Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dorchester is the place to be

We went to the Tenement Museum in NYC yesterday. We don't use the word 'tenement' in Boston. In Dorchester we prefer the term 'three-decker." Even to say 'triple-decker' marks you as an outsider.

It's true Manhattan's tenements are not Dorchester's three-deckers. They are two different types of building, housing different densities and built for different purposes. That doesn't escape the fact that the Dot is denser than most places, with three families (at least) living on a little lot.

So many people packed together, no matter the milieu, is very different from farm living. Dorchester doesn't have any green acres unless you count Cedar Grove Cemetery or Dorchester Park. Both are easily accessible via the Mattapan High-Speed, the best train on the MBTA.

When you move to Dorchester, you don't have to say goodbye to city life. It's not New York's Lower East Side and people are grateful for that, but it is city living. It is full of interactions, uncoordinated transactions, oldtimers and newcomers exchanging pleasantries and points of view. Dorchester is about immigrants and old stock mixed into a soup that no one knows the taste of once the cooking is done. Drop in one ingredient. Move to Dorchester.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Alpha and stink

Not as famous or as deadly as the North End's Molasses Flood, Dorchester once suffered an odoriferous smell that no one has written a book about. The 'Mothball Spill' on Alpha Road in 1946 still sticks in the noses of long-time residents.

With WWII going on, a lot of Dorchester's young husbands were called to be away from home for an extended period. Their clothes needed to be stored and protected from predatory moth larvae. Mike Flannagan got the idea to undercut the big moth ball companies by buying generic mothballs and selling them under his own, local label at corner grocers in the neighborhood. He purchased pallet loads of generic, white paper bags and had then custom printed with his brand name at a shop in Adams Village. The shop did a nice job, using red ink that silhouetted the lettering: "Flannagan's Moth-o-Cide" with a picture of a moth with X's for eyes.

Mr. Flannagan travelled to Chelsea, Mass. to the Permagum Mothball Dispensary to pick up his first wholesale shipment. Permagum is a name well respected in mothball circles though the company has since shut down. Mike Flannagan had arranged to buy loose mothballs to package later in his garage on Alpha Road for later distribution. He was neither a manufacturer or a trucker, he was an entrepreneur. He rented a delivery truck and packed the back full of loose mothballs using a snow shovel.

He forgot to lock the back doors of his truck.

Alpha Road is a steep street just east of Codman Square. The pressure against the doors became too much and the latch gave. Two tons of mothballs spilled down between the gutters of Alpha Road and they skittered their way down storm drains and into exposed niches. Some of them reached Dorchester Bay. The neighborhood was effectively fumigated and even today this part of Dorchester is known for its lack of moths, cockroaches and other vermin who have developed an aversion to to the stink of naphthalene.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Washington's view

The sky was as gray and wrinkled as an elephant's belly, the clouds were flecked with flint, Dorchester Bay was as flat and featureless and dull as slate. The fog carried hints of obsidian and a whiff of long spent grape shot into my nostrils as I climbed Dorchester Heights.

Dorchester Heights. The name sticks like catarrh in the throat of native and adopted Dorchesterites. Officially part of South Boston, this was once part of the Dot and should be still. A monumental tower crowns the hilltop to commemorate a battle decisively won against the Redcoats, unlike the moral victory won at Bunker Hill.

My steps up the steep incline were heavy and well planted. My heart labored easily, it thrilled at the the scrape of my hush puppies on the sidewalk. Dorchester Heights...courage, planning, discipline, and will won a momentous battle one historic day on this promontory. I took a seat on the steps of the monument that stands on hallowed ground where freedom fighters defended their liberty and George Washington himself paced directing the troops.

Like Washington, I looked to the north and viewed Boston Harbor and the city that occupies the bay. Like Washington must have done, I looked to the south. The cloud cover broke for a moment and all of Dorchester lay spread out in all its glory under the golden rays of the sun. The moment passed in less than a minute but I saw Dorchester bathed in heavenly light. I knew in my heart what Washington was fighting for. From the Heights, one realizes that any hamlet or burg has the same potential Dorchester hides in its breadth.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

We call it Dorchester, by gum!

Again, today, I heard a slur that grates on my ears. I told someone I live in Dorchester. He replied, "You mean Poor-chester, don't you?" He said it with an elbow in my ribs and a wink. The jab to my chest was enough to almost spill my beer. My indignation came just shy of my shooting beer out my nose like a dowsed hen.

No. I didn't mean Poor-chester. I meant the much-maligned Dot. I meant the biggest and best part of Boston and I am not ashamed to say that I live in Dorchester. Snobs can look down their noses at Dorchester, but I don't. Neither do all the other good people who choose to make a home here. Those are the people who stride into a new day with puffed out chests and imperial bearing whether they have the status or situation to command the respect they justly deserve.

Dorchester is an empire of dirty fingernails, of street smarts, of mechanical ability, of earned experience honed to an edge that cuts through flimflam and cuts to the beating heart of all that is wrong in Boston. You can't make a city of students who will move away after graduation. You can't run a campus without janitors, secretaries, technicians, assistants to all the bright minds around which Boston's much vaunted glory and reputation revolves. The real smarts are in the struts not the strutting.

If you don't like Dorchester, don't visit. It's obvious enough that most people vote with their feet or their Charlie Cards and don't leave their calling cards in Dorchester. The neighborhood is none the worse for wear because of their ignorant decisions. Who needs people who don't have the eyes to see beauty under the blemishes? Dorchester isn't a catwalk at a fashion show, all surface and little substance. Dorchester is where raw meat is seasoned and cooked to provide a toothsome and satisfying meal.

