Saturday, February 28, 2009


We don't usually go to Cappy Convenience late at night. This corner where East Cottage Street and Crescent Avenue branch off Dot Ave, is a busy intersection and Cappy's is likewise usually busy. I go early in the morning just after they open, 6:00 AM most days, to pick up a newspaper and coffee. It's not too crowded then. I sometimes stop in after work to pick up sundries and there is a line, but nothing like New Store on the Block that is a convenience store/Dunkin' Donuts outlet/state-sponsored gambling mecca.

The streets weren't congested last night. Traffic along Dot Ave was surprisingly light and I parked my Littlest Ninja without having to search for a nook within which to fit it. Cappy's, however, was packed to the seams with people making all sorts of purchases. When I entered the store the line was eleven people thick. I picked up my bags of Boston Baked Beans and Swedish Fish, then dutifully waited to pay for my purchases. I thought a little bite of sweet would be a nice way to end the night. What were other people buying at 10:30 PM?

I can't vouch for everyone but the couple in front of me had a gallon of skim milk and two apples. When they got to the register, they also grabbed a handful of miniature peanut butter cups and requested a pack of strawberry cigarillos. The boy in front of them, who was wearing only jeans and a tee shirt (50 degrees at the end of February in New England!), had purchased three bags of Andy Capp's Hot Fries and 18 oz. of Sprite.

If this is an example of the foot traffic Cappy's commands every evening, no wonder the place is so well stocked and dustless. I plan to go back tonight for further investigation and to pick up some more baked beans. We polished off the remainder this afternoon. This may not be the best night for this experiment. A snowstorm is predicted for tomorrow so no doubt people will be stocking up on the usual staples to weather this last gasp of Winter. I had better wait a month or so.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A quiet conspiracy?

Having given up home delivery or even newsstand pick-up of the Boston Globe as my source for printed news, I rely on the Wall Street Journal to keep me informed of what is going on both in national and international affairs, admittedly with a business and politically conservative slant. The WSJ is still more informative on all fronts. I know, for instance, that H.J. Heinz's profit is up during these tough times as few other companies' are. Heinz, which produces a number of products, is known for it ketchup, or catsup as we like to spell it here at antiquarian-minded Whalehead Amalgamated Enterprises, PLC, GmbH, LLC, Esq.

We noticed at the Pizza Pantry on Dot Ave,near the JFK/UMASS station, that the management doesn't offer Heinz catsup packages as a condiment. We've noticed this at other local, prepared food outlets as well. The brand of choice seems to be Red Gold Premium Tomato Ketchup (their spelling, not ours). In fact, in my limited, circumstantial, and highly subjective recollection of catsup packets I've seen offered in Dorchester, East Boston, and Roxbury, I'd be willing to bet that Red Gold is more available than Heinz at a 3:1 ratio.

We all know that our own United States Senator, the Hon. John Kerry, is married to the heir to the Heinz catsup fortune. He ran for president, if you will recall, and was defeated in both the popular vote and the electoral college. He won Massachusetts, but still waters run deep. Has the purchasing power of Boston's entrepreneurial, fast food outlets conspired to rob this legislator of his personal income? According to the WSJ, they haven't succeeded this quarter, but one would imagine that buying Heinz products would insulate this particular peoples' representative from being tempted by corrupt money looking for favorable legislation. Right now, H.J. Heinz is rolling in profits but some Boston restaurateurs seem to want to starve the hand that is raised to pass legislation.

Red Gold, Inc., based in Elmwood, Ind., makes a good catsup. It's available in a number of grades, from 100% natural, made with real sugar, 33% fancy catsup, whatever that means, and an industrial grade that goes by the name of "Extra Standard 29%." I asked the woman behind the counter at Pantry Pizza if anyone has complained about the quality of the catsup they offer. She said, "No. We only serve the best here at Pantry Pizza." I asked why they don't serve Heinz. She looked over her shoulder toward the kitchen and said, "I'm not allowed to comment on managerial decisions."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ever spring

Where do the dead leaves go in Dorchester? I don't know. The wind tosses them in autumn and then they disappear. The trees remain. The trees cut their spindly silhouettes against winter skies but the leaves are naught but memories before the first snow falls. This is a tidy neighborhood. When the climate warms, buds burst from broken twig tips.

There is salt still caked around the cracks in the streets. I swerve to avoid the piles on my motorcycle during my morning commute. From a distance, I mistake them for ice. They are salt, the opposite but just as treacherous of what they are meant to prevent, but a hazard nonetheless when leaning in at a tilt on two wheels. One season blends into the next in Dorchester. Life goes on according to its rhythms. What you supposed yesterday is likewise true today. The streets are navigable and safe, but only if you keep your senses sharply alert to potential danger.

In October, the trees are golden with burnished rust ,and honey brown, and orange and yellow like a freshly stuck match head. In February, the trees are kindle sticks waiting for the right breeze to blow them down. The ground is hard with hoarfrost and ice crystals that glint prisms in the rising sunlight. I haul my back tire over the remnants of winter's churned and refrozen ground and then I speed off, free as a canary out of a cage, along Boston's pockmarked roadways free of ice, if not hazards.

In September, wet leaves are as slippery as ice. In spring, wet leaves are a half-forgotten memory. Where do the leaves go? They go where all dead dreams in Dorchester go: into the scrap heap, the ash can, the garbage bin dumster, back-loading truck full of yesterdays gone and discarded, swept up, bundled up, collected for sanitary disposal. Every season in Dorchester offers its own hurdles and enticements. The weather is a pleasure year-round for different reasons every month. Some dreams don't die, however.

Dorchester lives on. It is a community that wants to thrive, just as the first settlers wanted to make their mark on a new continent in a new colony on Massachusets Bay that was settled before Boston itself was founded. The settlement of Dorchester precedes the settlement of Boston by a few months. Dorchesterites were here first. Boston gets the glory but Dorchester does the work. Where to the dead leaves go?

