I felt guilty about leaving Meyer alone for so long. …I always feel guilty when I keep Meyer waiting. And there is never any need for it. He never paces up and down, checking the time. He has those places to go, inside his head. He looks as if he was sitting and dozing, fingers laced across his middle. Actually he has walked back into his head, where there are libraries, concert halls, work rooms, experimental laboratories, game rooms. He can listen to a fine string quartet, solve chess problems, write an essay on Chilean inflation under Allende, or compose haiku. He had a fine time back in there. if you could put his head in a jar of nutrient and keep him alive forever, he would wear forever that gentle, contented little smile.
— John D. MacDonald, “The Scarlet Ruse”
I don’t want to keep returning to Wednesday, but given that current events are so vexing of late, indulge me a little. Every so often I think about the problem of alone-ness (as opposed to loneliness). I can’t tell you how many people I knew who married the wrong person, too young, because they were afraid to be alone. The idea of coming home to an empty house, of eating a meal at a table for one, of seeing a movie alone — these things terrify many people. And that’s only the company problem. What do you do with yourself when it’s just you? Being able to amuse oneself for a period of time, without television or hand-held video games, is a talent, as MacDonald’s Meyer demonstrates.
I had a lot of time to think about this during my jury service, although I guess I sorta cheated — I brought a book. But it was interesting to look up, between chapters, and check out the faces. Some were reading, a few were socializing, a few more were doing what looked like paperwork. One woman brought provisions for a whole day, carried in a transparent tote — two bottles of water, three or four snacks, a book, a Sudoku collection and a knitting project. Others had the thousand-yard stare that could mean deep thought or a meditative state just this side of sleep.
But a few were plainly suffering. Their hands twitched, their feet shuffled, they walked back and forth between the bathroom and their seat, they stood up and stretched their legs. They were the precise opposite of contentment. I wanted to tell them: Take a lesson from Meyer. Go listen to a string quartet.
So. In precisely seven minutes I have to wash my face and head out the door for a little meeting. In lieu of the usual thousand-word blather, check out Jim at Sweet Juniper, one of the best journalists in Detroit, who finally found the place where he parts company with the Urban Explorer’s Code, i.e., take nothing but pictures. People who don’t live in Detroit can scarcely imagine the conditions around here, how many buildings have simply been abandoned. That so many are public schools only makes it worse:
After my first visit to the shattered middle school, I am haunted by what I found in one office: hundreds of file folders containing student psychological examinations complete with social security numbers, addresses, and parent information. I sat and thumbed through them. Many contained detailed histories of physical and sexual abuse, stories of home lives so horrifying I still can’t get them out of my head: sibling rape, torture, neglect that defies belief. The detailed reports explained emotional impairments, learning disabilities. There was another box full of IEPs. The dates revealed that many of these students are still in the school system somewhere. I found several of their faces in the 2007 yearbook.
I spend the next few months trying to track down someone who cares. I send e-mails to the school’s former principal, offering to go back and collect these records for her or destroy them. She never responds. I call my mom, a retired special education teacher and erstwhile administrator to determine the extent of malfeasance. Then I call the school district’s legal department and leave voice mails warning them of the liability of this gross violation of student privacy. I never receive a response. I track down the school psychologist to some address in Troy. Nothing. It turns out a daily newspaper reported abandoned records like these within many of the 33 schools closed in 2007 and the district did nothing. No one is responsible. Someone else was supposed to destroy them. The company that had been paid to secure the school never did its job.
So I did it. I went back in to destroy them so they would no longer be just sitting there on the floor for anyone to find.
And that’s only three paragraphs. Go read it all. I’m off, for the day and the weekend. You all have a good one.