The Shaping of the Shrew
January 13, 2015
Excerpt from Killing My Career: Chapter 1: The Shaping of the Shrew
I grew up in a very small town about 20 miles outside of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania named after steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie. And if you grew up in Carnegie it is not pronounced like the pretentious Carnegie Hall it’s pronounced (Kar-neg-ee) it’s not pronounced (Kar-Nig-ee). It was a no-frills blue collar town right outside of no-frills blue-collar Pittsburgh. The city didn’t lack culture it lacked pretense. Now there’s no doubt I was born in the right city and raised in the right town (it was touch and go for a while).
The history of steel in Pittsburgh is one of personal achievement, armed conflict and generosity. With his introduction of the Bessemer steel making process, Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie, completed his rise from obscurity as a cotton factory bobbin boy to become the richest man in the world. Before steel production took the spotlight in Pittsburgh, glass production was the primary industry. The first glasshouses in the area began operation as early as 1797. In 1883, the first commercially successful plate glass factory in the U.S., known as the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. (PPG) The History of Pittsburgh Incorporated 1816
New Yorkers were always met with an obvious eye-rolls when they tried to fancy up the pronunciation of our little town of Carnegie. As a child, I recall a time a woman with a smug tight smile leaned over and corrected me (incorrectly) about the town’s name. It’s the first time I remember shame and embarrassment coursing through me for my obvious lack of sophistication and then again when I thought I humiliated my mom who was standing by me during this exchange. It’s also the first time I heard the phrases “putting on airs,” and “dressing someone down properly.” Never insult a mother’s child especially while she’s standing there.
Carnegie’s (don’t you dare pronounce it the bourgeois way-you know better now) claim to fame was making the Guinness Book of World Records* for the most bars and churches on one street. Sin, repent, repeat; and, it may have worked out better if the alters actually had cash bars (coulda saved a step).
Holy Souls Church, Carnegie, PA
* Come to find out when researching my book that the Guinness story appears to be town folk-lore and not actual fact. Damn internet ruins everything.
Fast forward: Now in Pittsburgh they’re turning old churches and cathedrals into bars (I was so ahead of my time)
In Pittsburgh’s tourist-friendly Strip District, a neighborhood filled with ethnic grocery stores and nightclubs, the Altar Bar (thealtarbar.com) is another Catholic chapel turned midsize concert hall. Church Brew Works(churchbrew.com), an award-winning brewpub within the meticulously restored St. John the Baptist Church, where microbrews with names like Pious Monk Dunkel are known as some of the finest in the city. The late 19th-century brick building’s previous incarnation was a nightclub called Sanctuary, where cocktail waitresses wore stiletto heels and revealing Catholic schoolgirl uniforms. “We took a little liberty with how short the skirts were,” said Michael Pitterich, the owner of both clubs. “The diocese wasn’t real happy about that.” New York Times
(Mike Pitterich was like a big brother to my sisters and myself growing up. He was then also my father’s attorney which was always far less interesting than the fact that he was an extra in the Exorcist when he was at Georgetown going to law school. Well that and he had really good stories-that I probably wasn’t supposed to be hearing at that age. So his owning two churches that are now bars seems par for the course).
The Andrew Carnegie Free Library, Carnegie, PA built 1899
One of my favorite places as a child was The Andrew Carnegie Free Library. It’s strange because I really hated reading at that age but why this library had a hold on me (and still does) really had more to do with the building itself because that’s the story that always interested me more. Also my imagination was far better than my reading ability (I was a slow reader and usually forgot what I read at the beginning of the sentence by the time I made it to the end) and my older sister and I were really into “investigating.” We were obsessed with The Nancy Drew Mysteries. And when it was a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys cross over episode –I couldn’t sleep for a week!
When my older sister became too cool (hey it happens) or when she’d rather read the books from the series and wouldn’t sleuth with me anymore fortunately I had my neighbors Amy and Carrie and together we became The Mystery Girls or MG (I was thinking in marketing terms even then and was concerned that our logo not look too much like the car MG so that we wouldn’t get sued). Shocking I had friends. When Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth announced they were doing a show by the same name, Mystery Girls, we jokingly accused one another over Facebook as to which one of us sold the rights to our show.
Night shot of The Andrew Carnegie Free Library (see spooky, huh?)
The library was a monstrous building that eerily sat on top of hill and when I think about that place it stills sends a chill down my spine. In my mind it always looked extra dreary right over the building (Pittsburgh’s know not only for steel but the skies were usually the color of depression mixed with unpolished steel) so in truth it just may be been a typical day but that’s how I always remember the place.
The huge double doors were always closed which made the place even less inviting; and entering through the doors into the foyer there was always this strange feeling like entering someone’s home uninvited and that somehow the walls were watching you. Without fail after I shook off the eerie I would immediately look to the right at the staircase only to have my hopes dashed when my eyes met with the ropes that almost seemed to taunt while they blocked passage to the upstairs and another set of double doors. As a child it was like a cross between a church (no shortage of those in the town) a mansion and a haunted house all rolled into one.
New Lobby (not how I remember it)
The library had a distinctive smell of well-worn books, mildew (probably a cocktail of asbestos & black mold) and spirits that seemed to linger and constantly whisper even when no one was talking. Through the foyer was the main room of the library where vast wood encased boxes contained tinier boxes with index cards to maps to to all the books, known as the Dewey Decimal System (is that system even used anymore?) and a librarian who manned this fire hazard.
Side of the library
I was very shy at this age and barely made eye contact with adults; however, this was one notable exception. I wanted to know what was in the room at the top of the staircase and would ask questions either until I wore the librarian out hoping she’d relent and let me see what was in that room or it was time to go. It was time to go but I did find out the room had a name: The Civil War Room.
More to follow.