Monday, November 30, 2009

Dot heroes don't wear spandex

Dorchester is the dark heart of a wider metropolis. The weed of crime bears bitter fruit in Dorchester, Mass. Hard men and their molls get beaten to pulps in Dorcheser but there are good men too, and good women. Dorchester isn't a cesspool that catches only society's detritus. Dorchester is a garden in which strong oaks grow out of soil fertilized by yards and yards of turned over, overturned shit. Some people think it stinks in Dorchester, and it does. It smells good.

You won't only find heroes in comic books. You can find them in Dorchester. Dorchester's heroes don't wear spandex. They wear Dickies, they wear coveralls, they wear uniforms; they may not dress to impress but they dress appropriately for the job they fulfill. Dot heroes don't just wear a symbol on their chests. Nobody is named S. They have their first names embroidered over their hearts: Al,Tom, Mickey, John. Dorchester heroes don't wear their hearts on their sleeves; they wear their names over their hearts.

Dorchester is home to heroinnes too. They don't flaunt thier cleavage and they aren't necessarily sexy, unless accomplishments are as sexy as oversized breasts (they are!). Dot heroines wear their names over their hearts as well, printed on tags under corporate logos all over this city. Dunkin Donuts, Au Bon Pain, Best Buy, Marriot, Sheraton...these are but a few of the corporate sponsors who support Dot heroism.

It takes a tough community to make a tender neighborhood. Dorchesterites are a sharp as flint and they succeed day after day against steep odds. Dorchester itself is a good place in which to raise a family. Truth and justice are the Dorchester way. Delivery trucks, sidewalks, the Red Line, buses, bicycles, jalopies...they all carry Dorchester heroes and heroines.

To the Dot-mobile, Al! There's an oil delivery to make and an example to be set!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Island of Misfit Bostonians

A city is a collection of personalities, welcoming to all and turning none away. As a place where opportunities abound, Boston hosts its share of odd bodkins and the social misfits are more concentrated in some neighborhoods than others. No one will argue that Boston is homogenized. Every nook is home to a niche in the city's larger market.

If Beacon Hill is home to bluebloods and West Roxbury is home to suburbanites...if Hyde Park is home to retirees with nowhere else to go and Eastie is a magnet for Latin Americans...if Charlestown a nettle of subsidized housing and chi-chi gentrification...if Southie is home base for the gay friends of Eddie Coyle...if the Back Bay and the South End are bustling while preserved in amber...if Roxbury and Mission Hill are rough and tumble while quiet most days, and Jamaica Plain is a creative enclave....Dorchester is the Land of Misfit Toys.

Dorchester is an island in the sense that it is only attached to the rest of Boston by the most tenuous connections. Crossing Dot Ave southward at Andrew Square is like crossing a bridge between where things make sense and terra incongnita. Hold tightly to your hope all ye who enter the Dot.

At shops in Codman Square you can buy squirt guns that shoot jelly. In Mattapan, the hot toy this year is something called "A John-in-the-Box" rather than Jack or Charlie. A Neponset retailer is retailing airplane models that double as submarines capable of sewer maneuvers. Anyone who has spent a night on the town in Dorchester can tell you that this is the part of Boston inhabited by spotted elephants and many a child's bed is home to stuffed models that provide the proof.

Dorchester is a place of odd angles and juxtapositions. It is a misfit part of Boston where worlds collide and promises realign. Everything is in an easy, unlikely balance. Dorchester is an island that is lapped by water on only some of its borders. On the landlocked sides, Columbia Road serves the same role as a river, Franklin Park is like an inland sea. South Bay, long filled in, is another place where liquid, air and earth are like the wall fire in the Planet of the Apes' Forbidden Zone: scary but illusory. It is easy to leap over the crack in the pavement that separates Dorchester from the rest of Boston.

The Dot isn't an island. There are no more misfits in Dorchester than there are in the rest of Boston. It is a matter of perspective. I rode an elephant home from Upham's Corner last night.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A salute to Paul Ward

I've always heard it said that the smartest Bostonians are the ones in Roslindale. Though I haven't been in Boston as long as some people, I did stumble across a nugget of proof that this factoid has been true since at least 1962.