My companion on Charles Street took a sip of his beverage. "Doesn't the trash bother you? Don't your feet stick to the sidewalk?" he asked. Yes on both counts, but the trash on Dot Ave or any Dorchester side street doesn't bother me as much as the flotsam and jetsam that I find on the sidewalks puking up their guts after a late night bender downtown. I have yet to see a Dorchesterite vomit into the bushes or urinate in plain sight. The people of Dorchester have a sense of propriety. What happens in Dorchester usually stays there and the wider world is none the wiser that great things happen here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Victory Park

It's an island that's a park that commands exceptional views of Dorchester Bay on one side and Interstate 93 on the other. It's accessible from the butt end of Victory Road off Morrisey Boulevard, a forlorn neighborhood that consists of an overpass, an exit ramp, a yacht club, a natural gas storage tank, and all the flotsam and jetsam one would expect to be washed up onto breakwater rocks. It is a park popular with people who keep dogs, much to the consternation of picnickers.

Victory Park is an island spotted with benches and overgrown with flora. The grass is high except where it is worn short by dog runs and gathering places. It's idyllic. The surf laps the shore and you feel like you are far removed from the thick of the Dot's hurly-burly when you relax in Victory Park. Cross the short bridge and you enter an atmosphere of unfettered, benign, green nature, toothless and clawless. The only canines are domesticated. There are no vampires or thugs, just smiling folk apologizing that Fido is intruding on your idyll.

We ate cheese and bagels and slices of apple, a cucumber, some radishes and a tin of kippers in Victory Park. We were in Boston, we were in Dorchester, but we seemed far removed from all the big city's swirl. Jellyfish expanded and contracted placidly under the tideline. Our bicycles were parked next to a shrub and nothing was disturbed. We lay on a carved block of granite, absorbing the sunshine into our skins. Pit bulls and setters intruded on our space but they didn't stay long. Just long enough to disrupt the temporary reverie.

I'll take Victory Park for a picnic over the Fenway. The Fenway has a channeled drainage ditch. Victory Park has a vista of Port Norfolk, Tenean Beach, Quincy, Shawmut, and the stretch of Massachusetts Bay beyond before it merges with the expansive Atlantic that ties Boston to the rest of the globe. Why are jellyfish, that most placid animal, drawn to the shores of Dorchester? Probably for the same reason I am in the reverse direction. It is nice here.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Opera fodder

We've complained before that the name "Dorchester" isn't the most descriptive for all the hullabaloo that goes on south of Southie. It does have it's historical precedent and, for antiquarians, geographers and old timers, the label does have its share of cache. "We've always called it Dorchester. Why should we stop now?" No reason, really. I'm not for marketing something that isn't broken just to seem relevant to hipsters or to boost real estate values. I'm sure the town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico sometimes regrets its naming decision. Maybe not.

Dorchester is named after a town in England. That's nice, but mostly irrelevant almost 400 years after the initial settlement. Boston is named after a town in England too, but nobody confuses the two if you leave out the appendage "Mass.' when mentioning where you live. This holds true no matter where you find yourself on the globe, except perhaps in England. Boston, Mass. has its own identity. Boston, England should think about changing its name to avoid possible confusion. The same is not true of the two Dorchesters.

Before I moved to Boston, I received a letter with the return address Dorchester, MA 02125. I wrote back that I felt lied to. I had thought my pen pal lived in Boston yet here was evidence to the contrary. She assured me that Dorchester is, indeed, a part of Boston and I have since confirmed that fact. I've since learned it is the biggest and best part of this bean town.

You can say Brooklyn or the Bronx and people know you are still talking about New York. You can't say the same about Dorchester or West Roxbury or Hyde Park when discussing Boston. You have to pause in your story and qualify, "It's part of Boston, by the way."

If Dorchester got more publicity, that would help. If writers wrote about the Dot (which is a good name and one that builds off what's already established) more people would become aware of the vibrant neighborhood that provides the guts and muscle of the larger metropolis. The Boston label tends to exclude everything outside historical Boston proper. Why? Because people write about the Beacon Hill, the Back Bay, the Common, the North End. These are all worthy subjects, but so is the Dot. Operas involving hair dressers play out every day in Dorchester. Why cant we buy tickets to see a showing of "The Dottie Barber?"

Dorchester lays claim to providing the muscle and know-how to keep the city running. Why does it stop short in providing its flavor to the city's cultural life. In order of appearance, Dorchester arrived first on the scene by a few months. If it is preeminent on a timeline, it should be preeminent in the grander scheme of things. When people think of Boston they shouldn't just think of the Tea Party. They should think of the Dot.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

No A.I. here

None of the intelligence found in Dorchester is artificial. It's all 100%, unadulterated and natural, just as the good Lord intended it to be. You've got to be quick witted and quick on your feet to make your mark in Dorchester. If not, you'll meet your maker none the worse for wear. In Dorchester the cream rises to the top, but its a fatty, slurry soup that is both shaken and stirred. There's no easy way to get noticed but, as usual, half the battle is won just by showing up.

This isn't to say that Dorchester, Mass. is full of the halt, the dumb, the slow-witted, the marginal, the lackluster, or the lamebrained. Dorchester is full of bright minds that are unpolished, diamonds in the rough. What else would any sociologist expect from the rough-and-tumble school of hard knocks from which Dorchesterites graduate? There is an eloquence to silence and great writers know that the best sentences are composed with the fewest syllables.

Men and women of few and pungent words, the men and women of Dorchester, Mass., say what they mean and they mean what they say. Their insights are incisive. Their observations cut to the chase, through sinew and gristle down to the bone of a matter. Their soliloquies are dismissed by thesaurus-laden, ivory tower effetes as the grumbling of an unwashed, disgruntled mob, but if actions speak louder than words then Dorchester is home to most eloquent class of Bostonians. Leave similies and citations at the border.

