Imagining the Life Stories of Strangers

By Greg Schwem | June 2nd, 2023

Let’s play ‘What’s in Your Storage Unit?’

grocery store aisle with a hand pushing a cart, from Helgidinson. Perhaps you’ve done this yourself, imagining the life stories of strangers. Humorist Greg Schwem shares his version of the game.

Perhaps you’ve done this yourself, imagining the life stories of strangers: the diners at another table, pedestrians strolling downtown, the shoppers of Walmart. Humorist Greg Schwem shares his version of the people-watching game, along with his speculations.

Purely for my own entertainment, and perhaps out of boredom while standing in grocery checkout lines, I find myself peering into fellow shoppers’ carts and trying to imagine their life stories.

For example: the guy last week whose cart contained a jumbo pack of diapers and a 12-pack of beer. Was he a stay-at-home dad eager, I mean, REALLY eager, to reward himself when his wife returned from a business trip? Was he the lifelong single uncle who thought, “How difficult can this baby-sitting thing be?” Or something in between?

Earlier this month there was an attractive woman, mid-30s, purchasing a laxative and a large bouquet of flowers. What was her deal? Did she seek something pleasant to look at while the laxative did its due diligence? Did she feel the need to fill her house with fragrance for obvious reasons? Was her digestive system keeping her from her love of gardening? The possibilities were endless.

If grocery cart analysis is your idea of fun, then you really must rent a storage unit. Or simply hang out at a storage facility.

I recently moved from a four-bedroom house into a one-bedroom apartment, a process that required more preplanning and coordination than invading a hostile country. Upon realizing I would not be able to secure my new building’s loading dock on the same day my movers emptied my home, I was forced to secure, for a month, one of those sterile, garage-like structures that people rent for one of three reasons:

1. Like me, they are in transition between residences.

2. They are having difficulty downsizing or, worse, have a serious hoarding addiction.

3. They are looking to dispose of evidence from the crime they just committed.

Whatever their intentions, I found myself making multiple trips to my unit, not only to drop off or retrieve items, but just to observe others doing the same thing so I could imagine what prompted them to pay monthly fees for what started as empty space.

On my first visit, after unloading 15 boxes from a rickety cart into my unit, and realizing months of physical therapy was in my near future, I exited the elevator to find a gentleman with two items on his cart: a truck tire and an electronic piano keyboard.

My mind did not even know where to begin.

Was he part of a musical group called “Spare Automotive Parts”? It was plausible. Or was there a disabled tour bus stranded somewhere, and this guy was elected to find a replacement tire while ditching the one that had just run over a sharp object? That seemed far-fetched; why take the keyboard on this mission? Also, that task seemed more suited for the bass player.

I longed to ask his intentions, but I chose to remain silent. Nobody in a storage facility wants to chat, because nobody in a storage facility is in a pleasant mood. Moving is an arduous task unless you just won the lottery, have elected to take your winnings in hundred-dollar bills and have a distrust of banks.

On my next trip, this time to OPEN all the boxes until I found some documents I had inadvertently packed, I shared an elevator with a couple whose cart contained two paintings and an industrial-sized bag of dog food. I’m no art aficionado, so I couldn’t critique the paintings’ subject matter or artistic styles. I chose to focus on the dog food.

Were these two planning to paint a ravenous canine? Or did they just need something to keep their own pet occupied while they plied their craft? Judging from the size of the bag, the latter scenario meant the pair were notoriously slow painters.

Perhaps they weren’t artists at all but merely art collectors. I imagined the couple, their dog between them, gazing at their latest purchase in the foyer of their expensive home. They would celebrate with a succulent dinner of red wine, two steaks cooked medium well and grain-free kibble. The only thing lacking would be music.

I know of a keyboard player who could fit the bill. Although he may need transportation.

Greg Schwem is a corporate stand-up comedian and author of two books: Text Me If You’re Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad and the recently released The Road To Success Goes Through the Salad Bar: A Pile of BS From a Corporate Comedian, available at Visit Greg on the web at

© 2023 Greg Schwem. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Like laughing? Check out more Schwem, Boomer articles on laughter or the baby boomer humor of Randy Fitzgerald.

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