The strange is everywhere. Or do I carry it with me?
I drove to the mountains in March for a hiking day trip with some outdoorsy people. Our goal was to reach the source of the Chattahoochee river. The drive took two hours, and since humans have needs, we stopped at a gas station just before the trailhead.
The first of us went into the bathroom while the rest waited our turn next to the slurpee machine. We chattered about nonsense and made jokes until I noticed one woman’s eyes lock onto something. She went still as stone; her eyes suggested distress.
“What… is… that??”
We followed her gaze. This is what we saw:
Maybe you don’t quite see the world as I do, but can we agree that this is objectively insane? A normal-sized doll would have been weird, but this three-foot thing in spider-webbing is just scary.
Which is to say, it made my day.
Nothing else in the store suggested why it was there. Just a normal, rural gas station.
The sharpie scribbles on the plastic wrap put the price at $150. Everything else in the store cost $10 or less.
We moved on with our trip. The hike was lovely, the morning brisk, and the company solid. We found the headwaters, a tiny trickle from an underground spring that becomes a river supporting millions.
But I don’t care about any of that.
If the doll is for sale in a gas station, then it used to be in someone’s home. Sitting on a shelf or standing in a corner.
If the owner thinks the doll is worth $150, why put it in the back of a gas station? Why not sell it on Ebay, or at least shop it around some yard sales?
I know why. Because they HAD TO GET IT OUT OF THE HOUSE. The family would come home and find the doll posed in different positions. The fridge would be missing food. It’s the only explanation.
I doubt the other hikers still think about this.
Just a month before, I had driven to Florida for a kayaking trip down the Suwanee—a friend’s choice for his bachelor party. It was a great weekend. We paddled the wine-dark river, drank fermented grains, and took in the local color.
But there is one image that sticks in my head above all others.
Frogs on clocks.
I found them while walking the campground late night. Two large clocks hanging on opposite sides of a pump house, each with its own cluster of frogs.
The frogs were probably drawn to the warmth of the battery. Just a guess, I’m not a frog whisperer (though I want to be).
The image stuck with me. Two unique elements joined in unnatural union, like some swampy version of Lev Grossman’s clock trees. And like the gas station doll, it’s my primary takeaway from the trip.
That shouldn’t be the case. When I think about either experience, I should first remember the people. The big picture, the core reason we went in the first place. But I don’t.
I’m not trying to overthink this. I’m a writer; maybe this is how it is for us. If I spend a wonderful week at the beach with friends, surfing and drinking and exploring, great. But if I catch sight of a crab eating a donut, it’s going on the top shelf inside my head. The not-strange stuff goes in a drawer.
My “strange radar” isn’t limited to trips. Consider all the funny/scary/tragic/earth-shaking things to pass through news and social media in the last week. I’ve consumed most of them, but this is the one that my head keeps returning to:
I’m glad the strange makes an impression on me, but I wonder if there should be more balance. What about you? Are there images or life experiences that others seem to forget but that go all brain-sticky on you?