Pittsburgh: New Office of the Blog

Hey, everybody! The blog will continue right here, but I wanted to let you know that my web site is under new and exciting construction! Take a look at what’s happening so far at: www.fredericsdurbin.com.

I have landed a job with WriteAtHome.com, a company that corrects and comments on papers (essays, stories, research papers, etc.) written by (mostly) homeschooled students. I think it will be a perfect fit for me, but it’s not a full-time livelihood. I’m also gearing up for the school year as a freelance teacher of creative writing, making professional visits to schools and libraries. I’ll be serving as an enthusiastic supporter of Cricket Magazine and doing all I can to help young people discover the joy and excitement of setting their own words purposefully on paper. Hopefully with this two-pronged approach, I’ll make it through the winter! I loved how one Cricket editor described my effort as a “Johnny Appleseed” approach: walking from school to school “planting” Cricket and the celebration of good writing. I’ve had fantastic support from friends — excellent advice, designing skills, endorsements, and encouragement. Thanks to all! You know who you are! It takes a village — a subterranean, haunted village.

So I’m here in Pittsburgh, the city of bridges and wandering stairways . . . the city of three rivers. I won’t try to tell you about the city itself yet; rather, I’ll start on a personal level and let pictures introduce you to my new place. Ready? Here we go:

My new place on Broadway Avenue

Broadway Avenue is a great address, eh? That sounds like where the blog offices should be. Since I’ll be writing at my desk, I’d like you all to know that I’ll be working on Broadway. Yeah, I’m doing some creative stuff on Broadway. You know. I’m up on the third floor. No one lives below me yet. But I’m hoping that nice people will move in, and that they’ll use a lot of heat in the winter, which will rise through their ceilings . . .

My entranceway

My access is in the back. Very Pittsburghy: at the rear, the ground is higher. I go up one flight to the third floor.

My new (highly used) car

I seem destined to drive red cars. This is the third car I’ve owned in life, and like its two predecessors, it is red. I don’t choose them for their color. It just worked out that way. I like this one a lot.

Looking toward Pittsburgh

Isn’t this interesting? This view makes it clear that, although Pittsburgh is a well-known, major U.S. city, it’s nestled among forested hills. You can’t go far in any direction without crossing a ridge, a patch of woods, a brushy ravine. Remember those paintings I did, trying to capture the feel of the city? I’ll stick in a panel here, so you can compare the actual to my rendition:

Detail from The Uncanny City, 2010

A city of rivers and hills

I discovered that you can see my apartment in this view, though the photo isn’t detailed enough to allow it. It’s in the middle distance, toward the left of the picture.

St. Mary's Cemetery

Those previous photos were taken near the feet of this cross. From my front balcony, I can just make out this cross on the horizon!

Sunset from my balcony

And that would be in this view — but again, the photo isn’t sufficiently detailed.

Behind my place, from my doorstep

I like the green spaces so close at hand. Trouble is, there’s a lot of poison ivy along my back fence. Of course, that makes it just like home.

My balcony

My balcony

I brought my bicycle with me from Japan. Several have questioned the wisdom of doing so, but it has great emotional value to me. Unfortunately, the valves on bicycle tubes are different in Japan and the U.S.! I had to acquire American inner tubes.

Summer sunset from my front balcony

I like sitting in a beach chair on my balcony to watch the sun go down.

My neighborhood

This is the view from my balcony in the daytime.

One more balcony shot

That’s a fascinating and picturesque cemetery on that steep, rounded hill nearby. Alas, the signs say it’s private and order you to keep out. (It’s probably prowled by Old Ones or other monsters at night.)

Great lamp

I obtained this floor lamp very inexpensively from a friend-of-a-friend who was clearing out his parents’ house and had a lot of furniture to get rid of. I like it!


Here’s a view of my kitchen. Any members of our old D&D group will recognize that card table! The other one is in my current bedroom.

Mom's buffet

I brought this along from my childhood home, too. If you’re a burglar casing my place on-line, there’s no value to it — Mom got it and a companion table and chairs from the Salvation Army or the Goodwill. But it holds a lot of memories of growing up, and I’m glad to have it out of storage at last!

Dining room table

Here’s the companion dining room table. I used to have a great time making secret bases and hideouts under this table with my nextdoor neighbor, whom I’ll refer to as “Chris” to protect his identity. I believe this was our headquarters when our personal army was at war with Germany and/or Spain. This is only half of the table — three more legs go out in the other direction. I’m glad I was able to bring so much of the old Taylorville house to my new location, linking the present with the past.

Keeping the vigil

I’m delighted to have these old friends with me again, too! They’re from the college years, and they’ve figured into some stories and artwork. For over twenty years they sat atop my rolltop desk in the sealed-off darkness of the storage room, watching and waiting. What is time to a gargoyle?

