Monday, March 30, 2009
A blue collar neighborhood has little need for celebrity. Working folks provide enough tenon and muscle to pull from morning to midnight and then to the next daybreak. It is always darkest before dawn. Dorchester, even when it is at its sleepiest, is full of a high wattage that slumbers waiting for a switch to be tripped. One hundred ten thousand volts, give or take, slumber in Dorchester waiting to make a connection and be fully employed. The neighborhood is electric. Bang! Bang! On go the lights.
Streetlights hum and attract moths but nothing about Dorchester is moth-eaten. It may seem rundown but that is the local custom, keeping properties' tax valuation low. Some people sing songs for money in Dorchester but many more sing out of pure joie de vivre. A spirit animates Dorchester and it isn't exactly the specter of Communism. There is a sense of community. The streets are arteries in this civic body. Let the rest of Boston refuse Dorchester it's place in the sun, but there is a place in the sun for everyone in Dorchester if they have the will to find one. I do believe I have found mine.
After their winter hiatus, hibernating in the sandy mud of Malibu Beach, the periwinkle population is propagating again. They mate like rabbits in slow motion underwater and then pull themselves up into the intertidal zone to deposit their zygotes. At low tide, the beach is studded with little spurs that prick the tender spots of barefooted shellfishermen. The water is still cold this time of year so most people wear boots.
March's periwinkles sport imperially sized shells they've spent the last few months improving under the Dorchester Yacht Club's piers. The winkles are fat and sluggish and ripe for the stewpot as any long-time Dorchesterite knows. Malibu Beach wasn't crowded today, but there were plenty of people out with pails plucking up periwinkles for their evening repast. The beach wasn't picked clean by the time low tide turned into high, but the buckets were full.
The preparation is a bit of a chore. You have to steam them first and them pierce them with a toothpick to extract them from their shells. Then you dump a mess of winkles into a pot filled with either tomatoes or olive oil and vinho verde. Garlic is essential no matter which recipe you use. The sauce gets poured over pasta or rice depending on the household tradition. No matter how they are cooked, the arrival of periwinkles on Malibu Beach is proof that spring has arrived and summer can't be far behind.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
There is no line like a bee line, unless it's a conga line.
It wasn't a party atmosphere around Savin Hill this morning. Pedestrians were travelling head-downwards and sidestepping puddles. Though the sky was weeping, when people did look up, their faces betrayed the bemused attitude common in Dorchester. Luck seemed against them again but they took it in stride, putting one foot in front of the other.
A stream of rainwater flowing down Spring Garden Street's gutter floated an empty Zagnut wrapper that got caught in a ball of twigs and fishing line before twisting itself free. The Zagnut wrapper and I were headed in the same direction, so I slowed my pace to keep it company and track its progress. It disappeared down a storm drain and I abandoned it at that point. I watched it go between the bars of the grate with a young woman who was equally hypnotized by the swirl of water and jetsam heading underground.
She looked up at me and said, "I love Zagnut." I admitted I enjoy a Zagnut myself from time to time. It's a good candy bar, one that is difficult to find in other parts of the country. I observed to her that we are lucky to live in Dorchester where Zagnuts are so plentiful their wrappers make up a common feature of our urban landscape. She agreed. When we parted company, the wrapper gone but not forgotten, she told me she was headed to D&D Convenience for a candy bar. When I said I was headed home, she pointed out that I was already there.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Smart boys live in Dorchester, Mass. Smart girls do too. They grow up into capable men and women who earn their way in the world. Dorchester is the biggest and best part of the city of Boston. Its common sense is its strength. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes the collected effort of all citizens to make a neighborhood worth living in. Dorchester is like that. Its values are common: Life. Liberty. Happiness. Equality.
All sorts of people live in Dorchester. Some are the type you’d like to share a cup of coffee with. Others are the kind you’d like to avoid. You can learn something from everyone who calls Dorchester home. If home is where the heart is, Dorchester’s pulse is strong. From one end of Dot Ave to the other, from the shores of Dorchester Bay to the furthest edge of Mattapan, a fresh wind blows through Dorchester. It is the kind of breeze that scatters cobwebs and invigorates clear thinking. Dorchester gets by, one day at a time in one way or another, usually in the best way available.
Some people hold Dorchester in low esteem. The good people of Dorchester don’t care a fig for other people’s negative verdicts. The people of Dorchester have their own eyes to judge their surroundings. Dorchester is very good. Even when it’s bad, it’s better than most places. I can’t think of anywhere better. There is room for improvement, but isn’t that always the case? Dorchester has its weaknesses but they are more than outweighed by the neighborhood’s strong points. The people who live here carry more weight than the people who don’t. Local opinion is on record for being Dot-centric. You mean there’s a Boston beyond Dorchester? I’ve read about it, but I really haven’t noticed.
All life’s needs can be met in Dorchester. From Lower Mills to Ashmont, to Neponset, to Norfolk, to Codman, to Bowdoin, to Fields Corner to Savin Hill, to Columbia, to Uphams Corner and to Four Corners, lives are lived contentedly with little fuss. Few feathers are ruffled. The views from Pope’s Hill and Meetinghouse Hill are remarkably clear. Given a problem, the smart people of Dorchester can solve it. They always have before. There is no reason to think they can’t do it again.
At 8:00 AM, after coffee and eggs at Saints Diner, the Peppermint Squad assembled at their headquarters off Codman Square. Children were out and about on the sidewalks marvelling at all the motor scooters on Talbot Ave and Norfolk Ave. Their parents rolled their eyes at the buzzing cavalcade splitting lanes and zipping through traffic according to rules only a vesparado knows.
The usual suspects were in attendance: Tiny Phillips, Peanut Jones, Oyster Stew, Cherrypicker, Widowmaker, Flora, Bella Donna...etc. There were some newcomers as well. All the scooters were freshly washed and polished, chrome sparkling in the sun.
Tiny Phillips called the meeting to order and administered the Peppermint Oath for another year. He stepped down as squad leader and a secret ballot was conducted. A new leader was selected: For FY2009, Flora will be the Peppermint Squad's Commandant and Grand Biclops. With a current slate of officers elected and no old business to conclude, the squad rallied in formation and travelled down Melville Street to Dot Ave, down to Lower Mills, along River Road to Mattapan Square and then up to Simco where they dined on celebratory hot dogs, sharing the bridge over the commuter rail tracks with a group of Baptists who had just gotten out of church.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Philosophers and city planners wonder at the miracles close living begets in Dorchester, Mass. A dense neighborhood can always benefit from a little more density, a little more diversity, a little more common wealth and a little more elbow-bending, elbow-rubbing, and elbow-grease. What is the tipping point where community becomes calamity? Dorchester hasn't reached its limits yet. There is a critical mass of people of all complexions and backgrounds, but they all get along. Tall fences may make good neighbors but so do busy sidewalks. This is city living.
Cape Verde's influence is felt in Uphams Corner and along Dudley Street. It is also on Hancock Street and Bowdoin Street and along all the short, side streets that knit this neighborhood's infrastructure together. Old Irish households still prevail on dead end byways where Spanish is the tongue most often heard in the breeze off Dorchester Bay. Few complain. Dorchester, a neighborhood of sub-neighborhoods and clans and myriad ethnicities, is made up Dorchesterites, Bostonians all, no matter from what roots they've sprouted. Shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow, head to head and nut to butt, the people of Dorchester live close together, work together and co-exist to make this the best part of Boston....Amen. Anyone who disagrees is talking up their shirtsleeve and hasn't been here.
A caveat: I am a silent film buff. Not a fanatic, but I do seek them out and enjoy them as they were intended. I recently saw DJ Spooky's "Rebirth of a Nation," which attempts much of what Vox Lumiere is trying to do, at the Beehive, but without the live stagecraft. I enjoyed both attempts at trying to make the silent medium attractive to a modern audience. Both attempts had their pros and cons. The pro at the Beehive was dinner and drinks. The con at the Cutler Majestic was a lot happening at the same time.
Toward the end of Act One of Vox Lumiere's show, the kineticism of the dancers and singers subsides a bit and they and the band act more as a soundtrack foil to what is happening on screen. The intent of the show starts to gel around the Court of Miracles depicted in the film: the intent of all these electric guitar riffs is to bring people to appreciate what was crafted in 1923.
Before Act Two begins there an entr' acte performance during which the crew performs without the distraction of the movie playing behind them. This was rousing and cemented the idea that there are layers going on in this show that both have to do with the film and don't. Had there been a similar introduction, the audience would have been better prepared. There was a bit of debate during intermission about what exactly the audience was supposed to be taking away from this spectacle.
Act Two brings everything together in a unique way that shouldn't be missed. Whether the live performance is needed or not as a complement to the film is an open question. The film isn't considered a classic without reasons. It is full of iconic scenes that are more than just wallpaper for music video dance moves. Quasimodo clambering or rappelling down the facade of Notre Dame cathedral, his public whipping, his riding the bells for the sheer joy of it, his bittersweet death, are all worth the price of admission. The star of this show, 80-something years after its filming, is still Lon Chaney, the Man of a Thousand Faces. He is peerless.
I didn't run into anyone disappointed afterwards. If you've never been tempted to see a silent movie this a good introduction. If you want to show a date a good time you will find it here. You'll certainly have enough to talk about afterwards. The show runs until March 29. You can see a short video and purchase tickets here.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
We have been keeping an eye on the yellow squash to zucchini ratios at the new store, believing that a proper balance shows good stock management skills. Market research shows that a yellow to green ratio of 1:1.5 indicates a produce department that it is running efficiently and without undue waste. Four recent visits to Brothers II at different times of day yielded an average ratio of 1:1.46, well within the bounds of a five-star rating.
We will be taking a brief vacation tomorrow, but will follow up with further tidbits on Thursday.
Monday, March 23, 2009
The Dot is a hotspot for rich, poor or whatnot. There is little snob appeal in a neighborhood that encompasses varied square miles and almost a hundred thousand souls from all walks of life, possessing all skill sets, with a host of ambitions, and all wanting to be better tomorrow. Everyone is welcome and everyone has a home. There are differences, but few of them matter at the coffee shop counter. There are no reserved bar stools in Dorchester. It is first arrived, first served, and friendly banter and local gossip make up the menu and the entertainment. You can be lonely in Dorchester, but if you are it is a self-imposed exile. Dorchester if full of people looking to make connections and get along with one another to mutual advantage. This is what makes Dorchester anything but poor. You can't put a price tag on community.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Local lore doesn't discount that Mott's was the first company to commercially market clamato, but the idea that a mixture of clam juice and tomato juice had to be invented by white-coated eggheads in a corporate laboratory rankles the sensibilities of long standing Dorchesterites. Farragut McWhistler, who has lived in Port Norfolk all his life, and I were discussing this at the Mud House in Neponset the other morning. "My dear, sweet mother used to muddle clams in a mash of tomatoes and put it in my bottle," he said.
He said his mother had gotten the recipe from her mother-in-law, who's maiden name was Everett, and who had inherited this bit of baby-rearing wisdom from that side of the family living at Port Norfolk for generations. "Dorchester Bay little necks make the best broth for a baby," he continued, "I believe I have lived as long as I have because I was weaned from my sweet mother's teat with a nip of the sea by way of the garden." I asked him what he thought of bottled clamato available in the Stop & Shop on Morrisey Boulevard.