You won't find any dead leaves on Dot Ave. You'll find dead wood in the bloated organizations that make up the banks, the hospitals, the remaining factories, the investment houses, the lobbyist firms, the law offices, City Hall, in Boston proper. Dorchester is full of rent-seekers but it is also full of people making a living parlaying their professions, their knowledge and experience. Capenters, electricians, plumbers, paper-hangers, bricklayers, linemen, grouters, mechanics and machinists all make good and perform their tasks well in Dorchester, Mass., a part of Boston.

I don't see dead leaves in Dorchester. I don't see skeletal siluhoettes. As I zip form one end of Boston to another though Dorchester, I see people getting by, adding their might and their rights and their ability to build a great city more solidly tenoned into the puddingstone that makes up the foundation. Boston is a world-class city. It is world-class because the people of Dorchester helped build it. The surroundings are proof that no detail is neglected. There are no dead leaves in Dorchester.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Landmark price

I love Lower Mills. I remember the first time I saw it, out exploring, approaching from the north along Dot Ave and hitting the intersection with Washington Street on the right and Adams Street on the left and the Walter Baker Chocolate Factory dead ahead in that little vale through which the Neponset River runs. I've seen some beautiful parts of Boston, but Lower Mills is still my favorite. Its a little out of the way for me to want to live there but I don't think I'd mind one bit if I did make the move.

They don't build apartments like this anymore, let alone factories. The conversion from industrial chocolatier to family dwellings was a wise and welcome decision. When these bricks were laid, people cared what the finished product would look like, not just how many pennies they could squeeze out of a square foot (though I'm sure that was part of the equation). A building had to command attention through respect rather than head-scratching scorn. The architects weren't interested in making a statement beyond the fact that a chocolate factory can be beautifully imposing. They succeeded in ways the Brutalists never did.

What price would you put on the Baker Chocolate property? Someone has paid $17.75 million. That translates to $133,000 dollars and change per apartment according to some calculations. Should the property be converted to condos, the units will still be a fair price considering the setting. Even at a regrettable 150% retail markup.

I don't know how infamous, or even famous, Baker's Chocolate is outside of Dorchester. I was in the Citizens Bank branch on Morrissey Blvd. a few weeks ago and I spent ten minutes or so in front of a a little, glass-topped display case in the lobby. The case features the history of Baker's Chocolate and contains some ephemera, as well as the legend that German Chocolate Cake takes its name not from Deutschland but from Baker's German Chocolate that was the main ingredient in the original recipe. They feature a reproduction of a Baker's German Chocolate package. A camera cannot lie. Apparently this is the Citizens branch closest to Lower Mills and the bank couldn't find any Neponset-themed memorabilia to display. Still, it's a nice touch.

I can't vouch for the Baker complex's interior. Aside from Dorchester Open Studios, I haven't been into an apartment, only the work/living spaces of the artists who inhabit one of the buildings. If the other spaces are as tidy and clean as those in the little building that sports the neon sign proclaiming the factory's name, this may indeed be a very, very nice place to live. Of course it is. It is in Lower Mills and Lower Mills is in Dorchester and Dorchester is in Boston. Also, the Mattapan High-Speed Line serves Lower Mills from the Milton Station on the banks of the Neponset River.

A compact business district with all the amenities, ample walking trails through salt marsh, a hospital 60 seconds away by ambulance in the worst rush-hour traffic the neighborhood has to offer, access to mass transit via 1940s-era trolley cars, and a Victorian chocolate factory dominating the neighborhood. Lower Mills is very nice.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The bus to nowhere

Cobbs Corner is a crossroads in Canton where someone has developed the kind of forgettable collection of big box stores you usually find where people are desperate to shop somewhere close by. JBL Bus Lines runs the 716 Route with the assistance of the MBTA from Mattapan Station to Cobbs Corner. I haven't taken the bus out there, and its none of my business if anyone does, but unless you work in Cobbs Corner, I don't see much point in going.

During a recent warm spell, I took the Littlest Ninja this side of the Charles onto the open road to investigate the suburbs. I fortuitously took the same route as the 716 bus. I picked up the map and schedule at Park Street Station this afternoon and was flabbergasted by the coincidence. I know these roads as only a motorcyclist can know them and I can tell you, they were dull on the bike. The route via bus must deaden one's soul.

According to the miniature map provided at Park Street, the 716 leaves lively Mattapan Square and wends its way down Route 138 through Milton, and then takes a right at Washington Street in Canton. Then the bus passes through Canton Junction and Canton Center. I don't want to sleight our neighbors to the south. This part of town, a sleepy crossroads of small storefronts and humble entrepreneurs, was the best part of the trip.

I can't tell you what is located at Cobbs Corner. I've forgotten. Maybe a Petco and a Micheal's Crafts store, maybe a Game Stop and an Olive Garden. The buildings were there, but the businesses on offer were invisible in their static homogeneity. According to the map, this is 'The Village Mall." The real village of Canton is a mile or so back. Cobbs Corner is a mediocre oasis where delights are squeezed from a tube past its expiration date.

I turned onto High Street, travelled about a half a mile and decided I had enough. I had to get back to the city. It was nice not to be constantly stuck in traffic but, really, once you've navigated one street lined with raised ranches and vinyl-sided saltboxes, you've seen them all. It's nice country if you've got a lazy eye. I may go back to Canton Junction if I have nothing else to do. I doubt I'll ever pass through Cobbs Corner again unless it is just to pass through but there are more interesting byways than this. I enjoyed my freedom of movement along the 716 route, but freedom without excitement is a joyless pleasure. I'll take the headaches of Dorchester any day.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bagels in Dorchester

We were at Logan International Airport yesterday and purchased a coffee at the Bruegger's Bagels in Terminal E. The professionalism of the clerk impressed us so we picked up an application to join the Bruegger's team to "have fun and make dough," as the brochure says.

According to the official listing on the application, Bruegger's has four locations in Boston: on School Street, on Longwood Avenue, on Congress Street, and, under a heading all its own, at 644 Beacon Street in Kenmore Square. I noticed something was missing and not just the airport franchise. People in Dorchester enjoy a good bagel as much as the folk that crowd Downtown Crossing.

