The Need to Chronicle

The cover story in this week’s edition of The Other Paper is called “Busted!”, and it describes how Facebook is a valuable (invaluable?) tool for tracking down adulterous spouses, fugitives, errant kids, and deceitful employees.  “I love Facebook!” crows a divorce attorney very early in the story.

The late Robert Lowry, the Cincinnati novelist I befriended the last few years of his life, told me his mother’s reaction to his novel The Big Cage.  It’s an autobiographical novel about growing up on Cincinnati’s East End (although he calls it Turkey Bottoms), and Lowry’s hero, Richard Black, details his early literary, employment, educational, and sexual experiences quite thoroughly.

“You had to write it all down, didn’t you?” she said, dismayed.

The same accusation has been leveled at me.  How many times have I been cautioned, “Don’t write this in your diary!” in my lifetime?  (I was honored that my peers–especially the male ones–wouldn’t ridicule the fact that a guy was keeping a diary that I would give them my solemn word, and then go home and write about whatever they had told me or whatever we did.  Like the late Hunter S. Thompson, “off the record” does not exist.)

I question the sanity of some self-chroniclers as computers hunker in every corner of our houses, workplaces, and gathering places.  Facebook is everywhere, people Twitter everywhere–when they’re sitting across the table from you in the restaurant, when they dash off to a restroom stall, when they’re riding the bus.  Socrates said that the unexamined life was not worth living.  Maybe it’s not too far a stretch to say that the unchronicled life did not take place.  (I remember seeing a 1965 movie on Nite Owl Theater when I was about 13 called Bunny Lake is Missing, where a toddler disappears from daycare and her mother spends most of the movie trying to prove to all the other characters that the child actually exists.  That isn’t even a believable plot line today.)

The Other Paper story cites people who claim to have broken it off totally with former boy- and girlfriends, and then they’re featured alongside (or literally entangled with) the ex in quite recent photos.

The phrase You just don’t get it, do you? has been done to death, by Oprah, Dr. Phil, and other daytime luminaries.  I can’t get that out of my mind when I read about juveniles getting locked up for their various crimes–not all of them the usual status offenses which I piled up like baseball cards when I was a teen–mainly because the teens would record themselves doing it and then post it on MySpace or YouTube!  Then they wonder how they got caught.  The thesis of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Purloined Letter” is that the best hiding place in the world is right out in plain sight (an idea covered quite well in a first-season Mission: Impossible episode, “A Spool There Was”), but this goes beyond that.  As recently as earlier this month, I saw this gem while I was looking at the Website of a Huntington, W.Va. TV station, WOWK-TV.  The worst thing is watching a video like that, being powerless to help.  Every time I watch the Zapruder film, I silently urge the Secret Service agent driving the car, “Accelerate, goddamn it!  Now!” as soon as it’s obvious Kennedy has been wounded.

I’ve chronicled some of my errant behavior in the past.  When I was 12, long before caller ID existed, my friends and I delighted in prank phone calling.  (Part of it was loneliness on my part–connecting with another person over the phone, even to prank them, was better than nothing.)  None of the calls were threatening, mostly along the lines of “Hello, do you have Sir Walter Raleigh in a can?” or “Hello, is John there?”  “Wrong number.  There’s no John here.”  “What do you use then, a bucket?”  I bought a small suction-cup recorder that fit on the back of the phone and meticulously saved cassettes of these calls, conscientiously dated.  The neighbor kid behind me always said, “One day I’m going to break into your house and find that tape.  Then I’m going to play it for the police!”

He’s spent more juvenile and adult hours locked up than I have, as it turned out.

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