Friday, October 29, 2010

The end game

It had been 16 long months since I opened my morning newspaper and didn't thumb through the want ads. This morning, though, I went directly from the Local News page to the Sports section with nary a thought of finding work.

It's a relief.

I had applied to AOL's in August after my aunt told me about the internet company's start-up news websites. I really wasn't sure what the job would entail, but the resume went out in assembly line fashion as it had for months. It wasn't until two weeks ago when a recruiter in Virginia called me to set up a phone interview. A few days later, I sat down with Western Pennsylvania's regional editor for a one-on-one interview at a South Side coffee shop. On Monday, I whizzed through a three-hour writing exam that asked me to use faux police reports to cobble together multiple stories on a fatal fire. I finished the process with another phone interview on Tuesday with a local editor in Illinois.

After that, I hoped for the best and prepared for the worst. Then I received a phone call yesterday morning from the original recruiter. There was a sadness in her voice that I detected -- or maybe it was my own pessimism -- that quickly turned to delight when she asked me to come aboard.

The position of local editor will be to build and launch a news website for the Chartiers Valley area around Bridgeville. The company expects me to work from my home, and it is sending me an iPhone, Mac laptop, copier/printer/fax machine and police scanner. I will be responsible for all the happenings within my local beat. They also are providing a small budget for me to hire freelance reporters. This is a new concept in journalism, but it is an exciting opportunity that I intend on giving the best chance to succeed.

I have been unemployed for 16 months, but I haven't forgotten how to work. It's time to get out of the bread line and back into the workforce. I can't wait.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

It's over

At 10:54 a.m. today, I accepted a position as a Local Editor with AOL's to cover the Chartiers Valley area.

I begin Nov. 8 and will offer more details about the job and beat in the coming weeks. Thank you for your support over the past 16 months.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Obama campaigns at W&J College

(Candidate Barack Obama shakes hands with a supporter. Photo by Celeste Van Kirk)

By Michael Jones
O-R Staff Writer
April 16, 2008

Barack Obama calmly stood behind a blue curtain, his arms crossed and body swaying back and forth, moments before being introduced to the crowd of about 300 people.

It is a routine the Illinois senator has been through hundreds of times on the campaign trail, but just beyond the curtain, anticipation swelled as supporters wearing campaign garb eagerly awaited the Democratic presidential hopeful's entrance.

"It's time to take our country back," Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner said, "and that's why I believe we are here today to support Barack Obama."

With that introduction, Obama stepped through the curtain and the crowd inside the Rossin Student Center ballroom on Washington & Jefferson College's campus rose to its feet and gave him a raucous reception. It took him several minutes to make his way to the podium as he shook hands with dozens of military veterans seated underneath an American flag draped overhead.

Obama's visit marks the first time one of the three remaining presidential contenders has come to Washington County. His chief rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, will travel to the Mon Valley Saturday.

Philip Fiumara Jr., district commander for the Department of American Veterans, gave Obama an American flag lapel pin to wear before he addressed the crowd. Obama quickly pinned it to his coat and personally thanked him following the event.

"I heard a lot of people say he won't wear a flag pin," Fiumara said. "Well, if he's helping veterans, he needed a pin."

Obama spoke for a mere 15 minutes, highlighting his grandfather's service during World War II and explaining the problems facing many present-day soldiers returning from battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. He then turned the forum over to the audience and took questions for 45 minutes.

Near the end of the forum, Charles "Tootie" Smith, a disabled Vietnam War veteran living in McDonald, took the microphone and addressed Obama for several minutes, never asking a question.

"This is what America is all about," Smith said. "So, Mr. President, thank you."

He then stood and hugged Obama as the crowd cheered.

Jim Trent, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, is a registered Republican and will not be able to vote in the Democratic primary Tuesday. He has not decided for whom he will vote, but said he wanted to see Obama in person to help him choose in the general election.

"I just wanted to hear the man," Trent said after the event. "I like him."

Trent, of South Strabane, dismissed the controversy over Obama's comments at a private fundraiser last week that small-town voters are sometimes "bitter" and that they "cling to guns or religion ... to explain their frustration."

"Yeah, we do hold to our guns and our religion, but that's something we've done for generations in this area," Trent said. "It's part of our background and who we are. I think they're just using comments like that out of context and some people are upset about it. I wasn't at all."

As Obama left, he shook hands with supporters who crammed into a velvet rope near the stage. Heidi Szuminsky of Waynesburg weaved her way to the front and briefly spoke to the candidate.

"I've been waiting to do that for a long time," she said.

As a member of the Young Democrats in Greene County, Szuminsky has supported Obama since he gave a stirring speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

"I think he's the one candidate who can actually unite our country and truly bring about the change he speaks about," Szuminsky said. "There's just so much I like about him."

Obama heads today to Philadelphia, where he will debate Clinton.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A fine line

Steelers linebacker James Harrison should not have been fined $75,000 by the National Football League for his hit on a Cleveland Brown. There, I said it... along with every other human being not employed by the NFL.

Harrison is a monster on the football field, but a softy off of it. He aims to hurt people, as he plainly said after the game on Sunday. But so does every other defensive player. You want your opponent to feel pain, but you do not want them to suffer an injury.