From Carson Beach to the filled-in South Bay, from Harbor Point to far up the mouth of the Neponset River, along much of the length of Blue Hill Avenue, in parks, on dead end streets, in cul-de-sacs, on thoroughfares that are major to their neighbors but minor to the greater city's sense of itself, Dorchester plays out philosophical conundrums to justified and satisfactory conclusions. Life is lived in the round and in the raw in Dorchester. There is nothing artificial in people making their way in a world they only partly created.

If you live in Dorchester, you make the best of it. It's easy if you try. You needn't be the sharpest knife in the drawer or the sharpest tool in the shed. You just need to apply your edge where it will be most effective. Dorchester has a genius it can call its own. There is a Dot-madness afoot between Southhampton Street and River Road, between Morrissey Boulevard and Blue Hill Avenue. Boston's future history will be written in the words spoken by today's citizens of Dorchester, people who have been tempered in an urban crucible that often neglected in the present. A specter is haunting Boston. It is the specter of Dorchester.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

History of the Dottoman Empire (part IV)

The eminent author and crackpot Charles Fort kept the memory of the Dorchester Urn alive, but the ever reliable Wikipedia is doing its part in the digital age. The Wikipedia scribes get some of the jargon, the date, and some of the details wrong in their entry on what they call the Dorchester Pot, but the story is essentially the same, and their article puts a date to the artifact. It is assumed to be 100,000 years old. This would be about the time the first Atlanteans landed on Dorchester's shores, much like the Pilgrims a few millennia after them.

When the minor continent from which the Atlantic Ocean gets its name sunk beneath the waves, its people scattered across the face of the globe. Massachusetts happened to be nearby so a good number of these evacuees ended up in Dorchester. Their traces remain but they are slight except for those who pay close attention.

The Dorchester Pot, or the Dot Pot as its known in Historical Society circles, is the most concrete piece of evidence that ancient civilizations existed in Dorchester proper. It was a sort of jar or urn made of unknown metal that was blasted out of a ledge of solid puddingstone. It was an out-of-place artifact which no one expected to find enclosed in Dorchester's bedrock. People had heretofore assumed that only savages and wildlife lived off Dorchester's landscape before the English arrived. Savages and wild life still co-exist in the Dottoman Empire alongside the highest hanging fruits of an enlightened, sophisticated, urban culture. There is no reason to suspect things were different in the past.

If you go down to the shore at Port Norfolk and slip through the gap in the chain link fence that separates this no-man's land from the rest of the Dot, you will find evidence that heroic, burly deeds were performed in a place that seems like a sleepy retirement nook today. The foundations of immense concrete works and rusted tools litter the shoreline. I witnessed a few codgers with their metal detectors walking methodically over the dirt piles and wind-blown trash. I asked them why they were searching for treasure here.

One of them told me, "This land holds secrets. Sometimes its a bottle cap, sometimes its a zinc nail from 1880. Other times, its something nobody can explain. I once dug up a thingamabob that I couldn't figure out what it was for the life of me. I sold it to an MIT professor who claimed I had dug up the most perfect example of a perpetural motion machine he had ever seen. He paid me 65 bucks! That's why I keep coming here every week."

Dorchester's soil holds many secrets.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

History of the Dottoman Empire (part III)

On page 130 in "The Book of the Damned" by Charles Fort, is the report of a strange vessel of unidentified metal that was blasted out of a piece of solid rock. This happened in June, 1851. It was a bell-shaped vessel with silver, floral inlays. The editor of Scientific American attributed the workmanship to Tubal Cain, the first inhabitant of Dorchester, Mass.

The role Tubal Cain played in early recorded Dottoman history will be discussed later. We are only in Chapter Three of our history and it is already apparent that citizens inhabited the part of Boston we call Dorchester long before Euroamerican bias declared the area a tabula rasa. In fact, the Dottoman Empire has a long prologue that has been erased and written over. The palimpsest still shows through though and makes itself felt.

What was the Dorchester Urn that was discovered while a farmer was leveling some ledge on his land with dynamite? Some crypto-archaeologists posit that it was a relic left behind by Atlantean wanderers. Ignatius Donnelly was certainly of that opinion. We tend to side with the experts who have studied these facts more intently than we have.

The Dorchester Urn has disappeared, probably sold on the black market for antiquities. It may rest in Steve Job's private gallery. It may reside in the collection of an anonymous, Hong Kong billionaire for him to fondle in his penthouse and chortle while he scoffs at the ignorance of Western antiquarians who do not know he holds a premier piece of treasure in his trove. It may be locked up in the same vault as the antediluvian statuettes of bipedal, giant periwinkles kept secret by the Dorchester Historical Society. We choose not to speculate. All we can say is that eye witnesses described this marvellous artifact just after it was found.

Interestingly, the term "Dorchester Urn" is still used in the funerary business. The current model doesn't resemble the description in the Book of the Damned. The design was simplified to keep expenses down for mass production, but this bit of Dorchester history lives on wherever cremated people choose to bequeath their ashes in style.

Astute readers will note that we have dropped the word "brief" from the title of this history. It's going to be a long slog folks, but an informative one. Bear with us. We will be leaving the realm of legend and old wives' tales in a few weeks. As for tomorrow, part IV is coming...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A brief history of the Dottoman Empire (part II)

In the antediluvian era before Dorchester was settled by members of the Massachuset tribe, it was inhabited by legendary faerie folk. According to legend and scanty available evidence a third, distinct animal roamed these shores and they continue to live on in the collective subconscious as well as, more benignly, on the beaches. Their identity is shrouded in folklore and legend but, by triangulating what little remains of their presence, scholars have drawn the following conclusions...

Anyone who has walked the intertidal zones along Malibu Beach or Savin Hill Beach or Tenean Beach or Clam Point or Port Norfolk or along the Neponset estuary knows that periwinkles live in abundance along the shore of what we now call Dorchester. Early English settlers were frightened by indigenous tales of monsters that roamed the landscape. These weren't the wee folk that lived in amiable co-existence with the native human tribes, rather, they were out-sized slimy things that crept through the night, swallowing whole households without regard for propriety or custom. They were the Shug N'uraugunth.

