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Good with Their Hands

Good with Their Hands: Boxers, Bluesmen, and Other Characters from the Rust Belt

Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 278
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  • Book Info
    Good with Their Hands
    Book Description:

    This eloquent, streetwise book is a paean to America's Rust Belt and a compelling exploration of four milieus caught up in a great transformation of city life. With loving attention to detail and a fine sense of historical context, Carlo Rotella explores women's boxing in Erie, Pennsylvania; Buddy Guy and the blues scene in Chicago; police work and crime stories in New York City, especially as they converged in the making of the movieThe French Connection;and attempts at urban renewal in the classic mill city of Brockton, Massachusetts. Navigating through accrued layers of cultural, economic, and personal history, Rotella shows how stories of city life can be found in a boxing match, a guitar solo, a chase scene in a movie, or a landscape. The stories he tells dramatize the coming of the postindustrial era in places once defined by their factories, a sweeping set of changes that has remade the form and meaning of American urbanism. A native of the Rust Belt whose own life resonates with these stories, Rotella has gone to the home turfs of his characters, hanging out in boxing gyms and blues clubs, riding along with cops and moviemakers, discussing the future of Brockton with a visionary artist and a pitbull-fancying janitor who both plan to save the city's soul. These people make culture with their hands, and hands become an expressive metaphor for Rotella as he traces the links between their individual talents and the urban scenes in which they flourish. His writing elegantly connects what happens on the street to the larger story of urban transformation, especially the shift from a way of life that demanded individuals be "good with their hands" to one that depends on the intellectual and social skills fostered by formal education and service work. Strong feelings emerge in this book about what has been lost and gained in the long, slow aging-out of the industrial city. But Rotella's journey through the streets has its ultimate reward in discovering deep-rooted instances of what he calls "truth and beauty in the Rust Belt."

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93844-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-12)

    “HE HAD A GOOD PAIR of hands,” said Frank Marcotrigiano about his son Matthew, who was killed in a traffic accident on the Long Island Expressway twenty minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve 1998. The son, a twenty-one-year-old student at Suffolk Community College, also worked with his father, a plumber. “He was a good guy,” added the father, “just starting to come into his own in life.” Matthew Marcotrigiano was more than a pair of hands, in other words, but the way in which he was good with his hands expressed possibilities extending before and behind him: forward to...

    (pp. 13-50)

    I FIRST SAW Liz McGonigal fight at the Golden Gloves competition held in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in April 1996. Young amateur fighters and their retinues of trainers, parents, broken-nosed uncles, and advice-shouting friends had gathered from all over the state in the big gymnasium at Liberty High School to contest the state novice-class championships. Success in the novice class allows a fighter to move up through what is left of the fight network’s strata—into the open amateur class, where more experienced opponents await, and perhaps eventually into the local professional circuit, the regional, the national. In Bethlehem that evening the...

    (pp. 51-104)

    BUDDY GUY WAS PLAYING slow blues at the Trump Marina casino in Atlantic City. The second song in a Buddy Guy set is almost always a slow blues. This time he was doing one of the core tunes of his repertoire, Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years,” which begins, “If you ever been mistreated, well you know just what I’m talking about.” This early in the set, before guitar-induced brain fatigue had set in, the crowd responded vigorously to every line and guitar fill. The majority of those present, casino patrons with no particular investment in Guy, seemed to regard his...

    (pp. 105-166)

    ENTERING THE OFFICES OF Grosso-Jacobson Productions, high up in an office tower in midtown Manhattan, I passed a receptionist and a wall-mounted row of promotional shots for the company’s television shows and made-for-television movies. In those pictures, square-jawed hunks and simmering babes stand tall in the face of crime, weapons at hand. Guided by Salvatore “Sonny” Grosso, who was a detective in the New York Police Department for twenty years before he became a producer, Grosso-Jacobson makes formula television, unapologetically cranking out crime-themed cultural sausage links with a minimum outlay of cost and artistic pretense. At its studio in Toronto,...

    (pp. 167-230)

    PATRICIA JOHANSON, AN internationally prominent landscape artist, was locked out of her house. Not the house she lived in, which was in upstate New York near Albany, but a vacant house she owned on Dover Street in what was once an Italian section of Brockton, Massachusetts. She and I walked around outside, peering in and trying doors and windows, but it was closed up tight. Her keys did not work because somebody had changed the locks—onherproperty, which requires nerve. It was hard not to take this situation as indicative of how badly things had turned out for...

    (pp. 231-240)

    ONCE, ON THE WAY to Erie from Boston to see a card of fights, I got caught in a December storm on I-90. I had been driving faster and faster, trying to make time before encountering the lake-effect snow prophesied by voices on the radio. Just before I reached Buffalo, though, I entered without preamble into a heavy snowfall. Big flakes blew hard out of the west, sailing on the wind like leaves and hitting my car with wet little thuds. Traffic slowed, ragged columns of cars crawling and sliding in the accumulating snow. Checking the rearview mirror for tailgaters...

    (pp. 241-242)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 243-258)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 259-269)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 270-270)