As for Harrison's fine, it makes no sense. Mohamed "Image Redacted" Mossaquoi turned to catch a pass that slipped through his fingers. The minute he turned to look, he saw Harrison barreling downfield on the verge of a monster hit. So Mossaquoi ducked his body into the fetal position and put his head in line with Harrison's shoulder. How could James Harrison ever pull back or change his direction to miss Mossaquoi's head?

Now Harrison is threatening retirement because the game has changed. Say what you want about that suggestion, but I think "Silverback" should do whatever makes him happy. If playing football and earning $8 million a year doesn't do it for him, then so be it. The boys on ESPN's "Pardon The Interruption" couldn't believe Harrison would trade that money for a job as a bus driver, which he previously said in a news interview would be his profession had he never made it to the pros.

Now, I don't know James Harrison personally, but I do believe he would be happy being a bus driver making pennies. Because that seems to be his personality. He has always scrapped his way into the lineup ever since permanently catching on with the Steelers in 2004 after linebacker Clark Haggans broke his hand while weight lifting. Had Haggans never broken his hand, Harrison would be working full-time for public transit.

And I think he would be satisfied with his life doing just that.

So maybe we should all learn something from James Harrison. Football is fun, but we shouldn't put it on a pedestal. He knows his place in society with or without the NFL, and I commend him for willing to move on to his "life's work" before his contract and body say he should.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The forgotten game

Fifty years ago today, the smoky industrial town of Pittsburgh upset a baseball juggernaut.

It's hard nowadays to imagine the Pittsburgh Pirates as a championship caliber team, but the 1960 roster shocked the world at 3:36 p.m. on this date. It still is amazing that this team, which won Game 7 against the feared New York Yankees, doesn't get the historical credit it deserves. Outside the Lines on ESPN conducted an online poll this afternoon and just 8 percent thought it was the most memorable home run in a World Series. It finished last out of six total nominees. That's hard to believe considering it's the ONLY home run to decide the championship in a Game 7.

Although the Yankees had outscored the Pirates by a score of 46-17 during the first six games, the series was tied heading back to Pittsburgh for Game 7. The Pirates blew a 9-7 lead in the ninth, but they had final ups in the bottom half of the inning. And there was scrawny Bill Mazeroski standing at the plate - a player known more for his glove than his bat - cracking the winning run over the center field wall.

While most of the country doesn't even remember this game, a group of Buccos fans and former players still gather at the Forbes Field outfield wall in Oakland to listen to the radio call and commemorate this amazing feat. In a city that has seen 18 consecutive years of abysmal baseball, Oct. 13 is recognized as a local holiday for a city starving for meaningful baseball

Monday, October 11, 2010

Finding my dream job

For a baseball team that has tried and failed at everything during 18 consecutive losing seasons, it's baffling why the Pittsburgh Pirates haven't yet contacted me for the opening at manager. So, I've taken it upon myself to send a cover letter and resume to the Pittsburgh Baseball Club this afternoon to be considered for the field managing position.

Hey, I couldn't be any worse than what they've had since 1993.

In my application, I will tell team owner Bob Nutting that my plethora of baseball knowledge from Little League would be a solid foundation to help me handle the transition to the majors. Plus, I have some supervisory experience on my resume having served as a crew leader during this years census count.

I'll promise to work cheaper than any other managerial candidates the Pirates are currently interviewing, and you know that is important to Nutting. Recently-dispatcher John Russell made $500,000 a year in his three seasons, and he will also be paid that salary again to NOT coach the team next year. Before that, Jim Tracy spent a couple years making a couple million, and Lloyd McClendon prowled the dugout for five years with nothing more than a stolen base to show for his salary. I feel that I could easily manage this underachieving ball club to a losing record for, let's just throw out a number, $50,000.

So, what say you, Mr. Nutting? Wouldn't you like to at least get your money's worth for 105 losses? You know my number, and I look forward to speaking with you about my qualifications (or lack thereof) in the near future.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The new guy

We weren't sure what would happen when we brought the hound home. He had been surrendered as a stray last month at a shelter in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of East Liberty, so little was known about his past. But the terrier/hound they called Cheetah has been a great gift for our household.

After my girlfriend, Tiffany, started a new job Downtown that made a few extra bucks, we decided to adopt a shelter dog. While celebrating her first day on the job last week, we came across some mutts outside the Texas Roadhouse where we dined. We asked questions and got plenty of information on the dogs the shelter workers cared for. We had talked for months about bringing a dog into the home, but only recently decided that the time was right to adopt.

So we went to the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania on Saturday and met the litany of mutts they have in kennels.

I tried to pet each one to give them human interaction, although the volunteers at the Rescue League take great care of the animals and walk them frequently. Then we came upon a shivering hound who pushed his nose to the front of the cage. We met him in a small greeting room, took him for a walk and unleashed him in a fenced-in yard. There was something about him that told us he was the right dog for our house.

We brought him home on Sunday and renamed him Riley.

We have had no trouble teaching the 13-month old how to go outside when needed and behave in our modest home. But it's the volunteers and workers of the Animal Rescue League whom we should thank for bringing us such a well-tempered and loving animal. Still, we wonder where he came from and how we were so fortunate to bring him to our home.

After serendipitously finding Riley, I would strongly encourage anyone looking for a four-legged companion to adopt from one of the various shelters in the area.

Western Pennsylvania Humane Society
Animal Friends of Pittsburgh
Washington County Humane Society
Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania