Catching Up With J. (A 5-Question Update)

Welcome, dear readers, and greetings from day 8 of my December-long Immortal-thon. Immortal, for the sake of all you non-metalheads out there, is a Norwegian band famous for writing songs about frozen landscapes, winter, snow, ice, frostbite, winterdemons, blizzards, and the Far North.

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Now that the daily temperatures in Seoul are hovering between 19 and 22 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 degrees Celsius), they’re the only background music that really makes sense.

Yes, winter is here. ‘Tis the season to make yourself cozy, curl up with some hot chocolate, and get caught up with your ole pal J. Let’s not waste any time.

   Catching Up With J. (An Update in the Form of a Questionnaire)

1. How’s life, J? Whatcha been up to?

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Not gonna lie, y’all. I’ve been pretty stressed out and pissed off for the last couple of months. For some reason (don’t ask me to explain it, because it seriously doesn’t make any sense) the Seoul Ministry of Education – SMOE – thought it might be a good idea to eliminate English programs for 1st and 2nd grade students. Obviously, this created a number of irritations and problems.

In a nutshell:

(a) SMOE wanted to eliminate 1st and 2nd grade English programs in Seoul, but it took them several months to make any official declarations about it. As a result, the directors at my school weren’t sure whether the 1st and 2nd grade programs were going to exist next year. Imagine your significant other saying “we need to talk about something” and then waiting 10-12 weeks to tell you what it is – that’s SMOE.talk(b) There are eight 1st and 2nd grade teachers at my school, many of whom have worked there for almost a decade. If their classes were eliminated, they’d either be out of jobs or moved up to higher grades. To make room for them in the higher grades, however, several of the newer teachers would have to be let go. As a 6th grade teacher who’s only been with the school for a couple of years, I was directly in the line of fire.

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(c) When you’re not sure whether you’re going to have a job in the near future, you start to become really conservative in your habits. For example, I didn’t plan a winter vacation (had to save money) and I started spending a lot of time at home. No fiddling while Rome burns for me. I have goals.

(d) This is the libertarian in me talking: I strongly resent the idea of a government agency dictating the curriculum of a private school.

(e) This is the educator in me talking: if you’re so gung-ho to eliminate English (which is already pretty weak among young Koreans), it would probably make more sense to eliminate the higher grades than the early developmental years. Speaking metaphorically, I could have gone my whole life without algebra and trigonometry, but I use basic addition and subtraction every day.

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This is why you should never leave the government in charge of anything.

2. Whoa! That really sucks. How did everything work out?

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In the end, after months of dragging their filthy bureaucratic feet, SMOE finally declared the 1st and 2nd grade English programs illegal. Because of this, a number of very qualified teachers were let go from my school. Fortunately for me, the school has expressed an interest in keeping me around for at least another year. In March 2018 I’ll begin my final year as a teacher in Korea.

3. So has anything good happened during the last few months?

A few things, actually. For starters, I flew to Tokyo in October and had an awesome time at Loud Park 2017 (more on that in a separate, longer post).

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A couple of weeks later I also got to see George Orwell’s 1984 adapted as a stage play. It was especially interesting to see it in Korea, given that North Korea is probably the modern world’s closest equivalent to the society depicted in the book. (Be sure to watch Christopher Hitchens’s commentary about this.) When the play ended, I turned to Claire and said, “Wow, that was pretty bleak.” She looked at me like I was an idiot and said, “Yeah, J, it’s 1984.” Probably should have seen that coming.

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Also among the good news: my cousin Joseph is engaged to be married next July. Congrats to him and his fiance Taylor! Hopefully I’ll find a way home for the ceremony.

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The same goes for my ole buddy Keith and his fiance Ashley, who welcomed their son Jack into the world back in July. For the record, Jack was a bit of surprise delivery for a lot of people, but I found out about him waaaaay back in January when I visited Pittsburgh. Uncle J is fucking awesome at keeping secrets! Congrats, y’all!

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Finally, I was very happy to see one of my students do exceptionally well during last month’s school orchestra concert. I hope you’ve all watched the video of her performance by now. If not, well, here it is again.


4. Kimchi’s been in the States for almost a year. How is he doing without you?

Lemme tell you something. When I first left Kimchi with my parents I was extremely concerned that he might have severe separation anxiety and get sick. That’s not vanity on my part. Poms are a “one person breed” who sometimes have a hard time adjusting without their owners. Kimchi, however, has basically forgotten that I exist – to the point that he doesn’t even acknowledge the sound of my voice during Skype chats anymore. He and my mom have gotten very close, and she’s essentially told me that I’m never getting him back.

