Monday, August 31, 2009

Dorchester, Mass. through the ages

Plucky tykes full of vim and vigor gambol along Dorchester's sidewalks and through its playgrounds under their mothers' watchful eyes. As they grow up, they still see the Dot without judgement or rancor. Dorchester is a good place in which to savor your first bites out of life. Innocence begets joy and Dorchester provides plenty of joy for the imps who play in its environs. It is a family-friendly neighborhood, a fecund cornucopia of newborns and just-borns and toddlers and pre-schoolers who find pleasure and adventure in each others' supervised company. Adventure and new discovery await around every corner.

Around age nine or ten, Dorchester's children become a bit more hard-edged. They have seen their share of hard feelings shared in the harshest manner. They have learned to be rude when the occasion calls for it. The can cuss. They can insult in the time-tested manner of street urchins the world over. They aren't jaded yet, they aren't flinty. They just have a taste of the slow corrosion that a city breeds when people are packed tightly together and a knuckle sandwich or a few well-greased greenbacks smooth the way more easily than proper, meritorious civility. It may take a village to raise a child, but a burly city raises adults schooled in hard knocks.

Teenagers in Dorchester think they've got it all figured out and in some ways they do. Sometimes nice people finish least it seems that way. No matter how many priests staff the parishes and how many evangelists take to the street corners; no matter how many social workers intervene and no matter how many politicians bemoan the lack of law and order and do their best to hire more policemen, Dorchester defies good intentions. So many people packed so tightly together invites a contagion of vice and the young, who haven't much immunity, are susceptible to the lures of the easy buck, the cheap sensation, the feeling of being that comes at no apparent cost until the the effects of snowballing actions catch up.

Young families set up house in Dorchester every day. Some are offshoots of more established families that have existed in the neighborhood for two, three, or more generations. Some couples move here cold and inexperienced, warm to the idea of living close to neighbors and sharing a block of three-deckers. Children are born. Children are always born and life begins anew whenever two people love each other and decide to live together. Diplomacy begins on a mattress and hopefully those good intentions and that goodwill will spill out the bedroom window, over the streets and into the schools and courtrooms and convenience stores. Maybe money will grow on trees or maybe wishes will be fishes and all anyone will have to do to eat is think good thoughts and click their heels. Maybe a smile really can serve as an umbrella.

Middle-aged couples spend their excess pocket change dining out and shopping while squirreling away whatever they can salvage for their offspring's college tuition. Few people think of sending their children to Dorchester colleges. There is UMASS Boston at the tip of Harbor Point and there is LaBoure Nursing College, but beyond those options, there aren't any institutions of higher learning. Not officially. Anyone can get a job in Dorchester and learn as much and more working day-to-day in this hustle-and-bustle community. They won't get book smarts, but street smarts. They won't be philosophers unless they choose to think too much but they will know how to navigate the business world and make right by giving good service. What is life, after all, but providing needed services to our fellow human beings?

There are worse places in which to spend a life from cradle to grave than Dorchester, Mass. Generations have travelled from womb to tomb without venturing farther north than Andrew Square or farther south than Lower Mills. The shores of Dorchester Bay was the limits of their eastward horizon and they turned back after venturing too far into Franklin Park's convoluted, wooded pathways.

A spinster has given up hope for a groom and she sleeps contentedly on the second floor flat she's rented for three decades on Pearl Street. Her dry cleaner's wage pays all the bills and she feels entitled to die at this address. An old man, his back bent and aching from laying bricks all his adult life, sits on his front porch on Bowdoin Street, suspended two stories above the traffic on the road and he smiles as he watches the sun set over the buildings as the shrieks of children and the easily tossed, profane curses of adolescents drift up to his rocking chair. He once squealed as a babe on these very streets. He once swore a blue streak for no reason but his anger. He isn't angry now. He is content living in Dorchester where many things begin and many things end.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Dot week in review

Another busy week in Dorchester, Mass. has drawn to a close. Things happened, as it is their nature to do. In a neighborhood as big and busy as Dorchester, many, many things happened. Shall we recap?

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009: Jimmy McNichol got two silver plated rings out of the gumball machine at Tropical Grocery in Codman Square. Since he had paid his fifty cents for only one randomly selected ring, his mother brought him to the store's manager to turn in the second one that had fallen out of the chute. "But, Mom," he complained, "I like the second one better." "Never mind that," she admonished, "You only paid for the first."

Monday, Aug. 24: There was a murder on Glenarm Street. This led to some soul-searching by some area inhabitants musing on the Dot Conundrum: How can a place with so much tolerant, peaceful coexistence also be home to more than its fair share of naked aggression? There isn't an easy answer as the next day's events proved.

Tuesday, Aug. 25: Another murder, and this one a double. Though police advised people to avoid Norwood Street at the time, some people live there. How do you avoid your own address? Despite the unpleasantness, activities of daily living trundled along aimlessly and amicably for those not found dead in an automobile.

Wednesday, Aug. 26: The ice cream truck on Talbot Avenue played the same song for 25 minutes before the driver drove over a pothole and the tape skipped a loop. Neighbors tired of grooving to Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" were treated to a change in program. "Maple Leaf Rag" played for the rest of the day.

Thursday, Aug. 27: A motorcade delivered a senator to Harbor Point's JFK Library Museum where he spent the night and the following day and night after that. The MBTA provided service above and beyond what it normally does to JFK/UMASS station, and that's saying something since the T is one of Boston's main arteries delivering lifeblood to the city.

Friday, Aug. 28: The senator continued in repose on the shore of Dorchester Bay. People crowded in line to pay their respects and at the same time they were spellbound by the harbor views they soaked in while standing patiently. In other news, someone choked on an olive pit at Tavolo in Peabody Square. The pit was only lightly lodged in their trachea and no Heimlich maneuvers were preformed. All it took to correct the situation was a deep, diaphragm-reflexive cough, though it wasn't pretty to watch or to hear.

Saturday, Aug. 29: Boston's and the major media's attention was drawn to the opposite end of Dudley Street where the President of the United States visited Mission Hill. He isn't reported to have visited Dorchester, though he may have snuck away from the Secret Service the night before to catch the action at Tom English's Tavern on Dot Ave. Despite a lack of dignitary sightings, things happened. Franklin Park hosted the festival at the end of the Boston's annual Caribbean Parade. In Dorchester, people soldier on despite adverse weather or general adversities.

What will next week bring? Hopefully, some fresher Scott Joplin compositions from the ice cream trucks.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Snipe hunting

Is anything so predictable as rain on a weekend in Boston? Even in Dorchester, "The Neighborhood with the Sunny Disposition," it rains more often than not come Saturday. This year especially. This year especially.

The good news is that this weather is the best weather for snipe-hunting and early morning banter at McKenna's Cafe over coffee and omelets confirmed this. Some of the early risers who take walks in Dorchester Park down in Lower Mills reported more than one snipe sighting.

Chubby was eating his usual beans and eggs when he spotted Big Gut walking in the door. "Hey, Big Gut," he shouted over the dining room chatter, "The snipes are running in Dot Park." Big Gut ambled over to the stool next to Chubby's. "I know," he said. "They're as thick as mosquitoes down there in the brambles round by the ball fields. I think I'll get my net later if the weather doesn't take a turn toward sunshine.

