Parental involvement.

A few people in the comments the other day were discussing how they learned to skate, on farm ponds, without supervision, with a casually tended fire for warmth. Ah, memories. Monday I took Kate and another friend to the park to skate again. This was the third consecutive day, and watching them, I was left with the feeling that most of what adults do for kids in this area is unnecessary. On Saturday, in her lesson at the indoor rink, they practiced jumping — not figure-skating jumps, but just little hops. The hops were tentative and lots of kids fell. Yesterday, at the outdoor ice at the park, one kid dragged a large stick out onto the ice and they all made a game of lining up to jump it. With every pass, their jumps got higher and more confident.

Then an adult came out and dragged the stick away. Because, you know, it’s unsafe to have obstructions on the ice. But it did its work. By the time we went home, Kate and three other kids had made a game of skating fast to fire snowballs at one another. She was keeping up with the hockey players. Not with their agility and fast changes of direction, but that’ll come next week, I expect.

I should have skipped the damn lessons and saved myself $100.

So. I need to get out of the house more, so yesterday I got out of the house. Clear to lovely Dearborn I went, for an interview. You know you’re in Dearborn when the signs switch to Arabic. Cooling my heels in the reception area of my subject’s office, a woman click-clacked through the lobby in stilettos. I looked up; she was dressed in tunic, pants and a hijab. That’s a hard look to rock, but rock it she did — I think the stilettos were key. That, and the confidence. Wear your clothes, don’t let them wear you. She had that part figured out, Islamic constraints or not.

On the way home, the on-ramp to I-94 was closed, so I opted to stay on U.S. 12, Michigan Avenue, and just see what I could see, in this case, urban decay infused with that unstoppable Motown pulse. (This makes no sense, but if you came here, you’d understand.) Soon the bilingual signs gave way from Arabic to Spanish, my stomach started to growl, and I knew what was coming next — carne asada tacos in Mexicantown with lots of cilantro and onions. I hate to say it, for fear of bringing on another rage explosion from my nastier commenters, but if recent immigration from south of the border did nothing but vastly improve the menus in Mexican restaurants, I’d call it an even trade. My favorite taqueria doesn’t take plastic, and I was down to my last $3, so I turned on to Vernor to look for a bank. Block after block — no banks. I decided to settle for a Quik-E-Mart with a high-fee ATM — none of those, either. Lots of Payday Loans and check-cashing joints, though. And people. This part of the city may be poor, but it is populated. Finally found a bank branch with a non-usurious ATM, back down to Taqueria Lupita and the lunch special.

Lupita’s sits in a strip with several other restaurants, one of which was named a “best of” in a magazine roundup I helped write last summer. We ate at the best-of place, and to say it was disappointing in comparison was an understatement. It was full of gringos, however, whereas at Lupita’s at least half the customers are speaking Spanish. When in doubt, choose the latter.

So, bloggage:

Christopher Hitchens is something of a self-parody these days, and while this piece in Slate doesn’t mention Islamofascism or Bill Clinton or any of his other well-worn topics, it’s b.s. just the same: In the matter of Michael Devlin and his captive boys, blame the neighbors. After noting Devlin’s adherence to the old psycho cliché (the quiet psycho who kept to himself), he adds:

Of course, as the story necessarily went on to say, the good people of this section of Kirkwood, Mo., are now slightly kicking themselves for failing to spot their neighbor’s uncanny ability to produce full-grown male children without having a woman on hand.

Of course, if Devlin had moved into Hitchens’ neighborhood and come home with a pubescent boy, things would have been different:

I live in an upscale building that abuts a not-quite-so-upscale neighborhood, and when I heard blood-chilling female screams one night, I know I had the (Kitty Genovese) story in mind as I caught up a kitchen knife and ran downstairs. I was almost abashed by the number of my fellow residents outside on the street before me. (The assailant ran off, and we were able to comfort the girl until the cops came—and more than one person alluded to the Genovese case.) But to find that you have been passively watching a crime, or crimes, in slow motion, must make you feel stupid as well as cowardly. This might help explain the slightly plaintive and defensive tone adopted by some of the local Kirkwoodians, such as the lady I cited above who had moved there just to avoid this kind of unpleasantness. “A lot of us are down on our luck and living paycheck to paycheck,” observed Harry C. Reichard IV, who occupied the apartment above Devlin’s. “When you’re just trying to survive, you don’t pay a lot of attention to people around you.” This justifiable emphasis on one’s own priorities extends apparently even to the avoidance of idle gossip—as in, “I see the guy downstairs has just had another teenager.”

Hmm. Well. Good for Hitchens, running to the damsel’s aid with a kitchen knife. Note that no one in Devlin’s neighborhood heard any boys screaming, however. They just noticed that he had one, and then he had another one. I guess Hitchens doesn’t get into the lousy neighborhood next door very often, because if he did, he’d know that neighbors with ever-changing household demographics are as common as rain.

I’ve spent much of my adult life not just abutting “not-quite-so-upscale” neighborhoods, but living in them. Once I stupidly wondered aloud why, when I got a wrong-number call, the person on the other end so often opened with “Who’s this?” I say “stupidly” because I was sitting with someone who worked in the juvenile-justice system, and he rolled his eyes. “Don’t you know anything?” he said, explaining that his clients overwhelmingly lived in households where someone was always moving out or in, where every couch was someone’s bed, where the person who answered the phone might be mom, uncle, uncle’s friend Ed, mom’s boyfriend Skeeter, etc. “Who’s this” was a necessary salutation when you heard an unfamiliar voice on the other end.