"I don't care for it much," he said. "I make my clamato myself, with no extra ingredients, the way my family always has. I know I'm not supposed to go shell fishing in the Bay, the Commonwealth forbids it, but I've got a clam rake and I wake up early before the sun comes up. I'm not bothering anyone and I know most of the fellows in the harbor patrol. We leave each other alone, just wave, ask how things are in general, and no sir, I haven't seen anything illegal going on in the Bay."
Mr. McWhistler cleared his throat. "The way I see it, I've been eating Dorchester clams all my seventy-three years. I don't see a reason to stop now. I don't muddle them with mortar and pestle the way my mother did. I use a food processor and I make my clamato year-round. I can buy store-bought tomatoes any time of year in the supermarket. They aren't as good as the garden variety, but winter leads to lean times and you take what you can get."
I asked Mr. McWhistler if he ever sold his clamato. "No, I don't. It's illegal to go shell fishing for yourself let alone to pawn the clams off on a buyer. I figure I'm not hurting anything but my own robust constitution (he pounded his chest) and the law knows this so they leave me alone. If I sold the clams and somebody got food poisoning, the cops would be all over me in a minute. I like to keep my nose, as well as my arteries and gut, clean."
I asked Mr. McWhistler if I could taste his product. He replied, "Sorry, sonny. That's against the rules. I only make this tonic for myself. It's a shame I can't share it but the rules are the rules. If you want some genuine Dorchester clamato you'll have to make it yourself. Be advised, though, Boston Harbor Management regulations forbid it."
Our coffee finished, I walked Farragut McWhistler to his car parked on Neponset Avenue. "It's too late in the morning to go clamming now. Too many people can see you. If you want to rake up a mess of clams off Tenean or Malibu Beach, the sky has to be pitch. I'm going across Neponset Circle to Ups and Downs and then I'm going home. I always drink my clamato before I go to sleep and then when I wake up in the early hours. It keeps me young, I tell you, but you have to make it yourself to get the full effect."
I don't own a clam rake but Mr. McWhislter's constitution seems to be resilient enough that there may be some truth in his testimony of the rejuvenating powers of Dorchester Bay clam meat, especially when mixed with tomatoes grown in Dorchester soil. As he says, he has been supping on this since he was in the cradle. I have a lot of catching up to do. Maybe I'll just take my vitamins.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
I visited the Masters' household on Tremlett Street and, indeed, there is a shelf in the family's DVD collection dedicated to the work of Peter Lorre, from his first 1929 appearance in Die Verschwundene Frau to his last, in 1964's The Patsy. There are also stacks of old comic books and movie magazines full of both fictional and factual adventures of Laurie's hero. Why would a young, 21st century, tween girl fall in love with a film star who began his career before the Great Depression? To find out, Laurie, her mother, and I discussed it over #3 Value Meals at the Mc Donald's in Codman Square.
Laurie explained, "We have the same name." I pointed out that the subject of her admiration was born László Löwenstein. Laurie replied, "But he changed it to make it better." I couldn't argue her point, at least from a typographical point-of-view. I pressed further to discover what made him attractive to her. "He has the eyes a girl can fall into and lose herself," she answered. "When I get married," she continued, "I want to marry a man with Peter Lorre eyes." She probably won't have much competition.
Ms. Masters then stood up and started to perform impersonations of her hero. She recited lines from The Maltese Falcon, from Casablanca, and from the various Mr. Moto films and she did it all in perfect imitation of Mr. Lorre's accent and mannerisms. She was at ease and the dining room wasn't overly warm, but she appeared to be nervous and sweaty. If it weren't a skinny, under aged, African-American girl speaking the lines, people would have thought Peter Lorre had returned from the grave. Laurie's mother dipped a french fry into the cup of barbecue sauce we were sharing and then wiped her fingertips before patting my hand. "You see," she said, "Laurie loves the Mr. Moto movies the best."
Do lightning and genetic combinations strike twice? I hope for Laurie Masters's sake she finds her dream man. It may take her awhile (doesn't it always?) but if a modern day Lazlo Lowenstien exists in Dorchester, we are sure this young lady will find him someday.
Peter Lorre's least favorite role, but Laurie Master's pick from his oeuvre:
Friday, March 20, 2009
Travelling from Longwood to Savin Hill this evening, I went from one world to another within the same municipal jurisdiction. Both are Boston. Both have their part to play in this urban opera.
Huntington Avenue, between Brigham Circle and Symphony, is crowded with bright-eyed youth full of half-digested book smarts untarnished by experience and without a scar to show they've earned their place in the sun yet. Tremont Street is another story. The farther one gets from Brigham Circle, the darker and more sparse the city seems. Mission Church has a chapel filled with crutches from those who cast them off after being healed by miracles. After the church are a few pizzerias and then the wide, concrete and asphalt, sterile intersection of Roxbury Crossing.
I was on my motorcycle by the time I hit Roxbury Crossing. The light turned green and I rocketed down Malcolm X Boulevard, a street with few features, canyoned on one side by dynamited puddingstone and on the other by factory-facaded school buildings and an enormous, institutional post office. My speed was just right and I passed through Dudley Square and all down the length of Dudley Street without hitting another red light. Dudley is a place where no one gives up hope. They mill between destinations like the city's grist that gets leavened into airy bread. Self-contained, little wrong is committed in Dudley. It is a half-charmed place in which Fate never forgets to bestow a few blessings.