Chubby and Big Gut are two of Dorcheseter's most renowned snipe hunters, so when Big Gut said this the dining room chatter dimmed a bit to hear whatever snipe hunting tips could be eavesdropped. The two men dropped the subject altogether after glancing over their shoulders. Chubby asked, "Did the Orioles play last night? What's their standing?" Big Gut replied, "Meh," and ordered a Grampian Champion.

Never seen a snipe? According to these two, experience Dot hunters you can spot one at Dorchester Park just past Carney Hospital on Dorchester Avenue. It's easy to reach via the Mattapan High-Speed, which will whisk you within a stone's throw of the ball fields at Butler Station.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

How to view Senator Kennedy's body

Senator Edward M. Kennedy is lying in state at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum this evening and tomorrow. If you are taking the Red Line to JFK/UMASS to pay your respects, you have to go through the station to get to there. Don't go up the stairs at the end of the platform to exit on Sydney Street. Sydney Street is, as they say, on the wrong side of the tracks.

The stairs, and elevator, to the station are in the middle of the platform. You go into the station suspended above the tracks, you can't miss it, and exit out the right hand doors. Then you go downstairs or downramp to catch a bus to the Library. The bus trip is free of charge. This isn't just for admirers of the Senator. The bus is always free.

If you lose your way and end up on Sydney Street, as many tourists do, you will find yourself in a picturesque, residential neighborhood that lacks any landmarks to help you get your bearings. Most people choose one direction or the other. If you take a right, Sydney Street dead ends but there is a narrow walkway that will take you to Columbia Road. Once there, you can take another right and get into the T station again and ask the attendant where to catch the bus. Like most MBTA employees, those who staff JFK/UMASS are courteous, patient and helpful.

If you take a left on Sydney Street, you will probably end up passing my house. Seeing me on the porch, enjoying a 68 degree, August evening in jacket and hat, you can ask me how to get the library. Like an MBTA employee, I will courteous and patient and helpful. You will be about the thirtieth person tonight to interrupt my musings, but this happens all the time, if a bit less frequently when Massachusetts has a full complement of senators, so I'm used to it.

I will tell you that you have to turn around and go through the station. You will tell me that you tried but the turnstyles are one-way. This is true. The turn styles at the end of the platform are for egress only. The opposite of a Roach Motel, you can get out but you can't get back in from there. I will tell you that you have to go a bit farther down the road and there will be another break in the fence at the second police call box. Pass through and you can get into the station to its other side without paying a fee, and catch the bus on the opposite side. Don't take the UMASS bus, take the JFK Library bus.

If you do take the UMASS bus, and you might since you don't seem inclined to read signs, don't worry. At the last stop, walk to the water and turn left. If you take the Dorchester Harborwalk, you'll enjoy some lovely views of Quincy and Shawmut across Dorchester Bay and the JFK Library is ten minutes away if you stroll in a leisurely manner.

You'll tell me that the T should post signs on the platform with clear directions so that people like yourself don't get lost. I'll agree and say that there are signs but they aren't very prominent. I'll reassure you that you are in good company and this happens all the time. It's not just run-of-the mill Midwestern tourists who stop by my porch for orientation. I've doled out directions to my share of celebrities, none of whom I'll name even though the National Enquirer once offered me a tidy sum for my autograph book and recollections.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dot riddle

Q: What comes after 75? A: The Spirit of Dorchester.

A fact that is as little known as it is uninteresting is that I don't wear sunglasses, just clear, prescription lenses. There's no dogmatic reason really. Natural light doesn't bother me, I don't want to carry an indoor pair of glasses and an outdoor pair... You say they make lenses that change with the light now? The next thing you'll tell me is that I can send a written message without a stamp! I just never got into the habit of wearing sunglasses and thus have never missed them. A simple man of simple tastes who generally leads an uncluttered life.

When I lived in Connecticut, I didn't have to wear a motorcycle helmet. Not having to, I didn't. Since moving to the intrusive nanny state of Massachusetts I am forced to wear one and I've gotten used to it, so much so that for the past year I've been wearing a full face, astronaut model. The face shield was getting a bit too scratched for rainy night driving, so I purchased a new one recently. The old one was clear, no frills as befits my usual tastes. The new one is polarized orange with full UV protection. I used to ride all the time with the old face shield up. Since getting the new one, I keep it locked in the down position.

It's like driving through a different world. Details are clearer and colors are sharper. Though I am looking through an orange window, the greens that paint Boston's many trees are greener than anything I've ever seen. I took a longcut home through Franklin Park today and, since traffic was light and it was good weather for girl watching, I meandered to Codman Square via Washington Street.

Once I stopped in Codman, I parked my trusty motorcycle in an available gap between a delivery van and a Ford Focus and stretched my legs. Since only a fool walks around town wearing a full face helmet with the shield down, I carried the helmet on my forearm.

I sat on the steps of the Great Hall and looked across the street at the front lawn of the Second Church. The grass was waving in the breeze and the trees whispered sweet nothings that travelled over the intersection, over the rooftops, and into the alleys while whisking breathily and unhurriedly along the main streets and the side streets, mingling with the hum and rattle of vehicular traffic and underscoring the conversations, both urgent and idle, and the tapping or padded footfalls of pedestrians. I put my helmet on to take in the view with polarized vision and I took it off to see it again with untinted eyes.

I'll tell you what: Dorchester is best experienced in the round and in the rough, without filters. It's a beautiful, vibrant place that doesn't need to rely on gadgets or spiffing up. True, some places could use a coat of paint but just to freshen up, not to whitewash. This is no Potemkin Village. Warts and all, Dorchester is pretty plumb easy on the eyes.

There have been two murders in the past two days in Dorchester. That's nothing any civic leader will crow about, but in a dense neighborhood of more than 100,000 people, these regrettable things happen. And, while they are regrettable, they are out in the open, reported, and investigated. People discuss local current events and try to get involved in being a cure rather than a symptom of any overwhelming civic malaise. Dorchester is not lawless. Neither is it falling apart. With so many people packed so tightly together in many different income brackets and at so many different levels of desperation and unbalance, Dorchester is holding together at the seams quite nicely, all things considered. The bond of the social glue is still holding tight. The human condition is playing out according to rhythms etched in all of our collective DNA. Ugly things can happen in beautiful places. Dorchester is proof of that.

Did you know that people even get murdered in Hawaii? That doesn't stop tourists from visiting that island paradise even when it is farther out of their way than Dorchester is.

Q: Knock! Knock! Q: Who's there? A: Lettuce. Q: Lettuce who? A: Come to Dorchester and you'll find out. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dorchester excelsior!

Today's editorial was going to be the usual pie-in-the-sky, rosily tinted view of life in Dorchester that most of the reports here turn out to be. This article came across the teletype today and I read it with interest to get to the meat of the Dorchester-related subject matter toward the end. If the author doesn't mind I'll include a pertinent quotation, however, I encourage you to read his thoughtful observations in their entirety:

"Once, when I was living in Dorchester, MA, and we had had several gang-related killings, the community packed into a huge meeting with the mayor. What did they ask for?

