Monday, November 2, 2009



Insects don't usually get much respect from people, but our intrepid in-house "pappirazzi", Gary Gayda, may have succeeded in bridging the gap between humans and spiders this week! So why not? He bridged the gap between humans and the supernatural two weeks ago, so in retrospect, spiders are simple!

As is always the case, if you'd like to order a copy of this print, send Gary an email at Just let him know what size you're interested in, the picture number and title and Gary will get back to you posthaste.

So without further adieu, let's get on with this week's photo in:



ABOVE: A spider with an eye for great scenery spun this web along the Mt. Washington overlook. The Liberty Bridge and the County Jail are in the background beyond the Monongahela River.



With the fact that both Pitt and the Steelers were off this weekend and the weather being fairly decent, I faced a grim reality: It was time to clean up the leaves.

Notice that I did not say "rake the leaves". I gave up on that futile pusuit many years ago, even before every joint in my body began to act as an insolent child. Maybe I should have said, "It's time to mangle the leaves" or even better, "It's time to grind the leaves into the dust they came from and the dust they shall return to."

Unlike any other job that I have to do, cleaning up leaves seems like such a futile task. For one thing, you have no control over them. I cut down 25 trees in my yard 30 years ago and I am still surrounded by so many of my neighbors' trees that my yard is continually polluted with leaves. What makes them even more frustrating is that you can spend four hours cleaning your yard only to find it completely littered over again in just a day or so (or sooner if the wind decides to truly make your life even more miserable).

I was thinking the other day about my hatred of leaves as I was grinding them to smithereens on my tractor. As a young home owner, I vividly remember my neighbor, Don, who would rake his leaves into a gigantic pile, fill it with gasoline and then light it. The resultant percussive explosion was enough to rock the windows in my house and the foundation too! Don's hatred for leaves apparently even far exceeded my own. As Don got older and wiser, he gave up on his annual fall ritual. Now, he waits until his leaves are about two feet deep and he pays a guy to come and clean them up. Smart guy that Don.

I tried exploding leaves once myself, and apparently I didn't have the technique quite down pat. When my pile exploded it sent burning leaves flying all over. Yes, my lawn was now on fire and I had to get a hose so that this wildfire didn't decide to spread to my house. I would have had a great time trying to explain to my insurance company how I burned my house down as I was cleaning up my leaves!

ABOVE: A man attacks the most thankless of jobs: cleaning up tree feces.

My neighbor across the street, Andy, a relative newcomer to our "hood". has unwittingly made himself the source of hatred and envy among all the other men here. He has a large tractor that pulls a contraption that vacuums and mulches his leaves. I hate people like this...they're so smug. It even has a handy dump feature that really makes it nice. But of course.

My next door neighbor, Ken, is the neighbor to end all neighbors. He retired from Penndot a few years ago and apparently must have stored up energy from years of goofing off there (I'm only kidding about the goofing off part). But seriously,  he really and truthfully has supernatural energy reserves. As an example, he now attacks jobs like cleaning up leaves with such a vengeance that he not only cleans his yard every day, he even cleans leaves in other people's yards too! I actually feel sorry for the leaves, that's how tough he is on them. He even has actually gotten up on the roof of his and my house with a leaf blower to clean out the gutters. The man could very possibly be a mutant and a member of the "Fantastic Four" team. Me, on the other hand, I'm terrified of ladders and roofs, so you can imagined how relieved I was one day when Ken was particularly bored and asked me if I wanted him to blow out my gutters. "Good Lord Yes Man," I responded enthusiastically before running to get the dreaded ladder (I didn't want him to change his mind).

ABOVE: The "Fantastic Four". If you take out the woman on the left and the creature on the right, my best guess is that Ken is one of the two guys in the middle.

Just get a load of this story. This incredible phenomenon I'll call the "ken Effect"  occured in my yard one year. I was out working and it was a sunny day. I was thinking that I should be home destroying my leaves and taking advantage of this good weather opportunity. "Oh well, maybe I'll just go home early today and jump on them before it gets dark," I thought to myself.

When I got home, it was like a hurricane, or a tear in the fabric of the universe or something preternatural had gone through my yard and suctioned every loose piece of tree debris away. I remember looking around my yard, scratching my head and trying to figure this out. Then, this overwhelming feeling of joy overcame me: "I don't have to grind leaves today, woooohoooo!!"

It wasn't until a few weeks later that I learned that Ken had actually cleaned my yard of every partical of tree related material. I couldn't believe it. Here I was, with this all-consuming hatred and dread of having to do my own leaves and my neighbor is such an incredibly-energized superhero that he even cleaned up my leaves too...just to have something to do! no less!!!

God, I know I'll never have that experience. I can barely keep up with the stuff I have to do, let alone straying into other people's chores. That's like yesterday, I finally changed a lightbulb in our oven that has been burned out, I learned, for about two years. When I asked my wife why she hadn't told me about this, she just looked at me and sort of sighed. When I went to access the bulb, contorting my tortured body in the process even more,  it broke off in the socket. After several choice swear words, I realized that I would now have to turn off the power to the oven, take apart the whole socket assembly and then try to extricate the bulb.

Of course since we didn't have the proper appliance bulb "in stock" at home, the oven project would drag on interminably until I finally finished it yesterday. Think about it: If there were no bye weeks on the NFL schedule, nothing would ever get done around most of the homes in Western Pennsylvania...except for probably Ken's. But thanks to the schedule-maker, cooperative weather and an energy-mutant neighbor next door, not only is my yard clean today, but my wife can now even see in her oven.

Come to think about it, I was going to mention something to her about the number of things that have been coming out "well done" lately, so in retrospect, I think it's a good thing that I kept my mouth shut.

One last leaf story: We have a close family friend, Sister Loretta Topper who is a Sister of Charity. A week or so ago I heard her saying that she and another sister were going to drive up to the mountains "To see the leaves."

"That would be the day," I thought. "Getting into a car so that I could go look at leaves". All that I would be thinking about, the whole time, would be raking, mulching, blowing or even exploding them. 

So there is yet another example of the difference between men and women. Women see leaves as a beautiful thing. Men see them as a scourge set upon mankind. They see the beautiful colors. We can visualize only tractor blades, rakes, gasoline cans and other potential implements of leaf destruction...But then again, in my neighborhood, you don't very often see the women slaving away outside cleaning up the leaves either.

On that note, I figure that I'd better stop right there before I have to start cooking for myself!

ABOVE: As is painfully obvious in the picture above, men are very simple, whereas women can be most complex.