I was reading a less-than-mint condition copy of Fantastic Four #6, "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!" cover dated Sept. 1962. While poring over the letters column on page 14, I noticed an item about a contest that appeared in Issue #4 asking readers to explain a plot point in that story that occurred all the way back in Issue #2. A $5.00 prize was offered to the reader who came up with the most logical explanation.

The winner was Jonathan Latham of Raleigh, SC, but as the editor noted, there were so many plausibly correct answers that the prize was given to the first one received. Everyone else got their names printed on that very page.

Out of all the logical answers, only two were from Bay Staters. One chap was from Milford and the other was one Mr. Paul Ward of Roslindale, Mass. The name fairly leaps off the page, being the second name in the left hand column. Nice work Paul Ward! His answer is lost to posterity but, knowing the ingenuity of Roslindale folk, you can bet it was spot-on.

In one of those quirks of old comics, though the cover date is September, the editor notes that the winners' list was compiled on March 14, 1962. Even allowing for usual deadlines, this issue probably hit the stands in late June or July. Yes, the stands. Those were the days when a kid could buy a comic book at any corner store. Perhaps Mr. Ward, older and presumably wiser, can answer why a kid can't buy a comic in his neighborhood nowadays.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Boston performance drug

DATELINE: 11/27/09. DORCHESTER, MASS. Heh. The day after Thanksgiving and everybody in Dorchester seems a little logey. No one will go on record saying this is business as usual. Though Dorchester has a reputation as being the most relaxed of Bostons neighborhoods (as well as the biggest and the best!), this year's Black Friday seems to find people a bit more like somnambulists on the sidewalks marching to Morpheus' drumbeat. If none of this article makes sense yet, you must not have attended one of Dorchester's public elementary schools.

People like to nap after a Thanksgiving meal. They blame it on the tryptophan in the turkey. People in Dorchester like to nap every day of the year and they don't devour any more turkey than anyone else in Boston. People in Dorchester are relaxed though and they count their blessings. Everyday in Dorchester is Thanksgiving. If that fact is true, so is this: every day is also the day after Thanksgiving.

Can you feel a burst of thankfulness for living in Dorchester coming on about now? I do.

Is it tryptophan that makes Dorchester so easy-going and easy-to-get-along-in? No. It's Dotamine, a drug native to Dorchester's air and society. It's a phermone that builds patience and muscle and animal magnetism. If someone could figure out how to bottle it, it would change your life. As it is, the only way to benefit from Dotamine is to move to Dorchester. In a week's time you won't suffer from ulcers, migraines or a spastic colon. You will be like a Chinese sage sipping tea beside a mountain stream listening to the song of cicadas and the wing beats of a lone heron overhead.

I was talking to someone at Ashmont Station this morning waiting for the Mattapan High Speed. He was nodding off as we discussed the rain but all of a sudden he snapped to attention. Ten feet away, an umbrella dropped to the pavement. This man swooped over like a hawk, caught the umbrella's handle and cradled it into the woman's hand from which it had been shaken loose. She thanked him for his intervention. She didn't get a drop of spatter either from above or below on her hairdo.
When I feel sleepy but swagger-y and Dorchester-y, I like to listen to a little Montefiore Cocktail.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A New Yorker died in Boston

This is a complicated story about Harold Ross, a reporter, man of letters, and a member of the American Legion, who came under the aegis of Boston's renowned medical establishment; first to be healed and later to meet his demise. Sometimes, that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Every city has its strengths and character. This brief history lesson isn't meant to imply that New York is good at enabling literature while Boston is good at killing people. It is interesting however, that in the year 2009, New York is still a cultural capitol while Boston is a medical capitol. Boston used to be a literary capitol, but that scene has had a very weak pulse in recent decades.

This story has nothing to do with Dorchester, Boston's best neighborhood, beyond the address of your author who is writing this disclaimer. I find it interesting nonetheless and I hope you do too, for whatever reason. In the interest of brevity, tantalizing details have been dropped without digression.