"Longer hours at the library. More staff at the community youth center. Midnight basketball. Lunch programs in the summer for kids who eat their only good meal most of the year when they get lunch at school. A warrant-sweep to get gang leaders into confinement, at least until the schools were open, so good kids could take advantage safely of the library, the community youth center, midnight basketball, free lunches."

This was the original springboard for what I was going to introduce today and I juggled on how to approach the subject: 1.) That must have been a long, long time ago. Today's Dorchester is a virtual Eden. 2.) He must have moved away yesterday. My sunny disposition naturally drew me toward Door Number One. Preferring the easy mark and the easy jest, I'll always pick the lady over the tiger.

Before I had started writing though, this report came over the news wire. One person's joke is another person's tragedy and the lack of good taste in my original tone wasn't lost on me. When the police say a man is pronounced, they don't mean he is pronounced the groom on what should be the happiest day of his life. They mean he is dead. It's not a reason to yuk it up. A young man was killed and he probably wasn't Pol Pot. He was a neighbor. A young man was shot to death a few blocks from the zoo.

People outside Dorchester may say to other people embarking on a visit, "It's a jungle down there." It isn't. I have spent at least two thirds of just about every day here for the last two years. I've never been the victim of a crime and I have never witnessed a crime. Contrary to what you may have been told, Dorchester is not a den of thieves and cut throats.

Do you want proof that Dorchester isn't a thief's paradise? I owned I bicycle I hated that I bought at Target. I rode it three times, hated it each time more than the last, and decided I wanted it stolen. I left it unlocked by my porch. It took six months for that bike to disappear in the dead of night. Maybe that says more about the uselessness of the bicycle, but it did ride okay, just not to my liking. I think it says more about the quality of the people who pass my yard every day at all hours of the night. I know they pass, I hear them through my open windows and I slumber feeling safe protected by only a scrim of fly screen and a flimsy wisp of curtain fabric.

There are rough and tumble sections of Dorchester. Denying that would be disingenuous. I have tried to include those parts in my essays though, I must admit, though I pass through them, I don't often linger. This isn't because I feel unsafe. There just isn't much to do or look at to hold my interest or my commerce. There are only so many haircuts a man can get in a month and I'm not really in the manicure or hair braiding market. After I buy a bottled drink at a corner store, how long can I linger on the sidewalk sipping it before I am off to elsewhere?

Dorchester isn't really a place full of attractions beyond being an overall attractive place to live. Much of the living attraction comes from affordable rents or from accessible businesses that cater to day-to-day needs. Well, most places have businesses that cater to day-to-day needs, tourists don't visit Dorchester to tour the Fields Corner Shopping Center. If you can afford the rent in a waterfront condo, you'll live closer to the water for the views. While Dorchester's repetitive three-decker streets have a beauty all their own, they don't match the sea breeze or the view of sunrise over the Harbor's mouth at the edge of the vast Atlantic beyond.

Murders happen in Dorchester. This is an unfortunate fact. Another fact is that murders happen everywhere. If they are more common in Dorchester, this is our communal lament. Longer library hours won't change that, but perhaps the people who demand them know in their bones something the rest of us don't realize. Maybe, given the choice between two types of culture, people will follow their better instincts and improve themselves through book smarts rather than street smarts. Hopefully, a library contains the best fruits of the best minds at work, as well as DVDs of collected television sitcoms and 'Ghostbusters.' Street culture is full of sharp intellects at work too, but as often as not they end up in a result that while a game and a joke for some, is a tragedy for someone else in the community. Dorchester needn't be that way and I don't feel it trends toward anarchism red in tooth and claw. This is a fine neighborhood pregnant with good intentions and instincts.

It takes one bad apple to spoil a barrel and Dorchester has its share of worms. It also has its share of honorable townspeople who live what they believe in practice as well their unarticulated theory. They are the majority. You can throw a pebble in Dorchester without hitting a church or community center. Dorchester is solid so that pebble will create few ripples. This isn't a hypocritical community. It is a place where people suffer their burdens and deal with them as constructively as they can.

A bit of Latin to end this on a civilized note: Dorchesterii carpe vita exceslior! Dorchesterites seize life ever upwards!

And to end on a light note:

...or you can check it out from your local library branch when it's open.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Size matters

Look Stubby, I know you've got talent but sometimes size matters. Look at Dorchester, Mass., that neighborhood that dwarfs the rest of Boston like a pot belly supported by spindly legs. Square miles more vast than other Boston neighborhoods, with a bigger, more diverse population that would win a a tug-o-war if Dorchester's horde held one end of the rope opposite any other part of Boston, Dorchester can dot any other part of ye olde Beane Towne's eye.

Size matters. It takes many cells to make a body. The Dot's got 'em with some to spare. That's the white count (WBCs, are what we call this in the medical trade). Dorchester is immune to infection or contamination. Boston is a city with a egg head, a pencil neck and protected pockets. The city is ham-handed with two left feet, a glass jaw, a bum wing, a gimp, crossed-eyed, and mumble-tongued. Not in Dorchester though. In Dorchester, loopy thinking gets left at the Andrew gate's turn style. There's a collection box and when that box is full, all the fool notions get carried back inbound, special delivery, COD, return to sender. Thanks but no thanks, bub, we've got enough hubbub without your back-biting folderol.

Boston also has a soul, a vast, various, glorious sense of hope that isn't defined by circumstance, race, situation, prospect, or education. This is the Cradle of Liberty, after all. You can earn every degree from one of Boston's colleges and not know anything about how the city works at its most intimate level. Traffic flows through the streets like sustaining blood through arteries. The outer neighborhoods are as well supplied as the core, most often more so. The salt of the earth isn't paved over or hemmed in. It lies exposed on plains, whether in Jamaica or Newmarket, or on the expansive spread of the beautiful Dot. Puddingstone forms the bedrock of Boston, honest Roxbury puddingstone, the kind that rears out the ground in Franklin Park and Dorchester Park and in West Roxbury and Hyde Park.

Boston has heart and that heart beats forcefully in Dorchester. Sometimes bigger is better. Sometimes bigger is best. That's the case in Boston. The biggest neighborhood is best. That's Dorchester...Dorchester, Mass. If you never forget it, you'll never regret it.

And Stubby, I know you got your nickname because you lost a few fingers while working the docks. No hard feelings, pal. Thanks for taking one for Boston Harbor's commerce. Thanks for living in Dorchester. It wouldn't be the same without you. In Dorchester, everyone counts.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bowling after midnight

Boston Bowl was hopping at 3:30 AM this morning. It's no wonder since this is the only place in Dorchester, indeed in much of Boston, that is open at this hour that isn't selling gasoline or potato chips (though you can buy potato chips at Boston Bowl). As the website says, this is "Boston's best 24-hour bowling." No argument. This is, however, the kind of ad hoc claim impossible to disprove when you are Boston's only round the clock bowling venue.

If not gasoline and convenience foods, what is Boston Bowl selling? The chance to meet in a lit public place indoors, which is a rare commodity in Bean Town. Naturally, Dorchester offers the most unexpected option for after-midnight diversion. In Boston, after 2:00 AM if you want public lighting, there are always the streets. If you want to go to a public place, there are the parks, though most of them are closed after sunset or 9PM or 10PM, or some other Puritan curfew hour. Boston Common is technically open, but don't loiter. It is open for passing through to get from end to the other by means of a shortcut.