Table leg

If I’d lived in Victorian times, I couldn’t have posted this picture on my blog. Have you heard how the Victorians designed covers to conceal the limbs of tables and chairs, which would otherwise be exposed and shocking? It’s true!

Dad's painting

This is another old treasure from storage. My dad painted this in 1964. He didn’t have any formal training, but I was in awe of it as a kid, and I still love how it captures the feel of a summer night. I imagine that I could step into its warmth-yet-coolness. In later years, we talked about how the painting is strangely prophetic. What else could that be but a Japanese Shinto torii gate, and what business does it have in the setting?

My homemade shelves

This was an innovation I’m really proud of. I have tons of books, right? TONS. I left many in storage, and only brought to Pittsburgh the ones I absolutely wanted to have with me and the ones I thought I might read sometime soon. But that still means that most of what I brought with me was books. I knew there were no bookcases I could buy that would house them properly. Bookcases can be expensive; they’re bulky, difficult to transport, and consume massive amounts of space. So I had this great idea . . .

Pittsburgh has a wonderful store called Construction Junction, which sells used and surplus building materials as well as used furniture. You can find anything there from desks and file cabinets to plumbing fixtures, church pews, stained-glass windows, and a circular stairway handrail. Some of those grand old things cost thousands of dollars, but some are ridiculously cheap, such as bricks for 35 cents apiece and random boards for about the same.

I bought a carload of odd lumber and bricks for less than $20 in all; I washed them off with a hose at my friends’  house, and when everything was dry, I assembled my own bookshelves!

Shelves for larger books

These can be made to fit the available space you have — corners, hallways, and low sections of wall below windows. They’re easier than pie to take apart and move. And I love how they look — basic, natural, functional, and rustic. Bricks are about the perfect height to accommodate mass-market paperbacks. Larger bricks work well for trade paperbacks and hardbacks!

By the way, on the shelf in the photo above, there are: 1.) Gandalf; 2.) an organ pipe from the old organ at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, which a friend gave me as a housewarming present (the pipe, not the whole organ); 3.) a troll made of moss, brought back by Mom from Norway — he was the model for Crion in The Threshold of Twilight; and 4.) a strange, smooth black stone that Dad found. I’ve never seen any other stone like it. Dad pointed out that it’s shaped like an actual heart. Maybe it’s the dark form of a Star Shard . . .

A castle on the Rhine

This is perhaps my favorite painting anywhere. It hung in our house all the while my parents lived there and I was growing up. Mom bought it from a street artist in Germany, when she taught there at a U.S. military base. The artist, E. Mludek, was painting castles on the Rhine River, and he would do them in any color you requested. Mom asked for blue. E. Mludek’s price was “five Marks [I don’t remember the actual number] and a bottle of [such-and-such] wine.” Mom had to go to a certain store, buy the wine, and bring it back to him at the arranged time. And Herr Mludek painted this wondrous image for her, just as promised.

No other single image had my attention so much as a child. I passed the painting often, and it seemed full of stories. In my imagination, I walked in the dusky forest, explored the ruins, and sat on the cliffs to watch the river and dream of who might be in the distant castle on the other shore. And doesn’t that look like a face in profile on the rocky bank, gazing sternly over the river? Long years and clouds of cigarette smoke have taken their toll, but it’s still quite a painting — a gateway to enchantment, eh?


This is looking from my kitchen into what I’m using as my bedroom. My office is in the largest chamber beyond.

Shelves for very large books

Some friends from church gave me this folding bookshelf, which is ideal for my largest books. Can you glimpse any treasures? They’re there!


Yes, the dictionaries are back in place within easy reach! I got this desk arrangement from Ikea. It’s a corner piece and two straight pieces — very sturdy, and all a person has to do is screw the legs into place. You buy however many surface pieces and however many legs you want, arrange them in the layout you want, and it’s all much cheaper than any comparable L- or U-shaped desk. I also bought those shelves at the back, same grain and color, to use as a hutch. The chair and mat are from Staples.com.

Mom’s bookcases

I’m pretty sure my mom made these bookshelves herself. The three little books between the elephant bookends are Andersen’s fairy tales. The cross is made of materials from our farm: maple twigs from the Glory Day Grove, a spool from Mom’s sewing basket, and a base from a board that was part of the barn. The longsword is from Japan, but it’s Western-style — not a Hanzou sword, heh, heh!

Hall of books

Down at the hall’s far end is a framed Emily Fiegenschuh print, an illustration for “The Star Shard.”

Ikea desk and hutch

I think it’s a good workspace.

Work station again

I’m trying to decide whether I like that chair better, or an old wooden office chair that I got along with the lamp and four little yellow chairs. I may use the wooden chair in the summer and the plush black one in the colder months.

Living room

And when I say “living room,” I mean “office” . . .

What better bookshelves could there be?

