One of the earliest and most visible signs of gentrification in Pittsburgh, or of gentrification in San Francisco or in Oak Park, is the sudden increase in the use of adjectives.
As a writer, the overuse of adjectives has always frightened me. I often wonder what an adjective is hiding. Like adverbs, adjectives tend to distract us from the truth of the noun, or of the verb. Any writer, any human, only needs the right noun coupled with the right verb to make a reader dance, spiritually and intellectually. Anything else is a masking of our soul and of our true intention.
So, it comes as no surprise to me that there is an intimate relationship between gentrification and adjectives. When someone places an adjective before a noun, that person creates two things: amnesia (and perhaps "nostalgia") for the original purity of the noun, and capital, a false consciousness distracting us from living our own lives and seducing us into consuming the life “they” want us to conform to for their own profit.
Those people, and their corrupt desires, now can charge more money for a noun that has an adjective carefully placed before it, than they can charge for a noun that stands on its own. Take, for example, the word: beer. A beautiful four letter word. One of the finest four letter words in our language. Feel what that opening B does to your lips. Go ahead. Nice, right? Notice the breath that escapes from between your delicate lips as you part your lips and finish saying that astonishing four letter word. Notice how your lungs feel once you release that word from your body.
Now, put that noun--beer--that beautiful, innocent, pure noun--beer--in the hands of one of those perky youngsters, the ones who nostalgically go to barbershops to have their hair trimmed so perfectly that even God nods in abject disappointment. (But these perksters (that's right I am re-naming them) can only be seen in a barbershop that has a barber's pole outside its door and hardwood floors inside and lots of empty space for no apparent reason and, ideally, a pool table, again for no apparent reason, and these perskters only allow barbers of a certain ilk to cut their hair, barbers with haircuts that would frighten Coppola's Dracula on his bad hair days. And while they sit in the barber chair, these perskters hold a newspaper up in front of their face, because they have seen men do such a thing in movies.)
Put that precious noun--beer--in the small hands of those people who invade our neighborhoods, where we used to make steel. (The few "we" that remain, that have not been blighted out of our homes.) Put that noun in the ahistorical hands of those people who wear "authentic" Roberto Clemente game jerseys, but leave Pirate games before the last out of the ninth inning. Those near-men with almost-beards, even in the summer. Those skinny men wearing pants that are not merely tight, but narrow, confining, restricting, pants; pants so dangerously tight that I fear for the safety of humanity, fear that at any moment their thighs will rub together and start a fire. Those people who over-inflate real estate value, and think of houses as investments, not homes.
And what is the first thing that such entrepreneurs do to violate that noun that only wants to be a noun? They seek out an adjective for beer (and for any other innocent noun in the neighborhood), an adjective that will make their beer (noun) seem special. They shove fruit and other strange items from nature into the innocence of the beer.
Beer whimpers, but only the most sensitive of souls can hear this gentle crying.
Micro-brewery. Limited edition. Summer beer. Fall beer. Craft. Craft beer. Craft.
This word—craft beer—deeply offends me. And if my father were alive, he would be beside himself with sadness. Craft beer would bring tears to my father's eyes, and my father never cried, not once, except that one time, but I cannot write about that here. My father was born and raised in Pittsburgh. He was an imaginative beer drinker, a highly talented beer drinker, a man who drank beer in its purest form. Some people thought my father was an alcoholic. Perhaps this was so. If it was so, he was drunk on the purity of beer and on the depth of philosophical truth and understanding that beer brings to a man—a philosophy free of adjectives. A Germanic philosophy. A Kantian truth of taste.
My father never once put an adjective before beer. In fact, my father never used an adjective in his life. (He came close to using one when Mazeroski hit that home run in 1960. You know the one I'm talking about. He came close again in 1972. You all know what happened that year. December 23rd. And if you don't, and you are living in Pittsburgh, you must pack your bags and leave, you are no longer welcomed here.) Truth be told, the only accurate adjective that anyone ever could place before beer to modify beer would be the word beer itself; that is, use the noun as an adjective to modify and strengthen itself as a noun. Imagine the joy you would experience drinking beer beer instead of craft beer?
Beer is beer, as my father said. Beer is never something else. He was deeply troubled when Iron City came out with I.C. Light. I remember the day he returned from buying a couple cases of Iron City and told me there was a problem. He actually stopped drinking for an hour or two, nearly became sober. To him, and to be honest, to me, light beer makes no sense. For the sake of God, just drink water. Adjectives, clearly, can destroy a true beer drinker's soul.
A few weeks back when I was home, I walked down Butler Street in Lawrenceville. Perkster Heaven. Beards and jeans so narrow and tight that my heart wept. (There have been reports, this may not be true, that a few perskters had to have their feet amputated because their jeans were so tight at the bottom around their ankles that blood to their feet was cut off.)
On this day in Lawrenceville, the humidity was beating me up, so I went into the nearest bar for a beer. But there was no beer. Only adjectives. Empty signifiers floating everywhere. I thought at any moment Jean Baudrillard would walk through the door and order a simulacra or two, a Baudrillardian beer that only existed in adjectival form. A beer you could almost touch, but could never drink. Not really. You could only imagine the possibility of drinking it.
The waitress asked me what I wanted, and I said a beer and a sandwich. She told me they had 12 seasonal beers (see how quickly the adjectives flowed from between her lips) on tap, and she handed me something called a beer list. I tried to explain to her that I only wanted a beer, a pure beer, the kind of beer that God drank on the Seventh Day when He was resting. Beer. One of the things I liked most about the 222 Bar on Federal Street or the Apache Lounge on West North Avenue or Reds up on Fifth Avenue was that you never even had to ask for a beer when you walked into those bars. The bartender started pouring as soon as you crossed the threshold of the bar out of the August heat and humidity of Pittsburgh, and that beer was on the bar, glass sweating, and waiting for you before you even sat on the bar stool.
This waitress told me they only served craft beers from micro-breweries. And she said, they only had summer beers now. Seasonal beers. My father drank Iron City all year long. For him, it was a summer beer, an autumnal beer, a winter beer, a morning beer, an evening beer. A beer of beers. A beer. Simple and true. As I sat there, stunned, sad beyond tears, the waitress said, I can bring you a sampler of a few seasonal beers in tiny two ounce glasses if you can't decide. I looked into her eyes. She appeared so young. So hopeful. I’ve been sad many times in my life. Women have broken my heart. I’ve stubbed my toe on a chair in the middle of the night while making my way to the bathroom in unfamiliar apartments. But this sadness was new and deeper. Beer in two-ounce glasses on a wood plank.
I looked at the prices of the sandwiches and asked the waitress if she knew we were in Lawrenceville. She said the sandwiches were handcarved and that made them more expensive. Handcarved? When were sandwiches not handcarved? Name the year of the non-handcarved sandwich. I dared her to cut a sandwich without using her hands. I tried negotiating prices with her. I told her I would pay $2.00 less for a sandwich, since I did not need it to be handcarved, just sliced, actually not even sliced. I am man enough to eat a sandwich that has not been cut, or handcarved, in half.
She told me I was being irrational and that I would have to leave. I replied, "I know. I know." I stumbled back into the heat, walked, nearly sauntered, down Butler Street toward the Strip District, away from Arsenal Bowl and those giggling perksters. Away from adjectives. Thirsty, but I still had my pride. Pittsburgh pride.
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