Cover image for The boys across the street
Title:
The boys across the street
Author:
Sandford, Rick, 1950-1995.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Faber and Faber, 2000.
Physical Description:
x, 277 pages ; 22 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780571199600
Format :
Book

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Item Holds
Searching...
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

The riveting and often moving story of one man's obsession with a group of Yeshiva boys. A work of fiction that manages to be both sexually frank and laugh-out-loud funny,The Boys Across the Street is the story of an ex-porn star named Rick, who lives across the street from a Chasidic boys' school, and his budding relationship with the students and their families. Rick pursues his interest in the boys by adopting Chasidic dress and dares to confront the codes in Leviticus proscribing homosexual behavior; to Rick, these codes are responsible for the bigotry that batters his life. As his relationship with the boys deepens from obsession to friendship, Rick finds himself confronting areas of prejudice within himself. Despite being an avowed atheist, he finds himself drawn to the religious fervor of the Chasidic men as are they to his passionate embrace of their most contemptible of sins. The collision of their different worlds-combined with their increasing closeness-results in interactions that are intense, funny, and full of longing, often all at the same time. As smart as it is comic,The Boys Across the Streetis a powerful blend of eroticism and religion-a novel filled with unforgettable characters, and one that is certain to stir up discussion about sex and repression.


Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Sandford's first and only novel (he died in 1995) is set on and around Hollywood's Alta Vista Boulevard, in 1991, with narrator/protagonist Rick Sandford, 40, presenting the superficially outrageous dynamic that is the book's foundation. A gay former porn star, Rick now works sporadically as a film and TV stand-in, and lives across the street from a Hasidic boys' school. His first encounter with two preteen students (Isaac and Moshe) from the yeshiva begins the narrative with an off-hand metaphysical exchange, quickly turning to a frankly sexual discussion in which Rick describes gay sex, shows the boys a porn mag starring himself and reveals his erotic fascination with Jewish men. Between eyeing the boys and shocking them with his lusty talk, Rick becomes curious about orthodox Judaism. Most days, Rick props himself on a canvas chair in front of his apartment building, and with dictionary and binoculars in hand, conspicuously (usually shirtlessly) observes the boys. Rick is not Jewish; he's an atheist, and his obsession is unabashedly pedophilic. He also hopes to be a writer, so he transcribes all the encounters with the Hasidic boys into stories and eventually a novel that he calls, unsurprisingly, The Boys Across the Street. Rick's "study of Judaism," leads him to buy and wear a yarmulke, "tsitzis," and formal hat, ostensibly making a statement about Orthodox edicts against homosexuality, but these gestures are more self-aggrandizing than enlightening, and Rick seems confused about what exactly he's trying to prove about religion and sexuality. While Sandford's premise--interrogating religion and presenting the conflicting perspectives of two historically hated groups--is interesting, the book never delivers what it promises. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One isaac and moshe The two boys were sitting on the steps of a walkway across the street. All dressed up in black suits, with little black beanies on the back of their heads, they didn't seem to have anywhere to go or anything to do. They had been wandering up and down the street for a while, but now they were still, and their attention was settling on the person directly across them: me.     I was reading.     I'd brought my canvas-backed director's chair out of the house and was sitting in it facing the sun. It was the last Saturday before the end of the year and the weather was beautiful: all I had on was a pair of gold-colored trunks. My feet were propped up on one of two low brick walls that bordered the walkway leading to the courtyard apartments where I lived, and on it I had arranged my dictionary, my binoculars, and a cup of coffee.     But I was finding it difficult to concentrate. I had moved into my apartment thirteen years ago, the Jewish school across the street had opened shortly thereafter, and in all that time I had never really engaged any of the students in conversation. I guessed the two boys across the street from me to be about fourteen. They were Semitic-looking and the taller of the two was rather attractive.     