Posts tagged ‘Boston’

May 18, 2016

#110) Book review: “All Souls” by Michael Patrick MacDonald

I used to hate people like Michael MacDonald. Growing up, it always seemed as if I was intimidated or bullied by South Bostonians whenever I came into contact with them; they lived in a kill-or-be-killed world and despite my attempts to pass myself off as a bad-ass, every move I made screamed “sheltered kid from the ‘burbs.” Later, when I started playing music in bars, my genius went unappreciated by the drunken Southie masses. If you’d asked me when I moved to California in the summer of 1999 (which, unbeknownst to me then was when “All Souls” was published), I’d have said that I was as glad to leave the throngs of boorish, working class Bostonians behind as I was the cold Massachusetts winters. Time and distance changed my view toward Boston and Southie in particular. I learned to appreciate the opportunities I’d had that were denied to many, not the least of which was the chance to leave Boston when I’d had enough.

Michael MacDonald is the ninth of eleven children. On the first page of “All Souls” he says, “[W]e sometimes get confused about who’s dead and who’s alive in my family.” Indeed, the inside cover has a list of the names of MacDonald’s siblings, including the dates of their births and in four cases their deaths. The backbone of the family is Helen, better known as Ma, who leaves her abusive husband and raises the entire family on her own. Other characters include the often discussed but rarely seen gangster Whitey Bulger, charismatic but divisive politician “Dapper” O’Neill and South Boston itself, a place which one never truly leaves. “No matter how far I ran, Southie was always on my mind,” MacDonald says of the neighborhood which is by turns “the greatest place to grow up” and where he often found himself “sitting at the window, noticing…kids gathering…for the three-block journey up Dorchester Street to the funeral parlor.”

Attitudes that seem contradictory at first run through South Boston and “All Souls” but as we get to know MacDonald’s family, friends and enemies, the motivations become clearer. Those who wonder why poor whites often vote Republican can find answers in MacDonald’s Southie. Like Appalachia, Southie is largely populated by socially conservative and religious residents. Poverty has led to alcohol, drugs and crime. There is a strong distrust of outsiders and liberals are seen as meddlers who want to control, not help. “Liberals…never seemed to be able to fit urban poor whites into their world view, which tended to see blacks as the persistent dependent,” MacDonald notes. “After our violent response to court-ordered busing in the 1970s, Southie was labeled as the white racist oppressor….that label worked to take the blame away from those able to leave the city and drive back to all-white suburban towns at the end of the day.” MacDonald’s family “hated Ted Kennedy; he’d sided with the busing too and was seen as the biggest traitor of all.” Yet even as the Southie teenagers fought with the bused in black students, they found common ground in music such as “Fight the Power” by the Isley Brothers. “[N]o one called it black music…we couldn’t see what color anyone was from the radio…what mattered was that the Isley Brothers were singing about everything we were watching…” Besides, “Rock’n’roll was for rich suburban people with long hair and dirty clothes.”

In the end, a mix of ideologies saved what was left of the MacDonald family. Long dependent on welfare and public housing, the MacDonalds left South Boston when they realized that no politicians from either party had any serious interest in improving their neighborhood or fighting the influence of Whitey Bulger’s boys. Ma moved to Colorado with the youngest kids; MacDonald’s older siblings moved to different parts of New England.

For Michael, redemption didn’t come from “getting out” of Southie; it came from going back to Southie and reaching out of Southie. When crime victims in other impoverished Boston neighborhoods such as Roxbury, Charlestown and “Eastie” started speaking up both to outsiders and amongst themselves, it inspired MacDonald to get Southie residents to break their “code of silence.” “All Souls” starts and ends at a vigil for the victims on November 2, 1996 – All Souls day.

Ultimately, Michael McDonald could be seen as a sort of a peacemaker between two dissenting factions. He puts human faces on South Boston residents that are frequently written off as blue collar bigots while also encouraging those same residents to let go of their self-destructive patterns.

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December 4, 2013

#64) The real reason Red Sox fans are upset about Jacoby Ellsbury

Red Sox fans aren’t upset about Jacoby Ellsbury signing with the Yankees; they just think they are.

Oh, they’re pissed, no doubt; at least if tweeting death wishes can be seen as a sign of being pissed.   But let’s take a step back here.  The Red Sox are the defending World Champions and have won more titles in the last decade than any other MLB team.  Many baseball pundits believe that Ellsbury isn’t worth what he wanted to be paid by the Red Sox and that the Yankees are overpaying him.  As Yogi Berra once said, in baseball, you don’t know nothin’, but it’s certainly plausible that the deal will have more of a net benefit for the Red Sox than the Yankees.

Granted, the fan who expressed hope that Ellsbury “get[s] herpes from Jeter and die[s]” might not represent the overall mentality of Red Sox Nation, but let’s face it, New Englanders can hold a grudge like nobody else (present company included).  But while the sense of outrage at having lost yet another player to the Yankees might have been justified ten years ago, before the Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino”, it now comes off as a little bit petty.  From 1987 to 2001, no Boston/New England sports team won a championship, but since the Patriots’ victory in Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, the market has claimed more titles–8–than any other: three each for the Pats and Sox; one for the Celtics and one for the Bruins.  In the same time period L.A. has six (including the Anaheim teams) and New York has four (including the New Jersey Devils).  Boston fans have the look of the successful businessman who still resents the high school girlfriend who dumped him.

Be all that as it may, perhaps there’s a deeper explanation for why Sox fans are so outraged.  It could be that the recent wealth of Boston championships is actually the cause of the Nation’s animosity.  Before 2004, the line was always, “What are we going to do when the Sox actually win the World Series?”  It’s like prisoners who anticipate their release but once they’re actually on the outside, don’t know how to function.

My guess is that before long Sox fans will have forgotten about Ellsbury.  Sure, he’ll get some half-hearted boos when he comes to Fenway wearing pinstripes, but maybe he’s not the real problem.  Maybe Red Sox Nation misses the good old days.  Maybe they need Bucky Dent to hit the pop-fly home run.  Maybe they need Aaron Boone to hit the home run off Tim Wakefield.  And maybe, just maybe, they need the ball to go through Buckner’s legs.