Saturday, January 30, 2010

Why DO People Vote Against Their Own Interests?

This is a question that, living in the good ol' US of A, I ask myself regularly during elections. I asked it several times a day while Dubya enjoyed his eight year reign. It has particular saliency now as the current health care "debate" rages, literally.

Universal health care is a no-brainer. Full stop. Yet the people who have the most to gain from a public health care plan show up at Town Halls apoplectic with fury and brandishing signs reading "Keep your government hands off my Medicare" (Medicare being the government funded health care option for the elderly and disabled poor).

Finally, the BBC is offering an answer.

Friday, January 29, 2010

RIP, Howard Zinn

The Globe's obit of Howard Zinn, the man who made the people, not just the popes, patriarchs, and politicians, active agents of history, is horrendously ironic because it includes quotes from interviews with lots of local celebrities and not a single quote from a "common" man.

Guess the guys wrote the obit hadn't read the book. Or maybe they prefer to thumb their noses at the idea that made Howard famous: ordinary people are just as important as everyone else.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Beehive in Highland Park?

The neighborhood listserv is buzzing about 85 Centre Street. Darryl Settles, co-owner of The Beehive and founder of the Beantown Jazz Festival wanted to bring in a restaurant/bar to the address.

On Tuesday, the licensing hearing was slated for 10 a.m. at City Hall but in the wee hours before that hearing “the applicant (the Telsa Group/Darryl Settles)” withdrew “the application for a license at 85 Center St. at this time in order to conduct further community outreach." Three neighbors, according to Mr. Settles, within view of the address had successfully lobbied against the proposal.

The good thing is that this topic has generated a huge, polite neighborhood discussion. Many opinions are conflicting but people are civil. And it is pretty obvious that there is far more support in the neighborhood for this project than Mr. Settles believed.

The arguments against the project? The usual: noise, traffic, more people. Noise from traffic and people. People walking. People laughing as they leave the decent high end restaurant/jazz club after having a good time. In short, detractors fear the very things that are part of sustainable, stimulating, appealing urban living.

I, too, might be one of these people if I suspected that this restaurant was designed to attract a student crowd. Students drove me out of Symphony Road, they drove me out of Mission Hill. I tired of their drunken all night shrieking, their vomiting on my doorstep. Besides, I get my dose of drunken shrieking from the folks who frequent Fernandez liquor store and hang out in Cedar Park. But just as The Beehive and the jazz festival don't attract an immature, irresponsible clientele, neither, I believe, would this project. There will be naysayers regarding any thing new, but a decent food and music emporium for a mature clientele is a great way of providing an economic, social, and cultural boost to any urban neighborhood - especially this one.

Highland Kitchen in Somerville is a fabulous place in a really dense neighborhood with virtually no parking (six spaces, I think). It’s got great food and a great atmosphere and there is no increased “violence, drugs, brawl, out of town gangs, late night brawls, noise, traffic, pimps” as one of my Highland neighbors wrote he feared a restaurant/bar would bring. Scores of other sophisticated neighborhood joints could be added to the list of well run businesses that enhance their districts.

While I appreciate the concerns of the people opposed to the project, I can’t help but believe that much of that concern about the proposal is less “cautionary dissent” than reactionary fear and a provincial NIMBY-ism. Mr. Settles has a great track record as a good businessman. Given the chronic unemployment faced by the young people from this area, it is shameful to me that we dismissed him without any discussion or attempt at negotiation.

Just as I was finishing this piece, I spoke on the phone to Mr. Settles. I had called him to express my support and he was gracious enough to return my call. He said he has decided to abandon the 85 Centre Street project because it was a risk not worth taking when faced with such a negative reaction from a few people near to 85 Centre. He has many other opportunities. His advice was not to let die the conversation that we, as a neighborhood, had begun.

This project was a job-creating enterprise which would foster mingling and help boost the reputation of a misinterpreted neighborhood. The next time such an opportunity appears, at the very least I hope we discuss it  before driving it away.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Everett and Roxbury

I love my neighbors. Some are easier to love. There's the older woman on my street with a heart as big as her two-family house. I really love her. I mean really. She's one of those people I'd want to have at my if-you-could-have-anyone-in-the-world-or-from-history-to-dinner-who-would-it-be? dinner party. She's pushing 80 and has suffered some serious health problems recently but she is absolutely gorgeous, with her mocha skin and amber eyes, both inside and out. She is really easy to love cause she just vibrates love so all you have to do is reflect it back to her.

Anyway, during one of our chats, she asked where I grew up and I told her Everett. So she laughed and said in her big love way, "Oh, Everett! When I think of Everett, I think of the country!" And I just laughed right along with her.

