strangers among us

I’m a photographer. I’m crafty when there’s time. I wouldn’t really call myself handy, and if I did, it’d be a lie. Phil hires people to do what he cannot. We cannot. He picked up eight matted picture frames of different sizes, one of those kits, where they show you the many possibilities for grouping them. The handymen–yes, it took two–hung the photos in a neat arrangement. So, for the past few weeks, there have been strangers in our living room, hugging and smiling, black and white prints of catalog people waiting to be replaced. They’re kinda growing on me.

Phil has a house in Newport, so I suppose by extension, I do too. It’s a six bedroom house near the Tennis Hall of Fame and the Cliff Walk. He rents it out during the winter, usually to students. Come the summer, families stay for regattas and chowder festivals, I suppose. Some weekends we used to go. The first time I arrived, I was greeted with lace doilies. Pictures of grandparents, yellowed and caked. Old furniture, a velvet sofa in a night shade. Each room painted in historic, yet loud, colors. Mustard, I think. A forest and a blue. Odd colors really. But even more odd, Phil and his friends had decorated the house, given it a "charming" personality–a personality of complete strangers. I suppose it was befitting given that he would rent to strangers. It gave him a chance to tell the story of the house he didn’t know. Abernathy Rhodes. He lived in the house for how long, Phil? Oh, a long while, he says. I think he might’ve even died there. Some say they can even hear his ghost.

If I start naming the catalog people on my walls, I’m in trouble. Though it would be a cool idea for fiction. The reader believes these people the narrator introduces in her life are all real but is unsure how they’re all connected. Ultimately we learn the characters are all catalog couples, their stories manufactured by a young lady, lonesome, troubled, hopeful, creating a rich inner life within her own walls, and the strangers among her. The Portrait of A Lady.



  1. Read The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields. All of the photos of "family members" are phony but fit into the story.

  2. There's an Elvis Costello song(may be a remake)- There's a stranger in the house no one will ever see…that stranger is me"

  3. Phil is hilarious! Does he rent the house out for the summer in Newport, RI? I might be interested. Newport is a wonderful summer getaway from Boston.

  4. Yeah, I've always wondered about those people. Who ARE they really? What do they do? Where do they live? What are their stories?

    Do they put "Photo Frame Model" as job descriptions on their resumes? How do they react when they go into a store and see photos of themselves inside one of those brand new frames? And how literal would it be if they bought one of those frames and kept it with the original picture?


  5. I'm happily surprised you both own property in Newport. I grew up here and it's a wonderful place. My family on my mom's side lives in Texas and they always come for a few weeks during the summer (leaving is usually accompanied by tears). If you want to get your "shop-on" make sure you check out Kristina Richards and Mandarine. And check out dinner's in the summer at Gooseberry beach.

  6. Ahhh. To have a vacation home. I am feeling a little spring fever trapped and a house in Newport would be a lovely antidote. Also, I think the fiction idea is a lot of fun. I'd read it.

  7. I had strangers in picture frames so long they became a staple. I couldn't remove them. People believed they were my family members and we eventually made up stories to go with them. They are much older now and we don't keep in touch with them as much as we should – but the pictures remain!

  8. Kind of sounds like what Margaret Seltzer did recently–laid out a plan for fiction and then believed it herself. Thanks for the tip about The Stone Diaries, Carol.

  9. It's better than at our house where empty Ikea frames that hang on the wall shout out RIBBA in their bold Bauhaus type. I hung the damn frames. You mean I have to put photographs in them too?

  10. I love Newport. It is beautiful and quiet and quaint. I used to go with my mom in the summers sometimes.

  11. maybe this could fit into the young adult genre….a young girl who has such a crappy homelife that she invents a whole new family with the picture people and ends up trying to keep up with the story she tells about them and her real life

  12. You own a six bedroom house in Newport?
    Please do not ever complain about your life again.

  13. It is not uncommon – using real people as the basis for fictional characters (names changed to protect the innocent). And it often makes for a better read than pure fiction.