According to contemporary descriptions the Shug N'uraugunth resembled giant periwinkles with legs. They were said to be taller than the old growth trees that Englishmen found when they landed on Dorchester's shores. That's right: giant periwinkles with legs, and with protruding eye stalks too that were as thick as and longer than a tall man's arm. These creatures shambled through idyllic terrain, crushing and absorbing everything in their path. They had eyes, but if something was in their way they continued their momentum without noticing, leaving slimy trails of splintered wood, dead animals, dead people and extinguished fires in their wake. They had legs but they dragged long slime-encrusted tails behind them.

The colonists took these tales to be true. Increase Mather, Cotton's father, believed this was proof that, indeed, the Pilgrims had landed in Satan's garden and their mission was one fraught with peril. There are no eye-witness accounts of the Shug N'uraugunth, only furtive diary entries relating what the colonists had been told by the natives, who had been told that by the wee faeries.

A few puddingstone carvings survive that are preserved by the Dorchester Historical Society in a locked vault at an undisclosed location that is not their headquarters on Boston Street. Few people have been allowed to view these statuettes since spreading folklore and terror isn't part of the Society's mission, but reports state that they resemble periwinkles supported by two, stumpy, ankle-less legs.

Unsurprisingly, the author H.P. Lovecraft was interested in these tales and he paid many visits to Dorchester to investigate their validity. Whether he believed them or not is a matter of speculation, but they seem to have served as inspiration for a number of his stories.

Today, if you walk the shore of Malibu Beach at low tide, you will find the sand spiked with innumerable periwinkles, all of them no longer than the first joint of your finger. The periwinkle is a mollusk with a conical, spiral shell that seals itself into its portable home by use of a bony plate the size and thickness of a baby's fingernail. If you look closely at this plate, you'll see that it bears two parallel ridges. People around Dorchester say these are the vestigial traces of the Shug Nuruagunth's femur and tibia.

Graduate students at MIT are sequencing periwinkle DNA as we write this. This evolutionary mystery may finally be laid to rest.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A brief history of the Dottoman Empire (part I)

Where's the best place to begin a sprawling epic? In the hazy mists of long-forgotten time, of course. This is the easy part. The innuendo, rumors and crackpot theories that pass for the next-best-thing to truth are our only reliable sources detailing Dorchester's origins. Believe them or not, this is what we have to work with today. If these tales seem likely, they probably are. If you leave skeptical, you are forgiven. As our history approaches the present more verifiable facts and documented observations will make up the narrative, but in the beginning we deal with prehistory, before anything was written down. All that survives is vestigial memory of the oral version recited around campfires, open hearths and Franklin stoves...

God set a milkweed pod adrift on the Atlantic and it floated into Boston Harbor. When it hit land, it stuck, and Dorchester was formed. The feathery milkweed seeds grew into trees and the seeds at their roots became the rocks that underlie Dorchester. The milkweed pod sunk in the surf and the seeds gathered in the mud and this where puddingstone comes from. Bees visited the flowering trees and this is why Dorchester is sometimes called the land of milk and honey.

No people lived in this newly made Dorchester but faerie folk moved in as soon as the ground was stable. They gathered rocks into boulders and they carved the landscape into hills and spreading fields. This part of Boston, like the others, has always been a place of rearranging terrain. It is a theme revisited again and again. The faeries weren't tall, and this is why Mount Bowdoin isn't much of a mountain to people who are familiar with the real thing.

One night a star fell out of the sky and it landed on what the wee faerie folk called Rock Hill. They took it as a sign and since that day, even though the wee folk are forgotten, this is a sacred place in the neighborhood. Its summit is preserved as it has been for millenia. No house stands on it and Rock Hill has never been razed to fill the marshland to its east. Rock Hill is, in fact, the spot where great changes started in Dorchester, but that is meat for another chapter.

When the first human family arrived in what is now called Dorchester, the wee folk were suspicious but welcoming enough. They had good manners though they knew these taller people would soon have the run of the place. For many generations, they shared the land and its resources amiably. The faeries kept to the woods and the shadows while the taller people kept to the shore and the daylight most of the time. It was a peaceable arrangement and both parties honored and assisted the other.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Dottoman Empire

Sometimes called "The Sick Man of Boston," Dorchester is in fact quite robust. Sure, it's got its aches and pains, its creaky joints, its lumbago, and poor eyesight. Nothing that can't be alleviated with some limbering up exercises and corrective lenses. Dorchester has been around awhile, in fact the original town of Dorchester is older than Boston itself by a few months. You can't be creeping up on 400 years without showing a little wear and tear.

While some of Dorchester's sclerotic streets may be inflamed, those intersections are more appropriately thought of as hot spots, as in: where the action is, where the cool kids hang out, where deals are brokered, where important business gets done. Only the hopelessly myopic cannot see Dorchester for what it is: an empire encompassing diverse terrain and many different peoples of different backgrounds brought together under an enlightened despotism.

Dorchester is ruled by a tyranny of optimism.

What is a Dottoman? He is a guy who doesn't suffer any guff but lets bygones be bygones. The slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune fall into the Neponset River where they flow under the Lower Mills Bridge out to sea and are soon forgotten. A Dottoman is a tough, but a sensitive one, who takes pride in himself, his family, his neighbors and in their collective ability to get any job done. He is a rugged man, handsome in his homeliness, with dirt under his nails and callouses on his palms and soles.

