The first few chapters of "Pee-Shy" begin unpromisingly as a fairly standard memoir of how a gay man managed to rise above an unhappy childhood to become a highly successful doctor prominent in the gay community.
While Spinelli drops hints of the Boy Scout leader who molested him, the rest seems like a fairly boilerplate rendering of the difficulties any one of us who grew up harboring same-sex feelings.
Spinelli grew up on Staten Island, one of the five boroughs, or counties, of New York City, but a world away from the glitter of Manhattan or the urban grit of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. Like much of the rest of the island, the Spinelli family was Italian and Roman Catholic.
As anyone would know who has seen the movies "Working Girl" or "Saturday Night Fever" (which takes place in Brooklyn, but is just over the bridge that connects it to Staten Island and is so much a part of the Italian-dominated latter that it is frequently referred to "the Guinea gangplank"), Staten Island is far more suburban than urban.
Spinelli’s mother had a mania for inculcating her son with masculine, all-American values. That included joining the Boy Scouts, and it’s here that the story takes a decidedly dark turn. The local Boy Scout honcho, Bill Fox, was one of those truly evil men who use the trust -- not to mention "see no evil, hear no evil" -- mindset of adults around him to serially abuse the boys under his care.
When Spinelli’s mother finally catches on, Bill (as he’s continually referred to here) is quietly removed from the Scouts. But, as the adult Spinelli discovers to his horror, in the intervening years Bill has not only been busy adopting mentally challenged young men, he has even written a memoir that paints him as a hero cop.
The slow, steady and determined way in which Spinelli built a legal case against Bill becomes an ultimately gripping story of how one man, with grit, determination and enough cash for a private investigator, managed to find vindication.
Along the way, we get the details of how Spinelli’s childhood trauma and quest for vengeance intersects with his personal interactions with his family, his partner and his profession.
As a result of the trauma, Spinelli experienced an extreme form of the condition that is described in the title. Although it’s easy to understand how urinating is tied to the unwanted ejaculations Bill elicited in the young Spinelli, he could have spent a little more time elucidating the causes of the condition.
It’s a small qualm, however, in what is overall an engrossing account that adds to the literature of how one lonely individual can make a positive difference. In the light of abuse cases like the one at Penn State, as well as the current controversy over Edward Snowden’s lonely pursuit of reigning in a state-sponsored citizen-spying apparatus, "Pee Shy" is not a gripping memoir, but a timely reminder of the importance of people not giving up in the face of indifference.