Culture

The Grocery List Psychic-Detective

Left: Courtesy Byron Locke, Right: Photographed by Barbara Green, Make-up by Dominie Till

You can glean a lot about a person from their grocery list. Artist Hillary Carlip constructed the character above at right, in the blue shirt, based on a grocery list created by the man on the left, in the green jacket. While interpreting the list, she did not know whether the author was a man or a woman, old or young, white or Chinese-American — only that he was shopping for a better 35mm camera bag, the movie The Jerk and a portable urinal.

And yet, she managed to deduce from the clues in his ultra-organized, typed list that he was in his 40s, with gray hair and a beard. Not too shabby, eh?

A little back story: In July, we interviewed Carlip about her book, A La Cart: The Secret Lives of Grocery Shoppers. She told us that since she was a child she's been collecting lists and pondering who they belong to. More recently, she started dressing up as these imagined authors, going shopping and taking photos of her as them. Sometimes she's a hotty named Pammy, and sometimes she's an old man in a wheelchair. (You can see a gallery of some of her characters here.) At the end of the interview, we asked our listeners to send their grocery lists.

We sort of assumed people were over sending things by snail mail — but send they did. Lists came in all shapes and sizes, on stationary from the show The Office and on the backs of grease-stained envelopes. (You can see a gallery of the lists here.) From the stack of dozens, Carlip picked one that was typed and meticulously organized into the categories food, clothing, high-tech and booze.

And then it was time for her grocery list analysis. Part detective, part psychic, she read the "clues" — blue blazer, khaki slacks, large alligator clip — like they were Rorschach ink blots. (Hear her talk about her process with host Alex Cohen on Day to Day this morning).

The end result of her investigation was "Jeff." She imagined that he was 42 with gray hair and a beard. He had a family dental practice and was married with kids and a dog.

Though she was off on a lot of the personal history, Jeff does have a dentist in the family and she got the look almost right.

His only comment, when we sent him her creation based off his list: "Interesting, interesting, a little sinister."

Comments

 

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Judging from at least one time on the list, Jeff or Byron is a kayaker.

Sent by Anita | 5:49 PM | 9-11-2008

She did a good job but it's kinda of creepy...I don't think I'll be losing my shopping anytime soon!

Sent by Tony | 8:32 PM | 9-11-2008

This book is genius-I think it is anyway, I haven't been able to see it since it got here in the mail-my 2 kids keep fighting over it and I can't get my mitts on it! They both are into youth theater and it's great inspiration for character development.

Sent by Ruth | 9:40 PM | 9-11-2008

What does it say about me? I never bring a grocery list????!!!

Sent by Liz L. | 10:20 PM | 9-11-2008

I think having some of it right is darn fine!~and the father being a dentist is good too....Basically I love the whole intuitive/imaginative process ....when I was in jr high school...centuries ago...I used to ride the bus and hone in on interesting people on the bus, whoever really grabbed my attention...and imagine what they're life was like, what their relationships were like, etc.... It was really a fun way to kill time on the 45 minute bus ride. As an adult, I used the same process to "read" people, for a few years. Amazingly, much of it was quite accurate. Intuiting a person from their grocery list is a step up and beyond...and I applaud her creativity!

Sent by Ravenna | 12:23 AM | 9-12-2008

Not so wild about "Jeff," but I'd sure take Byron shopping anytime!

Sent by Tim | 7:21 AM | 9-12-2008

Ha-ha! I love it! I got a healthy belly laugh over this and now I must send away for the book. I, too, have occasionally found other folks shopping lists and wondered about their lives. It is even interesting to wonder what other people's lives are like while in the check-out line observing their food purchases. Fun to hear that Carlip is stepping up the game up a notch!

Sent by Shell | 10:13 AM | 9-12-2008

Ha-ha! I love it! I got a healthy belly laugh over this and now I must send away for the book. I, too, have occasionally found other folks shopping lists and wondered about their lives. It is even interesting to wonder what other people's lives are like while in the check-out line observing their food purchases. Fun to hear that Carlip is stepping up the game up a notch!

Sent by Shell | 10:13 AM | 9-12-2008

It is interesting that Carlip chose the Hardware store/aisle for the backdrop of her photo shoot of jeff-since Jeff works in construction, I'm wondering why the article didn't mention this additional connection?

Sent by Benjamin Burns | 11:27 AM | 9-12-2008

not even close...if you want to talk about using "intuition" to read people john edwards was way better. as at least one poster pointed out there are plenty of inferences to be made from the list that she did not even mention. imho this whole thing would be much more interesting if we all admitted that there is a sherlock homes kind of science that could produce answers of considerable more veracity than those conjured up by this 'artist.

Sent by abracadabra | 11:48 AM | 9-12-2008

Quite amusing. No chance that she will get her pretty paws on my grocery list, though, because it's also my menu for the week, so I always bring it back with me.

Sent by Nicoline | 3:27 PM | 9-12-2008

Mostly baloney. Facial hair/no facial hair. It's a 50-50 chance of getting it right. Age? Khaki slacks, blue blazer: They aren't the average 20 something (but could be much older). Dog/no dog? Again, almost a coin flip. It might be cute or fun, but it's no more than thoughtful guesswork.

Sent by Dan Hortsch | 9:44 PM | 9-12-2008

This character IS creepy and sinister - no resemblance to reality. I find this story singularly uninteresting what with the crisis we're in nationally and all. I prefer true hilarity, Jon Stuart style or enlightening commentary instead, OK? not an inspired story, here.

Sent by Diane | 11:54 PM | 9-12-2008

The story (and the book which I got after listening to part one of the interview!) is sheer genius! Nothing about being politically correct, or snarky -- just a valentine to humanity.

Sent by Danny Evans | 7:06 PM | 9-13-2008

thanks hillary for making us forget..if only for a few minutes, the state of our dismal economics.

Sent by carol | 9:14 PM | 9-16-2008

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