What the respiratory therapist will neglect to mention about your little Cthulhu machine: Getting the mask to seal is not automatic. Or easy. Or sometimes even possible.
What the respiratory therapist will also neglect to mention: The straps of the mask have a tendency to self-adjust. This is not a hidden features. This is a STUNNINGLY POOR DESIGN CHOICE.
What you will learn the hard way: Even if you get the mask to seal initially, odds are still good you will wake up in the middle of the night to discover it has slipped. At which point, odds become almost catastrophically poor that you will be able to get it to reseal without coming all the way awake, and also thrashing about a good deal. Swapping one mask for another may actually help, but that's a delicate and complex operation which you cannot turn the light on for, because your poor spouse is trying to sleep. ALso, see above re: AWAKE.
What the respiratory therapist WILL tell you when you ask for help: A water-based lubricant makes it easier to achieve a seal.
What the respiratory therapist WON'T tell you: Water-based lubricant dries out after about two hours, and there you are back to square fucking one.
What the Internet will tell you: A + D Ointment is great for getting a mask to seal!
What the respiratory therapist will tell you when you ask: Yes, it is, but it also eats your mask. OIL-BASED, LOSER.
What the respiratory therapist will also tell you: You might as well give it a try. If it works, you can decide if you want to buy masks more often.
What you already know: Your insurance will only cover a new mask every six months. Because only slackers would need one more often.
What you will learn the hard way: A + D does indeed help with achieving a seal. However, IT dries out after about 4 hours, and after that it is just as useless as anything else. Also, it leaves you feeling kind of greasy.
What will make you mad enough to chew nails and spit bullets: Saying fuck it all and turning off the machine for the rest of the night is not the answer. It only results in feeling like death on fried styrofoam in the morning.
What will make you throw in the towel for the night : The realization that, instead of getting back to sleep, you're writing this blog post in your head.
So, a couple years back, I read Silvia Pettem's Someone's Daughter
, about an unidentified murder victim from 1954. As I was putting together my master list of book posts
, I came across that discussion and remembered that someone had mentioned that Jane Doe had been positively identified. So I did a quick Google search, and sure enough, the same year that Someone's Daughter
came out, with its theory that Jane Doe was a woman named Katharine Dyer, (a) Katharine Dyer was found living in Australia and (b) Jane Doe was identified, by DNA testing, as Dorothy Gay Howard
. (The article has some quotes from Pettem that will demonstrate why I disliked her when I was reading her book.) The theory that Harvey Glatman
was Jane Doe's murderer was apparently holding up, but, of course, it's a purely circumstantial case.
Given that I was just blogging about another unidentified victim
and existential despair, it seemed a propos
to remark that sometimes the Jane Does can
be identified 50 years later. In one way, that doesn't matter at all, of course. She's still dead and there's no one to bring to justice. If she was murdered by Glatman, he was executed in 1959. If she wasn't murdered by Glatman, there's no telling who her murderer was and what became of him or her. But on the other hand, and in service of that quixotic streak I was talking about, it does
matter. It matters enormously. Not to her, but to us. If the living don't remember the dead, who will?
Also, speaking of that question, If the living don't remember the dead, who will?
wrote a poem
Stout, David. The Boy in the Box: The Unsolved Case of America's Unknown Child
. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press-The Globe Pequot Press, 2008.
The Boy in the Box (later pretentiously renamed America's Unknown Child
) was a child, somewhere between four and six years old, found in a cardboard box in Philadelphia in February 1957. He had been beaten to death. Despite what seemed like any number of promising clues, including surgical scars, he has, to this day, not been positively identified, and at this point, every passing day makes it more likely that the person or persons who could have identified him are dead themselves.
(I have had this sentence running through my head for a couple days now: If the living don't remember the dead, who will?
It seems to be some sort of morbid koan, since it is the most utterly rhetorical of rhetorical questions and yet won't leave me alone.)
This is the book Somebody's Daughter
wanted to be. Stout is telling the story of the Boy in the Box and of the investigators who kept searching for answers for fifty years, and he's also
telling the story of how, over those same fifty years, cases like Bobby Greenlease
, Steven Damman
, Adam Walsh
, Mary Beth Tinning
, Stephen Van Der Sluys
, Waneta Hoyt
, Marie Noe
, Little Miss 1565
, Jerell Willis (the Boy in the Bag)
, Angelica Evergreen
, and Riley Ann Sawyers (Baby Grace)
, were changing societal awareness of the vulnerability of small children--particularly their vulnerability at the hands of their caregivers. And, of course, the terrible threnody of the children who are lost and never found, like Steven Damman, and the children who are found and never identified, like the Boy in the Box.
