Keep Your Hands Clean

Don’t let these odd times damage your point of view. There are lots of good people out there. There are people trying to figure out COVID-19. There are people trying to manage policies and next steps. There are people concerned about their loved ones. And we are all human, each and every one.

Yes, some people will horde. Some people will try to take advantage. Some people will do anything for profit. But remember that acts of craziness get attention—because they shock and surprise, because they are not normal.

One thought:  Manufacturing and distribution systems (and employee shifts for shelf-stocking) run on data from normal, everyday shopping habits, not the habits of people who were all told at the same time that they have to stay home for two weeks. Changes in group behaviors, even when we are trying to do our best, can be misinterpreted or misrepresented.

Look at your family. Look at your neighbors and friends. You are good people.

I believe that most people are good. I believe people want to help. I believe that human beings, as a vast majority, are brave and funny and kind.

Here is one example. Last night, KDKA news showcased Rocco’s Pizzeria in Youngwood, PA. They are making and giving away free lunches for kids. The owner, Rocco Pifferetti, says he promises to do it for two weeks, longer if he can. (The Trib Live website is keeping a list of other restaurants doing the same.)

I suspect that donations to these wonderful humans would be welcome.

Crisis situations are going to provide an interesting view of the world. Remember to look through your own eyes. Keep your head. Keep your heart. And keep your hands clean.

Seussquote

March 18, 2020 at 1:19 pm Leave a comment

St. Patrick’s Day, 2020

With a last name like Schmidt, you probably wouldn’t expect me to be Irish, but my mother was Irish. We have always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, and, in the past 10 years or so, the annual gathering included me, my mom and dad, and my uncle and aunt (Mom’s also-Irish sister). We’d all wear green, put on leprechaun hats, and cook up something like shepherd’s pie or corned beef. Then we’d sing some special songs and raise a glass to our Irish relations and ancestors. The mixture of tradition and shenanigans made it one of my favorite days of the year.

As happens in life, sometimes you do a thing, and you don’t know that you are doing it for the last time. I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with Mom on March 17, 2019. In July, she passed away.

In January of this year, I saw an advertisement that the traditional Irish band The Chieftains was going to be in Pittsburgh in March. I cannot claim to be an expert, but I have an album or two that I like. It was called a good-bye tour, so I thought it might be my last chance to see them. And I thought of St. Patrick’s Day and how March was going to be a tough milestone. And, in that moment of jumbled sentiment, I bought tickets.

When the day of the concert arrived (March 9), I considered whether I should go. I had some concerns about germs. I had greater concerns about a previous occasion when I bought tickets to a (potentially) similar performance that turned out to be excruciating. And, beneath it all, I was experiencing the inertia that often threatens to overwhelm me these days when I anticipate going anywhere that requires makeup, bra, and shoes.

But I’d paid for the ticket and invited a friend, so I went. I went expecting to see three old Irish guys sitting on a stage with a flute, a tin whistle, and a drum.

The three guys were there all right (and they are phenomenal), but they were not alone on stage. There were also tap dancers, Irish step dancers, and The Pilatzke Brothers (a mix of Irish step, tap, crazy legs, and boyish abandon). There was a pipes and drum band. There were singers. There were fiddle players, a harpist, a guitar and accordion player, and, for the second half of the concert, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Talk about your bells and whistles. It was quite an extravaganza and one of the best musical shows I have ever seen/heard anywhere. All the adjectives feel trite, but it was superb, inspiring, moving, wondrous, magical.

There were jigs and good humor a’plenty. There was laughing, toe-tapping, and clapping. There were also ballads. Oh the ballads. When they played the sweeping melodies of the slow songs—haunting, beautiful, magnificent—I was done in. Had I been alone, I would have wept. Not for grief or longing or sadness or regret (although there was a bit of all of that). Not for joy or beauty or love (although there was a bit of all of that).

I wanted to weep for being. 

