Feral boys, James Franco and mistaken identity: how the system is failing us

augieblackandwhite3I read an article about a feral boy who had been living for some time in the air ducts of a Virginia prep school. Two pupils had been sneaking him sushi, mineral water and other provisions. This went on for months until one pupil’s father demanded to know why his store of single malt Scotch had been emptied. His son admitted he’d been giving the whisky to the feral boy, who had become increasingly dependent on alcohol to get him through his long, dull days eavesdropping on history and geometry lessons. The police were called, and as it turned out, the boy was from from a neighboring town and had such a proclivity to run away that his parents hadn’t even reported him missing.

This story leaves many questions unanswered. If the boy was inclined to run away from home, why had he not been fitted with a tracking device? Why didn’t the school employ someone to check the airs ducts for feral boys? Why had the two pupils not been taught that raw fish can go bad very quickly, especially in a warm air duct filled with all manner of bacteria and mold spores? Finally, why don’t we, as a society, have a Feral Boy Awareness Day?

Reflecting on the article, I was reminded of something unfortunate that happened to me last year in London. I had flown there to meet with The League Against Hedgehog Batting, an animal rights group that had contacted me via Facebook to solicit a donation. Since I’m the last person who wants poor hedgehogs to get batted around like cricket balls, I agreed to a meeting.

When my flight from Paris arrived at London City Airport, I was warmly greeted by a smartly dressed fellow with a sign that read “Mr. Franco.” How very nice of the league to arrange for transportation, I thought, even if they did misspell my name.

The driver took my suitcase and led me to a black Audi A8 — very classy, I thought, for an animal rights organization that claims to operate on a shoestring budget. Once comfy in the back of the car, I pulled out my iPhone and retreated into a game of “Flappy Bird” (RIP, by the way), adrift in a sea of the hypnotic flapping of the bird’s sad little appendages.

After an hour, I was alerted to the fact we were no longer in London, or any city for that matter. We were speeding through the countryside, green fields as far as the eye could see. The League Against Hedgehog Batting was located near Regent’s Park, in the middle of the city, and I had flown into London City Airport, so something was amiss. So struck I was by the uncanniness of my situation, I could barely muster a word. After an eternity,  I managed to peep, “Where are you taking me?”

“Why, to Toddington Manor, sir,” was the response. When he noticed my confusion, he added, “In Gloucester.”

I mulled over this information for some time. Gloucester, in the west of England, was most certainly not where the office of The League Against Hedgehog Batting was supposed to be. Was I being taken to another, more private place for VIP donors? Or was I being kidnapped?

“Who asked you to take me to to Gloucester,” I inquired several minutes later.

“Why, Mr. Hirst did, sir,” the driver said.

I pondered this name. It sounded very familiar, but also frightening. I became so nervous that I returned to playing “Flappy Bird” in order to calm my mind.

“Mr. Hirst?” I said after several more rounds of flapping through a gauntlet of green pipes.

“That’s right, sir,” the driver said. “Mr. Damien Hirst. We will be arriving shortly.”

Indeed, Damien Hirst, the famed artist and preserver of animals. I understood. He was probably on the league’s board of directors, and was lending his hospitality to me and other generous donors. What a nice surprise, I thought.

We might have ended at Toddington Manor, and I might have met the famous artist, had the driver not received an angry phone call.

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