Friday, April 07, 2006

Some more recent bumperstickers:

Bush Is A Natural Disaster
I'm Qualified to Run FEMA
Rebuilding New Orleans One Beer At A Time

I think that last one might have inspired a recent Ronnie Virgets short story I read, in which one character proclaims in a bar that he buys Dixie beer to help with New Orleans' recovery. Hell of a way to help - foot the recovery bills and say goodbye to sobriety in the process.

My husband was flipping through the channels last night, did a double take in that process, and switched back to ESPN. He thought Stephen A. Smith was interviewing local mayoral candidate Mitch Landrieu, but it turned out to be Cal Ripken instead. This city has thoroughly permeated our consciousness, for sure - and it needs no beer to help it along.

I have also had to reevaluate my child's imagination in light of some of the books I have been reading to him lately. I checked out Pete Seeger's Abiyoyo from the library, and its sequel, Abiyoyo Returns, since the little guy began singing the song after watching an episode of Between the Lions in which the first of the two stories was featured. The first story is about a boy and his father who are kicked out of the town in which they live for, respectively, playing the ukulele too much and for playing too many prankish magic tricks on people. When the giant Abiyoyo threatens the town one morning, though, father and son use their skills to save the town and make the giant disappear.

Driving to pick up Dan from the airport yesterday, my son took one good look at all the cars under the highway overpasses and asked me about them. I told him they had all been flooded out and were waiting to be taken away, and he said the cure for the flooding was a small dam (or, as he said, "a small DAM!!!!!!!"). That came from the second Abiyoyo story, which more of the people around here need to read.

In the second one, it is thirty years after Abiyoyo has disappeared, and the town is threatened once again - by natural disaster. The surrounding forests are no more, and the waters overflow and flood the town regularly in the rainy seasons. The people decide a dam must be built to preserve their home, but they run into a large boulder in the building process that cannot be moved...until the granddaughter of the magician in the first story comes up with the idea to resurrect Abiyoyo, treat him well, get him to move the boulder, and then make him disappear again. However, things don't go as planned. What follows after the giant is resurrected and fed and the boulder is moved is that the giant cannot be made to disappear. What does one do with a hungry, gross giant?

Well, if we go by what is happening here and now, we try to vanquish it with all the offensive tools in our arsenal. We get it to move away, or we run from it ourselves. We refuse to feed it, we blame someone else for its presence, chide others for neglecting its upkeep, and beseech others to deal with it. Sometimes we think that throwing money at a problem as large as a giant will help it go away, except that there are a large number of ways in which such money can be spent once it is out of our hands, and not all of those ways are wise.

It's what makes this mayoral race such a mess. New Orleans has become a microcosm of what is wrong with the United States and its de facto and de jure worlds. Inequality still reigns. Business opportunities have been squandered in some cases to keep the status quo intact (in the case of this city, it's fantasy, quasi-stereotypical regional freakishness and elegant decay over industry and job opportunities that don't involve tourism). Questions of whether or not this place should still exist hang above us like a suspended ton of bricks. Even the recent proposed legislation concerning illegal immigrants in this country who are largely from south of the border affects this area - a large number of the folks doing the brute recovery work are Mexican, legal or illegal.

Heck, there are a large number of folks from north of the border who are helping, too. Justin had to say goodbye to a large crew of Quebecois who were aiding him in his tree business a few weeks ago. They were all camped out in his house and in a FEMA trailer on his property, filling it all up with their soap operatic stories of families located far away, of young fellas let loose in a loose town around Mardi Gras, of guys who were encountering New Orleans food and accents for the first time, of the profound culture shock on their psyches. Not to mention the craziness these guys had to go through every time they went back across the border for one reason or another and had to deal with US customs folks on the way back. We have become a nation that relies on our customs officers to do our dirty work for us, and they take our reliance and wield that power in ways that ought to be countered by a behavioral manual...except that that manual would probably take up several libraries.

Oh, boy did I digress...

Anyway, since the folks in the town can't make Abiyoyo the giant disappear, the magician's granddaughter decides that kindness, good care and feeding of Abiyoyo will no longer make him a danger - and she is right. It also helps bring the people of the town closer together, since they all need to keep cooking their best recipes for the giant, singing and sharing their songs for him and themselves, and working with him as their helper to replant the forests that once surrounded the town. What doesn't kill us all makes us stronger, I guess. It supposedly helps bring us a little closer, too, which I find a bit difficult sometimes taking care of a three year old full-time.

What brought me closer to other moms in New York was the neighborhood I was in, the people of the synagogue I attended regularly, the camaraderie with other moms as we all picked up and dropped off our kids at the preschool class they attended. Here, it's a curbside pick up and drop off of the kids - quick and easy for the parents. The attachment to a local synagogue and to Jewish ritual is not as strong here. And my son is an inbetween kid, in a way - he's too young for us to congregate and commiserate with Jewish parents of kids his own age here, and the people active in the synagogue that are my husband's and my age have kids who are younger than the little guy, who is breaking out of the baby and early toddler development stages.

I have also run into the parents who are taking advantage of places such as the Parenting Center while they are in the process of relocating to another state. Not conducive to forming playdates and playgroups, I'll tell you. The impulse with some of the folks who are staying here towards those who are leaving is to say "Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out," but that denies the other factors that go into a person's decision to stay here or go...and any parent who doesn't consider the well-being of their child and the need to support that well-being financially and through community resources is kidding themselves. Some may find that things here are okay in that regard. I am among the ones who are on the fence. I've found good resources for my son, but finding a way to keep mama happy in all this is tough. I wish those folks who are relocating permanently well.

Part of what makes it tough is that before I moved up to New York and had my son, my identity was largely tied up in my job and my synagogue friends. Now I am having to reassess my identity, since most of my synagogue friends are much older than I and my time revolves around the job of raising a three year old. Meeting people here outside of it all has become tougher. I really need it too, because I need to dissect this city and its trials and travails outside of the three year old psyche.

Okay, I guess I'm not immune to the impulse to vanquish a giant. I guess I, too, have to find some way to live with the big ol' thing called full-time motherhood, too. Maybe I should have chosen a less interesting city, I don't know. It's all a constant struggle, and I can't help feeling less than adequate to the task. Sometimes I feel like I don't deserve to be here, that I don't deserve to have such a great kid for a son, that I should be more patient all the time with him and myself. It's just so hard sometimes.

From what I read in the papers, this whole city is finding life hard, too. When a review of the movie Ice Age 2: The Meltdown, comes with a caveat that the plot might be too close to home for Katrina survivors and their kids, you know you're living on a different planet. Edie, who advised me on my first day back that if I manage to get one thing done every day, that I've won a small battle, was amazed the other day at the things I'd been able to accomplish since Dan and I had returned. A recent radio interview of an author ended with the interviewer asking the author about short stories she could recommend, since a large number of people who are trying to get by here have exhibited an inability to concentrate. Edie's daughter exclaimed recently that she had finally been able to make it through an entire novel after the storm. Everyone needs a goal to make it through here, no matter how small.

Maybe my goal ought to be After Passover, for right now.

After Passover, I can work on my son's pre-K charter school application.
After Passover, I can work on applying to Tulane for grad school.
After Passover, I can start interviewing potential sitters for much needed kiddie hiatuses for Dan and I.
After Passover, this house will be fully unpacked.

But until then, I will just do what I can. Live with the giant some. As most of this city is trying to do.

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