Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Lunacy at The Luna and Cheers at Chief’s

Hi Bill,

This morning I woke up thinking about when I was living on North Craig Street in Pittsburgh while I was a student at Pitt. I had lived in Tower A (dormitory) for two years and decided that I had had enough of that. So Richard, Jim, Joe and I moved into a two bedroom apartment in that area several blocks from campus. After a year living with them I moved into a one-room apartment of my own. You may remember that I wrote about living in that area in my last letter. I don’t want to repeat myself, although with my feeble memory I could easily cover the same ground without knowing it.

Clark back in the late 1960s and early 70s

Anyway, today I thought about that neighborhood and remembered two establishments where I spent a lot of time and money. You may have already guessed that those two establishments were bars. Yes, I admit it! I drank a lot when I was in college (and for many years after that). I never really considered that I had a drinking problem, because everybody in college drank a lot. Didn’t they? Well, most of my friends drank a lot. Of course, my affinity for alcoholic beverages actually began while I was in high school, but I think I probably already covered that in some previous letters.

There were two bars on North Craig Street where I (and my friends) hung out.

The Luna was a typical college bash bar that played loud music and attracted college students mostly from Pitt, but also from Carnegie Mellon University. I began partying in The Luna during my junior year even before I turned 21. I was usually able to sneak past the bouncer when the crowd was overwhelming him. After I turned 21, The Luna remained my bar of choice and my friends and I became regulars since we lived practically right across the street from it. The Luna was a large bar that was more like a nightclub for college students. It had a u-shaped bar that extended out from one of the walls, with seating around it and plenty of space to stand and dance and generally let your freak flag fly. Although, during weekend evenings it was extremely crowded and actually difficult to move around in. However, the music was loud and the beer was great, so we spent many hours drinking and talking (actually yelling at each other because of the loud music and other yelling people) in The Luna. It makes me realize what an idiot I was back then when I think about it! The thing was though - I liked the crowded Luna and after a few beers I didn’t even notice that the crowd was full of drunken college students who couldn’t control their emotions and actions, or even keep their liquor down. Anyway, The Luna was a typical college bar where we could party, dance, yell, drink and totally lose control of ourselves. I spent many enjoyable hours doing that (which I often could not even remember the next day) and I also spent lots of money (which I couldn’t really spare) in The Luna.

During the summer after my junior year in college, I met Pat and instantly fell in love with her, although it took me awhile to convince her to hang out with me. Eventually she even accompanied me to The Luna. Although she was under 21, she was usually able to slip by the person checking IDs at the door. However, she gradually convinced me to not spend as much time in The Luna, and I didn’t seem to mind that at all.

Okay so I am supposed to be writing about two bars, not my love life.

The second bar was practically across the street from The Luna in distance, but it was a long ways away in ambience. Chief’s was a small neighborhood barroom that had a bar with a row of stools along it and some seating booths along the wall across from the bar. Most of the customers were older people who had been imbibing there for many years. However, some college-aged people also frequented it. I and some of my friends went to Chief’s when we just wanted to sit and have a beer and talk for a while. In addition, we sometimes had a hardboiled egg and toast or some other quick food. It was a comfortable place where pretty much anyone was accepted as long as they remained cordial and under control. A few of my friends and I went there fairly often to sit, relax and talk. It certainly was not luxurious but it had a comfortable feel. Chief gradually got to know his good patrons and treated us well. Unfortunately, Chief’s was also an inviting establishment for robbers with guns. It was robbed several times during the two years that I lived on that block. However, Chief also had a gun (hand gun) to protect himself and his customers, although I am very happy that I never witnessed him using that gun. My good friend from Jamaica RG practically ate all his meals at Chief’s and he was also lucky enough to not witness any crimes while there. However, there were gunshots in that bar at least once during the two years that I lived in that neighborhood. My friends and I advised Pat to not sample the atmosphere and food of Chief’s and she followed our advice. Thinking back now I believe she would have enjoyed Chief’s ambience very much, but is was wise for her to stay safe.

Bill – Of course, we occasionally visited some other bars closer to the Pitt campus. However, The Luna and Chief’s were surprisingly important establishments for Pat and I when we lived in that North Craig Street neighborhood many years ago. I think it would be interesting to check out Chief’s and The Luna some time when we are in the Pittsburgh area. However, I suppose both those establishments are long gone. It’s probably best if we just think of that neighborhood as remaining the way it was back in the day, when we were young and eager to experience life in the future. I hope your life in the present is as fulfilling as mine.

Take care,

Sincerely Clark

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Mystical Joe

Hi Bill

This morning I thought about a very interesting, even amazing, friend of mine from college. In fact, he was even a little mystical. Therefore, I call him Mystical Joe in this letter.

