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Do we have any say over what our kids learn? This past weekend, an incident in a Boston tram forced me to think about whether we need to pay more attention to the people that influence them.

On our way home from a nice dinner in Little Italy, my friends and I boarded a very crowded tram. As the tram emptied itself gradually, we found ourselves sitting across from a middle-aged man with two curly-haired children wearing jerseys. Neither of them could have been more than 10 years old. They could have easily passed for a typical family returning from a ballgame.

The younger child was sipping a super-size plastic cup of cola. The man turned to him and said, "John, I think you're the slowest person I've seen drinking coke." Something in the voice told me that this man wasn't the children's father. A certain distance and a certain mockery that indicated that he was probably their uncle or a close friend of their family at best. There was enough familiarity between the children and him, but there was no sign of a father figure there. This became more obvious as the conversation proceeded.

The three of them were sitting next to a pretty, twenty-something year old girl carrying a large purse. My first impression was that she was also part of the family as the man chatted with her and she responded courteously with an occasional giggle. About two or three stops later, she stood up to leave and he (let's call him Mr. X) remarked, "You better take care of that purse. It's really big and I'm from New York. New Yorkers steal." She smiled and stepped off the tram. Mr. X turned to John's brother (let's call him Sam) and said, "You know, I could have gotten her number if I wanted."

A couple of minutes later, a group of girls boarded the tram and began talking excitedly near the exit. Mr. X looked at them and whispered to Sam, "What do you think? Isn't she cute? You think I can get her number?" Sam laughed awkwardly in awe, not knowing how to respond to this man who seemed to hold the key to an experience beyond his understanding. I wondered what was going through Mr. X's head.

You have to realize that although this man was trying not to be overheard, he spoke certain phrases loud enough for some of us to hear. I stared off into the distance, but had my ear turned in their direction. Evesdropping yes, but in this case, I would rather be discourteous than play willful ignorance.

Mr. X then proceeded to shift his glance across each and every girl in the train with a running commentary to Sam. It seemed that Mr. X had made it his goal in life to get the phone number of every girl he came across. Sam, on the other hand, had no clue what Mr. X was talking about, but he knew this was something new. This was something foreign to his experiences in the school playground. So, as if it weren't enough to demonstrate by example, Mr. X asked Sam, "Hey, what happened to that girl in your class? I thought there was something there. Come on, you can't be shy about these things." Sam grinned and fidgeted around trying to figure out what to say.

Sam's awkwardness revealed itself to everyone sitting around Mr. X and the children. A lady that had taken the vacant seat next to Mr. X and been smiling when he teased Sam initially, grew a frown on her face as she realized that Mr. X was no longer just an over-friendly uncle. This was a man that was straddling that grey area between child abuser and man-child. A lonely middle-aged man taking out his sexual frustrations on a child entrusted to him. A man who would have seemed entirely ordinary talking to friends in his age group had he any, but was entirely corruptive in the vicinity of children. Physical abuser Mr. X was probably not, but abuser nevertheless.

As I pondered these things, I tried to get an identity, a name or an address, something actionable. So my heart skipped a beat as Mr. X pulled out his blackberry when we reached our step. But my excitement was short-lived as he dipped it back into his pocket.

Could Mr. X have been a professional? Very likely. And that’s when it struck me - how completely ordinary looking people belie sick minds. There is a very fine line between a child abuser and a man-child. It's a line that can be crossed easily. So, my two cents to parents everywhere: watch over your children, at least until they're old enough to understand the meaning of platonic relationships. Otherwise, they risk growing into sexually frustrated men like Mr. X.

Disclaimer: The names used in this article are fictional.


This was a thought provoking post.

And like you said, there is just a thin line so we got to be careful.

6:41 PM

thats sad..but surely true..i have heard of such maniacs in our country (and state) too. its just terrifying to think that a child's innocence is being punished and taken for a ride this way..terrible..

10:17 AM

Very true. We see it often, dont we?
Thoughtful post!

8:45 AM

Parents of today are in a unique situation. Their kids are surrounded by predators and need constant vigilance even from other family members. This fact is not being emphasised enough at least here in India. Children are the most vulnerable section of our society today as they make the adults of tomorrow and I have read somehwere that abused kids grow up to be abusers.
I feel really sad for the kids you have described here. They need to be removed from this man fast!!!

6:38 PM

Good post that one.. and as you said its a fine line between what is acceptable and what is not..

Loved the header pic of yours, may I dare ask was that a panoramic shot or just a wide angle one ?

3:08 AM

@alex & popabhi

can you imagine what happen covertly then? it's terrifying as u said

i wish i had some idea of who they were

it wasn't a wide angle shot, just one taken at high resolution and then cropped.

6:13 AM

This is COMPLETELY off topic, but I see where you got your template from. You commented on hackosphere about it.. and it's beautiful work. it's almost exactly what I'm trying to do with mine, but my coding days are sadly beyond me. Would you mind sharing your template XML code with me? I'll gladly give you credit for it and would of course change it so it doesn't look like yours. Great work with it.

10:11 PM

sheesh..that was a scary thought! and a sad one at the same time,wen we realise that at one time childhood was supposed to be the most uncomplicated phase of life.. :(

5:45 AM

wandered in here and enjoyed my stay. so shall be returning.

8:06 PM

the age of innocence keeps getting smaller.. and somehow its only us who are to blame, because it wasnt too long ago that kids didnt have to be under close scrutiny all the time...

10:08 PM

i hope you don't mind me linking to your blog from mine.

7:12 AM


Thanks for dropping by and linking my blog. Appreciate it!

true, we have no one to blame but ourselves. we seem too willing to let our children grow up so fast, when the fact is that they are not emotionally mature enough to handle many things we throw at them

9:58 AM

i don't see child abuse... this isn't as sad for the children as it is for that man.

p.s. it's the north end, not little italy

p.p.s. it's not the tram, it's the T

I know that I'm not perfect
And that I don't claim to be

So before you point your fingers
Be sure your hands are clean
-Bob Marley

12:59 PM


I disagree. This is abuse in a very veiled sense. If you're fine letting your own children hang out with men like Mr. X, I can't do anything about that because they aren't my children. But, that doesn't mean that I would empathize. Far from it, actually.

What's the significance of the Bob Marley quote in this context?

1:44 PM

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