The Ba Le Bakery is proof enough that Dorchesterites appreciate specialty bread. Dot Ave is usually congested with double parked mini-vans in front of this shop for their buy-two-get-three deal. The very fine Mud House down in Neponset has bagels but they aren't the house specialty. Dorchester could use a good bagel shop that specializes in bagels even if it is a chain, even if it is Bruegger's and not Finagle-a-Bagel. There is a vacuum that needs to be filled.

I filled out the application with black pen but I haven't mailed it yet. I don't know if I want to serve bagels and sandwiches to tourists downtown or in Longwood or at the airport, when I could be serving them to my Dorchester neighbors who need a good bagel as much as the next guy. This is the kind of minor ethical dilemma that keeps me up nights. Maybe my community would be better served if I took a second, part time job manning the aisles at the A.J. Wright at Fields Corner. I'm all for "having fun and making dough" but I'd rather do both in Dorchester. It's nice here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Rumors are flying around Dorchester that the doleful darling of 1980s college radio may be making an appearance at Tom English's postage stamp-sized stage at the end of March. Word on the street is that Morrissey, former front man of The Smiths for those with long memories, and who is performing at the new House of Blues on Landsdowne Street, will be making an appearance in the Dot the following evening. The older hep cats in the neighborhood are all in a slather to hear the voice that expressed their ironic, youthful alienation.

Morrissey is scheduled to appear at the House of Blues on March 29th. There don't seem to be any tickets still available and maybe that is what has started the current swirl of hearsay, all of it speculative. After all, if our man is staying more than a day in Boston, wouldn't he make a pop-in and performance at one of Dorchester's humble yet classy neighborhood hot spots? Tom English's fits the bill. Its the kind of stylish dive that would appreciate his presence and probably a bit of impromptu crooning. He will not only be accepted, he will be loved.

None of this report is substantiated beyond speculation overheard while playing the deer hunt video game at Tom English's. This tap room is located at 957 Dot Ave, a short walk from the JFK/UMASS station on the Red Line (helpful hint: head inland and turn left on Dot Ave). Tom English's offers Pabst on tap, convection oven pizzas and sandwiches, and hearty camaraderie. If you go there on March 30th, you may see a special show or you may just have a special night whether any cult celebrities show up or not.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dorchester by choice

A specter is haunting Dorchester and it is has the wet, hangdog stink of unfinished business. A ghost with a blue collar stalks Dorchester's streets with rolled up shirt sleeves and calloused hands. This phantom wanders with heavy boots that have seen better days in trenches and scrap piles, that have stood in picket lines and bread lines and stomped in the snow waiting for work. Idle hands are the Devil's tools and Dorchester is antsy to be employed getting the job done sooner rather than later.

Boston, with its well preserved precincts and modern, glass, office towers is more than its architecture. A city is made up of people who come in all shapes and sizes and abilities, who lend their skills and know-how to burnish their surroundings more humanly palatable. It is the life on the street and between the walls that makes a city interesting, not the masonry on the streetfront facades. Bureaucrats try to channel citizens' impulses, but an independent people presented with options will tend to their hearths first. Dorchester is a laboratory in which Boston's future is being forged. If its contagion catches fire, Dorchester's health will spread from Codman Square to the State House and then all along the shores of Massachusetts Bay and farther inland. Wealth and prosperity will be common in the Bay State, which will become a beacon for the rest of the nation and the world.

A city that lives off its history neglects the promise it offers immigrants and the native-born. A real city is a place of boundless opportunity. A museum, not a city, is described on a tourist's map. A real city is where work gets done, things get built, everything is in flux, meals get prepared by chefs not consumed in food courts, families are raised, and the next generation is prepared to carry the torch of responsible citizenship high against the tyranny of low expectations. Public schools have their place to teach reading, writing and arithmetic, but a real city's streets teach hard knocks and what it takes to put food on the table and nurture a brood of little men and women who will grow up to be larger ones. Dorchester, like many of Boston's outlying neighborhoods, is a crucible and an incubator.

There are idle hands in Dorchester. A service economy doesn't just mean that people who are quick on a keyboard can get ahead. Plumbers, masons, carpenters, mechanics, ditch diggers, electricians, housekeepers, all use their smarts and experience to deliver products that work. There are plenty of thinkers and doers in Dorchester. Perhaps there aren't enough dreamers. History shows that one new notion can change the world. In a city, concepts and conundrums clash constantly. They do all the time in Dorchester. All it takes is one bright boy or girl to link discombobulated dots to come up with a fresh solution to the puzzle of how to lift all boats at the same time as the sailors are all squabbling. If Dorchester is anything, this vast neighborhood is disoriented to distraction while overflowing with human capital and human promise focused on getting through one day at a time... and every day beyond that. Roses grow best in a mix of rabbit droppings and seaweed.

If you want to witness the best Boston has to offer, look no further than Dorchester. It may be hard to discern the patterns at first. Dorchester is travelling with a slow momentum that hasn't yet reached the critical velocity from which there is no turning back. This star is moving according to its own eccentric orbit and its apogee is still years away from being as close to ultimate Heaven as it can be. Dorchester is on its path to reach its apex on Jacob's Ladder, but it is still a dozen or so rungs short of its destiny. Plenty more hands and minds and souls are needed to push it into its ultimate trajectory. Come aboard.

It will happen. Sober minds, romantic notions, dirty fingernails and strong backs will keep Dorchester on course. What Dorchester needs is people who want to be involved not for convenience or the opportunity to sign a low rental lease, but by choice because they believe the raw materials will yield a better tomorrow. If you make that decision, you are a Dorchesterite through and through and I will be proud to shake your hand. I will be humbled.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Reuben pizza

Pantry Pizza has been open a few months now. They've settled in, won a clientele, and gotten the kinks out of their routine. They are at 931 Dot Ave. It's a busy place and an appreciated addition to the neighborhood. As with many other things, I am a traditionalist when it comes to pizza. I like red sauce, mozzarella, and one topping, two at most. The pizza chefs at Pantry have other ideas.

They make a good, thin crust pie and the options are exhaustive with mostly top shelf ingredients. I have yet to eat just an medium onion pizza or even my favorite, anchovy, at Pantry. I always get cajoled into splitting one of the large specials. Here is where the chefs' creativity comes into play. An extensive menu is posted on the right hand wall that lists a number of combinations. They all sound tempting in theory, but my hackles get raised when I read the ingredients until I am eventually outvoted.