I knew how to begin the conversation. I had imagined it in my mind a hundred times, and now, as I looked down at my book, and back over at them, I wondered if this was the moment. What the hell.     I looked at them directly.     We were definitely looking at one another.     Okay:     "Do you believe in God?"     They both immediately stood up. Not only were they being addressed by an adult, they were being asked the most basic question about the only thing that really mattered.     "Yes--of course. Don't you?"     "Of course not," I answered, matching their self-assurance. "I think life is meaningless," and I had to catch myself before I added, "and stupid." If life was meaningless, it couldn't also be stupid.     "Then how did all this come to be?" one of them asked.     That sounded like a trick question. I answered cautiously, "I don't know."     "You don't know," the shorter of the two boys said, very satisfied, "but I know."     "How do you know?"     "It says in the Torah."     "That's just a story."     "It's God's revelation."     "Men wrote that book--not God."     Stalemate.     In the silence, a car passed between us. When it had gone by, there was a sudden interjection from up the street.     "The Jews killed the son of God."     I turned around in my chair and saw a fat man in a torn T-shirt leaning against a car, his arms folded over his belly, a smile on his face.     "That's ridiculous," I said, and turned back to my book. I was baiting the boys, but not like that. His was a conversation I didn't want to take part in, and I was willing to sacrifice my talk with the kids to avoid it.     I don't know what happened to the fat man, but as I sat there trying to read I became aware of the two boys approaching me. They weren't just walking toward me across the street, however; they had split up and were coming at me from two different directions. One of them was angling down the street and then back up to me, while the other was making his way from behind: they were reconnoitering a target.     When they had at last regrouped, they were standing just beside me. My chair, however, was on an embankment several feet above the sidewalk, so, from my perspective, they were slightly below me and looking up. I acknowledged them with a nod of my head: Yes?     The smaller of the two boys began the offensive: "If there is no God, then how did all this happen?" He made a gesture indicating the street, and meaning the world: the apartment houses, the palm trees, the parked cars, and the sky.     I gave a different answer this time: "Arbitrary accident."     Both boys scoffed at this.     "Do you think this is a perfect world?" I asked them. "Do you think this is the only way things can be or ought to be? I think that shows a lack of imagination."     "Then how did you get here?"     "I don't know."     "You don't know." The smaller boy, in particular, was contemptuous.     "But I have the courage to admit that I don't know. You have to be very courageous to believe in nothing," I told him.     The little boy came right back at me: "You have to be very courageous to believe in something."     I was willing to concede that point. "That's true. Sometimes." But I wanted to get back to the question of this inevitable, perfect, and created world. "What about the Holocaust? Do you think God wanted that to happen?"     This was obviously a tricky point for them. They weren't agreed on how to answer me. The taller of the two boys, the better-looking, the more thoughtful, let his friend answer. "God wanted those people with him."     "And so he made them suffer?"     "Maybe they did something bad."     I looked at him in disbelief.     He hurried to offer an explanation. "Let's say a man is good, but he isn't circumcised, then he will have to come back in his next life to get circumcised."     I wasn't exactly sure how this related to the Holocaust and God's existence, but I'd never heard of this before. "The Jews believe in reincarnation?"     Both boys answered me at the same time. The taller boy said "No" and the smaller one said "Yes."     I gave them a shrug: What gives?     They went into a conference. The taller boy answered. "Yes, the Jews believe in reincarnation, but it's a special thing. Not everyone gets reincarnated."     "The Anointed One gets reincarnated," the smaller boy said.     "He is always with us, yes," the taller boy affirmed.     "He's alive." The little boy seemed to be emphatic about this.     "What's the `Anointed One'?" I asked.     "That's what we call the Messiah," the taller boy explained.     "You think the Messiah is alive?"     "He is always with us. He returns with every generation. We're just waiting for him to reveal himself."     I didn't quite know what to do with this information. I had a momentary vision of a second-- first --Messiah coming here on Alta Vista Boulevard. "Aren't you going to be mad at him when he does come for not revealing himself during World War II?"     "No," and here the taller boy seemed to be making a special effort to clarify an important point. "You see, the Jews weren't ready then. Before the Messiah comes, we have to be prepared and ready as a nation."     This was really shocking to me: the regulation of collective self-hatred. Well, for now, for the moment, I would offer myself as another possibility, a window on the outside world and--maybe even--a salvation.     "Do you believe in Moses?" I asked.     "He saved our people," the smaller boy said.     "That's the story. That's what it says. But except for the Bible there is no other historical evidence for his existence."     "His name is Moses," the taller boy said, indicating his friend.     I looked at the boy with his rounded, almost chubby face. "Your name is Moses?"     "Moshe," he said.     I turned to the taller boy. "What's yours?"     "Isaac."     "My name's Rick."     We looked at one another: we all had names.     "I just wanted to make the point," I said, "that all recorded history is within the last five thousand years or so, and in the scheme of things that's nothing. I just read a couple of weeks ago that they discovered a genetic link that indicates that every single person on this planet is descended from a woman who lived in western Africa one hundred and fifty thousand years ago. Can you imagine how long ago that is? The Torah was written, at the most, three thousand years ago. I mean, there's no difference between the Torah and the old Greek gods. I just finished reading the Iliad , and they thought the gods all lived on this mountain in Greece--"     "That's just a story," Moshe asserted.     "I think what you believe is just a story," I said.     We looked at one another and once again we seemed to be at a stalemate.     "Have you read Leviticus?" I asked.     "We've memorized the Torah in Hebrew."     "You're kidding!" I was horrified. "Really? The first five books of the Bible?"     "It's not the Bible," Moshe said, exasperated.     I excused myself and ran into my apartment. I grabbed my 1611 King James Version of the Bible and came back outside. I opened it to Leviticus and looked up one of my marked passages. "So, if I ask you what Leviticus--chapter 20, verse 13--is, you can tell me?"     "It's not like that," Isaac said. "It isn't written that way."     "It's on scrolls," Moshe explained.     "It doesn't say this?" I asked, and proceeded to read the Leviticus passage to them: "`If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.'"     The boys reflected on these words.     "Do you think that's true?" I asked. "That men should be put to death for having sex with each other?"     Moshe felt there was a distinction to be made here. "Before they're married?"     Isaac tried to cover up for his friend's misunderstanding. "That isn't the real Torah," he said. "You have to read it in the original."     "Well, the reason I read the 1611 King James Version is that, apart from any value the book might have in terms of its content, it's a very important book for the history of English literature and the English language. I think what it says is stupid, though."     Moshe looked at the book as if it were contaminated. "If my father found that book in the house he would throw it out so fast ..."     "That isn't what we've memorized, anyway," said Isaac.     "It's bigger than that," Moshe asserted, still looking at the Bible suspiciously.     I separated the first five books and held them between my fingers. "You're just talking about the Torah, right?"     "It's much bigger than that," Moshe declared.     "You're talking about the Talmud," I suggested, "with all the commentary and explanations."     "It's not exactly the Talmud," Moshe was a little bulldog now.     "It's called the Mishnah," Isaac said.     "What's that?"     "It's like the Torah, but it's not."     "Hmm." I didn't know what they were talking about. "Well, if you have an English translation I'd like to see it."     For a moment we remained suspended there with our unresolved thoughts, and then I asked them, "Why do you wear those things on your head?"     "It shows our respect to God," Moshe said and then, in case I didn't know, "They're called yarmulkes."     "Do you wear them all the time?" I asked.     They both nodded, and Isaac further explained, "It represents our humility before God."     I thought about that for a bit, contemplating the yarmulkes on the back of their heads. It looked to me like the revenge of bitter old men with bald spots, coercing young men into an eternal condolence for the ravages of time.     And then I began to wonder about their haircuts: they each had a lock of hair on either side of their faces, from the temples down over the ears.     "Do you wear your hair that way on purpose?" I asked.     They both simultaneously moved a hand to the side of their heads and said, "Peyos."     "What's ... peyos?"     "It's one of the commandments," Isaac explained. "We're not supposed to cut our hair."     "Why?"     "We have to remember God," Moshe said.     How weird it all was--all this effort for the sake of Nothing.     "So what do you think is the point of life?" Isaac suddenly asked me.     "The `point of life'? Well, I don't think there is any. Except to be happy and have fun."     "And what's that?" Isaac asked.     "Well, for me, fun is reading books and having sex."     This was true, and I said it with full awareness of its power to engage. And it really was amazing: with what other teenage boys in the United States could you use the question of God and the reading of books as a means of seduction?     "Are you married?" Isaac asked.     I winced. "Ooh. No." And then I elaborated. "I only have sex with men."     Moshe was curious. "You have sex with men? How do you do that?"     "What do you mean, how do I do that?" I asked him rhetorically. "How do you think? I suck cock and get fucked."     Moshe was insistent. "How?"     "How? How do I get fucked? Up my ass."     Now Moshe was incredulous. "It's not possible."     "Of course it's possible. You can even go over on Melrose and rent a video and see me getting fucked by two guys at the same time."     "I don't believe you."     "I used to make porno films," I told them. "I made thirteen. Wait. I'll show you," and once more I jumped up and ran into my apartment. This time I went to my file cabinet and got out the issue of Skinflicks with the interview of me inside. I ran back out to the boys, and opened the magazine to a page showing two cocks pushed together with me trying to engulf them both in my mouth. "That's from the Gold Rush Boys . I got fucked by both those cocks in that movie."     "That's you?" Isaac asked doubtfully.     "Well, that was what? Seven years ago."     "It would hurt," said Moshe.     "Well, it can be a little difficult at first, but men have a prostate gland inside them, and when it's massaged--like with a penis up inside them--it feels great."     "What's a ... prostate ... gland?" Isaac asked.     "It's this little organ inside your body that helps produce semen."     The boys turned the pages of the magazine.     "When I made movies my stage name was Ben Barker. That was my only interview."     The boys had turned to a color picture showing my tongue reaching out toward a huge uncircumcised cock.     "I wish my cock was like that," I told them.     "Why?"     "Because it's so big, and if I wasn't circumcised my cock would probably be more sensitive and I'd have stronger erections."     "But being circumcised is better," Moshe said. "It's cleaner."     "I don't think it's worth it. Being mutilated."     Moshe looked at the picture. "He's circumcised."     "No he's not," Isaac said.     "Isaac's right," I said. "You can't even see the head of his cock because of his foreskin--and that's with an erection." I pointed to a picture on the opposite page. " He's circumcised. Can you see the difference?"     Moshe contemplated the different pictures.     "It's hard to tell in that picture," I said, indicating the circumcised penis, "but I think that's the biggest cock I've ever sucked. He was great."     The boys handed the magazine back to me. They hadn't even dared to touch the Bible.     We were all quiet for a moment. I wondered if they would dream about these pictures tonight, if they would dream about me. I mused aloud, "I love semen."     Moshe was adamant: "Why?"     "Because it tastes so good. Because--I don't know. I guess because it's the original life force."     We were all quiet again.     I had an afterthought: "It's so spectacular when it shoots out."     The boys were looking at the ground, apparently deep in thought.     "This morning," Moshe said, "there was this sticky--"     "That's a wet dream," I explained.     "I didn't have a dream."     "You don't remember having a dream. That's great. You're lucky."     Moshe was obstinate: " Why am I lucky?"     "Because your sex life is just beginning. It's been more than two decades since I've had a wet dream. You have a lifetime of ejaculations stretching away before you ..."     The two boys and I looked at one another over an abyss of more than twenty years, the boys concerned with their nocturnal emissions and I with the specter of fading potency.     Isaac looked at his watch. "We have to go."     I smiled at them. "Have a nice day."     And as they walked away I imagined myself in their dreams, in those oh-so-wet dreams, that "sticky" splashing me : their--blissfully--anointed one. Copyright © 2000 Stacey Foiles for the Estate of Rick Sandford. All rights reserved.