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In October he entered a costume contest dressed as Elvis and won first place.


It’s worth noting, by the way, that I’m the one who bought the costume for him. I got it at Starfield, Korea’s largest and most pet-friendly mall. Here’s the video of my mom un-boxing it. (My friend Mallory says this video is probably the most Southern thing she’s ever seen.)

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More recently, Kimchi and my sister’s dog Buddy had their pictures taken with Santa Claus at Petco.

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I can’t say for certain, but the evidence would seem to suggest that he’s getting along just fine without me.

5. Cute Christmas picture! Speaking of which, what do you want from Santa?

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Oh, you don’t have to get me anything….(looks around to see if anybody’s buying this)…. But I mean, if you want to get me something I do have a wishlist at Barnes & Noble.
It would also be cool if you made a donation to TNKR or the African Wildlife Foundation. Or, if nothing else, I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d please share my post about the Hyehwa raccoon.

That said, what do you want from Santa? Let me know.

I think that’s just about everything for now. Check back in a day or two for my post about Loud Park 2017. Until then, dear friends, I hope everyone is well.

Tell me what’s up with you,
J.

Instagram: @poms_are_metal / @sell_your_seoul (horror/metal account)

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Something You Need to See and Hear

There’s nothing I can add to the following video with words, dear readers, so I’ll just quickly give you some context and let it speak for itself. Last Friday (November 24th) was our school’s annual orchestra concert. There were a lot of highlights – Christmas carols, songs from Disney movies and Hollywood blockbusters, etc. – but the finest moment by far came when one of my sixth-grade students took the stage for her violin solo.

Like I said, there’s nothing I can add to it with words. You just need to see and hear it. Enjoy.

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Free the Hyehwa Raccoon

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Hello everyone. I’m posting this here in the hope that someone in Seoul will know who I can contact about an animal welfare issue. Please share it with anyone who might be able to help. Thank you!

Last week some friends and I went to a new meerkat cafe in Hyehwa (name and contact information can be found in the picture above). Among the random animals on display was a solitary raccoon. I am very concerned about this raccoon for a number of reasons.

1) When we first arrived my friends and I were told not to touch the raccoon and to keep him at a distance. Thus, he has no interaction with other raccoons and only limited interaction with people. He spent a great deal of time pacing back and forth in a small corner. One is forced to wonder why he is there.

2) The cafe is also home to a large yellow Lab. The raccoon, following his instincts, tried several times to sneak food from the dog’s bowl. The dog then angrily chased the frightened raccoon away. While we were there, the dog cornered the raccoon twice and the raccoon seemed ready to attack. The cafe staff said they are trying to make the raccoon and dog “into friends” but I can’t see this ending well for one or the other. (Note: the dog is too big for a cafe this size and was frequently penned in a corner with little room to move when he wasn’t chasing the raccoon.)

3) When the raccoon was not moving from one side of the room to the other, trying to avoid the dog, he was housed in a small cage that left him little room to move or climb.

I have nothing personal against this cafe, but it saddens me to think that this poor raccoon spends his days alone either cramped in a cage or living in fear of a dog. The staff was friendly, but they did not seem to have any special training that would allow them to separate the two animals if the situation ever became violent. I think it would be wise for one of the animals (preferably the raccoon) to be relocated to a safer environment where he will not be harmed or harm any other animals.

Please direct this to anyone who may be able to help. I’m sorry I do not have more videos and pictures. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Please help if you can,
J.

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5 Ways to Maximize Your C25K Workouts

Yo, Adrian, I did it!

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It’s been a long time coming, dear readers – 8 weeks, 24 workouts, and 16 pounds (7.3 kg) to be exact – but on Saturday, August 19th, I completed my final run using Couch to 5k (C25K) from Zen Labs. C25K, as I mentioned last June, is a running app that can get you off the couch and ready for a 5k in just eight weeks if you stick with it and do the assigned 30-minute exercises three times a week.

I can still use C25K to prepare for a 5k or 10k, but the 8-week preparation program is complete. Theoretically, I can now sign up for a 5k and completely annihilate all the other runners or something.