I passed the over sized, bronze pear in Everett Square, a symbol of Dorchester's fecundity if there ever was one. I parked my motorcycle on Dot Ave, walking the street to pick up some sundries before I settled home for the evening. The sidewalks were just as crowded as those in Longwood, but a different breed of humanity was out and about. I passed the bleary-eyed, the watery-eyed, the cross-eyed, the legally blind, the blue-eyed, the brown-eyed, the almond-eyed, the mystically third-eyed. I passed among the bloated and the spindle-ribbed, between the straight-backed and the wearily bent, the chalk-faced and the rosy-cheeked. Young and old, adolescent and senescent, addled and sage, the only homogeneity was provided by context and common experience. Dorchesterites. Dorchesterites all. Human beings foremost, Bostonians of course, citizens of Dorchester in the end. What a city.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Be respectful. When you approach a lady of Dorchester, you are not meeting up with a floozy. She is neither a tramp nor a tart, no matter what you may assume from newspaper reports. She isn't looking for easy money, willing to do anything distasteful to satisfy an illegal habit. Women make up more than half of Dorchester's backbone, keeping the neighborhood aligned and focused on what is best for every inhabitant, most especially the children.
It is true many single parent households make their headquarters in Dorchester and that single mothers are usually at the head of the dinner table. Another reason to respect the women who do the hard rearing rather than the men, perhaps? Not that the men don't do their share. Dorchester is conservative in many, many ways. Look at the poll results. Dorchester, a place of many immigrants, is not so blue as it is red-white-and-blue.
Ayn Rand probably wouldn't feel at home in Dorchester, though it is rumored she once rented a floor in a three-decker on Roseclair Street for a few months in 1952. She is on published record as not liking Boston in general but an unpublished entry in her diary reads: "Went to the JJ's Irish Pub. Had a rollicking time. Discussed Objectivism and gained a fresh insight. Maybe ingrained Catholic philosophy, through the Irish scholastic vein, is as as profitable a source of belief as Aristotle. Intend to visit St. Margaret's this Sunday to confirm. This part of Boston is very different from the others I've seen."
The next entry details a trip to a Harvard symposium with a rant about men who wear beards to cover their intellectual shortcomings. No other Dorchester-specific diary entries have been discovered thus far, but it does tantalize curious scholars how, exactly, Ms Rand found her sojourn in our neck of the woods. Based on the available evidence, it was positive, naturally.
Strong women live in Dorchester. They make their home here. They are not girls.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
The day after St. Patrick's Day, one would think the breeze off the Atlantic would be carrying scents carried from the Emerald Isle, clover and barley. Nope. Green wine, virgin olive oil and fresh fish filled the air of Dorchester's streets, the smell of Cabo Verde. The trees still lacked leaves, but when their bare branches rubbed each other in the wind, they clacked with an accent that had Portuguese roots.
Corned beef and cabbage still hung heavily in the atmosphere, especially around the dumpsters behind old bars and restaurants. Then the wind changed and it blew from the West. From over long distances, the aroma of pho filled people's nostrils and they salivated. Beef is the stuff that builds sturdy bones in Dorchester. Beef, fresh fish, and a sense of community.
A neighborhood of transplants, Dorchesterites don't pigeon hole strangers by their ethnicity but by the strength of a handshake. Being invited home for a meal is an act of acceptance. You have a good idea what you'll be eating from the host's background, but it may as often be a variety bucket from the KFC at Everett Square which has zero grams of trans fat but plenty of other, savory kinds.
Hospitality blows through Dorchester. It is a hallmark, a benchmark, a symptom that you have hit a bull's eye's center dot. Good company isn't a disease. It is what makes Dorchester hum and thrive. The wind off the bay sweeps away preconceptions and ushers new flavors. So many different people with different tastes so close together build a community that contains a rainbow of scents that can satisfy any and every nose.
Dorchester, Mass., the biggest and best part of Boston, passes the smell test.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
The same is true of the Smile Again Furniture and Appliance Outlet. This tidy, corner building set apart from its nearest neighbor by a vacant lot is a pristine example of 1870s clapboard and trim. They sell refurbished furniture and appliances. Best prices. Best quality. The name sums up the neighborhood: "smile again."
Isn't this what Dorchester is about? Built mostly from scratch during the end of the 19th century, almost everything in Dorchester is old but still useful, still livable, refurbished, re-polished, not new, but as-good-as-new. Every thing about Dorchester's infrastructure smiles a welcome. Take the plywood off a repossessed three-decker and you could live here too and make a go of it.
A welcome mat is laid out in Dorchester. It is woven, warp and woof, out of pressed asphalt laid over old macadam and cobblestones and trolley rails that wind convoluted, one-way, byway corkscrews hither and yon, up hills and into vales full of diversions and adventures. Everyone who chooses to call the Dot home is invited to wander at their leisure, daydreaming, whistling, humming to their own internal rhythm attuned to the thrum of the pulse along the sidewalks. Sometimes there's a lull, a pregnant pause. A march and a syncopated rag is soon resumed and people call out to each other with a lively step that taps out a staccato. Gossip and inquiries regarding what happened last night fill the lightly operatic atmosphere. You don't say? Really? What did he say?
Smile again when you come to Dorchester. You have smiled before. You know how. Do it again.
Monday, March 16, 2009
I was at the Fields Corner Shopping Center this afternoon, picking up carrots and a bottle of hot sauce. A well dressed man approached me in the parking lot. "Excuse me sir, I have a flat tire and Auto Zone up the road charges $13.95 for a plug kit. My son is sleeping in the car, you can see him, can you help me out?"
I am usually dubious of such things, but this was a well dressed man, one gentleman to another, with a plausible story. I was admiring his outfit of light pants, navy jacket, woven leather loafers, crisp, white shirt and red tie sporting a tasteful green seahorse motif, as he walked from Dot Ave to my position. I thought it was a little early in the season for such an ensemble but he wore it well. As a person who travels on two wheels and doesn't carry a spare, I felt his pain. He said, "I work for Verizon, across from South Station. I pass people every day asking for money and now I'm one of them. I guess sometimes bad things happen to good people." I wasn't about to pass judgement on his goodness but I was inclined to help someone with a flat tire, having been in the same straits more than once.
