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Author Topic: The Mayor of Castro Street  (Read 167641 times)

Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #45 on: January 14, 2009, 01:24:51 AM »
Michael, I have a few questions about San Francisco geography, when you come in.  Sorry if they seem picky, but they would help me to visualize the action.

One, the book keeps referring to the intersection of Eighteenth and Market.  If you are standing on Market Street, looking up Castro Street toward the Castro Theater, and start walking in the direction of the theater, where does Eighteenth Street come in?  Before the Castro Theater, or after it?

After it Debbie.  Market intersects Castro at the same place that 17th street intersects it (it's a messy 6 way intersection).  So as you are looking down Castro street toward the Castro Theater 18th street is one block south of where you are - on the corner of 18th and Castro there is a Walgreens (it was Star Pharmacy in Harvey's day), Harveys (a bar - which used to be the Elephant Walk - which will play in later in the book), Bank of America (which used to be Hibernia Bank - and the sidewalk out front was called Hibernia beach where all the shirtless guys hung out) - and I don't know what was on the other corner - it was Wolf Camera for a while and now it's the LGBT Historical center.

Two, where is Polk Street?  I believe it's somewhere near City Hall, is that right?  Does it run parallel to Van Ness (behind City Hall), or cross Van Ness?  And if it crosses Van Ness, on which side of City Hall is it (closer to Market than City, or farther from Market than City Hall)?

Three, and related to number two:  Is Polk Street still a major gay neighborhood, or has that changed?

These are related, so I'll deal with them together.  Polk Street does indeed run parallel to Van Ness.  When we went from the hotel to the Great American Music Hall to see Todd Rundgren we crossed Polk Street.

Polk street is still sort of a gay neighborhood - but it is far more mixed now.  Beginning in the late 70s and through the late 90s (when the dot com bubble began to have an effect) the area was full of hustler bars - and the boys who were too young to get served in bars trolled the street.  It was generally a good place to get rolled or to pick up a nasty infection.

In the late 90s lots of trendy bars launched on Polk Street.  When the dot com bubble burst many went belly up.  There are still some gay bars there [the Cinch, one of my favorite bars in town, is there] and there are trendy bars as well [the Lush Lounge, for example].  It's a very mixed neighborhood.

Four, the book mentions the former hippie section, Haight Ashbury, as being over the hill from the Castro neighborhood.  Would it be on the opposite side of Market Street from the Castro section?  Or would it be on the same side of Market Street as the Castro neighborhood, but farther away from Market?

Back to when we were standing on Market Street looking at the Castro - the Haight (as it is called) is behind us and to the west.  There is a hill with a (very lively - or so I've heard) park in it called Buena Vista Park that is in between the Castro and the Haight.

There is a map of the Castro here:

http://www.kqed.org/w/hood/castro/resourceguide/castromap.html

Here is a map of the Haight which shows how close the two are:

http://sanfrancisco.about.com/od/neighborhoodprofiles/ig/SF-Neighborhood-Profiles/Haight---Cole-Valley-Map.--vN.htm

There were two other neighborhoods of note at the time - Valencia Street - which was where there was a lesbian bar (Amelia) and a bookstore (Artemis Cafe) - sort of the lesbian neighborhood, and South of Market (or SOMA) which was the leather neighborhood.
I do my thing, & you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other - it is beautiful. If not it can't be helped.

Fritz Perls - A Gestalt Prayer

Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #46 on: January 14, 2009, 01:52:48 AM »
A question - and I will try and look this up myself, but if the police did charge the men, what exactly would they charge them with?  (I apologize if my questions show my ignorance of gay history, but I'm very interested and trying to learn).

It is just so ironic to me that so many people demonize gay people as.... being so promiscuous, yet also fight so hard to keep people from having safe and fun ways to get to know each other and to deepen their relationship.  In the 70's gay people and their relationships were pushed into the shadows, and then people criticized them for being in the shadows - well what's a person to do?  Its a lose, lose situation.

Yes, but not lonely on Saturday night....

Anywho...to answer your question - there were a whole variety of charges that could be used against gay people in these days (and still are today).  They included "lewd and lascivious behavior", "indecent exposure" (used on people parked in cars or in parks), "disorderly conduct"

See, for example the section on 'Does Massachusetts have any other criminal laws that are applied to gay people?' here:

http://www.glad.org/rights/massachusetts/c/hate-crimes-sex-laws-and-police-in-massachusetts/

Loitering, public lewdness, public indecency, breach of peace, obstructing free passage (which will come up later in the book), unlawful assembly and many more are also used [my favorite is Georgia's 'masturbation for hire' law].  See the chart in the following article:

http://law.jrank.org/pages/11812/Prohibited-Consensual-Sexual-Activity.html

Police got very creative with these laws.  I had a friend who was accused of solicitation even though no money was ever mentioned (the case was dropped - and oh my, the police chief seems to have mentioned it to my friend's boss - he was fired).  Another friend was accused of public lewdness in a rest area and proved the cop had come on to him by pointing out to the judge that the cop had a mole under his tongue.  That case was dropped too.

