EXCUSE ME FOR ASKING, but where's Jimmy? Jimmy? You remember Jimmy, He's the 8-year-old kid whose mother's live-in lover shoots him up daily with heroin. He's the kid half the city was looking for, the one that the police just had to find, the one who almost caused a subpoena to be served on the reporter who first wrote the story, the one who has social workers scouring the neighborhoods and teachers on the lookout -- that Jimmy. Where is he?
Forgotten, that's where. The city says that the search continues. It says the cops have not closed the file and the welfare department is still on the case and, I'm sure, if I asked the schools I would get the same answer. But life goes on. People have been killed and other kids are missing and hydrants are broken and people have other things to do. Jimmy's case never gets closed. It just gets a special cover of dust. That's the way it goes.
I wish now Jimmy had never been found. I wish now there had never been a story about him. In some awful way he has become a floor, a record, a new definition of what is possible. Tell me now if you can get upset about a story of a 12-year-old heroin addict? How about 13 or 10 or 9 or any age over 8? No. It has to be less than 8. That's the way we are. We need what television calls "new records." Maybe there's a 7-year-old junkie out there.
I have the same feeling about the Holocaust. I think it's awful because it happened, but in some way it's made worse because it is now the outer limit of what is permissible. After 6 million are killed, can 3 million catch your attention? How do you get worked up over Pol Pot and Cambodia after Adolf Hitler and Germany? After the Holocaust, the Gulag seems a mere nothing. Nothing compares. That's one trouble with capital punishment itself. Compared with it, all other kinds of punishments seem humane.
It's the same with poverty or slums. Once you assimilate the facts, the information, you can live with it all. It means nothing after a while. You can drive through the slums and not even see them. You see them only once -- the first time. After that, you shut them out.Americans are not alone in this. In the Third World, the rich can hardly see the poor. They have been trained not to. Life would be unbearable otherwise.
I wonder about Jimmy -- how he is, who he is. I wonder what I should be doing. I wonder what anyone should be doing and I wonder if he is any different than the hollow-eyed kids who stare up at me from CARE posters or one of those wrenching documentaries on famine in Africa. Sometimes I write a check. Sometimes I turn off the tube. Somehow, though, I can't turn off Jimmy.
Maybe Jimmy is more than just a kid. Maybe he's something like a mirror. Hold him up and see what you get back. He tells you something about yourself, something about how much you care, really care -- care enough, say, to do something. Go out of your way. Do something about the conditions that produced him.
Clearly, Jimmy could not exist if people cared. Clearly, he could not be an 8-year-old addict if the cops cared or the school really cared or the welfare people really cared. I can fault them for this, but I know, too, that if it were me -- if I were a cop or teacher or welfare worker -- I would be no different. There comes a time to go home, a time to have dinner. There is only so much a person can do.
Something more. You tend to do what you are paid to do. You teach or you police or if you are a newspaper writer, you write and if your write about Jimmy you do it not because you really care about little boys (although you might) or because your job is to save little boys, but because it is a good story. I think cops make arrests for the same reason -- not because crime is wrong, but because their job is to arrest criminals. This doesn't make cops or reporters bad people, but it doesn't make them saints, either.
The reporter who wrote about Jimmy promised anonymity. She went back once to look for him, but before she wrote the story she said she would reveal nothing to cause the arrest of the people involved. And after the story was in the paper, we -- this newspaper and reporters in general -- made a big deal about how we protect our sources, about how we have no choice but to keep our mouths shut.
I believe that. But I believe, too, that it was this compartmentalization of obligations that allowed Jimmy to go undetected for so long. It's like saying "it's not my department." In the case of Jimmy, it was not the reporter's department to worry about anything more than the story. And it was not this newspaper's obligation to worry about anything more than the next story -- our reputation for protecting our sources.
But with a kid it gets awkward. It's tough to yell bloody murder about the First Amendment when a kid's involved. It's tough to say that you value the First Amendment or the reputation of the newspaper more than the life of a kid -- the quality of his life or his actual life. You might have noticed there have been no more stories about Jimmy and without the stories there will be little done about him. He has become an embarrassment -- to us, to the police, to the welfare department, to the schools. Everyone would probably prefer to forget about him. Sorry, Jimmy.