It’s not the prettiest of analogies, but:  If you ever had an old furnace with a re-usable metal filter and if you ever removed that filter and took it outside and turned the hose on full blast and blew all the gunk away . . . and in the end, the filter is sunlight-glinting clean and it can function again . . . it was kind of like that.

Live music, when it’s really good, it’s physical. It creates and transfers an energy, like an ancient Ley line from performer to audience, that vibrates every cell. It lifted me. It carried me. It was metamorphic.

We humans need music. We need music like we need air and water. (It’s a life preserver.)

So, this St. Patrick’s Day, take in some music. Blast your stereo, buy the tickets, support some local musicians, or just encourage your descendants to sing and play and stomp their feet.

To Rebecca Douglas, my great, great, great grandmother; to the Crokers and the Yochums and the McNallys; to the Maloneys; to the Daughertys. To Aunt Mitz. To Mom.

To you all, Sláinte.

 

Video:  One of the Chieftains (Matt Molloy) playing Easter Snow.

March 13, 2020 at 5:05 pm 2 comments

Thank you, Terry Jones

One night, in the early 1970s, our family (Mom, Dad, my brother, my sister, and I) had turned in for the night. We were in our rooms, the lights were out, and the house was settling into deep quiet as we closed our eyes.

Then. From the darkness, I heard a dastardly rasp. “Dinsdale?”

As the laughter subsided, someone yelled “Albatross!” and, like deranged Waltons, we continued to bid each other an extended goodnight, with other Monty Python quotes and a lot of giggling.

I thought of that night when I heard the news that comedian Terry Jones had died. I can claim no familiarity with the man; I’m neither family nor friend; I never met him. But I can legitimately sympathize with the tragedy of dementia, and his absence from the world makes me sad.

I have heard people complain about an excess of attention when a celebrity dies. I think they are looking at it wrong. There is no weird Tier of Importance. Fame does not make a loss a greater loss. We mourn the passing of a celebrity because that person was known to so many. The sound of grief is louder because more people are aware that this particular person existed.

The things we share, as a herd of humans moving through the same group of decades, have an impact. Historical moments. Scientific breakthroughs. And, yes, entertainment. I would say especially entertainment because human brains have a far easier time with a Python punchline than with a Pythagorean theorem.

Lordy, I’m not even sure how to spell theorem, but give me a list of Python one-liners to identify, and my grade would be fine. And I’d be laughing.

Humor connects us in a way other things don’t. Comedic movies and TV shows can affect our point of view, teach us lessons, and leave a nugget of familiarity for even the most diverse strangers to connect over. (Nothing against those of you who prefer Math, but nothing sparks new camaraderie or long-time loyalty like a laugh shared.)

When someone famous dies, a little piece of our collective past breaks away. It is the sort of landmark at which a bunch of persons of a certain age have to stop for a moment and take the long look back.

It makes me yearn for a time machine.

I remember, so clearly, sitting in my jammies with my brother and sister, laughing really hard over Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a TV program that we had discovered on UHF, which was quite unlike The Brady Bunch.

I’m sure there are a gazillion things you could read that explain why that show was creative and ground-breaking, but that’s not what I’m on about. Suffice to say Monty Python was uniquely, outrageously, intelligently hilarious. (P.S. I am not trying to imply that 11-year-old me understood every reference or even every word. But it was all wonderfully silly.)

Credit the Pythons for putting a significant dent in my sense of humor or blame them for contributing to my weirdness. Either way I wouldn’t change that part of my upbringing for anything.

Thank you, Terry Jones, et al.

 

 

January 31, 2020 at 6:33 pm Leave a comment

Annie Cloth Sucks

Well, it’s a new year, and my resolution is to revive my blog. (Pardon my absence.)

Today, I’m going to tell you a story about what an idiot I am—in the hope that it will help save you from a similar situation. And, also because I have threatened this company with going public and filing a complaint with the FTC, and this is me putting a toe in that water while I await my refund.

