Running Numbers is a serial publication of an illuminated typescript that presents to readers a diaristic account of Frank Santoro’s day-to-day life, internal as well as external. As always with Santoro’s work, the unit is the spread. Here, the left side contains the typescript – the text – and the right side a set of three horizontal panels each containing a drawing in markers – the image – usually in blazing colors, but also, on occasion, in black and white. These drawings are sometimes sequential, sometimes standalone and sometimes overlapping and/or merging into one; all interact with and illuminate the facing typescript.
As Marvel Proust would have it, the crux of life is lived in and through memories. The essence of experience, of living, takes place in recollection, as memories are brought back to life in the mind, where they exist in their most pure and rarified state, stripped of distraction. The life of a Vietnam veteran, such as Frank’s father (also Frank) – as well as others who experienced direct personal trauma – can therefore be expected to be one of intermittent and recurrent pain. This is one of the themes brought to the surface here. But it is only one among many.
There is a distinctly blue collar tint to the lives lived and remembered in Running Numbers. Its recollections give voice to the world of the workers, wanderers and walking wounded, the overlooked, and too often forgotten lives of those whose labors made possible the fortunes of the families whose names adorn the buildings and institutions for which Pittsburgh is known.
As it provides a window on Frank’s world, Running Numbers simultaneously reveals – and records – the otherwise invisible vestiges of an emotionally subterranean, Italian-inflected, pre-modern European village inscribed into the lives portrayed on these post-industrial streets and sidewalks physically located the Borough of Swissvale, which borders the City of Pittsburgh and the Boroughs of Edgewood and Wilkinsburg. The spirits of the past occupy the present, and are very much alive – in memory. But those memories are now fading away, as the corporeal forms of those who hold them disappear…
Then there are the moments of being caught up in and carried away by a flood of memories. These moments are here. Helpless, overwhelmed, sinking and struggling, searching for something to hold onto and, finally, discovering that it is through telling stories that one can rise to the surface, and not just to stay afloat, but to move. And so there are voyages and destinations. These too are here. And, finally, there is the arrival, the moment of clambering up to the dry land of a clear and stable present day, upon which to stake a claim and build for the future.
All these remembrances and stories are, naturally and narratively, connected, but they are also thematically linked and tied together through the theme – and reality – of chance and luck. Life is shown to be, literally as well as figuratively, running numbers. The hours of the day, the days of the month: the solar and lunar cycles go back to the beginning of life itself, and are so hardwired into each and every one of us. Then there are the seasons of the year, the solstices and equinoxes, and the planetary alignments; all is cyclical, all can be calculated; everything in the universe is running numbers. Whether playing the number is frowned upon or smiled upon, whether it’s small time or big business, whether it’s selfish or selfless, conscious or unconscious, like it or not, everyone is playing a number everyday.
Those looking for an entry point from which to be able to gain access to Santoro’s underlying stratagems could get the coordinates for a framing perspective by triangulating Ben Katchor’s Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer and Jerry Moriarty’s Jack Survives, with Jack Kerouac’s Memory Babe.
The current edition of Pittsburgh 2: Running Numbers has been produced in a unique hardcover format that brings together the four extant individual issues of the series published during 2022. Hand bound with crafted care by Vince Curtis (who longtime Pittsburghers may remember as a guitarist in the seminal Hardcore band, Half Life), each volume is hand signed and numbered by the author. The copies we have for sale are from the second printing, which is limited to sixty copies.
These four issues are also available for purchase as a set or individually.