Artist Personifies NPR Listener's Grocery List Hillary Carlip interprets shopping lists as if they were Rorschach inkblots. She selected a typed, meticulously organized list sent by a listener and created a character based on clues. The result is "a little sinister," according to the list's actual author.

Artist Personifies NPR Listener's Grocery List

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Finally today, here with us, Day to Day's Alex Cohen. Alex, welcome.

ALEX COHEN: Thank you.

CHADWICK: A few weeks ago, you introduced us to Hillary Carlip. She's the author of the book, "A La Cart: The Secret Lives of Grocery Shoppers"?

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: That is right, Alex. And you might remember that ever since she was a little girl, Hillary has been collecting shopping lists left behind at grocery stores all over the country. Hillary likes to try to figure out the person behind these lists based on what she calls clues.

Ms. HILLARY CARLIP (Author "A La Cart: The Secret Lives of Grocery Shoppers."): Well, 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 misspellings.

COHEN: Hillary Carlip creates characters out of these lists, and then she takes photographs of herself dressed as these characters in various stores. After we aired my story about her, we asked you, our listeners, to send in your shopping lists so that Hillary could create a brand new character.

CHADWICK: And then something very unusual...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: These days, began to happen.

COHEN: It's true.

CHADWICK: We started getting mail, mail.

COHEN: Mail, real mail, not just emails. We got some of those, too, but we got real, comes-in-the-envelope-and-everything kind of mail with shopping lists inside. Thank you to everyone who sent in their lists.

CHADWICK: And from these grocery lists, what do you learn about the people who listen to Day to Day?

COHEN: Well, it's very interesting. Hillary Carlip seems to think that there is one common denominator out there. All our listeners are incredibly health-conscious. They're buying lots of almond milk, tofu, plenty of kale.

Ms. CARLIP: I think one of my favorite items on the lists was Sabbath snacks-organic.

COHEN: But the lists themselves? Well, those were very different. 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. Hillary Carlip chose one that was typed. She found herself drawn to this particular list on account of all its categories, like food, clothing, high-tech and booze. Even without personal handwriting to scrutinize, Carlip was able to figure out that the author was a guy.

Ms. CARLIP: For instance, in the clothing area, there's blue blazer and khaki slacks, but also there's the obvious, like the portable urinal that tipped me off.

COHEN: She also looked into the town this list came from, Wadsworth, Illinois. It's a small town on Lake Michigan, near Wisconsin. Hillary thought long and hard about all of this and came to the conclusion that the list belongs to a guy named Jeff.

Ms. CARLIP: And Jeff is 42-ish and has a family dental practice, which he's recently expanded into cosmetic dentistry.

COHEN: She's was also pretty sure that Jeff has college-age kids, a dog and a wife. As she does with all her list-based characters, Hillary had her makeup artist transform her into Jeff the Dentist. Here's how she describes his look.

Ms. CARLIP: Jeff is starting to gray, little bit of a beard situation. I'm seeing some wire-rimmed glasses.

COHEN: So, Alex, I called up our listener living in Wadsworth, Illinois, who sent this list. His name isn't Jeff. It's Byron Locke. But get this, Hillary was actually pretty close with his age. He's 49, not 42.

CHADWICK: Yeah, close enough. How about the rest of it?

COHEN: Well, he does have a dog. He does not have a wife. And I asked Byron how Hillary did with her guess about his occupation.

Mr. BYRON LOCKE (Listener): Well, my father was a dentist. Hm, maybe the acorn doesn't fall far from the oak, huh?

COHEN: Byron, however, works in construction. But there were some things that Hillary Carlip was dead on about. Byron does have gray hair and plenty of facial hair. And Alex, because seeing is truly believing, I encourage you to take a look at our website, where you can see the real Byron Locke and Hillary Carlip's version of him based on his shopping list.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: Eerie. Alex Cohen, thank you.

COHEN: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: Day to Day is production of NPR News, with contributions from I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

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