So there I was, walking past a group of sixth-grade boys. One of them asked if I could give him some money for his school's field trip. I knew right away that he wasn't really asking me for money. He was challenging me to tell him that I knew he was lying. He was looking for some attention, and perhaps some entertainment at my expense.
"Sorry, I can't help you," I told him. As I walked away, a rock whizzed past my head.
Turning around, I saw three of the kids running away, while one just stood there, about 30 feet away from me. I glared at him for a moment, thinking about what I should say or do in response.
There was a lot of information I didn't have. Was this the kid who threw the rock or was he pleading innocent by not running away with the guilty party? Did the kid who threw the rock intend to miss me, or hit me? Either way, what should I do in response? Should I chase down and beat up a bunch of kids? Should I yell and scream and put on a show for them? Should I just walk away and let them infer that I'm afraid of them? There seemed to be no intelligent solution.
"What are you looking at me for?" The kid finally shouted. "I didn't do anything."
"Do you hang out with those other guys?" I asked.
"Yeah, they're my cousins," he said. "We're tight."
"You're tight, huh?"
"Yeah, we're pimps."
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"It's something old people don't understand," he told me. "Why don't you just keep walking?"
"You mean like I was doing before one of your pimp friends threw a rock at my head?"
There was little doubt in my mind that the best thing I could do for these kids would be to punch their obnoxious little faces in. There was also little doubt that I would go to prison for doing it. I chose the road of self-preservation, as usual, and walked away.
There are, of course, nonviolent solutions to this type of situation, like calling the police. Doing that, however, would involve a potentially fruitless time investment that I'm not willing to make. So, when that rock hits your head, you can blame me as much as those kids and their delinquent parents.
Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His e-mail address is paul [at] geekprom.com.