Monday, June 29, 2009

Five hundred miles from Mattapan

In a Roy Roger's restaurant on the New Jersey Turnpike, I've loaded up my roast beef sandwich with pickles and condiments from the 'fixin's bar' and all I can think about is a Simco hot dog in Mattpan. I've ridden my Little Ninja motorcycle for miles along interstate asphalt, but I would have rather navigated River Road between Lower Mills and Mattapan Square, then just nudge the front tire a little north along Blue Hill Avenue to Simco. Mattapan....Mattapan...You haunt my hunger for good things.

The Mass Pike was clotted with commuter car traffic. The Jersey Pike is full of trucks rumbling its featureless miles after miles after miles. The interstate is unlike Mattapan's streets. Mattapan...thick with action and interaction on a pace that isn't about efficiency, but community. Mattapan: schoolgirls, schoolboys, stumblebums, and matrons bent by the weight of overfull grocery sacks, the handles groaning between the crooks of their fingers....Mattapan: full of hustle and bustle and trusses and push-up bras...Mattapan: dense and rich, poor yet wealthy with flimflam and barleycorn...bombast and bravado, machismo and demure Haitian school marms.

Mattapan, caught like a fly on the enticing web of the Blue Star Memorial Highway, Dwight D. Eisenhower's brainchild, I miss your thicket of byways and contrary, convoluted, misdirected streets. Mattapan, I would rather eat a Simco hot dog while perched on the bridge over the commuter rail tracks than a roast beef sandwich at a formica table in a rest stop in New Jersey, even though there is a rest room at this New Jersey rest stop. In Mattapan, people's private business is part of the public sphere.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

On hiatus

Whalehead King will be on vacation for the next seven days: a long motorcycle trip. Assuming he returns without his hands permanently curled into claws and his back still limber after days hunched over the gas tank of his Little Ninja, our routine will resume on the first Monday in July with some new ideas and themes. In the meantime, there are 457 other posts in the archives hearkening all the way back to our halcyon New London, Conn. days.

Next stop: South of the Border, down Carolina way.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hedy Lamarr

Off topic, but I find this fascinating. The technology used for wi-fi was first co-developed by the actress Hedy Lamarr. You can see the patent here. It's filed under her married name at the time.

A tip of the fedora to James Lileks for bringing this to my attention. Ms. Lamarr was not only beautiful (and was she ever!) but she was also smart. Which I guess does bring us on topic after all. She was like Dorchester.

Another Hedy Lamarr fact: she was twice accused of shoplifting. What this has to do with Dorchester, I can't say. In Ms. Lamarr's case, the charges were dropped both times.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dorchester Baked Beans

I was sitting on the back porch at Margaret Noddle's home on Wellesley Park, a few blocks northeast of Codman Square. It's a lovely neighborhood combining the charm of the Back Bay with the wood framed construction of Dorchester's older, pricier homes that haven't been converted to apartments or condominiums. We were sipping sangria and noshing on antipasto when Mrs. Noddle asked me if I had tried Dorchester Baked Beans yet.

"I've had Boston Baked Beans candy," I said, "And I've had baked beans for breakfast at McKenna's. Is that what you mean?" Mrs. Noddle said, no. She meant beans baked the Dorchester way. "What do you mean?" I asked.

"My grandmother passed down a recipe for making baked beans that is very similar to the bean crocks you'll find all over the Dot. My recipe may be unique to my family but you'll find similar variations all up and down this street. Dorchester has a particular way of treating beans for supper that is very different from the way you'll find them in the rest of Boston." I asked her to share here secret. She did.

"You start with two cans of beans," she started. I interjected, "Canned? Not dried?" Mrs. Noddle frowned at this early interruption, "My grandmother said she soaked dry beans when she was younger but canned is just as good." I interjected again: "What kind of beans?" Mrs. Noddle furrowed her brow and shook her head to signal that I should stop interrupting. She said, "It doesn't really matter what kind of beans as long as they're soft. They can be kidney beans, black beans, navy beans, whatever. Once they're done cooking they all taste the same."

Rearranging her skirts around her legs and refilling her sangria glass, she continued. "You simmer two cans of beans until their about ready to fall apart along with a large diced onion and a generous pour of molasses. With canned beans you don't need to add salt but you should add some black pepper. It doesn't matter how much molasses you use, this recipe is based on the traditional Boston model so they can't be too sweet. Like most things, more is better. The next ingredients will level the field."

She took a sip of sangria. The sun was setting over the roof lines on the west side of the street. "When you put the canned beans and their juice in the pot with the onion and molasses you need to add two jiggers of whiskey. Four Roses Bourbon will do. You don't want to use good sipping whiskey but cooking whiskey. This makes for soupy beans I'm afraid and my grandmother knew how to deal with that. She always added oatmeal to the mixture to make sure that the meal would be hearty. Just enough oatmeal to soak up the juice as everything simmers."

Mrs. Noddle sipped from her glass again. "Just around the two hour mark," she continued, "My grandmother would add what she called spring onions. That is, she picked some of the onion grass that grew in our lawn. I use scallions from the supermarket myself but lawn onion is more traditional. She also used to add some shredded cabbage when I was younger but after I was twelve or thirteen she substituted cabbage with shredded collard greens which had been showing up at the green grocers. I still use collards because I think they add a bit more earthiness than cabbage does."

I stopped the recipe at this point. "Do you mean to say," I asked, "That this is a dish of beans and oatmeal and collards?" She assured me it was, as well as whiskey, molasses and onion. "That must be a fine how-do-you-do come daybreak," I remarked.

Another sip of sangria and another stern look accompanied Mrs. Noddle's response. "My grandmother always said regularity is the key to a long life. She lived to be 77. My mother subscribed to that and she lived to be 86. I subscribe to it too. Why do you think I look so young? I attribute it to clean living with plenty of fiber in my diet as well as frequent moisturizing." I conceded that Mrs. Noddle doesn't look a day over 58 years old even though I know she is 63.