In Fort Wayne we had a house around the corner from us, a three-bedroom of maybe 1,500 square feet, with 16 people living in it. They were very discreet, probably because someone was fraudulently using Section 8 housing vouchers, and you never would have known there were so many people under one roof, but if you counted noses, there were 16 noses.

And Hitchens disapproves of Devlin’s neighbors, who, when they saw another boy around, failed to investigate? Some people really do live on the right side of the tracks.

Posted at 10:09 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' |

16 responses to “Parental involvement.”

  1. Marcia said on January 24, 2007 at 10:45 am

    First of all, I’m now hungry for Mexican, and second, Hitchens is an ass.

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  2. Connie said on January 24, 2007 at 11:05 am

    You could take US 12 in the other direction here to Elkhart and find many great authentic Mexican restaurants, many with no menu in English.

    As to neighborhoods, when we moved here we bought a house in a nice rural subdivision only to find the teenaged boys next door were infamous criminals. My pick for best headline in my local paper last year was about one of them: “Drunken burglar breaks into wrong house.” So even with nicer neighborhoods you never know.

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  3. brian stouder said on January 24, 2007 at 11:06 am

    Yes – the feint aroma of tangy salsa and sizzling fajitas seems to be in the air. I can just about taste the crispy complimentary chips, and the cheesey chicken chimichanga that I am now almost certain to get at Cebolla’s this afternoon!

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  4. alex said on January 24, 2007 at 11:09 am

    In my experience, neighbors are much nosier about those of us who live alone, who don’t have a Grand Central Station sort of household. Usually they have no compunction about asking intrusive questions and offering to play matchmaker. At least that’s how it is in my current neighborhood, which is neither poor nor rich.

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  5. brian stouder said on January 24, 2007 at 11:23 am

    Well, we now pay lots of attention to Indiana’s sex offender website. You basically get a mapquest of your neighborhood, and red dots indicate where registered offenders live. Click the dot, and you see a picture of the person, and what he was convicted of.

    We check this regularly, and there is a surprising amount of change reflected.

    ‘Course, guys like Mike Devlin sail right beneath screens like that…

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  6. Dorothy said on January 24, 2007 at 11:33 am

    Have you ever had shrimp fundido? That’s one of my favorites at Cantinflas downtown here. But chicken chimichanga is my favorite at Sabroso’s!! I cook Mexican style food at least twice a week, I think. Quesadillas, nachos, enchiladas.

    Damn now my mouth is watering, and it’s only 10:33 AM.

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  7. LA mary said on January 24, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    I’ve got lots of those neighbors. Younger son Pete’s best friend Anthony has a little house containing Anthony, his sister Zaida, mom and dad, at least one grandmother, four or five cousins of varying ages, cousins’ fiancees, uncles, whatever. People sleep all over the place, someone’s always cooking. The former occupants of the house next door to mine were a family of four in a 600 square foot house. Then grandpa and his new wife and their three kids moved in as well. How this worked, I have no idea, but I do know the bathroom seemed very busy. The bathroom window faced my yard, and I could hear the shower running a good deal of the time.

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  8. brian stouder said on January 24, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    Well, Pammy already had other lunch plans for us, so Cebollas has to wait until tonight. As soon as I told Pam what I wanted for lunch, she agreed that it sounds great for supper…so in blogospherian terms, this idea of Mexican or Tex/Mex cuisine was positively ‘viral’

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  9. Carmella said on January 24, 2007 at 7:24 pm

    We’re off to El Azteca!!!!

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  10. LA mary said on January 24, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    I already had some black lentil soup with chipotle sausage planned. Not sure what cuisine that is, but it’s nice.

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  11. Barb said on January 24, 2007 at 9:16 pm

    This is off today’s topic, but did you see Ohio is considering making it legal to take a dog on a leash inside a bar? Reminded me of you seeing one there – and I think that was in Ohio if I remember correctly.

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  12. nancy said on January 24, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    There can never be too many dogs in a bar, I always say.

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  13. Chris said on January 24, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    Hitchens may well be pompous, but I do recall reading on line (it may have been in a summary of the Newsweek article) that a neighbor above Devlin remembered hearing whimpering, crying and pleading about the time the child (then 11) would have arrived.

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  14. basset said on January 25, 2007 at 12:23 am

    We have a ton of good Mexican restaurants here in Nashville, also Salvadoran, Cuban, Honduran and no telling what else. (And Ethiopian, other African, Vietnamese, a whole bunch of others – the kids in our public schools speak something like ninety native languages, more than a few of the schools look like the United Nations or something… and we have more Kurds here than anywhere else in the USA.)

    Really outstanding margaritas are tough to find, but I think that’s a gringo thing anyway. Carne asada, some guacamole, some grilled tomatoes, couple beers and I’m good.

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  15. John said on January 25, 2007 at 8:42 am

    If you let dogs into a bar, how do you stop them from playing poker?

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  16. LA mary said on January 25, 2007 at 11:57 am

    You don’t, John. Just don’t let them talk you into playing with them.
    Just last night I was noting that my dog Smokey would be a great bar dog. He has a good attitude.

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