"It was the best of times;
It was the worst of timesâ€¦"
How many have you heard this and wondered what this really meant?
In Pittsburgh, we lived through both of those times.
December 23rd, 1972 â€“ The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Oakland
Raiders in their first playoff win thanks to Franco Harrisâ€™ improbable,
impossible, unimaginable â€œImmaculate Reception!â€�
Just eight days later (December 31st, 1972) Roberto Clemente dies on a
mission of mercy in a plane wreck. The best of times had just become the
worst of times. Merry Christmas & Unhappy New Year.
The Immaculate Reception had erased 40 years of futility for the Steelers
and launched them into a dynasty. Roberto Clementeâ€™s death had
devastated a tiny island and tore the core of a city to an open wound that still
needs to be carefully cleaned and bandaged every once-in-a-while.
I was eleven years old. Roberto Clemente was my baseball God. There is not one person in Pittsburgh that
was alive at the time, who cannot remember where they were when they heard the news of Clementeâ€™s
death. Roberto Clemente was not just a gifted athlete, a MVP, a batting champion, a phenomenal fielder with
a legendary arm. He was regal. He was a talented artist, a Marine, a civil rights icon and a humanitarian
envoy and nowâ€¦a martyr.
This story, however, is not about Charles Dickens, Franco Harris or Clemente. This story is about my
budding career as a Dormont Delinquent.
It was about six months after Clementeâ€™s death and a new book had just come out about â€œThe Great
One,â€� Roberto Clemente. I wanted this book, I needed this book...
|I walked into Meadâ€™s Pharmacy. There, on the spinning book rack, were ten copies of
the paperback edition of â€œRoberto Clementeâ€� by Jose Torres. I walked past the ice
cream cooler and looked up to the register lady behind the candy counter. She was waiting
on a customer and there was another in queue. I peered at the back of the store where the
Pharmacist in his white frock was tending to a prescription. My 4â€™-8â€� frame
disappeared behind the book rack. I slipped one of the paperbacks into my shirt, turned my
back and then picked up a small transistor radio. I fiddled with the knobs for a moment and
then put it back down and quietly shuffled out the door.
I turned left and after I cleared the storeâ€™s huge plate glass, I bolted as if thrown by Zeus
his self! I ran as fast as I could to the â€œSortinoâ€™s Breezeway,â€� three storefronts
away and leaped down the stairs with such abandon that I almost bit concrete! The cut-
through off the main drag exited into the prevalent alley system that Dormont is known for.
Running with all the speed and abandon that an eleven-year old can muster, there was no
way a pack of wild dogs would catch me! I was in fear gear by the time I reached the Archâ
€™s house on the corner of Gaylord and Peermont Alley and it wasnâ€™t until I hit
Pinehurst before I looked back. Not one Sgt. Don Hasley in sight!
At this point, I was confident that I had gotten away with my petty crime. I sauntered down
the rest of the way to the Piedmont Cowpath where I sat on the cement wall at the red barn
garage. I pulled the book out of my shirt and, there on the wall, began reading about my
I sat there for two solid hours reading. It was the
greatest book ever written at that point of my life. It
was now about three in the afternoon. I decided to
cruise the neighborhood and see who else was
around. On the hot, summer day, I could usually be
found at Dormont Pool but I had a Little League game
that night and I didnâ€™t want to get too tired. So, I
walked down the Piedmont Alley and began the north
face ascent of the Biltmore hill. When I passed â
€œTriangle TV,â€� I noticed the Watergate Hearings
were still going on. â€œThe President is a criminal!
Hmm, I donâ€™t feel so bad after all.â€�
I walked into the A.B. Charles Hobby Shop. I was
hoping to catch one of my friends maybe racing their
RC cars in the basement but, there were only a couple
of old race geeks there. After perusing the shelves, I
headed further down the road. I walked past the
Grotto Bar, where Buggs Maloneâ€™s Pap would
take us in for the best burger and a coke while he and
the other old men would knock back Imp & Arns
(Imperial Whiskey & Iron City Beer) while standing at
the bar. Back then, they didnâ€™t have bar stools.
I could hear the click and clack of Nickâ€™s Pool
Hall too. I was several years away from being a
regular there. Then, as it was for most people, Nickâ
€™s was a scary place. No, there was only one place
to go, Isalyâ€™s!
Elegantly dressed, with a wool jacket, knee length skirt, oversized, faux-pearl necklace, coifed to, at least, the 35th degree and, bright, red, fish-
scale lipstick, her intimidation factor was hovering around the high three-digits! As Iâ€™m stammering for words and on the verge of shock, she
allows, â€œI know why you took it, he was my hero too. But you know Roberto would have never stolen it.â€� The guilt that coursed through
my veins slowed my heart beat. â€œPlease give it back.â€� I pulled it from my seat and sheepishly handed it back to her dog-eared and covered
in sweat, ice cream and jimmies.
She stood up, faintly smiled or smirked, if there is a difference and, spun on a heel and walked out. The sweat immediately escaped my body and I
gulped all the air that I hadnâ€™t used while she was there. To this day, I have not had a shock as electrocuting as that moment.
This was a full four hours after I left her store! Had she been following me all this time? Did she know I practically lived at Isalyâ€™s and knew
she would find me there eventually? Or, was she some kind of all-knowing Persephone? I donâ€™t know and I never will.
Regretfully, I wish I could tell you that I went back and apologized or, that I went back and paid for the book or, that I repented my sinful ways
and paid penance in the form of self-flagellation. This was not the case. What I did do is was much harder! For over a year, I took every pain to
not cross in front of those Meadâ€™s Pharmacy windows again!
Isalyâ€™s was maybe the greatest place on Earth, at least on my Earth.
The cool air envelopes you as you enter its confines and the confections
arouse your senses better than static electricity with the smell. Their
Pittsburgh famous Chipped Ham was only the beginning. Moon Pies,
Klondikes, Ho-Hoâ€™s, baseball cards and, of course, the apex of delight,
the Skyscraper Ice Cream Cone! Eight tall inches of carefully crafted and
sculpted creamy delight in a sugar cone, Mmmhmmm! This missile of
mouthwatering, melt-y magnificence, made every day worth living! I spent
the extra nickel and got mine with jimmies.
Walking carefully to balance my Skyscraper, I take a seat near the back
facing the back wall. I was slurping on my cone and paging through my
book on my seat when, out of heaven itself, does someone plop themselves
down in my booth across the table from me. I glance upâ€¦It is the Meadâ
€™s Register Lady!!!!!!!!
What a sight I must have been! With my hair that goes everywhere, eyes
popped out of their sockets and a slack jaw chin slathered in vanilla ice
cream and jimmies! She looks me dead in the eye with the hairiest eyeball
since Medusa and says, â€œI saw you take it.â€�
"It was the best of times; It was the worst of timesâ€¦"
West Liberty Avenue - Dormont
Mead's Pharmacy Was Here