First and foremost, if you read nothing else on this page, read this:  DO NOT SHOP AT ANNIE CLOTH. It is a fake website. And that is the last time I will use their company name to avoid giving them any positive SEO.

Friends, I thought I was fairly web savvy and I thought I was good at spotting what’s real and what’s fake online. Ahem.

One day, I saw some pretty clothes in a web ad and clicked through. The name sounds like a cute boutique, doesn’t it? And they present as if they are in the U.S.; their return address (which, obtw, is not really their return address) is San Francisco. But, they are neither cute nor Californian. Basically, these types of companies put up a website with (I assume stolen) photos of clothing and then, when you order, they send you some other random (poorly made, crappy, cheap) piece.

In my case, I purchased what I thought was a rather gorgeous sweater-coat. What I received was a hilariously hideous, polyester bathrobe-ish sort of thing. See photos, and be aware that the photos on the right don’t do justice to the true tacky-awfulness.

Do Not Shop with Annie Cloth

So, apparently, this is a Thing. Companies do this. And, apparently, they do so while hoping that, if they make the process difficult enough and expensive enough (or just ignore you long enough), you will give up.

I have decided not to give up.

I admit whole-heartedly that I was a dumb-dumb, but the site looked legit, and, like so many of us, I have become very at ease shopping online. (Funny thing:  I even noticed the really bad Photoshopping around the legs and boots. It should have been a clue.)

So, weeks passed and, in November, I received the item. Moments later, I began the return process . . . which continues.

It took weeks before I got a legitimate response from a human, who stated that if I wanted a full refund, I would have to return the item asap . . . to China . . . with postage over $20. (Yes. Yes. I can feel the collective cringe. I could have, probably should have, cut my losses and not returned it, but it’s the principle of the thing.)

While I wait for their response, I’m telling you all to be wary. Here is some info, which I found (or, in the case of the last bullet, would have found) helpful:

Happy New Year, people. Shop safe.

 

UPDATE I did eventually get most of my money back—thanks to PayPal. Hooray PayPal! 

 

January 17, 2020 at 1:45 pm Leave a comment

Never Forget

As time passes, we grow taller, we go grayer. We live and learn. We spread our wings and hit the earth with a thud. We swallow big wormy bites of knowledge. Our hopeful little faces get shoved behind the curtain for a good long look. And magic slips away, like baby teeth taken by force instead of fairies.

I’m five decades in, and I know storybooks are fiction. I know the good guy doesn’t always win. I’m well aware that things don’t turn out according to plan. I have figured out that the broken places are weaker, not stronger (and I remain baffled by the origin and existence of many other pithy adages).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an unhappy person or a truly cynical one, but my soul wears a tattered cape, and Hope is an aged and weary soldier who, sometimes, late into an evening, talks of retiring. I know bad things happen. I know terrible things happen. I’ve heard the unexpected phone ring. I’ve held a fragile hand. It is an awful, awful truth that you reach an age when you’re wise enough to know that the end is near.

But, here’s the thing:  Experience does not equal omnipotence.

Sometimes, you sit in a hospital room and cry — for joy. Sometimes, luck is on your side. Sometimes, prayers are answered. Sometimes,­ the news is good.

This past Sunday, our family celebrated Mother’s Day with a low-key, quiet dinner. Nothing fancy. No big surprises. Just a simple gathering with good food, three generations at the table, and lots of hugging. Best. Mother’s Day. Ever.

Some weeks ago, my Mom wasn’t feeling well, and we didn’t know what was wrong. On April 24th, we found out:  She had a bilateral subdural hematoma, which is blood accumulating in the skull, putting pressure on the brain. At 8:00 a.m. on April 26, she went into surgery.