The man had a Carribean accent. When I handed him fourteen dollars he said, "I'm sorry. You misheard me. A plug kit costs $30.95. That sounded more believable since the plug kit for my motorcyle cost $45. I emptied my wallet. He said, "You can take my cell phone number. I work for Verizon." I said I didn't want to be bothered with a lot of follow-up. I gave him my address and told him to mail me what he owed me. "I will," he said, "You'll have faith that there are honest people in the world,"
Perhaps I will. I'm out thirty-five bucks and while I'll miss them, I won't miss them overly much. It is better to waste money with good intentions on a confidence scheme than to squander it on loose women and booze.
I don't go to church. If I did, I would be making donations to give help the needy. I figure I'm cutting out the middleman by giving it to those who have the nerve and need to ask directly. I won't be fishing in my mailbox for reimbursement, but I will be contentedly surprised to find my trust in humankind rewarded with a payback plus an extra five-spot tacked on for my troubles.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Donning our helmets we rocketed out of Dorchester on the Littlest Ninja this side of the Charles River, one stoplight at a time. She hugged me tightly down Columbia Road and then down American Legion Highway. The engine screamed in fifth gear. We navigated through Roslindale to Center Street, heading into West Roxbury. Today's mission: to get from the West Roxbury line, where Boston abuts Dedham, to the Charlestown Bridge with as few turns as possible. Sunday morning seemed the best time to accomplish this endeavor.
We pulled a tight U-turn at the Dedham border and headed north. Center Street was no problem, a reasonably straight shot with no traffic and no interference. We hit the Jamaicaway, then the Riverway, then Fenway. Things started to get dicey. We figured Boylston Street was the best bet and it was for awhile. After the Common, our plans all went to hell as we turned and swung around and back again in Chinatown.
Determined not to take the Surface Road, we wove through downtown. It was magnificent to wend through the canyons of old buildings mixed with new with no congestion. Sunday is the day to take a motorcycle through downtown Boston. Though a temperature of fifty degrees is nothing to crow about, it's nothing to complain about either, especially when both parties are wearing polypropylene long johns and wind-proof jackets.
After speeding in circles through back alleys and along one-way lanes, we sighted the Charlestown bridge. Would we cross it? No. We didn't want to go too far afield. Charlestown's delights would wait another day. We headed to Charles Street, found enough room to park the bike and wandered Beacon Hill with our day's second cups of coffee in our hands. Charles Street is picturesque, but it's no Dot Ave.
Dropping our empty cups into the trash barrel in front of Seven-Eleven, we mounted the Little Ninja again for the sweetest ride of all: the ride back to Dorchester. Hurtling through Newmarket, we felt a pull on the front tire that matched the push of the rear. The bike, like its passengers, knew it was headed home and couldn't wait to get there.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
In the South Bay Shopping Center, Best Buy is looking for a floor supervisor. Though the position is managerial level, this isn't a desk job. The job description explains that the manager must be ready to spend a whole shift on his or her feet. No number-crunching or bean-counting is expected. It seems to be a shop steward kind of role within the organization with Best Buy's corporate headquarters playing the role of a union. A pertinent qualification: applicants must be at least 16 years of age.
I ran into Timmy O'Malley at McKenna's Cafe after I had finished my breakfast and he was coming in to get his. I asked him if he had heard of the job opening up at our local Best Buy. "Yah, sheesh, Mr. King," he replied, "Me and my pallies are all over this. We all put in our applications. Any good yegg can land this and run it tip-top and ship-shape. If I don't get it, Charlie will and if he don't get it, Smelly will, wontcha Smelly?" He pulled Smelly's baseball cap brim over the boy's eyes and delivered a few noogies. "You'll hire me, wontcha, Smelly?" Timmy taunted.
If you are thinking of applying for the manager's position at Best Buy, be warned you face stiff competition. The location isn't really convenient to mass transit. A bus serves the shopping center regularly, but is timetable is often a subject of debate. The nearest T station is Andrew, on the Red Line, and then its a fifteen-to-twenty minute walk to your place of work. It's a longer commute if you don't know the side streets.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Dorchester, Boston's best neighborhood, is bounded on one side by a bay made up of pure ocean water that laps the shore like a baby nuzzling and licking a teat. The Neponset River leaks accumulated nutrients into Dorchester Bay. The fish are feisty. The shellfish are meaty. Crabs are particulary robust and hearty. Seals who wander into Dorchester Bay eat like starved Vikings at a smorgasbord and they depart fattened and satisfied, ready to take on the challenges other, stingier harbors have to offer.
A curious anatomical fact: amniotic fluid has the same density as seawater. We are all nourished for nine months in a bath that mimics the ocean. Unlike Hyde Park, Roxbury, West Roxbury, Allston or Brighton, Dorchester stays in touch with the source of all evolutionary life, that richest of breeding grounds, the broad, deep breast of the sea.
Dorchester is home to the fruit of the womb. This statement applies to the citizens as well as to the formerly freestanding town itself. You have to be tough and street smart, savvy, cagey, and canny, to make your mark in the Dot. An individual needs to be able to steer through shallow, treacherous currents the way Dorchester itself has had to navigate unmappable shoals and rough spots in order to be the best part of Boston that it undeniably is.
Some people are lucky enough to be born in Dorchester and they have tenacity and grit in their genes. Others come here by choice. They gather the Dot's best attributes by osmosis after constant exposure to Dorchester's trace elements. The slag gets pounded and smelted away from the ore. After enough beatings, they shine with a polish that rivals the gleams off the pot of gold at a rainbow's end.