Be warned. I do not like to eat chicken to begin with and I think chicken on a pizza is unnatural. I also think that, in most cases, a pizza should be red, not white. The pie called "Stuck in New York," though it doesn't contain chicken, is an experiment that maybe needs to be perfected. This is a white pie featuring the shop's proprietary "three cheese blend" in lieu of plain mozzarella. It contains pastrami, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing. Where I come from, if the mayonnaise and ketchup don't have relish mixed in, it is French dressing, but I don't think either belongs on a pizza.

The "Stuck in New York" was not a group favorite. After the first slice I opined that maybe it would have been better to go with genuine sauerkraut rather than the caramelized onion. There were too many cross currents at play. We had the leftovers for dinner and I added slices of tomato prior to reheating it. It was better, but still nothing anyone voted to order again.

This is no sleight to Pantry Pizza. They are obviously proud of their work. The chef comes out and lifts the lid of the box for customer inspection at point of purchase and discusses the nuances of what he is attempting. This much craft and experimentation cannot be a waste and will enventually produce an Olympian pie. The lady who takes the orders is a gem. I suspect if I ordered something pedestrian, I would be happier than happy spelled out in capital letters. They deliver, so if you want to taste the cutting edge of pizza research, please call 617-282-0033. You may be more adventurous than I am.

If you are more adventurous than I am, please order the "Stuck in Idaho" which consists of a pizza topped with baked sweet potatoes, grilled chicken, caramelized onions and the ubiquitous three-cheese blend. I'm curious to know what you think of it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A trip to the tailor

Last week, we began freshening up the old wardrobe. Some of our suits are getting a bit raggedy and there is nothing to lift the spirits and put a spring in one's step like a new suit. We went to Porta Classica in Mattapan for the cure to our sartorial doldrums. The on site tailor offered to make alterations but we declined, not wanting to take the Mattapan High Speed so far out of our way this week to pick up the finished goods.

There are two tailor shops in my Fourth Haven neighborhood where Columbia and Savin Hill intersect. On of them is the space shared by Vietnam Records and Kim Ahn Alterations. The other is Lien's Bridal at 932 Dot Ave. Lien's is marginally closer to to my home so I opted to give them a try. I picked up my hemmed pants this afternoon, satisfied.

This is primarily a bridal shop and men may be turned off by the racks of gowns and wedding froo-froo that take up the majority of the floor space. They shouldn't be. The shop's proprietor is a seamstress with nimble fingers who sews a mean cuff at the bottom of an inseam. We haven't tested the finished product yet, but her handiwork was offered for inspection and it seems as durable as a parachute seam without any stitching visible from the outside. We also brought a pair of pants for repair at the same visit and left today with a superior product, better than the original. No shoddy thread or wispy filigree here. This is quality tailoring that looks like it will stand up to being caught in a motorcycle's kickstand.

I'm sure my accent was as difficult for the seamstress to understand as hers was for me. We weren't discussing Shopenhauer, just getting pants hemmed, so subtleties and shades of connotation weren't important to hammer out the work request. To repair the hem on my pants cost $5.00. To hem the new pants cost $12.00 apiece. I paid with two twenty dollar bills and received eleven crisp Washingtons as change.

The conditions printed on the bottom of the receipt are a bit muddled but mostly understandable and reasonable. "We do not shrink any justifiable responsibility..." "We can not [sic] be responsible for weak, tender, defective or adulterated materials..." "Errors in budie [sic]count must be reported to the company withing 48 hours." All in all, a good deal at a good price and we are sure anything lost in translation can be solved to every one's satisfaction. We didn't detect any error in budie count.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why fear?

It is natural to feel fear in certain situations but not when you are just walking down a street. Dorchester unjustly has a reputation that makes drivers' knuckles go white around the steering wheel as they exit I-93 onto Freeport Street. I don't know why. I have lived in Dorchester almost two years and I have never felt my life or property threatened. I've been all over Dorchester, in the classy neighborhoods and in the sketchier ones. Everyone has always been polite and helpful. I have never been approached to be a party to an illegal act, though my manners and dress would lead one to assume that I was in some places for no other reason.

I have been the most pale-skinned person for blocks but I have never felt uncomfortable for that. I have been the oldest person in a knot of young men on a sidewalk who were less well-dressed, less educated, less socially connected, and less law-abiding than myself, but it was never an issue for any of us. I am not boasting, only making deductions based on the available evidence. I ask for directions and they give very accurate ones. One of the toughs wishes me a nice day. I thank the group and respond likewise with good cheer. Have a nice day, sir.

Some places get known as Wild West war zones where might makes right and the black market is the only market. Good news and no news doesn't sell newspapers. If it bleeds, it leads. Plenty of nothing goes on in Dorchester, but most people never get a chance to learn about that. This applies to other parts of Boston. I am thinking of Roxbury in particular and the Dudley Street corridor that connects the two neighborhoods. Dudley Street is a vibrant and interesting avenue though disposable income doesn't slosh around it the way it does in other parts of Boston. People do, and people are what make a city interesting and livable.

It is easy to look down your nose at how the other half lives. It is just as easy to get out and about, saying hello and complimenting the people you pass on the street, gathering greetings and goodwill in return. To be cheerful doesn't make you a mark for hustlers. Common courtesy goes a long way. It is better to live a century as a rube than one day as a snob. I've been a snob. It is comfortable to be smug but it is much better to be open to what the cityscape offers.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dot Neb

A pair of strangers made an appearance at the Dot Tavern at 840 Dot Ave last night. They were wearing fully padded, bulky clothes and they carried full face helmets that they hung on the coat hooks before they ordered their beers. The regulars assumed they were motorcyclists just passing through.

The strangers bought a few rounds for the house while making conversation. Tongues got looser as the night progressed and the strangers were very interested in the answers they were getting to their questions. They concentrated intently, as if they were taking mental notes. One of the strangers had corralled Steve and Brenda into one of the booths where they were running down the last fifteen years of Red Sox stats. He must have been from out of town if he hadn't memorized these figures already. The other stranger was talking to Fred who warmed to his favorite topic: where potholes most frequently appear between Andrew Square and Field's Corner. Fred used to be employed by Public Works.