She blushed and accepted the complement. Then she continued. "You put the greens in about a half hour before you're done cooking it's a two or three hour process. The greens have to be as soft and mushy as the oatmeal when you're done. A bowl of these beans will stick to your ribs and get you from sun up to sun down. I had a dish for breakfast this morning and that's why I can sip sangria with you and just nibble at fruit slices and ham slices and a few crackers on the porch and not think one whit about having dinner tonight. I'm not the least bit hungry." She said this obviously pleased as she patted her trim midriff under her blouse.

"Would like to have breakfast with me tomorrow, Mr. King?" Mrs. Noddle asked, "I have plenty of Dorchseter Beans left over for another meal." I replied that my next engagement was at Peggy O'Neils where I was meeting some entrepreneurs to go over a business plan that should last well after midnight so I wouldn't be able to breakfast at the early hour Mrs. Noddle is accustomed to on Saturdays. "Another time, perhaps," she said. We agreed.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I was pedalling down Dot Ave from Fort Point Channel as storm clouds loomed to the south. Headed back to Dorchester, I was naturally whistling a happy tune while my legs did their happy work. Between Gillette's World Shaving Headquarters and Andrew Square, Dot Ave isn't the prettiest boulevard in this fair city. South of Andrew, its still not the prettiest compared to Commonwealth Avenue but it's whole sight better, more neighborly and less industrial, especially if you live along it.

Do the people of Southie really have tails? That's the rumor I've heard around Dorchester tap rooms. Without meaning to cause any offense I was examining the backsides of women as I passed, looking for a telltale bulge under their skirts. I didn't see anything out of the ordinary or, more honestly, if I saw something extraordinary I turned my eyes back to the road and diligently thought about the traffic around me.

Moving south of South Boston into Dorchester proper, I started to whistle the true Song of the South, at least as far as Bostonia is concerned: "Zip-a-dee-Dot-da! Zip-a-dee-tone! What a wonderful day to be so close to home!" Storm clouds passesd overhead without leaking a raindrop and soon enough the sun shined down again,on Dorchester, unobstructed, as it usually does. I looked to see the Prudential Building as I crossed Mass. Ave and its top was still shrouded in low lying fog.

I passed Ryan Playground where a mixed gaggle of bluebirds and blackbirds were pecking at bread crumbs left for them by an old woman who lives on Sudan Street. No one in the park seemed to pay them much mind except for a distanced glance while they were waiting their turn at mah-jong. A little girl ran over from the swing set and chased the birds, laughing the whole time. She was probably four years old. The blackbirds headed north toward Southie. The bluebirds winged their way south to Field's Corner and Codman and Ashmont and Lower Mills and maybe as far as Mattapan. Maybe even over the border into Roxbury.

When will some visionary make a movie so light-hearted about the place where all hearts are light? Dorchester, Mass, compadres and fellow travellers...Dorchester, Mass. has a bushel of stories that lend themselves to happy lyrical interpretation accompanied by lush, technicolor animation.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The city Care remembered

New Orleans is known as "The City Care Forgot." We're not discussing New Orleans today, but its antipode. We're not drawing a line through the center of the earth to discuss a city in Asia. We're drawing a line about 1500 miles to the northeast across America, to the shores of Massachusetts Bay, to Boston... Bean Town... The Puritan City... the anti-New Orleans.

Both are world-class cities known the world over by reputations earned over the course of centuries. Both contain important colleges, both are important ports, both are home to active and robust tourist industries that are more and more an economic transfusion to their life blood. Both are the biggest city in their home state and both define what people think of when they think of that state. Both are picturesque and both foster a unique culture that hasn't been replicated elsewhere.

New Orleans is a place known for letting the good times roll. Boston is known for hemming in good times. New Orleans is a twenty-four hour city where artists bump into each other at all hours of the day and night. Boston is a city known to love undisturbed slumber after midnight, when only a few gas stations and convenience stores are open during the wee AM hours and those are regularly visited by beat cops in patrol cars. New Orleans invites people to let their hair down. Boston invites people to button their top button and pull their necktie tight. New Orleans tolerates joie de vivre and encourages carnival and role playing. Boston sermonizes against too much frivolity and encourages serious study and righteous indignation when other people are making too much noise enjoying themselves. New Orleans is about play. Boston is about work.

New Orleans is colorful. Boston is drab. New Orleans is sweet and heady. Boston, if not sour, lacks spice and a sufficient mix of flavors to match its hefty, down-to-earth, stick-in-the-mud texture.

Not all of Boston is sour, savorless, monochrome, or marching in lockstep toward a shining, sterile future where scientists and technocrats will rule the world, however. Dorchester forms its own crescent that bulges out toward the wide, expansive horizon that delineates the outermost boundary of Dorchester Bay. Boston's usual rules of propriety, though felt, don't apply as strictly south of Andrew Square. You hear people laugh freely in Dorchester. Some dance in the streets apropos of nothing but the spirit that moves them. Dorchesterites have cares: they have bills to pay, and familial and professional obligations like anyone else. Those burdens seem to press more lightly against Dorchester's shoulders.

You can still have an impromptu party in Dorchester, even an impromptu parade. Neighbors know one another and they are bound together more by a common zip code than a shared profession or fussbudget sensitivity. In fact, most Dorchesterites are thick-skinned, used to being scorned as somehow different from Boston proper. Look over your shoulder when a Dorcheter native has his or her dander flying because you just might get a playful dope slap or a noogie or a wedgie. Afterwards, the perpetrator will buy the offender a shot, with or without an accompanying beer, and bygones will be bygones without a care for the future. Care burdens Boston. Dorchester takes scant notice of consequences. Dorchester lives in the moment and what a grand moment it is to be alive and well in Dorchester.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New look!

Take a new look at ye olde Dot with fresh eyes. It's not your grandparents' Dorchester. It's yours, ripe for the picking. Succulent fruit like a Clapp pear picked off a sagging branch at the cusp of an autumn midnight under a harvest moon, Dorchester is nourishing and sweet. Whether you're hankering for a roti or a slice of pizza pie or grilled octopus or barbeque, you'll find the nourishment that satisfies your craving in Dorchester, Mass. Food for the soul. Dorchchester is full of savory flavors to fuel your internal combustion. It's yummy It's umami.

