Allow me to re-introduce myself. Exiled from my chosen home, I'm in close proximity to where I was raised. Outside of Houston, strongly tied to New Orleans, still.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Instead, down in these parts we get one public radio station that broadcasts at least eight hours of NPR News every weekday (well, technically speaking, it's four - two in the morning, two in the evening - but they repeat those broadcasts). I listened to some of the "coming attractions" for today's All Things Considered, and I heard about this report. Having read the online blurb about the Texas schools and how they handle discipline, a few things come to my mind right off:
- I'm thanking my lucky stars I don't live in Texas anymore. I'm thanking those same stars that this wasn't implemented when I was in the Houston schools, because I woulda been sent to an "alternative" school in a New York minute.
- I read this little bit of examination in the article:
Lightsey's group conducted a study on the effects of Texas' "zero tolerance" approach to discipline in schools. It found that students sent to alternative schools are five times more likely to drop out — and they're more likely to end up in prison.
and I realized that I could well have ended up helping people with their airline reservations from behind bars if the "alternative" schools had been in effect when I was of schooling age. It also occurs to me that this is another way for the whole "prison industry" to keep going in Texas.
- I also checked this out:
The Pasadena Independent School System, outside Houston, has one of the highest student-suspension rates in the state. Over the past five years, Pasadena administrators have sent more than 500 kids under age 6 to alternative-education centers.
Pasadena officials defend their approach, saying that many younger students are sent to a "counseling center," not a disciplinary school. Spokeswoman Candice Ahlfinger says the goal is not strictly punishment: Some kids thrive in an alternative setting, she says.
Ladies and gents, regardless of how deeply my son goes into therapy from anything I've done in raising him, he can never ever hold the "alternative" school thing against me. That's the straw I'm grasping at if things get reeeeeally bad in terms of modifying my son's behavior.
Some days, that's all any parent needs...
Sunday, June 24, 2007
As for me, I am laid up in my bed trying to fight a fever. Caught it from the stresses of coming in to an industrial-grade A/C-ed building from a towelling-off at the pool in the summer heat twice a day with all the campers...or I caught it from the campers themselves. As it is, I'm getting a tad more pessimistic about working with the five-year-olds than I have been. It doesn't help when I walk into a meeting with the camp directors and my fellow group counselors, and the first words out of the directors' mouths are, "Sooo...you guys have the hardest group in camp." We talked over kids who aren't participating, kids who are stirring things up, how best to get the attention of the kids without yelling our heads off, kids who are still affected by what happened during and shortly after Katrina. Five counselors and eighteen kids - shouldn't be too tough, but then accountability creeps in over our heads. It's something I encountered last summer, and it's something that's going to be there for as long as I'm working with kids.
Even with my own son, which is also getting discouraging.
It's even tougher when he's attending the same camp where I am counseloring (though he's not in the same group, thank God). Turns out he's been acting out for the past three months, which is something I learned only recently after he had a very bad day last week. I called his teacher from the past school year for tips, and she informed me of this fact. She also assumed it was because my husband was traveling a lot. This is now making me question even more my decision to come back and work at the camp. Having his counselors and mom at the same place is having worlds collide. If things get any worse, I am leaning towards keeping the little guy there rather than keeping my job...because this area is in the middle of a major crisis with regards to many services for children. I can be replaced. A different camp for my son is an ill-advised move.
I was raised with the idea that I would be very self-sufficient and look out for my personal interests. No one ever told me that my interests would go right out the window once my own children were in the picture, but I certainly had many hints of this fact. If the right thing is me staying at home and teaching my son to keep his hands to himself, well, I'll have to do that...because, ultimately, I am accountable, since he is a minor under my care. I am seeing firsthand how all-too-easy it is for people to label a four-year-old as ADD, as emotionally disturbed due to a need for a father who is working his tail off in Baton Rouge every weekday, as a little pariah.