You may remember that I lived in a tiny two-bed dorm room with Raymond (my roommate) during my first two years at Pitt, and Raymond and I remained good friends throughout college. During that time I became acquainted with some of Raymond’s friends, including Mystical Joe who made a strong and lasting impression on me and pretty much on everyone he met.

Mystical was average height, maybe five foot six or so. He was also just a little pudgy, but not fat. He had dark black hair and lots of it (as many of us had during the late 60s and early 70s). He also wore black-framed glasses with some fairly thick lenses. He was not the male model type, but there was something about him that indicated intelligence and strength. 

                Mystical Joe during the late 1960s

At first, Mystical struck me as being a little rough and a bit of a party animal. Therefore, I was unsure about whether I wanted to hang out with this guy and I was careful about what I shared with him about myself. Indeed, he had a very strong personality and he did like to party. During those two years that Raymond and I lived in a dorm room, we hung out with Mystical every once in a while and as I got to know him better, I felt more comfortable hanging with him, but I was still a little unsure. 

After spending two years in that tiny dorm room with Raymond, I joined him and his brother Jesse in a large two-bedroom apartment located a few blocks from campus. We needed another rent payer and we invited Mystical to join us. I shared a bedroom with Jesse, and Raymond shared a bedroom with Mystical. Sharing that apartment with three other guys turned out to be interesting and sometimes difficult, but we endured for one year.

Living in that apartment with Mystical turned out to be a revelation for me. I began to see through his public persona and experience his real character. As I got to know him better I realized that, although he was a little rough and wild at times, he was also a very entertaining, charismatic, compassionate, empathetic, and extremely intelligent person. He was also very serious about getting a good education. Who knew? Well, that was Mystical!

I got to know Mystical very well during our time in that apartment, and I have always been grateful. He was indeed a very interesting guy with a strong personality. Make no mistake about it, he liked to party hardy. He also liked women and seemed to have many of them to party with. He could always find (or put together) a party and it was always a good time, but surprisingly I never saw him totally wild or out of control. He drank, but I never saw him become falling-down-drunk (as I frequently became). Alcoholic beverages seemed to just make him happy and mellow. He always remained under control when drinking.

While sharing that two-bedroom apartment with Raymond, Jesse and Mystical, I was very grateful to have Mystical for a friend. I got along with Raymond and Jesse very well and they always treated me well. I liked them both, but sometimes they revealed a lifestyle and attitudes that I couldn’t quite understand. They grew up in a household that was economically and culturally well above our family’s level and (I believe) above Mystical’s. I often became frustrated by some of their comments, conversations and expectations. However, Mystical helped buffer my relationship with them. Unfortunately, when Raymond and Jesse went home for an occasional weekend, I would sometimes get drunk and voice unpleasant opinions about them and sometimes attempt to demolish some of their possessions. (I’m not proud of that behavior!) Thankfully, Mystical was usually there to get me under control. His long hair and bushy beard tended to conceal how intuitive and caring he was. He helped me through some difficult times and we became very good friends.

Living in that apartment with Mystical, I discovered that the depth of his compassionate social character far exceeded my expectations. He was very active on the Pitt campus, especially within the Pitt student association and several other campus organizations and projects. He was part of a student counseling program to help freshman and sophomore students adapt socially and academically to the college environment. In addition, as a member of another organization, he helped prepare local high school students for the academic and social expectations they would face as future college/university students. He even got me involved with that effort for a semester or so. I met with a HS student weekly, listening to his concerns about becoming a future college student and sometimes about his teenage angst. It was a humbling yet fulfilling experience for me.

Mystical was also a compassionate friend to me during the middle of a busy semester when our father died while I was living in the two bedroom apartment with him, Raymond and Jesse. In fact, I should note that Raymond and Jesse also helped me get me through that difficult time.

I moved to a single sleeping room after that year in the two-bedroom apartment. I made that move mostly because I needed to save money and my share of the rent for the apartment was more than the full rent for the single room. Mystical also moved out of that apartment and, although we remained friends, we didn’t see each other as often and eventually lost contact with each other.

It’s hard to know what made Mystical become the person who helped and inspired me back then. However, I’m sure he had good parents that played a large role in molding him. I just remembered that Mystical mentioned that he spent some time at a monastery at some point, but I can’t remember the details. Certainly, that experience could have also been a factor in developing his compassion. Whatever forces helped mold Mystical, they did a great job. He was special during those college years and he is still doing good work as a political analyst, lawyer, law professor & writer.

Bill - I don’t compare myself to people like Mystical. However, you have certainly been a factor in helping me strive to be a good (although flawed) person. I am grateful to have you for a brother. I wish we could see each other more often.

Take care.

Sincerely, Clark