I like meandering down back alleys on my afternoon walks around the neighborhood. It’s interesting to see what lives on the flip side of all the reasonably presentable, generic facades the average street has to offer.
Old furniture is a staple finding. Grandma’s retro kitchen chairs upholstered in orange floral vinyl; chipped and dented and otherwise abused IKEA “Lack” coffee tables; mattresses with “FREE” signs duct taped to them. As if anyone in their right mind would touch a back alley mattress with a ten foot pole.
Graffiti, too, can be entertaining despite its general lack of finesse. I’m always on the lookout for the handiwork of two taggers calling themselves John and Joan Cusack. I like to think that the real John and Joan Cusack are behind it, sneaking around my city in the dead of night whispering, “Who’d ever believe it?” and snickering together as they pen their permanent marker scrawls.
But it’s the items that were never again intended to see the light of day that interest me most. The thrown away tokens and mementos that spill from poorly tied bags on collection day and either float or crash back down to earth, naked and exposed for anyone to find.
“To Do” lists. Love letters. Hate letters. Broken trinkets. Children’s drawings, likely surreptitiously “misplaced” one by one off an overflowing fridge. Novelty Post-its scribbled with illegible text. Toy soldiers with missing limbs; Barbies with crookedly shorn hair.
A Valentine from Bob, who appears to be a man of few words.
The portrait of an angel, discarded amongst office supplies and unopened moist towelettes for reasons I will never know.
I spot and I examine and I wonder. Glimpses of all these lives and stories that may never truly intersect with mine but which I will carry in my memory and imagination nonetheless, in pocket-sized pieces.
I leave with more questions than answers.
Two blocks later, I find something deemed worth keeping.
I smile. And I walk on.