Friday, May 25, 2012

In Cars

Being in and around vehicles was, at one time in my life, a relaxing thing for me. I had a stressful job I loved and then grew to hate - and through it all, the one time I didn't have anyone nudging me, asking me to do "just one more thing, baby," or just giving me some kind of hell when things were going badly was when I got into the car, sat down, blasted the radio, and put the pedal to the metal.

It's probably helped that no one has put impossible time constraints on my ETAs to this very day ("You HAVE to get this package there in ten minutes!" when, in reality, it takes twenty minutes, has never been slapped on me), and, when I have to be somewhere at a certain time, I plan accordingly.

A memorable midweek trip I once had to take with members of my Yiddish chorus had us traveling from midtown Manhattan to a place in New Jersey to perform, and we had no choice but to muddle across the Hudson River (well, actually, under the river via the Holland Tunnel) during rush hour. The chorus members I ferried to Jersey and back couldn't believe how calm I was the whole way. I've simply learned over time that I can't do a thing about traffic, so there's no point in getting crazy over it. It felt better to chat with my passengers during the 45 minute wait to get in the tunnel than it did to agonize.

All of this was well before I had to reckon with things happening inside my car, though. These days, stuff going wrong under the hood seems guaranteed to put me on the road to bursting a blood vessel or two. If my mechanic hadn't just told me how incredible my car is even after all the times it's been repaired, I'd be a perfect candidate for a padded room. I'd give anything for one year - one measly year - without anything more serious than an oil change.

This is what it means to be a mother with some part-time jobs, a child in a school that is not in the neighborhood, and some after-9-to-5 activities because, by God, I'm still a person despite the parenthood and all: I have to drive. An adage of fairly recent vintage - "Only degree I need when I have a child is a driver's license" - is so damn true it hurts. It hurts even more when the car isn't working, your mechanic is in the next city, and it takes a good day or two at least for your car to simply be looked at. And my husband wonders why I want to scream when a single warning light flicks on on the dashboard display...

Before I had a family, this wasn't a horrible cross to bear. It could even be funny.

My first car needed a ring job so badly it shouldn't have been funny. It was held together enough, however, that I still drove it, adding a quart or two of oil every few days just for good measure. A trip to a local oil change place proved that I needed to take it to the shop for something far more serious - with the hood up, one of the greased-up guys put the transmission in gear and took in my face as I saw the entire engine block nearly jump out of the car due to a broken motor mount.

Towing my car? There wasn't much point to that if it was still drivable (and I didn't have Triple-A service), so I drove it. "I couldn't believe it," my ex-boss told me after she followed me across the Huey P. Long Bridge to my then-mechanic's garage in Avondale. "Smoke's pootin' out the back of your car from all the oil burning off, the engine coulda fallen out right there on the bridge, and you STILL drove that car like a bat outta hell!"

Duh. It needed the repairs. "It was a quart low," the mechanic's wife/office manager said to us after the engine was secured and the oil was no longer burning. My ex-boss and I guffawed in unison. "It's always a quart low!"

This week...things are different. The "low oil" light blinked on and things went to hell. Within 48 hours, I had to add ten quarts of oil. Monday morning found the dashboard lighting up like a slot machine as the car hit bottom. True to form, after adding a few quarts, I drove it to the mechanic's with my pal Edie following me. I wasn't mortified when I was told I probably should've had it towed, but I hated having to call my current boss to tell her I wasn't coming in.

Two days after I get the car back, it has to return. There's no driving it once it massively overheats after ten minutes on the road. There's only me, forcing my husband in an instant to pick up my son from school and take him to his baseball game. There I am again, waiting over an hour for the tow truck to arrive. And once more, when I beg Edie to pick me up from the mechanic's for the second time this week and she tells me I need to find a good mechanic who lives much closer to my house.

I hate that I can't do anything except ask the people close to me to rearrange their lives for a 16-year-old car's occasional ailments. I hate that all of this is still cheaper than getting a new car. I hate that I don't have a job that pays well enough so that these troubles are less worrisome - although, the way this car's going, I'd have lost that kind of a job by now.

Just give me a working car for a year, I say. And a good traffic jam.

Anything but this.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Spring Thing

A softball team made up of 9-10 year old girls is wearing the team shirt pictured below this season. We in New Orleans don't have a sense of humor to go with our sense of outrage over Roger Goodell's penalties from on high? Don't say that to these girls and their parents.

I'd like to see the NFL trot out a cease & desist letter to the local kids' sports organization over the Saints Bounty Hunters and their use of Saints' mascot Gumbo on their shirts of - get this - "Vegas Gold." If they do, it'll only show that Saints fans can't even own their indignation.

As for my son's baseball team, they are busily putting the "tie" in their team name (Tigers) thus far. Two games, two tie scores. We'll see how this marathon weekend of games treats them...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Psychopath Day