Live in Dorchester a year and you will be content. Live here longer and you become more ecstatic, more proud, and more assured with every passing day. You can't help but inhale promise when you spend time in Dorchester. The flavor of hope will stick to your ribs.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
If I were six or seven or eight years old, what would I like to see in Dorchester? This is going back aways. I would be enamored by all the potato chip flavors stacked at Cappy's Convenience. In warm weather I would want to pluck all the periwinkles off the sand at low tide on Malibu Beach even though no bucket has been made big enough to hold them all. I would enjoy rocking along the Mattapan High-Speed Trolley wondering what the conductor is doing behind the curtain and if he would let me help him steer. I would be the most contented boy in the world on the bridge over the commuter rail tracks eating a long, Simco hot dog with the perfect mix of mustard and relish while a train passed under my feet. I would be dizzy by all the people milling about in Codman Square and in Uphams Corner or in Fields Corner; so many adults pursuing adult business and me none the wiser what was about beyond the fact that it is always this busy every day. I would enjoy the view from Ronan Park of the Bay the compressed natural gas tanks, and the sports fields as well as the playgrounds.
What is a boy to do in Dorchester? The same as an adult. Enjoy it all. For a real meal Flat Stanley can expect a stroll down Dot Ave's Umami Mile. What restaurant he'll be inclined to choose is anyone's guess, but you can bet it will be a good one. No bad times are had in Dorchester.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Well, firstly, the most beautifully voluptuous ladies call Dorchester home. You know the kind. Art history majors have seen them in Rubens' paintings. They are sensuous and intelligent with plenty to love. They are strong women with big bones and ample curves. They walk Washington Street and Dot Ave and Blue Hill Avenue and all the side streets in between, turning attentive heads. They can be spotted taking out thier recycling bins at the crack of dawn. If you haven't been to Dorchester, you may want to take the Ashmont Branch of the Red Line and maybe then the Mattapan High-Speed after that to get your full quotient of Ooooo-la-la....la-la-la-la-laaaa...Ba-boom! Big, beautiful women inhabit the Dot.
The second reason is that the pageant's organizer is Dorchester's own fellow citizen Fabiola Brunache. We are not going to paraphrase the Banner's crack reporting here nor will we second guess why Ms. Brunache is holding the pageant in Woburn rather than closer to home base. We will provide a link for more information: Click Here. We will encourage everyone to see the contestants strut their stuff and show off in competition for the title they probably all deserve. Admission to the event in Woburn is free, as free as a Dorchester walkabout.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
He saw what I had been studying in the newspaper so the talk started with palaver about the ponies. While he regaled me with tales of his well chosen trifectas I noticed that his eyes always wandered when a lady walked past. The woman in question could be young or old, attractive or not, blond, brunette, redhead, bluehair, cross-eyed, snaggle-toothed or super-model. If they belonged to the fairer sex, which naturally they did, his eyes would follow them from behind my left shoulder to the hairy edge of his left ear.
"I've been drinking beer all day. I could use me a nice goose right about now," he told me. I suggested he visit Gene and Paul's Meats just down the road. This grocery has the freshest meats of all varieties from any flesh-bearing, land bound animal one might wish to consume.
He said, "Naw, I don't cook. I just want me a little tickle." Then he pointed with a crooked finger at a spiky-haired, crew cut brunette lass sitting in a booth. "That's the goose I want to pluck," he said, extending his finger out then pulling it back a few times. I excused myself.
I introduced myself to the ladies in the booth. It was all, "Hello, I'm Whalehead King...it's a nice night compared to yesterday...what do you do for a living?... uh huh, uh huh...do you live close by?...do you know that the creep who keeps looking over his shoulder at us and licking his lips isn't watching me but you?"
It turned out to be last call for the ladies though the evening was still early, hours before cutoff time. I offered to escort them home but they refused. I said I was leaving anyway, and we left together, parting company at Columbia Road. The goose hunter didn't follow, which is just as well.
Monday, March 09, 2009
He kept looking at me without saying anything. It was a crowded bar for 6:30 PM on a Monday but the group sitting next on his other side weren't paying him any attention. He kept looking my way so I decided to break the ice by saying, "I'm not enjoying the snow today."
He said, "I'm not enjoying the snow today." He didn't seem to be much of a conversationalist.
I took a sip of beer. It was nice and fresh. The management keeps the tap lines clean at Tom English's. With my whistle wet, I tried again, "Are the Bruins playing tonight?"
He looked at me and leaned closer, "Are the Bruins playing tonight?" he asked.
All right. I leaned in his direction and asked, "Are you just going to say what I say?"
He leaned back, the palms of his hands on the bar and asked, "Are you just going to say what I say?"
This seemed pretty pointless. I said, "A wisenheimer, eh? I've got better things to do." I picked up my beer and made my way over to the video deer hunting game. As I got out of my chair this guy acted offended and said at the top of his voice, "A wisenheimer, eh? I've got better things to do." Then he turned his head with a jerk so as not to be able to see me even though the people on his right obviously didn't want anything to do with him. I shrugged.
Over at the video game, Pierce said, "You were talking to that clown?" I said yes. He said, "Nobody talks to him when he comes in. He's not a wisenheimer, he's a @##*$#?!!!"
I didn't talk to the gentleman long enough to come up with that label. I won't be talking to him again for any length of time.
Sunday, March 08, 2009
Smart women do live in Boston, Mass. There is a lot of brain power contained in this metropolis and slightly less than half of it is testosterone-fueled. This is a good thing, a wonderful fact that shapes Boston's culture to the better. Not all scientists are men the way not all nurses are women. The Cradle of Liberty nourishes babes of both genders.
I spent a lot of time on Blue Hill Avenue today, between it's foot planted firmly at Mattapan Square and its head on Dudley Street. I like Blue Hill Avenue, it's a straight shot with plenty of room to maneuver and it is lined with a parade of eye candy. I am talking about the various small businesses and apartment blocks and vestiges of old Boston mixed in with the newer architectural developments. There were women walking along Blue Hill Avenue this morning and all of them were smart, but I was going up and down and back again to get a handle on the urban planning (or lack thereof) and the streetscape, not to girl-watch.
