MORE ON CUBA YOU QUIT WAY.

The earliest appearance of Cuba-You-Quit Alley on a map, in 1882.

On the subject of Cuba You Quit Way, von Hindenberg asks, “What is the large building thrown diagonally across Cuba’s line of retreat?”

Dr. Boli and Father Pitt have not been able to find out. The question is complicated. The alley was on a steep hill (it ran along the border between Uptown and the Hill District), and the map shows small frame houses (yellow) and two brick houses (red) that no longer exist. In the 1910 map by the same company, the same building is shown as red, indicating that it was made of brick or stone. Possibly the change of color indicates that it was demolished or dilapidated. It appears to belong to “V. Brusco et ux.” on the 1923 map, but it is adjacent to the Booth & Flinn brickyard, and might be one of their buildings. Since there was no zoning in the neighborhood, the whole area was a cluttered mix of modest rowhouses, businesses, small factories, and institutions. The western half of Cuba You Quit Way may not have been cut through: many streets appear on these maps that are only paper streets, or pathways through the weeds. We should add that the automobile or wagon was not welcome here: Wyandotte Street (the diagonal street at lower right) is a stairway. Probably the only way to get to those little houses on Cuba You Quit Way was on foot (which is still true of a surprising number of houses in Pittsburgh). It is easier for a pedestrian than for a car to step around the projecting corners of a building.

Of course the name of the alley is the most surprising thing about it, and it tended to attract remark when it was current. During the First World War, the Pittsburgh correspondent for The Union Postal Employee took inspiration from the name to suggest some improvements in the city’s street-naming system, which still frustrates mail carriers.

Our city scheme is not simple. The “namers” of the streets appear to favor words of topographical significance, and as a result one-half of the names refer to some degree of elevation peculiar to the section in which the street happens to be. There are dozens of “Hill Top,” “Highview,” “Hillside,“ ”Hilldales,” etc., to say nothing of a few pages of “Maples,” “Elms,” and “Ferns.” One street, however, stands forth prominently as the only one of its name in the world. I refer, of course, to “Cuba-You-Quit Alley.” At the present time, with a war in progress that makes the Spanish-American War look like a backyard scrap, the only move to commemorate the event was the changing of the name of “Kaiser Wilhelm Street” to “Marne Way.” Surely the “namer” of “Cuba-You-Quit Alley” would not hesitate to accept the suggestion that we rename some of the “Maples,“ ”Elms” and “Hills,” etc., with more appropriate titles. I suggest a few, but the inventor of the name of “Cuba-You-Quit Way” will undoubtedly be able to improve on my list: “Berlin-or-Bust Alley,” “Buy-a-Bond Terrace,” “War-Savings-Stamp Street,” “Food-Will-Win-the-War,” “Don’t-Waste-It Alley,” “Over-the-Top Avenue,” or “Carry-On Boulevard.” (The Union Postal Employee, January, 1918.)

In at least one way the postal employee’s suggestion was implemented. Shortly after the Great War, a new automobile highway was opened clinging to the cliff above the Monongahela, and it was given one of the most audaciously grandiose names ever applied to an American street: “The Boulevard of the Allies.” Unlike New York’s Avenue of the Americas, the Boulevard of the Allies is so called by ordinary Pittsburghers; and furthermore Second Avenue downtown was renamed as an extension of it, so that to navigate the avenues downtown you have to learn to count in Picksburgh dialect: one, Allies, three, four, Forbes, five, Oliver, six, seven.

But did Cuba-You-Quit Way get its name from the Spanish-American War? No; it first appears on maps in 1882. The name appears to be a folk etymology: that is, a popular but incorrect explanation of the derivation of a term. The Post-Gazette told the story of Cuba-You-Quit Way a few years ago. It seems the alley was named for a Chippewa woman named Cub-bayou-quit (there was no settled spelling of her name), who married a well-to-do Pittsburgher. She married him in a Chippewa ceremony; but when, as a widow, she tried to claim property worth millions of dollars in 1874 money, the current owners claimed that Chippewa marriage did not count in Pennsylvania law. Apparently the case was such a sensation that it was in everyone’s minds for months, and some city planner attached her name to a new alley, which does not appear on an 1872 map but does on an 1882 map as “Cuba-You-Quit Alley.” The rule that there are no “alleys” in Pittsburgh was not in force until the early twentieth century; we still find some ancient street signs marking alleys that are “ways” on modern maps.

