Archive for the 'Boston-Irish Roots' Category


Lace-curtain Striving

This is the word that I have come to believe epitomizes my family‘s working-class ethos.  Though we’re firmly middle-class, the lot of us, in fact some quite well off (in the top 10% of wage earners), the reality is that we’ll never shed this sense of wanting to do better.  Better than what, at this point, you ask?  I’m not sure.  Most of my cousins are better off than their parents, I think.  Most of us could probably keep up with the proverbial Jones, whoever they are.

But there’s this feeling, best summed up by my godfather once talking about his daughter getting a promotion at work because “she was looking to do more” and her higher-ups noticed.  This is a good example of how the intangible becomes tangible.  How trying to prove oneself pays off.

Yet, striving includes determination fueled in part by insecurity – am I cut out for MIT?  How did I get here?  Will people find out I don’t really belong?  That I’m faking it?  There’s also how we measure success: for some of my cousins, it’s the size of the house or the paycheck or even the clothing brands they bring home.  Some of those matter to me too, but clearly I’ve chosen to prove myself through education, by going where no one in my family has gone before.

In choosing an adulthood of more or less continuous graduate school, my income has fluctuated dramatically over the years, and I often find myself filled with self-recrimination because money is tight and the future’s uncertain and I am definitely not financially secure like a responsible adult in my family should be.  This post is spurred by the fact that I had to put plastic up over my living room windows tonight to keep out the draft, leaving me feeling ashamed that I am worrying about my heating bill and embarrassed that I’ve had resort to crude and unattractive measures when my parents clearly would not want their only child to be worrying about her utility costs like they did long ago.  I should be beyond this, I scold myself silently.

Seriously, somebody call me a wahhhh-bulance, I know.  But my family’s version of making it is always having enough disposable income for shopping or dining out, and then talking about our purchases (look at us! We can buy what we want!).  And here I am wondering how I’m going to pay my household bills come June.  (Any other debt payments have already been slashed to the bone.)

I’ve started to resign myself to that reality that I will probably not outearn my parents in my lifetime.  In exchange I am trying to figure out the bourgie trappings of academia, to demonstrate a different version of, a slight twist on “making it.” I am a quick study, at least.  I only need to get around my own working-class chip to embrace the intelligentsia lifestyle.  We’ll see.  Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to learn a whole new language out here.  And I need some (lace-) curtains stat, so no one can see my plastic window.


Please help Kori!

kori I’m shamelessly using this blog in the hopes that you can help my family:

My 7yo cousin Kori, whose family is very low-income and lives in public housing in South Boston, has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.  She has been in treatment for some time, and her short-term prognosis is good.  Long-term, her disease is pretty deadly.  Her family is acting strong but they are definitely struggling.

If you can spare even a dime, please consider making a small donation to help with Kori’s treatment. You can learn more about Kori here, and help with her treatment here.  (There is also the option to contribute instead to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for those not comfortable with donating directly to an unknown family.)

The power of the internet to raise awareness and funds is powerful.  I cannot thank you enough for keeping my family in your thoughts and for any help you can provide for Kori.

I am collecting funds through Friday, January 23.


Class, Power & Voting

Because election fever has overtaken my brain, I’ve been neglecting the issues I usually talk about here: poverty, urban development, housing, inequality, and post-Katrina New Orleans. (That my blog readership is way up reinforces the notion that no one likes to talk about poor people.  Sigh.)  So I pass the mike to Prof. Peter Dreier from Occidental College, who I recently saw speak at a conference where he urged those college kids who could afford it to drop out of school this fall and organize voters for the election.

Dreier sums up a great deal of what I’ve been studying these last four years – in the context of class, power and voting patterns. His point of departure is Obama’s re-hashing of the meme about working-class white (WCW) resentment – one I picked up happily as it gave me an opening to embrace the good and bad about my roots. Dreier points out that although WCW racism and prejudices held by all middle- and lower-income social groups exist, it is the institutional power of wealthy whites that perpetuates structural racism and inequality – a system upheld in the voting booth year after year. He writes:

…let’s be clear about the class nature of racial prejudice, stereotypes, discrimination, and disparities. Wealthy whites are more likely than working-class whites to use the race card in the voting booth. Voting statistics reveal that most upper-income whites consistently vote in Republican, not Democratic, primaries, which means they don’t have to vote for black or Latino candidates. And in partisan run-off elections, wealthy whites overwhelmingly vote for Republican over Democratic contenders. [He goes on to sample supply voting data by income categories.]