You can find Dottomen everywhere, on scaffolding and inspecting basements, in the sewers, in office towers replacing fuses and on top of three deckers hammering shingles into place to withstand a hurricane. They cook meals for the hungry and cart away trash after the meal is done. They crisscross the city, the state, and the nation making deliveries. Wherever they go during the day, the come back to Dorchester for the duration of the night. They could overrun Boston if they chose. They choose not to. They tend to their families and their gardens at home base instead. Maybe that is best for Boston. These practical folk would remake the South End and Beacon Hill if they chose to conquer those territories. It would be a classic clash of cultures.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The value of local news

There are towns in Massachusetts that don't have a dedicated newspaper to chronicle fast-breaking developments. There are towns and incorporated cities all over America that don't have a professional class keeping tabs on what is going on. News gets spread at the barber shop or the four-corners-gas station. Dorchester, a part of Boston, has its own newspaper. It isn't on the level of Bowlegs, Oklahoma.

Boston, a city of neighborhoods, is fully serviced by local ragsheets that report news specific and relevant to the citizens who inhabit its environs. Dorchester is well served by the Dorchester Reporter, a multi-page broadsheet that comes out weekly and has recently expanded its internet presence, updated appropriately, almost daily. Dorchester is the biggest slice of Boston's pie, encompassing more surface area and more population than any other neighborhood. Dot news is transmitted reliably and without bias, though admittedly with a slant toward local interest. A crack team of professionals deliver the who, what, where, why and how of what occurs within their territory.

You won't find rumor or innuendo in the Dorchester Reporter. You will find facts that have been researched, considered, weighed and proven. Loose gossip and slander aren't permitted to grace its pages. Politics is a topic, but one covered at arm's length, lest the stink of unsavory business get stuck to the type setters. You won't read about the woodwose who is supposed to live in Franklin Park that rummages through trash cans on Columbia Road in the dead of night. Neither will you read about the white and black slavery rings that alternate auctions in the square on Meeting House Hill. Unless the police have gathered the facts and made the appropriate arrests, everyone is innocent until proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. The Dorchester Reporter is Dorchester's paper of record, printing only the news fit for consideration. Not every tall tale that sprouts in the hubbub of fever dreams Dorchester tends to inspire sees the light of mass distribution in daylight.

Most of the news in Dorchester is good. There are some unflattering reports. In a place as big and dense with humanity as Dorchester, both good and bad happen. The Reporter accurately reports what its staff uncovers and can verify. It makes for a lively record of life in Boston's biggest and best neighborhood. The Dorchester Reporter sets the standard of what local reporting should entail.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Harmless skullduggery

The two parties had agreed on a pre-arranged pass-phrase to recognize each other: "I thought there was video golf here." They were both too embarrassed to utter it in Tom English's crowded tap room. After all, everyone was watching the Sox. No one in their right mind goes to Tom English's to play video golf. They never had a golf machine anyway, that was the giveaway. They had a deer hunting video game but even that's been replaced. There is now a dart board in its place which promises more collateral damage and fodder for late night, high jinx- related conversation.

The crowd was so focused on the televisions, they weren't eavesdropping on what two nondescript ne'er-do-wells were saying to each other. No matter, our men on the Dot instantly recognized each other. This bit of cloak-and-dagger seemed over the top so they just shook hands and ordered Pabst drafts for $2.50 a glass.

Tales and insider information was shared along with a few jests but no tears. These were 21st century men meeting in a public locale. They weren't the bricklayers or roofers or electricians that make up Dorchester's old economy. They represented the new Boston's creative class. Not much difference really in how they conducted their interpersonal business. The old Dot is like the current version: two people meet over pint glasses, ideas are exchanged, some plans get tentatively hatched. One thing leads to another. Dorchester, like the rest of Boston, is made up of buildings and neighborhoods and business zones and residential zones, but at its core it is made of people who decide to work together for a common goal.

Was anything accomplished? Not yet. In time, perhaps. Keep your eye on the Dot. Dorchester is rich in human capitol. If anything will change in Boston it will start to move in Dorchester.

Here's a link. Here's some food for thought:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sneeze into your elbow

Without going into the reasons why, I attended a lecture by a certified CDC epidemiologist today on Swine Flu and Bird Flu. This gentleman thought the Swine Flu currently all the rage in the news was a flash in the pan and a dead issue, so to speak, while the threat that Bird Flu presents continues to keep him up nights.

How is influenza virus most commonly transmitted? The lecturer said, "We cough and sneeze all the time into our hands and then what do we do?" To illustrate, he turned to his right and said, "Nice to meet you," while pretending to shake hands with an imaginary friend. He went on to say, "We are teaching school children to sneeze into their elbow," and he demonstrated by fake sneezing into the crook of his arm. "It may look odd to us but we can learn something from what the kids are learning to do. It could prevent a pandemic."

Customs and social norms change. In the Middle Ages, if you were at a banquet and your face itched, good manners commanded that you scratch with a piece of bread crust. This was because forks and other eating utensils didn't exist. Everyone served themselves from common platters with their fingers. To scratch you itchy zit and then put your hand into everyone else's food was bad form. Don't try scratching your face with bread in a restaurant today.

I was at the Ryan Playground on Dot Ave this afternoon and I saw a boy of about twelve sneeze into his arm. Good boy. It was probably a touch of hayfever, but it could be Swine Flu or the more dreaded avian variety. He won't be transmitting any germs unless someone takes an inordinate interest in the weave of his shirtsleeve. A local outbreak has been prevented.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Natives, immigrants and scoundrels

If you live your whole life in one place, can you really complain of being unhappy in your surroundings? Actions speak louder than words. America is a nation of peripatetic citizens chasing job opportunities and warmer climes and better, more affordable, more accessible amenities. Americans graze at a moveable feast. What does that say about the people who stay behind, who stick to their roots, who do the heavy lifting to keep a community coherent?