The beer had been flowing for a couple of hours when the strangers picked up their helmets and said they had to be going. The bartender protested that they couldn't be riding motorcycles after all the beer they had drunk. The strangers weren't the least bit unsteady or slurry but they assured the barkeep that they weren't driving. He looked outside and didn't see any motorcycles parked at the curb so he let them go without calling a cab.

After they left, the regulars began speculating where the strangers came from. Fred said, "They're from Dot Neb." Charlie said, "What are you talking about? There's no Dot Neb. You mean 'Nep' like Neponset." "No," Fred answered, "I had a smoke out back with one of them. He said they were from Dot Neb and he pointed in the direction they came from."

We all crowded onto the back porch so Fred could show us where this neighborhood is. He pointed straight up at a fuzzy spot in the constellation of Leo. Of course. They were from the Dorchester Nebula. That explained their pointed ears.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

She-devil with a sword

I had an errand on Geneva Avenue and after that mission was accomplished I wandered into Cesaria just down Meeting House Hill at #266 (Dorchester's) Bowdoin Street. It was an hour after lunch time when I settled down at the bar and placed my order. I wanted to keep it simple and light so I requested a beer and Iscas a Portuguesa from the appetizer menu.

A striking redhead was working the bar and, after she diasppeared into the kitchen, I asked the fellow sitting next to me, "Who is that woman?"

"Ah, her," he said in English pressed through a thick Cape Verdean creole accent. "Keep your distance from that one. She's only here to serve drinks and food." I didn't have any other intentions but to be served drinks and food so I was content with his answer.

I got my beer and soon afterward the bartender brought me a small plate of sauteed liver and onions in a savory paprika-butter sauce. I noticed the other patrons didn't interact with her much except to get her attention for a fresh-up. After my thoroughly satisfying snack of iscas I thought I would linger awhile to enjoy the soccer game on the television and the Portuguese ballads on the stereo. I ordered a martini. It was a three day weekend.

The bartender assembled the ingredients on the bar top and went about mixing my drink. After she had poured it in the glass she reached down under the bar and then lifted her hand brandishing a blue, plastic cocktail sword. She pointed it the fellow next to me and accused him of something in their native language. I didn't understand a word, but she could have put his eye out if she wanted to. He replied sheepishly and she went back to preparing my drink. She speared two olives with her sword and placed the arrangement in front of me. She said, "Don't believe a thing this fool tells you. I'm a nice lady."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Product placement

Thinking about Boston and Dorchester, I arrived at this allegory. It's a nice desktop conversation starter that could turn a business meeting into directions no one intended. Tee shirts also available.
Dorchester, like Luck, is always a lady.

The play is the thing

We watched young lovers strolling Codman Square this afternoon. It wasn't clear whether Valentine's Day made them feel more affectionate or not. They just seemed to be doing what came naturally.

Though it is mid-February and feels like it, flowers were on the streets. Both men and women were carrying bouquets, either to give or after having received. Carnations, roses, and babies' breath bobbed with each step as couples sauntered to Shawmut Station or Peabody Square. The cars on the Red Line were like greenhouses full of out-of-season flowers. The scents of pollen and love were in the air.

At the Codman Square Branch of the Boston Public Library, we witnessed a teenaged boy deliver a hand made card to a similarly aged girl. "Will you be mine?" he asked between the racks. "I will," she answered, and the two exchanged a quick hug and a peck before they could be accused of making a disruptive, public display of affection.

It's a shame Dorchester no longer has a cinema within its boundaries. Dinner-and-a-movie is the classic date for young people in love. Myself, I am forced to squire my intended to Cambridge to view 'Casablanca,' the most romantic movie of all time. It is playing at the Brattle Theater. As we write this all shows are sold out. I was caught flat footed in line last Valentine's Day but this year I had the foresight to buy tickets in advance. After the movie, we'll be taking the Red Line to Fields Corner for a little post-cinematic snack and frivolity.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dot theology

An anonymous seminarian (by his request) who is serving a missionary tenure at an equally anonymous Dorchester evangelical church, has developed an interesting Biblical theory concerning the location of the Garden of Eden. He and I lunched at Shanti, the Indian restaurant at the intersection of Savin Hill Avenue and Dot Ave. Its address is 1111 Dot Ave for those interested in numerology. Apologies that the link is to the Boston Globe's review of the dining room. The Shanti web site seems to be down at the moment, hopefully only temporarily. It is really best experienced in person anyway.

This earnest, young man explained that after diligent research and sleepless weeks spent triangulating references in original Hebrew and Aramaic texts, he had located the spot where the site of Original Sin occurred. He posits that the famous apple tree where Eve succumbed to temptation and then coaxed Adam to the do the same was originally located where the Civil War monument stands in front of Dorchester's First Parish Church. His plate of eggplant curry had just been placed in front of him when he said, "Look at the situation. It's a perfect site."

I mentioned that most scholars put the site a few thousand miles and an ocean away to the east but he was undeterred in his conviction. He said, "If I stand on the corner of Quincy and Bowdoin Streets and look uphill, I can see that apple tree. I can smell apples. I can see a python curling around the granite of the monument around that Union soldier's leg." I suggested he may be hallucinating but he dismissed this as narrow-minded pettifoggery on my part. It's true I hadn't spent a lot of time researching the topic prior to our interview.

He said, "How can you stand at the summit of Meeting House Hill, in that triangular park in front of the First Parish Church, and not look around and see the makings of Paradise as far as your eye wanders?" I didn't argue the point but I did point out that we could take a dining room poll and easily find more than one person who did disagree with his assessment. He relished his eggplant and encouraged me to enjoy more of my lentils. The food, as usual, was very good, perfectly seasoned with a balance of salt and spice.

