Number 11 Is Missing
by Barbara Quint
I was a quiet, well-behaved, even decorous child and,
sad to say, this pitiable condition persisted even
into adolescence. But one magic day, one unforgettable,
glowing epiphany of a day, I fell into bad company
— thank heaven! — and played hooky. It
was so long ago that I’m sure the statute of
limitations has elapsed. For some still incomprehensible
reason, my two companions and I decided to enjoy the
thrills of truancy at a world-renowned local landmark:
Forest Lawn Mortuary in Glendale, Calif. (“Why
there?” you ask. Why indeed! Perhaps we thought
we could avoid pursuit there.) Actually, Forest Lawn,
when you have the leisure — and the good health
— to tour it, offers a panoply of monuments and
mazes and semi-artistic displays, a veritable Disneyland
of the Dead.
In any case, in the course of our perambulations,
we three juvenile delinquents ended up in “The
Court of Freedom,” designed to appeal to those
who prefer patriotism to religion or art as a theme
for their final resting place. The monuments in this
section of the cemetery include a giant mosaic reproduction
of the famous painting, “The Signing of the Declaration
of Independence.” In front of the mosaic is a
small stand with a stone plaque providing an outline
sketch of the painting with numbers inserted in the
outlined figures for each of the Signers and a corresponding
list of the names and colonies/states each Signer represented.
(If you don’t believe me, just go to http://www.forestlawn.com/visitors_guide/
Well, we three wild and crazy truants went through
that list, Signer by Signer, at least twice and — you
guessed it— Number
11 was missing. Where his head and shoulders
should have appeared, there was just a mosaic portrait
of a blank wall. (It’s been 4 decades or more
since I’ve been to Forest Lawn, but I have a
vague recollection that Number 11 might have come from
From that time forward, whenever members of our mini-gang
would meet in our high school corridors or call each
other on the phone or transmit a covert note, our secret
code had the initiator of the contact murmur in low
and furtive tones, “Number 11,” to which
the other would reply in equally covert fashion (unless
giggling broke out), “Is Missing.” The
day before we graduated high school, we returned to
Forest Lawn (don’t worry, this trip was legal).
We found the administrative offices, asked to speak
to someone in charge, and reported Number 11’s
omission. Somehow, this act felt like a rite of passage.
After all, as high school graduates, we had joined
the adult world and become responsible for its errors
and omissions. Somehow, though, I never felt that the
bemused official with whom we spoke had an equivalent
sense of his adult obligations. Suffice it to say that
I still seriously doubt that our departure was followed
by his ordering a tall ladder and a bucket of Venetian
glass tiles for a little night work.
So what does all this have to do with the interests
and insights of Searcher magazine readers? Hang
in there! It’s coming. Recently I opened my e-mail
in box and saw a name I hadn’t seen or heard
in decades (alright 4!) and next to it, on the message
title line, the words “Number 11 is missing.” Out
of the mists of time, through the wonders of online,
the companion of my youth had found me after all these
years. She wasn’t sure it was me, but gave the
name of our high school and repeated the code words.
When I called her and our conversation dropped to something
below the rate of rapid-fire automatic weapons, I asked
her how she had found me. Somehow, it was no surprise
when the answer was Google. Not that she had been looking
for me, but in scanning Google News, she noticed a
NewsBreak of interest and, when she read my name, figured
she’d take a chance.
Ain’t online grand?! Every time I hear someone
slam computers or the Internet as cold or impersonal
or isolating or even dehumanizing, I rise to battle.
E-mail alone invalidates that argument. Through all
the spam and the phishing and the needless repetitions,
e-mail connects people to people wonderfully. It’s
no substitute for personal encounters, but then personal
encounters are no substitute for e-mail. How many times
have you chosen e-mail deliberately for the way it
can connect you with someone that a phone call or a
lunch meeting could not? How many people do you now
feel you know whom you may have never seen (except
possibly in digital graphics), but have communicated
with through listservs or forums or chat rooms? And
often you may know more about the thoughts and principles
and attitudes toward life of these digital friends
than you do with people you meet regularly.
The other day a colleague and I had a small phone
spat, the sort of thing that could have rankled and
taken a couple of weeks to heal. But within the hour
I had gotten an e-mail message that apologized and
explained how a bad mood had turned into a bad Monday.
A call conveying that kind of apology would have been
hard to do. Mutual resentments and hypersensitive temperaments
would have made reconciliation difficult if conducted “live,” but
an e-mail gives the sender a chance to compose their
thoughts and the recipient a chance to ponder, remember
their own shortcomings, and wait a while before wording
These days the humanity of online has become almost
commercialized in social networking systems and services
designed to bring people together, to find and share
expertise, to build collaborative networks that may
include people who have never met. But then it’s
hard to say that people who have come together via
computer have “never met.” Even adding
the words “in person” seems inaccurate.
What is a person? Aren’t an individual’s
thoughts and interests and words as real as the sight
of their face or the touch of their hand? If Shakespeare
were alive today, I wonder if he would agree, citing
his own words, “Let me not to the marriage of
true minds admit impediments”?
Then again, he’d probably e-mail it.
To be absolutely fair, sometimes one has to worry
whether the digital world may get a touch too touchy-feely.
An article by Timothy McNulty in the Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette described a potential new service
“roadcasting.” You’re driving down
the freeway — OK, you’re stalled in traffic — and
you notice someone in the other car tapping their fingers
to a tune. Wonder what they’re listening to?
Start up your Roadcaster and, if the guy in the other
car has one, you could tune into the playlists on their
digital music player through wireless technology in
the car. Sounds kind of pushy, doesn’t it? On
the other hand, it only works if people agree to post
their playlists, something users already do by the
hundreds of thousands.
Generosity, making new friends, reaching out to strangers,
making a better world ... online at work.
Barbara Quint's e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.