For Spring Break this year our twin 19-year-old daughters, both in college, told us they were headed off for the entire week to visit a good friend who was studying in Spain. As I do when I get almost any news these days, I cringed. Sending teenage girls off to college today is scary enough. I live in fear.
Every time a story comes on the evening news and I see the reporter is standing live on location from a college campus, I stick my fingers in my ears and sing “la la la” to myself until the report is over. I once was a college boy, and didn’t consider myself all that nefarious, but now wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat having nightmares about them. Sending daughters overseas is even worse, if that is possible. It is a scientific fact that European boys are extremely dangerous creatures. They speak with fancy accents, they often have luxuriously curly hair, they wear sweaters over their shoulders, and they drive small convertibles very fast on narrow winding roads. They also go to cafes where they serve drinks that taste like licorice, but will knock a girl on her trasero after just a couple of sips. If sending a girl off to college here in the United States is like asking her to swim in shark infested waters, sending her off to Europe is like tying a porterhouse steak around her neck, pushing her into that water, and ringing a big silver dinner bell.
The night before they left, my wife and I sat the girls down for a serious talk about the dangers of going abroad. They were not to talk to strange males, of any age at all. Nobody was going to buy them a drink, not even a cup of coffee. They should just say no. If some cute boy with an accent offered to show them the museums of the city, the answer was to be an emphatic “No!” If a boy said, “Buenas dias!” they were to say “No!” (I have only a limited knowledge of the language, but I am pretty sure that at least in Spanish, “no” conveniently does mean “no.”) I also carefully walked them through the plot of “Taken,” the movie where ex-spy Liam Neeson sends his daughter off to Europe, where she’s almost immediately kidnapped by Albanian human traffickers. Old Liam had to fly over in the middle of the night, and before it was over, had to shoot up half of Europe before he got his kid back. I explained to my daughters that while I love them very much, I did not actually have a very particular set of skills, and that they’d be pretty much out of luck. If anything bad happened, they would need to bring an Albanian language guide and a whole lot of extra mascara.
Also explained to them that everywhere they went, there would be teams of pickpocket children waiting to steal everything they own. These children, I said, roam the streets, stealing from unsuspecting tourists, coming home only at night to hovels where they handed over the loot to nasty old men. (Luckily, neither of my daughters has actually read Oliver Twist, or they would have recognized the major plot points.) The girls looked at me, as they often do, as if I was a soft-headed old geezer, and went back to their packing. The next day, we took them to the airport, and watched through the security glass as they walked off towards their plane and, I was sure, their most assured doom.
At the end of their week, just before they left, I got a message on Facebook. The girls were sitting in a café when they were approached by a little boy from the street. He was trying to get them to buy him some food, and held out a menu, pointing out the things he wanted. They politely declined, and it was only after the little boy had left that my daughter realized that he’d only used the menu as cover to distract her attention from his other hand, which was busy stealing her iPhone off the table. There was nothing I could do except message my daughter back, telling her 1) I was so very sorry, and 2) I told you so! I wasn’t happy, but if I had to pick, I guessed a pickpocket was better than a Romeo in an Alfa Romeo.
But I did get out my phone and, as quickly as I could, sent a message to her stolen iPhone: “I don’t know who you are, but I do have a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you…”