formerly Grauman's -- Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, tourists compare their hand prints with those of Marilyn Monroe. The memories of her are strong, but the concrete is worn and fading.
A frail man, bent over a walker, inches down the boulevard, annoying Japanese tourists posing for pictures.
Dominick Trapani has been out of his apartment only twice in the past year. He suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and has artificial hips and knees. When he talks, he has to push a button on his neck because of a tracheotomy.
"Oh, son, I can tell you about loneliness," he says. "Can I buy you a cup of coffee?"
A wave of despair is silently crashing over America. Floodlights pierce the night, announcing yet another home video store. Supermarkets peddle single-serving foods and delivery services let you order your life to go -- and hold the interaction, please. The 900 numbers, which charge callers $25 to hear a soft voice, are proliferating, along with single parents, divorces, suicides, murders and drugs.
In the 1970s, the silent majority was conservative and hawkish. In the 1990s, the silent majority is lonely.
Americans talk openly about AIDS but not of loneliness. Doctors say loneliness brings on other diseases and can even be fatal. The Gallup Poll says loneliness affects more than a third of the population, and psychologists say that figure is rising. Census figures indicate that the number of Americans living alone has tripled since 1960.
But figures can be misleading. A person can be alone but not feel lonely or in a crowd and feel like the last person on Earth.
The experts on loneliness are not psychologists, census officials or poll analysts. They are people across America who are living with loneliness. From a crowded Hollywood coffee shop to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico, from a hobo in Little Rock, Ark., to a millionaire sailing off the coast of Maine, America is lonely. Listen to their voices.
"Loneliness. You simply endure it," Trapani says. "I often wish I had a friend I could open a bottle of wine with, drive along the coast."
Trapani grew up in an orphanage in Brooklyn, where other children made fun of him because he lisped. After he served in the Navy, his arthritis became serious enough that he had to spend six years in a veterans' hospital. "They wanted me to go to a nursing home," he says. "I was 46 years old. I was a prisoner. I thought about suicide. I was so lonely." He even gave up the woman he loved, saying he wanted her to have a better future.
"Hollywood is lonely. It's a bunch of crap; glitzy, shallow and stupid. Marilyn Monroe: Look what they did to her."
Monroe is entombed in a crypt in Westwood Memorial Park. Her tombstone is discolored from the lipstick kisses of her fans.
Nancy Fuchs waters the plants near her husband's grave. "Everybody is lonely," she says. "There's no communication. I don't believe in psychiatry. I believe in good friends. How can a psychiatrist take care of you when they listen to so many people and they have their own problems? I lost my husband, and I felt like even if I was sitting in the sunshine, everything was dark and gloomy. Marilyn was very lonely, I'm sure, with all those horrible superficial people around her."
She climbs into her Jaguar. "I hate to think people are around me because of money," she says.
On Rodeo Drive, a guard stands outside Van Cleef and Arpels. "These people are rich, but don't let them fool you," says Jim Ferguson, the guard. "They're lonely. You see a billionaire come in here with a 19-year-old on his arm. What do you think?"
Ferguson found loneliness while serving in Vietnam.
"Three years, six months, two weeks and one day," he says. "I lost my family because of that. She decided not to wait. Then to come home and be beat up and spit on and called 'baby killer,' now that sends an emptiness through your body."
What can I do
To get back to you.
I'm feeling desperate and lonely.
-- Bonnie Raitt
A bank vice president surveys the crowd at a Bonnie Raitt concert in the Universal City Amphitheater: most of them women like her in their 30s. She will talk on the record about the savings and loan bailout but not about her loneliness. People equate loneliness with failure. Successful at work, she has an empty feeling in her heart.
"You know, we're all nick-of-timers," she says, referring to Raitt's Grammy Award-winning album, "Nick of Time," about finding love and beating the biological clock.
In the projects across town, they move to a different beat: the crack of bullets from a .38-caliber revolver. And dreams shatter and spill like blood into the gutters. Once the tough guys called him Smiley. But that was before 12 bullets were pumped into Rogelio Lopez's flesh in an East Los Angeles project.
The shooting, part of a turf war between rival gangs, has left Lopez, 19, paralyzed below the waist. Lopez says he can never go home. "They might try to finish the job," he says.
In his girlfriend's house, he stares at cartoons on television and tries to sort things out. "Roadrunner" does not seem funny when you cannot move your legs.
"Gangs make it seem like you're part of something, you know."
There's a long distance loneliness
rolling out over the desert floor.
-- Jackson Browne
The solitude across the California desert is broken by Army trucks on the roadside filled with men and women heading toward another desert, in the Middle East. The wind swirls dust over them, and it stings.
In Las Vegas, the neon is warm, and people take chances.
At the White Lace and Promises Chapel, you can get a candlelight marriage ceremony, complete with a recording of "We've Only Just Begun" and a limousine ride, for $45.
