Ellison #1: Found Stories, Discarded Objects*

A few months ago, I was stumbling through the streets of Cole Valley on my way to a party when I spotted not one, not two, but three pairs of skis in a dumpster. I don’t usually participate in winter sports; I’ve gone snowboarding twice and I was terrible at it. But when I saw these specimens in my slightly inebriated state, they were the most beautiful things in the world. Needless to say, I claimed them, and when I arrived at my friend’s house with my newly acquired limbo poles, the party officially started.

I like stories that live in something. Discarded objects, old photos—they all have a story to tell, and the streets (and dumpsters) of San Francisco are ripe with material. Just as long as the moist ocean air doesn’t ruin it.

I used to send my ex-girlfriend letters with pictures from garage sales or thrift stores included. We traded off. I sent her a black-and-white of a matador in action, and she sent me a grainy cowboy in return. We then added a rule: we must make up stories for each of them. On the back of each photo we’d include a short biography or a description of the scene. Suddenly, the characters captured in time were brought to life.

So it should come as no surprise that when I saw a dusty old suitcase heaped on top of a dumpster on 16th Avenue in the Inner Richmond, I was ecstatic and knee-deep in junk in no time. Much to my delight, the discarded luggage contained old pictures. They might as well have been gold coins. I bolted out of the trash and speed-walked to the nearest cafe, clasping the suitcase tight. The pictures were of a Japanese American family and ranged from 1918 to the 1980s. They’re high quality with great composition and clarity. The content is even better, chronicling the life of a Japanese family immersed in quintessential American culture, complete with family excursions, dinner parties, cat-eye glasses, and fishing.

And amongst the photos, two letters. One opened and another unopened. My adventure was just beginning…

*Originally written in January, 2013.

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