Harold Wallace Ross was a private in WWI from his enlistment until his discharge. He was a reporter and an editor at Stars and Stripes, which remains the way soldiers, sailors and airmen get their news in paper form. After the Treaty of Versailles, Mr. Ross settled in New York City where he tried to run a publication aimed at veterans, but he didn't really make a go at it. He channeled his energy and editing skills into a new endeavor, a little magazine he called The New Yorker. He met with somewhat more success.

Like many men in high-stress positions at the time, Harold Ross suffered from gastric ulcers. This is a malady that hardly occurs anymore (another fascinating story in itself) but at the time it was felt to be caused by stress and aggravated by diet. Seeking a cure, Mr. Ross came to Boston, to the Lahey Clinic that was located at 605 Commonwealth Avenue. He was the patient of Dr. Sara Lahey, a famed gastroenterologist and one of the first to specialize in the field. The French diet Dr. Lahey prescribed suited Mr. Ross and led to an improvement of his symptoms. Together they published a cookbook titled, Good Food for Bad Stomachs.

In 1951 Mr. Ross was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx. This was treated with radiation but not before the tumor had spread to one of his lungs. In December of that year, Mr. Ross left New York for one last time for Boston. The Lahey Clinic didn't have it's own operating rooms at the time. Surgeons utilized the facilities at New England Baptist Hospital, the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, and New England Deaconess Hospital. All three of these hospitals, as well as the Lahey Clinic, survive in one form or another to this day, New England Baptist seemingly the most unchanged.

It isn't readily apparent from the records in which operating suite Harold Ross underwent his exploratory pneumonoscopy. What is apparent is that on December 6, 1951, his heart failed on the operating table and he died in Boston.

The New Yorker magazine continues, of course. So does the Stars and Stripes, the Algonquin Hotel, of which Mr. Ross was a member of its famed Round Table, the American Legion and the Lahey Clinic, though that is no longer located within Boston's city limits.

Besides the obvious Wikipedia entries, this article from the BBC was interesting.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Loving the Dot Life.

Birds do it. Bees do it. People in Eastie and in West Roxbury do it. People in Dorchester do it too: they fall in love.

A city is a school of hard knocks and Boston is no exception. There is a reason that MIT and Harvard are located across the Charles River in Cambridge. Painful lessons get taught and learned in a metropolis where the spoons are not cast in sterling silver but in zinc and lead, pig iron and trace molybdenum, a curry of slag and mercury tailings mixed into a slurry of ferrous sulfate, ferrous oxate and feral habits. Some intellectual meals are consumed with dainty silverware, while others are served up on the blades of snow shovels and forced down an unwilling student's throat with a boot heel and a blackjack that is more bitter than any supermarket or convenience store brand of licorice.

It takes a neighborhood to raise a child, and anyone who can recognize that fact can be the Secretary of State or, maybe, even President of all 50 United States. There is no rule that someone born and raised in Dorchester, Mass., the biggest and best part of Boston, cannot reach past the limits of her or his potential. Comets never stop. Dorchester hasn't stopped moving or evolving since Time began. There is no evidence to suggest that Dorchester itself doesn't set the standard toward which other places should aim. Some places lead. Eventually, other places will follow the sweet, sweet smell of success. For the moment, at least, Dorchester stands alone.

Dorchester is unique. Spend a few hours on Bowdoin Street or on Columbia Road or on the mid-southerly stretches of Columbia Road. You learn quickly enough that you're not in Roxbury anymore. You learn quickly enough that while you are in Boston, you are in a different kind of Boston. You are in Dorchester. You're in the Dot, and the Dot is not a pot of jam, a pot of mustard, or a cannabis market. It is a place in which generations follow one anther trying to do well for everyone involved, personally, familiarly and communally. Each party pulling ever upward at the sails with all hands on deck.

Children are raised in Dorchester to become responsible adults, productive citizens, vertebrae in Boston's semi-rigid, semi-flexible, ramrod backbone. Adults spend their whole lives in Dorchester, mixing their good will and collected energy, minute-by-passing minute, into the concrete that will cement a better tomorrow. Love makes a community and love blossoms in Dorchester. Sometines that love is passionate. Most often that love is resigned and contented that good work is being done.