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Historical artifact: this is my treadmill screen after I finished my last run. 5 minute warmup – 30 minutes of running – 5 minute cooldown – 20 minutes and 11 seconds of extra walking to decompress.

It goes without saying that I am now a superhuman expert on all things related to C25K, running, fitness, and general wellness. And because I’m such a nice guy (not to mention humble), I’d like to share some of my wisdom with all you commoners out there. These pearls of knowledge will be your guide should you choose to follow in my inspirational footsteps. Take notes. These are:

            5 Ways to Maximize Your C25K Workouts

(1) Go to the bathroom before you start your run.

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I’m probably putting this one first because I’ve been teaching kids for the past six years. Seriously, y’all, go to the bathroom before you go for a run. When you have to pee, it is physically impossible to focus on anything else. There’s no crying in baseball, and there’s no piss break in C25K. Go to the bathroom!

(2) Focus on building stamina, not speed.

One of the great things about C25K is that it meets you where you are. If you’re significantly overweight (like me) and you’re saying to yourself, “It sounds great, but there’s no way I can run for five minutes,” don’t worry. C25K knows that. That’s why you only have to run for one minute at a time during the first couple of weeks.

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This isn’t me, but I know how this guy feels.

One mistake I made as I started becoming more accustomed to running was trying to increase my speed too soon. It was an okay idea at first, but as the workouts became longer I found myself getting tired and wanting to quit. Over time I realized that the most important thing was simply not to stop. To accomplish this, I set three speeds for myself.

Trot (3 mph/6 kmh) – If I found myself sputtering out or wanting to stop, I’d jog/trot for a while until I felt I could start pushing myself again.

Baseline (4.3 mph/7 kmh) –  My “just going along” speed. In some of the later workouts (28-30 minutes) I stayed at this speed the entire time, running comfortably.

Fast (5 mph/8 kmh) – If the mood hit me just right – say, if an adrenaline-pumping song came up on my playlist – I’d turn it up and really take off for 4-5 minutes. But afterwards, I’d always come back down to Baseline or Trot so I wouldn’t burn out or stop.

I’m sure this is all Point A /”No Shit” advice to experienced runners, but I just have to make the point. Choose a speed that you won’t go above, a speed that you won’t go below, and a speed right in the middle. You can work on getting faster once you’ve finished the program and go back to the beginning. For beginners, the important thing is to keep on going. You don’t have to set any land speed records; you just have to finish. Stay in your lane.

(3) Download Don McLean’s “American Pie” and learn all the words.

I know this sounds like a joke, but hear me out. As you get into the rhythm of C25K, you start to become less intimidated at the thought of running for two, three, or even five minutes at a time. Personally, I was doing just fine until I was suddenly required to run for eight; that’s when I really hit a mental wall. Eight minutes, man. It seemed so perilously close to the dreaded ten minutes! I just knew I was gonna fail on my first few attempts…until I made an interesting observation.


“American Pie” is 8 minutes and 32 seconds long. And because the lyrics tell a narrative story, you end up paying more attention to the words than to the music (especially during the catchy “Bye Bye, Miss American Pie…” chorus). If you just sing and move along with it, you won’t even notice how long it is. By the time Don McLean gets to “Helter Skelter in a summer swelter,” you’re already halfway done with your run. And when the song is finished, so are you. It’s also nice because it starts slow, moves at a nice pace through the middle section, and then slows down again at the end. Great rhythm for beginning runners. Seriously, listen to this song while you’re running. You’ll see what I mean.

(4) Take your rest days seriously. Oh, and use Instagram.

Just as every good diet has a cheat day, every good exercise program has a rest day or two set aside for lying in bed, reading, drinking water, listening to music, and relaxing. Yeah, I know there are a lot of ‘roided-up bros out there who say things like”Where is my rest muscle and how do I train it?” –

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but I’ve found that taking an occasional break from exercise really speeds up my results and helps me stay mentally sharp. Your body needs time to recover from all the awesomeness you’re putting into it. So, take some inspiration from The Big Lebowski. When everything around you (including your leg muscles) is burning out of control, just take it easy, man.

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And by the way, in defense of the “‘roided-up bros” I poked fun at a couple of paragraphs ago, I just have to say that weightlifters/health nuts/gym rats/whatever you want to call them are often among the most positive people you could ever hope to meet. Post just one pic of your treadmill screen on Instagram and watch how many likes and “Good job! Keep it up!” comments come flooding in. Some of my greatest supporters during C25K have been people I’ve never even met. I’m grateful to all of them. Thanks Instagram squad!

