all go upstairs to spend ten minutes using force to pull out a mattress stuffed into the corner of BA’s closet, socked feet slipping on the carpet and everyone tipping over like a Kramer outtake, finally it is out and under the chalkboard so you move the piles of books on the table over and turn on the lamp, read a little Open City and remain unmoved by it, then you go to sleep.

There are three options for making coffee in the morning – a regular coffee machine (B.A.’s preference), the Keurig (E’s preference), a French press – and you choose the French press as you suppose it the easiest, quickest, and quietest and it remains your preferred method. Rifle about for some bread to make toast and eat a banana, your regular workaday breakfast in Kraków, and soon BA is up figuring out which device to use for his coffee, he makes more white toast and offers you some, you’re still hungry so you accept but then start talking about how good the pasta the previous night was, how cheesy and thick, so you pull it out of the fridge and sample it cold while both figuring although it’s excellent cold you might as well heat it up for breakfast, so BA gets it sizzlin’ and then laughs to use the toast, that earlier breakfast concept, to soak up the oil after the pasta is all hot and gooey and you do the same, whipping the oily bread into the overflowing rubbish can before settling at the dining room table to once again eat pasta but this time silently. When done you sit back with an actual gut-brick feeling and not just the memory thereof, quickly ill to talk about how ill you feel, and there is a lot of quiet besides a couple exasperated whews until you retire to the back porch so BA can have a square and you sit there watching the snow melt.

1After talking about how you may barf you manage to stretch and take a shower in the bathroom that reminds you of your grandparents’ and in turn the bathroom from the mother-son conversation scene in Franny and Zooey, and when you come out E is up but you still have time before you are to leave so you go on a walk with BA around one of those dour Pittsburgh residential neighborhoods with large chimneyed brick houses and there’s rain in the air as you amble up the hill talking about teaching business communication and what that means for rhetoric studies (nothing good), then cut to the left and venture under the busway while you describe how he should really read Lars Iyer’s trilogy soon. You take a couple photos before realizing you should return to the lodge so they can pack for their Christmas trip to visit E’s family and you are to wait, so you settle down with Open City and remain unmoved, then decide on a quick pre-lunch nap as a result of all the breakfast pasta and walking.

When they are ready to go it is raining, suitable Rust Belt conditions for an exit, and you get into the backseat next to the two cat-carriers, BA puts on the Schubert piano works that you will listen to for the entire two-and-a-half hour car trip to Ohio, Schubert played at low volume with a sheen of driving, rain, and chatter over top. An hour and a half later you stop at the Mahoning Valley service plaza for a bite and you say you could really go for a slice or two of Sbarro’s cause that’s ideal rest stop fare but unfortunately there is only Panera and Dairy Queen, BA jokes about getting the DQ fried shrimp basket, which seems an unfortunate idea anytime and especially after the three-cheese pasta breakfast, so you go to Panera and order some “artisanal” smoked turkey panini thing which is overpriced and unsatisfying and you sit in the food court zone watching a bleak, Midwestern Friday afternoon scene of rain and passing cars on the highway, catch sight of a chubby woman at the DQ counter with her sweatpants falling below her rear-end and that is such an awful sight you decide not to look over at DQ again, perhaps ever, and after returning to the car you doze to the Schubert and rain while you are driven home. In the driveway you say goodbye rather quickly though you probably should have encouraged them to come in and say hi but you didn’t and they wanted to get going anyway so they leave. Your mother lets you in so you chat with her for a few minutes, promising to tell her and your father all the details of the trip over dinner, eat a few Christmas cookies, and retire upstairs to watch the rain turn into snow.

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5 thoughts on “RETRACED ROUTES II – VETERANS BRIDGE, PITTSBURGH

  1. […] excited as well as honored that my piece “Retraced Route” – based on a rewriting of this Lethatechnique post – will be coming out in Belt Publishing’s The Pittsburgh Anthology in […]

  2. An interesting discussion is worth comment. I do think that you should write more on this subject, it might not be a taboo subject but generally folks don’t talk about these subjects.
    To the next! Cheers!!

  3. great watch says:

    Spot on with this write-up, I really feel this site needs far more attention.
    I’ll probably be back again to see more, thanks for the information!

  4. veloce100 says:

    I really liked it. What seems like an account of seemingly ordinary events comprising probably about 24 hours turns out to be a journey along the meanders of memory. The length seemed daunting at first, but at the end I craved more… Also, I appreciate the darkness at the end.

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