Parents who fret that Los Angeles must be somewhere between Calcutta and Beirut on the list of great places to raise kids will find small comfort in the September issue of Savvy Woman magazine. It ranks America's new Second City No. 19 on the child rearing charts, smack between Columbus, Ohio, and Kansas City, Mo.
The survey, conducted by a couple of "urban studies specialists," rated America's 30 largest cities on air quality, educational spending, local child care regulations, infant mortality, maternity leave laws, crime and such "ambient factors" as participation in Boy and Girl Scouts.
Stay Above 42nd Parallel
Based on these criteria, Minneapolis-St. Paul is the best urban environment for crumb snatchers, followed by Seattle, Milwaukee, Portland, Ore., and Boston.
Even Washington with its crack crisis, New York with its muggers and San Diego with its Padres fans rank higher than Los Angeles.
Accompanying the survey are articles by three writer-mothers who examine the places they raised or are raising their kids. And therein, Angeleno parents may find a few useful rationalizations to assuage their guilt.
Phyllis Theroux describes her decision, years ago, to bail out on urban life. Her young family lasted five months on a Maine island before retreating back to the more civilized life in Washington. She advises that "any parents considering such a radical move should consider themselves first."
Francine Prose writes enticingly about life in rural New York, where her kids have the "sheer physical freedom and independence" to roam a crime- and pollution-free countryside, living lives that sometimes resemble "those pastoral, 19th-Century landscapes in which happy apple-cheeked farm tots frolicked among the hay ricks. . . .
"What I treasure most about our life here is how beautiful it is," she gushes.
But then, apparently unable to shake her own urban-inspired angst, she snivels: "We joke that we're training our kids to live in a Preston Sturges comedy when what they'll be facing is 'Mad Max.' From time to time, it occurs to us that city kids are learning as much on the street as they are in the classroom, and that eventually our little country bumpkins may be in for an awful shock."
In "Bright Lights, Kid City," Gwenda Blair, author of "Almost Golden," a biography of Jessica Savitch, looks at her own decision to raise her kids in Manhattan, where "parents have got their fingers crossed that when (and it is when, not if) their kids get robbed, they will have the good sense to surrender their lunch money or skateboards or bus passes without putting up a fight."
She concludes, though, that "having kids in the city, I've come to understand, is not a problem, on the contrary, it's a solution. When you're with a child, all the rules of city life--ignore everybody else except when you have no choice, and then be rude--are suspended. . . . Even in the deadliest of situations, like waiting in a bank line, a child can make the cranky lady behind you, and the gruff guy in front, melt. If only for the duration of this line, we're all just nice kids having a good time together."
Parents who aren't persuaded to abandon thoughts of abandoning Los Angeles should remember that it could be worse. They could live in the No. 30 child rearing city in America, Miami, where that omnipresent "Vice" sound track alone is probably enough to lower grade school test scores.
Connoisseurs Like TV
Television has been blamed for everything that's wrong with the second half of the 20th Century. Here's one more thing to blame on the boob tube: It opened up a whole new arena to pontificators.
As evidence, read the September issue of Thomas Hoving's Connoisseur magazine, in which the "Guide to the Civilized World" goes slumming.
In A Big Graphic Statement, Connoisseur's cover declares that television is "the most vital and important cultural force in America. Only snobs, pseudo-intellectuals, and boobs don't recognize the fact."
The editors then charge ahead with a blustery laissez-faire credo: "Television can flourish only in an environment of complete freedom, without governmental, religious, or social restraint of any kind."
But the 31 pages of articles don't do much to advance the theory that "there are surprising things--exceptional things--happening around the dial."
For the most part, the encyclopedia is a hodgepodge of specific irrelevancies--"Can CBS Come Back?"--and furrowed-brow ruminations by folks in urgent need of detoxification for addiction to Pauline Kael.
"Television," one essay informs, "has always created an alternative life to our own, running on its own sense of time and flat perspective, a belief in what sells, in what jives (sic) with the America we think should exist."
Even as that article goes on to embrace the magazine's boosterism, concluding that television's in the midst of a "golden age," another piece suggests that its impending season may offer "the dreariest development crop in recent memory."
Only one article says anything new about the maligned medium, and that's because "Twin Peaks," a new series by David Lynch (director of "Eraserhead," "The Elephant Man," and "Blue Velvet") and co-writer Mark Frost, breaks the mold.
The new series, about a mythical American town, writes Howard A. Rodman, is what "you might find if you dragged the bottom of Lake Wobegon."
Later, Rodman explains Lynch's desire to plunge into the vast wasteland: "TV's very blandness makes it an ideal agar for someone who wants to grow something different."
Why a magazine that routinely advertises Baccarat crystal and baubles worth more than a dozen big screens would suddenly put the prefered medium of Coors men on a pedestal remains a mystery. But clues might be found by considering Lynch's other motivation for embracing television. As Rodman explains: "It is not uncommon to find TV moguls with incomes in the seven-figure range."
Bicycling Magazine broke away from the pack this month with the release of a survey on two-wheeled sex. Responding to a questionnaire published in April, 1,675 readers revealed their deepest secrets; mainstream media around the country have responded with more enthusiasm than they ever showed for the Tour de France.
In case you missed the leering reports on television and radio stations nationwide, here's another: 66% of bicyclists believe their sport of choice makes them better lovers, despite the fact that 62% have experienced genital numbness during or after a ride; 42% of women and 24% of men have met a sex partner through cycling, but only 14% ever had sex during a rest stop; 84% think about sex while cycling, but only 20% think of cycling while having sex.
It's too early to say how well sex will sell newsstand copies, a spokeswoman said.
But there is some demographic information that may be causing concern around Rodale Press, where Bicycling is published.
In this same issue, Rodale announces that it will fold Mountain Bike Magazine (circ. 45,000) into Bicycling (circ. 340,000) as an "elective supplement." But Bicycling's own survey shows a lack of commitment on the part of mountain bicyclists. Asked the standard "If stranded on a desert island . . ." question, only 8% said they would prefer the companionship of a mountain bike to that of a mate or attractive assistant.
A Penney's Worth
As of Sept. 11, Alexandra Penney will take over as editor-in-chief of Self magazine. A Conde Nast Publications press release announcing the appointment quotes Penney as saying, "I've been given an extraordinary opportunity to celebrate the most important word in the English language--Self."
Her background may give some indication of the course Self will take. Penney is the author of four books, "How to Make Love to a Man," "How to Make Love to Each Other," "Great Sex," and "How to Keep Your Man Monogamous."