Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

On the Joy and Heartbreak of Nick Flynn

I just finished reading Nick Flynn’s memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. It’s poetic and genre-bending and satisfying and incredibly revealing–almost to the point of not wanting to know more. You’re reading about the alcoholic descent and endless grappling of Flynn as he tries to make sense of his mother’s suicide and his father’s absence; the wrecked relationships and alcohol abuse along the way are cringe-worthy, like the ubiquitous car crash you can’t take your eyes off. It’s one of those books that you hold in your hands, pages dwindling, as you find yourself battling the sadness that comes with a good book coming to an end.

At its core Suck City is the story of Flynn’s absent father, a man who was absent for the first part of Flynn’s life. Flynn Sr. went from success as an automobile salesman to a bank robber and self-styled a beatnik. The two men, despite living in Boston most of their lives, seem to circle each other (intentional or not) without meeting. Flynn’s job as a counselor at The Pine Street Inn, the area’s largest homeless shelter, brings him face-to-face with his father, who seeks a place to stay. This summary, however, does not do justice to the beauty of this memoir.

Most memoirs seem to dwell in maudlin melodrama or shocking details. While there are some revealing facts (Flynn’s attempts at coke or heroin, for example), this is a story of a non-existent, yet longed-for, father-son relationship.

In one of the most experimental and surreal passages, Flynn gives us a psychedelic play/dream sequence in which King Lear meets Santa Claus and the facts of Flynn’s family. Other things of beauty are Flynn’s descriptions of a mountain of donated clothes, a litany of phrases drunks utter, and a momentary reprieve in his childhood when he watched the World Cup with his brother and his suicidal mother. That knack for brutal honesty comes in handy as Flynn quietly draws into his life.

I wish I could put Nick Flynn‘s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City in the hands of all those people reading the Twilight books. Why can’t books worth reading find their way onto the best-seller lists instead of crap about vampires and werewolves?

Filed under: boston, homelessness, literature, writing, , , , , , , , ,

Yes, Harvard Law School Students Can Be Racist, Too

A third-year student in Harvard Law School made racist remarks at a dinner earlier this week, then tried to clarify his wrong-headed remarks in an email. The recipients of this email forwarded it to their friends, who sent it to their friends, who shared the law student’s muddled thoughts with even more folks. The power of the Internet.

Among his remarkable comments is this one, justifying racism through a science experiment:

I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair.

One bad seed, as the cliche goes, does not mean we need to throw out the apple. But what’s most distressing to me is that this law student–pedigreed, entitled, and holding discriminatory views–is poised to join the highest echelons of power. How will his racist views affect his real-world actions?

Arguments against the uneducated nature of ignorance don’t apply here. Elite, East Coast, overeducated folks can be racist, too.

Filed under: boston, harvard, law, racism, , , ,

Save Boston’s Public Libraries

How many of us have relished the peace and community afforded by our libraries? I know that I’m not alone in my love for libraries: the quantifiable value of literature on shelves; the shared desire for knowledge acquisition; the simple pleasure of reading in a space in which you are seated at the same table as your fellow bookworm.

Sure, it’s great to access the Internet. But it’s even better to give yourself time to open the pages of a book and allow the ethereal process of reading to engulf your senses.

In Boston, the city has threatened to close 8-10 branch libraries. This is not a small number–10 out of 26 libraries is nearly half of the city’s public libraries. Mayor Menino and members of the City Council have decided that shuttering small libraries will help make up for the city’s $3.6 million budget shortfall.

It’s a shameful tactic to attack public libraries. What does the mayor have to do with the potential closings? According to the grassroots organization People of Boston:

The mayor appoints all of the trustees. The trustees are not vetted and are not confirmed by anyone. The trustees vote on the budget that goes to the city. Thus, it could be said that the mayor controls the budget that is sent to him. The mayor has also made his opinion clear, calling for the closure of branches (as well as community centers — schools are also at risk due to a budget gap). This is a choice that he has made despite the fact that he has the power (through city reserves) to fill the budget gap and he has a choice to push for cuts to state services instead.

My hunch is that the branches to be closed will not be chosen with the local community’s interest in mind, but because they are the least economically viable. Let’s hope that if it comes down to it (which I hope it doesn’t) that the closed branches will not be in the poorest neighborhoods of Boston: Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan. Join me and write an email to your city councilor to protest this wrong-headed move.

Filed under: boston, libraries, literature, , , , , ,

Pine Street Inn’s Innovative Program for Homeless Men and Dogs

Pine Street Inn, New England’s largest homeless shelter, has partnered two often-overlooked constituencies: homeless men and abused dogs. A small group of homeless men–who have individually spent more than twenty years on the street–share a new residence at Pine Street’s Stapleton House with abused and abandoned dogs. A simple yet powerful idea.

As the author, Meghan Irons, notes:

These two homeless creatures – man and dog, both shadows in life – are finding that they have a lot in common – a history of abandonment, trauma, and distrust.

How do these pairings build trust?

First, many of the men suffer from paranoia and other psychiatric issues. Unwilling to discuss what has happened to them, these men often find comfort in animals. The introduction of dogs–and caretaking for the dogs–assists them in the process of opening up and requesting help from the staff of five. Walking the dogs helps the men in conversing with strangers and in building trust.

More about Pine Street’s programs (including how to help) are here.

Filed under: boston, social justice, , , , ,

Police Drop Charges Against Gates

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Latest news: Cambridge police are dropping the charges against African American scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. for “disorderly conduct” after breaking in to his own home.

No doubt more analysis and articles about the repercussions of this event–racial profiling? lackadaisical police training?–will follow.

Filed under: boston, racism, , ,

Writing

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
April 2017
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Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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