Sunday, October 24, 2004
We saw with great pleasure that a lot of young gay men signed up for this one, and their eating habits over the weekend confirmed that the demographic was a younger one than we normally host. They ate far less in the carbohydrate range, meaning fewer pancakes and French Toast at breakfast (favoring fruit and yogurt), less bread at lunch, etc. Fritz's place is one of the few around the country where participants are lodged in the same facility where the all-day sessions take place, and we feel that having everyone eat and stay together strengthens the experience. The color in the trees was just about at peak this weekend, the weathered wood inside the center provieds a warm, informal feeling, and everything went well.
Saturday evenings we always put on an elegant dinner--flowers, candelabra and a richly patterned cloth on the table with a good menu and a lot of personal attention. We had one participant from as far away as Denver, while others came from New York and the New England states.
I've been reading "This Thing Called Courage" by J.G. Hayes for the book group, a collection of short stories on growing up gay in South Boston ("Southie"), the traditional bastion of Irish Catholic culture and conservatism in Boston and one of the most insular sub-cultures in the area. We all knew it couldn't have been easy to be gay there but after the third story I was wondering if I should slit my wrists right away or wait until we all got together next Tuesday night. There's a tone of despair and hopelessnes to the lives of the leading characters that makes for uneasy if powerful reading.
South Boston is not to be confused with the South End which has become the city's premiere gay neighborhood, rescued from almost total dereliction by enterprising straights and gays who moved into dangerous and run-down conditions and invested a great deal in the old bow-front townhouses in hope of turning the tide of decay. The movement of young professionals into the area was, expectedly, controversial as the South End had been a minority neighborhood where, in the early 1970s, you could buy a whole townhouse for $10,o00--they now sell for half a million and more. The minority inhabitants were forced out as property values shot upward. Southie, on the other hand, was and is a working-class neighborhood with a famous "code of silence" that protects its inhabitants from scrutiny by the outside world, particularly police investigations. Heavily Catholic and socially conservative, it's finally confronting the onrush of change in the catastrophic collapse of Catholic influence due to the priest sex abuse scandal, and the tardy but voracious arrival of the developers.
Hayes is an interesting if inconsistent writer. His stories are almost all narrated by the central character and he has major problems maintaining a consistent voice--if a consistent voice is even important to him, which may not be the case. How to explain a seventeen year old boy who identifies himself as a straight D student in an area that has some of the worst schools in Boston, who uses language like; "I wonder if this heirloom anger derives from some Irish brawler who swung for his temper or from my father's people, Sicilians, I've seen the old pictures dark-eyed monosyllabics dressed in black you wouldn't want to fuck with--" There are also sentence structure issues, but what D student speaks of heirloom anything, or muses about dark-eyed monosyllabics?
But then Hayes begins the twenty-five page conclusion to the story as a group of five boys invades the local electric sub-station at night to spray their gang's name at the top of the smoke stack. He sustains a riveting narrative of naive bravado and heatbreak as ancient rusted bolts disintegrate and the iron ladder breaks free of the bricks, sending four of the boys to their deaths as the narrator (who had finally summoned the courage to admit his love for one of the victims earlier in the evening) watches their fall and descends almost operatically into madness. It's a brilliant piece of writing, a compulsive page-turner that rings true psychologically and sweeps all doubt before it. "This Thing Called Courage" is available in paperback and is almost ludicrously cheap (used) on amazon.com. But don't expect happy endings--Southie just isn't that kind of place for a gay boy.