These are the things I was always afraid of if I ever became a mother, and here they all are, right in my face. I hate that I have brought my son into all of this, but I am obligated not to give up on him, first and foremost. If I am fully recovered from my fever by tomorrow morning, this next week will only tell if I will stay or go. If I must head out, the five-year-olds will have to do their thing with a new person and a quite capable group of four counselors that are still there. Such is life, sometimes. I guess.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Yep, neither my son nor my campers can read this blog or their eyes will be sucked from their sockets. Everyone else, however, is fair game. Read at your own risk. T'anks, Maitri!*
*She got an "R" rating. Lock up the teenagers!
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
"Church?" a small voice pipes up.
"Jesus?" another voice whispers to the junior counselor for my group.
Oy vey. Not the right answers, let me tell ya...
A senior counselor for the six-year-olds is swimming in the pool with kids hanging off him like monkeys hanging from a massive tree. At one point, he is up against the wall of the pool with three kids walking all over him. His last words before going underwater are "Oh, my booty!"
I laugh my fool head off. Thankfully, he resurfaces, still breathing. We speculate on those three words nearly becoming his epitaph...and that it would have been reported that I had died laughing.
That was last week. Today, he stood at the top of the steps of the bus as kids clumped their way down the steps past him. As we walked with the kids to the field trip location, he said to me, "It's funny, but today, my shorts were a handlebar."
Got me again. Because of where he was standing, many five and six year olds passing him by ended up grabbing his shorts to help them down that first bus step. I laughed my head off once again. I'm looking foward to next week's pearls of wisdom, for certain...
So I did the same ol' same ol' two weeks ago. Orientation for three days running. Going over camp policies. Pool rules. Paperwork. Planning activities. Decorating group rooms. Blah, blah, blah. Loads of PowerPoint presentations...well, only two. One was about how best to decorate your room. The other was also typical...
...until it began.
Our shaliach (who I will call Shali for short) began her presentation on her Israeli home. She showed pictures of her beautiful city not far from the border of Lebanon. She showed pictures of her large family. She showed pictures of herself with her boyfriend, an Israeli soldier she had met when she was doing her mandatory service in the IDF. She then got to the map.
The Gaza Strip was projected onto the screen. Shali talked about June 25, 2006. She talked about the Hamas raid that killed her boyfriend and made soldier Gilan Shalit a prisoner and negotiating tool for the Palestinian group. Shali took on this emissary position to have American kids learn something about Israel, to have them meet someone from there, and to give them a window into that life, no matter how small that window might be.
She's having a hard time here. The counselors need to help out more with disciplining the kids in their groups when they come to her classes, because she's good with the activities, but her English is still a tad spotty. I try to rephrase things for her whenever I can so that the kids get it. But Israel classes a couple of times a week for these kids doesn't do Israel...or Shali... much justice.
On the one hand, it is only week two of camp. On the other, there are six more to go. Hang in there, Shali, my friend.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Saturday, June 16, 2007
JEAN LAFITTE. THE JEWISH PIRATE -- by Prof. Edward Bernard Glick
One of the things I do since I retired from Philadelphia's Temple University in 1991 is lecture on cruise ships. My signature talk is the 50-century-old history of piracy, whose practitioners I call the Seafaring Gangsters of the World.
A few weeks before my first gig, I sent a draft of the talk to my history-buff sister, Phyllis. She liked it, but she was very unhappy that I had not mentioned Jean Lafitte. I told her I didn't include him because, except for two famous bisexual female pirates, Mary Read and Anne Bonny, I intended to deal with the economics, the sociology and the politics of piracy.
She said I simply had to talk about Lafitte because he was unique. He was a Sephardic Jew, as was his first wife, who was born in the Danish Virgin Islands. In his prime, Lafitte ran not just one pirate sloop but a whole fleet of them simultaneously. He even bought a blacksmith shop in New Orleans, which he used as a front for fencing pirate loot. And he was one of the few buccaneers who didn't die in battle, in prison or on the gallows.