I think Heaven loves them, and the rest of us should too. Any metropolis or crossroads needs someone who knows what things were like a decade or four ago. Every institution needs a memory. The yokels may be local, but someone has to keep tally of what succeeded and what failed. Someone must bear witness to what sprouts from the bedrock. There but for the grace of the angels go I. I am a gadabout observer, a gadfly, a happenstance, a mote that makes God's eye blink and thus miss my appearance. Those who stay forever have longevity. My responsibilities move when I do. Those who stay behind have their own burdens to haul for everyone who comes after them. Being cosmopolitan is a frothy way to get through life. It has no foundation.

Since I've lived in Dorchester, Mass., I've met plenty of middle-aged people who live in the three deckers their grandparents purchased. A new generation has already reached young adulthood. They continue their lineages on puddingtone-strewn soil. These families could have made the exodus to Quincy or another suburb, but they didn't. They stuck to the Dot, the way the Dot sticks to them. Do you want to learn how Dorchester remains a proudly independent part of Boston, both part of the bigger metropolis but distinct from it? Talk to a third generation Dorchesterite. You'll get your answer soon enough.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lo! A Child Named Martin Shall Triumph!

Where South Boston ends, Dorchester begins! These streets have names that inspire awe and mystery and some of them are spelled counter intuitively. One boy knows how to spell them all without a misstep or stutter, and many other things besides. Imagine a winding panorama of opportunity jumbled into letters that make sense only to the initiated! Beware reader... you are about to get the bejeezus inspired out of your ever-living skin! Lo! A child shall triumph!

Martin Loguscowicz attends the Boston Collegiate Charter School. The school year is winding down and Martin has earned middling grades. There is going to be a spelling bee at term's end to test the prowess of the school's scholars and Martin is preparing to top his previous best efforts and reach pinnacles of spelling greatness few have imagined and even fewer have attained. If you are going to dream, dream big, with three exclamation points if need be!!!

Martin Loguscowicz reads the dictionary every night. If he doesn't score well on his math tests, it is because he has dedicated his intellect to mastering the intricacies of letter order in standard American English. His first goal is to win Boston's city-wide spelling bee and then advance through the ranks, like a Bobby Fisher out of nowhere, to capture the title at the National Spelling Bee next year. The hard work isn't glamorous. Watching Martin Loguscowicz study is like watching paint dry, but the reward is worth the effort. He twists his lips as he scans page after page. He has read his Webster's cover to cover seven times so far this year. Note the date: this report comes from May 11. That's a lot of words.

He can spell onomatopoeia. He can spell phlegm. He can put the second 'c' in Connecticut without missing a beat. He can spell omphaloskepsis and use it in sentence. He can spell mom, and he credits his mother for supporting his quest for greatness.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Number 411 smells like #4711

Today is an anniversary of sorts, the way every day is another step closer toward extinction. This is post number 411 of the Dot Matrix, which was an eponymously titled blog until a few months ago. We suspect that a year or so from now, the title over this broadsheet will change names again. We are in no rush to hurry circumstances, only aware that constant change is here to stay.

While the title on the masthead changes, we do not start a new blog as our direction dithers. There is a rich, deep archive of entries to be spelunked for those who have the time. People with patience will learn that Whalehead King has committed whatever voodoo he does regardless of setting. His initial entries while he was the Bard of New London, Conn. bear a striking similarity to his observations about his current home in Dorchester, Mass. They will probably differ little wherever our man in the field finds himself encamped.

A man is a person and an upright person lives true to his or her code. Know where you stand. I once took a scoop of Mississippi River water in my hand and sucked it down. It tasted like metal. It tasted like all the effluent of America washed across a continent about to be dumped into the Gulf of Mexico as food for the shrimp. I felt lucky to take a sip even if it burned my throat and gave my gut a touch of dropsy. I had sipped what the continent offered and I had slaked my thirst to satisfaction.

I dipped my palm into the Neponset River today and tasted its nectar. It was clean and dirty at the same time, like salty zinc and leaf dander. What does your city's water taste like? Chlorine? The river that separates Boston and Milton is a brew steeped with bitterness and hope, with woe and joy, with smug satisfaction mixed with small scale horrorsbows. The Neponset brings Massachusetts to the brink of the Atlantic and then the river exhales. To the north, on the shore I was crouched on, lay Boston. To the south was the rest of the world. I tasted the Neponset and I headed back into the heart of Dorchester, Mass. I live in Dorchester. The air is a cologne that clings to my lapels and beard stubble.

A tip of the hat to our advertisers and sponsors. Without them, this archive wouldn't be worthwhile for its author. Hopefully, you, Gentle Reader, investigate the links and recommendations we offer here, tailored to your peculiar tastes. A tip of the cap to you, Gentle Reader. May you be slap-happy to the end or your days after suffering all the slings and arrows Life directs your way.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Mattapan rent

I was taking the MBTA's High-Speed Line between Cedar Grove to Ashmont, chatting it up with a fellow passenger. "Did you know that Manhattan has the highest rents in the US? An apartment averages $44.33 a square foot."

"So much?" she said, "I'm paying a thousand a month for a two bedroom on Blue Hill Avenue with heat and hot water included!"

"No, no, wait," I replied. "I'm talking about Manhattan, not Mattapan. You don't live in the heart of New York City. You live on the edge of Boston. If you didn't, we wouldn't be commuting on this trolley.

"I'm sorry," she replied, "I have dyslexic hearing. My right ear overrides what my left ear is hearing. With all the clacking of the car on the tracks I must have transposed the letters in my head. We're talking about Mattapan, right?"

We were now. I started again: "You've scored a two bedroom flat with utilities for $1000 a month?"

"Yes," she said, "I'm overpaying but I enjoy the convenience. I'm going to stay to lock in the price when the Silver Line gets extended. I work at Logan so I'll appreciate less transfers even if the commute takes as long."

