Bella Fontana

A weekly column about life in Bellefonte, PA, reprinted from the Centre Daily Times

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Mysteries surround left-behind belongings

An orange traffic cone is a simple object signifying caution. It is not funny.

Nor is the statue of Andrew Gregg Curtin in front of the courthouse.

But put the traffic cone on the head of the statue, as someone did last summer, and the result is incongruity spiked with humor.

Sneakers thrown over a telephone wire may be a common urban sight, but recently I noticed what may be the first pair in this town. Some online sources say they are a gang symbol, but I haven't heard gangs mentioned in Bellefonte since the day I walked home from the gym wearing my red bandanna "do-rag" and a kid asked, "Are you in a gang?"

Some objects, like the torn flag and smashed pumpkin on cemetery ground, shock like a slap in the face. Others, like the human features curiously impressed onto a tree on Allegheny at Burrows, amuse.

Then there are the items dropped along the way, signaling their presence by the loss they imply: a hubcap propped on a lawn, a black glove stuck on an iron fence railing, a child's pink sneaker on the sidewalk.

Clothing has its own category. Last Christmas season, a young man and his girlfriend went into a shop downtown. He was wearing a skirt. On a cold winter morning, a woman in line at the post office wore a bare top and no jacket.

On a vacation stop at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., last month, the waitresses in a Thai restaurant wore brightly colored jackets and long, narrow skirts. Darting and hovering, they reminded me of dragonflies. I could not figure how they moved so fast until I noticed they were all wearing high-tech, black athletic shoes.

Sometimes, like the Monday after move-in day in State College, I feel as if I am somewhere in Africa tracking the spoor of wild game. Trying to remember where I parked my car, I mentally retrace my steps, beyond the alley of chicken bones and pizza boxes, along the trail of beer cans and paper plates, past the gold-metallic flip-flops in the street of broken glass.

Before she left Bellefonte to live with her daughter, Mrs. Lewis Harvey donated the pith helmet and bush jackets from her safari days to our theater group. As I follow the trail of red Swedish fish in front of Bi-Lo or speculate about who left an XXL blue Gap hoodie in the street in front of the library, I become for a moment another hunter like Mrs. Harvey, studying the landscape for clues.