Often the point was not so much to frighten gay people as it was to score political points during political campaigns.  At a bar I used to go to in the 70s in Lansing, Michigan the police would park their cars in the parking lot across from the gay bar during election campaigns to intimidate patrons so that the bars would be empty for the time being.  Patrons who did go to the bar were always warned to mind their behavior when they left the bar and not to drive if they had drank too much (as that was one of the things they would haul people in from the bars for too).

Ah!  Memories!

[Oh, and no apologies necessary Dawn - we're all here to discuss the book and to have a good time doing it.  Please feel free to ask any questions you like.]
I do my thing, & you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other - it is beautiful. If not it can't be helped.

Fritz Perls - A Gestalt Prayer

Offline Nikki

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #47 on: January 14, 2009, 07:14:59 AM »

13.) From early on Harvey was extremely affected by the holocaust.  Do you think that this identification with the oppressed is a direct connection between the early life and the later life of Harvey Milk?


Definitely. As a Jewish family, the Milks discussed the oppression of Jews under Hitler.  Harvey never forgot the stories of the holocaust  and, in later years, he equated it with the oppression of gays under a bureaucratic structure which allowed the police and law enforcement to trample on the rights of a minority who had no voice in government.


That struck me too, Nikki. Harvey was a second generation American born of Lithuanian Jews. That means his grandfather fled the pogroms. The antisemitism was less actively violent here, but it was strong; witness the fact that his grandfather and fellow Jews had to found their own country club, that Harvey hung around with black guys because he didn't get invited to most of the parties in High School and that in Harvey's college days he couldn't get into any of the fancier fraternities because he was a Jew. His family had the immigrant American dream story, though: they were able to succeed here and become middle class. Then came WWII. He completely identified with being in danger of the same kind of persecution as a Jew, and with his parents' pride in how the Warsaw Ghetto resisted, knowing they couldn't win. The holocaust made many, many Jews much more sensitive to American antisemitism and disillusioned with America's response to the pleas of refugees trying to escape from Hitler and the Nazis. It was proof that Jews were still in danger of being turned on by their neighbors and their government. The younger generation became more militant in claiming their rights as American citizens and attacking the quota system at the Ivy League and Seven Sisters schools,the firms that wouldn't hire them, social clubs that wouldn't have them as members and so forth. They also gained pride and a sense that they could determine their own fate with the founding of Israel and its successful self-defense.

In Harvey's case, he also faced the very clear and present danger of being arrested, beaten up by police or homophobic thugs, or even killed for his sexuality. The law was an instrument of persecution, not protection. The rise of McCarthy was very much an echo of Hitler's abuse of power, and gays were his favorite target. He was always looking for gays in government, particularly in the State Department. So Harvey was a member of two oppressed minorities. It's not surprising that he would later meld his Jewish and gay identities and make himself a fighter for gay rights.


Jenny, didn't realize the Milks were from Lithuania, must have missed it.  In convos with friends recently, they didn't realize about the quota system for Jews in academe --  of course, they were a younger generation.  Antisemitism was rampant in the US pre and post WWII, and the Milks felt it deeply.  I'm surprised how Harvey aligned himself with the blacks at school, although he did have other friends.  My older Jewish friends would not have tolerated this type of social intercourse -- I think this introduced Harvey to a broad spectrum of society at an early age, and stood him in good stead later in SF.
« Last Edit: January 14, 2009, 07:25:11 AM by Nikki »
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Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #48 on: January 14, 2009, 11:48:15 AM »
Nikki and Jenny - I too thought that the information related to the holocaust in the book and his Jewish identity is central to his eventual move to being a gay icon.  In part I think this is due to being an outsider looking in - the experience of his grandfather and his being an outsider in high school gave him the initial experience of what it was like to be a member of an 'out' group, probably even before his sexuality blossomed.

I also think that this gave him a unique perspective to view people like Anita Bryant - after all, he wasn't a Christian, so for her he would be a nonbeliever regardless of his sexuality.

Oddly enough, I sort of think it gave him a different perspective on the gay politicians he ran into early on as well.  He knew what happened in Europe - so he knew what would happen if people did not stand up for themselves and relied on others to represent them in government.
I do my thing, & you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other - it is beautiful. If not it can't be helped.