Is Dorchester Edenic? In some ways, yes. It is the birthplace of many sins. Is it a sullied paradise? Like so many other places, the answer is: of course. Is this guy a crackpot or a visionary scholar? I don't know. If he lands a segment on the History Channel some people may believe the theory he is peddling. For the people who live in the neighborhood, they'll probably keep peddling their bicycles and taking the bus to get to work. It's a nice idea and it is certainly applicable, whether it will hold water, is another matter altogether. Dorchesterites overall don't like being the center of attention or a world-shaking movement. They are busy enough getting on with their lives. This is a place where utility trumps conjecture.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Three items of interest

Firstly: Our mailbox contained a letter today from the Executive Director of the Boston Collegiate Charter School. It seems the school has purchased the building at 215 Sydney Street to refurbish it. The plans are to hold classes at this address, after construction is complete, for students in the 5th and 6th grades. Ms. Sullivan, the director, apologizes in advance for any inconvenience and expresses the wish to work with neighborhood residents to minimize trouble the project may cause. The board of trustees operates a middle and high school on Mayhew Street in Dorchester and people of the Sydney Street neighborhood are welcome to contact her with any concerns or to arrange a tour of the Mayhew Street campus to learn of the school's mission and operation. She can be reached at 617-265-1172.

Secondly: Brothers Supermarket II is scheduled to open its doors on Dudley Street, just west of Uphams Corner, on Friday, if one can believe the soap on the front doors. This building has been undergoing renovations for some time and it is nice to finally be able to see inside. The whole affair is remarkably spiffy. There is fresh, unscuffed paint everywhere and the aisles are nicely spaced to allow for maximum traffic flow and minimal reaching around fellow shoppers. The shelves are already fully stocked but there are a few details to attend to before the grand opening date arrives. The original Brothers Supermarket is located on Washington Street, but the digs on Dudley promise to be more modern with more elbow room for who live in the immediate area.

Thirdly: Whalehead King is happy to write for money. It is his preferred means of exchange since a dollar goes far in Dorchester and he wouldn't mind a few extra bills in his pocket. That said, he does not endorse specific businesses for cash payment. If any of our regular readers are business owners, they are welcome to contact the proprietor of this site to schedule a visit and possible mention here. This has not happened yet, but we are happy to entertain the possibility, always looking for fresh material. It would save a lot of legwork and confabulation.

Rather than cash on the barrel head for what may be an endorsement of questionable value, Mr. King requests perquisites instead: 20% off his bill for a month from a dry cleaner, for instance, or a pint on the house the next time he steps up to the bar. Regular readers know we tend to accentuate the positives we encounter and downplay the negatives. In fact, we tend not to see any negatives at all, being happy to be out and about, enjoying our surroundings for all they are worth. You cannot put a price tag on happiness and Whalehead King, your humble narrator, is reasonably content reporting things as he finds them. They are overall good.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mattapan haberdashery

The other day we commented that we hoped Porta Classica, the haberdashery in Mattapan Square wasn't going out of business. We visited again today, during normal business hours and discovered this is far from the case. Located at 1625 Blue Hill Avenue, just to the north of Mattapan Square, this men's clothier is crowded with gentlemen taking advantage of the current, store-wide 30% off sale.

This shop isn't as expansive as their formerly concurrent digs in Downtown Crossing but it is just as well stocked with things that make a man look and feel good. There are power suits and suits that are even more flashy for special occasions beyond the workaday routine. The suits are in all colors of the rainbow, from Easter egg-inspired hues to sober pinstripes. There are seven button jackets matched with six-button vests, and there are also single-button jackets cut with double-breasted lapels. The shoe collection is fancier and more daring than anything found on Newbury Street. There are shirts and ties of every color and shade and pattern. There are cuff links, tie pins, tie bars, collar bars, and tie chains. Some of it is gaudy and some is understated. This is a haberdasher that seeks to meet all needs. There is a tasteful collection of fine hats and woolen overcoats on offer.

The staff is professional, putting the customers' needs first and no one is unattended as the salespeople cater to everyone's assembled needs. There is an on site tailor for alterations, though she admits she cannot guarantee 24 hour turnaround. After a few days, at most, your outfit will be fitted to your proportions and you can stride into any boardroom or barroom confident you will be the best-dressed, bespoke man in the room.

Mattapan, as we all know, doesn't have the best reputation. Porta Classica, the "classical door" to style and sophistication, is the exception to these perceptions. You can spend a bundle of cash downtown getting yourself equipped for a business lunch with important clients or you can take the trolley to Mattapan to look better than the bunch on a sandwich board budget. Smart people shop Mattapan.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Dot wellness

Dorchester, Boston's biggest neighborhood, is composed of a melange of many, many smaller neighborhoods and sub-jurisdictions. All of them contain their delights and all serve their purpose. Some are self-contained, miniature metropoli where few visit and few leave. Others are a nexus for the wider city of which they are a part. Fields Corner, served as it is by the Red Line, is one of those places in Dorchester that are cosmopolitan.

Cultures don't clash in Fields Corner, they mingle, shake hands, say, "How do you do?" and support each other. The Dorchester House Multi Service Center located at 1353 Dot Ave serves a wide-ranging constituency with medical and social needs. This modern, up-to-date building is clean and efficient. It is home to community rooms, exam rooms, an in-house blood laboratory, physical therapists, mental health counsellors, a semi-public swimming pool, an optical shop, and a striking, glazed ceramic tile mural depicting this part of the Dot from a bird's eye vantage.

The Dorchester House is a five minute stroll from the Fields Corner T station, heading north up Dot Ave. Take the Charles Street exit out of the station to shave half a minute off your walk. En route, you will pass many small shops bustling with small business that cater to every need.

Anyone looking for firewood is directed to the triangular park where Adams Street intersects with Dot Ave. We noticed today that there are several lengths of 2x4 sawed to stove length scattered in front of the stone that commemorates Boston veterans. They may be left over from the X-mas tree that stood vigil on this spot during the holidays. By our estimation there are three days worth of kindling available if one burns them in a fireplace, maybe five days worth with an efficient wood burning stove.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Mattapan morning

One thing about the melting snow: it's uncovered all the trash in Mattapan Square. The sidewalks are filthy with sand piles and salt stains, and also with food wrappers. They are everywhere. Forlorn confetti from a parade that never came, the wind blows constellations of scrap paper everywhere. It isn't the kind of sight that attracts tourists, but how many out-of-towners get this far down Blue Hill Avenue?

