The Nostalgia of Pittsburgh Bars: A Triptych

An Almost True Story about Dock Ellis and Me

“I sold Dock Ellis that LSD the night he threw that no-hitter. You know that? He wandered into Red’s a few days before the game, and I asked him if he wanted to be a butterfly. He looked at me like I was crazy. Like I had gone and lost my mind. He said, ‘What? Huh?’ What kind of man says what, huh? I ask you that. I nudged him and told him I had the fixins that could make him a butterfly. ‘A butterfly?” he says. And I look him in the eye and says to him: you stupid as you look? It don’t take me long at all to turn a man into a butterfly. And he whispers all sly like: ‘You know who I am?’ and I say: You the man I’m going to make into a butterfly. And I slip what I slipped into his coat pocket and tell him to go on now be a butterfly. And he smiled at me like he already halfway there. Week later, he’s starting against the Padres, and he throws that no-hitter. People say he was high as a kite that day, but he wasn’t high. He was a butterfly.

We are all Dead Men Conversing with Dead Men

“A man picks up a pencil and starts writing because he’s trying to do something about the loneliness in his soul,” Samuel said. “There’s a sadness in a man’s heart, and he thinks he can cure it. Don’t matter to him if anyone ever stops their lives to read what he’s done written down. It only matters that he gets the lonely out of him.” The woman sitting beside Samuel knew he was not talking to her; knew he was only talking to the darkness. She had seen him night after night in bar after bar after bar along the North Side and up in the Hill District. Drinking and whispering. Longing. For years he had been looking for a woman to give him his breath back, to return all that those other women had taken from him, but his house kept getting darker and darker, the hallways more and more narrow.


“Love ain’t about the words you think you have for it. It ain’t about saying, I love you. It’s about those inarticulate cries that come up from so deep inside you that you yourself no longer know who you are. It’s some primitive movement in your lungs and muscles that throw you down flat on your back and leave you there feeling conquered and breathless.” Clarence pulled out a handkerchief and wiped some of that Pittsburgh filth from his old eyes. “A man can’t see no more in this city,” Red said. “All the soot from the mills.” He reached for Clarence’s empty glass, poured him another beer. “You forget her, Clarence. You drink until she disappears.”
Clarence shook his head then looked down at the awful truth of all those years marking his hands. “If you get lucky, Red, and you live long enough you might find yourself a woman so beautiful your blood don’t know what to do no more.” Clarence knew not to look up at Red, knew to keep his gaze down in the shadows. He rubbed his thumb into the palm of his hand like he was trying to erase something from his skin or like he was trying to dig his way back to some home, some faraway, long-gone place where his soul rested. Then, more like he was whispering to himself or to the memory of that woman who still haunted him than talking aloud to Red, Clarence said, “Your blood get so confused, it forget how to get from here to there so your blood just becomes quiet and slow when you meet a woman that fine. When a man experiences a woman’s beauty, his blood turns to rain.”

Doug Rice is the author of Janey Quixote, When Love Was, Here Lies Memory, An Erotics of Seeing, Das Heilige Buch der Stille, Faraway, So Close, Between Appear and Disappear, Dream Memoirs of a Fabulist, Blood of Mugwump, and other books of fiction, photographs, and memoir. His work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Zyzzyva, Gargoyle, Discourse, and Fiction International. He was a Literary Fellow at the Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, Germany, 2012-2014.