Concern for Philippe.
Lately dear little Philippe has begun to display the untoward behaviors of early adolescence. He stayed up much past his bedtime recently and attended a party at Ray's, during which he applied some sort of temporary tattoo with an inexcusable obscenity to his chest. Shortly thereafter he came to me full of reproductive misinformation and vulgar "hip-hop" slang. Even more recently, I saw him peering over the fence at a neighbor's hound dog, jubilantly singing the word "Crap!" up and down the Do Re Mi scale.
Perhaps I am merely upset to see him lose his innocence. I, too, partook in decidedly unwise antics at his age.
A time comes to mind when a young Cornelius, unaware of the larger world and his place in it, came within an inch of a lifetime of criminality and regular imprisonment.
I passed many of my formative years in rural areas, as Father was a mining engineer for the coal industry. My family were wealthy émigrés from Newcastle, and brought much of the aristocratic culture of the time with them. When I was born in the 'States, I naturally became a curious blend of both lifestyles. My pageboy hair and velveteen knickers oft drew derision from the barefoot and dirt-caked progeny of those in father's employ. One need only think of the boyhood culture of Tom Sawyer to envision the sort of scamps with whom I passed my days.
One Sunday afternoon with the young roughs in Anthracite, Pennsylvania (a town named for its cherished resource) it was handed down that the group's leader, a boy named Skuggs, desired that we steal him a pie. He pointed his finger and designated two thieves: myself, and a congenitally nervous wisp of a thing named Harold. I did not highly esteem my accomplice, and I certainly did not relish the task of larceny, having been brought into the world above such low denominators.
At any rate, my family were to be in the area a while, and I did not wish to wear the mantle of the pariah, so I led Harold to a Baptist neighborhood where large Sunday dinners were sure to be in preparation. Along the way we developed a plan of action: Harold would ring the front doorbell, posing as a lost brush salesman's son. This would distract the housewife while I nicked whatever pie or pies were cooling on the kitchen windowsill.
All would have gone according to plan had Harold not broken down into a fit of tears and incomprehensible blubbering once our target's front door opened. The behemoth woman who answered his knock was so moved by his breakdown that she immediately picked him up, cradled him in her arms, pulled a tremendous breast from her blouse and forced its teat into his mouth. As I had hidden in the bushes to be sure that the woman would be detained while I commenced with my thievery, I saw all, and quickly devised an alternate conclusion to our ill-advised caper. It did not include rescuing Harold. I ran back to Skuggs and his brood.
The boys received me coolly upon observing that I had returned with no pie, and crossed their arms as they silently closed ranks around me. Skuggs approached with a long switch in his hand and demanded to know where his pie was. I held silent for a few moments, and then let the bombshell drop: Harold was having sex with a woman on her front porch, and if they ran quick they might chance to see the act before it moved inside. The gang departed with an alacrity not dissimilar to the Kentucky Derby.
Upon reflection that evening I felt deep regret at having come so close to the downward slope of vice, and did not socialize for the remainder of our time in Anthracite. Father was told of the shenanigan demanded of me—though prudently not of my aborted complicity—and immediately hired a private tutor. I remained in the house for nearly eighteen months while Father completed his assignment, but the time did serve to germinate a great relationship between the works of Swift and myself.