On April 27th, Yvette Vickers, an 82-year-old former Playboy playmate and star of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, was found dead in her Los Angeles home. Her remains were mummified and she’d been deceased for several months. Her fame and beauty were long gone and she passed away in solitary anonymity.
On February 18th, a 51-year-old L.A. County auditor named Rebecca Wells died in a cubicle at the California Department of Internal Services. Her demise wasn’t discovered until the following afternoon. No one approached her upright corpse until a relative called to report her missing.
In January 2009, Nebraska resident Mary Sue Merchant neglected to pay $234 in property taxes. The county she lived in sent a delinquency letter to her P.O. Box, but it was returned because she never responded. On December 1, 2010, the county sold her $160,000 home (complete with a recent model 4-door Chevy out front) for $20,000. When someone finally examined the property, they discovered Merchant’s dead body in the house with her dead dog nearby. Merchant had died of natural causes almost two years prior. Her dog had died of thirst shortly thereafter.
In early 2006, Long Island resident Vicenzo Ricardo sat down on his couch and turned on his television. Unlike his 200 million fellow American TV consumers however, Ricardo didn’t turn the TV off that evening or the next evening or the evening after that. Ricardo sat on his couch in front of the television for a year straight. His TV didn’t get turned off until mid-February of 2007, when a group of workers were dispatched to his address because freezing weather had caused his water pipes to burst.
Inside the workers found his well-preserved, mummified remains still propped up in TV viewing repose. His power had never been cut off.
For the first half of the 20th century, your average American knew their butcher, milkman, grocer, paper boy, banker, neighbors, etc. Their relationships weren’t virtual and their conversations weren’t electronic. They didn’t have each other at the push of a button that could just as easily have raised someone else at a different push of a button. They knew each other; they depended on each other. They were connected.
We’re simply linked.
And because of our lack of real human connections and dwindling, practical, face-to-face interpersonal relationships, too many of us live and die in unacknowledged isolation.
Metaphysically speaking, an unobserved event—like the deaths of Vickers, Wells, Merchant and Ricardo—has no perceivable effect, so an unobserved incident is identical to a non-event. If Vickers’ neighbor hadn’t decided to check on her, she’d still be mummifying. If Merchant’s house hadn’t have been sold out from underneath her, her and dog would still be lying in the dark. If Ricardo’s water pipes hadn’t burst, his TV might still be on as if he was still alive and soaking up the deceitful selling points and clever ad copy that shape the glittering unreality that thrives due to our disconnectedness.
Sometimes people just fall through the cracks. Sometimes it’s isolated individuals; sometimes it’s whole social and economic classes. The wealthy elites who run our country obviously don’t hear us falling. They’re so insulated from our struggles that our collapse has mostly been a non-event.
I fear in the end the stories of Vickers, Wells, Merchant and Ricardo will be our stories and humanity’s story. Eventually, there will be a virus or super-bacteria or bomb or cataclysmic cosmic or climate event. We’ll die in front of our TVs or in cubicles or in traffic and no one will notice.
The machines that we’ve left on will eventually shut off. The mythologies we fought over will become little more than oily films on the surface of the ocean.
Nature’s observance of our passing will only be acknowledged in its sudden thrivings, its new abundances and the re-enfranchisement of its law-abiding citizens.
Yvette Vickers, Rebecca Wells, Mary Sue Merchant, and Vincenzo Ricardo are forebodings of what we as a culture and a species are dithering towards.