A Season of Stuff: Blue Nile matchbook

A Season of Stuff is a writing challenge that I will be doing for the length of Spring 2016.  The plan – to pick some object from within my personal possessions each day and write about it – its history, its significance, etc.  Come on in – check out my stuff.


Ethiopian food and I got off to a bad start. I blame a man named Scott (withholding last names).

The year was 1999 and some of us were heading to the first Allied Media Conference (or at the time it was called something just like Underground Zine Conference or something like that).  I think it was Deanna, Eric the Red and I who had definite plans to go in my car.  Somehow Scott, who lived in Philly, got in touch with me about catching a ride from Pittsburgh to Bowling Green, OH where the conference would be held.  He said he was making his way from Philly to Pittsburgh by bus.  I didn’t personally know Scott but knew him via projects he had done – zines, record label, etc.  I knew he was a bit off but decided that it would be ok.  He asked if it would be ok to bring some parts of his “bicycle orchestra” with him.  I told him no as we had limited space in the Saturn wagon.

Come the day we are to leave, we go to pick him (and his partner) up from the bus station.  No sight of them.  This was pre-cellphone so I don’t even really remember how we tried to track him down, but we eventually did and found out he was with Dave Duncil.  They showed up at the bus station shortly after.  Scott then proceeds to pull out this huge bag that includes several bike wheels strapped to it.  We cram it in the back of the car and get rolling. During the several hour trip he keeps just pulling random shit out of his bag, like original mockups for record label ads from 1994.  Then he says that he has leftover ethiopion food in his bag and starts digging it out. At the time I knew nothing about ethiopian food, but knowing what I know now, I have no idea how he was transporting it or dealing with it.  He was just reaching in and pulling out hunks of injera bread.  I think the rest of us all politely declined.

After the awkwardness of the ride out, i’m kinda surprised I gave him a ride back to Pittsburgh but we did, during which he got mustard all over the back seat of the car.  Fuckin’ hell.  Anyway, this is why for quite awhile when someone would talk about ethiopian food, I was always hesitant.

But luckily somewhere before too long I got to actually try some Ethiopian food.  It was in Philly, so it may very well have been the same restaurant where Scott’s travel food came from.  I don’t know, but it was decent.  Not mindblowing, but definitely opened me up to the idea of having more of it.  I’ve come to have lots of amazing ethiopian over the years, mostly in DC (seriously, the last 3 times i’ve had ethiopian in DC have been legendary). But my main long-distance, long-term love was with a little place in Columbus, OH called Blue Nile.

I think a large part of Blue Niles charm was the company I normally kept while eating there.  This was a period where we would go out to Columbus frequently to see or play shows.  My old band He Taught Me Lies played in Columbus numerous times on our “tours” and each time we hit up Blue Nile, usually with some residents of Columbus in tow, such as the residents of the Legion of Doom (punk house extraordinaire where we often played).  In more recent years, Emma’s little sister moved out to Columbus, which gave us more opportunities to eat there.  Over the years it became the place that we would always try to eat at when we were in Columbus.  It was a cozy little establishment with super friendly owners.  Thank god I didn’t let that initial experience scar me for life or I would have missed out on some great meals in such a sweet little spot.

I haven’t been to Columbus now for almost a couple years but I’ve been told that Blue Nile has shut down.  However, there is rumor of a new, better ethiopian restaurant now.  Blue Nile – you live in my heart, but I look forward to checking out your replacement.

Sidebar: In the “restaurants to check out in Columbus” department, I will highly highly recommend Dosa Corner.  In 2009 Emma took me to Columbus for my birthday for a getaway where we stayed in a really swank hotel.  We decided we wanted to eat dosas, so we hunted this place down.  We ordered a bunch of food, picked it up and took it back to the hotel, stripped down to our underwear and sat on our King-sized bed where we ate dosas and watched “Mean Girls”.  A top notch way to spend an evening out of town.



A Season of Stuff: big kicks

A Season of Stuff is a writing challenge that I will be doing for the length of Spring 2016.  The plan – to pick some object from within my personal possessions each day and write about it – its history, its significance, etc.  Come on in – check out my stuff.


In 2001 I finally started a record label – one of those things that every punk/hardcore kid talks about at some point – “I’m gonna put out some records.  I’m gonna run a label.”.  The label was Hardtravelin’.  The first release was the “Go Down Fighting, Come Up Smiling” compilation CD featuring something like 24 bands that were regularly playing Roboto during its early years.  Then, with some help from my friend Joey, who was at the time doing Hope Records, we began to do some other records – Io’s “The Willow Snag” CD and then my band He Taught Me Lies “The Monkey Part of the Job” CD both in early 2002.