There is a vein of sentimentality in Stout, toward both the Boy in the Box and toward the investigators, and while it's understandable, I find it cloying and distracting. But, obviously, this is a fast and gripping read (I started it over dinner last night and finished it before I went to bed), and Stout does an excellent job of telling the story of an unsuccessful investigation and all the competing narratives it spawns.
This is a sad book in many ways--none of these children can be saved, and the investigators' persistence (and sometimes obsession) is not rewarded. But it is also a hopeful book, because for every Mary Beth Tinning and Stephen Van Der Sluys, there is someone who is trying to make things better, to find answers, to bring Waneta Hoyt and Marie Noe to justice. And ultimately, this is the story of people (including Stout himself) who are insisting on REMEMBERING the Boy in the Box, who care even though they have no reason to. It's this quixotic streak that balances the terrible savagery in human nature, and Stout does a remarkably good job of encompassing both.
Cowan, David, and John Kuenster. To Sleep with the Angels: The Story of a Fire
. Chicago: Elephant Paperbacks-Ivan R. Dee, 1996.
The fire at Our Lady of Angels School on December 1, 1958, killed 92 children and 3 nuns, caused radical changes in the fire codes for schools, and remains unsolved. Cowan & Kuenster describe the course of the disaster, the horrible aftermath, and the efforts of the investigators (sometimes against pushback from the Catholic Church) to find the person responsible. There have been two confessions, both later recanted, and no way now, in all likelihood, that the mystery will ever be definitively solved.
There are any number of horrible things about this fire, beyond the fact that it happened at all: the fact that many of the victims probably died because, even though they were aware the school was on fire, school policy was that they could not leave their classrooms unless the fire alarm rang
and the fire alarm (which had to be manually triggered) failed to ring until it was too late; the fact that the only fire escape was LOCKED
(and even when it was unlocked, it was in the back of the smallest of the classrooms and thus in practice only available to the children in that room); the fact that after the fire, the surviving children were told that the ones who died were the good ones, and that's why God took them; the inevitable way in which the legacy of stricter, safer fire codes was undercut and subverted by human greed and laziness. But the thing that terrified me the most was how fast
it happened. (Not that this is surprising--it's no secret that fire moves fast--but this book, like Young Men and Fire
, lays out that speed so that you can look at it and understand what it means.) It's not entirely clear when the fire started, or when it was first noticed, but the first call to the Fire Department was received at 2:42, the first fire trucks arrived at 2:44, and although Cowan and Kuenster's timeline is not precise, my guess is that by 2:50, seven minutes before it was declared a five-alarm fire, it was already too late. Everyone who was going to make it out of the school already had, and everyone who hadn't was already dead (and some of those who made it out were dying--the last death from the fire was in August 1959).
This is, in fact, a very good book. Cowan & Kuenster tell the story clearly and with sympathy for both victims and survivors. They fall back on clichés occasionally, but their subject is one that pushes constantly toward the boundaries of the literally undescribable, and I commend them for writing about it as well as they do.
There is a website devoted to the fire
, if you're looking for more information.
Collins, Paul. The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked The Tabloid Wars
. New York: Crown Publishers, 2011.
Merritt, Greg. Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal that Changed Hollywood
. Chicago: A Cappella-Chicago Review Press, 2013.
O'Brien, Geoffrey. The Fall of the House of Walworth: A Tale of Madness and Murder in Gilded Age America
. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2010.
These three books are about cause célèbre
murders, each about twenty years apart: 1873, 1897, 1921. And one of the interesting things about them is that, of the three, the only one anyone now has even heard of is the one that wasn't a murder at all: the death of Virginia Rappe--and most of what we vaguely "know" about her death is wrong. About the other two, the murder of Mansfield Tracy Walworth by his son Frank and the murder of William Guldensuppe by Augusta Nack and Martin Thorn, I feel fairly safe in saying that, unless you've read O'Brien or Collins, you've never heard a thing. And yet these were HOWLED about by the newspapers in 1873 and 1897 and both have a certain amount of historical importance, the Walworth murder for being the first second-degree murder trial in New York, the Guldensuppe murder for the comet-like rise of the repellent William Randolph Hearst and his Journal
. So one of the things I learned from all three books is how quickly a cause célèbre
evaporates from human memory.