Ye olde Dot is older than Bostonia itself by a few months and it looks the part of a coquettish sibling. Dorchester is flirtatious. It is rambunctious. It is full of vim and pep and piss and vinegar. Dorchester doesn't mind speaking its heart. Dorchester has the soul of a child in an wizened body. It's a regular Benjamin Button.

Dorchester keeps what is best of its old parts but it is sleek and modern and streamlined. It's arte nouveau. It's l'arte moderne. It's je ne c'est quoi. You can't put your finger on what makes the Dot so good but you can feel it's pulse. It's a thumper too, like a jackrabbit that's just outpaced a pack of greyhounds and is ready to bed down in a hutch with a bevy of does. Ooo-la-la! Dorchester still has that old black magic called love.

If the electric company could harness all the energy in Dorchester a green revolution would be underway and no one in America would have to worry about oil independence. The Dot is hotter than greenhouse gasses. Dorchester exhales volts and megawatts. If you plug into Dorchester you can tune out the rest of Boston. Drop into the Dot. Dorchester's thermostat is always turned on high without any waste of heat.

I've never read the story but my son and I saw the movie and we enjoyed it very much. The story is probably different and better, the way these things usually work. Watch your local newspaper listings in a few years for the debut of the Dot Matrix movie coming to a theater near you!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tainted love

The Dot's an easy lover, easy on the eyes. Shy and unassuming, the Dot will capture your heart and your soul. Ah, the games lovers play along leafy boulevards and byways, frittering away endless hours enraptured in mutual affection and devoted attention. If Dorchester were a woman, she would be Ingrid Bergman with a Boston accent.

The bells of St. Ambrose's, St. Brendan's, St. Gregory's and St. Mark's peal with Heaven's music. Of course. Dorchester is a little slice of Heaven transplanted here on earth. In a neighborhood of parishes, Dorchesterites suffer an ecstasy akin to that of St. Theresa.

It's hard to imagine Dorchester as a man. The borough is so soft and seductive, all curves and proper manners and dainty niceties. Dorchester nurtures with the overflowing milk of human kindness. If Dorchester were a man, I suppose he would be like the younger Alan Alda, all sensitivity and sympathy, tender in a tight spot and quick with an affable grin.

To make things right, you need someone to hold you tight when you toss and turn and can't sleep at night. Dorchester is like that. It will sing you a lullaby. If any one's love for Dorchester is tainted, it is tainted by admiration and goodwill. Dorchester doesn't command these qualities but it receives them all the same. People run to the Dot, not from it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cleopatra wasn't black

Despite the slogan, Cleopatra, though Egyptian, wasn't black. Egyptians are Africans, so it's correct to refer to the last ruler of an independent Egypt (until relatively recently) as African. She was however, the last of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, a dynasty founded by one of Alexander the Great's generals, Ptolemy, and hence she was of Greek descent. There was a lot of Appalachian-style intermarriage in this dynasty, so the chance of some black blood getting into the line, while possible, is remote.

Even if Cleopatra VII had come from native Egyptian stock, she wouldn't have been black any more than modern Egyptians are. The Ptolemaic Dynasty lasted between 305 BC and 30 BC, when Egypt was conquered by the Romans. Prior to the Ptolemies, however, there was a dynasty of black pharaohs, between 750 and 656 BC. This would be the period of the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty, also known as the Nubian Dynasty.

What does this have to do with the price of tea in Boston Harbor? It turns out that the National Center of African American Artists in Roxbury has a permanent exhibit that commemorates the Nubian Dynasty. The imposing and somewhat dilapidated mansion that serves as the Center's headquarters at 300 Walnut Avenue is also home to the recreated tomb of the Nubian Pharaoh Aspelta (600-580 BC). It's a remarkable exhibit showing how this pharaoh was laid to rest for life everlasting. If you want to see some photos provided by the Center click here, but for the $4.00 admission price, I recommend going in person since the experience can't be replicated on a computer screen.

I believe this is the only permanent exhibit the Center maintains, and it's an important one. The Nubians were centered in the Kingdom of Kush, in modern Sudan, and they preserved Egyptian civilization during a critical, if ancient time. This is something to be proud of if people are going to be proud of their race and it is much more accurate than erroneously claiming a Greek as a relative. Take it from someone who often mixes fact with fancy. If you're going to do it, you'd better have your facts straight.

Unfortunately, the Center isn't served by train. You have to take the 22 bus from Dudley Station to Walnut Avenue on Seaver Street. It's a short, three-block walk up Walnut to the Center and it's located in a picturesque and well preserved neighborhood. Don't believe all the horror stories you've heard about Roxbury. This little pocket is a peaceful jewel.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Flying Dotman

The Peppermint Squad, that intrepid gang of motor scooterists pledged to patrol Dorchester's tangled streets to promote Justice, Tolerance, and the Dorchester Way, have a legend that they share on rainy nights in their headquarters in Codman Square. It's been a rainy week in Dorchester and the squad was kept in home base most evenings, performing minor repairs to thier mounts and emptying bottles of Hoffenreffer Private Stock. The close quarters and malt liquor and repetative tap-tap-tapping of raindrops on the rooftop lent themselves the sharing of scooter folklore.

Cherrypicker asked Raisin, "Have you seen the Flying Dotman yet?" Raisin is a newcomer to this band of merry vesparadoes. Every rookie is called 'Raisin' until he or she has earned his or her 'peppermint-handle,' a monniker that cements their place in the squad's hierarchy. Raisin replied, "I've never even heard of the Flying Dotman."

Agent Widowmaker, who had been adjusting the brake cables on his "Princess Go-Go" Chinese scoot, looked up. "Beware the Flying Dotman, Raisin. You're lucky you've never seen him." Widowmaker looked dead serious and spoke in baritone though his voice is usally a bit higher pitched.