Joey and I then began talking about doing a seven-inch series. The idea was to put out a series of a half-dozen or so 7″ records by local bands all with some thematic packaging and/or concept.  I think Tree Records’ “Post Marked Stamps” series from the 90’s was our main inspiration.  The first band we decided we wanted to work with was Alpha Control Group C [formerly The Control Group(pe)].

ACGC were a band that didn’t play out too much but they were, I think, well liked and respected.  Dan has been in Pressgang and Human Investment.  Tim had been in Davenport and Human Investment.  They were all really great musicians and made some fucked up angular new wave/no wave/post rock/punk rock mess of stuff.  Dan’s guitar playing was fucked up (in a good way), his vocals unique and his lyrics bitter and biting.  To this day Tim remains one of my favorite Pittsburgh drummers.  One top reason is that he always seems to be enjoying himself so much when he plays (and, he’s just a great drummer).  Justin laid out some funky keyboard parts and some raspy/soulful vocals on occasion.  Lenny gave them some driving low end.

Good dudes and we were stoked to work with them, but I think it became obvious to Joey and I that the 7″ series wasn’t going to really happen as imagined and the ACGC guys had their own ideas about what they wanted the packaging to be like, so we just decided to do this as a one-off 7″ release.

ACGC wanted to do letterpress covers and wanted to work with local printers Third Termite, which meant the covers would look awesome but also meant some extra expense.  ACGC agreed to pay for the necessary letterpress plates to be created, so all was good there.  I remember we got the test presses of the vinyl back and they sounded off, so we had to get them re-done.  A handful of small problems worked out and finally everything came together and the record saw the light of day.  There was no proper release show – but they were playing some Manny show at the 31st Street Pub and we kinda made that their release show.  I don’t remember who they opened for but there wasn’t much attendance and i’m not sure we sold any records.  I think that was my first time at the pub.

But the covers looked great….


Of course, in the long standing tradition of punk rock, Pittsburgh punk rock and the soon to be tradition of Hardtravelin’ bands, ACGC called it quits shortly after the record came out. Justin moved off to Chicago and while they would play a few more shows in the future, the record never got the attention it deserved.  They would get back together again a little bit later and record another batch of songs for a CD that they would self-release, though they would ask Joey and I if they could put the Hope and Hardtravelin’ names on it (as if this would help the record sell?)  That CD, “Beta Decay”, is also an awesome release.  I still have a handful of copies of the 7″, so if you want one, get in touch.  Someone might still have a stack of those CD’s laying around.

Anyway, a couple years back now Dan was getting ready to move out of Pittsburgh and was clearing out his house of unnecessary belongings, trying not to haul too much stuff with him on his way to DC.  He dropped me a message asking if i’d want the letterpress plates from the 7″ cover. These are metal plates (copper?  bronze? brass?) mounted on wood.  They are pretty handsome on their own, so I thought they’d be cool to have around, and as I mentioned yesterday, I did consider myself a bit of a pittsburgh punk archivist, so, of course I said “Yes, I will take those”.

There are a total of 3 plates.  Two smaller plates make up the plates that were used for the “yellow/gold” sections on the front and back of the cover.  Then there is the one big plate (shown above) that was used to create the black sections.  The two smaller plates hang out on a shelf in our front living room downstairs while this larger plate sits on the desk in our guest room.

The label would fold in 2006 after 13 releases.  A good time but I was never good at trying to sell things and bands kept breaking up, so I called it, but I think I was lucky enough to put out some really great records by some great people and be part of a really sweet time in Pittsburgh music.  Having these printing plates around the house is a cool reminder of this release, the label and that specific time in my life.


A Season of Stuff: A Shampoo that works like a conditioner

A Season of Stuff is a writing challenge that I will be doing for the length of Spring 2016.  The plan – to pick some object from within my personal possessions each day and write about it – its history, its significance, etc.  Come on in – check out my stuff.


Having a large house – especially one with both an ample attic and basement can be a dangerous thing.  Stuff accumulates quickly.  Weird shit especially makes its way to some shelf in a far off corner where you only ever see it several times a year and think “Why the hell do I have that?” and then you leave it there, cuz why not, right?

