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Amok

Summer 2007, Kilkenny Ireland —

There's been a lot of youth kind of running amok lately in the neighborhood, and my efforts to address the matter have made me a target of the kids' attention in the last few weeks.

There was a time when I was quite agonized about this, but I've learned a bit about how to cope with it — and to deal with it.

School just let out, which is going to have a varied effect. One of the principal elements of the problem is that there is a middle-school, or junior-high school, nearby. Kids of this age are, of course, problematic — as I need not explain. I think I've always been pretty good about live-and-let-live, and most of the youth are of course only awkward by nature.

Another element is that this neighborhood presents an out-of the way hangout space, right in the middle of town but off the traveled paths; and presents many spaces for loitering. The houses across Chapel Lane are derelict, and the front steps are a fine place to sit. And the walkway that runs at 90 degrees from there, behind the complex where I live, passes on either side of the city wall. The section between the wall and the building complex is, indeed, known to the youth as "Smoker's Lane."

If smoking cigarettes were the worst of it, I'd leave that between the kids and their parents. But the place is a mess. Litter and graffiti are the norm, and it's a shameful sight. There is a mosoleum that was attached to the medieval wall in the early 20th century, and it's an important hangout spot on Smoker's Lane. This area, I've just learned, is in legal reality not public property, but a part of the land purchased by Market Cross Shopping Centre, atop which my apartment is built. But in practice, the space down there is ruled by the kids. [The fact is, I learned later, that the "Smoker's Lane" area is owned by a multifarious assortment of disinterested parties.]

Irish kids these days have a special imperviousness that makes them highly immune to the consequences of their actions. This happens for historical reasons — the effects of history that is shockingly recent. Friends my age tell childhood stories of harrowing punishment by adults. The typifying story that I've heard, from several people, is that of going home after a beating by one of the teachers, and being afraid to tell Mom and Dad because Dad would beat you too. The reverence for the teachers — a part of the church — was nearly total. The power of adults over kids was immense, and the consequent abuse was odious.

But now it's gone far in the other direction. Kids these days (listen to me, sounding old) know they can get away with pretty much anything. Most are okay, naturally. But — just as naturally — some are not.


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