But it's funny in so many ways that aren't even remotely funny. Everett. Blue collar, working class, white - at least through the 70's. When I was growing up we ridiculed the Italian immigrant kid in school because he couldn't speak English. We also made any substitute teacher who entered our class for the day weep. Any substitute teacher. When I was growing up the Orange Line still ran into Everett and as little kids our moms would dress us up to take the train "into Town". And we never ventured into Roxbury. Ever. It was "other", dangerous, to be avoided.

And then my family moved out of Everett, to a bedroom (yuck) community. I was sent to a Catholic girl's school (yuck, again). One of my classmates was an extremely voluble, round girl with really bad acne who wound up going to Wellesley College. One day in science lab, I let voluble girl know that I'd grown up in Everett, not in the bedroom community (what the fuck does that mean, anyway) where we were living. She was horrified and let loose, volubly, a string of stereotypical insults disguised as good humor. I don't remember the specifics but I do vividly remember the import: Everett was "other", dangerous, to be avoided.

Until voluble girl edified me, Everett was just home, the place where I grew up and where all my extended family still lived. The only knives I had experienced were the ones used to cut food and I didn't know anyone who had been a victim of violence. Voluble girl had the same impression of Everett that many foreigners have of the US and that many metro Bostonians have of Roxbury: that there's a gunfight on every corner and someone waiting with a shiv just inside your front door.

College and travel around the world broadened my perspectives. After Wellesley, voluble girl got married and had kids. My money says her perspectives stayed the exact same. She had formed her opinion of Everett based on...I'm not sure what. The hatred and vitriol of family and friends who could best elevate themselves by disparaging others? Simple ignorance? Intellectual laziness? Social and political systems better served by dividing people rather than bringing them together? A combination of those and other factors?

Whatever misguided ideas voluble girl had about Everett, I carried with me about Roxbury. Until after college and travel when I worked here. I realized what a beautiful, historic place it is and how my impression of it had been distorted by a combination of many factors, the most powerful being my willingness to believe what is not really the whole truth. I chose to live here.

I'm not ready to share with my dear neighbor whom I love dearly that Everett is not the country. Maybe I'll just throw a dinner party there and invite her.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Archeology of the African Meeting House -Dig It.

On 22 October 09, Dr Cheryl Laroche and Dr. David Landon spoke at the African meeting house about an archeological dig there. What I learned that I'll carry away forever: "self-emancipated". People who escaped the shackles of bondage were self-emancipated, not runaways.

Boston Highlands Hero

While Dudley might be a detritus disaster, we here in the Boston Highlands benefit from the tireless efforts of neighbor James Hudson.  Now in his 70's, he'd tried sitting in front of the television all day when he first retired but it drove him crazy.  So he started doing work around the neighborhood, cleaning up public spaces that needed cleaning and pruning and mowing and sweeping and raking.

A patch of greenspace on Rockledge St. stays marvelously manicured but, unlike all of the city designated parks, I never noticed city workers in it.  Later found out it's James who takes care of it.  Cooper Clarke community garden on Linwood benefits from James' willingness to work as hard as he can from sun-up til sun-down.  His own garden patch is always perfectly maintained and he trims and edges common areas in the rest of the garden area.  To the best of my knowledge, he's not paid for the work but derives satisfaction from having a meaningful way to pass the day.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Roxbury's 380th Anniversary

State Rep. Byron Rushing kicks off the first of a four-part spring history series with a talk called "Everything you always wanted to know about Roxbury's history." Organized by Discover Roxbury.

Thursday, February 4, 7:30pm-9pm Free and open to the public.

Haley House Bakery Cafe, 12 Dade St

Learn about Roxbury!  You know you want to....

And the Haley House is a wonderful cafe.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Pendulum Swings

Nine fifteen p.m. and it looks like Brown won.  My only consolation is that he'll be a one-termer (just two years).

And Martha is out of touch with voters if she let this one get away from her.

But the American electorate is so predictable in its constant, inexorable anger.  If the Republocrats are in power, they will feel the full fury of the electorate's wrath!  The Democricans, likewise, will be shunted aside if they happen to hold the reins when bad things are happening to good people!  And if, gadzooks! someone should question the efficacy of a political system which is nothing more than a swinging pedulum, crucify him and blame him for the Democricans/Republocrats seizing power! 


It's this important.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Not So Filthy Lucre

The problem with money is not that it is dirty but that it is quite the opposite. Money is a sterilizing, homogenizing force in the world. Singapore is the perfect example of this. The twilight tranny parade has been replaced with avenues of all the exact same store you can find in every other metropolis in the world. Why go to Singapore for The Gap? Or Moscow for MacDonald's or Paris for Starbuck's? Just stay home godammit, if familiarity is all you're looking for.