Birds do it and bees do it. Dorchesterites do it too. There is plenty of room and time in Dorchester for love. Office workers downtown watch the clock ready to punch out and get on with thier real lives, their Dot lives. They leave Boston proper and head home on the bus or the Fairmont Line or the Red Line. You can love your job in Boston but if you live in Dorchester, that's where you really love your life.

Some different ways to think about the facts of Dorchester.....

...secrets, situations, comedies, decadence....Dorchester...100% on the Dot.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

An interuption

Apologies for the interruption in our usual programming. Some unforeseen work obligations crept up on little cat feet. We will resume our usual schedule the weekend after Thanksgiving, with some intermittent reports in between.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Early Christmas on time

It's beginning to look a bit like Christmas at Neponset Circle. Though it's only mid-November and temperatures haven't yet hit the freezing point, a pine tree is standing tall in anticipation in one of Boston's more convoluted intersections. Dorcehster ends and Quincy begins at one point: Neponset. It is the only way to get directly there from here. It's also a mishmash of dedicated lanes, overpasses, blind turns, mixed signals and general confusion. Drivers navigate Neposet Circle's meanderings like rodents sniffing out Limburger. They can sense their goal but they can't see how to reach it beyond trial and error.

Little is pretty at Neponset Circle besides the cast iron clock. Now there is another cheerful feature. A Christmas tree has been set in the city's standard cast concrete, conical base, painted forest green with a spangle of gold stars stencilled on. Today is November 15. Will this pine tree last, evergreen, until December 25th? Will it last till Epiphany? There is no sign (surprisingly) giving credit to the mastermind who decided mid-November is time to start decking Boston's further flung neighborhoods with Yuletide trimmings. Anyone familiar with how the city is run has no doubt that the greenery has been set up under the aegis of the mayor, the history-making Thomas Menino. Long may he reign as the people's choice.

Perhaps someone mentioned during the recent mayoral campaign that they would like Christmas to come early to Neponset. The incumbent, comfortable at pulling the levers of power, replied, "I can make that happen." After Election Day, the word went down the chain of command and voila: a Christmas tree sits at the foot of Neponset Avenue. Better early than never.

The City of Boston wishes everyone en route to Quincy happy holidays, Thanksgiving included! Office pools have already started to pick the day a placard will be planted next to this tannenbaum. What will the sign say? That is subject for another pool but most bets rest on variations of "Season's Greetings from Mayor Thomas M. Menino." Those are words that warm the heart like cocoa heated a few degrees above tepid. Season's Greetings!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Lech Walesa Bridge

Motorists reaching the butt end of Morrissey Boulevard will find that construction is in progress on the Lech Walesa Bridge. It's understandable if you may not have heard of this bridge. It's not really as prominent a landmark as the Tobin and the Zakim Bridges. Its not as attractive as the footbridge in the Public Garden. In fact, the Lech Walesa Bridge isn't picturesque at all.

I doubt anyone has informed the former President of Poland, a renowned anti-communist and labor organizer, that Boston is home to a bridge named in his honor. It's nothing much to look at. In fact, if there weren't repairs going on, few people would know they were crossing the Lech Walesa Bridge. Because there is commonwealth-funded construction, there needs to be a sign describing what is done and what political authorities are responsible for this feat of civic engineering. The sign has raised awareness of Poland's post-glasnost politics.

Before the repaving, everyone thought of this as the overpass to get from Morrisey Blvd to that annoying Columbia Road rotary.

What majestic geographic feature does the Lech Walesa Bridge cross? Mount Vernon Street, a potholed, utilitarian, urban artery that connects the Harbor Point Shopping Center (a Shaw's supermarket and a liquor store) with the back side of the UMASS Boston Campus. The views from the bridge are as inspiring as its architechture. Function followed form in this case. The Lech Walesa Bridge is no Zakim. Nobody earned any overtime designing this gem. It is a featureless, by-the-numbers, concrete overpass. It was probably named Municipal Overpass #633 in the design stage but some bright legislator got the idea in his head that it would serve as a fitting tribute to the President of Poland.