Thursday, May 07, 2009

A lack of easy transportation

I moved to Boston in the summer of 2007 and I was looking forward to living in a city twenty-four times the size of the one I just left. I settled into an apartment a block from the Red Line's JFK/UMASS station, thinking being so close to public transportation would satisfy my needs. I was soon horrified to learn that the trains stop running after 12:30 AM. What kind of city is this? World-class, as is Boston's reputation?

Boston does have a reputation as being a world-class city. It is certainly known all over the globe. It is, however, a city that likes its beauty sleep. I know the excuse for not having twenty-four train service is so that regular maintenance can be conducted during the wee, small hours of the morning, but that doesn't help the urban melting pot that Boston is supposed to be. Random, cross-pollination and socialization between active, creative, able people gets done during circumscribed, working hours. Boston defines working hours as between the 6:00 AM commuter rush and a half hour after midnight. If you can't get it done by then, you're travelling by shoe leather if you can't pay for a cab. The bonds that tie the many parts of the city are severed long before last call until they are revived for the commuter rush the next morning.

I am reading "The Warhol Economy" by Elizabith Currid, in which she details the importance of linking people in different disciplines together in an environment that promotes random interaction and the collision of ideas and schemes. I don't want to trot out the old Boston-New York comparison yet again, but the difference between how Boston handles its nightlife (making it inaccessible) and New York handles its (with plenty of opportunities for insomniacs to hobnob), is striking. New York is a cultural capitol where young people move to make their mark. Boston is where students come to leave after they get their degrees.

Adam Pieniazek makes an excellent case for extending public transit hours and offers a reasonable proposal to make it feasible. Boston's culture breeds a mindset that limits night travel after the witching hour. For myself, I am often awake when the T is shut down for track inspection and repair. I would like to travel outside my neighborhood where the only places open are two gas stations, but in winter it isn't worth the effort by bicycle or motorcycle, and in warmer months really, there's nowhere to socialize but the South Street Diner seven days a week. There is a Dunkin' Donuts in Andrew Square that's open 24 hours, but do I really want to walk a half mile to get that dunky monkey off my back? I do it, but only because it's the easiest option available. I trudge there and back between dark windows and storefronts. Only bars make money when the clock hand passes twelve and even the bars could be more crowded and boisterous if people could travel to and fro without risking a traffic violation or, worse, vehicular homocide.

A place that is supposed to be a hotbed of ideas needs to be burbling without the heat turned off every night. Ideas are hatched in a hothouse and the more activity, the better. Sometimes it's best to sleep on a scheme but a whole city is interconnected. Boston's transportation limits travel during what I usually find are the most productive hours of the day. Boston encourages sleeping as its main nighttime activity when invention should be its goal every hour the earth revolves around the sun if it wants to tap its full potential. Are we capitalists or are we prim bluebloods? The citizens of Boston aren't offered the opportunity to do anything but rest up for tomorrow, which will, hopefully, be a better a day with no preparation the night beforehand.

If you can't be hit by inspiration between midnight and sunup, you may as well be an actuary with only the walls of your cubicle as your horizon. Boston is better than that. I holds a multitude of vistas and good ideas that I think are smothered by it's lack of late night access to all it contains within it's bounds. I stay in Dorchester most of the time. It's more convenient and cheaper than a circuitous cab ride. I'm sure the people in Eastie and Charlestown and Hyde Park feel the same. If it isn't easy to get from Point A to Point B bundled with all the other lively interactions in between, we stick close to home base, seeing the same people again and again, hearing the same stories, whether they are interesting or not.

You can land anywhere in Boston and it seems parochial, hyperlocal, disconnected from the larger play on the world stage. Gossip comes from no further than a few streets from where you are sitting. Transit promotes this mindset. We work for a third of a day and we sleep for another. During the times when are doing neither, we are engaged in our immediate surroundings rather than the fractured life of our city. Why? Because you can't get there from here when you want to get home. So you stay close to home.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Hello cello

Some people think that the only instruments that produce music in Dorchester, Mass. are harmonicas playing the blues and car stereos spewing out obscene, hip-hop lyrics at high volume. Well, they haven't been on Boston Street where the cars exhale polka melodies, and they haven't heard of Tony Rymer.

Young Mr. Rymer plays the cello. You've heard of it? It's a big violin, like a bass in a jazz band but played with a bow. It requires practice and perfection and a long-earned familiarity with the instrument. Cello players don't usually play in garage bands. They need to read music. I'm sure there are a few gritty cello players who teach themselves, the way there are punk sousaphonists and self-taught violinists like Ian Anderson or any Okie who fiddled the Devil back down to Hell. Mr. Rymer has chosen a different path. He is learning to master his craft.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Picking up another torch

When Mary Smith-Jones dropped her torch for Larry Storch in 1976, she had developed a taste for hobnobbing with Hollywood celebrities. No one knows how she finagled it, but all evidence and people's recollections around her Dorchester, Mass. neighborhood point to an illicit affair with recently deceased actor and gourmet, Dom DeLuise.

I asked Mrs. McMurphy about the rumors and she confirmed the loose talk on the street. "Oh yes," she said, "Mary always had an eye out for the star power. She was attracted to those Hollywood types like a moth to a flame. Storch and DeLuise weren't the only ones who got caught in her web. There were others. I always liked Dom, though."

Had Mrs. McMurphy ever seen Dom DeLuise in Dorchester? "No," she admitted, "Mary was uppity. She always thought Storch dropped her because she came from the Dot and he didn't like picking her up at her mother's place on Sudan Street. Her mother kept house like a ditch digger, so you can't blame Mary for thinking this way. She wouldn't bring Dommy here, she would always meet him uptown at the Parker House or at the Locke-Ober. Dommy liked the Locke-Ober, he had a special table all to himself. He always paid, like a good gentleman. Mary, she could never afford to go to either of those places on the paycheck she earned at the Lenox Cleaners in Fields Corner."

How did anyone know she was dating Dom DeLuise on the sly? "Mary told everyone," Mrs. McMurphy said, "Everyone who would listen, at least."