We didn't count how many lanes are available for late night/early morning bowling, but the place is impressively vast, tidy and inviting. About ten lanes were being used and maybe an estimated twenty-five were vacant. This includes both regulation lanes and the regional favorite, candle pin lanes. Prices per game range between $4 and change to $5 and change, candle pin being the best bargain.

The most popular part of Boston Bowl during our visit, besides the outdoor smoking area conveniently located at the entrance, was the extensive and crowded pool room. Apparently, people like to engage in a round of billiards late in the wee hours of the morning. The clientele's demographics skewed young, but everyone was congenial and seemed sober. This isn't a place to work off the effects of a bender. It is a place to gather and socialize because there are few other options. Two on-duty policemen occupied a table near the foyer, chatting with each other, keeping an eye on the peaceable proceedings.

Largely invisible except from the southbound lanes of I-93, Boston Bowl is tucked off to the side of lot number 820 Morrisey Boulevard. You can only access the parking lot from the inbound side of Morrisey and you have to know to tuck a quick turn after the hotel but before the candy shop. There aren't any public transportation options during the MBTA's normal operating hours that I am aware of and, obviously, there aren't any public transportation options when the T shuts down sometime after 12:30 each night. There weren't any cabs in the parking lot during our visit.

With this less than ideal location, how does Boston Bowl stay in business year after year? That's an easy question to answer. It's the only game in town.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Post Number 496

It was on April 20, 2006 that the Dot Matrix got it's start, under its original, eponymous title "Whalehead King." The first post, full of Whitmanesque bombast, is here. This esssay today, was originally going to be entry number 495, but impulsive events transpired to make this number 496, not that I work on much of a schedule. I start with a rough idea every evening and then just write, without outlines or without really knowing how things are going to end or what ground will be covered from start to finish. All I know when I sit down is the subject, usually Dorchester, Mass. What you get here is pure improvisation. Call it jazz if you will. Some people call it balderdash. Who am I to judge? I'm the creator, not the critic.

I don't really know what a blog is beyond being a "web log," some kind of online journal that other people can access. Until very recently, I would never have spoken in the first person, if I appeared at all. When I did appear, it was in the third person as Whalehead King spelled out, no 'the'. King is my last name, not an honorific. I rule nothing beyond the boundaries of my own skin. I always understood a blog as being an online diary and I don't find my day-to-day existence particularly interesting and I am not a diary keeper. If I can't remember something, it probably wasn't worth writing down to begin with. This is intended as a record not of my life, but of where I live and what I see. There will never be a mention of medical complaints.

Originally, I didn't think of this site as a journal so much as a repository of stories, works in progress, perhaps, about my surroundings, some more grounded in fact than others, but all of them built around a kernel of truth. Even if Dorchester wasn't founded by Atlanteans, the 'Dot Pot' is a fact of cryptoarcheology and the Dot is still a marvellous place with a storied history worth investigating. If you want the hard facts, Dorchester has a newspaper, the Dorchester Reporter, which I have lauded previously as the best source of news in the neighborhood. I tried to subscribe to the paper edition once but it involved an email that was apparently lost in the shuffle, so I read it online or from the convenience store. Nothing beats the hard copy because you can miss some things when it is all Internet-based. Think about signing up for USPS delivery. It's worth it. In fact, since my mail delivery fell through, I missed this tidbit that explained Dorchester's proper boundaries.

I've recently begun to include a few more Boston-wide stories, always trying tie them into my theme that Dorchester is good, a microcosm of the larger city and an irreplacable part of its fabric. I've introduced the pronoun 'I' with some misgivings. After all, you, the reader, is already getting a biased view of things. Do I need to inject my personality any more? I am already the filter and the conduit through which this rosy colored information is being delivered? The Matrix is becoming more 'bloggy' and less 'Dotty.' I'm not sure this is a good thing.

The truth is, I don't spend as much as my time as I would like in Dorchester. I work a day job in another part of the city, for instance, and that takes up a big chunk of my daily experience. Though I do as much of my shopping in Dorchester as I can, there are some things I have to take the inbound Red or the Green or Blue or Orange lines to get. Or my bicycle, or my motorcycle when I have to go to Quincy (at which I say "Shame on Boston!"). After two years of mining the Dot, my daily life has left me a bit bereft of newly authentic Dot experiences. Instead of being the "Dot Matrix," this blog will be, by default, more 'bloggy' and become more of a "Whalehead Matrix." I'm not convinced that needs to happen. The answer is for me to spend more time in Dorchester, which I am happy to do...the people are a cut above, the culture is deep and vibrant, the scenery can make a curmudgeon weep at its unsurpassed beauty. There are, however, only so many hours in a day.

Dorchester is the biggest and best part of Boston, hands-down, no doubt about it. I've been to other parts. They're good. All of Boston is good, but if you can have filet mignon for the price of showing up, you don't order the chuck wagon steak they serve in Fanuiel Hall. I was in Fanueil Hall this morning. A roast beef sandwich cost $7.99. I'd rather take the Blue Line to Royal Roast Beef in Eastie. I have yet to find a good, reasonable roast beef sandwich in Dorchester.

Where are you coming from?

To those of you visiting via, welcome. I'm not sure why you are here and I can't figure it out. If someone would like to tell me, please leave a comment regarding the source of our introduction. I read the paper version of the Globe yesterday and today, but, like most days, I didn't see my name mentioned. Unfortunately, I am not very Internet savvy, which was intended to be the subject of today's article as well as what I am intending to accomplish here. Talk about serendipity. I will keep this missive short, hoping for some quick insight, before I go on to write the bulk of today's ramblings.

Thanks, and again....Welcome. I hope you enjoy your average 58 seconds on the Dot Matrix. Feel free to scroll the archives and apologies for the color issues in earlier postings. This page used to have a black background. If you can't read an entry, you probably aren't missing too much as the theme remains the same throughout though the characters and settings change.

With a handshake,

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Pope's nose on Pope's Hill

What do you call the butt end of roasted chicken? If you are Catholic you call it the tail, that bit of savory, skin-encased fat that held the rooster's feathers while he was alive. It was the part that kept eggs from rolling out of the nest from under the mother hen's hindquarters. If you are an Anabaptist, Mennonite, Jehovah's Witness or Puritan, though, you call this protuberance off the butt end of a chicken carcass the Pope's nose.

What do you call the most picturesque, hillside neighborhood in Dorchester, Boston's biggest and most beautiful neighborhood? The people who live there call it a good place to raise a family. They call it a good place to rest their heads at night, a peaceable place, a place where children play in the streets and the parks and their parents don't worry what they are up to. People who live here call it the best part of Boston.

