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All the talk / September 19, 2013
It’s been a pace-setting week in the neighborhood for a little old-fashioned porch sitting.

And walking the dog around the block … repeatedly.

Plus chatting with the neighbors.

‘Jes folks catching up on the latest, that’s all.

These days, one rarely witnesses such a sense of community as that which has taken hold over Marshall Avenue, where yours truly lives. Why, just the other morning, my wife was seized with such a spirit of conviviality that she brewed up a pot of coffee and delivered a box of donuts to the gaggle of cops standing outside our door.

In case you’re only now checking in from Planet UnderARock, the big news in town is the early Monday morning fire that destroyed the home of my neighbors across the street. Local and state police spent the early part of the week camping out at the scarred home, gathering evidence on the crime. And garnering all the attention you’d expect out of our stunned neighborhood. It’s as if we’ve been cast in bit roles in the hit television series, CSI: South Boston.

The contours of the story may be familiar by now: Armed assailants breaking into the home early Monday morning and setting it afire. The owner, Josh Hollandsworth, my neighbor, escaping the home, beaten and bound to a heavy punching bag. Juliana Berry, a corporal with the South Boston Police Department who lives nearby, arrived first on the scene and, heroically, helped to drag Hollandsworth away to safety.

What does one even say about such an incredible series of events? As you might surmise, the answer is plenty. Tongues do wag. Ears perk up. It’s only human nature. It also much be said there’s nothing more awkward as a reporter than to be gripped by the sense that you may know less, much less, than others in the neighborhood.

Of course, there’s precious little intersection between all the news that’s fit to print, and all the news that’s fit to repeat.

For the record, we have nice neighbors. All of them. Easy to live amongst, to be sure. Until this week Marshall was a mostly quiet street, although there are exceptions to that rule. Like most of South Boston, its fortunes can be a bit iffy at times. Too many homes for sale, not enough jobs to fill. But our town is hardly alone in suffering the wages of a harsh economy and the creeping sense that life just doesn’t get any easier.

If I wrote restaurant reviews for a living, by now I would have bestowed multiple stars on The Happy Oyster on Main, where Josh, my neighbor across the street, plies his trade. (His fiancée, Allison Taylor, also works at the restaurant.) The Happy Oyster lives up to the name: great food, relaxed vibe, and boy, what a nice get for a downtown that could stand to have about ten more such establishments. Not that all should be restaurants, of course. Downtown is crying out for a variety of businesses: retail shops, professional offices, a funky place or two to pop in, perhaps even an apartment complex or boutique hotel. (People who love to hate on the John Randolph restoration project, take note.) Whatever else people want to say about South Boston and Halifax, the community is ridiculously well endowed with good-to- excellent-to-sensational restaurants: more than we deserve, to be sure. And it hasn’t taken long for The Happy Oyster to win its share of dedicated fans.

So, about the events of early Monday morning: Our four-person household was awakened by the rumble of truck and the blare of sirens, and for all the dozens of fires that I’ve witnessed in my lifetime — and in this business you see a lot — the Marshall Avenue maelstrom has to rate as one of the most surreal. Probably a matter of feeling like a victim of circumstance rather than an observer. (I say this even though it wasn’t my house on fire.) The second I stepped out the door, the flames seemed to grow, like a bright light running up a flashing neon sign. The blaze waned against the assault of the South Boston Fire Department. When we finally went back inside, firefighters had everything under control, except what inevitably follows: the speculation, the worrying, the fear.

“Never a dull moment” — not exactly the phrase you’d use to describe small-town life. But we do experience our spikes in activity from time to time. In the wake of events this week, I will go out on a limb and predict that life will return to normal in our neighborhood around the same time the charred smell wafting through the air goes away.

It’ll take awhile.

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