…in an Obama-McCain face-off fewer wealthy whites will vote for Obama than working-class whites whom affluent pundits are so quick to label as racist. Indeed, we’ve already seen a significant number of blue-collar white voters show their support for Obama in Iowa, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and other states. Yes, white working-class Democrats in economically troubled Ohio favored Clinton over Obama. But in November, most of the blue-collar Democrats, working-class independents, and union members who voted for Clinton — in Ohio and elsewhere — are likely to switch to Obama, not McCain.

It is understandable that most wealthy whites would consistently vote for Republicans, who like low taxes and hate strong unions. But in recent decades, a significant number of working-class whites — the so-called “Reagan Democrats” — have voted for GOP candidates who have done so little to address their bread-and-butter concerns. As Thomas Frank argued in his book, What’s the Matter with Kansas?, the Republicans have successfully used “wedge” issues — abortion, religion, gun control, gay rights, affirmative action, and, of course, the war on terrorism — to persuade some working-class whites to vote against their economic interests.

But the tide seems to be changing.

By focusing on voting behavior and attitudes, however, political pundits deflect focus away from other fundamental concerns. America’s corporate and political rulers have long used racism, ethnic stereotypes, and immigrant bashing to divide working people and weaken their collective power. Manufacturers recruited Southern blacks to act as strikebreakers in Northern cities, and employers warned “No Irish need apply” and resorted to anti-Semitism to pit workers against each other. In hard economic times, scapegoating against blacks and Hispanic immigrants diverts white workers’ attention away from the failure of business and political elites to create enough decent jobs.

Although working-class white Americans may harbor racist sentiments, they do not control the major institutions that are responsible for America’s racial divide, including the economic forces that sometimes pit white, black, and Hispanic working families against each other for jobs, housing, and decent schools.

in every sphere of American life — income, hiring, promotion, housing, the quality of public schools, college attendance, treatment by the criminal justice system, media portrayals, and others — race remains a divisive issue. While upper-middle class pundits may get some smug pleasure out of pointing to racial prejudice among America’s white working-class voters, they would be more accurate if they looked up, rather than down, the economic ladder to identify who really has the power to prop up, or fix, the institutions that turn bigotry into discrimination.

It’s worth reading the whole thing. This is where my worries flare up that current Clinton supporters – should she not get the nomination – will fall for the “Maverick McCain” meme rather than supporting Obama/the Democratic nominee. We cannot let that happen.



Still I believe.


Brighton Moments

Driving to school this morning in the NAS-TAY rain and slush, pass Brookline Liquors and read on the awning, “Go Celts”.  It’s been A LONG LONG time since I’ve seen that.  Pretty sure I was still shooting hoops in junior high during the last Celtics fervor.

Driving home from school this afternoon, still DISGUSTING outside, 93.7 Mike FM-“We play everything” delivers on that promise by playing Styx “The Best of Times.”  Picture me sitting at the Comm Av/Chestnut Hill Av intersection in Brighton in my turquoise love machine, “PONTIAC” lit up in red on the trunk since the lights are on, with Styx cranked and me singing right along.  I bet it’s moments like that that I’m at my most attractive.  (Guess the classic-rock-obsessed hs boyfriend was good for something.)

And then there’s this in the NY Times: a guy living outside Brighton Center receives a postcard dated 1929, addressed to the former owner of his house.  To quote the history-loving M.A.S.:  COOOL.




G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S (the Flouncy, Flouncy…)

Weboy here.

It was during the third shampoo – the one before the scalp massage and the Shiatsu in my chair – that I realized I like the pampering of my hair salon. I have given up a great many extravagances – I no longer shop til I drop, or go to the Spa for massages – but my hair is one thing where I just cant skimp.

And too, there’s the moments, like the shampoo, that are just utter indulgences. I usually close my eyes to experience the sensations of having someone else touch my head; it’s not something that happens all that regularly, and because, like many, I carry a lot of stress, it does take a lttle work to let oneself be touched. I completely understand people who say they simply leave their body – I drift into semi-consciousness.

Red is quite simply the only woman I know who came with amazing hair and needs to do little to it – when I first met her we discussed hair coloring, and she decided she couldn’t do it because her natural red might never be the same. And dash-it-all, she’s right: I don’t think I will ever see such golden tresses, especially when they’re kissed by the summer sun. Not only that, but with little effort – and I mean one basic blow-and-go haircut she’s had pretty much in all the time I’ve known her – her hair falls in waves of cascading shoulder length curls that most people get perms to achieve.

Me, not one thing about my hair is natural – I’ve cut it and dyed it and straightened it and braided it and done God knows what else. My current regime is the famous “Asian straight perm,” which I love, and which is utterly time consuming. My hair stylist is a genius, a wizard at cutting straight hair, and a great chemist – the results are long and lustrous, with minimal damage.

