Saturday, November 28, 2009

Barnestormin’s Gone Literary

I hate to brag, unless I am trying to impress you. Even so, I’ve been a bit reluctant about telling my faithful Barnestormin readers that I’ve managed to “sell” a couple more of my blog-published essays to other publications.
I put “sell” in parentheses because in this case I didn’t actually get paid for publishing the pieces elsewhere as I have with stories I’ve re-printed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Magazine and other publications. But I did get some folks over at the online literary journal Sampsonia Way interested enough in my Sago Mine essay “The Other Side of the Pittsburgh Seam” to publish it in their journal.
For Sampsonia Way I also had my friend, Pittsburgh Tribune Review photographer Chaz Palla take my mug shot. I put the photo up on the blog, so those who don't know me get to see my handsome mug. The wind was blowing when the photo was shot, but that doesn’t explain how hunky my eyes look; I have no explanation for it, other than my Croatian heritage.
It’s not the first time I have had essays published in a journal—I have published a few of them in TPQ Online, the online version of literary journal The Pittsburgh Quarterly (not to be confused with the glossy magazine known as Pittsburgh Quarterly, which began after TPQ). I also have had my essays published in Philadelphia Weekly, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Engineering News-Record magazine and elsewhere.
I have my friend author Hilary Masters in part to thank for the appearance in Sampsonia Way, since he recommended me to them as a Pittsburgh writer whose work might run with his in the same issue of the journal. Sampsonia Way publishes mostly international writers, but likes to publish a couple of Pittsburgh writers in each issue—an old pro like Masters, and an “emerging” writer, like me. (I do like to emerge from my cave-like dwelling occasionally, to get coffee and other essentials.)
Hilary has a couple of new, critically acclaimed books on the market now—“In Rooms of Memory,” a collection of essays, and “Elegy for Sam Emerson,” a novel. Masters' wife, author Kathleen George, also has a new book out—“The Odds,” which also has gotten great reviews. The novel is the fourth in a series she has written, and the setting is Pittsburgh. Places in the North Side and East End will be recognizable to readers of “The Odds.”
I also recently had my Barnestormin original humor essay “At The Salon” published in another online, Pittsburgh-based publication. The publication also is named after a thoroughfare: Ophelia Street.
Obviously, I am trying to raise my profile a bit; to put a few more planks in the platform, so to speak. Again, thanks to Ophelia Street, Sampsonia Way publisher Henry Reese and others at that publication, TPQ Online, and all of the wonderful people who currently publish my work. And to those who are interested in what I’m offering, please keep reading.

