Some years ago, when I was a nervous new mother convinced my offspring would burst into flames if I took my eyes off her for even a minute, I was fortunate to stumble across a great book on keeping your kids safe — Gavin de Becker’s “Protecting the Gift.”
It turns out de Becker and I share the same basic ideas about personal safety. For starters, 98 percent of the people in the world are decent and law-abiding and it makes no sense to stay inside worrying about the remaining 2 percent. Also, that it’s better to teach children coping skills than to overprotect them. He also gives tremendous advice, one piece I’ve taught Kate since she was old enough to listen: If you’re lost, in trouble or need help, ask a woman. Women are hard-wired to protect children. Most adult women are mothers, and even the ones who aren’t are highly unlikely to be predators. Women don’t have the automatic better-not-be-seen-touching-this-strange-kid worries of men. And women don’t just turn a kid over to a security guard and go on shopping. Women wait until the parents are reunited with the kid, and if that doesn’t happen, offer to adopt the wayward imp.
Anyway, I’m wondering if I should reconsider. Two recent stories make me think something’s done awry with the female of the species.
First story: Buncha crackheads hatch a plan to kidnap some dealer they’re convinced has a hundred grand in cash and all the coke they ever dreamed of. Only, hey, it doesn’t go so well, and at the end of this caper, they’re left with two cowering kids on the floor, boys 11 and 13. The woman who’s running the show demands one of her male partners shoot them both. The man refuses. She grabs the gun and gives them both one in the head.
Second story: Police arrest a woman who’s been negotiating via e-mail with a man, who says he wants to come to Detroit and have sex with a 7-year-old. Her 7-year-old. Who, she tells him, has done this sort of thing before. Among the various grim punchlines: She has four other children, three of them girls.
She’s being held on $1 million bond. Here’s hoping she never draws another free breath.
I have no illusions about women behaving badly. It’s just that I expect women to protect children, or at least do them no harm. It’s doubly disturbing when it’s as bad as these cases.
Not that I wish to bring anyone down today. Let’s change the subject abruptly!
I called my sister Monday morning, to wish her a happy birthday. She has entered the great middle zone of birthdayhood — in which the passing years are marked not with cake and presents and maybe a special dinner, but an “eh, another birthday” and maybe a phone call from your sister. I was driving to Dearborn, had left early in anticipation of the terrible Opening Day traffic, but was having a pretty breezy trip, all things considered.
“Opening Day?” she asked. Oh yeah, baseball. They were thinking about other games in Columbus yesterday. Ah, but that didn’t work out so well, did it? Maybe Ohio State should change its marketing slogan to “Florida’s bitch.”
Yesterday was better-suited to baseball, anyway — warm and breezy and springlike. A more typical Detroit O.D. forecast is on its way for the remainder of the week, i.e., temperatures in the 30s and snow flurries. I can’t stand it.
OK, bloggage: Rep. Mike Pence, R-Dumbassville, Ind., compared his heavily fortified stroll through Baghdad (“…with more than 100 soldiers in armored Humvees — the equivalent of an entire company — and attack helicopters circling overhead. The soldiers redirected traffic from the area and restricted access to the Americans, witnesses said, and sharpshooters were posted on the roofs. The congressmen wore bulletproof vests throughout their hourlong visit.” — NYT) to “a normal outdoor market in Indiana.” Ah, yes. I think I can explain.
When I lived in Fort Wayne, I used to visit the Warsaw Street farmer’s market, on the south side. It wasn’t strictly an outdoor market — it took place in a roomy, shed-type building in the shape of an H — but it was pretty close. There I bought the best peaches in five states, chicken and bacon from the slowest-moving elderly farmer you ever saw, pumpkins and flowers in season, the occasional organic vegetable array from Organic Man. There was a guy who sold nothing but garlic, whom I loved. Another guy was Mr. Honey. One or two weekends in June, you could buy 25 pounds of pitted sour cherries quick-frozen with five pounds of sugar, i.e., enough pie filling to last a year. There was an old couple who plainly a) hated one another; and b) had been married for at least 60 years. I loved it fiercely.
And I usually stopped to chat with one or two of the market’s board members, one of whom would always lament that business just wasn’t what it used to be. They were right — the place was a little smaller every year, a few more booths that once sold fresh, homegrown vegetables given over to secondhand clothes or odd, it-fell-off-the-truck canned goods. They were losing a whole generation to supermarket produce, while the yuppies that were a market’s natural constituency lived too far away. Which always led to the second topic of conversation — the neighborhood thing.
The market was in a humble neighborhood that was — let’s just come out and say it — mostly non-white. It wasn’t unsafe. By Detroit standards, it was a raging success story. But it was east of Calhoun and north of Rudisill, and that meant that there were many people who simply wouldn’t feel safe there, even on Saturday morning, and wouldn’t visit unless they had, to bring us back to Pence’s original comment, 100 soldiers in armored Humvees, attack helicopters circling overhead and sharpshooters on nearby roofs.
So I can see where he’s coming from.
Nowadays I visit the Eastern Market. It attracts a different sort of merchant than Warsaw Street. Sellers at the Eastern hawk their goods in loud voices. You haven’t lived until you’ve bought at $2 poinsettia the week before Christmas from a guy bellowing HO HO HO THEY ALL GOTTA GO four feet from your ear.
The day commences. I’m out.