Seriously! See how you can do most anything with bricks and boards? See the little extension that rises up beside the window, making use of the space?

Chunks of historic Pittsburgh

As it turned out, I didn’t buy enough bricks. But there were some discarded in my backyard, the remains of an old foundation or sidewalk. I appropriated a few of those to finish the job, and they have great character. I like the fact that my bookshelves are built of fragments of the old city, chunks and planks from diverse places, a part of the human whirl that has struggled and endured here since the days when black smoke obscured the sky.

Tolkien corner

Though most of my Tolkien and Tolkien-related books are here, some are scattered throughout the other shelves, and this space includes a lot of non-Tolkien stuff. The shelves are surprisingly sturdy, because they utilize walls, corners when possible, and gravity. You could knock them over if you really tried, but you could do that with any bookcase. I think Gimli would approve. He’d say, “These bookshelves have good bones.”


Norton Anthologies. Dunsany. Lewis. Do you like the decor? Such is the Fredificium!

More shelves

These are some of my best-loved books from childhood/the teenage years. Just out of the picture is a baseball from the Field of Dreams. The terra-cotta warrior and his horse came from a traveling exhibit of hundreds of actual terra-cotta warriors that I saw in Niigata.

Books, CDs, DVDs

So many books, so little time . . .

Stairway to nowhere

This is an intriguing aspect of the architecture. There’s a tiny bit of the Winchester Mystery House right here! This was a stairway connecting my floor to the one below. But the remodelers boarded it up at the bottom end, so I have a stairway (behind a chain-lock and knob lock) that descends to a blank wall of joists and boards. When I flip on its light switch, I can see a light coming on in the apartment below me, filtering through cracks between the planks. (If people move in downstairs, I can really freak them out!)

Anyway, I have one very small closet in my place, only big enough for my trombone and a couple umbrellas, etc. So I’m using my Stairway to Nowhere as a descending closet. You can see it’s full of (mostly) empty boxes. With that chain lock, I think it will contain the monsters that tend to inhabit closets.

Come and See!

This is the first painting I’ve done since moving here. It was done as a present for a friend’s birthday, and I found it quite therapeutic to be working on it; it helped me to deal with the stress of the waiting game involved in job-hunting. Anyway, the title is “Come and See!” (not to be confused with what I’m told is an excellent movie by that title). As with most of my attempts at painting, your own interpretation of what you see is strongly encouraged. My idea is that the two girls are probably cousins. The darker-haired one wants to show her cousin something out in the moonlit clearing beyond the garden. It has a secret, impulsive, maybe even forbidden aspect, as they’ve sneaked (or wandered) out in their nightgowns. What are they going to see? A moss-bearded herm? A camp of carnival wagons across the meadow, where the fiddles play and fires crackle? A standing stone? A dance of fairy-folk?

Come and See!

Can you see the fireflies?

Well, that’s it for now. Though it pains me to say it, it’s time to think of good books for fall. Well, there’s Dragonfly, of course, and Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and the anthology October Dreams, which is an absolute must for October! Any other good suggestions?

What I most recently listened to is the soundtrack of (the new) True Grit. I was so taken with the soundtrack after seeing the outstanding movie twice that I just had to acquire it. Composed by Carter Burwell, it makes use of 1800s hymns — so much use of them, in fact, that it was knocked out of the running for an Academy Award — not enough “original music” in it. Be that as it may, I cannot imagine a more appropriate and powerful soundtrack for the film.

See the movie. It’s an inspiration. The writing particularly caught my attention, and everything about the film is superb. (And it’s another novel I’d like to read.)

Here’s what Carter Burwell wrote (in part) about his musical choices for this undertaking:

“Mattie Ross drives this story. But her unquestioning determination to go into wild country in pursuit of her father’s killer begs explanation. Where would a 14-year-old girl come by the audacity to browbeat outlaws and lawmen, follow them into the wilderness, correct their spelling? Church, of course.”

That quote runs deep. That’s where the courage and the pluck come from: from belief. From “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms.”

To Unemployment, I say, “Fill your hands, you . . .” and ride forth with the reins in my teeth!


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56 Responses to “Pittsburgh: New Office of the Blog”

  1. Daylily Says:

    Fred, congratulations on the new job and may the rest of your plans for employment also go well! Thanks for the tour of your new domicile and environs; it’s great to be able to picture you in Pittsburgh. But you had better visit a library soon; there’s not a thing to read in your apartment. 🙂 And now, I think I would like to follow the two girls and see what lies at the top of the blue stairs . . .

  2. "Chris" Says:

    Umm, yeah thanks for “hiding” my identity as the co-habitator of the under-table fort.

    Congrats on getting set up in Pittsburgh, although I must admit while I liked Pittsburgh on my various visits I am still in awe of freaks such as yourself and my wife who seem to idolize the city that much. There’s got to be something in the DSM IV about that.