"Who's the Flying Dotman?" Raisin felt his comrades were pulling his leg. Tweedledum pulled up a milk crate next to Raisin and, after settling in and taking a pull of Private Stock, told this story:

"On foggy nights when the moon is full, a specter haunts the skies above Dorchester Bay," he began. "No one knows how or why, but a doomed scooterist rides the fog on nights like that. He's an old-timer by the look of his ride. He steers a Honda Super Cub looking to find his way to the Great Beyond. Locals call him the Flying Dotman because sight of him portends an impending crash."

Tweedledum continued. "I was on Morrisey Boulevard one night, after a few pops at Tom English's, when I saw the Flying Dotman. He must have been forty feet tall leaning around a fog bank on his Super Cub faster than I would ever take a curve like that. He was glowing with an eerie light, surrounded by a green nimbus. Apparently, when he was alive Massachusetts didn't have helmet laws becasue he was only wearing a painter's cap. He took the turn and sped off in the direction of Mattapan, disappearing into a passing cloud. When I got home, I mustn't have put my kickstand all the way down when I parked because my bike was flat on the ground the next morning."

Raisin shivered. "I'm not going down Morrissey any time soon on a foggy night," he said.

"I wouldn't advise it," Tweedledum replied. Widowmaker nodded in agreement. Cherrypicker said, "Who's going to make a run to ODB Liquors? We're running low on liquid refreshment."

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Dot's got your goat

A dead goat washed up on the shore of Savin Hill Beach and nobody noticed except a few beach combers and dog walkers. Savin Hill Beach, which isn't much more than a sandy boat launch off to the side of the northbound lanes of Morrissey Boulevard, doesn't attract a lot sunbathers or tourist traffic. Manicured and well maintained Malibu Beach on the opposite side of Morrissey's breakdown lanes, is another matter altogether.

Malibu Beach is connected to Dorchester Bay, and Savin Hill Beach, by a narrow inlet that lets yachts into the Dorchester Yacht Club through a drawbridge that is the bane of commuters. The bridge opens infrequently, but when it does, traffic backs up to Andrew Square to the north and Adams Street Village to the south while sporting types navigate their vessels through the narrow channel. The bridge is an arched one and only the area under the middle span has been dredged deeply enough to accommodate the draught of seagoing vessels. The spaces under the other, adjacent arches have silted in and at low tide you can walk from Malibu Beach to Savin Hill Beach without getting your feet wet if you ignore the signs telling you not to attempt it.

The dead goat, which had a brown and white spotted coat, horns about three inches long, and a lolling tongue swollen by being submerged in seawater for a long time, had landed on Savin Hill Beach close to the bridge. When the tide came in, it rushed under the bridge that connects one side of Morrisey Boulevard to the other and it carried the corpse along with it. A dead goat floated into Malibu Bay and eventually made its way to the opposite shore.

There is a ball field, a boardwalk and a playground at Malibu Beach. To reach there from points inland, you take Playstead Street. The beach and its surrounding parkland is a popular place for families to gather. Those families, naturally, contain children of various ages.

I was sitting on a bench along the boardwalk next to the bubbler that hits everyone who tries to drink from it in the crotch when I heard a tyke yell out, "A goat is swimming!" I looked up and it didn't appear that the goat was even trying to master a dog paddle. These were lackadasiacal strokes. This was a dead goat's float. A group of teenagers gathered on shore and started chanting, "Dead goat...dead goat..." and they pelted it with pebbles and dead periwinkles. It was a gloomy day to begin with but this wasn't the cheerless scene I expected when I decided to relax at Malibu Beach for the afternoon.

A man walking his schnauzer passed me and looked in the water's direction. "Yeah," he said to no one in particular, "That's the dead goat that was on the other side of Morrissey this morning." How long had this goat been drifting along the tides? Where did it come from? It's not every day a dead goat lands in Dorchester, Mass.

Police cars and firetrucks arrived, sirens blaring to clear the way to reach this emergency, and the body was bagged and tagged and hauled off to whatever animal mortuary Boston maintains for situations such as these. Once the commotion had died down, a little girl said, "That goat didn't look very happy. I wonder what his name was."

A teenager within earshot offered, "His name was Billy." I'm not so sure the goat was a he. She may have been named Nanny. I guess no one will know until the coroner makes a positive ID.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A wonderful town

Dorchester, Mass! It's a helluva town. Andrew's up and Lower Mills is down. People ride in a hole in the ground! Dorchester, Mass! It a wonderful town.

Dorchester is a visitors' place. People live there on account of the pace. 100,000 folk with plenty of space. Dorchester, Mass. it's a wonderful place.

Dorchester women dress in silk and satin, or so the fellas say. Dorchester gals are both thin and fattened and they smile all through the day. "No way!" you say? Okay...

When sailors pull into port they head to Dorchester, where the most robust good times are to be had. If you've only got twenty-four hours in Boston before shore leave ends, you might spend a few hours touring downtown, but once evening nears, it's Dorchester that pulls the sailors in like a siren. On a sailor's pay, military scrip will buy more Dot grog than Back Bay Manhattans. The company is better too, more in tune with a swabbie's sensibilities. Simple pleasures and earthy talk.

Just as some sailors have a girl in every port, some Dorchester girls have a sailor on every ship. Dot hospitality is known all over the wide, undulating breasts of the Seven Seas. Many a seasoned bo'sun has been a Dot maid's boatswain. Keep that under your foc'sle and don't tell the coxswain you've been worming the cuntline all the time you've been on shore. No one will believe you've been pulling duty in Dorchester, that seaman's paradise.

Dorchester's whereabouts is well known. Every Master-at-Arms, Pharmacist's Mate, Seaman Schmucketelli, titless WAVE and powder monkey has been to Dorchester at least once on a tour. Those stationed far away have heard marvelous tales of the delights found along the shores of Dorchester Bay. Neither compass nor sextant is needed to find good times in the Dot. Old hands guide raisins loaded with rubber hooeys for the good times sure to roll after the pucker factor has subsided. (Translations here.)

Dorchester, Mass! It beats New York for port call.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

#%@$@*** yuppies!

