A comic strip character's life is in limbo. It's not Garfield, not Marmaduke. It's someone that we've seen many times in real life, yet we turn away quickly so we don't have to see them. She's a person we know. We don't want to end up like her. Yet it's in the back of our head, especially during this time of year when it gets cold out.
Alice Swartzman first appeared in Doonesbury years before as a regular at the bar Zonker worked at. She mostly talked about her days as a deb, but now was working as a garment worker. She disappeared from the strip, then came back when Duke found himself homeless. They brainstormed on a script about John DeLorean,but nothing came of it. After Trudeau's return from his sabbatical. Rick Redfern went on assignment to investigate the growing trend in homelessness. Who did he meet in the cold Washington DC streets? Alice. She showed him where the best grates were to sleep, plus the least dangerous parks. All she had to cover herself was a plastic sheeting.
Wanting to do right by her, Rick invited her to his home. Looking around, Alice remarks "Nice roof." Joan (Rick's wife) replies "We like it." As Joan tries to make small talk, Alice gives a through weather report for the next couple of days. Joan says "Weather's an important subject to you, isn't it Alice?" Alice looks at her and says "Oh, I'm sorry. Were you just making small talk?"
After spending a night with Alice outside, Rick goes to write his story. One night Alice realizes it's too late to meet him, so she finds a place to sleep for the night. It starts to snow hard. The last panel of the strip is Alice covered in snow. In the background, we see the White House.
The next day we see Rick on the phone. Apparently he has called the police, the park police, and the mayor's office. Everyone's on vacation; no one has the sources to look for Alice. The caller tells Rick there's nothing they can do. Rick loses it: "Damnit! Doesn't anyone care about what happens to these people?"
We then see the person is in the White House. They tell Rick "I'm sorry sir. It's really not our responsibility." Again we see Alice, covered in snow.
It all turned out; off screen Alice was found and brought to a hospital. Alice being Alice made a point of asking for change, then inviting her friends to come share the room with her because it seemed like a shame for her to have all this room.
Alice has appeared in the Doonesbury canvas for almost thirty years now. She married Elmont, a paranoid schizophrenic for "shelter" however it didn't work out and mostly they sat on park benches. She befriended Lacey Davenport, who thought Alice was her sister Pearl. When Lacey died, she left money to Alice. Excited, Alice and Elmont moved into an apartment. However, they soon found themselves back on the streets when Elmont discovered online trading.
The other day I was looking at the FAQ on the Doonesbury site where they said that Alice died. What? Wait a minute, when did that happen? I asked something through the website, but haven't heard back yet. I googled Alice's name, not much returned. Suddenly I found myself echoing Rick Redfern, almost thirty years later: "Damnit! Doesn't anyone care about what happens to this woman?"
I know Alice is fictional. I do believe it's a credit to Garry Trudeau that he has created characters that we have come to love and care about. I am hoping the FAQ will realize its mistake, and soon we'll see Alice by her favorite grate. She'll smile at whoever is coming by, call them by the wrong name or "Ducks." She'll try to put a good spin on things. She'll remind us there's many Alices out there. They shouldn't be forgotten.
PS 8:37 Pacific Time: I'm happy to say that Alice lives!!! Hurray! Let's celebrate!!
I heard from a gentleman who helps run the Doonesbury website, who said it was a simple mistake and it will be corrected. He also said something else:
Apparently when the Doonesbury 40th anniversary book came out three years ago, a reviewer said "nobody cares about the characters." He was glad he was proved wrong.
So am I.
Here's looking at you, Alice. May 2014 be the year you find a place called home.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries