Wednesday over lunch with colleagues, one of my coworkers told us that a neighbor in her condo community called her the other day, apologizing for practicing the trumpet. Lucky for the neighbor, she called a wildly open-minded person, who happily offered to get together with the trumpet-playing neighbor and have her over for a jam session (my coworker sings and plays the guitar). This resulted in a lot of trumpet-music-based questions such as, "What happens if she comes over and only knows the complete works of John Philip Sousa?" and "What if she only knows how to play 'Taps?'"
As those kind of conversations go, this led to another coworker telling us about when he was growing up, a neighbor kid was learning to play the tuba. The kid was around 10, and his mother made him practice the tuba on the back porch. Not that I blame the kid's mother, but this took place in West Virginia, so I can't imagine that kid had warm fingers when he was pounding out bass lines in the dead of winter.
I put all talk of trumpets and tubas behind me, and went on about my week. And, despite the fact that my father played the trumpet, we own a trumpet (and I don't actually remember why), I don't go around thinking about brass instruments on a regular basis.
Yesterday, while walking home, I was deep in thought. I was asking myself why I keep procrastinating on a book I'm trying to write, when I looked far down the sidewalk and did a double take. Coming towards me on the sidewalk by the stadium at UT was this guy:
That's pretty random, right? What is even more random was that I was completely okay with stopping him and asking to take his picture, while breathlessly telling him about the boy who was forced to practice the tuba outside. He's laughing in this pic because I asked him to play a few notes for me. While he played, I did a little dance that one does while listening to an outdoor tuba solo. Not exactly sexy.
I walked on, looking down and texting the picture of Tuba Boy to my coworkers, laughing to myself like the crazy person I am. Because I was focused on looking down, I happened to see this:
I'm sorry that the picture is blurry, but I wanted you to see the proof. Sitting proudly on the sidewalk was this plain white envelope with a fresh stamp, addressed to Playboy.
On my walks, I've found lots of interesting things on the sidewalks of the fine institution known as the University of Texas at Austin. One morning I found a huge pair of grey flip flops, as if the owner just took them off, set them neatly on the sidewalk and said, "Flips, it is time we part ways." That same huge pair of flip flops stayed there for a good two weeks. So weird. Where WAS that barefoot guy? Another morning I found -- in this order -- an empty bottle of cheap whiskey, an empty Red Bull, an empty condom package, and an empty package of Cheetos. I wanted to photograph it and title it "A Good Time Was Had By All." Except that I wasn't sure that everyone in that scenario had a good time.
The letter to Playboy was, by far, the best find to date.
I looked around for a camera crew, figuring this was some kind of "What Would You Do?" taping. When the coast was clear, I bent down to snap a photo and thought I'd move along. Except I didn't. I picked it up, looked around for a possible owner, and carried it with me. I'm not always up on the current laws, but a few laws have been ingrained in me for a very long time: Don't speed in a school zone. Don't pick bluebonnets in Texas (we'll shoot you). And for the love of God, don't open anyone else's mail. So I kidnapped someone else's mail, which may also be a federal offense. But I took my chances.
From there, I had a strong urge to talk to someone. A UT student, or possibly young professor type, came walking down the sidewalk. I walked toward him cheerfully and said,
"I'm sorry to bother you, but something very strange just happened and I'm hoping you can help me decide what to do."
"Okay.." he said, looking skeptical.
"I'm a mom," I said, feeling that would make me appear less mentally unstable, "and I walk this route almost every day. I was just minding my own business when I found THIS on the sidewalk."
I displayed the letter for his review while pointing to the sidewalk where I discovered it. Also, I often find that in random situations, if you tell someone you're a mom, it makes them feel comfortable. I don't think this was the case this time.
"Okay..." he said, twisting his wedding ring uncomfortably.
"I know! It's crazy! Did you see the address? It's to PLAYBOY!" I said excitedly, "It was just sitting there, and the owner is nowhere in sight! Now, I bet you think you're on some kind of reality show right now, right?"
"Um, yeah." This guy was quite the conversationalist. He looked around for cameras.
"Don't worry, you're not," I assured him, "Unless of course we both are, because I just found this letter a few minutes ago and I have no idea why I picked it up. But I have some choices to make here. I could leave it where I found it, but what if it has a check in it? Or, I could drop it in the mail, but what if the owner wasn't ready to send it just yet? Or, I could track down the owner, but it's not like it's just an everyday letter. I mean, it's kind of awkward subject matter. Like is it a subscription renewal? Or maybe it's a hate letter. What should I do with it?"
By this point, the guy was fake laughing like he was laughing at his father-in-law's bad joke. He was not catching my drift, or even remotely excited about this awesome situation.
"Yeah, I don't know what you should do," he said, clearly walking to safety, "Good luck with that."
And with that he was off. I walked on, still clutching the letter, wishing I'd come across someone with more personality and gusto for life and its random happenings, and wondering why this letter was suddenly in my care.
I walked quickly home to share the story with my family, who all found the letter to be extremely entertaining and mysterious, thank goodness. My husband Tim tried to hold it up to the light to review the contents. Then he wedged his finger in the corner of it and blew, trying to peer in, until I got very protective and ordered him to stop. After all, I am the temporary guardian of this strange letter. I need to guard and protect it. (Some of you will get that reference, which makes me happy.)
Tim doesn't like it when I'm bossy, so he quickly lost interest, adding sarcastically that it could be filled with anthrax. I suggested that his decision to blow in a stranger's anthrax-filled letter was probably not a great idea, and he better watch himself.
From there, I spent entirely too much of my free time researching the letter writer's name. Because they only put a first initial and last name, tracking this individual down was nearly impossible, and I am very good at research. I tried the UT staff listing. I did all sorts of name searches, tried LinkedIn, Facebook, and even tried tracking the return address to the home owner. Right as I was identifying the owner of the home (a different name from the letter writer), my stepdaughter came home, and I told the story again.
To set up the mysterious letter story, I started with the tuba story. From yesterday. It's just how I tell stories.
Over dinner, we considered the options:
- I could drop the letter in the mail. Except somehow I've missed the memo on the fact that you can't find a simple mailbox anywhere anymore unless you go to the post office, and I feel a little weird about showing up with a letter I didn't write addressed to an establishment that features naked ladies. And I know, I know, people subscribe for the articles, but I am unsure of the intentions of my mystery letter writer, so this is an unusual situation.
- I could mail it from home, but again, do I want to be associated with this letter if it's in any way threatening?
- Also, if I mail this letter, what if the sender was debating whether or not to send it? What if it was an application for employment, or some kind of private letter to an employee? What if! What if!
- I could drive to the address on the envelope (the one in Austin, that is) and tell the person who answers the door that I found this letter. Except what happens if the letter was written by a male (with girly handwriting), and the person's wife or girlfriend answers, and is then upset at the fact that their partner subscribed to an adult publication without their knowledge?
- I could go and put the letter back where I found it. No. That's even weirder than picking it up in the first place.
- There was brief discussion about putting the letter in the freezer, a technique that evidently opens letters? I'm not sure how my stepdaughter knows this technique. Hmm.
I hope you're not waiting for a climactic finish to this story, because I still have the letter in my possession, and I have still not figured out what to do with it. I slept restlessly, dreaming about driving up to middle school band on a motorcycle, a tuba on my back, and all the while, worrying about a missing letter.
Rest assured, I'll keep you posted on what happens next!