Monday, November 09, 2009

How We Survived Alternate Reality Television

The kids in our family were born too early. We had to suffer the Rust Belt Depression of the 1980s without a Reality Television show to bail us out. I’ll admit, when were younger we daydreamed of living in a Brady Bunch-style house, but we knew it was just musing. Maybe if we had been born several years later, things would have been different.
If the Barnes Dozen had their own show, it wouldn’t have been something ridiculous like "Growing Up Gotti" or "Jon & Kate Plus Eight." It would’ve been more refined, especially since my parents were raising eight boys and four girls on my father’s engineer salary. Anything could happen in that old Pittsburgh Victorian house, crammed with 12 kids and led by Born Again Christian parents Harvey and Joanne Barnes…
VOICEOVER: “This week on A Barnes Dozen…”
-Camera angle over shoulders of boys giggling, facing an open window
-Cut to-
-Mother Joanne Barnes answering the kitchen phone and speaking with neighbor Naomi Rittenhouse, who says: “Your sons are urinating out the third-floor window again.”
-Cut to-
-Joanne clutching a wooden-handled broom, chasing two sons around the dining room, swinging wildly at them and connecting at times.
“Stand still!” she yells.
* * *
Ah, the good old days of sharing two bathrooms with 13 people. We should’ve been stars with a TV show, but unfortunately, Reality TV wasn’t even a greedy notion in a producer’s mind back then. My parents struggled financially because they had so many kids, but that shared hardship and close living also created lots of opportunities for memories that we kids, now long grown, pass on in our own ways.
I bring this up because of the recent bad press on Jon and Kate Goselin, who are inextricably linked forever because of their dubious celebrity. Lately they have consumed themselves with mudslinging, and their kids are no doubt the worse for it. I pity the kids and their parents, who apparently were striving to make a good life for their family and destroyed their marriage in the process. I wonder if it would have been better for them if they had continued to struggle financially, at least somewhat. I doubt it.
One thing that’s clear to me is that the Goselin children shouldn’t have been allowed to be on their own TV show, because they are too young to consent to being on a reality TV show and they aren’t a family of performers like the Osmonds or Jacksons, who, like carnies and circus folk, got their professions by birth.
There should be an age of consent for allowing a child to be on TV or in movies because there is no approximating the damage that early celebrity or unwanted celebrity can have on a person. If you don’t believe me, look no further than Danny Bonaduci or Leif Garret, or more recently, Hulk Hogan’s kids. If the child is not at least, say, 15, perhaps he should not be allowed to consent to appearing in such a show. And maybe nobody else should be able to give that consent, either.
This all seems obvious to me, not simply because I can see that children are being exploited and consequently warped on television, but also because I have a bit of personal experience in this area. In 1983, not long after my father lost his job as a civil engineer for U.S. Steel, our family was on TV. We were on a show that I would now peg as “alternate reality” television—the 700 Club.
Dad had gone through a stretch of unemployment after losing his job. Then after praying, he’d finally gotten some work and was doing pretty well again, at least for the moment. Feeling buoyant, as was part of his spirit, Dad answered the 700 Club’s call to tell them how prayer had changed his life.
When he told us kids we’d be on the show, some of us remarked, “Well at least it’s not the PTL Club.” We affectionately referred to that show as the Pass The Loot Club.
Then all of a sudden, a camera crew was on our doorstep. They filmed Dad giving his story, and they filmed all of us in our Dad-led early morning Devotions, which was a routine my father had instituted around that time.
The 700 Club story on us was a short, upbeat piece, with not too much footage. I remember seeing us kids all looking tired and sitting on the couch, Bibles in laps. I know that after seeing the story, I, and some of the other kids, felt used.
The story didn’t seem to be the truth to me at the time, and still doesn’t. I remember being skeptical about the relationship between prayer and Dad getting some work, which hadn’t exactly changed our lifestyle. The tenuousness of our situation hadn’t changed, and this fact I knew in my gut at the time. Harve was in his fifties and nobody wanted to hire him on for good because of his age, experience and salary level.
Though I know Harve didn't intend it, the 700 Club story on my family made me feel like I was part of a lie. But the worst part was that the fiction was not my creation, and I resented it. Soon, the Goselin kids will feel the same way.

Jonathan Barnes is a Pittsburgh freelance writer. Email him at

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A New Nobility

A minute after one of the black-clad anarchists was snatched by two guys in fatigues, hustled into an SUV and driven away, the crowd of G-20 protestors milled around the intersection of Baum Boulevard and Enfield Street. The usually busy boulevard was deserted, save a few hundred protestors and hundreds of riot-ready cops who’d closed the streets and were converging from two directions on the protestors.
The dissenters didn’t know what to do and retreated up Enfield towards Bloomfield proper, scattering from police. The cops had begun to move more quickly and were trotting behind.
“They’re charging us!” protesters said, and the crowd began to run in panic. I sprinted to the front of the group as it went through Khalil’s Restaurant’s parking lot, and passed Khalil, who shook his head.
“No, it’s not O.K. to come through here,” he said.
I don’t really know who Elliot Madison is, but allegedly he may have been texting marching orders to some of the folks in the crowd I was running with as I covered the protest for Reuters. Madison and a compatriot were charged with crimes including Hindering Apprehension, charges which recently were dismissed by police, but I wonder if he isn’t just another fly that the New Nobility system attempted to smash to smithereens.
Using batons, tear gas, armored vehicles, police dogs and other sledgehammer-like tools, Pittsburgh Police, ATF officials, Pennsylvania State Police and other lawmen deputized ostensibly to prevent chaos during the protests ended up causing more trouble than their time-and-a-half paychecks warranted. I say this because the ugly militarization of Pittsburgh’s streets on the afternoon of G20 Day One that I witnessed only got worse that evening and the next, when police arrested masses of protesters and even college students exiting restaurants or trying to get back home.
Welcome to G20 land, where the Constitution is suspended and the Law Class has special rights—like the titled nobility our forefathers rebelled against. How is it that an idea of freedom can be bastardized into the majority’s tacit approval of military-controlled streets?
These police overreactions were supposedly meant to keep order during the recent G20 Summit in Pittsburgh. The irony was that the meeting of the most entrenched of old boy’s clubs, in a city so bankrupt that it has sold off some of its utilities and still can’t manage to keep its public park restrooms in working order, seemed like the height of effrontery to many Pittsburghers. The city is still climbing back from the Rust Belt Depression of the 1980s, and President Obama and other world leaders are talking about the wonderful recovery the Steel City has made.
Who's zoomin who?