I don't usually read the Sunday edition of the Boston Globe, thinking it overpriced for the information I take from it, but I did this morning. The Metro section seemed very Dorchester-centric. I read the article about Morton Street Village using Greenwich Village as a model. Now, regular readers know that I think the Dot is tops, but comparing these two jurisdictions, even in the future tense, seems a bit of a stretch. It's been a few years since I've been to Greenwich Village but it doesn't remind me of Morton Street one bit and I have a fertile imagination. I would link to the article but it isn't readily available after ten minutes searching the Globe's website.
I think this is a matter of inappropriate comparisons and hyperbole. I enjoy Morton Street and I think it has a lot going for it, especially for the people who live there. A commuter rail stop that isn't served on weekends is a plus, but it's not the kind of advantage that makes a neighborhood vibrant. The people who live there make it nice and the businesses they establish make it livable and what they choose to support or not, make this part of Boston stand out not only from the bigger city but from anywhere else you can find on the globe.
An example: The Pit Stop Barbecue at 888 Morton Street. This tiny shack always makes me smile when I pass it and it always makes me hungry because I can smell it before I see it. You can't find a place like this in downtown Manhattan but you can find it in Mattapan. It is homegrown, eccentric and small scale. These are three endearing qualities. Rather than try to inappropriately replicate what is done in a very different environment, every part of Boston should build on its strengths, on the native genius and impulses that make this city unique.
I have overrun my space limit, but expect more lecturing and hectoring in the future.
With regards and thanks,
Saturday, March 07, 2009
I embarked to Harvard Square in Cambridge. You can tell is it warm because I took the Littlest Ninja motorcycle down Massachusetts Avenue instead of the T. It was nice enough today that I went as far as Lexington, enjoying the scenery, saw the Lexington Minuteman, bareheaded but just as bold as the tricorner-hatted one on the state quarter, but then I turned around. I had Bay Rum on my mind. Winter is concluding and I want to smell, and smell like, an exotic, tropical breeze, a breath of fresh air and Triangle Trade.
On my way back inbound I parked in front of Colonial Drugs between Harvard and Brattle Squares. When you drive a little Ninja you don't worry about finding parking or paying for the priveledge. You just fit in on the margins of designated zones and no coppers give you any bother. You are a motorized vehicle but you don't get in anyone''s way. No ticket for the Little Ninja.
I didn't see any Bay Rum on offer at Colonial Drugs and the shop is a little too creepy for my tastes to ask for assistance. They do carry oversized bottles of the cologne No. 4711, and I filed that note away in my mental slop box for when mine runs out in two or three years. I remembered the tobacco shop on the other end of Harvard Square carries an array of men's toiletries in the back of the shop so I walked over there. I purchased twelve ounces of J. Pinaud's Bay Rum for a little more than I expected, but I saved shipping costs.
I brought my bottle of J. Pinaud Bay Rum up to the register and the clean-cut chap behind the register asked if that would be all. Did I need a bag? No, I would put it in my motorcycle-friendly satchel. When bills and coins had changed hands, the young man said, "Thank you for coming here today. We appreciate your business." That clinched the deal. Not only will I buy my toiletries here but I'm thinking of taking up the ruminative habit of pipe smoking which is really this shop's bread-and-butter. For the life of me, I can't remember the shop's name though I have been there many times before today. It's the tobacconist off Harvard Square if you walk past the Cambridge Trust Building. They are very nice and very professional and they sell the accouterments that a thinking, sophisticated gentleman requires.
Friday, March 06, 2009
I am more a romantic, intuitive dreamer than a hard-nosed analyst. If I am teaching science to youngsters, something must be wrong with the system. I would prefer to lead field trips wandering around the neighborhood appreciating abandoned buildings and well-crafted brickface facades, but that is an indulgence that comes secondary to productive, deductive thinking. I understand how electricity works and how density allows for flotation and the biological food chain and whatever else our experiments are supposed to prove. With that background, I have the leisure to appreciate the more ephemeral aspects of my surroundings.
That children who attend schools adjacent to the Longwood Medical/Academic Area don't have a science teacher doesn't pass the smell test for a well-rounded education. Mission Hill and Roxbury are lucky to have responsible corporate neighbors with deep pockets who can pay their employees to lend a helping hand and provide staff, however marginally qaulified, to guide students through a few, pre-packaged experiments. Do Dorchester schools have the same resources available to them?
I assume the corporate entities in Longwood employ more college-educated persons than the businesses in Fields Corner. I don't think Tedeschi Food Mart or Mad Rag are offering their employees to help out at that neighborhood's schools.
Something is broken and that something needs to be fixed. I don't have the answer but I will do my part to shed a little light of enlightenment and the miracles of critical thinking about natural facts for one hour a week in Mission Hill. I can only hope someone else is doing the same in the thick of Dorchester's school system. Boston, and the world, needs more children who will grow into adults, who grasp the basics of the universe's mechanics.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
When she concluded her tirade against whoever had sold her the car, she started to trudge down the sidewalk, head down, fists in pockets, with no hope for satisfaction. I approached. "I couldn't help but overhear," I said, "I think the whole neighborhood knows you're a stranger to these parts."
She replied, "I'm stranded in Boston." I told her she was stranded in Dorchester, the best part of Boston, and pointed out that there were far worse places to be lost in. Having eavesdropped on the conditions of her unplanned exile, I offered her a drink at C.F. Donovan's and a meal, though I couldn't offer her a place to rest her head overnight. She accepted.
We had apple martinis and shared a plate of nachos and a platter of the house comfort dish, macaroni and cheese. She seemed in need of comfort food. She vented her frustrations about the state of her new (to her) car and how she had been ripped off. I listened, letting her relieve the pressure on her chest. After we were done eating and our glasses were empty, I paid the tab and reassured her that she was in friendly territory.
