Todd Franik pleaded guilty last week to abducting a West Duluth girl. The incident happened three months ago, within a block of my home. I was working at my desk when Franik grabbed the girl and shoved her into the trunk of his car.
If I had looked out the window at the right moment, I might have witnessed the abduction or perhaps even prevented it. Whenever Franik's case pops up in the news, I think about the extremely peripheral role I've played in his life.
Franik is four years older than me, and we lived less than three miles apart as kids. I have no memories of him, but the odds are pretty good that we crossed paths numerous times. We certainly had some of the same influences.
My fiancé's uncle remembers Franik attempting to steal his cap when they were kids. "I went after him and punched him in the face," he recalls. Uncle Lennie must not have punched Franik hard enough to make the lesson stick.
Franik took more from me than a cap. He abducted one of my neighbors. I never got the chance to punch him in the face for it, but I don't let that bother me much.
What bothers me is that I really don't have any attachment to the kids in my neighborhood. I don't know the names of any of them — not Franik's victim, not any of her friends, not one single kid out of the dozens I see playing outside.
When I was a kid, I knew the names of all the adults on my block, and they knew mine. That didn't protect me from potential abductors, but at least I felt like grownups were moderately interested in my life.
Now, I'm the adult, and one of my neighbors is taken to the edge of town against her will, sexually assaulted, and left bound and gagged in the woods. My reaction is to become temporarily interested in her welfare, then quickly go back to paying no attention.
I doubt any of the neighborhood kids know my name, but I'm sure they're aware of me. I'm the guy with the mean dog. That's not who I want to be, but it's what circumstances turned me into. Who am I to go against circumstances?
Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His book, The Spowl Ribbon, is available at the Electric Fetus and online at paullundgren.com.