Fritz Perls - A Gestalt Prayer

Offline Jenny

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #49 on: January 14, 2009, 01:19:10 PM »
I also think that Harvey's Jewish upbringing helped make him the conservative, flag-waving Goldwaterite who worked on Wall Street, and then led to his great sea change in the late 1960s. For middle- and upper-class Jews, fitting in and looking just like the Gentiles was both an aspiration and protective coloration. Jews wanted to succeed and be accepted, and they had always sought to prove that they were as good as the Gentiles around them. Many Immigrant Jews, particularly those from Eastern Europe who had not been allowed to assimilate, were also eager to make good and prove themselves to those who had come before them: the Sephardic elite, whose origins were in Spain, Portugal and other Mediterranean countries and had been here before the founding of the country, and the Germans, who came in the 1840s and had become a parallel "polite society." They lived on the same level as New York's rich WASPs, but didn't interact with them socially. Jews at this level weren't identical to Christians, but their Judaism was more "discreet." Immigrants also wanted to show that they were just as patriotic and devoted to the USA as other citizens. They enlisted in all the services, and were responsible for a lot of the propaganda, particularly during WWII.

Goldwater was Jewish, of course, but he was also in favor of individuals controlling their own lives and minding their own business, keeping government out of it as much as possible. That would appeal to Harvey, who feared the government gaining too much power and control. And Goldwater was patriotic and ideological. His slogan in the '64 campaign was: Extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice. Harvey believed in total commitment to ideals, too. Furthermore, Goldwater was pro-business, and Harvey was a businessman whose father and grandfather were also businessmen.

But as the decade wore on, Harvey identified more and more with the Civil Rights movement and the fight of Blacks to gain full equality. He became disenchanted with the Vietnam war and, especially, the draft, along with many of the more conservative Jews. Yes, he was also restless and dissatisfied, and yes his gayness and his feelings about living a double life, hiding an important part of who he was probably the biggest part of what was pushing him towards breaking away from his old life. But seeking Civil Rights and pitting oneself against a government that was lying to you and manipulating you while they pursued a fight to interfere with another country's people and supported repressive, right-wing dictators would resonate with his Jewish heritage of insecurity and oppression by the majority.

Last but not least, Jews tend to have a tragic view of history. They're used to losing their boldest leaders to martyrdom and to finding that even governments that gave them sanctuary and apparent acceptance will turn on them when it's expedient. They have a lot of experience in fighting for lost causes against overwhelming odds, too. I suspect that some of that seeped into Harvey's worldview. When he decided to fight the system he knew he would become a target, and he accepted that. He didn't want to die, but he knew how powerful martyrs could be in motivating change.
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Offline dejavu

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #50 on: January 14, 2009, 01:24:21 PM »
7.)  Harvey remained closeted to his family throughout this period.  Yet given that his mother was doing things like knitting sweaters for Joe and Harvey, do you think she knew?  Given the advice Minnie had given Harvey about homosexuals in New York City, do you think it made sense for him not to talk with her about this?  Does this early closeted behavior seem out of character for Harvey - and when do you think he changed to become more open?

Minnie may have compartmentalized her views on homosexuality.  She was aware of the “bogeyman” stereotypes and cautioned Harvey about those types of men (bad men who would prey on kids) when he was young.  But she may have put Harvey’s relationship with Joe Campbell into an entirely different category, viewing them both as nice young men and therefore “harmless.”  She treated them like a couple, treated Joe like part of the family (like a son-in-law), but she probably didn’t think about the sexual side of whatever relationship they had.  She may have suspected or “known” on some subconscious level, but since the truth would have been unpleasant for her to face, she looked at it the most innocent way possible – maybe even rationalizing it by considering Joe to be simply Harvey’s “best friend.”

It does make sense that Harvey didn’t talk to Minnie about the sexual side of his make-up, and that he didn’t admit to her in so many words that Joe was his lover.  That would have forced her to bring two strands of thinking together which she was much more comfortable keeping apart.   It would have put Harvey into the same category as the “bogeyman” stereotypes which she obviously recoiled from.  In short, she wasn’t about to ask, and she didn’t want him telling.

I don’t think it was out of character for Harvey to keep this truth hidden from his mother.  He tried very hard (mostly with success) to keep it hidden from everyone else (schoolmates, teachers, employers, co-workers) in those days.  It was at about the time that Harvey began associating with Tom O’Horgan that he began to change.  For a while, he lived a closeted life by day, at work, and lived among counter-culture people by night.  Eventually the counter-culture people drew him farther into their world.  When he gave up the corporate world entirely and moved across the country from his family, he had no more reason to hide.
 