As I fished dog-eared dollar bills and quarters out of my topcoat pocket for a tip, the lady said, "Thanks for helping me get through this." I assured her that after my departure another benefactor would soon appear to solve her more pressing problems, maybe even a mechanic who would rejigger her transmission to jet efficiency. Plenty of tradesmen live in Dorchester who are more handy with a wrench than I am.
Full of cheddar and Monterey Jack and starch, we parted company. I went home to sleep the sleep of the contented. She went in search of an answer to her problems. I am sure she will leave Dorchester contented as well. This is a neighborhood of people who help each other as best as they are able according to their talents. I'm more barfly than mechanic.
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Your humble narrator, who has spent countless, untraceable hours criss-crossing not only Dorchester but other Boston ,out-of-the-way, back alleys, has never witnessed a shooting, a drug deal, an interaction between john and prostitute, a knife fight, a police intervention, an arson, a graffito tagging, or even a petty theft more serious than a can man lifting deposit bottles out of a recycling bin left on a curb. He has seen people moving from Point A to Point B, minding their business while being cordial to each other and everyone trying to get through the day with as little friction and tension as possible with good manners and tolerance. These are the facts, if they may not be the reality.
Crimes are committed in Dorchester the same as they are committed on Beacon Hill and in West Roxbury and Hyde Park and in Persia. People will be people, but a few bad apples needn't spoil the barrel nor turn sparkling cider into vinegar. Your narrator's eyeglasses are not tinted and, as often as not, he doesn't wear them though he spent a week's pay on the frames. The lenses aren't rosy but clear. The neighborhood is what it is. Possibilities abound for those with objective eyes to spy them.
Are these dispatches really just a Dorchester conjured out of a fevered mind? Partly, yes, but ultimately and unequivocally: No. Anyone who can google a map can see the landmarks that exist, the poetic street names, the connotative place names and how the convoluted and leafy landscape is laid out in order to breed small scale adventures and philosophical associations. Layers upon layers of cognition and experience in all flavors and grit are piled atop each other in Dorchester.
Are the personalities portrayed in these missives made of from whole cloth? Again, no. They are here, plugging away, trying to get a head of a little spare pocket change, and trying to earn the respect they deserve. Names are changed because not everyone enjoys celebrity, but every personality has been extrapolated from details garnered from personal interviews and direct observation mixed in with a dash of purple and yellow journalistic sleights of hand.
Some people may scoff at Dorchesterites' aspirations. We think they protest too much and may harbor a smidge of envy. Schemes are hatched in Dorchester. Dreams come true in Dorchester. The same story is repeated all over Boston and all over the globe but a Dorchester victory seems to be one of the sweetest of them all.
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Dorchester isn't sweet. It is tangy and earthy and vitamin-rich, strung with celery threads and fingerling roots that bind everything together in a tight mesh. It is corn and carrots and boiled potatoes. Dorchester is starchy and bulky, with a hint of flavor that satiates a belly with bulk. The spice is in the seasoning and the main ingredient starts with a capitol 'D.'
You can eat stringy meat in Dorchester, meat so neatly cut into morsels that its fibers are studied at MIT to figure out how it can work so well in a stewpot and be chewed by toothless babies with the right seasoning and preparation like pablum or whole milk solids. Molecular evidence leads to a choking hazard conclusion but Dorcester toddlers wrestle their day care brethren to the ground without breaking a sweat or achieving an aerobic heart rate. The science of life is tenoned in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Dorchester babies, like their parents, bite and they bite hard.
Sanitary laws and the Department of Public Health have their place in greater Boston but the people who dine in Dorchester have tough constitutions and robust immune systems more than hearty enough to shrug off the slings and poison-tipped arrows unwashed lettuce leaves and crusted forks can offer. Touch the flexed bicep of a Dorchesterite and you will feel hard puddingstone under your dainty fingertips. Fog, sleet, gloom, despair and ennui may roll inland off the shores of Dorchester Bay. Dorchesterites eat. They bite, they chew, they mull and masticate, and they take their nourishment from they get. There are no fruits or berries. This is a neighborhood that ruminates.
Monday, March 02, 2009
Jan Kowalka has a big nose, what Jimmy Durante would call a schnozzola. It's a honker. It doesn't look out of place on his face, but if it were on mine it would stand out like the monument at Dorchester Heights. It would be as prominent as the Hancock Tower in Boston's skyline viewed from Columbia Point. He has been called "Buzzard" since he started attending school. So many years later, on job sites and at the Dot Tavern, people around the neighborhood still call him "Buzz." He's gotten used to it. After all, a man is born with a face and then he learns to live with it.
Buzz Kowalka was walking down Washburn Street this morning, trudging through the snow with his lunchpail, when he was accosted by a gang of children. Though they would normally be in school at this hour but a few inches of snow had fallen in Dorchester overnight and the kids were free to have the run of the streets. "Hey mister," one of the rapscallions called, "Your nose is so big I bet I can peg it with a snowball with my eyes closed." Then he attempted to do just that.
The missle hit its mark and Mr. Kowalka's hat was knocked of his head. He couldn't see for a moment and he tripped on the uneven sidewalk that was buried under the eight inches of snow that came up over his ankles. Mr. Kowalka hit his head on a plastic trash barrel and his lunchpail fell into a snowdrift. The perpetrators scattered. Who knows where? Mr. Kowalka's nose was bleeding.
He headed back home and his wife applied a styptic pencil to to his left nostril to stanch the red stream that was dripping over his lips. After receiving first aid, Mr. Kowalka re-fit his hat, re-wrapped his scarf and trudged down Washburn Street again to retrieve his lunch and get to work, hopefully on time