Coming off the hill

signs on the hill

I got texts from out of state friends after a riot in Pittsburgh following the murder of George Floyd. Are you ok? they ask. I’m fine, we live on a hill far from the action I text back.

Isn’t that the point? I think to myself. I’m an old white lady who lives on a hill. A place of privilege, where I can look down on the city choosing to participate or not with the people who live there.

Sure I serve meals at a homeless shelter and fold clothes for the free clothes closet at the Send Relief Center at my church. I serve meals to the community on Sundays and hand out packages for the food bank. But, that’s again from a position on the hill.

On my hill I don’t know what it’s like to be stopped by police because I drive through a neighborhood, or closely watched in a store because of my skin color, or stalked while jogging. No one will call 911 when I ask them to put their dog on a leash at Grandview Park.

I don’t worry that a police officer will pull me out of a car, falsely accuse me of resisting arrest and kneel on my neck.

I don’t want anyone to worry about all of those things. I want our country to change. I want to change. I want people to be accepted for who they are, not for what they look like.

It’s time for me to run down the hill and be the change I want to see.

Jury Duty

I was excited to be summoned to jury duty.

Most people don’t say that. It’s a pain in the butt. There’s no fame or fortune linked to it. The $9 a day isn’t enough to pay for parking, let alone lunch, in downtown Pittsburgh.

I’m an old reporter and I thought it would be exciting to be in court again.

And the irony wasn’t lost on me when I took an oath to be impartial in listening to evidence senators acting as the jury in President Trump’s impeachment trial were being asked to do the same.

Allegheny County’s criminal courts are in a beautiful ancient Romanesque building centered around a courtyard and linked to the old county jail by a bridge my mother called the “Bridge of Sighs,” when she worked there as a nurse in the 1970s.

Entering the courthouse is like going into a dungeon. All dark with old signs that haven’t changed since the 1930s.

The jury room is up several floors in a big courtroom.

We jurors entered the room like we were entering a church for a funeral, except there was paperwork involved. No one spoke to each other and if you did it was quietly, respectfully. Except for the girl behind me complaining that this was her fourth time in two years she’d been summoned.

Paperwork  signed, vouchers handed out, we awaited our fate. It’s a roll of the dice. One day or one trial.

Courts in New York state where I worked for 30 years are very simple, there’s no romance to it.

The court clerk begins the session saying “All rise. This court is in session the Honorable XYZ presiding.”  Blah, and business begins.

Pennsylvania is a commonwealth, a more English definition of government.

“All rise,” sang out the court clerk. “The Court of Common Pleas is now in session. The Honorable Judge Edward Kozlowski presiding. All those with business before the court draw near and be heard. God bless the court and God bless the Commonwealth.”

The judge sat down. Then we sat down.

The judge explained what was expected of us and left. I read one of four magazines I brought with me. (I  knew it was going to be a long day.) I could see a woman in front of me knitting. (Man, why didn’t I bring mine along.)

The young man next to me looked bored. I handed him a magazine. He told me he was worried about his job working in a warehouse. He earned about $15 an hour and he wasn’t sure his bosses would pay him for the time off if he got picked to be on a jury. Nine bucks a day in jury pay wasn’t going to cover him.

About 15 minutes in they called the first 20 of us to a separate room for jury selection. I was juror 20. We filed into a room where two defendants and their defense teams and prosecutors looked us over.

This was jury selection for a big trial. The clerk read the charges. The two were accused of a mass murder that killed five people and an unborn child at a backyard barbecue.

I vaguely remembered something about it. We weren’t living in Pittsburgh when the shooting took place in 2016. It was obvious everyone else in the room knew exactly what case we were being asked to sit on. https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/after-4-years-wilkinsburg-mass-shooting-case-comes-down-to-3-week-trial/

The clerk handed out a four-page single spaced witness list that had more than 100 names on it. It looked like cops in three municipalities would testify.

The judge warned us we would be asked to serve 10 to 15 days on the jury.

The judge, defense and prosecutors left the room. They called the first juror for questioning. Fifteen minutes later they called the next juror, the young man I’d been chatting with.

We waited some more. I fidgeted. I had a blood test and treatment scheduled for next week. I flagged down the clerk as she collected the witness list.

I’d be more than happy to serve on the jury, I told her. But I have stage 4 cancer and treatment next week. If you could tell me when the court’s day normally ends, I could call and reschedule them to later in the day?

She patted my hand. There’s no problem. They won’t let you miss your treatments, she said.

A little while later they sent us out to lunch with orders not to go to the courthouse’s fourth floor and not to say anything to anyone about the trial.  We wandered out, smokers lighting up when they hit the sidewalk.

An hour later, we were back in the room looking out at downtown through the big windows and trying to figure out how to pass the time.

The clerk returned. Turns out they only needed two more jurors. You’re free to go. Thanks for your time. Your check will be in the mail.

The chatty young man had never returned to our room.

The trial lasted almost three weeks. The charges against one defendant were dropped the day the trial began and the jury acquitted the second. It’s a big scandal. People want justice.