On behalf of Dorchester as a whole, I would like to formally apologize to Lech Walesa. His life, its struggles, its successes and the effect he has had, not only in Poland but on the world community, deserves better than having his name plopped on any piece of infrastructure that happened to be unnamed at the time. It was only fate that this overpass didn't have a name attached to it. The unintended slight is nothing compared to the Mikhail Gorbachev Sewage Pumping Station located in Lower Mills. The Nelson Mandela Storm Grate on Van Winkle Street is another example of a poorly considered honor.

Dorchester is home to a Ronald Reagan Dog Walk, the Winston Churchill Aluminum Can Drop-Off Center, and the Buzz Aldrin Community Compost Heap. Dorchester knows how to recognize greatness. It's just a little fuzzy on how to commemorate it.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

All roads lead to Dorchester

The whole day long an old sweet song keeps Dorchester on my mind. It's a song as old as the ocean, blowing in the breeze.

In Dorchester, arms reach out to me and eyes wink tenderly. In peaceful dreams I see sweet, Dorchester; that sweet, sweet Dorchester that whispers seductively through the trees that line the streets. In the parks after dark there's a melody that's more rhapsody than threnody. Dorchester is that part of Boston that is home to sweet, contented joys.

Oh, Dorchester! Dorchester... I've walked all over Boston and still no peace do I find. The wind blows like an old song and the wind brings Dorchester back to my mind. It's a sentimental feeling that leaves me kind of blue. The song the wind breathes, though, reminds me that all roads lead to you. Be it zephyr or bluster, caress or gust, the light touch of air reminds me I've got to reach Dorchester or bust.

The T may be running late but my heart has no room for hate. I'm in a Dorchester state of mind... a honeyed, nostalgic, sleepy-eyed, fuzzy and snuggly Dorchester state of mind. Oh my. I'm in a perfect Dorchester, ADORE-chester, more-better-Dorchester state of mind. Ah, yes.

Pianists tickle ivories. Dorchester tickles fancies. Footloose without preconceptions, Dorchester weighs on a dreamer's mind. It's an easy feeling to forget and forgetting Dorchester is cause for regret. Rather than sip at a bitter brew, Dorchester, I'm headed home to you.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Necco needs a Dot Bar

We're spoiled in Boston because we still have our own regional candy factory. Everyone knows that Necco stands for New England Confectionary Company. You can go to any convenience store and pick up a roll of Necco Wafers, well aware that they were made a few miles north in Revere.

Between 1764 and 1965, chocolate was milled closer to home, inside city limits, at a location that is the crown jewel of stops on the Mattapan High-Speed Line, almost criminally named Milton rather than Lower Mills. Why doesn't Dorchester have it's own candy? The neighborhood certainly has its own flavor. Maybe Necco can send some confectioners to Dorchester to concoct a local equivalent of their popular Sky Bar.

The Sky Bar is a candy box in a single wrapper, a candy bar consisting of four separate compartments, each containing a different filling. A Dot Bar, constructed in the same manner with each compartment representing a different Dorchester neighborhood, would likewise contain a differently flavored, sastifying, lip-smacking, finger-licking filling.

The Sky Bar's four flavors are: fudge, caramel, peanut and vanilla. These don't correspond to anything or have any symbolic values. They happened to be the most popular candy flavors when the bar was introduced in 1938.

Some people complain that all the compartments of the Sky Bar taste similar. I admit, I probably wouldn't be able to tell one end from another in a blind taste test. In 2009, the Dot Bar should be made up of strong and discernably tangy flavors more in keeping with modern sensibilities that prefer shock over subtlety. This recipe would also mirror Dorchester's nature. Of course, Fudge should still be one of the Dot Bar's compartments in honor of the Walter Baker Factory in Lower Mills. This would serve as a historic and thematic tie for the Dot Bar to it Necco-produced predecessor as well as Dorchester's long cacao pedigree.

That leaves three compartments to fill. I suggest the following, in keeping with the idea for strong flavor and the unexpected shocks Dorchester delivers. Next to Fudge I would include Barbecue, like the kind found at the Pit Stop in Morton Street Village. That's one taste that dominates the air in that corner of the Dorchester. Brown sugar and tomato may seem odd in a chocolate bar but, as has been proven before, sometimes two great tastes go great together.

