Ain’t Nobody Here
Some of you may know the 1946 hit song, based on the idea of a farmer who, thinking there may be a thief in the hen-house, goes out with his shotgun, and shouts, “Who’s there?” – only to receive this reply – presumably from the culprit:
“There ain’t nobody here but us chickens!”
Now that Dorothy is gone, and no more caregivers are coming to the house, that ditty (by Alex Kramer and Joan Whitney), has, in a way, become my theme song, because I have to keep reminding myself that “There ain’t nobody here but me.”
Back in the years before she got sick, Dorothy would frequently go away on trips – usually for just a few days, but sometimes for weeks at a time. She always wished I would go with her, and occasionally I did – but I could hardly keep up with her daunting travel schedule, so usually I stayed at home. But I wasn’t alone, because we always had one or more cats (at most, three) and although Dorothy generally cared for them herself, when she was away, they became my responsibility – and I certainly never felt that I was alone in the house.
(That job, which was mainly a matter of opening up cans of cat food, and serving each cat in its own dish, inspired one of my own most popular songs, in which I put appropriate cat-feeding words to Offenbach’s “Can-Can.”)
But our last beloved cat, Chummy, died some years ago, and I am now without wife, cats, or caregivers.
There was a best-selling book that was published in 1936 called Live Alone and Like It. But it was aimed at single women, not men. It was written by Marjorie Hillis, an editor at Vogue magazine, and came out when she was already 47 years old. However, by 1939, she had apparently stopped “liking it,” and finally got married, to a wealthy chain-store owner. But this was a lady who knew how to roll (or write) with the punches. Ten years later, when her husband died, she brought out another book called You Can Start All Over.
I have not seen that book, but, for me, at 84, the idea of “starting all over” somehow fails to be inspiring.
Of the many sad songs there are about solitude, one that haunts me now is “Me And My Shadow” [1927, Billy Rose and Dan Dreyer], with those particularly poignant lines:
“And when it’s twelve o’clock, We climb the stair,
We never knock, For nobody’s there.”
Admiral Richard Byrd wrote a book called Alone about five months he spent at an Antarctic meteorological station in 1934. But he was not completely alone, since he had radio contact with the base camp – which probably saved his life. Colleagues realized, from his transmissions, that something must be wrong (he was actually suffering carbon monoxide poisoning from a poorly ventilated stove) – and they managed to come and rescue him, just in time.
In 1950, David Reisman wrote a sociological study which I think is better remembered for its title than for any of its contents. It was called “The Lonely Crowd.” This idea may have inspired an epigram by yours truly, written many years later: “Word finally came that I’d been admitted to the Human Race – and suddenly, I felt very lonely.”
In that connection, however, it is hard today, and getting harder, to be completely cut off from your fellow humans, even if you want to be. Before long, no doubt (as has already been put in practice, for various reasons, with animals, both domestic and wild) we will all be “wearing” invisible devices, implanted at birth, which will render it impossible to be accidentally, or deliberately “lost.” I personally am in favor of such trends, despite the dangers many people see in them.
But all this technology still can’t alleviate the problem of existential loneliness. Why else would “solitary confinement” be considered such a harsh penalty? And why would the solitude of death (except to those who believe in heavenly reunions) be among its least attractive features? As Andrew Marvell wrote in a poem called “To His Coy Mistress”:
“The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.”
What it all comes down to is that there ain’t nobody here but us individuals. In recognition of which, let me offer you one final Brilliant Thought:
“The law against loneliness has been repealed –
but nobody wants to celebrate with me.”