But you don't have to go to the other side of the world to witness the homogenization of culture. It's right here in Boston's South End. I don't think there's a MacDonald's and the Banana Republic is in the Copley Square mall, known as Copley Place. No there's a homogeneity of sensibility and I don't mean a homo-sensibility. Fagolas in the South End keep it a tad interesting. And all the boutique stores, restaurants, and bars are better than the international chains, if unaffordable. And that's where the South End becomes dull. The people there are either really affluent yuppies or public housing denizens. So there's predominantly this really comfortable, hip yet dull, middle-American ethos that permeates the district. And I don't want that coming up into Dudley. Give me Rozzie Square with its myriad small mom and pop businesses (a butcher shop, several bakeries, cafes, fish market, wallpaper and paint store) or Union Square (same deal) instead. I prefer funky, authentic, immigrant, diverse, and varied to a whole slew of upscale.

But the tentacles of the South End are pushing to breach Mass. Ave. In some cases they have. Restoration Resources is one business that is a sign of this breach. The store is actually kinda wonderful. They are an architectural salvage business, taking useful and beautiful materials from places that are run down or about to be demolished (I assume) and selling them. There are old mantelpieces and windows and chandeliers - all very shabby-chic. The cradle to cradle people have to love the concept but the prices are anything but sustainable - unless you're getting a Goldman-Sachs type bonus. Or aspire to.

Ok, ok. So I like Restoration Hardware and I'd prefer businesses like them in my neighborhood over The Home Creepo anyday. But is the gouging really necessary? Isn't it possible to be interesting and affordable at the same time? I think what rankles as much as the homogeneity of culture is the concomitant brainwashing: money, style, status uber alles. Yawn. How boring.

Filthy Dudley

Walking through Dudley Square yesterday I was struck by how FILTHY the streets were - strewn with garbage and trash of all kinds. Dudley Main Street Director Joyce Stanley works really hard for the businesses of Dudley, trying to build up the district. Not really sure what the businesses do for themselves - except for complain about how no one is doing anything for them.

Businesses of Dudley: get out there with brooms and trash bags, daily! Clean it up! And if you need help, once you've demonstrated a willingness to help yourself, I am certain the good people of Roxbury, would be happy to chip in during a twice yearly Clean Dudley work day.

I am tempted to pull a Mike Dukakis myself (god, I love that man) and walk through the square the way he walks through the Fens on his way to work at Northeastern: with a big trash picking up waste as he goes. And when one congratulates him for taking initiative, he'll just say something like the work starts with us, or you've got to be willing to do it yourself and not leave it to someone else. I forget what he actually said but how can you not adore a man who walks the talk.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Trust in a New Year

So I’m walking on the Northeastern campus and it’s deserted because of the holidays when a kid of about 12 approaches me.

Excuse me. Do you have a phone I can borrow? I’m supposed to meet my cousin and I have no idea where he’s at, he says. Can I borrow your phone to call him and find out where he is?

My first thought is, poor thing, so I say sorry sweetie I left my phone at home (which I had) but maybe we can figure something out. For a second I think I’ll tell him to look for a pay phone and give him some change but I don’t think there is a payphone anywhere nearby. Are there payphones at all anymore? And there’s a Northeastern college student walking toward us listening to his iphone so I stop him and say excuse us do you have a phone we can borrow. He, I say, gesturing toward the kid, needs to make a call and I don’t have my phone. And the international student takes out his earbuds and turns off the tunes and loads the phone app and gives the phone to the kid. So the kid dials his cousin and that’s when the little hum which I had been ignoring turned into a buzz and I thought, oh, shit. This kid is playing us and is going to run off with the international student’s phone and it’ll be my fault. There was no real reason for me not to trust the kid. Though his request was a little unusual, it seemed more ingenuous than conniving. But that’s how they get you isn’t it?

As the kid is talking to his cousin I’m getting nervous because time has slowed and the conversation seems to be taking an inordinately long time. It wasn’t, it just seemed to be. I start carefully edging closer to the kid thinking if he tries to bolt with the phone, I’ll grab him by the hoodie and he won’t get far. The international student and I stand watch.

The kid gets off the phone with his cousin and says Burger King. He’s at Burger King. He hands the phone back to the international student. Do you know where that is we ask him? No, he says, but it’s easy enough to give him directions and he goes off on his way.

Thank you, I say to the international Northeastern student. Thank you very much. That was really nice of you. And he nods and goes on his way probably thinking easy for you to say, lady, it wasn’t your phone at risk.