Saturday, August 6, 2011

Bucco Optimist Exclusive: Interview with Pittsburgh Author Lee Skirboll!

Well, we all know our Buccos have hit a “rough patch,” for lack of a better term.  Seems like since Jerry Meals things have been “downward trending,” and are a “cause for possible concern.” 

Of course all loyal readers of the Bucco Optimist Blog – including the NINE people who took the time to actually sign up as followers (one of whom is me) know that we’re not prone to giving up easily.  We can always find those silver linings – just think how rested Hanrahan will be for the stretch run, and what a GREAT job Pedro is doing in preserving his At Bats for the final playoff push!  

And we DO know when a great opportunity falls into our hands! And I had JUST such an opportunity last week, when I was in Pittsburgh and got to spent some time with Lee Skirboll, renowned Pittsburgh author whose recent book, “Cage Days,” is burning up the charts!  I loved it, and I think it’ll strike a chord with lotsa loyal Pittsburghers! It’s got the BO Seal of Approval!  

Lee and I saw a game together, had a few beers, and later talked all things “The Cage,” now available on Amazon or Lulu.Com for YOUR reading pleasure!

Anyway, the book recounts a bartender’s days at the Squirrel Hill Café, or “The Cage,” a favorite hangout for me and countless others during the post-High School years in Pittsburgh.  The book tells its stories with humor and clear affection for the many folks that came into and out of the bartender’s life during his time at the Cage.  Lee tended bar there for THREE years and the book is roughly based on his experiences at this well know establishment!   

In fact, Lee will be there August 13th to sign copies of the book which he will have available for sale! On his person! Live! Here’s the link to the info about this momentous event:
and for those looking to read it:
Lulu (paperback)

So here we go, get ready for a rollicking good time as I sit down with Lee and we take about his book, Bucco baseball – and the best darn Pizza in Pittsburgh!

Bucco Optimist (BO): Well, first let me thank you for joining me today for a brief conversation about your book. I loved it. In fact, I think I was one of the first to read it. 

Lee Skirboll (LS): That’s right, I think you were. I appreciate it.

BS: Now, you’re spending about a month in Pittsburgh I believe, and we got to go to a Pirates game together. Can we talk about that for a moment before delving into your book?

LS: I’d love to.

BO: What was it like attending a game with the Bucco Optimist? Was it special? My blog is closing in on 2000 hits so far you know. Was it more fun than being at a game with your dad?

LS: It was great. It was an uplifting experience.

BO: Who was more optimistic, you or me? 

LS:  I have to admit the level of optimism wasn’t quite as high as I expected.

BO: Did I let you down??

LS: No not at all. It might have had something to do with the game (Note from BO: the Pirates were defeated by the Cardinals on a hot Saturday night. I can’t remember much about the game, I think it was a squeaker).

BO: Well that’s a relief.

LS: Well, you’re agreeable to other points of view!

BO: I’m a generous person! Now, did the experience remind you of the movie “Field of Dreams,” where the crotchety old writer – you – went to a baseball game with the handsome baseball loving Iowa farmer – just like me? Because I thought the parallels were kind of eerie.

LS: I admit I never saw that movie. I plan to though.

BO: Really?? That’s like my favorite movie!

LS: I’ll definitely see it!

BO: I STILL cry at that scene where Moonlight – on wait, you haven’t seen it, never mind.

LS: I will, I promise!

BO: OK. You should see it. It’s a great movie.

LS: That’s what people tell me! I’ll definitely see it!

BO: OK, well, let’s talk about your book. What inspired you to write Cage Days?

LS: My real life experiences about working at the Cage. They were too good not to write about it.  I kind of knew it was material even as I was doing it. That’s what got me through it, to tell you the truth.  It’s what got me through the day.

BO: Now, is everything in there a true life experience like the girl with no…

LS: Now why would I tell you that? I think it’s better for the reader not to know exactly what’s true and what isn’t.

BO: I see! How long did you work there?

LS: Let’s say about three years, in the early to mid 1990s.

BO: It is subtitled a “liquid novel.” What does that mean?

LS: The novel is a memoir, but not altogether. It can’t be pinned down one way or the other.  It slides between truth and fiction.

BO: That’s insight!

LS: Yeah! And I’ve now made a second edition of the book.

BO: Is that due to sales?

LS: Well, it’s a “Pittsburgh only” edition for the book-signing, which is August 13th at the Cage, in Squirrel Hill, at 7:00 PM!

BO: Until when?

LS: I don’t really know, to whenever!

BO: Oh, like those parties, where the invitation just says, “8 to Question Mark!”

LS: Yes!

BO: So how much is fact?

LS: I don’t like to talk about what is actual and what is not.  It’s boring and has nothing to do with the book. It makes no difference.

