What does “life lived to its fullest” mean?
Isn’t that paradoxical? After all, isn’t full full?
Come to think of it, though, isn’t there always room for more stuff?
Perhaps there is, especially in a life that is already brimful.
If a blind date had eyes, it might see stuff that could not, or should not, be seen. Stuff that gets crammed into a life lived to its fullest. Stuff that seeps into—and out of—your soul through lips, ears, nose, and toes.
But if the blind daters are blind—as Gloria and Chase were—unseen stuff is the glue of life. The mystery of faith. The magic of God.
Abby and Rob had fixed them up. On a blind date, so to speak. After all, Rob reasoned, don’t the blind need help finding each other?
“Nonsense,” Abby replied. “Gloria and Chase have found their way through life quite well. I think they’re a good match. They see—eh, wrong word—they perceive life similarly. They’re well-educated, well-traveled, and love good food. I think they’d enjoy each other’s company.”
She suggested a trip to Abita Springs, a small town 40 miles north of New Orleans, known for its outdoorsy lifestyle, spring water, and brewery.
“We can have lunch at the brew pub,” Rob said. “Chase loves Abita beer.”
“So does Gloria.” Abby nodded. “Then we can all go to the UCM.”
Ah, the UCM, the Unusual Collections and Mini-town, the “You-See-Em.” Also known as the Abita Mystery House, it’s stuffed with stuff. “American Pickers,” the reality show that thrives on collectibles, filmed the episode “Louisiana Purchase” there, in 2013.
Crammed with more than 50,000 pieces of incongruously displayed folk art, found objects, and silly inventions, UCM resembles Louisiana itself with vignettes of Southern life, timeworn memorabilia, and hand-cranked devices draped with Spanish moss and accented with garish fleur de lis. And just when you think you’ve run the gamut of anomalies, there’s a gift shop full of nice jewelry and local art.
“Gloria loves to shop,” Abby noted.
Gloria and Chase agreed to the arranged outing. She wore discrete gardenia; he, raw silk.
After burgers and beer, Abby and John guided Gloria and Chase through the vintage gas station that serves as the UCM entrance. There they were greeted by the curator, John Preble, a caricature of himself. With wild hair and twinkling eyes, he defines a collection as three or more of something. And if you have three or more collections, you have a museum. He has a museum, all right, a very odd museum.
Wandering the labyrinth of buildings, each person in the foursome absorbed Preble’s memorabilia. Abby oo’ed over the comb collection. Gloria imagined how each would feel against her scalp as it plowed through her thick mahogany hair. Rob animated dozens of dioramas with the push of a button. Chase reveled in the sounds of their music and whirring. They all took pictures. Visual, tactile, ambrosial. Of stuff and each other.
They stopped at “Tragedy on Dogpound Road.” When Rob pressed the button under the display case, a rural community came to life. And death. Gloria and Rob heard a tornado churn while Abby described the scene. A trailer adorned with “God Bless Our Mobile Home” flipped over revealing a satin-sheeted bed, crib, and victrola. Then she read the hand-lettered signs. “Welcome to Dub’s Trailer Park,” “Dixie Dancers Benefit Yard Sale” and “Winner of the 5th Ward Division Poultry Prize.” A rotating storefront featured “Fireworks” on one side and “Xmas Trees” on the other. The yard was strewn with stuff—a pickup truck emblazoned with “Dub’s Escort Service,” shopping cart, rocking horse, typewriter, flags, tables and chairs, and, of course, dogs.
“Did it look like that before?” Chase asked. “Or after?” There were no answers. Before and after are relative terms in the cycles of destruction and recovery.
Such is the nature of tragedies. You see ’em. But you don’t. Life crammed with stuff that could not, should not be seen. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods. Stuff.
Like Sister Claire’s Live Bait & Fortune Telling Shack, a House of Shards, jazzy funerals, grave-dancing skeletons, flying saucers, bottle caps, Buford the Bassigator (half fish, half gator), Darrell the Dogigator (half dog, half alligator,), Edmond the Allisapien (half alligator, half homo sapiens), and Fats Domino.
Stuff crammed into life already brimful.
Unable to gaze into each other’s eyes, the blind daters sated each other with the stuff that touches the soul. Fingers on fingers. Beer, sharp on their tongues. The resonance of art they could smell through the mustiness. The sounds of animated dioramas whirring. The sense of wonder. Sense of balance. Sense of humor.
The scents of gardenia and silk.