Street sign for Larkins Alley (now Larkins Way) on the back of St. Casimir’s Church, South Side.

The Post-Gazette says that the name of Cuba-You-Quit Way was changed to Cuba Way in 1926, and adds that “it no longer exists.” That is not quite correct. The eastern section of Diaz Way, a narrow and nearly but not quite abandoned alley, is the old Cuba-You-Quit Alley.

Diaz Way probably has an interesting history, too. It appears as “Davis Alley” in 1872, the earliest map on which we have been able to find it (it does not appear in 1862 or before). It is still Davis Alley in 1882, but the name has changed to Diana Alley in 1890. It still appears as Diana Alley in 1910, but as Diaz Way in 1923.

Dr. Boli often wanders into back alleys of history, but seldom so literally as he has done today.

THE EMPEROR.

The first chapter of a new novel now in print from Dr. Boli’s Celebrated Publishing Empire.

Book cover
CHAPTER 1
THE SULTAN’S COLLECTION

Great and magnificent is the city on the Narrows, and great and magnificent is the palace of the sultan in the middle of it, and great and magnificent, as a matter of course, is everything within that palace; but the thing that gives the Sultan the most pleasure, and the thing he is most likely to invite a distinguished guest to inspect, is his collection. The Sultan collects rare, beautiful, and exquisite things. It is true that everything in his possession merits that description to some degree: he has a number of rare, beautiful, and exquisite wives, and his palace is decorated with the rarest, most beautiful, and most exquisite works of art from every country and every age. But there are some things so rare, so beautiful, and so exquisite that they are kept in a separate wing of the palace, virtually a palace of its own.

Important visitors—and it is a principle of the Sultan’s hospitality that every visitor is important—are invariably asked whether they would like to see this collection; and since they have been warned beforehand that an affirmative answer would be wise (for the Sultan’s ministers like it best when the Sultan is happy with his guests and there is no mess to clean up afterwards), they invariably accept his invitation.

So it happened when the Maharajah of Istanistan and his retinue paid a visit to the Sultan some time ago: the party adjourned from the immense dining hall after a particularly lavish feast and made its way through passages that were half corridor and half garden toward the collection rooms, as dozens of other parties of guests had done on dozens of other occasions. On this occasion, however, the Sultan’s ministers observed a few signs of uncertainty in their master. The signs were invisible to all but those who had known the Sultan for most of his life, but they were there: a smile (or at least a width of mustache) just a little too broad, a voice just half a step too high, a slight syncopation in his normally regular rolling gait. And the ministers knew the reason for these signs: the Maharajah was also a collector, and his collection was said to rival the Sultan’s. Since the Maharajah was an equal and a carefully cultivated ally, there could be no question of adding his head to the Sultan’s collection. But someone would suffer if the Maharajah proved insufficiently impressed. The Sultan’s ministers were worried.

Their worries did not diminish as the Maharajah was introduced to some of the glories of the collection. The Maharajah was scrupulously polite: he greeted every object with a bland smile and a few appropriate words of appreciation, always adding the disturbing information that he possessed something very similar.

“The head of Prometheus by Archippus,” the Sultan announced, looking up at his guest to judge his reaction. The Sultan was a naturally small man, though the constant attention of the best cooks in his domain had rounded him into a sphere. “It is all that remains of his colossal Prometheus Bound, mentioned with such admiration by Pliny.”