And, with a toss of my long mane, that may be that: thanks for having me over. Red should be back online shortly. With a tan, no doubt, and a refreshed spirit. It is, after all, a glamorous life.


Everyone Loves A Boston Girl

Weboy here.  It appears our Red-headed mistress has decided to bask in the sun, without more posting.  Good. 🙂

I think it’s only fitting that my last post in Boston should be on Red’s site – it’s her town, and now I leave it to her. Red isn’t happy about the fact that I’ve moved back to New York (I am, after all, an NYC Weboy), but I think time has shown that one town can only contain the both of us for so long – at some point, no town is big enough. 🙂

Last night on my blog, I talked about the feeling that it’s over.  Today, walking around town, I was reminded that it’s not.  Boston SkyIt was a beautiful day (take that, LA), and people all over reveled in the ability to skip the winter coat and play outdoors.  Boston, at heart, is an “outdoorsy” town – ruddy faced people who enjoy a brisk run or a game of pickup touch football on the quad (there’s a reason the northeastern college experience is so quintessential).  RedStar, our very own, confessed to me one rainy day that for years she got mistaken as the “field hockey” type… when really she’s probably a kindred spirit to nice Upper East Side girls who’s main competitive sport is shopping…. or nightclubbing.

I’d say I’m with her, but really, I’m not.  There’s a secret, solitary jock inside of me who likes a good run.  I may have felt a little lost, a bit out of place here in my two year residency… but we were getting there, Boston and I, on a mutual agreement of terms. In New York, it puts me in something akin to the “gym bunny” class of gay men, but without the Zone diet and the crazy abs. Healthy, and a little thinner… that would be fine.

Walking home today across the Public Garden, I was sad to see that the Swan Boats are on their winter hiatus.  As a kid, nothing thrilled me more than visits to the Garden, and a chance to ride around the (man made) lake.  Looking for Mack, Jack, Lack and Quack and all the other ducklings. My first gift to my nephew (the Most Adorable Nephew in the Universe), in fact was just that book. Now, with adult eyes, I see that the amazing lake is really just a man made pond, no deeper than a duckling’s legs.  But in Spring and Summer, with the Swan Boats circling, it still seems magical.  It’s not the worst memory to go home with.

Everyone loves a Boston Girl.  I still love mine – the inner one, and the Redheaded stepchild. Take care of our town, Red.


“New” New York

I hear more about the “new” New Orleans these days (sadly, you can believe some of the hype, and not for the right reasons) than any “new” NY, but one need only satisfy one’s Law & Order addiction – as I’m doing as a side project to my PhD – to see how much NYC has changed over the years.  In keeping with the spirit of writing about not too much this week, this post is not a wonkish treatise about urban development and politics.  (I know, I know, you miss my lecturing ways.  Prof. Redstar will be back mid-January, after I shop my screenplay in L.A.  But I digress…)

I’m extemporizing here about my upcoming visit to NYC, which involves four nights of visiting friends in the outer boroughs.  And I’m not talking about the hipsterati in Brooklyn.  Nope, instead, with thirtysomething boyfriend in tow, I will be staying with friends and their families (collectively, three children under the age of five) in the Bronx and Queens.  Saturday night involves a trip downtown for a joint ABD status/birthday dinner with my best girlfriend from college and her husband.  And New Year’s Eve is still shaping up, but the likelihood of me blindly finding my way into a cab between 2 and 4 a.m. is about as high as one of the “lesser-known [presidential] candidates” debating on C-Span right now actually winning the election (someone take the remote away from the M.A.S.). 

Sure, I still have friends who live in Manhattan, and I’m still uncool enough that most of them live uptown (the married ones anyway…and I’ve never been cool enough to have less than a handful of friends living in Brooklyn), but really my NYC reality now is visiting my 22 year old cousin as she fashions her own version of my quarterlife adventures in the city.  Most of these friends are also out of town right now, on vacation with their young families, on mini-breaks with new flames, and just generally living their lives in the ways we know now, which mean that our paths cross less and less frequently, and generally only for special occasions such as reunions, weddings, etc.  My world is shrinking, and shifting. 

This post is not rueful, even if it is nostalgic.  This man of mine has a growing Flickr collection of us posed in front of extended family Christmas trees and dinner tables, at far-flung weddings, and in various leisurely settings.  Apparently, this is now my life.  And I’m wiser, and happier and fatter for it.  But what a kick, commuting from Boston’s own periphery of Brighton to the ‘hoods of Riverdale and Jackson Heights.  Places – mainly the latter – I’d consider living if I ever came back to NY.  A hope I still keep alive, even as I relax behind the wheel of my stepmom’s hand-me-down Pontiac, commuting between Newton and Quincy and Hanover and Connecticut in my own (re)new(ed) life in Red Sox Nation.  Who knew.