If you live on Beacon Hill, you call this hill Pope's Hill and you wrinkle your nose and furrow your brow when you say it. You can pinch your nostrils when you do it. "Pope's Hill," the dowagers say, "I'd rather eat the Pope's nose than go there." The money managers who reside in waterfront condominiums around Fort Point Channel have a similar opinion. I was at Aqua the other night, excusing my departure by saying I was making a Silver Line connection to take the Red Line to Field's Corner to visit a sick friend off King Square. A boozy barfly sporting suspenders and spats shouted for all to hear, "The unwashed proletariat is in the house." Nice move wise guy. I don't know what they call a horse's tail meat in France but you sure looked like the Pope's nose after that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I Shall Destroy All Civilized Planets

The postman arrived yesterday with a shipment from Amazon and I've dipped into one of the volumes I ordered by Fletcher Hanks, an opus titled, "I Shall Destroy All Civilized Planets." This is one weird whiz-bang of a book so far.

The volume is a collection of comic book stories from the Golden Age of comics (pre-1950). Fletcher Hanks is the author and illustrator of the collected stories. There is little wasted dialogue or exposition or page space in these stories so far, they crackle with narrative energy. One thing happens, then another, then another, and it is up to the reader to connect the dots. There is little explanation for seemingly nonsensical developments but you are invited to witness without questioning, along for a wild and sometimes macabre ride.

The art is crude even by Golden Age standards, but compelling in its attention to detail, though the selection of which details to focus are leading me to some head-scratching. Comic books were a new medium and their development was chaotic, with anyone who could hold a pencil diving in to make a mark. Such was Fletcher Hanks apparently, armed with a pencil, a pen and a hothouse, vindictive imagination that favored poetic justice.

As most things do, this book so far reminds me of Dorchester, Mass. The Dot is home to artists and not all of them are the most formally trained and polished. Dot artists have a vision shaped by their surroundings and experiences and they are removed from how more conventional, professionally connected artists would portray things. Dot artists express themes particular to the locale. I'm not aware of any Dorchester-based comic strip artists, but if there are any, I suspect their work is viewed as Hanks' oeuvre is, as oddball, outre, strangely brilliant in its obsessions and admirable despite its insistent weirdness.

I'll try to post some more reviews on this remarkable body of minor work as I plow through it. A back cover blurb on the companion volume is by Jules Feiffer, no slouch when it comes to digesting comic books and articulating their relevance: "Hanks was a primitive, a puzzle, and a mystery..." If this statement doesn't likewise summarize Dorchester to the rest of Boston, nothing does. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wanna iguana?

Chez King is home to a pretty meatless kitchen. We aren't strict vegetarians but we enjoy our vegetables more than we enjoy muscle-based foods or organ meats (sweet breads, chitlins and such). One member of this household (not your humble narrator) is German (eine Deutcshe) who thinks of meat in her native language as das fleisch (flesh). You couldn't think up a more honest label if you were a cannibal.

We live about two blocks from Gene and Paul's Fresh Meats, the oldest, contiuously operating meat market in Dorchester, Mass., located at the intersection of Dot Ave and East Cottage Street and Crescent Avenue. As a sometime customer, I've always enjoyed the cuts offered by this establishment when I've needed a bit of animal protein to flavor a dish and I've also enjoyed the service.

While Gene and Paul offer the usual fare of chicken (das haehechen), pork (das schweinefleisch), and beef (das rindfleisch), and during the X-mas season they offer up a X-mas goose a-la-Dickens (die ganse). That's about it for the options. Curious about what else is available from Boston's meat cutters outside of Dorchester, we ventured on the Red Line to Charles/MGH station.

Entering the jaded, decadent zone at the back of Beacon Hill, we stepped through the door of Savenor's Market at 160 Charles Street. Savenor's motto is "Best on the Block," and by that they mean best on the chopping block. The shop is known for selling exotic game fit to eat.

The options, besides the domesticated breeds available at Gene and Paul's, included packages of ground antelope, ground bear, and a skinned coil of rattlesnake. The most tempting option of all was a selection of frozen iguanas. The chopping block and cleaver had been put to good use in preparing the iguana carcasses, but they were kept far from the skinning hook, the fillet knife, and the meat grinder. These iguanas were shrink wrapped sans head and feet onto their styrofoam trays with skin and frills in full glory. They were bright green on the outside, as if they had been killed nestled in some tropical, Galapagos foliage, keeping their color as obviously ineffective camouflage.

The iguanas' poses perched on their styrofoam trays, absent heads and feet of course, matched how they must have perched at the time of capture. They looked like they were ready to leap, adding to the exoticism of the promised meal. I don't know how popular iguana (dei eidechse) is on Beacon Hill but looking at the exposed flesh in the neck, wrists and ankles, it seems to be low fat and, thus, heart healthy. It is a bit pricey though. The cheapest iguana on sale was $97 and change. Sorry, Savenor's.... no sale. I picked up three chicken-and-apple sausages instead. They made two delightful meals this weekend. The sausages were about six bucks. I don't think iguana Bolagnese would have been any tastier.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Veteran of the Seltzer Wars

The Stop & Shop on Morrissey is running one of its periodic specials on seltzer: two, one-liter bottles for a dollar of the house brand "Zazz." You have to use your card to take advantage of the savings, which is the subject for another disgruntled, curmudgeonly rant. Stop & Shop usually charges 65 cents a bottle, so this savings of 15 cents, not counting the deposit, is nothing to sneeze at if you plan on consuming 14 liters a week.

The main competition in the seltzer market on Stop & Shop's shelves is the bubbly beverage bottled by the PolarCorp, more commonly thought of as the Polar Beverages Company, headquartered a hop and skip away in Worchester, Mass. You may wonder why I mention this since Stop & Shop is headquartered in Quincy, much closer to my snug Dorchester neighborhood than Worchester. Well, in this global economy, Polar Beverages is still a family-owned business. Stop and Shop, on the other hand, has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Ahold (SV?), a little Dutch outfit with over 450,000 employees worldwide. After failing with New Amsterdam and the spice trade, the crafty Dutch, flinty if jolly bankers to the core, have plans to dominate the world's supermarket industry. I'm all for economies of scale, but as a relatively little guy, I tend to side with them and support them, especially when they deliver a superior product.

Stop & Shop sells Polar seltzer for a dollar a liter. When "Zazz" isn't on sale the price differential would be 11 cents, nothing much to notice. When "Zazz" is half the price, reason dictates that a comparison be made to determine what, if anything, you gain by spending double for what should be an identical product: flavored, fizzy water.

I sit with two seltzer bottles in front of me. One "Polar Seltzer with Black Cherry," the other "Zazz Black Cherry Naturally Flavored with Other Natural Flavors." The design of the Polar label is stately, classically inspired, with two woodcut cherries sharing a double stem with a leaf. The "Zazz" label is an audacious blue with the Stop & Shop traffic light logo discretely at center stage. There are three cartoonish cherries set on the right, disconnected from each other in a smattering of effervescent bubbles.

The nutritional information is identical. Each bottle contains zero of everything per serving. Nada. Zip. No nothing. It is water, after all. It's necessary to keep hydrated, but you can't live off a diet of that alone. The ingredients are likewise identical: carbonated water, natural flavor, though the Polar bottle contains an 's' appended to 'flavor' even though "Zazz" is the brand that boasts it has other flavors than black cherry on the front.