And so it is with this bottle of “Shampoo that works like a conditioner” (actually just a bottle of bubble stuff), swag from the old Pittsburgh band Paul Lynde 451 from one of their rare shows at the old Roboto space.  I tried looking at the big list of Roboto shows to see if I could figure out what show it was from.  July 16, 2002 seems like a likely date, the only confirmed show I have on that list.  It was most definitely not October 5, 2002 which is listed in one version of that show list as “supposed to be a paul lynde 451 show but they cancelled, and it ended up being totally awesome dudes and unsound and some crappy high school band that covered nirvana.”   Awesome.  Totally awesome.

Anyway, Paul Lynde 451 was a fairly long running Pittsburgh band that performed in drag.  They had a song called something along the lines of “Shampoo that works like a conditioner”, perhaps a song about gender-bending in some fashion, I don’t recall, but at this show they had several bottles of this “shampoo” that they gave out during their set.  Somehow I ended up with it and thinking myself some level of a Pittsburgh punk archivist, felt it was worth keeping around.  This then survived the move from my old house to our current house when we bought it and at some point made its way into our basement.  Why the basement?

Looking at the bottle you have Mike Shanley in some type of questionable geisha costume on one side and on the other is Spaz looking like a fire-red devil.  There’s some water damage to the poorly printed, probably inkjet quality label on this bottle of shampoo.  This was not intended to still be around in the year 2016, especially hanging around in a dank basement.

Ok, so I brought this thing up from my basement to take photos of it.  Do I keep it around? Is it time to get rid of it?  Do you want it?



A Season of Stuff: dad’s stapler

A Season of Stuff is a writing challenge that I will be doing for the length of Spring 2016.  The plan – to pick some object from within my personal possessions each day and write about it – its history, its significance, etc.  Come on in – check out my stuff.


This is an Arrow 107 stapler.  This stapler was my dad’s when I was a kid.  It sat on his desk in his office that was just off the living room in our house. My dad’s office was mostly off-limits.  Generally, for my sister and I, a trip to the office was not a good thing.  If we were misbehaving, all he had to say was “Do I need to take you into my office?”  A stern talking to was all that was really gonna happen but the implied threat of a spanking was always there.

But there were a couple things that I feel like we were allowed to venture into the office for.  One was this stapler and the other was the electronic pencil sharpener he also kept on his desk.  Both of these I would abscond with at some point.  I don’t really remember when I claimed these items or if I had his permission (or if more likely, my mom bought him new ones and handed these down to us kids), but they went to college with me and have stayed with me ever since.

In college the pencil sharpener would get adorned with a Bouncing Souls sticker (among other stickers).   I think the stapler made it until the late 90’s in Pittsburgh before it got this Rumpshaker sticker.

Despite now having several other much better staplers (including two long-reach variety), I’ve kept this stapler.  Of all the tools that I could keep around that would remind me of my father, a stapler probably is not a particularly appropriate one, but it works for me.

A Season of Stuff: weekend roundup, techno jock gear

A Season of Stuff is a writing challenge that I will be doing for the length of Spring 2016.  The plan – to pick some object from within my personal possessions each day and write about it – its history, its significance, etc.  Come on in – check out my stuff.


Ok, I didn’t write over the weekend because I was busy being a jock.  Got up at 6am Saturday morning.  Went and ran my first official 5K (31:39 was my time).  We came home, scrubbed up then drove 2.5 hours to Saxton, PA where Emma and I attempted to do a fully-loaded bike expedition up the Terrace Mountain Trail, a 29-mile trail running up along the eastern side of Lake Raystown.  Turns out about 5.5 miles in the trail disintegrates.  We tried bushwhacking through some multi-flora rose but got scratched the hell up after about a 1/4 mile.  Retreating back to the trail proper, we opted to return back the 5.5 miles to the car and get a hotel instead of camping.  Then Sunday morning we got up and spent several hours at the Alligrippis Trails on the western side of the lake.  After this, drove back home, scrubbed up again and then drove to Butler to spend some quality Easter time with Emma’s family (non-jock time).

If you had asked me 15-20 years ago if i’d still be biking in my 40’s, I probably would have said yes.  If you had asked if I would ever run a 5K, I’m sure I would have said no.  Had you asked if I would be buying specific types of technical gear for any of these activities, I can assure you I would have said a definitive NO.  I’m sure I imagined myself in my 40’s wearing Dickies, a black Carhartt hoodie and some Vans…and while that isn’t too far off from reality in many ways, the other part of my reality is that I own many pieces of clothing that were purchased specifically for their jock appeal.  For my Saturday/Sunday stuff, we’ll discuss two such pieces.