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Offline dejavu

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #51 on: January 14, 2009, 01:44:14 PM »
8.)  Shilts says "Suicides were a common postscript to the raids and subsequent exposure as a homosexual.  The suicides, like the enticement to danger, only served to prove that homosexuals were a self-destructive, unstable lot, a cancer on the social body.  These were certainly not the kind of people who should be permitted responsible positions in society...." (pg 18 in my book).  How do you feel about Shilts' moral editorializing in the context of the story?  Is it intrusive or instructive?  Does it put too much of Shilts' own opinions into Harvey's story?

First, I find the suicides deplorable, and see them as evidence of the mental pressures brought upon gay people who grow up knowing that they are not accepted in society.  The self-destruction and instability of gays which the high suicide rates bring attention to are, IMO, the fault of society, and are not an inherent flaw in homosexuals.

But I don’t think I’m actually disagreeing with Shilts in saying that.  I agree with the earlier comment made in our discussion here, that Shilts wasn’t really doing “moral editorializing.”  I don’t think he was stating his own opinions; rather, he was using his prose to incorporate mainstream American thinking about gays.  Society may have been responsible for the suicides, but the majority society turned the facts around and used the suicides to show that homosexuals were as bad as the majority thought they were.  Shilts is not saying that he thinks gays are instable people who shouldn’t have responsible positions in society.  He is merely saying that society as whole has used the high suicide rate to justify keeping gays out of responsible positions.  It’s a justification of discrimination. 

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Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #52 on: January 14, 2009, 01:54:17 PM »
Last but not least, Jews tend to have a tragic view of history. They're used to losing their boldest leaders to martyrdom and to finding that even governments that gave them sanctuary and apparent acceptance will turn on them when it's expedient. They have a lot of experience in fighting for lost causes against overwhelming odds, too. I suspect that some of that seeped into Harvey's worldview. When he decided to fight the system he knew he would become a target, and he accepted that. He didn't want to die, but he knew how powerful martyrs could be in motivating change.

Interesting, Jenny - I had not thought about this, but perhaps his Jewish background gave him some of the fatalism that made him believe throughout his life that he wouldn't live to see 50.
I do my thing, & you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other - it is beautiful. If not it can't be helped.

Fritz Perls - A Gestalt Prayer

Offline dejavu

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #53 on: January 14, 2009, 02:03:01 PM »
Michael, thanks for the SF geography lesson.
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Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #54 on: January 14, 2009, 02:09:19 PM »
Michael, thanks for the SF geography lesson.

Did it help?  I have a hard time knowing since I live here.
I do my thing, & you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other - it is beautiful. If not it can't be helped.

Fritz Perls - A Gestalt Prayer

Offline Ellen (tellyouwhat)

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #55 on: January 14, 2009, 03:22:26 PM »
^^^
It helped me!

 :-*
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Offline dejavu

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #56 on: January 14, 2009, 03:55:50 PM »
^^^^^

Me, too.
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Offline Jenny

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #57 on: January 14, 2009, 05:28:27 PM »

7.)  Harvey remained closeted to his family throughout this period.  Yet given that his mother was doing things like knitting sweaters for Joe and Harvey, do you think she knew?  Given the advice Minnie had given Harvey about homosexuals in New York City, do you think it made sense for him not to talk with her about this?  Does this early closeted behavior seem out of character for Harvey - and when do you think he changed to become more open?
Minnie may have compartmentalized her views on homosexuality.  She was aware of the “bogeyman” stereotypes and cautioned Harvey about those types of men (bad men who would prey on kids) when he was young.  But she may have put Harvey’s relationship with Joe Campbell into an entirely different category, viewing them both as nice young men and therefore “harmless.”  She treated them like a couple, treated Joe like part of the family (like a son-in-law), but she probably didn’t think about the sexual side of whatever relationship they had.  She may have suspected or “known” on some subconscious level, but since the truth would have been unpleasant for her to face, she looked at it the most innocent way possible – maybe even rationalizing it by considering Joe to be simply Harvey’s “best friend.”

It does make sense that Harvey didn’t talk to Minnie about the sexual side of his make-up, and that he didn’t admit to her in so many words that Joe was his lover.  That would have forced her to bring two strands of thinking together which she was much more comfortable keeping apart.   It would have put Harvey into the same category as the “bogeyman” stereotypes which she obviously recoiled from.  In short, she wasn’t about to ask, and she didn’t want him telling.

