The Big Read: Yes, I have a MySchool card

07 September 2015 - 02:06 By Darrel Bristow-Bovey

I have a small mystery in my life. Obviously there are plenty of big mysteries too - we all have those - but the small ones interest me more. My mystery is this: there's a park at the top of Upper Orange Street that I have visited only once. One summer's afternoon a few years ago I took two small girls there after their school day had finished and climbed trees with one of them and patted dogs with the other.A few months later another friend of mine visited that park with her own two small daughters. She mooned around on a bench while the girls did what girls do in parks - probably climbed trees and patted dogs - and then one came back and said: "Look what I found, Mommy." What she'd found was a Woolworths card. Not a credit card, or even a store card, but that MySchool card that, if I understand it correctly, you swipe with each purchase and some underfunded school receives a small cash percentage. Her daughter couldn't read the name on the card, but my friend could. The name was mine.Now this is just a coincidence until you consider that I've never had a MySchool card, nor ever applied for one. At that time I'd never applied for a Woolworths card of any sort, so this couldn't even be some simple administrative snafu. Nor could this card belong to someone else with my name and initials because in all the world there is no other D R Bristow-Bovey. There isn't even any conceivable motive for any forgers, scamsters or counterfeiters to fabricate a fake MySchool card in my name - what financial gain could accrue to someone triggering a minute cash donation to a needy school whenever he buys a punnet of CarbSmart macaroni cheese?My name was even spelt correctly on the card, which is perhaps the most extraordinary part of all. It's the perfect mystery to me - self-contained, weirdly puzzling, with no larger stakes attached - and I wish I was friends with Starlee Kine and could sign her up to help me solve it.Starlee Kine has a podcast called The Mystery Show, in which, each week, she solves mysteries brought to her by people, principally her friends. The main criterion she uses for selecting her cases is that the solution can't be found by using the internet. The answer is always in the real world and she goes out to find it, armed with perkiness, quirkiness and curiosity.One friend of hers has spent years wondering about the time she rented Must Love Dogs from a video store in an unfamiliar part of town and went back to return it the next day only to find the video store had disappeared. Starlee gives her closure. One friend wants to return to its original owner an elaborate belt buckle, involving a pair of mechanical skillets bearing fried eggs and bacon that pop out at the press of a hidden button, that he found in the street 15 years before. The original owner is identified only by a pair of initials. Starlee finds him. One friend wrote a book that no one bought but that shows up in a paparazzi photograph, clutched by Britney Spears fleeing the back door of a restaurant. How in the world, Starlee's friend wants to know, did that book find its way into Britney's hands? Did she read it? Does she read? Did she like it?! Starlee solves the case.Sometimes the solutions are fascinating, sometimes the nature of the quest makes it unexpectedly compelling - as when one of Starlee's pals, an artisanal pencil-sharpener from upstate New York, becomes infuriated at the contradictory information offered by the internet and demands a definitive answer to the eternally vexed question of how tall Jake Gyllenhaal really is. But mostly what we're left with is a sense of the endlessly fascinating world of human beings. Wherever Starlee goes she strikes up conversations with security guards and traffic cops, ushers and short-order chefs, and what flows from them is the infinite variety of human personality, and the weird specificities of our hopes and fears and dreams. She finds beauty and contact in the most unpromising places - the query-line operator at a Vegas casino who reveals his empty life and vows to change it; the hard-bitten New York barman who unexpectedly remembers the lost love from which he never recovered. She finds what we all find when we go looking for answers - she finds other people.I have my Woolworths MySchool card prestiked to the wall above my writing desk. Sometimes I reach up and touch it to remind myself that the world is always far more interesting than it seems.

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