Steve Allen, the famous comic, grew up in a rough neighbourhood. He says, “Being funny was sometimes necessary for survival. Making the bullies on the corner laugh was the best way to avoid being beaten up.”

My husband Bill found that to be true early in our married life. We were living on the south side of Chicago while Bill was finishing graduate school. One night while I was baking, I used the last of the milk in the refrigerator. Bill quickly volunteered to run out to get some on nearby Halsted Street. It was after 10 o’clock in the evening when Bill left the house. He drove the five blocks to get the milk, but when he returned to the deserted street, he found a dozen tough-looking kids standing in a circle around the car. This looks like trouble, Bill thought. Quickly he considered his options. None of them looked good. Silently he prayed for protection and wisdom. Don’t panic, an inner voice seemed to say. Talk to them.

“Hello,” Bill said, trying to sound as unconcerned as possible as he walked toward the door on the driver’s side of the car, but the gang stood shoulder to shoulder, denying him access. “Hello yourself,” a muscular young man in black leather sneered back. The dozen street kids did not move. Bill was now standing face-to-face with their leader. “How’s Tom?” the leader asked. Bill didn’t know anyone these kids knew. But the question called for a response. “I haven’t seen Tom for days,” he replied. —