Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Small world -- Jenny Dolan from Pennsylvania

I wrote this blog-essay a couple years ago but never posted it. Wanted to get the words right or something.
Time flies. so fuck it. Here's the post, perfect or not.

No matter the clich├ęd expressions; it is not a small world. In fact, it’s an enormous world. But when a billion random moments happen every second of every life -- well, there’s gonna be collisions. And once in a while a collision will be so direct that… bear with me...  This story is something. At least I think it is.

I’m in the movie and TV business. In addition to writing and directing some of what you see on big, small and yet-ever-smaller screens, I also “hire on” to plenty of projects. Currently, I’m working on such a project; a movie about the American civil war. I point out that I am not a creator of this movie so as to assure that I am not 'guiding serendipities' in any way. I’m merely one of the crew on this ship.
Today, in a comfortable editing facility in Pasadena, Ca. I work on a section near the beginning of the movie. Temporary “slug” fills the screen. In huge bold letters, a low-resolution image of a newspaper headline from 1861 asks the readers, “Treason and Rebellion -- Or the constitution?”
My job today will be to turn this temporary title into a cool visual sequence.

I watch and re-watch the scene, allowing my mind to drift creatively; imagining what it could look and feel like in the final program. Then, I retrieve the elements required; high resolution counterparts to the lo-res “temps”; the main element being the original newspaper article. Dated August 28th, 1861, it comes from the Library of Congress.  In its entirety, the headline reads:  Reason and Rebellion or the Constitution? The Union & the laws? Which will you choose?  Freemen of old Bucks in DOYLESTOWN
As already indicated, I’ve live in Los Angeles. However, I grew up and spent the majority of my life in a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania; so small that when asked from where I hail, I say, “Bucks County”. In fact, the town is Doylestown. Doylestown, Pa.
Three thousand miles away in Sunny California, I feel like someone from the past has goosed me.
I look again. Indeed, the newspaper is from Bucks County! Doylestown!
I’m so excited that my home town is right HERE is this article from 1861, that it is going to be in this movie,  that I have to share it with some of the others in the edit room. I explain this is where I grew up. I tell them how small Doylestown is; how I can’t even imagine how small it was in 1861.

 “Wow. Small world.” they say.  “Yes”, I reply at the overused expression. “Yes it is.”
Later in the day, the researcher for the movie comes in to the editing room to discuss something with the director. As he’s leaving, I motion him over. 
“Dave, I gotta show you something.”
Dave leans over my computer as I bring up the newspaper from 1861. 
“This –“, I say with dramatic pause, “- is where I grew up! Doylestown, Pa. I was born and raised here!   Dude, CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!”
Dave straightens up from my monitor and nods. He seems a bit impressed -- but not nearly the way I think he should be.  
“Small town in Pennsylvania, right?” he says, more as a statement than a question.
“Yes.” I laugh. “I can’t believe it.”
“You’re the second person I know from Doylestown. I went to college with a girl from there.” Dave comments casually.
I dubiously ponder the odds David from Los Angeles actually knows someone from D-town, Pa. The casualness of his statement thickens my doubts.
“My R.A. at Syracuse University was from Doylestown -- in Bucks County.”
Wow, anything’s possible. He did say “Bucks County”.  My mind immediately goes into age/deduction math mode.  How old is Dave? I suppose he’s roughly my age…. When would he have graduated?  Back in Doylestown, I knew a fair share of people from high school, the various hangouts (Kelley’s, Doylestown Inn, Finneys, etc.)  How crazy would it be… ?
 “What’s her name?” I ask.
“Jennifer Dolan” he answers.

At this point, please stop ALL background music and sound. The wings of the hummingbird outside your window have just frozen in mid-beat.  The second-hand on your watch -- THOOONCK -- just came to a standstill.
“Jenny Dolan?” I gape. “She was my next door neighbor! I GREW UP with Jenny Dolan! We shared the same bus stop in front of my house from elementary school to high school! You KNOW Jenny Dolan??!”
I can’t believe this! I haven’t seen Jenny since high school, when she graduated in 1984. She was awesome! She was one of the sweetest people I ever knew -- and I have known her since I was in second grade and she was in fourth. We used to talk about my KUNG-FU lunchbox!!! I still clearly remember the last time I saw her; in high school, when she put a small flower in my shirt button and pretended it was a hippie moment.
He knows Jennifer Dolan!!! They went to college together!

Dave shakes his head faintly before winding up and punching me in the face, really FUCKING hard.
 “Jennifer Dolan who got stabbed to death by her boyfriend?”

It’s actually not too easy to recover from a complete sucker punch and maintain one’s cool. I think I do well because Dave is only about halfway into his next sentence before I’m able interrupt him.
“Yeah, Jennifer graduated from Syracuse and went to Washington with her boyfriend. I think they broke up or something and he couldn’t handle it and he killed her.”  

I can’t blame Dave for the matter of fact way he relays this information to me. And really, is there a good way to hear it? He mentions having read it in the Syracuse University Alumni magazine, and then disappears back to his office.
Hey, this is a major TV movie. The work doesn’t stop; huge amounts of work for all of us.
I try to concentrate on the monitors, on the program, on that newspaper headline from 1861 that has alerted me to news I hope isn’t right.

 That night, at home, I do serious googling. It turns out that ‘Jennifer Dolan’ is a fairly common name. There was a movie about “Jenny Dolan”. There was a burglar by that name; lots of people.
But, with enough cross referencing of years, schools, towns, grim key-words and finally - parents and siblings… I arrive at “pay required” archives within the Washington Post from 1991.
I pay to read 90 odd, sterile words that I translate into my reality:  Sweet, cute, wonderful -  girl, teen, woman – Jennifer Dolan -- of Doylestown Pennsylvania… a friend I haven’t seen in twenty-seven years –  has been dead for more than twenty of them. She never got to live her life. She never got to realize her dreams. In November of 1991, at age twenty-five, it was over for her; she was stabbed in the heart by her estranged boyfriend in a murder-suicide.

Been thinking about it for a while now and I haven’t found the meaning in any of it yet.
In 1861, a headline was set in type about the impending Civil War; a war of horrible, wasted young life.  One hundred fifty years and three thousand miles away I read that headline, prompting news of a woman’s murder, twenty one years before: Jennifer Dolan, a girl I had known daily and with whom I’d grown up. 
That's a lot of time and distance going backwards and forwards to demonstrate what a small world it is. 
But dammit, did the story have to take that cruel twist? 


  1. I kinda have had the same experience.. but in my case it hasn't happened yet...

  2. Do you have an obituary? I knew Jenny at CB West.

    1. If you'd like to contact me privately, I can give you what information I have.

  3. Nicely written piece. I was scrolling ahead on my calendar looking at upcoming birthdays,and remembered that Jenny's birthday was the first week of April (a few days from mine). Decided to google her - yours is the only easily-findable reference to her. Last time I saw her was at Syracuse graduation day (I was a classmate of hers at Syracuse, CB West, Unami and Peace Valley), and last saw her mom at the memorial service. Tragically sad.

  4. Not sure if you will get this Stefan, but what a great blog. I was friends with Jenny from Peace Valley through high school. So sad. Makes me realize we can be touched from the past at any time.