Though I didn't lecture about Lafitte at first, a circumstance of serendipity has made me do so ever since. I was flying to Norfolk, Virginia. The man in the seat next to me wore a skullcap, and he began chatting with me in Gallic-accented English. Though born in France, the friendly passenger now lives in Switzerland. We quickly established that we were both Jewish and that both of us had taught in Israel. Then we had the following conversation:
"What are you doing on this plane?" I asked.
"I'm a mathematician. I work for an American company and I'm flying to Norfolk today because it has the US Navy's largest naval base and my company is trying to get a Navy contract. Now, what are you doing on this plane?"
"My wife and I are picking up a cruise ship in Norfolk."
"Taking a vacation?"
"Not entirely. I'll be giving lectures on the ship, as many in fact as there are full days at sea."
"What do you lecture about?"
"Cruise lines frown on controversial topics. I have talked about Israel once or twice. But I usually talk about Latin America, which is my second specialty, or the Panama Canal, or Mexico's Isthmus of Tehuantepec, or Prince Henry the Navigator, or Portuguese explorations after Prince Henry, or Alfred Thayer Mahan's belief in the supremacy of sea power, or the political economy of the 21st century, or the voyages of Captain Cook to the South Pacific. But I always begin a cruise with a lecture on pirates. The kids love it, and the old folks like it, too."
"Are you going to talk about Jean Lafitte?"
"No," and I repeated what my sister had told me.
He pulled out his wallet and handed me a business card. It had "Melvyn J. Lafitte" written on it. Then he said, "I could tell you that as we were chatting I printed this card on a nano-sized printing press hidden in my pocket. And of course, you wouldn't believe me. But the truth is that I am a direct descendant of Jean Lafitte. Your sister,Phyllis, is absolutely right. Our family, originally named Lefitto, lived in the Iberian Peninsula for centuries. When Ferdinand and Isabella reconquered Spain and expelled the Muslims and the Jews in 1492,most of the Jews fled to North Africa. Others went to the Balkans or to Greece and Turkey. But some Sephardi Jews, my ancestors among them, crossed the Pyrenees and settled in France, where Jean was born in about 1780. He moved to French Santo Domingo during the Napoleonic period. However, a slave rebellion forced him to flee to New Orleans. Eventually, he became a pirate, but he always called himself a privateer because that label has a more legal ring to it.
"In 1814, the British sought his aid in their pending attack on New Orleans," he continued. "However, he passed their plans to the Americans and helped General Andrew Jackson beat them in 1815. A grateful Jackson, not yet president, saw to it that Lafitte and his family became American citizens. And by the way, did you know that there is a town of Jean Lafitte, as well as a Jean Lafitte National Historical Park in Southwestern Louisiana?"
I was flabbergasted, not so much by the saga of Jean Lafitte as retold by a proud descendant, but by the fact that the two of us had met so coincidentally in the skies over Georgia. Melvyn Lafitte lives in Geneva and I live in Portland, Oregon. These cities are 5,377 miles apart. Unlike him, I am mathematically challenged, so I don't know what the statistical probability is that a descendant of the Franco-Jewish-American pirate Jean Lafitte would board an airplane and sit next to me, as I was agonizing over whether to mention his famous ancestor in a forthcoming talk.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
I myself have had some interesting times with the beginnings of summer camp this year. An end o' the first week recap is on the way. 'Til then, I'm hoping the following story will cheer the injured, heal the sick in the head, and just generally put smiles on the faces of some who are in need. I was saving this one for another Father's Day/my dad's birthday, but now's as good a time as any to share.
Dad - 0. Chainsaw - 0.2.
That's the short version.
