Archive for October 17th, 2004

This is Our Beat

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For the past ten years, the Dowbrigade has been a member
of en exclusive club of cranks, hacks, frauds and potzers who gather
most weekend mornings on the public courts in Riverside Park in Cambridgeport,
for tennis doubles.

We are a bunch of middle-aged teachers, writers, nurses,
doctors, and a wastrel or two with no visible means of support, who call
ourselves the "Just Don’t Suck" Tennis Club, and that is basically what
we try to do, or not to do, and we are intermittently successful. We
play outdoors year-round, as long as the court is clear and dry and the
temperature is above freezing.

As mentioned in a previous posting, Cambridgeport is a generally
peaceful if poor residential neighborhood in Cambridge, Mass, that most academic of American cities, nestled in a bend in the Charles River
across from BU, Kenmore Square and Fenway Park. Imagine our surprise
upon arrival yesterday morning for our regular session, to discover four
cars in a row on Blackstone St. in front of the courts, completely trashed.

All four windshields were smashed, as were all four back
windows. Smashed wide open, with scattered glass all over the place,
as if by baseball bat or crowbar.  Even more impressive, ALL SIXTEEN
TIRES were slashed and completely flat. A thorough and professional job.  According
to a cop on the scene, nothing was stolen.  No known motive.

Sheer destructive vandalism? Mad dog Yankees fans frustrated
at the previous night’s rainout at nearby Fenway Park? Even more frustrated
Red Sox fans exploding in rage and anguish? Nobody knows, but one more
reminder that the world is a wild and unpredictable place.  Try
to focus, man!

INTERESTING SIDEBAR – All of the three previous stories,
the murder of Michael Colono, the Bach Singers on Comm Ave. and the smashed
cars, took place within one mile of each other, and of Fenway Park, where
those unspeakable bums whose name may no longer uttered within the confines
of our home, are, as we write these words and try not to think of them,
in the process of
shitting
the
bed
and driving
several
generations
of New England sports fans forever away from the Great American Pasttime.

Be that as it may, this is an exciting place to live, and
work, and blog.  We have long looked forward to the day that there
will be a blogger in every neighborhood of every state and country, in
every company and army, school and interest group.  When that day
comes, we will beat the conventional media to every story, and form a
living
net of human experience that covers the globe and can take any of its
members anywhere at any time.

In the meantime, we are in Watertown, next door to Cambridge,
and we work in Boston, near Fenway Park.  This is our beat, and
we intend to cover it to the best of our ability.  Let’s see y’all
do the same.

Be Right Bach

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We’ve been bumping into old friend J.S. Bach
with amazing frequency lately, and without really trying. Just last
week, leading our fall class through Harvard Yard, we stuck our heads
into
Memorial Church and were serenaded with the magnificent rumble and
penetrating vibrations of Harvard’s huge pipe organ being put through
its paces by
someone who really knew what they were doing. We never found out
who the artist was, but the piece was a Bach concerto. If they hadn’t
been waiting for us at the Peabody Museum we’d probably still be there..

Then, a few days ago, on our way to the Faculty Dining
Room, we came upon this charming group on a busy corner of Commonwealth
Avenue, singing their hearts out.  The sound was so surreal and
ethereal on a busy street that we had to stop and listen.  It
was a Bach Cantata! Note the sign they set up in front – it read "Who
is more Revolutionary"?” On the left are a series of portraits of Bach,
Mozart and Beethoven, and on the right a collage of 20th century politicians
and pop musicians.

It makes one think. Nearly 300 years after their deaths,
these guys play a daily role in the lives of millions of people around
the world.  Their works are still performed, listened to and talked
about. On any given night in the Boston area, you can go to a half-dozen
concert halls and hear what they wrote,

300 years from now, how many people will be listening to
and discussing the intellectual output of  John Kerry, George Bush,
Bill O’Reilly, Tom Clancy, Eminem, Instapundit or Stephen Spielberg.
300 years from now, how many will be left to remember?

Town vs. Gown in Murder Trial

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Seldom
has a situation so dramatically exposed the centuries old Town vs Gown
clash of cultures in Cambridge, Mass as the recently
concluded trial
of Harvard grad student Alexander Pring-Wilson for the murder of Michael
Colono, an 18-year-old short order cook who lived in the area.

These two iconic individuals approached their fatal encounter
outside the Pizza Ring restaurant in Cambridgeport from opposite sides
of the track.  Pring-Wilson was finishing a Master’s Degree in Russian
and Slavic Languages, he spoke Greek, Russian, Portuguese, and Croatian,
was writing his master’s dissertation on the governments of the former
Yugoslavia. He played football and rugby in prep school and was decided
on a career in law. He had been accepted by several top law schools.

Colono was a high school drop-out with a three-year-old
son and a criminal record.  At the time of his death we was on parole
for a 2001 conviction for selling crack cocaine.

The facts of the case are interesting if not unusual. Colono
was sitting in a car with his girlfriend and a cousin, waiting for a
pizza. It
was after midnight, near closing time for the bars nearby when Pring-Wilson
came walking by on a wet April night last year.

Cambridgeport is a funky and somewhat seedy corner of Cambridge,
nestled in a bend in the Charles River near the BU Bridge, one of the
few areas of affordable housing left in the city, which is why it is
popular with students, working class families pizzerias and down-scale
bars.

