Saturday, August 1, 2009

The positive memories of a teenage hustler

Matty Lee's 35 Cents is the memoir of a teenage hustler. The title comes from how much his first "trick" paid him for sex.

His father was abusive, and his mother fled with her children. She turned out to be fairly useless, alas. Young Matty really, really wanted to have sex with women, but he had no confidence and no social skills. He found it was easy to pick up men, and they would pay him. So he did.

And he kept doing it. He ran away from home, took drugs, ended up in rehab. Ran away from rehab. Took more drugs. Doing tricks all the while. Ended up back in rehab.
One the way through he discovered reading. At his last rehab, he shared a room with three (straight) black men who taught him how to be a man. He found some gay men who were really good for him. Such as Julio, his AA/NA (Narcotics Anonymous) sponsor, who eventually died of AIDs; Silvio, who had a beautiful girlfriend, a backyard apartment he let Matty stay in and gave him a real job; Ralph, an amazing therapist at his last rehab who really got through to him. Rene, a stylish gay guy for whom he was effectively live-in boyfriend to for some months and deeply influenced his later life:
it's safe to say a large portion of who I am today is nothing but a pale reflection of Rene (p.201).
After much angsting, Matty got very comfortable with the idea of being gay. Except, ultimately, he wasn't. He never initiated sex with Rene. Rene eventually confronted him with
you are either lying to yourself or you are lying to me.
Matty's answer was that he was lying to Rene. So, Rene said goodbye. Meeting Rene years later, Matty thinks my loss without thinking it was the wrong thing for Rene to have done.

The memoir, apart from some passing mentions and a final scene returning to South Miami (where he looks for nostalgia but finds he actually likes the way it has changed), does not talk about his life once he hit 18.

None of this really conveys the vivid immediacy of Matty's tale or some of the striking things in it. One of Ralph the therapist's lines is particularly striking: hope keeps the misery in place. Or his reflections (pp 167-8) on talk therapy:
What people always miss about talk therapy, or any modern Western psychotherapy, is that it works both ways. I mean, the more you talk about uncomfortable or unpleasant memories from your past, the more they lose their control over you. ... during the telling, I feel nothing. Western psychology in a nutshell. Talk more, feel less.
And that works for the bad and ugly things in your life that you are trying to forget. Stop trying to forget them; remember them so much that they lose their fangs and become nothing more than silly anecdotes.
Matty wrote his memoir in part because he was tired of folk blaming their failures on their sordid past. He wanted to write about his sordid past, and the good things it had involved and the positive things it ultimately gave him. Matty was aware from an early age that there were very bad things in his life. But, however much happened to him, he clearly had something of a knack of attracting (and at least some of the time seeing for being) good influences. In the end, it was a journey where he gained a very strong sense of himself.

Highly readable, this is a very different, and thought-provoking memoir.

No comments:

Post a Comment