Monday, October 5, 2009
abiding allure of the Society of Jesus
America Magazine - Streets of Philadelphia
Closing Time’s most provocative moments may be when Queenan moves from the sad particularities of his own impoverished youth to the subject of poverty in general.
“Poverty is a lifestyle, a philosophy, a modus vivendi, an agglomeration of bad habits, which is why nobody who has ever been poor physically ever stops being poor emotionally,” Queenan writes. “The once-poor simply become masters of disguise…trying to keep a straight face while someone talks about low self-esteem.”
Queenan is an unapologetic ranter, and there are passages in Closing Time that will make some readers squirm. (“Poor people behave stupidly because poverty is a finishing school where children learn to be stupid.”) But his refusal to romanticize poverty, his clear-eyed description of all of poverty’s consequences, is refreshing. By the time Joe Queenan was born, the family was already on a downward spiral. They eventually lose their home and move into public housing.
“Three things kept us going through these wilderness years: the Catholic Church, the generosity of [a] few relatives…and the public library.”
It is tempting to see young Joe’s fledgling interest in books and ideas as just another way to aggravate his blue- collar Dad. But as Queenan makes clear, his father, for all his flaws, valued the written word. Queenan even took dictation when his father decided to write one of his famously eloquent letters to a newspaper.
Perhaps that is why Queenan, along with his sisters, became excellent students. Joe even decides to become a priest. He enrolls in Maryknoll Junior Seminary, which does not lead him, ultimately, to fulfill his vocation, but it does get him out of Philly for the first time.
Queenan then sets his sights on getting accepted into St. Joseph’s College (in part because of the “abiding allure of the Society of Jesus”). While Queenan is intellectually growing, however, his father is still drinking and seething.
(click title for the entire article)