I will never forget how it felt to let go of her hand that morning. I will never forget how it felt to wait, and only wait, because it was impossible to read or eat or speak. I will never forget that, except for some incredible luck, the grace of God, and my parents’ dogged attempts to get a fourth opinion, we would have lost her — but that is an abyss from which I must back away. So, instead, I will end with this. I will never again forget this:

My entire life, my mother’s love has been a selfless, unwavering certainty. It has been as steady an aspect of my being as breathing. So much so, that I may have at times treated it like something ordinary. Or as if it were something of mine, like a possession I earned or a prize I deserved. But it’s not about me. It’s not about me at all. It’s all about her. And I don’t know what I would do or who I would be without it.

May 17, 2017 at 7:10 pm 2 comments

Dear Andrew McCutchen


In response to Andrew McCutchen’s article, Dear Pittsburgh.


Dear Andrew McCutchen,

I wanted to sincerely thank you for your letter to me (and everyone).

I have been part of Pittsburgh since 1963. I remember 1971. I remember 1979.

I remember 1992, when a guy who had wished to stay in town and be a Pittsburgh Pirate, a guy who had offered to take a pay cut to stay in town and be a Pittsburgh Pirate, slid to the plate wearing a Braves uniform and knocked the wind out of this city.

I won’t rehash the Pittsburgh pIrate years except to say this: The biggest difficulty wasn’t the losing. We don’t need trophies to be happy (we have plenty). Sure we like to win, but we have our priorities straight. We do not like laziness. We do not admire greed. And we get rather peeved at those who crap on tradition.

In the midst of the bad years, I also remember June 4, 2009.

Your first game in Major League Baseball was a great game, and I was in the stands. You were a stand out, a bright spark, a star. And, as the cheering subsided and I walked to my car, I wondered how long it would be before you were traded away in the night for a handful of beans.

But they didn’t trade you. And you became The Guy.

You’re The Guy we got to hold onto. It was a symbol, a pivot, a change. You’re The Guy who had skill. The Guy who had heart. The Guy who liked being a Pirate. A leader. An inspiration. The Guy who brought confidence—and fun!—back to the dugout. The Guy who didn’t get lazy, didn’t stop trying.

You’re The Guy cynical, middle-age folk snuck a peek at while pretending not to care about baseball anymore.

You’re The Guy who set the tone for the team who gave baseball back to Pittsburgh.

And beyond all that, you’re you. And we love you.

We love you like we love an incline. We love you like we love a parade. We love you like we love pierogi made by little old ladies in the South Side.

We love you like we love rivers. We love you like we love ketchup. We love you like Christmas morning. We love you like Friday at 5:00. We love you like Primanti’s really late at night.

We love you like we love the street we grew up on. We love you like a neighbor. We love you like a friend. We love you like We Are Family.

We love you like our first baseball glove, the one Dad bought at Honus Wagner’s downtown. We love you like the crack of a bat. We love you like sunshine.

We love you like we love Mario. We love you like we love Myron. We love you like we love Bill Mazeroski and Willy Stargell.

We love that you want to be here. We love that you understand what baseball means to this town. We love that you love Roberto. We love your smile. We love your style. We love your game.

So, last season wasn’t the cherry on top. So what. We’re from Pittsburgh. We are very well aware that not every story would sell to Disney. We know turnarounds take time. We know setbacks make us strong. We weren’t worried.

Until the rumors started.

I heard the trade rumors exactly two days after I bought my brother a McCutchen jersey for Christmas.

(True story. When I saw a McCutchen jersey on a sale rack, I said aloud, in the store, “Huh, they’re not trading McCutchen are they?” And I laughed. I laughed! The sheer absurdity that the Pittsburgh Pirates organization would give up The Guy? That they would decide to trip momentum? Turn back time? No way. They wouldn’t. They couldn’t. Even for people who don’t give a damn about the love of Pittsburgh, the financial benefits of the resurgence had to be enough to keep them happy enough to not do something as preposterously, stunningly stupid as trading The Guy, right? I laughed.)