    At least, in this case I suspect it would.


  14. I went to school in Newport… great town… you definitely should spend some time there during the summer… your little ones would love the beach! When I was a Freshman in college there, I had a roommate (we didn't choose each other, we were assigned together) who lived in LaLa Land. She had framed pictures of the Calvin Klein models all over her side of the room. She told anyone who came to visit our room that they were her friends from home. Sadly, I really think she believed it herself. I'm sure I heard her talking to them… more than once.

  15. Just had to share. About 20 years ago I had a Glamour shot done and sent it to my parents. My Mom called and thanked me for "the frame". I asked about the photo and she said she threw it out because it was the "filler" picture. Hilarious. In hind sight I am glad she did. It was not me-just a fake me all made up and smiling for the camera.

  16. This post doesn't even make sense! I agree with critics; your writing is sloppy, disconnected and peppered with poorly constructed sentences that you mistakenly believe are clever.

  17. I actually know a picture frame model! A good friend was contacted by his online photo developer asking if they could use a cute photo of his baby son dumping a bowl of spaghetti over his head as a photo frame insert. I have since seen it both online and at Macy's.

  18. If your picture frames haven't already been hung, have the guys separate them into one group of three and another group of five. Odd numbers of hung things are more visually calming to the eye. I get this from a graphic artist with an MFA from one of the best art schools in the country.

  19. Great writing.

    I remember The Yellow Wallpaper as a short story but I could be wrong…I think it was assigned for a Women's Lit class in college.

  20. I use to show my grade school friends pictures of my 'brothers and sisters' that had been cut out from the JC Penney catalog. Such an imaginative, lonely, only-child I was back in the day.

  21. man,oh man, i agree with above post "wow" we adore you but me thinks i woulda kept that too myself.

  22. Playing framed print poker: Bossy will see your Catalogue People and raise you a few Price Tags.

  23. I think you just wanted to brag about having a vacation home and that is the point of this post.

  24. Yeah, The Yellow Wallpaper.. I think it was about a woman with severe post-partum whose husband kept her confined to her room because she was a little wacky. And at the end of the story she ripped all the wallpaper off the walls because she thought she saw figures moving underneath.

    (shudder) That story freaked me out. That and "A Rose For Emily." Very creepy, in a good way. Read it, if you haven't.

  25. Oh, PJ just don't come here if it is that troubling to you. Go outside, enjoy the real world. Steph is hilarious, but you have your opinion, now scoot…

  26. Hey Deb- I did not make the crappy comment. It was frustrated. Who made the comment is posted at the bottom of the comment. I love Stephanie. Tell "Frustrated" to take a hike.

  27. wow. this is really obnoxious.

    i think it's your use of the word "odd." and also, the fact that you mention having two handymen to hang some picture frames on the wall. and also, the flippant way you say, "so I guess it's my (six bedroom Newport vacation) house too."

    you have lots of money. you can orgasm easily. you think you are witty and clever and oh-so-charming.

    i don't think you need picture frames or fiction ideas or a vacation at the house. i think you need humility.


  28. I've been thinking about this post for a long time.

    Stephanie has handypeople coming to hang pictures for her, and a six-bedroom vacation home in a lovely, wealthy place.
    Stephanie is wealthy.

    So what should she do about it?

    I mean, she could pretend that she doesn't have the life she does, and lie about herself, but what's the point of that on a personal blog?

    What kind of "humility" should she show? Should she begin every post with an apology? Or detail what sort of charitable things she's done?

    There are people out there suffering from real tragedies. Deciding what picture to hang on the wall is not one of them.

    Except Stephanie never pretends it is, never asks you to think it is, never asks you to feel sorry for her. She's just writing about her life.

    I think that Stephanie's blog's greatest attribute is that you know it's real and truthful. LOTS of writers focus on the suffering, the plights of others, but that doesn't make them sufferers themselves. That doesn't inherently make them greater human beings.

    At least Stephanie never pretends to be something she's not.

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