Percy Chareinczekski stubbed his boot toe into a cigarette butt on the sidewalk when a UMASS student of Asian descent walked past his front porch while he was talking on his pay-as-you-go cell phone. He made an ugly face once she had trundled past with her backpack full of books. "Fricken' yuppies!" he shouted into the phone, "They make me so mad. This is our neighborhood and its going the way of the DNA Lofts!"

He was standing in front of his front porch on Buttonwood Street when this outburst occurred. His neighbor, Mrs. Fair, got out her chair on her front porch next to Mr. Chareinczekski's and grabbed the phone out of his hand. "You don't know what you're talking about," she said.

"Damned if I don't," he replied, a vein in his forehead pulsing as he stared down his neighbor who was fifty years his senior. "Damned if I don't," he repeated.

The old woman looked the younger man straight in the eye. "I remember when your parents moved in," she said. "Nobody here liked your folk very much. Most people on Buttonwood thought you Slavs should have stayed in the Polish Triangle up the road. That didn't stop your parents. They settled in right here amongst the Irish and while they took their lumps they eventually became part of the neighborhood. These students will do the same thing if they stay. We need people to stay."

"I've stayed," young Mr. Chareinczekski said. "I still live with my parents, where I was born and raised."

"Yeah, so what good do you do anyone?" Mrs. Fair asked. "You lounge on the stoop and insult the newcomers. You're half drunk three quarters of the time you aren't sleeping. You hate any change like a big, crying, baby boy who never grew up. When did you ever work an honest day in your life? The students, at least, are trying to better themselves. What are you doing but antagonizing them? You're still a foreigner though you're part of the Dot. I don't hate you for that, I love you as one of my own, but the students are part of the Dot too. We should make them feel welcome. They're welcome to stay if it suits them, the way it suited your parents. That's why you're here and don't forget it."

Mrs. Fair handed the phone back even though now it was only tied to a dead signal. "We need everyone in the Dot that can be comfortable. Remember that. Don't turn away guests. My house will be empty someday and you, as sure as Hell is hot, won't be able to afford the mortgage with what little you earn being ornery."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Peepin Glow

I spent part of the June 12 evening at the All White Affair hosted by Lion Entertainment at the Russell Auditorium on Talbot Ave. Guests were encouraged to wear white clothes. While not mandatory, white was "strongly encouraged for the best glow effect." Most people complied. I wore a seersucker suit though it was still a bit chilly for this tropical wear. It had the intended effect under the black lights. Most attendees glowed in the dark.

The Russell Auditorium is an expansive space and the All White Affair made good use of the available square footage. Free glow products were distributed and they accentuated dancers' movements as they danced to the sounds of Mikey Million & Shortman, DJ Dexx and the incomparabale Riddim Ryder. It was a joyful and surreal experience and one that will be repeated in Boston Harbor on July Fourth.

The Peepin Glow Boatride sets sail on Independence Day. This event is open to the public. The exclusive ticket outlet is Singh's Roti Shop in Dorchester's own Edward Everett Square, across Columbia Road from KFC.

*Please note: the electical power problems on the boat have been fixed.* This is a quote from the ad on the All White Affair flyer.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Green belt along the Red Line

If Boston has a Garden District, it is along Sydney Street, with tendrils branching out in the smidge of blocks between the Red Line tracks and Dot Ave. You can walk a straight line between JFK/UMASS and Savin Hill stations or you can meander for two hours or more. This morning I stumbled into a tourist group admiring the landscaping along Sydney and I listened in on what the tour guide was telling her fellow travellers and presumed paying customers.

"Look at the lawn here," she said loud enough for all her gaggle of two dozen of followers to hear, "This is typical Dorchester style meant to economize the work put in for maintenance while maximizing visual beauty and diversity. The dandelions are buttercups are allowed to ripen to add color and the proliferation of chickweed and onion grass adds repetition of form in confluence with the play of shade of the maple branches overhead."

A little farther down the road she rhapsodized about the placement of two resin frog statues placed next to a clam shell on a bed of cedar chips. "See how these homeowners have paved their back yard with polished marble slabs?" she asked, "This is indicative of the South Vietnamese influence that is making itself felt in the neighborhood. Among Vietnamese, marble signifies prosperity and brings more of it with its presence." Her listeners took snap shots with their cell phones and nodded in understanding.

Before I peeled myself away from the crowd they had stopped in front of a flagpole cemented in a front lawn that has miniature wooden figures of Uncle Sam and a U.S. Marine posed as if they are hoisting a flag. "You'll note," the tourist guide said, "That patriotism has its place in Dorchester and a place of pride, it is. This vignette is an expression of what all Dorchesterites feel and, while this particular example is more overt than most, I think you will agree that we'll see other examples not just of national patriotism but Dot Pride too as we continue on our tour." Everyone nodded.

I headed back down the street toward home. I pulled a few weeds by my doorstep. I've been aware I live in a garden district, but I didn't know outsiders were touring the street. I'd hate to disappoint them with slovenly grounds keeping. Best to put the best outward face on Dorchester when people are looking. Smile and the world smiles with you.

A call to Dot artists

A gallery close to JFK/UMASS has put out a call on craigslist for exhibitors. I can't vouch for them since I didn't even know they existed, but if you have some canvases collecting dust, you may want to give them a call. It seems promising.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Love over money

I was pedalling through the intersection of Dot Ave and Columbia Road today when I saw an off beat panhandler cajoling stopped traffic with a unique sign. He carried a placard of cardboard that read only "Kiss Me." No sob story, no explanation of why he needed a kiss instead of spare change, no photo of his children, just two words: "Kiss Me" written with a blue Sharpie on the blank side of a Budweiser case.

He approached each car stopped at the traffic light and leaned in, with his sign prominently held over his heart. At some cars, he pressed his mug with pursed lips against the rolled up glass. If he approached a car with the driver's window rolled down, he did it cautiously, but in the end he pursed his lips to offer a smooch.

I had to stop and watch. I didn't see any takers for his offer. He wasn't the usual grizzled panhandler with full, dirty beard and dirty sweatshirt who usually occupies this intersection. Neither was he a Hollywood-style model. He was just a regular looking guy with a clear complexion dressed in tee shirt and jeans looking for a kiss. I sat on the curb for ten or fifteen minutes and I didn't see him get what he was asking for. Maybe he should have asked for change. Money is easier to part with, apparently.

