it takes a
village borough to raise a child.
yes, queens. and before you get all sniffy, you should know that queens was chosen as the #1 best u.s. travel destination, according to a 2015 lonely planet article. suck it, brooklyn!
before this, i’d only read one other book celebrating queens: Forgotten Borough: Writers Come to Terms with Queens, and it was … very okay. this book, however, does queens proud, and the author is living proof that awesome people come outta queens*. (and we’ll just forget it’s also where donald trump is from)
racially profiling her based on her name, i assumed at least part of this book would take place in woodside, where i live, and which has historically been an enclave for irish immigrants. however, while her father is in fact irish-american, her upbringing and home(s)life was a unique one that throws demographic statistics out the window.
clancy grew up as a rambunctious baby chameleon, splitting her time between three radically different homes: her father’s trailer-sized converted boat shed in working-class broad channel (a neighborhood 20 blocks long and 4 blocks wide), bellerose – her grandparents’ middle-class italian-american neighborhood; a tight-knit community where her grandparents’ septuagenarian neighbors became her extended family, and her mother’s boyfriend mark’s immense estate in the hamptons, with its croquet court and lagoon-inspired pool. with the flexible adaptability of youth, clancy would be picked up from her father’s working class neighborhood in a limo and, after having spent the weekend sharing the pullout couch, visiting her father’s local bar and eating chicken fingers and maraschino cherries with people like ‘goiter eddy’ and ‘joey o’dirt’, she’d be shuttled off to see her mother, where fine dining, cocktail hour, and philosophical discussions while watching the sunset were a daily occurrence. in between these two extremes, she was being fed, yelled at in vulgar italian slang, and loved by a foul-mouthed, larger-than-life grandmother.
her life was a mishmash of public schools and private planes, which is queens all over.
one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, queens is the perfect atmosphere for the schizophrenic-seeming upbringing of a girl self-identifying as a “scatterbrained, disheveled imp.”
her writing is really fresh and voicey, and her stories are frequently hilarious, (even unintentionally, like when she mentions her “cheap Stuy Town apartment.” those days are long gone, sister!)
she’s able to poke fun at her college affectations:
By my sophomore year I was using the words hegemony and patriarchal in sentences (luckily, that shit was short-lived). And then, right before Christmas 1999, I did the thing all girls like me, no matter where they’re from, do in college: a girl.
not that lesbianism was an affectation for her, but along with pompous academic jargon, sexual experimentation is definitely a thing college kids try on, and it’s a cute juxtaposition.
but most especially funny are those situations where her disparate worlds collide, like the annual invasion of the bridgehampton estate by the horde of riccobonos, or when she applies the learned behaviors of one tara to the world of a different tara, as she does when her grandmother, on a trip to atlantic city, discovers that the hotel neglected to provide the complimentary basket o’ treats to which she was entitled, and orders eleven-year-old tara to call the front desk and have them bring it up:
The very first time she asked me to make that call, I was embarrassed and looking for a way out, so I asked, “Grams, why don’t you just do it?”
“Minchia! Why, she asks!? Why?! Because I don’t talk nice, that’s why! But you do! You call and you use the nice words, like Mastagotz taught you.” I knew exactly what she meant, but I hadn’t known that she, or anyone in my family, had noticed that I sounded different when I spoke with Mark, that I used “nice words,” or that I dropped my accent as low as it could go. In fact, I don’t think I was even aware that I did it, until right then.
If I was indeed a little supergirl, able to jump social strata in a single bound, this was the first time I had been asked to hop into the phone booth, swap outfits, and use my powers in my civilian life. But, of course, I did as Grandma asked: “Good afternoon, I’m calling from Room 203. I don’t mean to be a bother, but it seems we’re missing our complimentary gift basket. Would it be possible for someone to send it up?” You bettah get right on it – otherwise my grandma’s gonna come down there and rip your fucking heart out! “Thank you ever so much!”
That was that – I broke superhero protocol for twelve bucks’ worth of half-decent snacks. And it felt great.
and this story, depicting the particular melting pot of the specialty foods section of c-town:
I still remember shopping there with Grandma, back when I was in PS 133, when she spotted a box of jelly candies, technically Bhagat’s Keshar Badam Halwa with Saffron, sitting next to the red tin cubes of Lazzaroni Amaretti di Saronno cookies. Grandma flagged down a lady in a sari. “Eh! These any good?” The lady nodded and smiled. “They are sweet.”
“I like sweet,” Grandma said, throwing a box into her cart.
“And these?” the woman in the sari asked, pointing at the tin boxes of cookies.
“Sweet,” Grandma said. So the lady took a box of those, as well – two people from very different parts of the world, brought together, if only for a second, by an exchange of their ridiculously cumbersomely named desserts.
that’s what it’s like to live in queens, the borough of diversity
this book is less a formally perfect example of the memoir genre, and more of a loosely-bound collection of anecdotes, but i think that her style suits the content much better than a linear transmission of experiences would. the loosey-goosey, rambling quality of it makes her voice that much more appealing and brings the stories into the realm of conversational/confessional where one story will lead to another in a way that makes sense without being a paint-by-numbers a to b to c narrative. it covers her childhood, adolescence, and college experiences; coming-of-age, coming out, goofing off and getting drunk, and in-between all of that is a genuinely touching, loving tribute to her family – both her genetic relatives and the people she picks up along the way who become her emotional family.
reading this made me long to be part of this emotional family; to have a drink and a laugh shooting the shit with mizz tara clancy. she’s the kind of cool girl you want to hang out and swap outrageous stories with over beers until the bars close. although, since she’s a bartender, “closing time” might be extended, yeah?
* i was not born here, just lived here for fifteen years, so i am most definitely not calling myself an awesome person. sadly, mos def is from brooklyn.