I would fill the third chamber with malted milk like the kind found in Easter candy. The malt is reminiscent of the Guiness found in any Dorchester tap room, though suitable for children and, after all, Easter is one of the most Catholic of holidays. There isn't a large Orthodox population in the Dot, otherwise maybe mint flavor to accompany lamb might be better. That's an issue for the makers of the Roz Bar to decide.

What for the fourth chamber on this proposed Dot Bar? It would have to be something Vietnamese. You can't really expect a pho concentrate in a chocolate bar can you? Something along the lines of the tamarind/ginger sweets I find in the local Vietnamese markets would work just fine. A little off the typical New England taste meter, fruity and exotic and savory enough. A little chewy too rather than just sweet goo. Something to mull over as you taste it and grow to like it.

What an assortment. The Dot Bar would be more than a candy box in a bar, it should be a whole neighborhood available for consumption for less than a dollar fifty. If any Necco executives are reading this, please send me a royalty check once you've worked out the manufacturing process. I know at least one part of Boston where this will be a best seller.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Son of Codman Square

Positive media should never be hard to find!

I don't think any Dorchesterite would disagree with that statment. No offense to the Dorchester Reporter, which presents the most well-balanced and fair description of Dorchester affairs as they unfold, but other hide-bound media venues don't always paint the many positive nuances of Dorchester with the same sharp focus as they do the negative.

We understand that blood draws sales but there is more to human interest than misery. Dorchester is home to more than murder or despair. In fact, this part of Boston harbors and nurtures more than its share of hope. More people float than sink in Dorchester and quite a few of them rise.

The sons and daughters of Codman Square and Peabody Square, of Ronin Park and Meeting House Hill, of Savin Hill and Pope's Hill, of Field's Corner and Upham's Corner, of Four Corners, of Lower Mills, of Talbot Ave and of Harbor Point...the sons and daughters of Dorchester will build tomorrow better than today. Dorchester Excelsior!

Postive news about Dorchester shouldn't be hard to find. For those who can't get out to the coffee shops, the barber shops, the grocery shops, the bakeries, the florists, the gas stations, the fraternity halls every day, the internet brings good news to your door if you know where to look.

Set a Google alert for Dorchester, MA and you never know what good news will drop into your virtual mailbox.

Doom Patrol

A stroll through any part of Dorchester, Mass. except Harbor Point, will show that the basics of the neighborhood were build a century or so ago. There is little new afoot. Most developments revolve around perfecting what is already in place. That's a high standard.

I went to ICA tonight (free admission on Thursdays courtesy of a discount retailer that's set up shop in South Bay Center (Northernmost Dorchester). I think I wanted to go last summer and they were between shows, as the girl at the ticket desk warned me. Still admission was (I think) $18. Well, they weren't between shows tonight and, while the show was fairly interesting, free was the right price. Any more than $5 would have left me feeling cheated. The impossible to measure value of access to modern art isn't the point of this essay though.

Fan Pier or Fort Point Channel or Seaport Center or whatever this part of Boston is called nowadays is not very interesting. I took the Silver Line from Dudley to South Station and then to Courthouse. The neighborhoods on the Dudley leg of the trip were much more interesting than when I stepped out of Courthouse, which I admit is a very nice station.

The area is all empty space. Parking lots, towering buildings, no street life, sterile. Dorchester is the opposite of that. Dorchester is as full of detail, character, and life as the barnacled hull of an old scallop trawler. The walk to ICA from the subway station was a dull march through no-man's land. A walk the equivalent distance anywhere in Dorchester will be filled with a feast for the senses and diversions a'plenty. Why does Fan Pier, etc, attract so much interest while Dorchester elicits just yawns from urban visionaries?

Dorchester is already easy to imagine. It sits right in front of you. You can touch it and smell it and feel it. You can smell Fan Pier but otherwise, it is a neighborhood that still consists mostly of pipe dreams and wool-gathering. It may be a fine place someday. If current developments are any indication, it probably won't be as interesting or livable as the Dot. I'll take the dreams that are real than the dreams that are illusory any day, practice over theory. I'll take Dorchester, where at least I can find a convenience store open after 2:00 AM, if nothing else.

Dorchester gets painted as if its fate is naught but Doom. That isn't true. Good things happen in Dorchester every day. A lot more good things than happen along the Harbor Walk along Fan Pier. Boston's life blood is nourished in Dorchester school rooms, not in the media lab or the galleries of ICA. Not in the galleries, for sure!

It may take tall, glass building built on a blank slate to garner the attention of the chattering class. It may take head-scratching, up-to-date styling to attract the buzz of opinion makers. Dorchester doesn't have either. Old and cluttered like a grandparents' parlor, Dorchester is just as comfortable. You can reach your potential in Dorchester without being outre'. You can be great by being yourself, without renouncing your roots or building anew. You can stand on the the shoulders of the giants who came before without reinventing the wheel or the idea of what a neighborhood should or can be. If something isn't broken, there's no need to fix it, only to tune it once in awhile.

No Doom Patrol or wrecking ball for Dorchester. No mistakes were made. The same can't be said along the underground branch of the Silver Line.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Smokey and the Bandit

Breaker! Breaker! The second highest grossing movie in 1977 is playing at the Brattle on December 9th. Not Star Wars; that was the number one. If any film respectably fills the number 2 slot, it's Smooooookey and the Bandit!

I'm not a snob when it comes to most things but I am snobbish when it comes to movies. I think I saw this one once on TV when I was younger and the language was dubbed. For some reason I think I saw Smokey and the Bandit II in the movies, but I don't have any sound memories of that. I rented it recently to give the lady of the house (who spent her youth out-of-country) to offer a taste of 1970s Americana. This movie has got that in spades.

It's not a great movie but I have to say it is a classic. It pains me to remember Jackie Gleason in this role. It isn't that he's bad, it's just that he's capable of much more finer performances: Minnesota Fats, any Honeymooners episode, conducting his own small orchestra... see the snob effect is creeping in?

There is a chemistry to this film though. It's just good fun. Everyone who made it obviously had fun. It ushered in a genre of Southern flavored, drawling, fast-car-based, comedic dramas. There couldn't have been any Dukes of Hazzard without Smokey and the Bandit and the world would be a poorer place for that. It popularized CB radios, a kind of internet in their day. It made heroes out of truck drivers, something that has, sadly, been neglected over the passing decades.

What does this have to do with Dorchester, Mass? Nothing. I wish it did. I wish Dorchester had a movie theater. I've been to stand alone cities smaller than Dorchester that can support their own theater. Even boroughs and burgs that are subsections of small cities can support a kind of theater that serves food and drinks while playing DVDs on big screens. They aren't movie theaters per se, but they provide a simulacrum of the theater experience.

Whenever people gather to share a common experience, community is built. Dorchester is big. It is a collection of neighborhoods coagulated into the biggest neighborhood in Boston, which itself is the biggest city in New England. Small beer? Yes, and small beans too. How hard can it be for Dot pubs to rent a DVD and put on a show other than a Red Sox game? I know dbar has a large screen suitable for movies. Maybe they could show Smokey and the Bandit and other films in the genre. They have Show Tune Tuesdays. Why not Southern Fried Sunday Afternoons? Dukes of Dorchester?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Monocles and monocle repair

While I was ordering a small soft drink at the Burger King at the corner of Washington Street and Columbia Road, I asked the cashier if many people purchased the "Angry Whopper." She looked at me bemused. "You know we're in Dorchester, sir," she said, "The last time I saw anyone having anything to do with 'angry' anything, it was when Sam Yoon came in third place in the mayoral primary." I asked where she lived. "Lower Mills," she replied, and that explained that.

I filled my small cup with Diet Coke and sat down with Xavier Preval, who had been waiting for me. My motorcycle is in the shop and since this November 1st was the perfect defintion of Indian Summer, I decided to hoof it from Savin Hill to whatever part of Dorchester this intersection belongs to. Four Corners? I'm not sure. It may be the furthest edge of Grove Hall. Anyway, Monsieur Preval seemed pleased to see me. He was just finishing up a Whopper Jr. as I sat down across the booth from him.