Such a punch to the gut. A reminder of 1992 and all that followed. The disconnected years. The fool-me-20-times years. And I wondered if maybe it was all a lie. Maybe nothing had changed. Maybe the plan all along had been to do the minimum required to lure in a new generation and then sit back and make concession/advertising/profit-sharing money for another 20 years. Maybe the decision makers still couldn’t see beyond their wallets to the soul of a thing, to the ripples of a baseball hitting a river, to the importance of The Guy.

I held my breath. I wrinkled my brow. I grew gray hairs. I expected the worst but I hoped.

And then.

Perhaps they recognized the importance of The Guy. Perhaps they saw the error of their ways. Perhaps a collection of lucky circumstances kept a deal from getting done. Or, perhaps, there is simply nothing that can stand against the fervent, collective wish of the people of Pittsburgh.

And perhaps it was coincidence that the news of you staying arrived and we got spring in February.

However it happened, dear Andrew McCutchen, we are very glad you are here.

Sincerely,
Beth Schmidt

February 20, 2017 at 3:22 pm 3 comments

Things That Helped Me Feel Better Today.

fb_flagIt’s a strange and surprising day and a very difficult one for a lot of people in America. I do not make light of anyone’s anger or disappointment, but I place here for anyone’s perusal, a list of things that helped me feel better today.

  • I have funny friends.
  • No President has ever kept all of his campaign promises.
  • Never forget that the media likes it when we feel terrified and sad. (That is when we tune in, and they make more money.)
  • Never doubt that the (established) government also likes it when we feel terrified and sad. (That is when they can add staff.)
  • I know people who are solid Trump supporters. They are not idiotic, racist, homophobic, or in any way deplorable. For now, I entrust my hope with them.
  • Talk to and listen to someone you respect who likes our President-elect. Not to change your opinion but to take the edge off of your despair.
  • Everyone who voted for Donald Trump cannot fit into that basket. (Some of you, oh hell yes, and you should really work on that, but not all of you, no way.)
  • I listened to his full speech on YouTube. (Note:  By design or not, Donald Trump had to give his acceptance speech when most people were sound asleep, which means the TV news channels have control over which sound bytes most people will hear.)
  • I haven’t relied on Fox or CNN for my news since 2012. I’m not as upset as most people. Perhaps there’s a correlation?
  • I am old enough to have seen many elections. Life goes on, kiddos. And it’s lovely either way.
  • Within the broad spectrums of political beliefs and ways of life, Republican and Democrat are more like bickering siblings than polar opposites.
  • Donald Trump will be a member of a branch of a government with so many built-in checks and balances that it is very difficult to get things done. And it’s like that on purpose.
  • He’s not a monarch.
  • He is not Hitler. (Note:  If you genuinely think Hitler could thrive in this country, you’re nuttier than a peanut cluster.)
  • I am not embarrassed to be an American. I went to the polls in red, white, and blue and a flag pin. I left the booth and said “Woo hoo!” to one of the election staff. Turns out, my vote was not for the winner. I still say, “Woo hoo! I voted!”
  • Last night, as I listened to the so-called experts talk about how no one saw this coming except for the Trump campaign, it struck me that Trump had better advisors than the Democratic Party and had better data than the mainstream news media. i.e., He picks incredibly smart, effective people to help him. That’s good.
  • I talked to my Mom, and she has promised not to move to Canada.

Take heart, America. You’ve always been great. You will continue to be great. You are not poll responses. You are not segments. You are not a political affiliation. You are individuals, each with the power to change the world around you. Maybe you don’t always have the power to pick someone you like for President. But you can be kind to your friends (and your enemies). You can be respectful of all Americans (and all peoples of the world). You can be you. (Pursue happiness! Be free!) You can be willing, perhaps tomorrow or the next day, to consider optimism. You can wait and see.

But please feel better today. I love you, America.

November 9, 2016 at 1:51 pm 2 comments

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