Artist Personifies NPR Listener's Grocery List

Jeff, the dentist i i

Hillary Carlip studied the "clues" in the grocery list below to create this character, Jeff, a dentist. You can see the real "Jeff" at the bottom of this page. Barbara Green/Makeup: Dominie Till hide caption

itoggle caption Barbara Green/Makeup: Dominie Till
Jeff, the dentist

Hillary Carlip studied the "clues" in the grocery list below to create this character, Jeff, a dentist. You can see the real "Jeff" at the bottom of this page.

Barbara Green/Makeup: Dominie Till

What do you think of Carlip's portrayal of Byron Locke? Comment on the 'Day to Day' blog? hide caption

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The List i i

Hillary Carlip used this list to create the character Jeff. The blue blazer and khaki slacks gave away that he was a guy, she says. hide caption

itoggle caption
The List

Hillary Carlip used this list to create the character Jeff. The blue blazer and khaki slacks gave away that he was a guy, she says.

NPR listeners sent us dozens of grocery lists. See a gallery of some of our favorites. hide caption

What's In A List?
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You can glean a lot about a person from his or her grocery list. At least Hillary Carlip thinks so.

Carlip, an author and performance artist, spent years collecting grocery lists, analyzing each detail and constructing characters based on their shopping items.

In July, Day to Day interviewed Carlip about her book A La Cart: The Secret Lives of Grocery Shoppers. She broke down her investigative and creative process, explaining what she looks for in the lists.

"It's not only the items that are being bought. But it's also the handwriting, the kind of paper it's written on, the misspellings — I love the misspelling," she said.

After careful study of these elements, Carlip dresses up as the person; she imagines herself as the author of the grocery list. She goes shopping and has photographs of herself taken in character. After the broadcast of this story, Day To Day asked listeners and readers to send in their shopping lists so that Carlip could create a character based on an NPR listener.

We were skeptical at first, but dozens poured in, in envelopes of all shapes and sizes.

Do these lists tell us anything about the Day to Day demographic?

Carlip thinks so. She said the one common denominator is that our listeners are incredibly health-conscious. They're buying lots of almond milk, tofu and kale.

Her personal favorite: "Sabbath snacks-organic."

But the lists themselves, well, those were very different. (See gallery of lists above, at left).

Some were written on pretty pieces of floral stationery, others on the backs of envelopes and tiny scraps of paper. Some lists were neatly written and carefully numbered, others hastily scrawled.

Carlip chose one that was typed. She found herself drawn to this particular list on account of all its categories: food, clothing, high-tech and booze. Even without personal handwriting to scrutinize, Carlip was able to figure out that the author was a guy.

"For instance, in the clothing area, there's blue blazer and khaki slacks," she explains. "But also there's the obvious, like the portable urinal that tipped me off."

We did not give Carlip the accompanying envelope for that list, nor the humorous note that came with it. But we did agree to tell her where the list author was from: Wadsworth, Ill. After all, she said, she is used to finding the lists — so she needed one more clue.

She thought long and hard about all of this and came to the conclusion that the list belongs to a guy named Jeff.

"Jeff is 42-ish and has a family dental practice ... which he's recently expanded to cosmetic dentistry," she concluded.

She was also pretty sure that "Jeff" has college-aged kids, a dog and a wife. He "is starting to gray ... little bit of a beard situation ... I'm seeing some wire-rim glasses."

As she does with all her list-based characters, Carlip had her makeup artist, Dominie Till, transform her into this vacationing dentist.

So we called up our listener in Wadsworth, Ill., to see who sent the list. His name isn't Jeff, it's Byron Locke. Carlip was close with his age — he's 49, not 42.

He does have a dog, but he does not have a wife. We asked him how Carlip did with her guess about occupation.

"Well, my father was a dentist, maybe the acorn doesn't fall far from the oak, huh?"

Locke, however, works in construction. But there were some things that Carlip was dead on about — Locke has gray hair and plenty of facial hair. (Below, you can see the pair, side by side.)

We sent him a photo of Carlip's creation inspired by his list.

He said it had made him chuckle initially. His only comment: "Interesting, interesting. A little sinister."

Byron Locke and Hillary Carlip's "Jeff"

Byron Locke (left) and Hillary Carlip's "Jeff," inspired simply by a grocery list Locke sent into NPR. Left: Courtesy Byron Locke, Right: Photographed by Barbara Green, makeup by Dominie Till hide caption

itoggle caption Left: Courtesy Byron Locke, Right: Photographed by Barbara Green, makeup by Dominie Till

What do you think of Carlip's portrayal of Locke? Post your comments here

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