One day, my parents decided to tackle the sycamore tree in the backyard in order to have a bright, sunny yard and space for a sizeable rose garden. They rented a chainsaw for this purpose and went at the monster tree with the additional help of some climbing equipment and little else. They made good progress and took that sucker down - but not before my dad managed to slice his arm open with the chainsaw. Next thing I knew, my parents were running for the car with towels wrapped around Dad's bleeding arm. They went to two emergency rooms (the first one proved to be too slow on the uptake), got the bleeding stopped, the arm stitched up, and a cast on the whole shebang, as well as a powerful painkiller prescription, which they filled right away. That was Saturday.
Sunday was Mom tackling the rest of the tree on her own with Dad supervising as much as he could, considering his physical state. Later on, some friends came over to commiserate with Dad, and, being the good host that he is, he made some of his killer lime margaritas and partook of them with said friends. He had a good many that night. He should have known better. Really.
Monday morning came. Mom had to drive Dad in to work. The effects of the margaritas in concert with the painkillers made for quite a hallucinatory mix with Dad's body chemistry. Unfortunately, Dad had to meet with a number of medical students who had flunked the Pharmacology midterm he'd given and discuss their options with them. He sat in his office, with his bandaged arm propped up on the desk, met with the students one by one, and gave them advice that went along these lines:
THERE'S NO HOPE FOR YOOOOUUUU.....
Yeah, I think Dad put a whole lot of med students on a completely different career track that morning. He did his damage until nearly noon, when he called up Mom in a stuh-range voice and asked her to take him home. The effects were wearing off and wearing him down by then. One coulda stuck a fork in him at that point.
Let's all be careful out there. Don't get skewered, sliced, diced, too heavily sloshed, or seriously drugged. Summer's only just begun...
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Zirin's book goes beyond Katrina and into subjects such as why Barry Bonds is so reviled by the mainstream press, what Roberto Clemente can teach us today, a chapter about the NBA's uneasy symbiosis with hip-hop culture and its attempts to put the genie back in the bottle, the reasons why one should not bring the Olympic games to your city, and many, many other interweavings of politics, racism, sports, human rights, antiwar protests, and the use and misuse of athletes in society. Pick it up. Read it. Add the link below to your favorites.
And, while we're at it, add New Orleans to Zirin's book tour dates. The pertinent information about contacting his publisher is on there, but I'll put it down here for those who don't wanna use the link for some weird reason: please call or email Julie Fain at Haymarket Books. Julie's email is Julie@haymarketbooks.org and her phone number is (773)583-7884. Inundate our local bookstores with this information, people. This is a sports-crazy town, after all. And if the bookstores can't bring him on down, maybe, uhh, the Rising Tide conference could? Just a thought...
James Baldwin once said, "America is a nation devoted to the death of the paradox." In other words, to use the updated version by pro wrestler The Rock, "Know your role and shut your mouth." Stay in your box. If you're a cashier, a Wal-Mart employee, a sanitation worker, a teacher, that is how you are defined and all you can be. Don't think about being a cashier/artist, a firefighter/activist. We endure model/actresses and oil company executive/politicians but that is it.*
Edge of sports, indeed. What is happening in these parts has caused many of us to break out of the box to ensure our very survival. Let's support Dave Zirin in his box-busting reporting and commentary on sports in this crazy world.
*All quotes from Dave Zirin's Welcome To The Terrordome
Saturday, June 09, 2007
Everyone, say hi to Puppy!
My son has been attached to two stuffed animals in his life on this planet, and those animals have traveled quite a bit. The Curious George doll that the little guy received as a gift from his great-grandparents got him off his pacifier at ten months of age, but it also became a semi-permanent appendage. George helped him with transitions, sure, but we were always afraid that George would end up on the subway tracks someplace. We looked into a surrogate George in case something happened, but at the time, a surrogate was a $45 collector's item. Oops.
George has been to Canada, New York, California, Pennsylvania, the Midwest, and is now residing with us here in New Orleans. His head has been dragged through the mud in the streets of Philly, where I had to wash him off in a hotel sink with shampoo and dry him out as best I could with a dinky hair dryer so that he could ease the little guy to sleep. He's taken baths in laundromat washing machines and finally had his satin edge pulled off from all the fraying of the threads that held it on.