Pearl Izumi “Screaming Yello” Elite Thermal Tights

As a general rule despite diving deeper and deeper into bicycling culture, i’ve largely avoided the spandex look.  When riding, whether mountain biking, longer road riding or touring, I do have padded “chamois” bikeshorts, but i’ll generally wear them under regular shorts or pants with t-shirts and button-down shirts.  I generally look like a pretty normal guy.  I do have some long-sleeve wool cycling jerseys but they are just flat colors, no crazy patterns or anything.

But this winter I figured it might be time to try out some tights for riding in the winter, so down to REI I went to see what I could find.  Using my normal strategy of not choosing the cheapest option and not going for the most expensive, I landed on these Pearl Izumi tights which just happened to have these bright-yellow reflective sections at the bottom portion. Not really my style, but neither are tights, but they seemed to align on the proper segment of the price/quality continuum, so I got them.

They worked out pretty well for mountain biking and also for the occasional run, helping to keep the legs warm but not being too warm once you got going.  I still wear some regular shorts overtop to keep me looking a little more Grunge-y than Spandexman.  I’ve tried to match them with one of my new flannel shirts on top to accentuate that 90’s look.

So, really, not too much to say about these tights. They’re tights.  They work ok, but in January Emma and I were going over some budgeting stuff and looking at everything we bought at REI in 2015 and the one item was just listed as “Screaming Yellow” and we were like “What the hell is that?” and of course that is these tights.  So “Screaming Yellow” has become quite the warcry around here.  SCREAMING YELLOW!

Adidas Outdoor Fastshell Mid CH

Four years ago I bought some Adidas black and red hightops on Zappos.com because I was going for some late-80’s/early 90’s hiphop look without wanting to go with some classic Jordans (or something to this effect, who know what I was really thinking).  When I got them in the mail, they were kinda this weird plastic-y material and when I wore them they were hot as hell.  I didn’t really wear them that summer but that fall into winter it became obvious that they were actually super good at keeping the feet warm and dry in the winter.  They were especially effective on my bike because both my Doc Martens and my big Keen winter boots were difficult to engage with my pedals since I have pedal straps on my bike.  So for three years these things were heavily in my cold weather rotation.  Kinda ugly but uber functional.  But unfortunately the sole started peeling off in the Fall of 2015.

Then Eric the Red posted this:

And I said “Wait.  They actually make sneakers that are boots?  My sneakers that worked like boots are almost dead.  Let me see what’s out there.”  And oh shit, Adidas has this whole “Adidas Outdoor” line of insulated sneaker-style shoes with grippy soles.  Once again frequently towing the line between kinda cool looking and ugly as sin, but I found these guys that were pretty much ALL BLACK (viva bike ninja!) with just a blast of bright orange around the ankle.

These bad boys ended up working really great.  Kept the feet warm (but not too warm that I had to take them off inside.  So no need to swap shoes when I got to work, for example)  Just enough knobby tread to make walking in snow, mud, etc not so bad, but not too much tread that they really interfered with planting my feet on my bike pedals.  With a pair of regular pants on, the bright orange cuff was mostly covered so they even were fairly subdued for just looking like a regular dude.

*  * *

Anyway, the point here is that about a decade or so ago I made the realization that there really is something to some of this technical gear.  Sure a lot of it is bullshit but there is something to be said for a good pair of winter boots that keep your feet warm.  A good waterproof rain jacket really will make all the difference as you bike across town in a storm.  Warm tights that you can wear while mountain biking that won’t get caught in your drivetrain are a pretty good idea.  So, you know, they say that “stuff” can’t make you happy, but it’s probably worth noting that some stuff can help keep you from being miserable, and I’m putting stuff that keeps you warm and dry during a Pittsburgh winter high up on that list.

A Season of Stuff: Ertl construction vehicles

A Season of Stuff is a writing challenge that I will be doing for the length of Spring 2016.  The plan – to pick some object from within my personal possessions each day and write about it – its history, its significance, etc.  Come on in – check out my stuff.


So my first nephew was born 13 years ago with two other nephews following in the coming years.  My mom saved a lot of our toys from our childhood and many of them she simply handed off to her grandkids without any consultation with my sister (who may not have wanted these additional toys in her house) or myself (who, you know, may have had some attachment to certain things).

But my mom in her motherly wisdom did hold back a handful of items that she thought I might want, including this 4-piece set of Ertl International Harvester construction equipment toys.  Cast metal.  Fully-articulated scoops and dumps.  The type of toys meant to take a beating and still look good 30+ years later.

