By Vito Delsante
The byline reads, “A Brooklyn-Filtered Literary Arts Salon.” And yet, here I sit, writing yet another dark story about Pittsburgh. The obvious question is, “Why?” Why don’t I set my stories in New York City, or one of the other four boroughs? Why do I keep taking you on a visit to Western Pennsylvania?
I remember one night, during my Freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh (aka, Pitt), walking along Forbes Avenue in my grandfather’s beige camel hair long coat, looking like James Dean walking in Paris. The lights of “the O,” or the Original Hot Dog Stand (which isn’t there anymore). The sounds of jazz coming from Hemingway’s, which made a cameo in the first Steel City Noir story. The Cathedral of Learning, reaching high into the night sky. Soldiers and Sailors on Fifth Avenue, where they filmed the scene in Silence of the Lambs where Lecter takes the face off of one of the guards. All these beautiful, dark, deco and gothic structures that look so unimposing in the day, but at night? They shine like the only beacons of hope in desolation.
I was in college. Of course I was desolate.
But the spot that inspired my noir instincts was further down on Fifth Avenue, off campus, at the corner of Fifth and Craig Street. If you go there, you’ll see St. Paul’s Cathedral. Across the street is a large US flag that, at night, had these spotlights on at the base. If you looked across the street, you could see the flag flapping, and, with the right amount of wind, it looked like Batman was on a building, keeping watch over the city and the church.
Now, I realize that this is the kind of thing that happens in most metropolitan areas, but I always liken it to the ‘Burgh. Steel City Noir takes place all over Western PA, with a focus on the Pittsburgh area, because that’s my spot. That’s where I walked the streets like a predator, looking for prey. That’s where I smoked my first cigarette, where I tasted my first beer. Pittsburgh is the place I learned to sin (which is ironic, seeing as how it was a place that I found my spirituality, too). New York, by contrast, is where I was still an innocent because it was the place of my youth. I’d eventually drop out of school, move back to New York and get into more (worse?) trouble, but my brain is wired to see the blood running into the gutters of Forbes Avenue. I still remember that smoky student bar at Carnegie Mellon where I used to watch musicians jam on Monk and Miles. Pittsburgh, to me, is the definition of steel; it’s cold, hard, and unbreakable. It’s modern and yet, it seems stuck in the past at times. It’s almost antiseptic, except for the inherent filth.
That, to me, is noir.