Friday, June 12, 2009


An acquaintance and fellow Dot blogger who happens to live in a bordering neighborhood, the infamous Polish Triangle, dropped the suggestion recently for a confab of Dorchester-based bloggers and twitterers. An excellent suggestion, Old Bean! Why not? Who doesn't like meeting nice neighbors?

There is strength in numbers and if Dorchester has anything, it has numbers, being the biggest part of Boston in many statistical catagories. Given the panopoly of Dot voices on the internet and the diverse strategies each of us employs in the medium, a little synchronicity would do Dorchester good. A common theme that runs through many Dot blogs is pride in place. Many posts contain the frequent moral that the local spice is good and that the Dot is hot for trotting and cycling. A lot has happened here and a lot more could happen in the future. Dorchester, this neighborhood comprised of neighborhoods, has room enough for one more, especially a virtual one.

As residents of the Dottoman Empire, we needn't succumb to the Dot's reputation as "The Sick Man of Boston." In the 21st Century in this most wired of cities, Dorchester's online community can actually be a community of poets, amateur journalists, cultural entrepreneurs, armchair civic boosters, literati, technocrati, activists and corner store clerks who get together from time to time to put faces to names, share ideas, catch up on gossip and trends, kvetch, inspire each other, and all-around wile away a few hours in like company with a shared avocation. Why not?

A tip of the fedora to Mr. Adam Pieniazek, the #1 Blogging blogger on Scribnia. He came up with the idea. His sociable mind tends to work that way and I'm glad he brought it up. Someone had to sooner or later. The time may as well be now.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fat raven

I saw the fattest crow on Aukland Street. It could barely fly. My bicycle was zipping down the street's center whisper-quiet and I must have startled it. It was snacking on a dropped pizza crust (from Venice Pizza?) between two parked cars as I passed. The crow sure startled me. I slammed on the brakes at the commotion to my right.

The crow let out a squawk and flapped its wings frantically, trying to get aloft for an escape. It flapped and flapped to no avail until, finally, it got some space between its feet and the asphalt. It hovered a moment and then slowly drifted upward, flapping mightily all the while, to the gutter over the porch at #72.

Exhausted, but feeling it was a safe distance from me, it panted and wheezed, catching its breath. It had a pot belly and bags under its eyes. I swear it sported jowls and love handles under its feathers. Not attempting to fly again, it walked along the porch roof and stepped onto an overhanging maple branch. Then it walked from branch to branch, huffing and puffing like an asthmatic until it was out of sight.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

It could always be worse.

Dorchester doesn't have it's own website. Enquiring minds that who want to learn more about this particular part of Boston have to visit www.cityof Dorchester, while acknowledged as the biggest metropolitan neighborhood, is accorded a brief synopsis, that mentions former residents are known to sport initials on their chests. To find out what those in the know really wear on the tee shirts, please click the title of this essay or the appropriate advertisement in the right hand column of this very blog.

You can learn more about Dorchester by clicking a link on that page, but be warned, it's pretty thin gruel. Titling this information 'general' is putting it mildly.

There are worse places to live of course. Consider the stand alone city of Hinton, WV. The photos on the home page look attractive enough, a small city nestled on a river. Trees bloom in spring and the courthouse is well maintained. Mayor Cleo P. Mathews looks to be as able an urban mechanic as the Hon. Thomas M. Menino. A useful homeland security advisory is in the lower left and we learn that, today, the threat of a terrorist attack to Hinton is "elevated." The City of Boston doesn't provide this information about Dorchester.

Dig a little deeper and the available information is more and more distressing.

It appears the last recent news in Hinton occurred in August 2006. It's Appalachia and, maybe, things don't happen as frequently in a small, mountain city as they do in a big, world-class one. If you check the minutes of City Council meetings, it seems city business stopped after a certain someone's birthday in 2007. Nothing happened in 2008 and, as for 2009... it may as well not exist.

What happened on December 17th, 2007? The esteemed council voted to pay Magic Mart $36.31 for batteries and pencils as well as some other routine expenditures. Then the record falls silent. According to wikipedia, Hinton hasn't become a ghost town. It's just off the radar and off the grid.

Hinton does have a newspaper, the Hinton News, but it isn't available in an online edition. Not that anyone complains about walking to Tedeschi for a copy of the Dorchester Reporter, but at least if you need a news fix in a pinch you can access all the Dot News you need to know via the Internet. Needless to say there's no Hinton page on craigslist. In Hinton, if you want to get your news fresh, you have to linger in the lobby of the Sweet Rose Motel. If you happen to find yourself in the New River Valley and you stay at the Sweet Rose, drop me a line to tell me what's going on. I'll bet dollars to donuts more happens in Dorchester in an hour than happens in Hinton.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Celebrity sighting?

I was passing through Edward Everett Square today when I pulled up short at the sight of a dapper gentleman eating some Kentucky Grilled Chicken on a bench next to the giant pear statue. He was the spitting image of Conrad Bain. Younger readers who are unfamiliar with this actor can click here. He's the likable-looking, gentleman featured on the cover of TV Guide from Feb 27, 1980.

I was under the impression that the affable Mr. Bain had passed on to the great beyond, but that's not the case. After a distinguished career on stage and screen, he seems to be visiting Dorchester at the ripe old age of 86. Better late than never.

He wasn't dancing around like a moron with two drumsticks. He kept his dignity, tucking into a savory breast, which has a reasonable 180 calories of energy, just enough to make the walk to the JFK/UMASS station from Edward Everett Square.

Knowing how celebrities cherish their privacy, I didn't stop for an autograph. I left Mr. Bain to enjoy his KGC in peace while watching this afternoon's cloud cover threatening showers. He wore a tan trench coat and a tweed driving cap, perfectly fitting for this unseasonable June weather.

Why is Conrad Bain in Boston? Is there a movie shoot the Globe hasn't discovered? Perhaps I'll see his photo in the society pages tomorrow hobnobbing with Adam Sandler. Who knows? But to Mr. Bain and celebrities everywhere, a big Dot welcome! Come often, you're privacy will be respected.

