No Name Is A Good Name

Police call this place Murderpan. For a long time that name grated on my nerves. It sounds flippant to refer to an area by its homicide rate. It’s actually Mattapan, a word of uncertain origin and meaning appropriated from the Algonquin natives. It’s a tiny neighborhood on the southern edge of Boston. It’s located around the estuaries of the Neponset river, and recent migrants have been settling here for hundreds of years.

Boston is a small city. The gangs here are mostly local. As much (if not more) of the violence here starts from youthful bravado and jealousy, as it does from drugs or otherwise under the table dealing. This is a place where the best way to live is to “Mind your business” and be quiet. But I think this place needs some definition, and I like conversations.

Some say Mattapan derives from native words meaning a good place to settle. C. Lawrence Bond says it means “evil spread about the place." Whatever the meaning, the lore of Dorchester (as defined by the Atheneum) shrouds Mattapan with a sick blanket: “In 1617 a pestilence killed so many Indians in what is now South Boston, that they lay unburied. For many years those who escaped [the sickness] returned to hold memorial services at what became K Street. In 1630 a ship load of Puritans settled there and called it Dorchester, named for the place they had left in Dorsetshire. Eventually that part of Dorchester was transferred to Boston, and the name, Mattapan, was revived for a village on the Neponset, without knowledge as to its significance.”

Now many of the people living in Mattapan come from the African diaspora. Many hold West Indian, Haitian, Dominican and Jamaican identities. In some ways I admire people with strong ethnic roots. These roots resonate with rebellion, the casting off of shackles from English, French, Portuguese and Spanish colonizers and slavers.

Europeans have lived side by side with natives, farming and scheming in Mattapan for almost 400 years. But people thrived in areas along the Neponset river for thousands of years before any of my distant relations landed. I love my family, but I can't answer for anyone else’s mistakes. I don't know details. I learned in the Navy to not take responsibility for any shit that's not mine.

Mattapan is a place of raw, wrought and convoluted identity. I know my origins are an abstract combination of Germanic, Celtic and Roman. I descend from migrants and settlers. If you believed the government, by zip code my parents settled in Dorchester, adjacent to Mattapan. If you believe Google, I grew up in Mattapan. My parents migrated here from New York in the early eighties. I grew up roaming the southern neighborhoods of Boston.

Even though it's fucked up, I trust government info more than capitalist endeavors. I tend to trust institutions. I’m down to fly, but I don’t want to go upstream on some bullshit. I'm a snowflake.

You might say my dreams are delusional, and my roots are probably best forgotten. Still as long as I live I won’t stop trying, like my mom's grandfather who dropped his wife and kids off in New York City in the late 1930s to return to Natzi Germany and sing opera. Nobody cares what happened to my great-granddads. They’re forgotten. I can’t deny I’m a Kraut. I’m a Mic. I’m a WASP. My self regard is disturbing.

Call me a hypocrite. Call me a thief. Call me snowflake. I’d bet you my left nut if I stayed in the navy, I would be a Chief. My story is kind of fucked, like this place, where I grew up. My place is angsty, semi-broke, and poorly named. My story is not noble, or about doing anything really right. I’m a vanilla veteran. I joined for the G.I. Bill and a little excitement. If I were to grade my four years of Navy service, I’d give me a ‘D’ for Dirty Dick, and my time in college was only marginally better. I fail to do good, and my ethics can go into question.

I’m a white kid. In a way I recognize that old ethos that split up Whites in racist Missouri slang between Snowflakes, Claybanks, and Charcoals. Change stresses me out. I’m not joining a civil war. I will fight to survive, but you might be surprised to see how my priorities line up. I'm nothing special. There are millions like me, but the Earth is heating up.

You can call me Snowflake because I’m sensitive to heat. I transform with the climate. When I believe that someone threatens my existence, I go ghost. I evaporate and return. I haunt cold nights.

You can call me Snowflake because I love Black Culture (Black music most of all), but descending from immigrants to America (a continent named for a journalist who never lived here) I can never be fully a part of any culture I love. I only hope to integrate.

I explore for truth like a spelunker. I have no ship to speak of (no religion, no pedigree, no explicit ethnicity) but I roll with crews in times of purpose.

Free content on this site profiles people and places of interest where I've settled. Hell, since the police rejected me (cause I’m crazy) I’ll make this wager with any detective in Boston: If you’ve solved a homicide in 2019, if you can reach me, if you ask, I will write a profile or create a three minute audio-biography about a person or topic of your choice. I’ll make it good enough to publish in a legacy media outlet.

This site is not conceived to compete with the current (outstanding) local news outlets of this city, whose reporters work hard for their bread and butter by covering local politics and building projects. This site is about the people and cultures in this place called Mattapan, a place I love.

The image illustrating this post is by Bryce Kroll.