Chuck Walker as Horton in Suessical

Chuck Walker as "Horton the Elephant" in 2006


I’m a collector of odd things. Joe jokes that I’m a hoarder, but I’ve seen the documentaries, and don’t think it’s quite that serious.
But have you ever seen a discarded scrap of paper, picked it up, read it, and imagined who wrote it? Well, I do. And I keep it as a momento of two people whose paths almost crossed

For instance, I have this weird habit of pocketing lost grocery lists. I like to imagine the lives of these people, their eating and social habits, such as the author of my recent find:
Written onto a sheet of stationary, with the header: Elect Angela Rosenberry Krom for Judge… there was a link to Krom’s website at the bottom, and a disclaimer that this scrap of paper was paid for by the “Angela Krom for Judge Committee”. Was this customer a supporter who attended a rally, perhaps a secretary or associate of Krom’s, or even Ms. Krom herself?
(I have no idea who Angela Krom is, as I no longer live in PA)
But the list included:
• Fixodent
• Body wash
• Milk
• Clorox Bleach Pen
• White Raw Hides
• Bread
• and Bannanas [sic] 

Would suggest an elderly person from Pennsylvania who often stains their clothes, has a penchant for eating bread, bannanas, and chewing on bones with their dentures…. of course, I could be mistaken. 😉 However, isn’t it fun to speculate? I’ve often thought about crafting a silly list of my own, to “accidentally” leave on a store shelf for someone else’s voyeuristic amusement. 

Another object I have a fondness for collecting are orphaned photographs of strangers. I once found a picture of a couple, at the bottom of the office desk drawer, when I was working at Ben Franklin Crafts in Winchester, VA. I assumed that one of them was a former employee, who accidentally left the photo behind, but nobody recognized either of them. Even the assistant manager who had been hired at the store’s opening didn’t remember them. It’s a great mystery for me to contemplate, and a decade later, I still have the photograph… occasionally I’ll unearth it when I’m digging through my boxes of family photos, and wonder whether this couple is still together and what they might be doing.  (Next time I run across it, I’ll post it here… but everything disappears when you search for it). 

The most profound experience I had as a result of my “hobby” involved meeting a chorus of male drag performers. Once upon a time, my friend Don was working for a photo-developing store, located in our small town’s only shopping mall. We were both invited to a mutual friend’s party, and he needed a ride from work to her house, so I volunteered to pick him up at the end of his shift. I was waiting for him, as he gathered up the shop’s trash, and he reached into the waste basket and pulled out a stack of photo copies… “Here, you gotta look at these!”
The film was taken at a staged event of some sort, and chronicled the show from backstage beforehand, to curtain call, and portions of the cast party afterwards. The subjects were a group of handsome men performing in drag, in what appeared to be a variety show. My first inclination was to chuckle over their costumes, but it piqued my curiosity, as this was a smallish town where everyone presumably knows everybody. I was unaware that this subculture existed in my neighborhood, and wondered whether they were open about it, or if they lived quietly as school janitors and real estate brokers by day… donning the sequin slips and feathers instead of “working late at the office”.
Did they have families? Were they supportive? Were they in attendance? Something about the guys’ jubilant smiles and carefree attitudes made me envious – they seemed to be having so much fun! I could almost picture myself in the room with them, laughing over their dirty jokes and helping to lace their corsets.
Don suggested that I keep the photos, as they were destined for the trash anyway. “We’re allowed to make a copy of each film batch”, he shrugged. Of course it was wrong, an invasion of privacy, but he didn’t care… even if his job was at stake. It was just a part-time fling. My conscience told me to throw the photos away. My habit won. 

I held onto those photos for over four years, safely kept inside my nightstand, alongside my journal. Every so often, I’d take them out and look through them… looking at each person individually, and wondering who they were, whether they were happy with life in general, what other hobbies and passions they had… “Where were they now?” was a question that usually came to mind, because I’d never met any of them. Did they live in the area? Were these taken at a convention in some far-away city?
I can tell you, however, neither of my ex-husbands appreciated these photos, or the fact that I stubbornly held onto them. 😛 

In the summer of 2004, I was in the process of moving in with my second husband, and he decided to pile my belongings onto the back of his manly Ford pick-up truck, and throw a tarp over them, to haul everything to his house. Tragically, it began raining… HARD… and the tarp blew halfway off in the wind. Some of my things were soaked and had to be thrown away, including books that were literally falling apart in wet clumps. I also lost the photographs of my mystery male performers, the ink had smeared and many of the pictures were glued together. It pained me almost physically to say goodbye after four years, it felt like being dumped from a long-term relationship. Hmmm, considering neither of my first two marriages lasted that long, I probably knew those strangers better than my exes. 😉 

A couple of years later, my desire to break free from the marital cage, and a series of coincidences, led me to return to the community theatre where I had once participated after high school. I had moved out-of-town, and there were other theatres within my area, but I was hoping to meet up with the old crew I’d worked with years earlier. Unfortunately, many of them had moved on as well, so there were fresh faces all around, including one very talented actor named Chuck Walker, who was then starring as Horton in “Suessical”.
After the show, he invited me to his house for a party and an impromptu tour of the interior renovations that he and his husband were undergoing. (They had been legally married in Massachusetts in 2004) Our tour ended at the living room fireplace, where his original artwork and an unfinished painting were on display… but my attention was drawn to the mantle and his collection of framed photographs. One group portrait in particular looked strangely familiar… as well it should, because I had owned a copy of it myself for four years! 

I then realized Chuck was one of the male performers from my lost photographs, and here I was, standing in his very living room! 

I hadn’t recognized him at first, due to a change in hairstyle and a grown beard. LOL I probably should have kept my secret to myself, as it might have offended him to learn that copies of their photos had been handed over nonchalantly to strangers… but the irony gave me goosebumps, and so I found myself sheepishly confessing everything! It is difficult to read Chuck’s mood oftentimes, but I think he was amused, or else kept any irritation to himself. LOL
He asked whether I’d like to meet the other men from the photos, as some of them were also attending the party. Why, yes, of course! 

In 2004, I didn’t think I would ever see them again. In 2006, I was greeting them in person for the first time. I could write multiple blogs on the subject of Fate and predestination… for those of you who are curious to know my spiritual beliefs, simply pick up a copy of “The Belgariad” fantasy series by David Eddings.  It deals heavily with prophesy, the predetermined course of people’s lives, and how everyone on the planet is connected in some way. 

Whenever I pick up a scrap of paper, or study the faces in a photograph, my life becomes intertwined with theirs… perhaps in a minor insignificant way, perhaps in a more substantial way. If I reach out with my energy, I might as well be touching their hand. Reading someone else’s words, even on a simple grocery list, reminds me that I am not alone. Everyone has a story to tell.
I’m a collector of their stories.