"Did you sign the lease?" I asked. He replied no. "The bank closed at noon yesterday and I got there at 11:50. We didn't have time to conclude the deal. I will be there tomorrow, Monday, at 9:30AM sharp."

"So the deal is as good as done?" I asked. He said yes. "The loan is as good as signed. Once that is done I will sign the lease and after that I will renovate the shop and be in business in time for Christmas."

"You are renting the same property we discussed last time?" I asked. M. Preval said, "Yes. It is. You know it. It's just a few blocks further down Washington Street." He pointed in the general direction. "I think it's a prime location," he added.

"You're sure that's the best location for what you've got in mind?" I pressed, "That was built to be a car dealership, not for your line of work."

Xavier Preval looked at me patiently. "Mr. King, I appreciate your misgivings. I have had them myself but America, and Dorchester in particular, is a place to dream big. I read the Wall Street Journal. I know a recession is the best time for entrepreneurs to start a new business. That's why I got such a favorable rental agreement. If I didn't believe in my product, I wouldn't sink my life's savings into it. I know there is a market that nobody else in Boston is satisfying. I'm the man to do it and this building is the place in which to do it."

I had to admit that while I have strolled and window shopped all over Boston, I have yet to have found a monocle shop, let alone one that also offers professional and credentialled monocle repairs. I have been to M. Preval's home and seen his inventory. He brought much of it with him from his native Haiti and since moving to Dorchester four years ago he has amassed an even more extensive stock of monocles, leveraging his cab driver salary through savvy, online auction maneuvers. Xavier Preval's father was the optometrist to the Duvaliers so the son has a good eye for quality lenses and settings.

I asked M. Preval why he was set on opening a monocle shop in Dorchester. He daubed at his lips with his napkin, wiping away the last bit of ketchup from his Whopper Jr. He said, "I thought about a more high-foot-traffic area, maybe Charles Street or next to J. Perotti. Being close to the opera or close to where villains congregate may be better for my trade. Then I realized that I will be the only person selling monocles in all of Boston. It doesn't matter where I set up shop. If I build it they will come. Politicians love Dorchester anyway and, really, they're a class of people who suffer stigmatisms. If they'll come to Dorchester, and they obviously will, the rest will follow."

I asked, "Do you mean you intend to cater to crooks, to dastardly characters, to villains?" M. Preval said no. He said, "I will sell monocles to whoever needs to have their vision corrected in one eye. I understand that the monocle-dependant are stereotyped as belonging to the theatrical, criminal fringe. That isn't always the case. My grandmother, God rest her soul, never swatted a fly let alone a grandchild's behind. She used a monocle to read the newspaper. Using a monocle doesn't make you a criminal. It means you don't have the money to spend on two lenses and a corresponding set of frames. This is another reason I think Dorchester is a good place in which to plant my business. People who live in the neighborhoods along Washington Street are frugal."

I asked M. Preval about the monocle repair aspect of his proposed business venture. "That," he said, "will be my main profit center. How do you repair a monocle? There are no screws, no hardware. It's just a lens. I will take it in the back room, polish it, sip a cup of tea out of sight, and bring it out on a swatch of velvet. That's worth a thirty-five dollar bill, at least. Most lanyards that connect to monocles are made of ribbon. I'll charge an extra seven dollars to iron the ribbon if its too wrinkled." He winked.

I had to admit that M. Preval had considered most of the angles regarding his new monocle and monocle repair shop. I wished him the best of luck in securing he loan and the lease. After all, Dorchester is a fertile ground for improbable niche businesses that eventually succeed.

As I deposited my cup in the trash can and M. Preval dumped the contents of his tray, I asked him what the name of his shop would be so that I could give him a plug on this page. He used both of his good eyes to stare squarely into mine. "I want to keep it simple and descriptive: 'Boston Monocles and Monocle Repair.' That has a nice ring to it and anyone looking it up in the Yellow Pages will know what we sell."

I agreed. We shook hands in the Burger King parking lot. Xavier Preval headed south on Washington Street, to inspect his new storefront perhaps. I headed east on Columbia Road, in the direction where the sun had risen a few hours earlier.


Related Posts with Thumbnails