09/24/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Back to School Stealing

In elementary school, on the first day of every school year, my class was shown a video about being a "latchkey kid." Little Billy or Tony -- or whatever his name was -- would have his house key on a string around his neck. The movie documented the latchkey boy's epic and treacherous walk home from school and the subsequent hazards of being home alone. The climax involved a burglar trying to break into the kid's house and his parents coming home in just the nick of time (because everyone knows larcenists are terrified of adults).

Far from instilling fear, as it was meant to, the movie made the word "latchkey" synonymous with danger and excitement and made me intensely jealous of anyone who was one. I was so enthralled with the idea that I found an old key, tied it to my neck with a piece of yarn and spent hours pretending to come home from school to an empty house and hiding from the imaginary ruffians trying to steal my TV.

I bring this up because, among the children in the neighborhood where I now live, the term "latchkey" is about as pansy as it gets. My former sensitive child self would likely have gotten her yarn necklace wearing ass kicked faster then you can say, "School House Rocks." Apparently children in my neighborhood have a something much more exciting to occupy their minds than I did at their age. The term for it this is "armed robbery." Yes, ladies and gentlemen, thanks to it being back to school shopping time, the kids are out in full force mugging visitors to the neighborhood.

A couple of nights ago, it was a Brazilian couple (who should, in all honesty, be used to this sort of thing) that stumbled into the local bar in a wide-eyed terror. Apparently some teenagers had surrounded them with guns and demanded all of their money, which they eagerly supplied.

Now on my way home at night I have my keys out, ready to flee, or fight if I have to. Just like a real latchkey kid.