My mom came to me with these and said something along the lines of “If you want these, take them now.  If you don’t want them, I’m giving them to the boys and you will never see them again and they will be destroyed.”  So I took them and they’ve sat on a shelf in our bedroom ever since.

As you can see, the bulldozer no longer has any treads.  The ones that were on it were rubber and had gotten a bit dryrotted and frail.  Good enough for sitting on a shelf but clearly not in shape for actual play.  A few years back our friends Pam and Michael visited and their kid Emmett did some exploring of our house where he found these guys sitting on the shelf.  I think it took one single “brrrmmmmm brrrmmmm” of a bulldozer by a small child to rip those treads asunder.  But, ya know, that’s the way it goes.  (btw – i’m 95% certain this was Emmett’s doing, but there is a chance i’m remembering the wrong child responsible for this.  My apologies to Pam, Michael and Emmett if that’s the case).

A Season of Stuff: New Map Day

A Season of Stuff is a writing challenge that I will be doing for the length of Spring 2016.  The plan – to pick some object from within my personal possessions each day and write about it – its history, its significance, etc.  Come on in – check out my stuff.25743734160_0b4c7aa612_z

“Circumnavigate this body of wonder and uncertainty.
Armed with every precious failure, and amateur cartography,
I breathe in deep before I spread those maps out on my bedroom floor.”
– The Weakerthans

We might have a problem here at Torley Manor.  We like maps…and we have a whole lot of them…and we just keep getting more.

Today in the mail we got the Purple Lizard maps that cover Rothrock State Forest and Bald Eagle State Forest here in Pennsylvania.  The reason for this purchase is that in just under 2 months now, Emma and I will be heading out for a mixed-surface mountain bike excursion in the middle of Pennsylvania from its northern border to its southern border.  Despite being a mountain bike trip, much of this will still take place on regular roads, with much on forest roads, though a decent amount will indeed be off-road on trails.

I’ve been doing a lot of lot of figuring out the cue sheets for our trip in the last couple weeks, spending a lot of time with a GPS’d version of a Google Map and comparing that with another Google map.  This has been great for the actual road portions of the trip, but has not been terribly helpful for the trail portions of the trip.  Most of these trails don’t show up on the map and clicking over to Google Earth doesn’t help much at all because in central Pennsylvania everything just looks like trees (so many trees!)

I spent a little time on the mtbproject.com website recently trying to track down these trails on there and while many of them appear there, the interface can be a little bit busy to try to figure out how the trails interact with the roads.  But links from mtbproject.com led me over to the Bald Eagle Mtn Bike Project (baldeaglemtb.org).  And on their website they had these Purple Lizard maps for sale and I realized they covered an area where we would be jumping from trail to trail.  It seemed like a good idea and they accepted Paypal for payment, which was great because I remembered I had a whole bunch of money sitting in Paypal from some Etsy sales over the winter.  FREE MAPS! (or a close equivalent).

Emma and I are both extensive planners.  When it comes to our bike trips, we usually have our different roles.  I’ve become the route planner and general navigator.  So I spend a great deal of time with maps (both paper and online) familiarizing myself with the route, understanding the junctions and transitions, calculating mileage and figuring out the lay of the land (there’s a lot of climbing on this upcoming trip!) and locating where we can get water, food, etc.  It seems a bit excessive and maybe I overdo it, but so far we haven’t gotten majorly lost, haven’t starved and haven’t run out of water. So I think it’s probably good.

Fuckin’ maps.  Gotta love em.

Map Notes
1) First heard the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s song “Maps” on a mixtape that Emma made for me early in our relationship.  Rick Gribenas (RIP) also put that song on a mix CD that he gave to a bunch of friends before moving away to Chicago for grad school.  F’n love that song.
2) Emma has a topographic map of the Sideling Hill area of Pennsylvania as the basis of the sleeve tattoo she has on her right arm.
3) Years ago, shortly after Spak Bros opened up, Emma took Ryan a pie over to the shop for maybe his birthday?  Anyway, in return Ryan drew us a map to a patch of raspberry bushes that existed down in the holler.  It was a wonderfully crude map and we still have it around here somewhere.  Unfortunately we never made it down to the patch and I believe it is now gone under UPMC’s new parking lot.
4) As a housewarming present when we bought our house back in 2004, our friend Ally Reeves gave us a screenprint as a present that was a map of future climbing trees that they had planted around the Pittsburgh area.