BO: Got it. So let me ask you about something else. You often use extensive footnoting in the book, in many places using them almost as a separate narrative. Why is that?

LS: I like footnotes as they offer a different tone – they signify a different tonal component.  They’re an aside, and just not read like the rest of the narrative. To me, it’s amusing.

BO: I LOVED the footnotes! And I also loved, btw, the references to Billy Idol. I love the way you hate Billy Idol so much!

LS: Billy Idol is indicative of what can go wrong in music.  Someone sells out and gets really well known. It’s important to someone who cares a lot about music. I always have. I guess if you don’t care about music, it’s not that big a deal, but to me, it is. 
BO: The Vet in the book and his experiences with the VA – is that pretty much based on actual events that you witnessed? 

LS:  Yeah.

BO: Is there anything you DIDN’T put in? 

LS: Oh yeah, LOTS of things. There were some people that worked there that were hilarious. There’s lots of material.  Some came and went, some who were there are still there. 

BO: Like at Mineos! 

LS: Yeah, that red-headed guy has been there forever!

BO: We just went on our last trip. I had three cuts. The first two were fine, but the third one, I just ate slowly and marveled at how good it was. It was transcendent. You know, at Mineo’s you have to give the cuts a few minutes before diving in. The cheese and stuff needs to congeal.

LS: EXACTLY. You have to let it sit. If you get a pie to take home it’s perfect. Otherwise the cheese will slide off…

BO: …exactly! That happened to us!

LS: But once they congeal and everything comes together, you are in business!
BO: I agree completely!

LS: But you know, some people, including one person we both know (HARVEY FRIEDMAN!!) really like Aiellos. They don’t even think of Mineo’s as real pizza! Harvey had a piece at Aiello’s and called it “sublime!”

BO: That’s “nonsense!” (and folks, this is a G-rated blog, but “nonsense” was NOT the word I used! NOT AT ALL!)

LS: I have never had a piece of Aiello’s personally.

BO: You’re a good man! Any thoughts on Vincent’s? A lot of people like that place. 

LS: I like Vincent’s. It’s fun to go to and pretty good. But Mineo’s is preferred.

BO: Same here! Well, wrapping up, where can people buy your book?

LS: Kindle on Amazon is popular. If you want an actual book, you can get it at

BO: That’s what I did! And when you look back on your experiences at the Cage, are they fond memories? 

LS: Oh yeah definitely – a moment in time.  I met so many great people. Invaluable. Invaluable is the word.  I’m glad I did it and I don’t regret any of it.

BO: Have you been there yet on this trip? 

LS: Any time I come back to Pittsburgh, I go back at least once.  This time I’ve been there 3 or 4 times already.

BO: I don’t really remember seeing you there in my younger days.

LS: I was strictly a day shift guy. 

BO: That would explain it. I almost always went in the evenings. Also I was out of Pittsburgh by then, unfortunately – which is probably the real reason!

LS: There is a whole night shift vibe there that’s very different from the day shift. I wasn’t really a part of it. 
BO: How is the book being received?

LS: Very good! People are liking it. I get a lot of feedback on it. People are fascinated by the details, for example the chapter on the ice machine or the jukebox. They don’t realize how much is really going on and how funny it can be.

BO: And what’s next for you?

LS: I’m working on another book, based on the experiences I had, but bringing in other parts of my life too.  Other jobs and things, but it also may be about my experiences dealing with anxiety and depression, but in a funny way.

BO: Now back to the Pirates – I know you’re a big fan and continue to follow them. I can relate to that. Do you think they have a chance to win the Division?

LS: If they do, it will be in large part due to the Bucco Optimist! I HAVE been following them pretty closely by the way.  They have the ability to do it but it will be a little bit of a stretch. They need some relief pitching.

BO: Yeah.

LS: Yeah.

BO: On this trip, have you taken in many games?

LS: I’ve been there about three times and one more is scheduled.  

BO: Have you seen them win yet?

LS: I did once, against Cincinnati. But I’ve enjoyed all the games.

BO: Any words for those that may be a bit depressed by their losing streak and fall from first place?

LS: Enjoy the game.  Find positive things to say, like the Bucco Optimist would.  There’s a lot to enjoy about the Pirates and PNC Park, which has been my home away from home.  Enjoy seeing baseball, being at the Park. Support your team. That’s kind of your message too, isn’t it? 



I hope you enjoyed this interview with Lee Skirboll – even you Aiello’s and Vincent’s fans! And thank you to Lee for spending some GREAT time with the Bucco Optimist!

I hope lots of people can support Lee at the Cage on the 13th! Here’s the link again!

And I’ll see YOU – at the ballpark!

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