Enter The Huck: Sin Against the Race

I wanted an area where black and queer intersected, overlapped. My friend and former college roommate Pete recommended that I create my own neighborhood—from this suggestion The Huck was born.

In its center lies Huckleberry Park, a large urban patch of green that spans several long blocks. A largely African American neighborhood, straight folks live mostly on the south side of the park. Queer folks live around Carver Street, which juts out from the north side. (The name is no accident.) Further along in the book, we learn that Carver Street has a long history as a gathering place for those on the fringes of society. So many urban queer neighborhoods start out this way, a refuge for the forgotten or forlorn.

I imagine Carver Street as a cross between Polk Street and the Castro. Gay life in San Francisco centered around Polk Street in days of old; the Castro, originally called Eureka Valley, was an old Portuguese neighborhood. (Ironically, Provincetown is historically an old Portuguese fishing village.) By the time I moved to the Bay Area in 1989, Polk Street had largely faded. Only a few clubs remained, a couple of leather stores—I bought my first leather pants at one of them. But Polk Gulch had a grittier reputation and older history, an inspiration for Carver Street.

Huckleberry Park itself came from my early childhood. My mother used to take me to concerts and festivals at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, just west of downtown. At one of these festivals, I saw a poster, a cluster of lines and color, and asked my mother why was the woman crying. Mom was stunned: it was a reproduction of Picasso’s The Weeping Woman. My queer, artistic eye blossomed early, I guess. MacArthur Park was a cultural meeting place where folks of all colors and communities met and hung out. And then, as I grew older, it faded, blighted by crime, decay, and neglect. Huckleberry Park had gone through a similar transition by the time of the story.

“Mrs. Parker kept her eyes forward, silently noting, as she always did, the further deterioration of the park—the graffiti, the broken pavement, the crumbling band shell surrounded by a dilapidated chain-link fence. She normally eulogized its yesteryears whenever she walked through it with someone, but uttered none of her familiar verses during their long walk…”
– from p. 14, SIN AGAINST THE RACE

Alfonso, the novel’s protagonist, also has memories of better days in the park. In particular, he remembers playing baseball in the park with his father.

“In the not too long ago, he and his father rushed furtively out of the house together and came to this grassy field to play baseball. The early hours of a steamy summer morning required that they do nothing less. They snuck out to avoid his mother’s disapproving stare. She hated that they played with a hardball, even if Alfonso wore protective gear. Take the softball, she’d say if she caught them leaving. They did, but only for show. During game time, they always kept the ball small, round, tightly wound, regulation down to the last stitch.

“Walking through the middle of the field, he could picture his father’s tall, imposing frame clad in black shorts and a gray tank top striking a familiar pose: body in profile, head turned toward his objective, the ball clasped close to his chest. Alfonso, in deep concentration, held his bat at the ready. When his father played in college, they called him the Wizard, because he made balls disappear. No one saw them as they whizzed by. The years had changed nothing. His father still had a mean fastball. Whenever Alfonso connected, they set their eyes skyward, following the ball like Charlie Brown followed his kite, with hope that they’d be able to track and retrieve it so that they could send it soaring again.”

The Huck has a reputation as a “rough” area. To the east of Carver Street lies Beacon Hills, a place where well-to-do blacks with saditty attitudes live.

Hills folks usually distanced themselves from the grit of the flatlands, even though the distance wasn’t that great. The old rhyme went through [Alfonso’s] head. 9-1-1 don’t mean a fuck, if you’re living in The Huck.”

Alfonso’s family lives on Beacon Hill and has represented The Huck for decades, first by his grandfather Al Berry, Sr. in the state legislature and then by his father, Ford “Al, Jr.” Berry, on the City Council. Both Ford and Al Berry, Sr. have long dissed queer Carver Street, as many on the south side have. Alfonso, black and gay, falls in the middle of this, his personal conflicts melding with the historic ones of his neighborhood.

© 2017, gar. All rights reserved.

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