All three of these books are excellent, although each is very different from the other two. The O'Brien is intensely Gothic Victorian, as are the lives of its subjects. (I was half persuaded, all the way through, that I was being gaslighted and The Fall of the House of Walworth
was actually a novel. But the central person of the book, Ellen Hardin Walworth
, was one of the founders of the DAR
, so if it's a scam, the Daughters of the American Revolution are in on it.) It is in some ways the most frustrating of the three, not because of anything O'Brien is doing wrong, but because, first of all, the people are frustrating for their failures and their blindnesses (as real people are wont to be), especially Ellen Hardin Walworth herself, who, for all the time she spent in introspection, never seems to have seen herself clearly at all. (Mansfield is not frustrating. Mansfield is HORRIFYING, and I admit I ended up reading those parts of the book in breathless curiosity about what awful thing Mansfield would do next.)
The other reason for frustration is that the central ACT of the book, the murder of Mansfield Walworth, remains inaccessible. It is not a mystery--there was never any doubt, first to last, that Frank Walworth murdered his father--but it simply cannot be seen. One of the other
things these three books have shown me with bitter clarity is that murder trials are not about finding the truth. They are about the competition of narratives, and both prosecution and defense will shape their narrative to defeat the competition, not to try to reveal the truth about anything. And all we know about the murder of Mansfield Walworth comes from Frank's trial. Was it premeditated, as the prosecution argued? Was Frank epileptic, as the defense argued, and ought he to be found therefore not guilty by reason of insanity? (Victorian doctors considered epilepsy a form of insanity.) The evidence is both scant and contradictory, and we are left simply not knowing
. O'Brien is far more a biographer than a criminologist; he doesn't assess
the evidence for or against, makes no effort at a meta-narrative. I find that frustrating, but I also recognize that that's because I come to these things as a mystery reader first and a historian (insofar as I can make any claim to that title) second. His failure to do what I want is not a flaw. And what he is
doing, he does brilliantly.
Collins, on the other hand, is
writing for mystery readers as well as for historians, and his book does explicitly what I often wish true crime books would do. He follows the course of the discovery of Guldensuppe's dismembered body, the course of the investigation, the trial, the execution of Martin Thorn and what can be determined about the later life of Augusta Nack, and then he steps back and points out that the evidence tells a story that never came out in the trial, because, after Nack turned state's evidence, she and Thorn were both committed to insisting on the complete innocence of themselves and the complete guilt of the other party. Nack's narrative won, and the truth--that the wounds on Guldensuppe's body indicate that Nack and Thorn must
have been working together--was at that point simply not important enough to anyone to be bothered with.
(Apparently, I am an idealist. It offends me that there is no space in our legal system for anyone to say, "Both prosecution and defense are bypassing the truth.")
Collins' book is the most straightforward of the three, the most clearly a "true crime" book. He tells a complicated story consisely and elegantly and has done all kinds of research. But the book does not have either the baroque form-mirroring-content style of O'Brien's or the argumentative thesis of Merritt's.
Merritt's book is a biography of Roscoe Arbuckle (he put up with the nickname "Fatty" for his career, but no one who knew him called him that), and of Virginia Rappe (pronounced "rappay"), insofar as Merritt was able to unearth information about her; it is also, therefore, an excellent book about silent movies and the beginnings of Hollywood. But mostly it is the terrible story of the point where Arbuckle and Rappe's lives intersected and the consequences thereof. Merritt is passionately interested in finding the truth, about Rappe as much about Arbuckle, and dispelling the myths: he raped her with a bottle; she "had it coming" because she was a slut. I don't entirely know if I agree with his conclusions, but I appreciate the care with which he lays out the shreds and shards of evidence we have around the missing central act of what happened in Room 1219.
The terrible thing about Roscoe Arbuckle is that he is a sort of Schrodinger's cat of justice. If he did attempt to rape Virginia Rappe and thus caused her death, he got away with it. Tried three times and acquitted of manslaughter. But if he didn't
attempt to rape her, if her death was truly the ghastly accident Merritt thinks it was, then his fate, the destruction of his career, was unjustifiably cruel. In neither case can one feel that justice was served.