    Welcome to the horrific state of employment in the U.S. at the start of the 21st Century! yay! Glad to hear you have cobbled together various income generators. I am still sure you could make a ton of money as a Japanese patent translator for one of the Pittsburgh companies. That’s a skill that simply cannot be done by machine without yielding the most hilarious output. Trust me on that.

    And since the Japanese are not as nice to translate their patents into English it actually _is_ a valid service required by us techies in industry.

    I agree with Daylily, you really should go out and get some books or something…the walls and floor spaces seem too bare. Do you ever read???

    I noted you have Dan Simmon’s “The Terror” on one shelf. As we’ve discussed before: it is a great book…right up to the end. Dan Simmons is such a good writer but he can’t seem to “end” a book well. Of course I loved the Terror because I’m a Franklin Expedition nut and a fun fictionalized account of that was a great read! Except, of course, the end. Just go ahead and rip the last chapter out and don’t bother reading it, make up your own ending and enjoy the book more!

  3. jhagman Says:

    Hey Fred! Nice new digs! When is the giant keg party w/ the garage band? I’ll book a flight (and bring the guacamole). We’ll try to not let too many people get arrested! For the Autumn for reading, I would recommend a book mentioned in a Manly Wade Wellman story, the book is entitled “Hex Marks The Spot In Pennsylvania Dutch Country” it is by Ann Hark. It is a collection about all fun, odd things in your new home State, it was written in 1938. I love it, I’ve read it twice. I also like an anthology entitled “Harvest Tales & Midnight Revels”, “Stories for the Waning of the Year” edited by Michael Mayhew. But my all time favorite (along with Dragonfly) is Blaylock’s “The Elfin Ship”, it is so completely Autumn, that you can almost smell the burning leaves. I am glad you liked “True Grit” the actor Hailee Steinfeld took riding lessons at my Family’s horse farm Elvenstar, so when you saw her ride, you some of my Brother’s handiwork!

  4. jhagman Says:

    Fred,,,,You have no kamidana in your house!?

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Nope–never was much of a practitioner of Shintoism. 🙂 But hondana, I’ve got plenty of! [For any non-speakers of Japanese, kamidana means “god shelf” and hondana means “book shelf.”]

      Jhagman, that is SUPREMELY cool that your family’s ranch is where the girl in True Grit learned to ride! I’ve been telling friends about that, and everyone says “Whoa!” in awe!

  5. fsdthreshold Says:

    By the way, “Elvenstar” is a wonderful name for the horse farm! I’ve noticed that road-namers around here tend to be much more creative than those in central Illinois, in a vein that is decidedly down my alley! For example, I’ve encountered these roads within a twenty-mile radius of where I live:

    Elfinwild Road
    Fairywood Drive
    Oberon Street

    It almost makes me want to look for vacant apartments on those streets so that I could have one of those as my address!

  6. fsdthreshold Says:

    Also by the way, thank you for the book recommendations! I have written down all of them, and I may just get my Carnegie Library card right away with those as the primary motivation!

  7. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:


  8. morwenna Says:


  9. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    dammit why wont my replies appear?!?

  10. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    three times I have written HUGE posts and they do not appear (growls angrily)

  11. fsdthreshold Says:

    Mr. Brown Snowflake: I don’t know what’s wrong! Your posts haven’t come in as needing approval from me, either — there’s been no trace of them. You say they were huge? I wonder if there’s a size limit to comments . . . your short ones are coming through just fine. I’m really sorry about the trouble you’ve been having . . . and even sorrier (selfishly) to have missed out on your huge comments!

    I see that when I changed the e-mail address I use for the blog, my icon also changed — now it’s the worst ever. No one should feel bad about his/her icon, because it’s not nearly as bad as mine! It makes me want to use that process Scott was talking about and upload one of my own.

  12. fsdthreshold Says:

    Ha, HA! I changed my icon! This is the barn of my childhood!

  13. Catherine Says:

    Hi, Fred–
    LOVE the pictures. Pittsburgh looks like a cool place! Hopefully you settle in well.

    For some reason your painting reminds me of Easter, but in a stylized way. You know, “Come and see the place where He lay.” The girl in white reminds me of an angel. And the girl with the long blond hair looks to me like someone who, unlike the women on the first Easter, already knows of the resurrection and is deep with excitement to experience it. Ouch. That sounds so corny. But in my mind it’s beautiful, and I really love the picture. You got the excitement, I think.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thank you, Catherine! That is a fascinating take on the painting! I really like that — and I love how art exists outside the artist; how I wasn’t thinking of Easter when I painted it, but it triggered that impression in you, which is certainly legitimate. And it’s very interesting to think along those lines. In the Gospel, the women are the first to arrive at the tomb on Easter morning. Imagine if, among the disciples and those following Jesus, there was a woman who did grasp beforehand what Jesus meant — who did understand that He was going to rise from the dead. She would be very excited on her way to the tomb, especially if an angel came to get her out of bed. This could be her story! That is, there could be a story written about her — a woman with a special calling, the first to understand the Resurrection. Though she grieved, she never doubted when Jesus was crucified, because she knew the grave wouldn’t hold Him. What might her task in life have been after that? We need someone with Hebrew training to tell us her name. I’ll bet it would literally mean “early” or “beforehand.” I like “Early” — that hour before dawn breaks, when the day lies ahead.