And then we moved back to New Orleans around Mardi Gras time. Saw some parades, caught some stuff. One of the things we caught was a stuffed animal dog, a nondescript brown one with no bells and whistles, no flashy colors. The little guy loved it and dubbed it Puppy. Puppy became my son's new familiar. Yep, a new semi-permanent appendage.
A little over a week ago, we lost Puppy. No, there is no replacement out there that I could see, and I have searched the internet high and low. I searched Whole Foods high and low. Dan and I went through all the usual little guy haunts: no dice. We turned our house upside down. No Puppy. No surrogate Puppy, either. We had to tell the little guy he ran away.
Last night, I went out to walk the dog after a harrowing week. Friday was especially nuts for a number of reasons. More little guy behavior troubles. People expressing to me how fed up they were with living here. The end of orientation for my camp counselor's gig (yeah, I'm doing it again...I need to have my head examined, I know). I encountered another dog walker by the fountain who told me after nearly twenty years here, he's giving up the ghost in New Orleans. More good news. Yeesh. I turned back toward home and saw a familiar face in the back window of a car parked nearby. Oh. My. God. It is...
I gingerly walked back to the guy chilling in the car. "Uhhh, excuse me, sir..."
Turned out he'd recovered Puppy from the lost and found at one of our usual haunts. The chillin' dude gave me Puppy, and I came home bursting with a good story.
"Dan! You're not gonna believe this!..."
Now if only Puppy could talk...
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Jefferson's trial date has yet to be set. In the meantime, in all matters related to court proceedings, he is entitled to the presumption of innocence.
But in the court of public opinion, to be indicted is to be convicted. And the presumption of guilt that colors much of the public opinion surrounding Jefferson is applied carelessly and thoughtlessly to the people of Louisiana in general.
Elie has pinpointed a few other politicos who are now languishing behind bars and has pointedly said that the feds haven't gone one step further and treated the convicts' more lawful colleagues from their states as peons who must grovel for federal funding and help. It might well be because the more recent Louisiana politicos haven't been able to pull off their illegal hijinks with a blend of charisma and chutzpah in the same way that this guy did for a long, long time:
He could run from prison right now and win. He just would...At his sentencing, the judge kept calling him Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Later, Buddy said to someone, "If I'm Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, how come I didn't get two [expletive] paychecks?" That's Buddy in a nutshell.
As filmmaker Michael Corrente noted in the interview, Cianci indirectly helped out Corrente's film career by keeping a vital theater company in Providence alive. Buddy Cianci was a crook, indeed, but a charismatic one who loved his city in a twisted manner and wasn't afraid to wear that on his sleeve if it would get him and the city what was needed. For every gesture he made in presiding over Providence's renaissance, there was another that only served himself. And yet, the man is still respected as a lovable rogue who brought a former industrial power of a city back from the brink of economic depression.
As far as the most recent vintage of Louisiana politicos goes, maybe a completely different way of putting Louisianans across to the rest of the country is needed. Many of us NOLA bloggers have said they didn't elect Jefferson and are living our lives despite the fact that the necessary change was not made in the polls on election day. A "parallel lines" theory of life in the Pelican State obviously ain't gaining us any friends from amongst the feds or across this country. And Jefferson ain't in the "charismatic rogue" mold that would cause prominent people down here to come to his aid, even begrudgingly.
Some have advocated a separatist movement in the service of the greater New Orleans area: if the feds are gonna squeeze the life out of this city in the manner of a cruel jailer dispensing water torture (heh) to a prisoner, then we need to break out of that squeeze. Make this a truly open city.
