Saturday, January 15, 2011

“Pittsburgh Calling”


c. 2011 Rod Ice
All rights reserved
(1-11)



It was a hazy morning in the Icehouse home office.

I was on my first cup of coffee. Riley and Quigley, the household Lab and Pomeranian duo, were snoozing on the floor.

Suddenly, the telephone began to ring.

I rubbed my eyes. In modern terms, our land-line phone rarely produced any noise. Typically, everyone made contact through my cellular device. But some quirk of fate had brought the outdated handset to life. Or, I had slipped back into a lingering dream.

“Hello?” I answered after a half-dozen rings.

The voice on my phone sounded vaguely familiar, like an echo from the realm of oblivion. I struggled to understand.

“Hey, dis is Al,” he boasted. “Al Luccioni. You remember me?”

“Who??” I asked.

“Al!” the caller said again. “Luccioni!”

It was my childhood neighbor from the Pittsburgh area.

“Ain’t you dat Buckeye kid who lived here in New Ken?” he huffed. “I’m callin’ you!”

“Yes,” I replied. “But… I’m forty-nine years old now. How did you find my number?”

“It was wrote down on a shopping bag from Giant Iggle,” he laughed. “You gave it to me once. Musta been during a summer visit.”

I scratched my head. “Hmm… can’t remember.”

“Anyway,” he continued, “I called ‘cause the Post-Gazette says Mangini got fired there in Cleveland. Heyy, that’s great. Another coach for yinz on the lake. Good job!”

I sighed loudly. “Yes, he’s gone.”

“He was a good Paisano,” Al chortled. “Yinz shoulda kept him.”

“Right, so we could lose more games, forty-one to nine?” I sputtered.

“The Stillers are goin’ to another Superbowl, that’s all I know,” he cheered.

“Well, not quite yet,” I said with caution. “You still have to advance through the playoffs.”

“Hah!” he grunted. “Did you see Polomola flyin’ through the air like Superman?”

“Troy Polamalu, you mean?” I said.

“Yeah, Polomola,” he repeated. “Yinz looked like statues out there. He caught everybody by surprise.”

“He’s really surprised me with those commercials for Head & Shoulders shampoo,” I groaned. “A bit strange, really. One step away from Joe Namath in pantyhose…”

“Heyy! Don’t mess with Superman!” he exploded. “Take that back, loser!”

“Okay, okay,” I surrendered. “Sorry.”

“This’ll be ring number seven for the Stillers,” he bragged.

“The Browns have eight league championships,” I said.

“Eight??” he stammered. “Eight in what?? Pee Wee football?”

“Four NFL titles,” I explained. “And four in the AAFC, where they began.”

“You talk crazy,” he growled. “Superbowls, I’m sayin’ – SUPER BOWLS!”

“Pro football has been around for a century,” I said. “The Superbowl is a more recent creation, that’s all.”

“Hey, you sound jealous,” he said teasingly. “Make your excuses kid. Chuck Noll beat anything you had in Cleveland.”

“Noll was born here,” I said with a grin. “He went to Benedictine High School.”

“What???” my erstwhile neighbor yelped.

“He even played for us,” I said. “Being a Cleveland Brown made him what he was…”

“No, no no!” Al whined. “Take that back!”

“Now you have Big Ben Roethlisberger,” I observed. “Another Ohio native. He was born in Lima and grew up in Findlay."

“No, no, no!” he thundered.

“Heck, Bill Cowher played here during the ‘Kardiac Kids’ era, and coached here with Marty Schottenheimer,” I proclaimed. “Ohio made you guys.”

Al was speechless. He sputtered unintelligible curses and oaths.

“Take that stuff back,” he mumbled. “Take that back, take that back!”

“Hold on to your pierogies,” I laughed. “You’re spinning out of control, neighbor.”

“TAKE THAT BACK!” he shouted.

“Okay, okay,” I said at last. “Sorry.”

“You got a big mouth, kid!” he complained.

“So, did you go to the NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field?” I asked, trying to change the subject.

“Heyy, it wasn’t like seein’ the Stillers but I liked it,” he said.

“Too bad the Penguins lost to Washington,” I reflected.

“If it’d been Stillers football, there’d be no losin’ there,” he pronounced.

“Of course not,” I agreed. “Not until you meet Belichick and the Patriots… another guy who learned his craft in Ohio…”

“TAKE THAT BACK!” he howled. “TAKE THAT BACK!”

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” I apologized.

“Oh well,” my friend said with finality. “Ma is makin’ kielasa spaghetti for supper. I’m getting’ hungry. Gotta go, kid. You argue too much. Be good!”

“I will. Thanks, Al,” I said.

“Stop by for my Superbowl party if your in the neighborhood. I’m getting’ a keg of Iron City. Ma will have her sourdough pizza baked up…”

“Sounds great,” I smiled.

“So long, kiddo!” he hollered. “Here we go Stillers, here we go!”

I sat motionless for a couple of minutes, still holding the phone.

Had my encounter-by-wire been a dream? Or was Al Luccioni really still out there, in New Kensington, Pennsylvania?

I needed time to drink more coffee, and ponder my morning.

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