  14. morwenna Says:

    Fred, thanks for the fun tour of Broadway and beyond! I’m sure that when people aren’t present, those gargoyles glide around the room, and even hop inside the scenes in the paintings.

    Speaking of Cricket, I’m enjoying the readers’ winning riddle poems in the September issue. You sparked the idea for a very fun Cricket League contest.

    Lost comments from Mr. Brown? Say it ain’t so, Snow!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thank you, Morwenna! The gargoyles probably are active when no one is around — that’s likely how gargoyles stay in shape, honing their warding skills. I love the idea of how they hop into and out of the paintings!

      I can’t wait to see the September issue of Cricket! I’ve heard it’s an especially good issue for more reasons than just the riddle contest winners — everyone should look for it at your newsstands!

      Mr. Brown Snowflake, I dearly hope you’ll reconstruct the lost messages, even if you have to do it in small chunks!

  15. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    trying AGAIN: Fred, love that you have a Broadway address. Seeing the old paintings from your dad, the German castle and some of the furniture takes me back to Old Oak Rd years ago… BTW, is The Tradition still in place? It better be!
    I well remember Hooper lying at my feet under the Ft. Chris-Fred table during Dn’D meetings, and of course I remember that cardtable! If only the old square wooden table with all the graffitti on it had survived…wow!
    Love the sunset pic, as well as those of the cemetery.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      The Broadway address reminds us of our high school musical days, doesn’t it? — Give My Regards to Broadway — I’m pretty sure you worked on the sets for that one, didn’t you? And I wore the now-famous Thespian Hat, that battered gray felt hat of my great uncle’s that I think was eventually lost in the depths of our pond.

      I thought seeing the furniture would take you back!

      I’m sorry to say it, but I don’t think The Tradition is still there. But maybe it’s good that it was decommissioned without us there to observe it. The King Kong posters are in the storage room.

      Yes, I wish the square table from the basement and also the graffiti-covered desk from the back room were still around. I don’t know what became of either of them.

  16. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:


    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I remember Professor Froehlich teaching us about the origin of the popularized use of “Eureka” — it’s what Archimedes shouted, but I guess I remembered incorrectly why he was shouting it. It means “I have found [it]!” — I thought he yelled it when he settled into his bathtub and noticed that the water level rose, the water being displaced by his body. But my Webster’s dictionary says we think he shouted it when he discovered a method for determining the purity of gold. Hmm . . . Of course, if he was in the habit of yelling that when he noticed new things, he might have used it in both incidents . . .

  17. Nick O. Says:

    Thanks for sharing the wonderful pics, Fred! It does look cozy and just the place for flights of inspiration! I love that troll (Crion?). And I have one of those wooden poseable artist’s hands on a bookshelf in my office too. Our office decor is somewhat similar, in fact–shelves constructed of wooden planks and bricks, eclectic knick-knacks including gargoyles, statuettes, etc. Probably quite an overlap of titles on the shelves, too…

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Why am I not surprised, Nick, that you have board-and-brick bookshelves, too? Heh, heh! Yes, Crion is a great moss troll! He used to have a braided tail, but I’m told that I pulled it off when I was a baby — after which I felt really bad and tearfully asked him, “Did it hurt, Troll?”

      I had to get the matching set of the artist’s hands, because I can’t do the flipping-over mentally.

  18. tandemcat Says:

    It does look like you have your apartment full!

    Hm–I thought earlier that I had lost my icon, but it seems to be the same, I hope….

    I have had some good addresses here:

    Orangewood Avenue
    Palm Beach Avenue
    Greensprings Avenue

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Those are good street names, too! I wonder why streets back in the Midwest tend so much toward the names of Presidents and trees. But right here in my neighborhood in the greater Pittsburgh area, there’s a Furnace Street. Winebiddle, Clever Road, Tunnel Way . . . these sound like street names aboard the Thunder Rake!

  19. tandemcat Says:

    I missed those two check-boxes below–this comment doesn’t mean anything, except that I’m sure nothing will happen unless I make another comment! %-)

  20. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    Well, ‘The Tradition’ can never really die, much as ‘Gorilla’ and ‘Ooop!’ are indestructible.
    I appreciate your love for Pittsburgh … some people love Boston, some Philly, some Denver … it is all a matter of personal preference. But, being the opinionated blowhard of this blog, I will never be able to understand how someone who spent his college years in Chicago can not desire to return to the No. 3 city in the world! (if only for the pizza and hot dogs alone).