Curious about Mr. DeLuise's appeal, I watched the movie 'Fatso" in which he starred in 1980. It's a charming, delightful, little comedy. As the title and Mr. DeLuise's physique would lead you to suspect, it the story of a fat man. You know what? Looking at this in 2009, the main character doesn't look very fat at all compared to what I see on the street every day. Check it out:

Monday, May 04, 2009


I passed Mrs. McMurphy on the way to work this morning while she was smoking a Pall Mall on her front porch. I stopped to discuss how late the recycling truck had been last Friday when she pursed her lips and pointed across the street. "That's Mary Jones-Smith," she said, "Look at how she's aged."

The woman across the street, carrying two shopping bags from Shaw's Supermarket, did indeed look to be in her 60s. She was about 5'6" and seemed to weigh 175 lbs. She was huffing and puffing under the weight of her groceries. "I never wave hello to her anymore," Mrs. McMurphy said, "I haven't for thirty years, since she went all Hollywood on us."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Mary was a pretty girl when she was younger. In 1973 she started dating a Hollywood actor who was shooting a commercial here in Boston, I think it was for Shawmut Bank. Anyhow, the two of them became quite an item until he broke it off. She went to California a few times and he flew into Logan nine or twelve times a year. I think he ended his courting during the Bicentennial. He would stay downtown in one of the hotels but come calling for Mary every day at her mother's place on Sudan Street. They would go to Castle Island and he would buy her two hot dogs. Oh, she used to brag about that. Mr. Big Spender! Two hot dogs at Sullivan's! Back then they probably cost a quarter a piece! She looks like he took her there for every meal and she ate two hot dogs every breakfast, lunch and dinner every time he was in town and didn't stop when he left. Look at her... what a fine figure gone to waste."

I asked who her boyfriend was. Mrs. McMurphy told me, "It was none other than Larry Storch! Can you beat that." I couldn't. My only brush with Hollywood fame was when Robert Vaughn told me to keep the change after he bought some cat litter when I was a cashier at my hometown supermarket.

"Can you believe Larry Storch fell for her?" Mrs. McMurphy continued. "If he could see her now he'd thank his lucky stars. Well, she got uppity after rubbing elbows with all those celebrity types they used to hang out with and now I won't have anything to do with her. Larry Storch! Personally, I always preferred Ken Barry, myself."

Can't put a face to the name? Investigate this and prepare to be entertained. Mr. Storch is in the upper right hand corner. Mr. Barry is the male in the bottom half.

Dot Motto

Excelsior! It's the Latin word for "Ever upward!" It's New York State's motto and it could be Dorchester's too. Doesn't everyone in the Dot feel like they are on an upward trajectory?

People don't move to Dorchester to be beaten down. They move to Dorchester because this part of Boston offers the best opportunity to be the best they can be. All the tools needed to make a good life are just lying around waiting to be used. Rents are reasonable, grocery stores abound and they are full of fresh produce at reasonable prices, hardware stores, barbers, nail salons, insurance agents, bakeries, temporary employment agencies, doctor's offices, physical therapists, dentists, flea markets, and community centers are every few blocks. If you can't find what you want in Dorchester, you probably don't need it.

There is a pressure building in Dorchester, like the steam under Old Faithful. It is invisible but once it erupts, and it does so at regular intervals, there is an explosion that makes bystanders step back in admiration. Dorchester is a place of simple spectacles. Dorchester is excelsior!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Urban golf

The empty lot next to the Boston Globe's headquarters is occupied by a narrow estuary subject to tidal rhythms. The grass is matted down from the high water mark down to the little stream that wends its way through the mud flats. The ground between the blades of grass is thick with fine seaweed awaiting the return of high tide.

Some people find this surface a fine place on which to practice their putting. We observed a couple today. The woman was playing with their terrier, tossing a tennis ball inland so that the dog could fetch it. The man was practicing his putting on the hard-packed mud. He had also brought a driver with him as well as his putter and he took breaks to tee off in the direction of Morrissey Boulevard. He would plunk golf balls into the brook, never once reaching as far as the bridge that carries cars over the estuary. It was just as well he seemed to lack upper body strength.

While the woman was keeping the dog occupied, she sang. At certain key phrases, the man would accompany her because the song she was singing is written as a duet. They weren't Dolly and Kenny but the song was appropriate, especially after the man hit a ball onto a hummock of saw grass in the stream. When I got home I fetched a dusty volume of Hemingway off the shelf.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Hazardous flower petals

My usual route entails taking Howes Street off Dot Ave to Pleasant and then a quick right onto Willis Street, to Bakersfield, which runs to Stoughton and then Dudley Street and a straight, if congested, shot to points beyond. I avoid a lot of traffic-related headaches this way.

While there is little traffic on Willis Street, there are other hazards. I tend to look up at one of the houses to see the bowling pins in the second story window when I pass. They are a kind of landmark that lets me know I am so far on my journey. Willis Street is a tree-lined one, with the kind of trees that have arching branches obscuring the sky. This time of year they are all abloom and they have turned the dull, gray, pockmarked pavement found most everywhere in Boston, into a carpet of flower petals and pollen. It is one of the prettiest streets in Dorchester this time of year, a paean to Spring's perennial fertility. I worry that this beauty may have its dark side.

While it is seductive to take Willis Street, for the above mentioned reasons, the threat of rain makes me think twice. While I am gawking about looking for bowling pins, someone may pull out of their parking space while it's raining. In that case, the flower petals which are so soothing to the eye during dry weather may in fact turn into that nemesis haunts every motorcyclist. Remember: wet leaves are like ice! I would hate to be zipping along in my usual reverie and have to pull tightly on the front brake, thus landing on my head. The EMTs would say, "It was the fall that broke his neck, but the cherry blossoms made it possible."


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