And yet...and yet...we might still be damned if we do:
That old joke by Groucho Marx had been inverted: he'd never want to belong to a club that would have us as members. Well, if that wasn't arrogance, if that wasn't elitism, we didn't know what was. And what did that attitude leave him with? Probably a very boring existence. He could attend civilized concert recitals though never himself join a quartet. He was allowed to read novels as long as he didn't participate in any book club. He could walk his dog but his dog was forbidden from entering a dog park where he might be forced to commingle with other pet owners. He didn't engage in political debate. That would demand he'd join in. No religion, either, for what was religion but one group seeking a richer dividend than the others? His was a joyless, lonely, principled life.*
Think of the "he" as New Orleans, the "us" as the rest of America. America, manipulated largely by a "if you ain't for us, you're agin' us" government, by political parties that share the same attitudes, by a mainstream media that runs on these, and many other, black and white attitudes. Jefferson's indictment is another black and white issue that everyone in this country probably agrees is black and white - but for different reasons. For Louisianans, it confirms what everyone here has always known about the man, except the timing could have been better...like, maybe this should have been done before the Congressional elections that put him back in office, or before Katrina...weeeelllll before. For everybody else, it confirms what they have already assumed about Louisiana politicians and the people who have put them in office.
And yet, it doesn't.
But who looks beyond the media outlets these days? Too much time, too much effort.
They're very convincing people...That's the whole problem, of course. They can convince you of anything.*
Please, folks, how best can we overcome this decades (and possibly over a century)-in-the-making problem/perception? Because we aren't being granted a second chance to make a first impression, and who knows if we ever will get that.
*Joshua Ferris, Then We Came To The End
Oooh! I also got a response last month to this slight prodding of Elie on my part. Check it!:
Dear Ms. C,
Thanks for the heads up on these blogs. I got a similar message from the folks at NOLAFugees.
I'll check these out.
Lolis Eric Elie
Saturday, June 02, 2007
That's the sound of my sad, junkie self going on enforced cold turkey from the blogosphere. And our very own computer was the enforcer.
It happened yesterday, when the browser couldn't connect to the server. One call to tech support, and the verdict was that something was wrong with the ethernet adapter on the machine. Ohh, well, Dan'll fix it.
Nope, didn't happen.
This morning, it was another call to tech support while simultaneously making pancakes, troubleshooting the computer's IP configuration and ethernet adapter, resetting the modem, looking for a USB cord I assumed I'd tossed, getting the little guy ready for his four-year-old baseball league game today (an exercise akin to herding cats or to watching a bunch of football-style pileups in place of kids actually fielding the ball, since all the kids are just told to get the ball and throw it to a base, any base. Hey, the kids are four...), and getting myself in some kind of clothing. The cell phone mercifully cut me off after well over an hour of troubleshooting with an AT&T employee who is more than likely located overseas, so I took my son to the field.
Came home after the game for Round Three with tech support. The call ended with the recommendation that I haul in my hardware to the nearest CompUSA, Best Buy, or Circuit City to get the ethernet adapter fixed, at which time I was ready to scream my head off in frustration and in withdrawal agony. I ended up driving and driving a while until I cooled down. The adapter was fixed, no charge, and I drove on home.
After all that, a nice dinner trip with the family to the burrito stand that rules this guy's life, and a couple of frozen margaritas, I hooked everything back up to find that the ethernet adapter was still not doing its thing. Grrrrr....
In a fit of pique, I reinstalled all my DSL software, had a USB connection established (found the cord!) instead of the ethernet connection, and now I'm back. Don't know what I was expecting, though, when I went off to read everyone else's blogs to see what I'd missed. Maybe something like this:
Leela: Dear Captain's Diary: I may not have found love on this mission, but I did find a cute little companion who excretes starship fuel and that's just as good.*
Zapp Brannigan: Stardate...uhhhhhhh....
Kif: April 13th
Brannigan: April 13th! Point 2...We have failed to uphold Brannigan's Law... however, I did make it with a hot alien babe, and in the end, is that not what man has dreamt of since he looked at the stars???????!!!!! *
Oh, well. This junkie has her fix back, and that's what counts.
(*God, I love Futurama.)