Thursday, December 06, 2007


He lived in no place, which is exactly midway between here and there.

Believe me, I've been to San Francisco and Seattle and Frankfurt and Tokyo. Those are places. Omaha is no place.

Born in an unremarkable time, bearing no distinguishing characteristics, and having no attributes worth noting, he lived a short, bleak life among the televisions, public institutions, retail outlets and fast-food joints, and what pass for families in the place that is no place, in a time frozen at the precise wrong moment.

Weak-eyed, long-haired, immature, with no particular academic inclinations and no identifiable ambitions or desires or passions, he became a high school dropout at 17.

Kicked out of the parental hut for his multiplicity of failures, then taken in by a sympathetic household, his life seemed a short while marginally tolerable, though it would never qualify as pleasant by any standard.

But then came the inevitable breakdowns -- loss of the job at McDonald's; the optional girlfriend bails out of this nowhere scene.

It's hard to imagine a life of such stark, brutal, and unremitting spiritual poverty. I'm surprised more such lives don't end in blood and mayhem, but mostly they don't. The majority of them, lives of "quiet desperation" (as Thoreau said) simply peter out the usual way.

This one, however, exploded under pressure. After leaving a note in his adoptive home explaining, "I'm a piece of shit and now I'm going to be famous," Robert Hawkins, 19, of Omaha, Nebraska, went to a local shopping mall where he shot and killed eight people he didn't know, then himself.

Years ago, during the sixties, I met a 15-year-old runaway girl who was beginning to get a handle on life after a rough transition brought on by her leaving home at 14. "Living this way," she said to me, "in this place, it's like somebody putting you on a piece of steel, then saying to you, 'OK, live.'"

Isn't it wonderful? We're living do-it-yourself lives in a do-it-yourself world.

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