(5) Don’t worry. You’ll look awesome in the morning.

It’s not something I can explain with any kind of competency, but for some reason I often look and feel bloated after a long run. My clothes are soaked with sweat, and I have to peel them off before I get in the shower, but my belly still resembles that of a pregnant woman or silverback gorilla.

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The face I make when I’m still fat after an awesome workout.

I’ve researched this, and apparently it has something to do with proper water intake and sodium levels. Like I said, it’s not something I can explain with any kind of expertise. The point is, you should drink a lot of water before, during, and after your run. And even if you still look like a gorilla afterwards, don’t worry. The bloating will subside as you sleep and you’ll look awesome in the morning.

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So what’s next for me? Run a 5k? Climb Everest? Do a motivational lecture tour? Well, I still have 53 lbs (24 kg) to go before I hit my goal weight. So, to that end, I’m gonna keep going to the gym, running (maybe with the Zombies, Run! app), eating right, and even throwing some weight training into the mix. I’ll keep you posted. When the time is right I’ll even post some shirtless before-and-after pics for everybody to drool over.

Good luck to everyone out there who’s working hard to lose weight or attain a personal fitness goal. Drop me a line if there’s a program you think I might benefit from. And if my advice is worth anything to you, I’d like to state emphatically that C25K has been a great experience for me and I recommend it to anyone who’s willing to give it a try. Best wishes, all.

J.
8/21/2017

IG: poms_are_metal
IG: sell_your_seoul (my horror page)
FB: https://www.facebook.com/J-Wiltz-142761115744236/

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What’s in the Box?

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Few of life’s simple pleasures are as exciting for people living in foreign countries as the pleasure of receiving a package from home. It’s like a surprise birthday or Christmas present in a way. You get home from work, you stumble into your apartment building, and BOOM! There’s a box waiting just for you. And it’s filled with STUFF! And some of that stuff can’t be purchased in the country where you live. (I know that sounds illegal, but get your criminal minds out of the gutter. I’m talking about Raisinets and Little Debbie snack cakes here.)

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So I was more than a little upset when the package my parents sent me a few weeks ago mysteriously disappeared en route to South Korea. According to the post office website, it went from Gulfport to Miami to Incheon (Seoul’s major flight hub) to….? Well, we didn’t know. The website said it was “in transit to the destination” but that’s where the trail went cold. Phone calls were made. Intercessory prayers were offered up to St. Anthony and Padre Pio. Korea Post said it was still in the States. USPS said Korea Post must have lost it. Whatever the truth was, the package was M.I.A. for more than six weeks.

I went through four of the five stages of grief before the damn thing finally turned up. It was a little smashed and had clearly gotten wet somewhere along the way, but everything inside was okay. (True sad story: my mom once sent Kimchi a two-pound bag of Pup-Peroni as a present. Customs confiscated it.) I’m so happy that this story had a happy ending that I’m now going to make a list of all the cool shit I thought I’d lost. Just pretend you’re interested.

Shirts

As an adult, I accept the fact that I must wear collared shirts, nice pants, and occasionally a tie to work…But no one cares what I wear on weekends or at the gym! That’s why I’m constantly ordering horror-themed shirts from Fright Rags. It took a while, but I finally managed to get one of their Evil Dead (v.6) shirts before they sold out again. Also got their “Enjoy Horror” shirt because it was on sale.

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This Hattori Hanzo shirt is the perfect attire for those days when you feel like killing your treasonous ex, their current love interest, a Japanese mob boss, a suburban mom hiding a gun inside a box of Kaboom cereal, a hospital orderly, and like 88 other people.

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Got this one from Libertarian Country. I feel like they understand me.

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This design was created by Noir Nouar, one of my very favorite lowbrow pop surrealists. The day I discovered her artwork on Instagram was a good day.

Books


I read Bill Kauffman’s essay collection, Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists, during my trip to Beijing in December 2014. Kauffman is hard to pin down politically, but his overriding obsession is with localism and smallness. He believes Americans should stop thinking of the USA as one large monolithic nation and start thinking of themselves in the more manageable terms of small towns, neighborhoods, and local cultures. It’s an idea I find interesting, and all of these books – Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, Wendell Berry’s The Way of Ignorance, and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio – have localism and small towns as their subjects.