Pring-Wilson was waltzing home, specifically, from a dark
dive called the Western Front, with which the Dowbrigade is intimately
familiar (more on that later). The Western Front, a Reggae Boyz dive
with ties to the local underworld, and neighborhood grease joint Pizza
Ring are within a few blocks of each other across Putnam Avenue.

The basic facts are uncontested. Pring-Wilson, according
to reports at the time, was wearing a shiny yellow rain slicker and flip-flops.
The homeboy yelled something from the backseat of the car in reference
to the grad student’s unusual garb. The student responded with some variation
of "You talkin’ to me?" A confrontation ensued.

The occupants of the car got out. Verbal abuse escalated
into physical conflict. Aided by his cousin, the eventual victim was
getting the better of the contest when the beleaguered grad student whipped
out a three-inch folding knife he carried in his right front pocket.
Colono was stabbed five time, once in the heart,

The victim might have lived had he been taken directly
to a hospital (there are at least 3 in Cambridge), but he died while
his friends drove him across the river and around in circles, lost in
the streets of Boston. Pring-Wilson called the police and reported he
had
witnessed
a fight,
but hadn’t been involved.

Public opinion on the case was as sharply divided as the
contrast between these two young men. Colono’s family and community lauded
him as a promising young man with a troubled past who was finally getting
it together.  They feared the system would naturally favor the scion
of wealth and privilege, to the point of letting him get away with murder.

Supporters of Pring-Wilson, including most of the Harvard
community, saw a clear cut case of self-defense. Many, in fact, said
privately that Pring-Wilson had done the community a service by removing
a dangerous
thug and drug dealer from the mean streets of Cambridge.

So it came as no surprise that both sides were outraged
at the verdict last week – guilty of manslaughter, 8 to 10 years in prison.
The townies say it was cold-blooded murder and the kid got off light
because of Harvard connections.  Pring-Wilson’s parents (both lawyers
and, one would suppose, one Pring and the other Wilson) vow to appeal
the verdict, although on what grounds is far from clear.

Now, despite its inherent drama and socio-cultural implications,
this story has a more personal significance to the Dowbrigade, as at
one point during our long-ago undergraduate career we live right across
the street from the Western Front, and around the corner from Pizza
Ring, which at that time was the Western Ave Laundromat.

Even then the Western Front was a shady crossroads of roots
rock reggae and underground distribution of all sorts of Caribbean products.  We
weren’t regulars, but would often stop by for a quiet drink at the bar,
if they were still open at the hour we returned to our apartment at 172
Putnam Ave. We were usually the only white folk in the place.

The laundromat on Western that is now Pizza Ring is actually
where we washed our clothes that long-ago season, until one warm summer
night when we were collecting our last dryer load shortly before 11 pm
closing time. Other than the Dowbrigade, the place was deserted. Just
as we were folding our psychedelic wood-grain corduroy pants, seven
large
and lively
local teenagers
burst
into the laundry.

Not being the quickest tick on the dog’s tail at the best
of times, the first inkling we had that these individuals were not there
to check their dryer sheets was when three of them grabbed me from each
side and forced me to the floor of the laundry. We felt frantic hands
going through our pockets and removing the $17 plus change we happened
to be carrying at the time.

Unlike Pring-Wilson thirty years later on virtually the
same spot, we knew enough not to fight back. Survival instinct combined
naturally with our innate cowardice and we almost smiled at our assailants
in an attempt to appear cooperative.

The whole thing was over in seconds. As we lay, stunned,
on the laundry floor and the gang headed out the door with their booty,
one of the youths noticed the plastic baggie that had half fallen from
our Hawaiian shirt’s breast pocket.

"Lookie, man! He got PEELS! He got LOTSA peels!"

"Shuddup, man, an’ get otta there!"

But he grabbed the blue-and-white capsules on his way out
the door, which if memory serves were something called "Soapers", a sort
of chemical martini-in-a-capsule, guaranteed to loosen up the inhibited
school marm
and chase the inhibitions away from the most paranoid compulsive.  We
gave them up later that same summer, after waking up and finding a set
of fishnet stockings and a dead kitten in our apartment, with no memory
of how either had gotten there.

Following the mugging, we gathered up our laundry, dumped
it on our bed, and borrowed ten bucks form Big Jim our roommate, and
headed across the street for a couple of shots of whiskey to calm the
nerves.
When the bartender asked about the torn brest pocket on our Hawaiian
shirt, we told him our pet chimpanzee had ripped it grabbing for a banana
life saver.

For a couple of weeks we kept a half-hearted eye on the
neighborhood street-dealing scene, half expecting the blue-and-white
capsules to show up, or for one of the punks to show the obvious effects
of powerful
muscle relaxant intoxication, but the way those kids staggered around
on a regular basis it was impossible to tell.

So what are the morals of this little vignette? First,
that for all of its intellectual veneer, Cambridge has always had a
tough, gritty underbelly that can eat up a grad student and spit out
pits so tiny no one will ever know what happened, and so one must be
aware at all times of exactly where one is. In addition, if attacked,
run away.  Should
this prove impossible, go limp, roll up into a ball, or piss your pants,
but DON’T
FIGHT BACK. Finally, if you are determined to go to a dangerous, hard-core
roots Reggae roadhouse, don’t dress like a dork.

article on the verdict from the Boston Globe

article about the case from the Harvard Crimson