Neal Costello: Down in the depths of Dorcester

Fields Corner Municipal Building.

Fields Corner Municipal Building.


From Neal Costello's memoir Last Tinker Caravan, about growing in in Boston's tough Dorchester neighborhood in the Sixties and Seventies. (It was tougher then than it is now.)



"Fourteen times by the time I was sixteen, we played a game of Irish ghetto hide and seek. My father was a common laborer; he worked construction most of his life. In those days he would work eight, maybe ten months of the year. During the winter months, when the snow slowed the work down, Iron Mike would be laid off and 'loaf' until Spring, when he could find steady work again. The evil Italian forman, and they were all Italian, would lay guys off on a Friday afternoon, giving the mostly Irish laborers what was known as an 'Irish payroll'. The fucking Mussolini motherfuckers figured since every thick Mick was a fucking boozebag, they could shortchange them by wrapping a twenty around a bunch of ones and hand it to them as they fired them. The Turkeys would be in such a hurry to get to the nearest bar they wouldn’t notice they’d just been fucked as well as fired.

Luckily for us, Iron Mike feared Olive too much to ever fall for that bullshit. Besides, he never trusted Italians. He made sure to count his cash. Whenever he got laid off, he would come straight home with a couple of Hi-Fi pizzas and some Pepsi, and give the rest of the cash to my mother. Iron Mike and Olive would never tell us what had happened. We’d figure it out Saturday afternoon, when my father would sit at the kitchen table, drink O.F.C. (Old Fart Cure) straight and play The Free-Wheeling Bob Dylan and The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem and Pete Seeger on the phonograph record player. Then it was on to Enrico Caruso and John McCormick at 78 speed. Our hearts sank when we heard the scratchy yet velvet stylings of Woody Guthrie 45s. When Iron Mike, drunk as a fucking hoot owl, started singing his own version of 'In The Pines,' we knew we were fucked. 'In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines, and you shiver when the cold wind blows'. Shit. He would do odd jobs, sweep bar room floors on Sunday, handyman stuff, but never made enough to make ends meet over the winter months. The Jewish landlord would come looking for the overdue rent, usually on a Sunday afternoon, and we’d all be huddled in silence in the kitchen 'where we had gathered for fear of the Jews,' as Saint John the Divine first reported in his Gospel detailing the super adventures of Jesus. The book Divine John wrote before he got all paranoid and shit from dropping peyote, hanging out by himself in caves and writing fucking weird shit like The Book of Revelation (surpassed only in outright incomprehensible sucking by that movie Head, by Jack Nicholson and The Monkees). In no time, all the utilities would be shut off, we’d be out of milk, bread and gray, salty meat (but still plenty of Pall Malls), last year’s Zayre’s Christmas Layaway bill was way past due (Zayre’s was owned by the Feldberg family because Zayre’s just wasn’t Jewish enough), and we were facing eviction. Evictions were a sort of harbinger of Spring for us, kind of like our robin. Not that we had ever seen a robin or any other bird other than pigeons, dead pigeons, and sparrows. So we had all Twelve Fucking Tribes wandering the desert looking for us because we owed them money, some of them still drunk from Purim. Money changers my Royal Irish Ass, more like Money keepers. We had the Goddamn Mossad after us. Who are we? Fucking Mengele?  But Olive would quietly find some other available dump a few blocks away. The landlords didn’t live in the neighborhood, or know anyone who did, so there was little fear of being found if we could just slip away to another dump. We just needed to escape our current abode without being detected. So the extended family would suddenly show up in the middle of the night, load up the shitboxes, and we’d move to the next place, skipping out on all past debts. I’d go to bed at eight in the evening on the third floor of a triple-decker on Geneva Ave., and wake up in a yellow brick tenement house in an apartment no bigger than an H-Block cell on Ditson Street (the first place we lived that was so small, decrepit, dreary, frightening and entombed, with no windows or back door, with so many other cells piled on top above ours, all brick and cement, that I still believed in Santa Claus but had no idea how he would ever get in). Then just spell the last name a little differently, put utilities and such in an uncle’s name, real or imagined, and there you go. No fucking problem. The chase is on. Catch us if you can.

We lived in one of the poorer sections of white Dorchester on Geneva Avenue in Fields Corner. I never bought the nonsense, still don't, that Boston is a racist city. If it is it is no more racist than any other city in America and far less racist than any lily white suburb. That said, there most certainly was a white Dorchester and a black Dorchester back then, an arrangement  wanted by and agreed to by both races, however begrudgingly. Dorchester had been founded by the Puritans in 1630 and had been annexed by the city of Boston in 1870. It is a section of the city the size of Worcester, which I'm told is another city in Massachusetts, located near the Mississippi River, just this side of Japan. My family had invaded white Dorchester in 1959 from my birthplace on Dudley Street in Roxbury. White Dorchester in those days stretched on one side from the Fields Corner area, for a couple of miles to the Atlantic ocean at the absurdly named Malibu Beach. Nothing but rocks, broken glass, seaweed, cigarette butts, dog shit and jellyfish with nary a Beach Boy or Barbie lookalike to be found. Miss Jean of Romper Room lived in a really nice house overlooking Dorchester’s Malibu Beach. She worked at the old WHDH Channel 5 studio, where Bozo lived, right up Morrissey Boulevard, beside Boston College High School and across from the reviled Boston Globe. Always hated that bitch. Miss Jean. At the end of each show she’d look in her magic mirror and call out the names of all the 'Good Doo-Bees'. Fucking bitch never once called out my name. I sat in front of our tiny black and white Zenith for twenty-five years and that bitch never once called out my name. We can’t all be fucking Bobbies and Johnnies, you fucking hoebag. Don’t you know any Neals ??!??!  Bitch !  Nancy ??!?!  Who the fuck is named Nancy anymore ??! How about Neal ??!!  Whore!"