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      There’s something needing clarification here: I don’t have any great love for Pittsburgh — yet, anyway. I think it’s a very interesting city. It has charm, a fascinating geography, an incredible library system, amazing food, and a thriving cultural scene. But it’s really hard for me to love any city. Cities are a necessary evil: we go to them to be where certain opportunities are, but then we go back to the countryside to breathe and re-ground ourselves. (When I say “we,” I suppose I mean “I.”) Pittsburgh hasn’t proven itself to me yet. It may, in time.

      But we do have a friendly disagreement here, and let the good-natured sparks fly — because yes, my coming here did include a reaction away from Chicago. My college years there were quite enough. I never felt warm in Chicago, even in summer. It is a vast iceberg crouched in the top corner of an otherwise pleasant and comfortable state. From a distance, the iceberg gleams prettily in the sun. When the traveler draws near, s/he sees that it is tunneled through and crisscrossed with a system of the filthiest warrens and canyons, filled constantly with screeches, howls, and bone-chilling wind. If a volcano could spew forth ice and frost (instead of fiery magma) along with ash and choking vapors, that volcano would be Chicago.

      The “Place of the Wild Onion” does have the Field Museum of Natural History and Shedd Aquarium, and they are tremendous.

  21. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    As Sandburg wrote:
    Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
    Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;

    Ohh, Chicago’s faults are many. The murder rate is atrocious. The notorious political shenanigans (the source of the moniker ‘Windy City’) have now infected Washington, the cost of living that prevents me from moving there …

    But all that, plus The Field, The Shedd, The Adler, The MSI, The McCormick Center, Rush St., The Loop, Navy Pier, Oak St. Beach, The Cubs, The Hawks, Da Bears, Da Bulls, PIZZA, hot dogs the right way … the vibrancy, the awake at 2 a.m. as if it were 8 p.m. … the culture, the churches, the music, and, uh, the babes…

    I know you disliked the Monster Under Lake St. and the winter you hated, but, my friend, it snows in western Pennsylvania, too, and Pittsburgh is not New Orleans … you won’t get the hellish summers you enjoy.

    All that said, I join all of us in saying, once more “Welcome Back”

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Beautifully said, old friend! I must confess: the biggest reason behind my rant against Chicago was that I wanted to set you up for a world-class rebuttal, and you did not disappoint! That was one nice comeback. It’s hard to argue with Carl Sandburg.

      You’re quite right about winters. I’m not looking forward to my first one here. Pittsburgh has all the ice and snow of the Midwest, made more hazardous by the ubiquitous slopes. City streets here are a gigantic roller-coaster track without rails.

      I got in on the tail end of summer here, and it was pretty hot. I don’t know if deep summer will reach true glorious levels or not. In the recent years of climate change, summers all over the Northern Hemisphere have been pretty disappointing. As Scout Finch said of her childhood summers: “It was hotter then.”

  22. jhagman Says:

    Not so fast about Chicago Herr Durbin! While I don’t know any refugees from Pittsburgh that live out here in sunny SoCal, I know MANY from the Icy Steamy Climes of Chicago! One of my friends from out here nearly froze to death in a -60 wind chill Hell of Chicago, trying to score some David Bowie tickets, only a cab happening by saved his life. One of my Aikido instructors (now living out here) grew up in North Chicago, he talks about the qualities of the cinder blocks being imbedded into your face as you are being mugged there, he says there is nothing quite like a North Chicago cinder block, and Hot Dogs? Boiled! Buried under stuff because they have no flavor! Give me a Coney Isand dog, and Pizza??? Two inch thick soggy slabs, blah! Oh, and my Aikido instructor friend went to Northwestern Univ, i think he goes to Chicago only for funerals and weddings!

  23. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    jhag: Neither I, nor any other defender of Chicago, is responsible for the lack of culture and overall good sense that comes from her detractors. Jerusalem is the number one city (a nod to the Big Fella here), with Rome, the Eternal City, firmly in second place. I give Chicago the third spot (narrowly) over London for a few reasons, but chiefly among them being the ladies by the lake and that the English cannot cook worth a damn.

  24. jhagman Says:

    Lord Snowflake, it is true I’ve never been known for either good sense or culture, but let us agree that Carl Sandburg is no Yeats, Eliot, or Baudelaire. My girlfriend says that Harry Dresden will probably want to throw a beating my way, and far as cities go; I prefer Lankhmar! Cheers, and I wish you joy when you visit the City of Stockyards!

  25. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    Yes, thank God Sandburg is not Yeats, otherwise I would be bored reading him! I can happily skip Ell-ee-ottt, too, and I have never heard of Baudelaire (French? If so , that might be why, as I am an admitted Francophobe).
    I will stick with the good ol’ American boys: Carl,Walt and Bob.