I've got to give it to the New York Times for their perverse sense of timing here.
“In the beginning, I thought it was us,” Miguel said, as his two younger sons played loudly with a toy car. “But Michael defies logic. You do things by the book, and he’s still off the wall. We became so tired of fighting with him in public that we really cut back on our social life.”  
 Over the last six years, Michael’s parents have taken him to eight different therapists and received a proliferating number of diagnoses. “We’ve had so many people tell us so many different things,” Anne said. “Oh, it’s A.D.D. — oh, it’s not. It’s depression — or it’s not. You could open the DSM and point to a random thing, and chances are he has elements of it. He’s got characteristics of O.C.D. He’s got characteristics of sensory-integration disorder. Nobody knows what the predominant feature is, in terms of treating him. Which is the frustrating part.”  
 Then last spring, the psychologist treating Michael referred his parents to Dan Waschbusch, a researcher at Florida International University. Following a battery of evaluations, Anne and Miguel were presented with another possible diagnosis: their son Michael might be a psychopath.
Happy Mother's Day! Is your child throwing terrifying tantrums one minute, eerily rational and charming the next? Welcome to a world where your progeny has no empathy!
Still, (Dr. Paul) Frick (of UNO) acknowledges that it’s not yet clear how best to intervene. “Before you can develop effective treatments, you need several decades of basic research just to figure out what these kids are like, and what they respond to,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing now — but it will take a while to get real traction.”  
 And there are other challenges. Since psychopathy is highly heritable, Lynam says, a child who is cold or callous is more likely to have a parent who is the same way. And because parents don’t necessarily bond to children who behave cruelly, those children tend to get punished more and nurtured less, creating what he calls “a self-fulfilling prophecy.”  
 “It reaches a point where the parents just stop trying,” Lynam said. “A lot of the training is about trying to get these kids’ parents to re-engage, because they feel like they’ve tried it all and nothing works.”  
 Anne admitted to me that this had been her experience. “As horrible as this is to say, as a mom, the truth is that you put up a wall. It’s like being in the army, facing a barrage of fire every day. You have to steel yourself against the outbursts and the hate.”
Sure, I say it time and time again: children are a crapshoot. The raising of children is no easy task. My own depression and anxiety made the prospect of having kids worrisome for me on that level alone, forget the whole day-to-day grind of basic child care. It turns out that my husband and I rolled the dice and came up with a sweet, bright child who has ADHD. It hasn't been until recently that I've begun to reconcile myself to this fact of his and our lives. He has thus far gone an entire school year on medication and the changes at school have been wonderful for the teachers to behold.

But trying to raise a child with no empathy whatsoever? At a time when the whole prospect of it is, in the minds of most, reserved for one of two extremes - those of, as mother Anne says in the article, "a Nobel Prize winner or a serial killer?" When what really happened at Columbine High School could be largely written up to the psychopathy of one of the perpetrators? It's scary, really.

Initially, I was angry that such an august publication had decided to run with something like this on Mother's Day, for crying out loud. I was wondering who was ambushing this Hallmark card holiday when WWNO chose to air this episode of This American Life and I caught the tail end of it near the end of the day. Was all of this cosmic revenge for Joan Crawford's actions or something? Really...

Really, this wasn't that big a deal, though. What was a bigger deal was hearing about parents who were getting help, psychiatrists and psychologists who were treating this disorder with a great deal of decency while trying to get to the bottom of what makes those without empathy tick, and those who were less scientific about it all but no less interested. The very idea of being empathetic to those with mental illnesses and disorders is very new; that of being empathetic to those who would have no clue of how to return those feelings - who, at best, would fantastically mimic their outer manifestations - is still not easy to come to grips with. I don't know if we'll ever get there as a society.

Until we get there, though, the front lines will, as always, be the parents of these children. They deserve a great deal of empathy and assistance. Especially the moms, who, despite a greater division of labor between moms and dads in most homes, still do most of the work.

Stories like the one the Times published only drive home that, now more than ever, every day is Mother's Day.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Our Own Fun

I told Dad the other day how much attending the JazzFest cost.

"Ohh, no. Locals have been priced out. Only good for the tourists and the rich," he said.


"Well, it'll probably tank, then, like the Newport Folk Festival did. The people there finally got fed up, so it died."

Dad wasn't very accurate on this one, actually. Though it did die after a melee ensued during a Dionne Warwick performance, of all things, it returned after fourteen years and is still going strong.

Dad was also wrong about something else, and it's a common mistake people who don't live here - or who haven't been around here long enough to understand - tend to make.

The JazzFest, despite all the locals' kvetching over what an overpriced juggernaut it is these days, is a ways from tanking. It's too entrenched a part of this city's selling of its culture to die just yet. Many musicians trying to get somewhere here still position themselves locally as JazzFest performers or not-yet there. It takes books like Michael Oliver-Goodwin's, and especially Jay Mazza's recent publication, to put that into perspective. Within a few decades, music went from being something New Orleans as a whole merely tolerated publicly to something that is a serious economic engine, and JazzFest was a major vanguard in that transformation.

As for whether locals will mount some kind of major offensive against the Jazz & Heritage Foundation, that's not happening, either. What contributed to the rise of Mardi Gras as an economic engine applies to JazzFest - if you can't entirely join in in one way, you go off and do your own thing. This is a creative city at heart, and people are more likely to bring back any energies they could spend grumbling over past JazzFests into other sorts of fun. It wells up in other organized mini-festivals like ChazFest and Noizefest, in craft tables & performances at places near the Fair Grounds like Liuzza's By The Track, and it resides in the collective ability so many have around here to gather some folks together and serve up a good time just absorbing the atmosphere around the track. There's no sound-proof barrier around the place yet that I know of.

Hence my answer to him...

"Well, Dad, people around here will make their own fun. If they're kept out of JazzFest by the prices, they're more likely to turn around and do something else that's just as good, if not better, without spending that money."


"I guess you're right." he said in a low voice.

Update, 9:11 PM: Thanks to ale{atori}c, we've got a clear graph as to how much JazzFest prices have jumped. Sure, they ran at an embarrassing financial loss for quite a while (hippie-esque vs. capitalist origins rearing their head? The specter of George Wein, a founder of Newport Folk, lingering over it?), but there probably should be a locals discount to keep some sort of goodwill going...unless the argument is that picking up tickets from the Ticketmaster at the Superdome ahead of time is locals' discount enough. In which case...fine. Locals keep voting with our dollars.