"Basically, everybody in the whole world is lonely," says manager Dolly Carroll. "We're all looking for a pet, a friend, a lover. You can be married and be lonely, like I was."
The divorce rate has more than doubled since Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis played Las Vegas together in the 1950s. Joe Sumrall is divorced, and his family is spread from Seattle to Tampa, Fla. Americans are nomads who move an average of 12 times a lifetime, according to census officials. "I'm a victim of loneliness," he says. "I got educated in the California divorce court."
Sumrall sleeps in an unlocked 1967 Chevy near the Greyhound station, he says, because he was ripped off by a woman he befriended.
"I got friendly with this housekeeper, and my foot was swollen, so I sent her to cash my check," he says. "She cleaned out my account, except for $2.34. Police said it was a civil matter. I was looking for companionship, and I got disaster."
Brian Bugler, 58, used to love the sound of coins crashing out of a slot machine. Now there is only the hydraulic groans of the early morning bus that disturbs his sleep on a park bench.
"Lonely?" he says. "I have nobody. I drove a truck for 18 years moving furniture and dry freight between L.A. and N.Y. Just keep that motor tokin' and stopping only for the whores in the truck stops."
The migration to places like Phoenix has created a tumbleweed effect: lonely people without roots.
"You've got a churning phenomenon," says Steve Scott, executive director of the Phoenix South Mental Health Center. "For every 10 people that move here, seven leave. . . . It's a yuppie get-yours community that seems to produce a high-level divorce and suicide rate."
The center also has a 24-hour emergency service, dispatched by police. "Society's having a breakdown," says Max Campbell, coordinator if the mobile crisis service. "Loneliness is probably an aspect of every call we go out on."
During a recent night, the specially trained mobile crisis team talks to a woman named Margaret, who has refused to leave her car for three days. Her legs are starting to swell up in the heat. She believes her husband is dead. Her landlord told police her husband ran off. "I don't have family," she says, clutching her dog, whose tongue is hanging out. "All I have is loneliness."
The next call is for a teen-ager threatening suicide. The high school senior was told to quit the football team because doctors said he needed outpatient psychiatric therapy, which conflicted with football practices. There he sits, 250 pounds of muscle, in a room filled with football memorabilia, handcuffed to the weightlifting bench and eyes transfixed on the floor.
For a solid hour, the crew talks to the youth as relatives and friends come to the apartment to offer support and love. He never looks up. Ten people are huddled around a lonely broken dream.
They're sharing a drink that's called loneliness,
But it's better than drinking alone.
-- Billy Joel
In Irving, Texas, the Dallas Cowboys are losing big to the New York Giants, and the temperature on the field is 112 degrees. The team mascot, Martin Andrews, a gigantic Cowboy, is dripping wet. He will lose 7 pounds before the game has ended.
"I used to be Mr. Lonely," he says. "Loneliness can really rule your life like it did mine after the divorce. You're lonely, and as bad as you want company, you're so down you don't call anyone. When I first met Sylvia, we were talking and she said, 'Do you ever get lonely?' and I said, 'Yes,' and we talked about it, and when I was done, she said she never met anyone as honest as me. Instead of putting on a different face, I was myself and it worked. We got married."
A Dallas Cowboys cheerleader with a perpetual smile is asked if she ever experiences loneliness. "Never when I'm out here, but yeah, sometimes, I think everybody does," she says.
She is asked her name. "Oh, God! Don't use my name in the article," she says. "To interview me, you have to get permission, and with your subject, I think you're wasting your time. If you use my name, I'll lose my job." On America's Team, loneliness does not exist, and Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders never cry.
Just take a walk down Lonely Street
To Heartbreak Hotel.
-- Elvis Presley
Malls helped destroy America's Main Street -- people closing down the downtown shopkeeper for a free parking spot. Downtown Texarkana is depressed and empty. But the highway leading out of town is one corporate chain after another. The border between Texas and Arkansas runs right down the middle of Stateline Avenue. Tourists take pictures there by day. By night, it is Lonely Street.
The Hotel Grim looks like it sounds. The manager confronts a photographer on the deserted street. "What you think you're doing? No pictures! The owner don't want no pictures." He is told not to worry, and he calms down. "Look, I've managed five of these places, and they're all the same. Lonely. Welfare. It's a damn shame."
Wayne Mulvaney thinks the escalators in the Little Rock mall are a marvel. He eats jalapeno peppers for his ulcer, he says, carries no identification and has scars that look like railroad tracks on his back from being dragged by a train for 50 yards. He is only 28 years old, but he looks 40. He says his best friend, his dog, was killed walking on a railroad bridge, and his woman from the carnival has until Friday to roll into town or Mulvaney will jump a southbound train to Texarkana without her.
"I feel like I'm in a jail," he says. "That's why I hop trains. I feel like I could be in a crowd of 1,000 and still be lonely." The humming of steel on steel in a moving boxcar is his favorite song.