Brothers Deli and Restuarant at 1638 Blue Hill Ave. was bustling, as usual. I passed by around 11:00 on a Sunday so most people were eating a late breakfast. They serve breakfast all day, of course. The $10 Dollar Store across the street is going out of business. Everything is marked down 50%. Next door at 1625, Porta Classica, the haberdashery, is offering a 30% off sale and offering a second suit at half price when you buy the first one. It isn't clear if the additional 30% applies to both. I lingered and admired some shoes and three-piece suits but the shop isn't open on Sundays. I took note that they re open until 6:30 PM on weekdays. There is no indication they are going out of business though they did close their Downtown Crossing location this summer.

One of the storefronts was covered with fluttering scabs of what appeared to be lichen. In fact, it was a scotch tape and flimsy business card display from Cesar's Movers. Though the cards show an image of Boston's High Spine, I doubt Cesar's is doing a lot of moving from the Prudential Center or the Hancock Building. They promise to remove all trash. They clean out yards. "Qualite [sic] service. Expert Packing. Incredible rates. Local and long distance. Big and small jobs. Free estimates." They can be contacted at 617-331-3509. "7 day service."

The congregations of Mattapan's churches attended services today. Men wore dark suits and women wore fanciful hats.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Bundle up the babies

The Stitch House in Dorchester has announced a recent shipment of 'baby-friendly' yarn and patterns to knit your little darlings a suitably sized sweater. The proprietors are so sure of the quality of the yarn, the fashion sense of the patterns, and the imaginative skills of their patrons that they are holding a contest for the best baby sweater in Boston. Entries will be displayed on the premises and voted on throughout the month of March.

The Dorchester Stitch House has been open a little over a year at 846 Dot Ave, near the corner of Mount Vernon Street, between the Avenue Gill and and the Dot Tavern. It is across Dot Ave from the Sugar Bowl and The New Store on the Block. If you don't drive, take the Red Line to JFK/UMASS and head towards Dot Ave. Then take a right. You'll see it. It is a mecca for those who wield knitting needles.

Ladies who like to knit while watching the television know there is a ready supply of raw materials and a chance at fame at the Stitch House. Real men know how to darn their socks, and the most independent of them know how to make their own and their own mittens, mufflers, and pullovers too. The Stitch House has yarn for every need.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

New scoot on the block

Oswald Chubb isn't a name anyone would wish to be born with. Oswald Nachtengale fathered Natasha Nachtengale and after she married Felix Chubb their first born son was named in honor of the her father. This is how Oswald Chubb got his name. There but for the grace of the angels go I. At least my legacy name is buried in the middle.

Oswald Chubb looks pretty much like you would expect someone with this name to look. He is a doughy, pasty, lump of a chap with bad skin, a bad haircut, and pants that are too tight for his belly and too short for his inseam. He makes his living in produce. He knows his vegetables. He has worked all the green grocers in Dorchester, serving stints at the bigger operations like Lambert's Rainbow Fruit, the Shaw's Supermarket on Morrisey Blvd, and the Stop & Shop a little farther down Morrisey. He enjoyed the prestige that accompanied employment at these large establishments but as he has gotten older he has used his expertise to improve the vegetable selection at smaller, neighborhood, corner shops. He has worked the oriental groceries along Dorchester's Umami Mile and gained experience with more exotic greens while introducing iceberg lettuce and bell peppers to the shelves.

Romance hasn't been a big feature in Oswald Chubb's life. He has had girlfriends in the past but his relationships were never mutually satisfying for either party. Like many people in Dorchester, Oswald Chubb takes the bus to get around. He thinks he would like to change his image into something a bit sportier and in this way, perhaps, increase his prospects with available members of the fairer sex. With this in mind he visited Scooters Go Green in South Boston, just north of Dorchester on Old Colony Avenue.

Needless to say, a February day with the thermometer topping 17 degrees Fahrenheit isn't a busy day in a motor scooter shop. Oswald Chubb had the staff's full attention. He wasn't planning on driving out of the lot. He was planning ahead toward spring, like every scooterist does. He looked over the showroom models and decided on 'The Rabbit' which is a sporty, retro-styled model priced at a mere $999.00. He tested the feel of the seat and the brakes on the floor. He liked what he felt and he pictured himself speeding down Dot Ave, passing a bus. He made a deposit and purchased a helmet.

Come mid-March Oswald Chubb will dashing through Dorchester on a brand-new, factory-fresh, creamsicle-orange Rabbit. Ladies take notice: there's going to be a new scoot on the block.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Making time on the Red Line

More pleasant weather and road conditions dictate that I drive a motorcycle as often as I can, but with the onset of winter I started commuting by T again. I'm not one to complain about the T. Having spent ten years in a small city where the buses ran every hour and walking from the north end to south end was just as quick if you didn't time it right, I appreciate Boston's frequent and convenient mass transit when it's running. I can think of some improvements but the system is far from the worst. I'm not in a rush to get to work anyway.

I find the T reasonably reliable even when other people don't. I like to take the train. For commuting purposes I head inbound in the morning from JFK/UMASS where the Red Line's Braintree and Ashmont branches converge. It's a good station with frequent service.

One of the quirks of JFK/UMASS when heading inbound is that you wait in the station for the sign board to notify you which platform will have the next inbound train. An arrow lights up pointing the way and a unique tone echoes off the ceramic marble tiles. A short, high pitched pulse means the next train will be on the Braintree side. A lingering ringing directs you to the Ashmont side to get downtown or beyond. The MBTA has installed a non-functioning lightboard over the sign that describes what these signals mean and tourists, who are always confused to begin with, are even more so without being able to read the hazy directions of the original signage.

Since the MBTA but up their lighboard, the signals have been misleading. The Braintree signal sounds (though the arrow doesn't light up) and passengers take the stairs to line up along the Braintree platform. Then the Ashmont train pulls into the station heading inbound. Some people rush up the stairs and through the station, which has slippery tile floors this time of year, to get to their destinations. Seasoned commuters stand thier ground, I am one of them, knowing the Braintree tracks will be occupied soon enough. I don't blame the people who try for the Ashmont option. That train is usually less crowded. Even if you don't get a seat, you aren't crushed together with commuters who have parked their cars in a multi-level, Quincy garage.