I don’t think it was out of character for Harvey to keep this truth hidden from his mother.  He tried very hard (mostly with success) to keep it hidden from everyone else (schoolmates, teachers, employers, co-workers) in those days.  It was at about the time that Harvey began associating with Tom O’Horgan that he began to change.  For a while, he lived a closeted life by day, at work, and lived among counter-culture people by night.  Eventually the counter-culture people drew him farther into their world.  When he gave up the corporate world entirely and moved across the country from his family, he had no more reason to hide.

Absolutely, Debbie. :) Harvey's mother died before he came totally out of the closet and began to talk openly about gay rights. And it seems fair to say, from what we're told, that as long as she was alive, Harvey would be very reluctant to leave it. I'd think a "don't ask, don't tell" agreement between the son and his beloved mother would be a very common thing in those days. Minnie's warning to Harvey is also very typical, and reflected the common view of homosexuals. She may well have felt that way about homosexuality in general. It could even be a coded way of saying "Don't tell me about it."  Harvey adored his mother (though he seems to have been very distant from his father, which is interesting.) He seems to have been like her in temperament, though Shilts makes it sound as if he got his height and his temper tantrums from his dad. It makes sense to me, too, that Minnie knew at some level, and Harvey knew that. But he also knew that if he came out to his family, she would have to join the rest of them in condemning him.

I'm not really clear what his relationship with his brother was like, though from pictures I've seen he seems to have gotten along with his sister-in-law, who visited him in the Castro. But when his mother died, probably 1964 or so (couldn't find a date), Harvey did something very insensitive. At that point, many Jews were horrified at the very idea of cremation, since the Germans had incinerated so many Jews. It is also anathema to Orthodox Jews. Robert was both. Harvey turning around and cremating his mother would have outraged many Jews in those days, as it did Robert. Most families who could afford it had a cemetery plot, and it seems likely the Milks had one. I find it hard to believe that Minnie would have expressed such a wish. The complete absence of his father from funeral preparations is also odd. It might well become the son's task to take over a lot from the grieving father, and Harvey may have paid for all or most of it. But on the question of cremation, you'd think the spouse would have something to say. That seems to have contributed to complete estrangement until his father's death though I'm sure neither his father nor Robert were happy about his extremely well-known homosexuality. It turned out that Robert's son was also gay, and so was at least one cousin of Harvey's.

As for when Harvey became more open, I think that was in '68 or '69, as the tide of the counterculture rose and Harvey got more involved with it. Living with the Hair cast in San Francisco and seeing the greater openness there was very influential. Craig Rodwell's views long before that may have started the process, but I think the counterculture and San Francisco pushed Harvey over the edge. 
Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love – time is eternity.

A friend is what the heart needs all the time.

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Offline dejavu

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #58 on: January 14, 2009, 07:29:14 PM »
But when his mother died, probably 1964 or so (couldn't find a date), Harvey did something very insensitive. At that point, many Jews were horrified at the very idea of cremation, since the Germans had incinerated so many Jews. It is also anathema to Orthodox Jews. Robert was both. Harvey turning around and cremating his mother would have outraged many Jews in those days, as it did Robert. Most families who could afford it had a cemetery plot, and it seems likely the Milks had one. I find it hard to believe that Minnie would have expressed such a wish. The complete absence of his father from funeral preparations is also odd.

Jenny, once again, your insights into the Jewish perspective regarding Harvey's life are very much appreciated.  I am used to thinking of cremation as an acceptable alternative to burial, although no one in my Protestant family has ever been cremated.  We have dealt with cremation in other fiction in this book club (i.e., 'The Front Runner').  So I was quite little taken aback when I first read the words which Robert used to express his displeasure toward Harvey:  "You burned my mother."  "Burned" seemed like a very harsh way of putting it, and to say "you burned" when all Harvey actually did was to make arrangements with a funeral home struck me as an unfairly direct accusation.

By pointing out how Harvey's cremation of their mother resembled the incineration of Jews by the Nazi Germans, you certainly helped me to understand where Robert's horror was coming from.  It also raises the question of Harvey's motive for choosing to have his mother cremated.  I am assuming, since Harvey did love his mother (from all we have read), that his decision to have her cremated didn't reflect any antagonism toward her, and wasn't intended to dishonor her in any way.  If anything, it seems short-sighted, something possibly done for the sake of expediency.  How do you feel about that?
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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #59 on: January 14, 2009, 07:49:28 PM »
Just wanted to let y'all know, though I did not have the opportunity to read the book, I'm enjoying the discussion immensely, and it's adding a lot to my appreciation of the movie, too.

Werd ich zum Augenblicke sagen, "Verweile doch! Du bist so schön..."