Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Dragon's Den

I go out to post a letter. On a street corner that I have to pass stands a group of youths. At no stage in my life have I felt comfortable walking past groups of youths on street corners. When I was a young child they scared me. When I was a youth myself, they scared me. And now they still scare me.

As I am about to pass, the alpha male of the gang says, “Excuse me”.

I just about manage not to fall to the ground yelping, “Please, not my face!”

Then he says, “Do you know Puff the Magic Dragon?”

My Terminator-style Head-Up Display kicks in, analysing the question from every conceivable angle and giving me a list of possible replies.

Are they talking about drugs? Puff sounds like it’s something to do with drugs, magic probably refers to magic mushrooms, and I’m pretty sure that chasing the dragon is smoking heroin. But are they trying to sell me drugs, or wanting to buy drugs from me? Do I look more like a drug user or a drug dealer? I look down at my attire – it says neither “crackhead junkie” nor “Mr Big”. It says “middle-aged man hurrying to catch the last post”.

Perhaps he just said something random to throw me off my guard before one of his mates sticks a screwdriver between my ribs. Maybe I should just throw myself to the ground and get it over with.

Then a third, even uglier possibility flashes up. They are going to embarrass me. It’s one of those cruel questions that whatever I answer they will have something funny to say in return that will make them all laugh at me. From primary school I remember “Were you born with happiness?” (“a penis”) and “Have you ever touched a BMW?” (basically you were damned if you had and damned if you hadn’t). And I can still recall the shame of replying to “Do you know Theresa Green?” in the negative, only to be told “DERR! Don’t you know trees are green?

But as hard as I think I can’t remember any such trap involving this particular mythical creature. They’re looking at me like they want an answer.

“Er, yes”, I venture cautiously. “He lived by the sea?”

Alpha Male smiles and turns to his mates. “See – I told you so.”

That was it? They wanted me to settle an argument about a nursery rhyme? What about stabbing me or at least laughing at my trainers?

As I walk away, I hear another of them say, “People round here are really nice, aren’t they?”

A third one agrees: “Yes, they wouldn’t do that where I live.”

I stride on to the post-box, happy and confident. Whatever I had read about the youth of today, they weren’t all bad.

Though I still walk home the long way to avoid them.