On the Paper Trail

a stranger's lost to-do list sparks many, many questions

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Michelle Roberts

Winter is an important time for me. Because wintertime is the time in which I found a handwritten shopping list on the floor of a grocery store. It was late at night, Dec. 13 (a Wednesday), and the store was almost empty. I turned down an aisle, and there it was, lying on the shiny tiles, folded in half. And this is what it said:

Pop - figures keychains
   – anastesia
   – princess bride
         wesley
   – jack sparrow
   – aragorn

air freshener
Pie ingredients
Pie container/lid

dinner –> woodmans –>
   walmart –> gym –> bed

Every time I reread this note, l have more questions ...

1. Are all those Pop! figure keychains gifts? If so, are they all for the same person? How many sets of keys does this person have?

2. Is it really a “Wesley” keychain they need, or is it merely a Dread Pirate Roberts keychain? Do they know it’s spelled “Westley”? Are they designating “princess bride” for Westley so as to not confuse it with a different pop culture Westley?

3. Why no capital letters for proper names like Jack Sparrow?

4. Why are dashes reserved for sub-lists?

5. What’s the pie for?

6. Have they memorized the pie ingredients or are they just gonna wing it?

7. What paths have I taken in life leading me to a place where I don’t have a go-to pie recipe, the ingredients of which are written upon my heart?

8. Does a homemade pie baking in the oven not provide enough aroma for one’s abode? Is air freshener really necessary? Does this give us a clue as to the nature of the pie? Is this some kind of nefarious no-bake situation?

9. What kind of person needs to actually write “bed” on their to-do list? Are they going to forget? I suppose, after you wake up leaning into the corner of your kitchen next to a half-finished pie for the 10th time, you start adding it to the list.

10. Walmart and the gym before bed? Really?

11. Should I, myself, be living a life with so many post-dinner activities? Dinner’s usually my big finale. For me, it’s usually dinner –> Netflix –> bed. I’ve never written the word “gym” on any kind of to-do list. Ever.

12. Who goes grocery shopping after dinner? And more importantly, are these groceries just sitting out there in the car throughout their trips to Walmart and the gym?

This is madness.

13. Are they simply the kind of person who enjoys the satisfaction of crossing things off lists, so they tend to list everything? If so, when does this person cross “bed” off the list? Do they take the list to bed with them? Do they wake up and cross it off in the morning? If so, do they have a special spot to put the list? And if so, do they keep the list spot free of clutter because that’s the spot where they put the list?

14. Is it OK to publish and lightly ridicule someone’s private shopping/to-do list?

15. What would people say about my own handwritten lists? I suspect my to-do’s are far too boring to generate even a single wild, rhetorical inquiry. They definitely contain more typos.

16. Who is this person really? What do I really know about them beyond their apparent note-taking preferences? Not much. Honestly, almost everything on their list looks pretty cool to me. I like pie. I like freshened air. I like Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Ranger of the North. I have keys.

17. What more does this scrap of paper offer us other than a brief glimpse at one tiny part of some random person’s life, a single frame stolen from someone else’s film, a haphazard thread pulled from a stranger’s tapestry? How many more metaphors are needed to make my point? The answer is none.

I sincerely hope the person who wrote the list was able to carry on without it. I hope they didn’t forget to buy or do any of the things. And although it’s a long shot, I hope they’re reading this, and I hope they understand how much curious joy they’ve brought into my life.

A big thanks to all my online friends for chiming in with some of the questions above, in one form or another.

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