I’m off til mid-next week.  If I was more motivated, I’d organize a 2007 “Best of” collection of posts for your enjoyment; I’ve seen that around the web and wish I had done it.  Someone go through my archives for me, will ya?  But feel free to poke around here in my absence.  I can’t promise you’ll want any of the food in the cabinets, but there’s always some booze lying around.  Until I’m back on-line, I wish you all A Very Happy New Year – Be Safe and Have Fun!!

More or less cross-posted at NYC Weboy.


HUD reducing deeply subsidized elderly and disabled housing in NOLA by 68%

Just so we’re clear. 

PolicyLink has released a brief analysis of HUD’s plans to replace subsidized housing for extremely low-income households, those making 30% of Area Median Income ($15,9k).  This includes many households in New Orleans with minimum wage employees working full-time (40h) per week in the service and hospitality industries earning just over $12,000 per year.  Overall, HUD plans to replace about one-third of the 12k pre-storm units.  Separate from the overly villified and spotlighted public housing developments, which face a 59% net loss, less than one-third of the deeply subsidized housing specifically set aside for seniors, the disabled, and low-wage workers will be rebuilt.  Check out the graph on page 3 to see the comparative reductions in public housing, scattered site housing, and supportive/senior housing.

I’m deliberately preying on the cultural distinctions we make between the worthy and unworthy poor here, a false dichotomy, not least in the reality of neighborhood composition.  I’m doing this because I know the assumptions we all make about who lives in public housing, including the assumptions held by public housing residents themselves about their neighbors.  But I want to make clear that the housing specifically built to enable our grandmothers or disabled relatives – those we can’t or won’t care for, or those who, like us, seek independent living that meets their needs – to live on their own is also being destroyed by the federal government in New Orleans, whether by deliberate and corrupt demolition choices, or because of a willful and callous lack of reinvestment to bring these properties back on line.

I originally wrote this post last night, only to have my blog crash.  It was much more personal and rhetorical, if no less strident.  I linked to this very personal and clear post from kactus, about her experience as a mother, disabled woman, and community member in public housing, and I wrote about my own experiences growing up visiting family in South Boston public housing.  I wrote about eating corned beef and cabbage on tv trays at my grandmother’s, and how I thought tv trays were the coolest thing ever.  I wrote about how excited I was on these visits to cross the pedestrian bridge over the 2 lane road in front of the projects, and I distinctly remember the snazzy leather Members Only type jacket my 80s mustached dad was sporting on these visits.  I remember the specific language my grandmother used to describe her home, words like “rubbish” instead of trash, which went into the “incinerator” chute outside in the hall, and how our visits were in the “parlor” versus the living room.  I remember playing with my cousin Clare’s new Easy Bake oven during one of many Christmas’s visiting her and her sibs and parents and grandmother in the notorious D St projects, which went through phased redevelopment around that time, starting from the back towards the street, per the insistence of the residents, who knew that the housing authority would be more likely to prematurely stop development once improvements were visible from the street.  I remember more recently my aunt, who raised 5 kids and not a few grandkids at D Street on AFDC and worked her way up from a clerk to a property manager at the Boston Housing Authority, complaining that the redevelopment of D Street failed to reflect some of the daily realities of how people lived, for example, in its awkward placement of utility hookups that made it difficult for families to do their laundry.  And I wrote about how, more recently, the M.A.S. listened to 2 of my cousins his age laugh about how they shoveled some snow at D Street one winter, only to receive a check from Housing for their services several weeks later. 

In 2005, my uncle gave up the McCormack property that once belonged to my grandmother, an apartment we had in the family for over 40 years.  My cousins still live in other developments in Southie.  And my many cousins and aunts and uncles who have moved out to the suburbs continue to battle problems of poverty, including poor health and healthcare, addiction, homelessness, and insecure housing tenure.  Last night, before my blog crashed, I asked, whose quality of life are we talking about when we debate the ills of concentration and the benefits of dispersion, and the pathologies of public housing and the problems of poverty?  We’re talking about my family, my cousins, my aunts, my uncles. 

I’m sure glad they don’t live in New Orleans. 


Weak Ties

What should I/we make of the fact that I went to school with two recurring VH-1 talking heads – Nick Stevens and Leigh Kessler?  Remind me again why I am blogging in obscurity????  And of course, solving the world’s problems from my living room couch….