If I may digress a moment on the difference between natural and artificial flavoring, indulge me. The only difference is how these flavors are obtained. Both come from factories located in New Jersey's industrial zones. Both are an assortment of chemicals. Natural flavors in the world of mass produced foods are identical in their makeup to artificial. To make natural flavors you boil down fruit (in this case) and then strip out every extraneous element until you are left with a colorless powder. For artificial flavors, you just combine various powders until they produce the flavor desired. If you think you are getting any additional benefit from "natural" flavors, you are mistaken and you should check the Nutrition Facts that is mandated by the FDA on every food package. No vitamins or minerals included, only flavor. It is actually more expensive to extract these flavors from whole foodstuffs than to mix it from scratch and it doesn't make a lick of difference because both are chemically identical.

Back to our taste test. What separates Polar Seltzer from Stop and Shop's house brand? Purely and simply, it is a matter of taste. Whether the difference is worth fifty cents plus deposit is up to each seltzer consumer to decide. I have two shot glasses in front of me.

I take a shot of Zazz and swirl it on the palate like an oenophile. Yes, I can detect some cherry flavor there. I'm not sure if it's really cherry or one of the other natural flavors, but there is a hint of flavor and the bottle says black cherry so, yes. Cherry it is.

I take a shot of Polar Seltzer and the bubbles fly up my nose before I can take a sip. When I repeat the drinking process with the Polar Seltzer, the cherry flavor kicks me in the tongue and knocks around my gums a bit before disappearing down my gullet. This is carbonated water all right but the boys at Polar don't skimp on the other ingredient either. There is no doubt: this isn't bing cherry or maraschino or choke cherry; this is pure black cherry goodness. It's not soda pop. It isn't sweet. It's seltzer with black cherry delivered with va-va-voom, take-no-prisoners, go-for-the-gold gusto.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Are motorcycles faster?

I recall reading the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's explanation of why motorcycles seem to be speeding. It boiled down to the fact that because motorcycles are smaller than cars, the frame of reference is changed; they aren't really going as fast as they seem. This strikes me as disingenuous since anyone who has been passed by a motorcycle owns a speedometer and has a rough idea how fast they are going. At least they have a baseline for the cyclist's speed.

Let's be honest. Most people who drive motorcycles travel faster than most people who drive cars. As someone who doesn't drive a car but drives a motorcycle on the lowest end of power distribution, I would like to be honest about why. The MSF is correct about the size factor and it works in two contradictory ways to make cyclists both more reckless and more cautious while going faster than the posted speed limit.

Firstly, a car takes up a lot of space. On city streets, the car driver feels hemmed in by the parked cars at either side. The usual speed is 20, maybe 25 mph. This irritates the motorcyclist, who takes up much less room. On a crowded, one-way street, I'm comfortable going at least 10mph least...usually more. In the middle of the road, a motorcycle has ample clearance in any direction for clear sailing.

From behind, I see that a car also has ample clearance, so much so that I could scare the bejeezus out of that driver by passing on either side with a quick downshift and pull on the throttle. I don't though. Being able to do something doesn't make it right, especially when it would scare the bejeezus out of someone and cause them to swerve into some property damage and possible personal injury. This is why I seem so impatient behind you, Mr. Auto. We could be going faster and be just as safe.

From where I perch, atop my trusty Ninja 250R, I can see over your roof and let me tell you, there aren't any obstacles ahead. This is why I trundle bored behind you, hand on my hip, or tapping the gas tank, or with no hands at all. Nothing is happening and nothing is going to happen except that we are going to get to the end of the street more slowly than we need to. I can pass you in a second if I choose, but I can't trust you to let me do it without endangering me, yourself and everything around you.

Secondly, being small and relatively unprotected, a motorcyclist knows that death or dismemberment is waiting on the corner. This fact sharpens up the senses. When a motorcyclist mounts his or her means of propulsion, their mind enters a different state, one that is defensively reflexive and ready for anything. This is true in urban and rural settings, but cities tend to accentuate the zen adrenaline. So, set with a hair trigger to react to mishap, moving along in third gear at 25mph is frustrating. The skills demand exercise now that are ready to be put into play.

Going fast isn't really reckless on a motorcycle. It is what is meant to happen. The bike is designed to rev and speed. Any driver worth his or her salt is trained and prepared to handle the bike. To think of them as two-wheeled cars is foolish and to expect them to be bound by the same constraints is patronizing. The people who write the traffic laws and set the speed limits don't usually drive motorcycles. It shows. Anyone who has ridden a motorcycle knows it is a different experience, it is like comparing lying in a coffin to soaring to Heaven.

Yes, motorcycles speed and rightly so. I'm not recommending motorcyclists be scofflaws. I am recommending each drive according to his or her abilities without endangering or scaring anyone else. A monkey can travel 110mph in a straight line. On the curves, a monkey might not know to slow down. A good cyclist will. With so much power under the seat, it's important not to abuse it. We all know where inexperienced cyclists end up: in Heaven.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Urban demographics

A common demographic fact, often overlooked, is that an urban conglomeration cannot sustain its population by birthrate alone. A city's population can grow, be stable or contract, but none of these situations relies on how many residents are making whoopie, as they used to say on "The Newlywed Game."

From the beginning of civilization, the history of cities, metropoli have relied on immigration to swell their ranks and gain importance. The bigger the city, the more influence it has; its market is bigger, its opportunities are more numerous, its strength is geometrically magnified, its reputation is bolstered depending the size of its population. People move to cities. When they move away from a city, the city becomes a town.

Why can't a city reproduce its citizens in sufficient numbers to grow to greatness? Despite the many spiritual and productive rewards a city offers, health isn't among them. Close proximity to so many other people, all of whom harbor diseases (including you, gentle reader) can lower the life expectancy. Also, there are plenty of diversions in a diversions in a city, things that take your mind off some of the baser impulses of simple reproduction. Look at Boston: there is an art museum, a symphony, several theaters, restaurants, Shakespeare on the Common, nightlife, lectures to attend, ball games, all sorts of things that people attend rather than making the beast with two backs in their condo when the workday is done. Sex happens in blue blooded Boston, but probably not as often as it does in Hinton, West Virginia, where there is little else to do.

So West Virginian babies get born and they grow up and they see little opportunity to make a living so they move to a city with a population greater than 2,880. A few make their way to Boston. The same is true of the broods raised in Skunkdrop, Kentucky or Spigot, Iowa. The hinterlands keep a stable population or shrink, drastically in some cases, while cities grow. This was true of Ur, of Alexandria, of Rome, of Bruges, Paris and any other place you can think of up to the present.

This is why when you visit middle America, you'll be struck that most of the people you meet are either very old or children. It is also why longtime urbanites who have lived in a city all their lives complain about the young urban professionals who are moving in and changing the way things were last decade. A city is an organism in flux, always soaking up new blood. If it didn't it would shrivel as Boston had been doing until fairly recently. According to the Census Bureau, Boston's population is a smidge above 600,000. It used to be closer to 800,000. City planners used to plan for a population that passed a million.

Did the city lose population because because people stopped having babies? Human nature being what it is, I doubt that. People moved away and new people didn't move in. It is still going on. Any gain in Boston's population results in a loss for some other, smaller burg somewhere in the world.

