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.

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