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.
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.