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As with the work of Noir Nouar, I first discovered The Street of the Fishing Cat when someone posted a picture of it on Instagram. I liked the title and cover, so I ordered a copy for myself. By the way, my high school French teacher, Monsieur Myatt, has assured me that the Street of the Fishing Cat is indeed a real place in Paris. Writing that down under the “Curiosities” section of my bucket list.

Food
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Now that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are finally available in Korea it’s not quite as imperative for my parents to send me a stash every couple of months. But Reese’s Peanut Butter EGGS? That’s a whole other story. There’s something about the ratio of chocolate to peanut butter in these that makes them perfect. The Easter Bunny took his sweet time this year, but he put three bags of these inside the package.

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I also got a box of Count Chocula. Call me an overgrown kid, but I still love this stuff – and all the other General Mills monster cereals, really. Most people can name the three most popular varieties, but there have actually been five. Can you name them without Googling?

The Watch

And finally, the item I was most afraid I had lost to governmental incompetence: my new watch. I’ve wanted to own a nice watch for literally years now, but I’m not a big fan of the way a lot of luxury brands look these days. The Gucci and Rolex watches I’ve looked at, for example, have these enormous faces with three or four extra little dials situated around the hands that tell time. The whole look of them is too “busy” for my taste. What I was looking for was something a little simpler and more traditional, but which nevertheless had personality and matched my interests. Something like this Finnegans Wake watch from My Irish Jeweler.

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As its name suggests, this watch was made in Ireland and has the opening line of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake spiraling around its face: Riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. How could any pretentious English teacher not fall in love with it?

If you think the stuff inside this package was lame and wish I’d write about something cooler, I’ve got a very simple solution for you…SEND ME STUFF! Just don’t use the United States Postal Service to do it.

J.
07/15/17

FB: https://www.facebook.com/J-Wiltz-142761115744236/
IG: poms_are_metal

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The Brass Tacks – Pig Fetus (Official M/V)

Song: Pig Fetus
Band: The Brass Tacks
J. Wiltz: lead guitar and vocals
Mike Lujan: drums, bass, backing vocals, and wicked dance moves

For those who missed it on Facebook I’m once again posting the official “Pig Fetus” music video I edited together last week. I downloaded some new editing software and thought this would be a good way to practice using its different features. You’ll notice, for example, that the placement of the subtitles gets better as the video goes along.

A little history about the song itself. “Pig Fetus” is an original tune written by my high school garage band, the Brass Tacks – basically a two-piece outfit consisting of me and my buddy Mike Lujan. We went through at least four different bass players that I can remember (Steve, Eric, Todd, and Daniel), but none of them could stand to be around us for very long. The bass you hear in the video was played by Mike himself.

Like the rest of our songs (we had about a dozen originals) “Pig Fetus” was written in a very simple style using barre chords and basic drum beats. We always thought it sounded like a surf song – the “surf song from Hell” as we called it – which explains all the banter about “beach blanket buckaroos” and Annette Funicello at the start of the “live” segment.

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The lyrics are about my old gal-pal Jesi Johnson, who really did have a fetal pig that she kept in a jar of formaldehyde inside her room. Jesi eventually ended up moving to California for a short while, but not before giving me said fetal pig as a gift. (You can see why she was worth writing a song about.) Watch closely and you’ll see her twice in this video. The first time is in a clip near the beginning where we were dressed up for Halloween. I was the Trix rabbit and she was a mutilated Girl Scout that I had stabbed to death to get some Trix. The second time is at the very end where she gets her revenge by stabbing me with a nail file. We had fun.

The aforementioned Mike Lujan can also be seen in the video. He’s the wild dancing guy wearing the Nirvana shirt and Burger King hat.

I’m well-aware that I will never make a living with my singing or guitar playing, but hey, it’s garage rock. Just give it a listen and enjoy. Let’s get down to Brass Tacks, everyone.

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Pennsylvania Pitstop: The Pittsburgh Prologue

Last winter I went home to the States for five weeks. One of those weeks was spent criss-crossing the great state of Pennsylvania – a series of adventures now collectively referred to as the Pennsylvania Pitstop.

Friday, January 6, 2017: The Roots of the Pennsylvania Pitstop

It was a classic case of one thing leading to another – and then another. In my early teens, shortly after I first discovered heavy metal and rock-n-roll, I got on this kick where I started watching a shit-ton of concert films and assorted rock-related movies: This is Spinal Tap, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same, Iron Maiden’s Live After Death, Ozzy Osbourne’s Don’t Blame Me, and of course Oliver Stone’s The Doors.