“Yes, very fine indeed,” the Maharajah replied after a cursory examination of the huge head, which was a good bit taller than he was—and the Maharajah was a tall man, whose natural taste for asceticism had given him the appearance of one of those spindly pillars that formed thick forests in many parts of the Sultan’s palace. He looked down at the Sultan, but he might have seemed to be looking not so much at his host as at his own reflection in the Sultan’s perfectly oiled helmet of black hair. “I have his Ariadne. A remarkable composition—perfectly intact, of course.”

There was a slight twitch in the Sultan’s upper lip: it might have passed entirely unnoticed had not his immense and luxuriant black mustache amplified the movement, so that by the time it reached the ends the mustache seemed to be trying to fly away like a raven. Nevertheless, the Sultan proceeded with what was probably a smile to the next item, a water organ that played, by an ingenious arrangement of cams on a wheel, a simple but very loud melody without the intervention of a human musician. The Sultan’s ministers discreetly stopped their ears, and the Maharajah’s party listened with petrified smiles; but the Maharajah himself maintained his cheerful blandness throughout the brief performance.

When the tootling ended and the mechanism hissed and clattered to a stop, the Maharajah rendered his appreciation: “Very elegantly constructed. Mine plays “The Lament of the Amazons.’ ”

In their minds some of the Sultan’s lesser ministers began to consider how they might formulate their wills.

So it was with most of the exhibits. The Maharajah pronounced the brazen oak with singing silver birds quite lovely: his own had birds made of gold, but the same mechanical principles were employed. The crystal tank with live sea-elephant was quite fascinating in its way: the Maharajah could offer some helpful advice on feeding the creature, based on his own success in keeping a breeding colony of the things.

With each successive exhibit the Sultan seemed less confident to his experienced ministers, who in turn were losing confidence in the attachment of their own heads to their bodies.

But the Sultan had not finished yet. “My dear Maharajah,” he said at last, “surely your collection must be one of the wonders of the world, and in almost every way the equal of my own. There remains, however, one thing in my collection that is unique, a precious treasure so rare and exquisite that I must keep it separately. Would you like to have a glimpse of it?”

“My dear Sultan,” the Maharajah replied, “nothing would please me more.”

ANOTHER WAY.

Cuba You Quit Way

We were talking about the names of Pittsburgh alleys a while ago—or rather ways, since there are officially no alleys in Pittsburgh. Our friend Father Pitt points out another interesting name from a 1923 map. (It appears that, on current maps, this is regarded as a continuation of Diaz Way.)

IN LEGAL NEWS.

A lawsuit was filed today in the Court of Fairly Rare Pleas by Mr. Scamander “Scam” Likely against several mobile-phone service providers. Mr. Likely says that, because of actions taken by the service providers, no one ever answers his calls anymore. The plaintiff seeks damages of $267.05 and a dozen doughnuts from a local bakery, not one of those chains.

REMARKABLE ANIMALS.

The Manitoban Lynx, a subspecies of the Canada Lynx, leaves footprints that spell out Lynx canadensis manitobensis in braille.

The Patagonian Wild Poodle uses the sharp stones that abound in its native habitat to trim its fur into serviceable pompoms.

McGillick’s Lesser Swamp Gerbil can, when cornered, sing all the songs of Dan Schutte, which discourages some predators and brings out the sentimental sap in others; in either event the gerbil is likely to be spared.

The Brunot’s Island Weasel, having depopulated its habitat of suitable prey long ago, has learned to order from Grubhub.

The Madagascar Flying Lemur can soar through the air for considerable distances, but only when thrown by another Madagascar Flying Lemur.

ASK DR. BOLI.

Dear Dr. Boli: My professor in English 101 assigned us an essay, and she said that the conclusion should end with a “mic drop.” What is a “mic drop,” anyway? I was going to ask my professor, but I was afraid she would think I was stupid. —Sincerely, Olivia, a freshman at Yohogania Community College.

