Monday, December 17, 2007

Feral Children

10:30 on a Friday night. It's blacker than black outside, since streetlights are few and far between on the stretch of road where our house sits. It's a road that winds up and down with switchbacks where the canyon walls demand them. Cars roll down, gaining momentum and speed as gravity takes over, or, conversely, as drivers stomp the accelerator to gun the engine for the uphill climb.

Feral children play in the dark on the edges of the road, sometimes darting out to cross, paying no attention at all to oncoming cars. These aren't Jodie-Foster-in-"Nell" feral children; no, these are products-of-wealthy-parents-who-mostly-ignore-their-offspring feral children. We call them "the ferals" for short.

Their parents like to socialize at one another's homes, and that's cool, but their kids are outside screeching and running in the dark street until all hours. I'm not talking about ten-and-twelve year-olds, either. These are seriously little kids -- first-graders. Third-graders. Little kids, playing on a dark street where drivers are winding and weaving and speeding. Nice.

On one memorable occasion, I witnessed a baby -- walking, sure, but still a baby -- following a group of pre-and-elementary school aged kids. The baby was a good quarter-mile from home, wandering in the street at six in the evening. I whistled down the kid who looked like the baby (a girl who was maybe five) and told her she should take the baby's hand and then take the baby home. The little girl did it willingly enough, but Jesus! Did the mom or the babysitter ever wonder where the baby had gone?

And that's the Snotty Suburb mindset for a lot of the parents here -- it's a "what could possibly happen? We live in a Snotty Suburb!" -- as though their address will protect their kids from the driver, distracted by a cell call or the sun blasting through the windshield -- as though an eight-thousand-dollar-a-month mortgage is insurance against every bad thing that could happen to an unattended six-year-old.

The ferals. Expensively dressed, beautifully housed victims of their parent's benign neglect. Feh.

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