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This will probably be tantamount to blasphemy for some of you, dear readers, but I’ve never been an especially big Doors fan. I mean, yeah, I enjoy “Break on Through” and “People are Strange” as much as the next guy, but for the most part I consider the Doors one of those rare bands whose greatest hits really are their best songs. I was happy to watch the movie, but I didn’t have a lot invested in it…And then something happened.

About 20-30 minutes in, after Jim Morrison (played by Val Kilmer) causes trouble on the Ed Sullivan Show but before he dies in a bathtub in Paris, there’s a scene where the Doors end up at a party in New York filled with models, celebrities, and a motley assortment of degenerates and weirdos. There’s psychedelic music blasting in the background, colored lights spiraling all over the walls, and an overwhelming sense that reality is being dangerously distorted. But forget all that. That’s just standard 1960s bullshit. What makes the scene interesting are all the sycophants floating around saying things like “Andy is not an artist; Andy Warhol is art” and “Does Andy imitate Life, or does Life imitate Andy?”

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When Morrison finally encounters this monumental artist whom Life imitates, it turns out that Warhol (played by Crispin Glover a.k.a. George McFly) is something of a reluctant extrovert who speaks in a lazy monotone and uses phrases like “Oh wow,” “Oh great,” and “Oh hiiiii!” All of this is met with praise from his army of yes-men, who apparently get paid to compliment his existence and laugh at all of his lame attempts at humor. As the scene moves along, there’s an odd exchange where Jim Morrison removes Andy Warhol’s sunglasses and stares at him very seriously, to which Warhol uncomfortably responds by giving him a silver telephone so he can “talk to God with it.”

I believe the idea here is that Morrison is the “deep” artist-poet-guy trying to peek behind Warhol’s shallow plastic exterior – the real artist calling out the phony. And yet, the only thing I wanted to know when the movie was over was, what the hell was that weird scene all about? Who was Andy Warhol? I’d heard his name before, but I knew next to nothing about him at the time.

True to form, I jumped right into my new interest with both feet, reading books, watching documentaries, and looking for other movies that featured Warhol as a character. The more I learned, the more I identified; and before long I was imitating his film techniques in my camcorder movies, hanging his picture on the wall of my freshman college dorm, nicknaming one of my gal-pals “Edie,” and sporting two t-shirts – one that said “Famous” and another that said “Superstar” – that I ordered from the Andy Warhol Museum. I made up my mind that I would visit this museum someday, a decision that put one of America’s major cities near the very top of my bucket list: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

So it worked out really nicely when my old friend/former radio show co-host Keith – now a hotshot airline owner/executive – ended up moving to Pittsburgh for his job. I had five weeks off for my Christmas vacation and Keith knew just how to nab one of them. “Why don’t you let me put you on a plane and have you come up here for a week?” he suggested via Skype. “We can go to the Warhol Museum.” I was there.

On Friday, January 6th, my flight touched down in Pittsburgh, where Keith was waiting at the airport to give me some quick history about the Immaculate Reception –

and take me to dinner at a place called Ritter’s.

It’s interesting to note that driving into Pittsburgh from the airport was a lot like driving into my hometown of Biloxi. Just like Biloxians come off the interstate and get a great view of the city as they drive across the Back Bay Bridge, Pittsburgh natives pass through a long tunnel that ends in a beautiful panoramic view of the city skyline.

We hadn’t even stopped the car and I already felt at home.

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Ritter’s turned out to be a greasy spoon similar to the diner in Pulp Fiction or the old Tiffin Inn in New Orleans (R.I.P.). A stand-alone Waffle House. Sitting there, cheeseburger in hand, listening to the waitresses and their regulars talk about the Steelers game on Sunday, I began to get the impression that Pittsburgh was just a very big small town filled with hardworking blue-collar people.

“Something just occurred to me,” I told Keith. “This city is what America looks like on TV.” Keith said he’d made a similar observation when he’d first arrived.

“The bars around here are what I call ‘Dan Conner bars,'” he said. “No joke, the whole city looks like Roseanne. You’re gonna love it.” He then proceeded to lay out our itinerary for the week before telling me all about his brilliant plan to propose to his girlfriend Ashley on Groundhog Day. Cheers to that. L’aventure commence.

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