Dear Madam: A mic drop is an emergency airlift of audio equipment to underdeveloped countries with a serious deficiency of public-address systems. Why your professor wants you to end your essay that way is not entirely clear to Dr. Boli. It seems like an expensive activity for a community-college freshman to indulge in. Usually mic drops are handled by UNESCO.

Incidentally, if you want to see an audio engineer’s head explode in colorful fireworks, you should point out that the word mic is, by the laws of English orthography, pronounced “mick,” and that the proper spelling for the short form of “microphone” is “mike.” For some reason this statement will cause apocalyptic rages that are very entertaining to watch. It has nothing to do with your essay, but after you have finished that you may need to unwind for a while, and taunting audio engineers is a harmless pastime that arguably improves their characters.

ASK DR. BOLI.

Dear Dr. Boli: Why are space aliens not visiting us? With all the stars in the galaxy and all the planets spinning around them, there have to be intelligent beings who have overcome the trivial difficulties of faster-than-light travel. Yet they never visit. They never even text me. Are they snobs or what? —Sincerely, Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Dear Sir: It is true that the abundance of worlds in our galaxy makes it improbable that there are no other forms of life out there. They might consider it unwise, however, to get themselves mixed up with unpredictably primitive civilizations. It is likely, therefore, that something about our civilization strikes them as primitive. If we look at our planet from an outsider’s point of view, with an unbiased eye, what we notice immediately is that we still have weather. An extraterrestrial species evaluating our world for potential cultural exchange or commercial exploitation would seize on that detail as indicative of the state of our civilization as a whole. “They still have weather,” the scouts’ report would say. “Until they can get their act together and cooperate enough to implement some rudimentary meteorological planning, it is safe to assume that their planet is unprofitably and even dangerously disorganized; their culture has nothing to teach us, and a risk/benefit analysis of the commercial possibilities does not persuade us that this species could be profitably exploited.”

You should consider the possibility, however, that certain advanced extraterrestrial beings would be willing to meet suitably forward-thinking members of the human species on a private basis, subject of course to sensible non-disclosure agreements. Once you have considered that possibility thoroughly, you should show up at the Grandview Park bandstand at half past eleven tonight and bring a good Riesling. For some reason they are particularly fond of Riesling.

LET MICROSOFT TAKE CARE OF IT.

Water Lilies
Nymphées, by Claude Monet, digitally corrected.

Buried way down in the menus is a new setting in Microsoft Edge, the second-most-popular browser:

Enhance images in Microsoft Edge
Sharpens images and improves color, lighting, and contrast

It turns out that Microsoft has introduced sophisticated artificial intelligence to process all the images you look at even if you don’t ask for them to be processed.

This is amazing! Haven’t you always wished Rembrandt could be a bit brighter? Wouldn’t it be better if Monet weren’t so blurry?

If you are a photographer, chances are pretty good that sharpness, color, lighting, and contrast are the four things you fuss over most when you’re preparing a photograph for publication. Well, you’re just wasting your time. Microsoft will use the awesome power of artificial intelligence to throw out your decisions and substitute much better ones. The setting is on by default, and it takes an inquisitive user or an unlikely coincidence even to discover that it exists.

This must be what the future looks like. In the future, artists will no longer have to worry about whether they have got the colors exactly right or whether the subject stands out from the background well enough. Rough in the composition, and the machine will take it from there. And the artists who do worry about those fussy little details will no longer waste anybody’s time but their own. The rest of us will see their pictures with all the currently fashionable aesthetic decisions made in the most agreeably fashionable way.

But why should we stop at images? Couldn’t deep learning tidy up Shakespeare’s notoriously sloppy blank verse? The pacing of Moby-Dick could be tightened to James Patterson standards. All that frittering about in a Bach fugue could be reduced to a tune you could walk home humming. The frustrating vagueness in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey could be sharpened up until a five-year-old could understand what was going on.

Microsoft has come up with the artificial-intelligence version of this French translator.

Of course the main effect early users noticed was that a lot of images in Edge were blurrier than in other browsers, but Microsoft says, “We're aware of the issue and are looking into it.”