Mulvaney says his father was an alcoholic who beat him and then ran off when he was 13. His mother tried to raise seven children as best she could.
"I felt rejected," he says. "Nobody wanted me."
He camps out on the banks of the Arkansas River, invisible from the road. For money, he sells his blood, eats from dumpsters or goes to the back door of Kentucky Fried Chicken or McDonald's restaurants near closing time.
It is exactly 100 miles to Memphis, Tenn., where tourists from all over the world flock to tour Elvis Presley's Graceland home and buy souvenirs. They pay $3.50 for a yellowing copy of a Memphis newspaper with the headline dated Aug. 17, 1977: "A Lonely Life Ends On Elvis Presley Boulevard."
In one of his last concerts before his death in 1977, Elvis Presley started singing "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" His body bloated and face puffy with drugs, he answered: "I was and I am."
But I'll see you in the sky above,
In the tall grass
In the ones I love.
You're gonna make me lonesome when you go.
-- Bob Dylan
In French Lick, Ind., everybody knows No. 33. When Maggie Mynatt turned 102, hometown hero Larry Bird sent over some flowers and tapped on her window in the nursing home as he jogged by. That was three years ago. "I know I'll never get out of here," she says. "I visit the other patients. Whew! I was about to make a mistake and call them inmates."
Esther Davis sits in her wheelchair clutching her doll. "Loneliness? You've just got to laugh it off or cry it off," she says. "It don't do you no good to get mad, because at my age, you can't whip nobody."
By the year 2000, there will be an estimated 5 million people over age 85, up from 2.9 million in 1989. For some, the only relief is death.
When Ann McGill, 18, of Newport, Ky., told her boyfriend she was pregnant, "he didn't say nothing. He didn't look at me. I was totally crushed," she says. He vanished on New Year's Day.
The baby was born, and McGill gave him up for adoption. "It took me two days to realize I couldn't exist without him." So she went back and got him.
But the baby contracted spinal meningitis and almost died. He has suffered brain damage and is fed by a tube.
"I thought: 'Oh my God! How can I deal with this?' " she says while keeping a vigil in Cincinnati Children's Hospital. "His father doesn't even know he's in the hospital. I pray at night that someday he'll come back, but it's not going to happen. You trust somebody, you trust and you get betrayed."
Sexually abused by a close relative whose identity she still protects, she has run away and has been hauled into family court. "The courts do whatever looks good on the record," she says. "Nobody gives a damn about you. They just want to say, 'We kept a family together.'
"I've been lonely for a long time. I've built a wall around myself because you can only get hurt so many times. It's better to push away than be rejected. I feel like I'm walking alone in a desert, people asking, but they don't really care. Everything's phony. It's like seeing a mirage. My heart's weak; I'm tired of trying, tired of existing."
I am on a lonely road and I am traveling, traveling, traveling, traveling.
Looking for something, what can it be?
-- Joni Mitchell
They call the nationwide AIDS hotline. At 3:20 a.m., the line has been busy for 22 minutes. How many AIDS victims are also loneliness victims hoping for a reassuring voice to soothe the darkness? How many callers to the Drug Abuse Hot Line are also victims of loneliness? "A large part of them," says the crisis operator, who refuses to give his name.
The Sunday papers carry a letter from a 16-year-old girl in Parade Magazine. "My life is a Catch-22: I'm lonely, and I don't have friends because I'm fat, and I eat because I'm lonely. And I know I'm not the only one," wrote Gilana Gelman of Reading, Mass.
Dr. Alexander Rozin, a Soviet physician who emigrated from Baku to Boston, says the wealth of America brings with it a loneliness. "In the Soviet Union, you had to pull together to survive," he says. "The butcher would save you a piece of beef under the counter, and you'd make sure his family got medical help. Here, most people don't need anyone. They are more independent and more alone."
Do me wrong, do me right.
Tell me lies but hold me tight.
Save your goodbyes for the morning light.
But don't let me be lonely tonight.
-- James Taylor
Caroline Head, 30, of Concord, N.H., has a good job, three healthy children and an emptiness in her heart.
"Everyone at work thinks I'm a happy person," she says. "I've got three beautiful children. No one believes you can be lonely with children. I tell them they are very wrong."
Several months ago, she tried one of the dating services she saw on television. For $25 her ad wound up on the "Love Line," a 900 number that Jessica Hahn, who figured in the Jim Bakker scandal, promotes on television.
"I was just very lonely and tired of waiting for Prince Charming," she says.
"Most of the callers wanted phone sex, and I just hung up on them. But I talked to an oil man from Alaska and a wrestling producer. I've already gotten flowers, and someone sent $20 for the kids. It's better than going to a bar and maybe getting AIDS."
But six weeks later, she wrote: "I guess that after everything is said and done the phone really isn't the answer. From here I don't really know where to go."
"All the lonely people," sings Paul McCartney. "Where do they all come from? All the lonely people. Where do they all belong? "