Monday, June 08, 2009

A Dorchester katzenjammer

Heads are hurting on the Monday after Dorchester Day. It's not from overindulgence, can anyone imbibe too much Dot magic? It's from the concussive booms and brass that accompanied yesterday's Dorchester Day Parade, a miles-long extravaganza that tried the tympani of eardrums more used to the sounds of the wind's whisper off the harbor.

The parade was led by a phalanx of emergency vehicles with their sirens blaring, announcing the main feature. The main feature was made up of marching bands, stereo speakers on flat beds, dancers, revellers and police motorcycle escorts. The BPD drives Harleys, which aren't the quietest bikes on the road. Perhaps they should enlist a Vespa patrol to sneak up on the perps.

The crowd lining Dot Ave was enthusiastic and vocal. They cheered when appropriate and cheered for no other reason than unabashed Dot Pride at the drop of a hat. Normal conversation measures 60 decibels. The sidewalks along Dot Ave regularly exceeded three hundred, such was the verve of the crowd. The seismograph atop the Hancock Tower registered 1.2 on the Richter Scale yesterday afternoon at 2:21 PM. Scientists attribute it to Dorchester Day.

If the collective pride of Dorchester can vibrate the foundations of one of Boston's most well engineered landmarks on a whim, think of what it could do if this energy were harnessed. You wouldn't be living in Longfellow's Boston anymore. Bars would be open around the clock, and the T would keep the same hours. Hammers would be hitting nails every hour of everyday as everyone worked hard to earn a paycheck building this city better.

After so much excitement, you would think Dorchester would be sleeping off its bender the following day, but no. Dorchesterites reported this morning with their usual gusto. They know a city doesn't just run on pride. It takes hard work and stamina.



A smidge of proof that things work as intended in Dorchester. Upham's Corner no less. There are good cops and some that are less so. Here's a good one.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

That sweet Dot o' mine

My eyes they are a'smiling because I watched the Dorchester Day Parade this afternoon. If I shed tears, they are joyful ones. No one is sad for long in Dorchester. Stepping off the front porch lands a glum fellow into the upbeat company of a milling throng who have drained thier cups and are out looking to build a fresh tab somewhere or other along Dot Ave.

While contentedly watching the parade go by, the woman next to me got very excited. "Oh my %#!**$#* God!" she exclaimed, "There's the Mayor!" I looked for Thomas M. Menino, but I didn't see his unmistakeably bulky silhouette. I asked, "Where?" "There! There!" she said, and she pointed, "It's him, the Mayor of Dorchester!" Indeed it was, none other than the Honorable Stephen Bickerton, Jr. He was greeted like the singer Tom Jones as he passed by, without the women's underpants being tossed. We are in Dorchester, after all, and Dorchester Day is a family event. The Hon. Mr. Bickerman sure has some enthusiastic admirers though. Who knows how he would be greeted if we had been in Las Vegas.

After the parade ended, the sky started to cloud up. Heaven hid its face, sorry that the festivities were drawn to a close. The temperature dropped but it was still suitable for cookouts in Dorchester Park, Franklin Park, Victory Park, Ronan Park, Malibu Beach, Nonquit Park, Ryan Park, Mothers' Rest, or in back yards across the breadth of wide-ranging Dorchester. The celebration, as well as the pride will continue for another year, unabated as long as the fires are annually stoked.

For more regular doses of Dot Pride every week, subscribe to the Dorchester Reporter. It's the most reliable paper of record in this part of Boston.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Grilled octopus

Firstly, you can follow our host on Twitter, where he almost-daily uses all 140 available characters to make an on-the-Dot observation. Now on with our report:

Ka-Carlos is an unexpectedly stylish bistro located at 33 Hancock Street in Upham's Corner. This is not a pizza joint or a Chinese take-out counter or a sub shop. This is genuine, upscale Cape Verdean food that is delicious and affordable to most and a celebration of Cape Verdean culture transplanted in Dorchester, the best and biggest part of the great city of Boston. Few tourists visit Ka-Carlos. It's a nieghborhood gem. Just ask Thomas M. Menino, if you have any questions.

We went on Friday, our second visit. The first time we went was almost a year ago, but we just popped in for a very good drink while touring the neighborhood. This time, disgruntled by service at the D Bar, we headed out of yuppified Dorchester into its more urban center: Upham's Corner, a neighborhood overly notorious for its poverty and grime. You'll find neither at Ka-Carlos and you'll only find them in Upham's Corner if you actively look.

The dining room is sleek and clean, filled with local Dorchesterites of all colors and backgrounds with nothing but civility and citizenship in common. Both make for good conversations. It turns out, Ka-Carlos makes great food in a setting that encourages good conversation. A trio was playing live, Cape Verdean music just loud enough to add ambiance to the decor.

We met Carlos and he's a great chap who is obviously proud of his place. We ordered grilled octopus. While we were eating, Carlos motioned to the chef, who was walking the floor, to introduce himself. My companion told him truthfully that every time I took a bite of octopus, I sat back and smiled contentedly. He said, "On the beach in Cape Verde, if someone caught an octopus, they would bring it to me and we would grill it right there over a pit in the sand." It tasted that good. These weren't tentacles but fillets of toothsome, white meat about two fingers thick and as long as your hand. I really did taste Cape Verdean purity carried along far-reaching, Atlantic currents while I sat back, smiled and chewed. It was a slow meal. You cannot rush perfection and I didn't want these mouthfuls to end.

We eventually emptied the plate of grilled octopus. Bidding good-bye and good-night to everyone at the bar as we walked by, we made our way into the Dorchester night with satisfied stomachs and best wishes for this remarkable chef in a remarkable locale.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Can Dorchester stand alone?

If you haven't spent 50 cents on this week's Dorchester Reporter, check this out. Local freelancer Adam Pieniazek has researched Dorchester's history and posed this question to thoughtful local residents: "Can Dorchester stand alone?"