I wonder if the chatty young man still has a job.

Feeling grateful

The West Penn Hospital parking bridge is strung with green garland, red bows and lights. It’s cheery.

Joe and I gasped at the same time the first time we saw it.

We cross that bridge …a lot.

West Penn is home to the Mellon Cancer Pavilion and where my cancer doc is located. I have metastatic malignant melanoma. Stage 4 skin cancer. There’s no cure for it.  There’s only keeping it at bay with treatments every 21 days to kick start my immune system.

I haven’t written in a while because I was terrifically depressed.

When I was first diagnosed, every night I lay next to Joe in bed and cried. Sad sobs, telling him I didn’t want to leave him. And how selfish me didn’t want him to be alone, but didn’t want him to take up with another woman either after I died.

(He is a catch. Devoted husband, father and grandfather who has supported me twice through cancer and still brings me tea every morning. I am spoiled.)

The first time I attended church I cried. The lady behind me handed me a pack of tissues during the service. I’m not angry at God or even questioning my condition. I’m just sad that I’m going  through it and sad for losing the life I had planned. Sad for my family.

Friends have sent me wonderful cards and best wishes. It’s nice to know people care.

Over the course of the month, really after my first infusion, my outlook lifted. I feel like something is being done. I have a slight rash, which the doc says occurs 90 percent of the time when the therapy is working.

I’m happier. I look forward to our changed future.

We’re stationary. We live in a one-bedroom apartment in a converted school in Pittsburgh. There’s a pool table in the lobby. Joe keeps making jokes about walking the halls wanting to tell students to get back to class.

The apartment is HUGE compared to the motorhome. One bedroom with big classroom sized windows and a dishwasher.

The future doesn’t include living full time in our motorhome, but we still plan to travel in it between treatments.

We can walk to the grocery, a really good bakery, restaurants, the drugstore, our bank and our church. We’re a mile from our daughter. We saw fireworks from the building’s rooftop on Light Up Night in Pittsburgh.

We’re still volunteering, just not traveling the country to do it. We hooked back up with the church we attended last year and volunteer with their community meals and food pantry. We fold clothes for the clothes closet. We painted the stage ceiling.

I love their vision: Love God, Love People and Do Something About it.

When the homeless shelter on Smithfield Street reopens we will volunteer there again too.

Joe’s back climbing at the rock climbing gym and I’m doing yoga there. We take long walks overlooking Pittsburgh. I plan to run a 5k in the spring.

And in July we’re taking the whole family, eight of us, to Hawaii.

I’ve decided not to put off the things I’ve always wanted to do. If I’m going to have a shorter life span, then I’d better get crackin. There are places to go and people to meet.

In the meantime, I’ll cross the West Penn Hospital parking bridge at least twice a month. I wonder if they decorate it for Easter?

Why I was staring into the men’s room

head

 

Whenever Joe and I go to a national park I always ask a ranger what I should go see. What is something cool that most people miss?

That question lead me and my cousin Joy to poke our heads into the men’s room of The Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh.

The Duquesne Club is a private club founded in 1873 by industrialists like Andrew Carnegie as an exclusive men’s club. The building on Sixth Avenue opened in 1890 and the club didn’t admit women until nearly a century later. It currently has 2,400 to 2,700 members, according to the concierge I spoke with.

You have to be invited to join. My invite must be lost in the mail, or my spam folder.

My cousin Joy and her husband Scott, however, got an invitation to an event put on by their financial adviser. I jumped at the chance when they asked Joe and I to tag along.

Joy and Scott
Joy and Scott snuck into the “Members Only” lounge at the Duquesne Club.

 

The event was fun, two comedians, drinks and hors d’oeuvres. No sales pitch. Better yet, afterwards we were free to roam around the exclusive club with its walls filled with original art, including some Frederic Remington sculptures, and beautiful antiques.

 

That’s Joy standing beneath a painting of Cousin Andrew.

Joy and I stopped by the front desk near the revolving front door where a doorman dressed in a black coat and bowler stood outside on the sidewalk. We peppered the concierge with questions about the art work and the people who’ve stayed overnight in its 42 hotel rooms.

So what’s the one thing we shouldn’t miss? I asked.

The first floor men’s room, she replied. The concierge explained that the men’s room is huge.

It was a men’s club for a century before it opened membership to women. The room is now a little smaller after renovations to install a women’s room. After weddings you’ll find the brides and bridesmaids in the men’s room looking around, she said. Just get your husband to go in and open the door wide, she said.

Joy and I had to go to the men’s room. Forget the tired husbands, our aching feet in high heels, we had to see this plumbing wonder.

Down the oak paneled hall, past the billiard room, across from a large glassed in dining area was the magic door marked “Gentlemen.”

Scott pushed open the door and held it wide.

It was the largest men’s room I’d ever seen. To the left was a shoeshine bench, rows of sinks stood along that wall. The entire room was done in marble.

But don’t ask me about the urinals, I didn’t look to the right.

Joe was unimpressed. “It was big and marble.”

mens room
The men’s room at the Duquesne Club.