  26. jhagman Says:

    Herr Brown! I am w/ you as long as we are speaking of Carl’s Jr. Walt Disney and Bob’s Big Boy!

  27. Chris Says:

    No Defense of Chicago:

    1. Back in my ancient past life as an editorial cartoonist I penned this for the Columbia Missourian (sure it wasn’t Illinois but it it is NEVER out of place to take a swipe at Illinois):

    2. I grew up in “downstate” Illinois (you know, the vast majority of big state?) Which means when I tell anyone anywhere I am from Illinois the first question seems to be around what part of Chicago I’m from.

    3. I was fully in support of Chicago seceeding from Illinois, a meme going around in the 1980’s when I was back in college.

    4. Oh sure I spent my requisite time working at Argonne National Labs in the shadow of such famous folks at Enrico Fermi, and I took my occasional trips into Chicago and I hold dear the memory of going to see King Tut there (with Fred as I recall!) and I loved the Sears Tower and the various museums, but other than that I can think of little to recommend Chicago

    5. Best City/Metro area in the Continental US is still and always will be Boston, MA. This is an incontrovertible fact and cannot be debated unless you are mad.

    6. Possible candidate for best city on planet earth: Reykjavik Iceland.

    7. One of the most fun art-filled city of recent memory: Turku Finland (2011 European Capital of Culture)

    Dig on the “Posankka” and the “seals” here: https://picasaweb.google.com/101511554251686571193/TheSeaLionsOfTurkuAug2011#

    How about a church supposedly built by GIANTS (Killi and Nalli, according to legend) in Raisio just outside Turku?


    And just for Mr. Brown Snowflake a commemorative plaque for LENIN who briefly stayed in Turku while on the run from the Tsar!:


  28. Lance Latham Says:

    Lance here (filled in after you at Niigata Uni). I have ホッビトの冒険 too! I saw that you had that book in one of your pictures. Glad you got yourself settled. Actually Pitt is one of my second homes; went to school about 60mi north in Grove City.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Lance! Thank you for the comment, and thanks for being here! Wow, I had no idea you were a follower of the blog — I’m honored and happy! I’d love to hear how things are going at Niigata University!

      Yes, you’re one of the few people who would have recognized that book on my shelf!

      I’ve heard of Grove City — I was just up in Butler. That’s got to be near there, right? I was also at McConnell’s Mill and Moraine State Park — beautiful places! Geographically, they must be just about in your old backyard!

  29. jhagman Says:

    Ah! Together again, Comrade Snowflake and Vladimir Lenin!

  30. tandemcat Says:

    Can’t stay quiet any longer! Boston can’t be #1 for two reasons:

    1. There aren’t enough long-distance bicycle trails (and I do mean long–I can start in Pittsburgh and ride to Washington, DC–over 300 miles–I’ve done it 6 times–and there are lots more in the 30-mile range).

    2. There aren’t enough hills in Boston. The hills are what make Pittsburgh so much more palatable than Chicago, for instance.

    As for Chicago, it will always be special to me as the place where I “declared my independence” at 21 and learned bus driving (Chicago Transit Authority), which has come in awfully handy over the years, especially the magical Suburban Lines and Trailways days, and is making my (semi) retirement much more comfortable. It’s too bad that things like the North Shore Line and trolley buses are gone, and the old wooden EL cars with the moths in them. (Do they still have Steak’N’Eggers?) Half of Union Station is still there, and the Atrium Center is a fair replacement for NorthWestern.

  31. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    ugottabekidnme … Boston? As I have fequently been in trouble on this post for excessive raving, I will just leave my metaphysical despite of Boston at that … despite.

    Now, as for Finland and Iceland. Uh, no. But the babes are incredible. One of the best things about hockey in the Olympics is watching Finland play, because several minutes of each game are spent showing the Finn wives and girlfriends in the crowd.

  32. fsdthreshold Says:

    I just have to say this: this Chicago or not-Chicago debate is raging both on and off the blog. Some people have been quietly e-mailing me both pro and con comments about Chicago — people who don’t want to go public on the blog. I never dreamed the issue would stir up such passion!

  33. jhagman Says:

    Actually I prefer the Snowflake when he (or she) is raving! There is kind of a Menckenesque quality about the Snowflake that meshes well w/ the polite, urbane writing of Sensei Durbin, if they wrote a book together it would not be boring!

  34. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    smiles @jhag…and for Fred (love the barn, can you believe we jumped out of that loft?) “some people have been quietly e-mailing me …”
    Phooey on them, even those who are pro-Chicago. Have the guts to go public. It is like a political independent: if you cannot make a choice between two obvious idealogies, go burn a question mark in your front lawn

  35. Chris Says:

    I know Fred doesn’t particularlyl like conflict and this is another one of those cases where the inmates are threatening to take over the asylum, but really, I must remind you all that _I am a doctor_. You should trust that I have a great deal of data and I am far more likely to be correct in this matter.