I gave the twee reply that the Dot would just be another Quincy if it did and who needs two? Our correspondent from the Polish Triangle justifiably didn't report my response. While it is quotable, the observation doesn't apply. Neither does something someone said to me recently in passing, that if Dorchester had rejected annexation it would be a twin of Brookline. This also isn't exactly accurate. After a hundred odd years being under the aegis of Boston, itself, you can't go back again and rewrite history.

Unlike Quincy, Dorchester doesn't have any undeveloped land that I've ever seen. There is no room to grow, only room to improve. Unlike Brookline, which carves a hole out of Boston's silhouette, Dorchester is built up mainly for function rather than vanity. You won't find many empty parcels on which to drop your corporate headquarters and you won't find many majestic mansions on shady, meandering streets. Brookline and Quincy are suburbs. Dorchester is part and parcel of a bigger city, there is no cutting the cord this late after delivery.

Dorchester has no room to grow, only to improve. That sentence sticks in in the soul of every Dorchesterite. The neighborhood can only enhance not expand. It can get taller, more dense, more electric, it can bulk up on its muscle. In a place that is home to so many sheetrockers, roofers, carpet layers, masons, and pavers, more muscle is something they want to build in order to take on more work. Dorchester is proud of its strength. Like any body builder, it wouldn't mind having more health, stamina, focus, or heft. With its shoulder to the puddingstone, Dorchester is primed to push Beacon Hill off kilter on its foundation. The day will come. Mark my words.

Ask anyone in Dorchester if the city or the Commonwealth is run right. They'll tell you they could do a better job.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A new pizzeria is born

If you live in Boston you are used to pizzeria flyers tucked into your front door. They all seem to use the same format from the same printer with the same layout, the same fonts and the same clip art. I found one of these today in my front door but the front fold was a little different. It wasn't enough to separate it from the pack that arrives over the course of a month, but I tend to read these from front to back closely because I have little else to do. My mail arrives in the afternoon and I've already spent an hour in the morning reading the Wall Street Journal and ten minutes in the morning reading the Boston Globe, so by day's end I'm ready to use my reading skills again and the mail is about all I have.

The logo on this flyer was a bit different. It wasn't set in white space floating above a picture of a choice pizza pie. It was cemented over a photo of a hamburger bun, some wraps full of indistinguishable filling, two disks that looked like pizzas, and assorted whole vegetables. The shop's address is at 856 Dorchester Avenue.

The shop's name is Avenue Grille & Pizza. I looked over the literature and I wondered, "Do I know this place? It's close by judging from the address." pieces fell into place: Avenue Grille... Great Ceasar's ghost!...and Pizzeria?

The Avenue Grille was a sit-down restaurant where locals gathered, that offered sandwiches as well as some dishes that required more preparation served on white china plates with a glass of wine or a cocktail. The Avenue Grille didn't have the best food but it did have a restaurant feel when you sat in its dark wood dining room. I knew it was under new management, but not that they were turning a bistro into a pizza joint. Maybe Dorchester does need more pizza joints. Maybe the hunger for pizza cannot be satisfied with pizzerias every half mile or so. 856 Dot Ave is almost equidistant between Pantry Pizza and Andrew Pizza. Maybe some people don't like to walk.

We hadn't been to the old Avenue Grille for a while. It is on the opposite side of Columbia Road from where we live. It's not a wide road, but it is a boundary where, those of us to the south like to think. separates the men from the boys. Maybe we should have crossed that boundary more often. Maybe we will now that there's a new pizzeria open for business. I'll have to give it a try.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The angel of Dorchester

Some people call her by the name she was born with, Shirley. Others call her Sweettart because her benevolent nature is paired with her sharp tongue. She can swear like a sailor when her dander is up but at her center is a sparkling, 14 karat heart. She has a wall-eye too, which can be a bit disconcerting when you first make her acquaintance.

You can often find Shirley on Dot Ave where she picks cigarette butts and bottle caps out from between the seams in the sidewalks. She carries a plastic bag from Shaw's to carry her treasure. What does she do with all the detritus? No one knows and she won't tell. She does her part to keep the streets spic and span.

Fond of toddlers and the elderly, Shirley also collects tennis balls that wash up on Malibu Beach. She always keeps a few in the pockets of the windbreaker she wears year-round. She hands them out to children and she repairs the legs of old folks's walkers at Edison Green. She likes neither dogs, cats, nor rats and when she sees them in her path, she pelts them with tennis balls until they move out of range.

She is always happy give small change to panhandlers and always happy to receive a compliment. "Sweettart, you're looking mighty fine today," the soccer fans smoking outside the Banshee will tell her. "Thank you," she replies with a blush and a flutter of eyelids as one eye looks at the sidewalk and the other at her admirers' ankles.

Dorchester may not be the prettiest place (to some) but it a place that takes pride in its appearance and takes care of its own.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Living history

I wrote yesterday about New York's Tenement Museum and how it didn't really apply to Dorchester's local history. All history is local. I find myself in a living museum, partaking of history on the fly as it's being made. The story of Dorchester is just as compelling as the story of Manhattan's Lower East Side. For the people who live here, more so.

A city is organic, in constant flux as priorities are realigned. Buildings get torn down and new institutions take the place of old. A current, a pulse if you will, runs through the arteries of a place though. The Dorchester of today is nothing like the Dorchester of 1630, but some trace elements remain, absorbed into the matrix of the current configuration. If you live in Dorchester a year or more, you can't escape the pull of that magnetism that leaks out of the puddingstone. You can't help but be cantankerous. You can't help but identify with Boston itself, while being resentful of the greater city's over lordship. Dorchester is good, that doesn't make downtown Boston better.

A city is the sum of its parts. Dorchester is the biggest part of Boston both in area and population. No one visits Mozambique and says they're from Dorchester, Mass. It would take too much explaining. They say Boston, without the Mass., and everyone knows where they're from. History still unfolds in the Dot, however. Boston is better because Dorchester is a part. There isn't a museum but there is a historical society. There is an unspoken credo among native and newly grafted Dorchesterites. They work together to make the Dot good. So far so good, but there's plenty more work to be done and so much more history to be made.


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