I haven't researched Dorchester's census data. I suspect some parts are growing stronger while others are atrophying, like much of Boston overall. The Globe's article on Portland made me think of this. One of the critiques of that city's transportation policy is that it isn't changing residents' behavior so much as it is attracting emigration of citizens attracted by those policies. That is what a city does. Attracting emigration is a city's reason for being.

Yesterday, I promised some whimsy. Not today, I'm afraid. After spending time in New Orleans, I've been contrasting and comparing two very different places in my mind, measuring what each does right and the unintended consequences to which these cultures lead.

Friday, August 14, 2009

It's all about Yoon

The race isn't really all about mayoral candidate Sam Yoon, but sometimes it should be. Though he hasn't yet seemed to mention it on his website, Universal Hub reports that the freshest face in the mayoral race has come up with a gim-crack idea that is long overdue. As Yoon is quoted as saying, "The bottom line is that Boston's residents are our customers (and our bosses), and we should treat them that way."

While the notion isn't exactly fresh, after all, all politicians in a democracy give lip service to serving constituents, Mr. Yoon is proposing offering services at times when people have the free time to utilize them. According to the report, the New Kid on the Block is proposing to keep City Hall open late one night a week. Such a simple idea, so commonplace in any other service sector, struck this reader as a bolt from the blue. Why shouldn't government be available when I am free to access it? Why do I take it as an article of faith that when I need to transact some business at City Hall, I need to be inconvenienced and make arrangements and make my productivity temporarily absent from greater Boston's humming economy?

Everyone knows bureaucracy is a sinkhole of needless effort tripped up by a quagmire of nonsensical hurdles to get anything done. What if the pain of standing in line and filling our forms to be stamped before progressing to the next line and the next forms, could be done without squandering paid time off from work, that most precious of commodities? Would that make the bitter pill of dealing with bored clerks and contradictory regulations easier to swallow? I am going to go out on a limb and say, "YES."

I had to get a resident parking sticker for my motorcycle so I took a Friday morning off to go to City Hall. What if City Hall were open late on Wednesdays, as the Boy Wonder-at-Large seems to be proposing? I would be much happier and not watching the clock as I swam through the morass of providing proof of residence. Especially since it took two visits to accomplish this mission. Total time sliced off my vacation allowance: 6 hours. It wasn't relaxing.

There may be union issues. The proposal doesn't seem to be asking for more hours worked, just a shift in when the 'work' gets done. If City Hall stays open late on Wednesdays, it will close early on Fridays because, really, who wants to get a jump on the weekend standing in line to be told you don't have the right paperwork to do what you want? The unions may say that this will rob employees of time better spent with their families. Think of the summer months when parents will be able to take their children out for larks in Boston's many public parks on Friday afternoons, or be home to help with difficult homework assignments, allowing a full Saturday or Sunday spent bonding and nurturing. This idea is a win-win all around.

I'm all for Yoon's zip car idea and other things he's proposed, but this one is a winner. This could change the race. Will the other candidates make a swipe? Tune into the news tomorrow, but not here. Our political editorializing budget is starting to run low. It's about time for a whimsy injection. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dot Confucius

"In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of." - Confucius.

The same can be said of a city.

As a magnet of opportunity, a great metropolis draws immigrants from all walks of life. It used to be that the wealthy as well as the poor lived cheek by jowl in our cities. This is still somewhat the case in Boston. While many of the wealthy have emigrated to the suburbs, Beacon Hill is still a fashionable address for the upper crust. Their are new, luxury condominiums high above the rest of the older city skyline around the waterfront and the Common. The same can't be said about the other neighborhoods though.

Roxbury Heights for instance, was once quite prosperous. You can tell by the architecture that remains. I drove through the neighborhood this afternoon and nowadays it is more ghost town than prosperous. Ashmont Hill isn't in such an abandoned state, but it has seen more glamorous days. Some of the streets are the most picturesque in Boston and, in fact, my favorite house in the city is located on Melville Avenue. Tell someone in Tory Row that you live in Ashmont and they'll say, "How can you? The Red Line smells like urine after Savin Hill!" Not true, the breeze off Dorchester Bay sprinkles the atmosphere with the aroma of April freshness. Even in August.

While no one should be begrudged having a little extra pocket change or a nest egg socked away for retirement, these things seem to be the exception rather than the norm in many parts of Dorchester. What does that say about Dorchester in particular and Boston as a whole? While extreme poverty may be negligible, so is extreme wealth in the Dot. To say the neighborhood is middle class is accurate and there is no shame in that. To say it is upper middle class is a stretch of the imagination even this daydream believer cannot swallow.

When a city is governed well, poverty, while not something to ashamed of per se, is symptomatic of a broken system. When a city is mismanaged, the means of achieving comfortable wealth are distasteful. The same is true of influence, reputation, and perquisites. What is the source of access? Character and ability, or connections and the ability to make 'donations'? Would you tell your mother how you earned them?

I'm no insider. The only time I've been inside City Hall was to get my Dorchester parking sticker, a plain slug of a design for motorcycles on which the clerk writes Dorchester and the expiration date with indelible magic marker (and not with the best penmanship, I might add). Is the city mismanaged? We have an experienced urban mechanic keeping the gears well-greased. I have little interaction with the local government aside from dodging or paying parking tickets and dealing with what seems to be an regular stream of excise tax bills.

I am not insinuating any corruption in the current administration. Plenty of innuendo surrounds it, but it just that: nothing proven and certainly nothing egregious. It could be an interesting election. Or it might not. As Tuesday's editorial below was entitled, The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Julie & Julia & Goldwater

I am conservative in my tastes. Though fond of the Beats, it is from a distance of thirty years that I discovered them. Had I been alive in the 1950s, I don't know how attractive I would have found them. Though I was a punk, I was more the art school variety than an anarchist squatter. While I tend to be of a fairly liberal state of mind socially, my politics tend to run more conservative. I will come out and say that I am more Goldwater Republican than Great Society believer, for whatever that means. To me, it means that I am all for government spending on defense and other programs that benefit everyone in common and I am less inclined to support meddling in other people's personal affairs. "The government is best that governs least," and other bromides. I like to be left alone and I like to leave other people alone without judging their intentions. No political party captures my heart at the moment.

I am also a snob. I'm not ashamed to say it. I like what I like and I don't like what I don't. I'm happy to concede that other people can like what I don't and I don't begrudge them their enjoyment in wallowing in lowest common denominator entertainments. This statement sounds dismissive because it is, but these things aren't for me. So what? I am not refined so much as eccentric and whatever is happening in popular culture is usually outside the stream I am swimming in. I don't miss what I don't see. If I am highbrow, and I'm not certain I really am, it is because I tend to think too much. I think, therefor I am. I don't find any cause for shame in that.

This report is a movie review, however, though that hasn't been clear until now.

I haven't been to the Transformers movie that is very popular and I won't be sitting through the latest GI Joe screen gem. I did succumb to going to the latest Star Trek picture, but I left unsatisfied. Too modern, too much skittery camera work and violence and characterization shorthand, since we are all already familiar with the characters. Nothing new and little of interest.