    Speaking as a professional scientist (not just one who plays one on TV) there are a few things one learns early on about the nature of reality:

    1. Energy and mass are conserved
    2. Entropy in a closed system either remains the same or increases
    3. Chicago isn’t all that great
    4. Boston is the best city/metropolitan area in the U.S.

    As I said only the raving mad can debate the primacy of Boston and since this is incontrovertible I must express my sadness.

    I am reasonably sure the DSM-IV has a section on this.

  36. morwenna Says:

    Chris, you forgot to cite your extensive training in building under-the-table forts! 🙂

    • Chris Says:

      Well, that goes without saying. Prior to my lifes work as a highly trained scientist I was involved with an organization called the “FCDT Army”. We were a small organization specializing in not only fighting the Japanese and Germans (as well as the Spanish at one time more out of boredom because you can only defeat the German and Japanese armies so many times before it just becomes pathetic for them, if memory serves) but we were also busy tracking down dangerous albeit enormously obese supercriminals.

      Perhaps you are familiar with the newsreports from the early 70’s about one “Teddy Duncan”? The man, while a terrible menace to society, weighed 650lb. I was one of the co-inventors of Tim the Robot who helped bust the Teddy Duncan case wide open.

      We also took out his cohort in crime George Buick. It is likely that George took his last name from a glass featuring different makes of cars, I guess we’ll never know if he had a “real” name now. I do not recall how much George weighed, but needless to say it was not as much as Teddy D. Ironically Teddy’s weight would put him more in a class with a Buick than George.

      Forts, of course, were a mainstay of these various operations FCDT took on. At least one was housed under a small card table in Fred’s room, but it was crowded. The fort under the table in the photograph Fred showed on the blog was, indeed, roomier and provided more room for operations, but with the cross beams was impractical for ease of movement.

      The main “offices” of FCDT were on the front porch of the Durbin’s house and housed the aforementioned Tim (a robot with an actual ‘smokestack’ complete with a cotton puff of smoke to indicate his functionality…we were dedicated to realistic technology and everyone knows that “heat dissipation” is a limiting factor to computer processors).

      As for forts on the “other side of the field” (aka my house) those were usually housed in an every changing re-arrangement of boards nailed together out in the back field. The changing shape of the box would always keep the bad guys uncertain of where we were located and probably protected us quite effectively.

      However _someone’s_ mom was not as keen on multiple “in-house forts” as someone else’s mom, so there was often far more design work going on over on Fred’s side of the corn field.

  37. jhagman Says:

    As a person who has not read the DSM-IV, but has sold many of them, I can vouch for Chris’ data!

  38. jhagman Says:

    and maybe our host should re-name his blog, “The Durbin Blog for the Insane”

  39. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    In my dual capacities as a resident non-scientist, non-intellectual, gun-toting, arch-papist, hate-filled conservative Tea Party “son of a (biscuit eater)” and official Stir dePotter, I must reiterate: Everything within the territorial boundaries of these United States lying north and east of a line wholly constituted by the Hudson River sucks.

    • Chris Says:

      Well, at least you are leaving New Jersey untouched. I like Jersey. It’s close enough to NY that it counts.

      And you’re leaving vast swaths of NY untouched too! When I lived in Rockland County I was on the west side of the Hudson and it was great!

      If you can’t have the supreme joy of living in New England at least you can live close enough to get the “feel” in parts of NY and NJ.

      Again, Brownsnowflake, I understand that since you are not a scientist you can be forgiven for being so dreadfully mistaken. I suppose not all can be in the enlightened state that I have attained. But seeing your sad, sad situation only makes my knowledge of Truth ™ more sweet.

      Praise New England from whom all blessings flow.
      Visit there all creatures here below.
      Praise the North End, Rockport, Providence and Stowe
      Praise Boston, Rhode Island, Maine, NH and Vermooooont-o.

      Peace and blessings be upon you.



  40. Daylily Says:

    I have lived in Detroit, Grand Rapids, MI, Cleveland, Akron, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, and Budapest, Hungary (for six months). I’ll vote for Budapest, for its museums, music scene including fine pipe organs and skilled musicians to play them, Roman ruins, restaurants, fine public transportation system, and more. In the U.S., I’d take Minneapolis/St. Paul: two world-class orchestras, many fine pipe organs and choirs, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Arboretum, the Conservatory, the Sculpture Garden, ethnic restaurants of all kinds, and on and on. As no place is perfect, Minnesota has too many mosquitos in the summer and (often) piles of snow in the winter.

  41. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    on second thought, maybe we could work something out, like lets keep the Statue of Liberty, but in exchange trade the Hudson for the Delaware

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