This morning ,the train stopped several times in mid-journey after departing JFK/UMASS. The cheerful conductor came on the overhead speakers to inform us of 'police activity' further down the line which was causing delays. No one grumbled in earshot of me. We were reading newspapers or books, or listening to headphones, or just staring meditatively into space. It was cold this morning and at least we were warm and reassured that we would be moving shortly. The commute was a bit longer than usual but it was pleasant nonetheless.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Being a part of it

When the going gets tough, the tough take a stroll in Dorchester, Mass. Boston is a city full of inspiring sights but Dorchester is the part of Boston that breeds aspirations. I have wandered these streets and felt myself buoyed to flights of fancy inspired by the people who crisscross this liveliest part of a great, active metropolis. You can be down on your luck, counting on the loose change in your pocket to get through the day, without a hope in the world yet plenty of cares. Time spent in Dorchester will show you the way past immediate hardship if you have the eyes to see rainbows.

The economics in Dorchester aren't rosy. Details are difficult to pin down, but a neutral statistician will soon deduce that Dorchester's per capita income skews Boston's overall average down. You'll see frowns in Dorchester, but most of them are turned upside down. This is a neighborhood full of stores that boast your dollar will buy more here. It isn't the material things that count in the end, though. If you don't have money, you still have your health. If you don't have good health, you still have your family. If you are a transplant, you have the surrounding community. High fences may make good neighbors, but Dorchesterites make the best neighbors of all.

The people of Dorchester are rich in gumption and pride. They get knocked down on a regular basis but that doesn't stop them from starting each day with a grin, good cheer, and the expectation that things will get better. Things often do get better, eventually. It is good to be alive in Dorchester, just as it is good to be alive in any part of Boston. A city is a place where opportunities coalesce in kaleidoscopic array. Some people pick the low fruit while others reach for the stars.

Aim high if you want to hit the mark. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Be prepared for whatever chance may come your way. Let Fortune be your guide. Follow you nose through thickets and brambles and down Dot Ave. It is always darkest before the dawn though platitudes won't put food on the table. Hustle and bustle are Dorchester's hallmarks. If you can make it here you can make it anywhere.

I only speak for Dorchester, but I think all of Boston is a place of opportunity if you can seize a day and make it yours and parlay that into weeks and months and years. Fortune smiles on the bold. The Imperatrix Mundi has a special dispensation for Boston and an even more especial one for those who call the Dot home.

Monday, February 02, 2009

The weight of Dorchester

Have you ever wondered how much Dorchester weighs? We've all wondered how much City Hall weighs, but how about the collective mass of Boston's biggest neighborhood? If this scale is still in operation, it would be a good place to start. It is located on Dudley Street across the street from Nonquit Park.

If gravity is any guide, then Dorchester doesn't exert much pull. Egyptians, and we are going back a-ways here, believed Osiris measured the weight of their hearts against the ethereal bulk of the Feather of Truth. If your heart was heavier than Truth (Ma'at) it was bad news for you. If your heart was lighter, you would wander in Elysium Fields forever. Franklin Field, anyone? Dorchester Park?

Someplace as big and densely populated as Dorchester doesn't pull down the rest of Boston with its misadventures. Statistics pile up but life is lived in Dorchester unmolested and little noticed except as fodder for tabloids. The city of Boston doesn't suffer from having Dorchester attached to it. Quite the reverse. Boston thrives as a world-class city by all accounts.

Looking at a map of Boston, Dorchester is the city's pot belly swelling out into Dorchester Bay and limned by the Neponset River's outline. The city's pointing arm is the South Boston peninsula. Its swinging arm is Allston and Brighton. Dorchester is the guts and a gouty leg. You can't know happiness until you know its opposite. Dorchesterites are content at the end of each day. Having nursed their aches and pains, they sleep the sleep of people who have woked hard all day and contributed to their society and earned the respite of dreams.

The fog hangs heavily in Dorchester, especially close to the shore, and any malaise is quickly broken shortly after sunrise. How much does Dorchester weigh? It depends on who you ask. Most people find it a burden they can willingly bear. I won't say Dorchesterites walk like Egyptians but they do have erect spines and sharp profiles. They walk calmly and confidently into the dawn.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Vietnamese Delights

Crimeny! This joint is crowded and hopping with people trying to navigate the aisles. I went to the Phu Cuong Market on the corner of Pearl Street and Dot Ave to pick up some mung bean sprouts for a special dinner. Unfortunately, I was shouldering my Chrome messenger bag to carry my purchase home and it made me the biggest person in the building. The aisles are narrow and the produce spills into traffic. As if the layout didn't provide enough obstacles, the store is full of people pinching the fruit, sniffing the vegetables and poking at the seafood to test for freshness.

This blue, ceramic-tiled building may not be the most appealing establishment but it's busy. I can't say it's the busiest in the neighborhood though. It is right across the street from the Ba-Le Bakery (buy two baguettes get one free!) where patrons tie up traffic by double parking and milling about the thoroughfare with bags laden with sandwiches and, of course, baguettes. Dorchester is a busy place but this intersection takes the cake. I don't want to imply it's a nuisance, because it's not. Who can begrudge success? Besides, this little knot in Dot Ave's tapestry provides a chance to stop and enjoy the locale rather than speeding by.

The shop's congestion must be good for business. Once I located the bean sprouts I had come for, I was trapped in an eddy of fellow patrons grabbing for daikon in one direction and a cross-current of people shopping for basil. The situation made me notice and pick up a bag of fresh chilies and a pound of greens I've never seen before. They smelled good so I thought I'd add them to the stovetop. While waiting in line at the counter I was buffeted back by the crowd, so I impulsively picked up a bottle of hoisin sauce as I watched one of the staff hoist some eels out of a try-bucket. All around me was bustle and commerce. When I finally had my purchases rung up they totaled $6.35, considerably more than I would have spent if I had just walked in, picked up my sprouts, and walked out.


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