According to the timetable of the Capitol Limited, I spent exactly twenty-four hours and one minute in Pittsburgh. It felt, I am pleased to report, more like a week.
In the first place, I met one of my literary heroes, Chuck Kinder. Chuck is a legend in Pittsburgh. Among other things, he is the real-life inspiration behind Michael Chabon’s Wonderboys. If you’ve seen the movie, he’s Michael Douglas. Only Chuck’s funnier and better-looking and West Virginian. Also, in real life his manuscript doesn’t blow away (it, Honeymooners, was the first novel I ever signed up for FSG). After years of phone discussions and sheafs of correspondence, he more than lived up to his reputation for hospitality. In fact, he and his wife, Diane Cecily, and their friends were so hospitable, I almost missed my midnight train. And would hardly have minded if I had.
I cannot tell you all the things we did. The day’s events, included, in no particular order, a guided tour of the magical Mattress Factory (pictured above and below); a leisurely rooftop interview with the charming Guatemalan journalist Silvia Duarte; two fiction readings; a lively staged talk with the book critic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, including the by-now requisite opinions on Jonathan Franzen qua bestseller; a studio visit with Diane Samuels, who is copying Fagles’s Odyssey (in a tiny, elegant hand) onto a large painting of the street behind the house where she lives with Henry Reese, director of City of Asylum (I can’t even begin to describe City of Asylum!); and a multigenerational farewell party at Chuck and Diane’s, where I learned much that I had never guessed about the moped scene in Cincinnati (it’s coed, and it’s hopping), the early history of the nickelodeon, how to roast a groundhog (use a corn cob), the difficulties of writing closed captions for girl-on-girl pornography [moans intensify], and the Depression-era practice of using textbooks for fuel. About which last factoid I remain skeptical.
Also in Pittsburgh I was told by an Amtrak ticket agent—for the second time in exactly two days—“You won’t make your train,” then sent running down a platform while somebody woke up the sleeping-car attendant, who was cheerful and informal about it and made up my berth in his boxers.