Tonight we went to see Julie and Julia and if my description of my background hasn't turned you off, I would like to recommend it. It was an choice between an Errol Flynn flick at the Brattle or Julie & Julia at the Loews on the Common. I didn't think the lady of the house would enjoy swashbuckling (though I had never heard of the film playing at the Brattle tonight, had it been Robin Hood, I may have felt differently) so I pushed what I thought would be a chick flick at Loews. The lady of the house agreed without putting up a fight. I'm not macho by any stretch of the imagination, my admiration for John Wayne and my motorcycle notwithstanding, but sitting through film geared toward a distaff audience doesn't necessarily appeal to me. I had read a few reviews and thought I would be able to tolerate two hours. I not only tolerated the running time, I enjoyed it. Immensely.

It was a pretty full house for a 7:00 Wednesday showing and there were plenty of men in the audience without female companionship. They were young men and not all of them outwardly gay, though I don't really have a radar for these things. This film isn't camp and it isn't just for women. The men in this film are good men, as good as the women who are the main characters. This isn't a film about dysfunction, which is a kind of film for which I have little patience (Little Miss Sunshine, or Clerks, or any number of 'indie' pictures). This is a film about pursuing your goal honorably and succeeding. There's no shock value. It is wholesome while being adult. There is no nudity, no violence and little cussing. Yet it is adult. Imagine that.

There is little glamour. The characters are real people, likable people, people who overcome their foibles, or, rather, who make their foibles their strengths, the way real people do when they succeed. The two title characters have their counterparts in partners that love them for what they are. The men in this movie are not John Wayne, but in their own way they are: they have values, they love, they don't bend but they support. They are honorable.

I left this movie, not dizzy from consuming two hours of empty eye candy. Neither did I leave the movie with the message that "I'm a fuck-up and that's okay." I left thinking I would like to be a better partner for the woman in my life. I don't think I am a particularly bad partner and the lady of the house doesn't seem to think so either, but this isn't a bad impulse to take away from watching a film. $11.00 well spent. Nothing about this film left me feeling guilty or soiled or used or gulled into giving up eleven bucks. I left with inspiration.

This is where my conservative tastes come in. I want to see a film, or any artwork, that appeals to my better instincts. If I want to watch something base there is plenty of pornography and pseudo-porn available. If I want to confirm that my shortcomings are acceptable there are plenty of outlets that will comfort me, but being content with being small is a nutrient-deficient gruel. Witnessing an example of nourishing love and persistence and fortitude in the face of commonplace odds, not world-threatening ones but life-satisfying ones, gives me hope and food for thought. Character, not special effects or sound tracks, get us through to the end of our days and make us the best human beings we can be. A few more films like this probably won't be financial successes, but the bottom line isn't always measured in dollars and I thank whatever show biz deity is responsible for bringing them to the screen. This is the kind of entertainment I crave.

Two women wrote two books and a movie was made of them. Smart men loved them. Good women, good men, these things, and love make the world go round.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose

Who says Boston is a museum that was trapped in rose colored amber just after the American Revolution? I've been gone a week, between August 1 and August 9, and the times they have a'changed.

The sales tax went up. I knew it was going to happen but I didn't realize how it would affect me or even when. Well, it affected me this morning when I bought a coffee at J.P. Licks. Instead of $2.05 cents, the register rang up $2.07. I'm glad I was looking because I only handed the manager my usual two Washingtons and a nickel. He didn't say anything and took it as payment in full without comment, but when I looked at the register screen, I realized I entered a new Massachusetts when I disembarked from American Airlines flight 5326 on Sunday evening. I should have already known.

Yesterday, I went to Eagle Liquors on Dot Ave and purchased a liter of Cossack brand vodka. Instead of the $8.99 I've grown accustomed to paying, I now have to pay sales tax at the packy. Total purchase price thanks to the Commonwealth: $9.55. I was caught off guard at the time but I had inquired last month when this would be going into effect. The full 6.25% being more onerous than the added 1.25% on everything else I may purchase.

The biggest news tectonic shift in my parochial world is that the MBTA has a new "interim" general manager. Daniel Grabauskas has been forced to resign while I was enjoying the delights of New Orleans' mass transit system. I've never had any complaints about the T except that it doesn't run through my back yard all night. Despite that, I find it useful and I haven't any complaints about Mr. Grabauskas' performance. He has done well enough with the tools he's been given. Will a mass transit overhaul be in our future? I doubt it, but I think Mr. Grabauskas did a good enough job and I don't see the need to pay out a severance package for what will probably be an equal level of dysfunction if not more so under an interim manager.

The only thing that hasn't changed is that Mayor Menino is still steady at the helm. I've slept well knowing some things are constant. Also, I'm wearing a jacket on my porch at 6:30 PM on August 11. Boston's weather is as lackluster as its leadership. Nothing wrong with that, of course, if it works.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dorchester robbery

There wasn't any need to contact the Dorchester Crime Unit at District C-11 HQ, but while we were away last week a thief broke into a certain Savin Hill apartment. Losses were negligible, maybe sixty cents, but the circumstances are confounding enough for commentary.

Though a large Vietnamese contingent has settled in this section of Dorchester, the neighborhood has deep Irish-American roots. The local restaurants and the smells wafting out of neighborhood kitchens confirms this. The cuisine tends to shy away from sharp flavors. Spice racks are typically stocked with iodized salt and factory-ground black pepper. Maureen Shea once told me that freshly ground pepper is too spicy and she never understood how people could eat it. "It's something fancy they do in the Back Bay and that's why I never eat out there," she said. Aside from these two staples, there is usually also a jar of caraway seeds to knock the winds out of boiled cabbage. Garlic? That's something the Eye-talians in the North End and Eastie eat, but not real Dorchesterites.

Before we went on vacation last week, we dutifully ate all the leftovers, leaving the cupboard bare until our return. One thing that was left, however, were two heads of garlic that rested in a dish on the counter. These heads of garlic were the target of the thievery that took place in our absence.

Despite the long-established, cartoon paradigm, mice don't really crave cheese. In fact, if you are setting traps, most people recommend using peanut butter as bait, though I've often heard gum drops are equally effective. To my knowledge, no one has ever recommended putting a garlic clove in a mousetrap, but it seems that one mouse has developed a taste for this cornerstone of Mediterranean cooking. Over the course of eight days a mouse devoured two heads of garlic leaving only the empty, papery skins.

How do we know it was a mouse and not some other intruder? I don't need to be a part-time private eye to crack this case and finger the perp. There were garlicky mouse droppings all around the scene of the crime. The problem is, this has to be an out-of-town job. What self-respecting Dot mouse would develop a taste for garlic? The answer is that it's not possible. Two theories:

1. Knowing we would be out of town, a certain mus musculus hopped the Blue Line out of Orient Heights and after several transfers on the MBTA, made his way to JFK/UMASS station for a garlic binge. He or she was sloppy about leaving evidence but hotfooted it back to home base before we returned to catch him red-handed with full cheeks.

2. A North End rodent tired of Haymarket scraps hopped the Orange Line and transferred to the Red at Downtown Crossing.

The only other alternative, Dot-on-Dot crime, is unthinkable. Needing some garlic for the first home-cooked meal in a week, I resigned myself, as a victim, to stop by the Shaw's at Harbor Point to restock my garlic supply. A regretful end to a perfect vacation, but, really, I needed to do some grocery shopping anyway.


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