X. There's No Place Like Gnome, There's No Place Like Gnome.

Rudely enough, one of my oldest and dearest friends moved to Philly. The Philadelphian, The Baker, and I consider ourselves a trio of soul mates. I fully expect that we will be friends for life. Regardless, he up and moved to the City of Brotherly Love where he had the audacity to purchase a house in the suburbs with an air of permanency. As most new homeowners do, he traded in the bar scene to spend his Saturday nights at home improvement stores buying mulch and fertilizer. The need to nest takes over; an ordinary backyard becomes a beautiful new haven, hammock included. Upon one of his many trips to Home Depot, he stumbled across a collection of Garden Gnomes and thought of me. "Doesn't Braticas collect these?" The answer to that is no. No, I do not collect gnomes. Why would one think that? Well, it all started with a girl from Montmartre.

Senior year of high school I got completely lost. I'd had a well thought out plan for my future, but it vanished the day I received a rejection letter from art school. I was crushed. In fact, so upset that I called out of work, a first for me. Everything I had been working for my senior year seemed like a waste. I had no backup plan and no idea what else to major in. Rather than obsess about my unsure future, I opted to escape from reality using music and film. Amélie, a masterpiece by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, was my anesthetic of choice.

I am by no means exaggerating when I tell you that every day after school I'd come home and put Amélie on the tube. I'd watched it so many times I didn't even need subtitles. I'd revel in the language, the set design, the clever and gorgeous camera angles, and most importantly, the plot. The girl from Montmartre and the Collector. The story resonated with me, the idea that two perfect strangers could find each other and be just what the other needed. I'd always fancied stories that dabbled with fate and soul mates. Only You. Sleepless in Seattle. But Amélie was my favorite.

With the end of my senior year fast approaching, I threw a college catalog in the air and landed in the Mass Communications department. It seemed like a plan, but it wasn't. It was a costly detour. Had I been reading the signs screaming for me to go into film or music, things might have turned out differently. I’d been obsessive about both my entire life. I possessed the rare talent of picking out editing or continuity flaws in films. I quote movies incessantly. I excel at Six Degrees of Separation. My childhood was spent watching the same five films over and over again. Princess Bride. Back to the Future. Dirty Dancing. The Man from Snowy River. Working Girl. An odd assortment of films for a child. She refuses to watch Back to the Future to this day. Apparently I insisted on watching it back to back for a solid year. By the age of eighteen, Amélie had become what Back to the Future had been at age four. Clearly, I liked film. Mass communications would bore me to inertia. But that was the only plan I had at the moment.

How does this relate to Garden Gnomes? If you’ve seen Amélie then you know. If not, let me explain. In the movie, Amélie's father is grief stricken after the death of her mother and spends his days building a shrine to her in the garden. In an effort to get him out of his funk and to start traveling, she steals his garden gnome and sends it around the world with a stewardess friend. The Travelocity commercials were born out of Amélie. She, being gift giver extraordinaire, researched the company that made the Gnome featured in the film, purchased the exact one, and had it shipped from Europe. Albert was my high school graduation present. The card was filled with encouragement to go out and see the world and to take Polaroid’s along the way. I cried when I opened it.

The summer after graduation sped by. Come August I’d packed my extensive movie collection full of Sundance winners, dark comedies, period pieces, and foreign flicks and Albert and I went to college. He lived on my bookshelf and oversaw homework, fights with my roommate, drinking, and hundreds of movies. But he never traveled. Then one tragic day while entertaining a few friends, in a desperate plea for attention, Albert dove off my bookshelf and broke into pieces. I choked back the tears so my guests wouldn't see. Surely they wouldn't understand me crying over a garden gnome. I was weird enough without that.

I made a frantic phone call to Her shrieking, "Albert is dead! He's dead! He just jumped off the bookshelf!" Later I concluded that my roommate's obsession with Sponge Bob was just too much for Albert. I could escape the cramped dorm room- he couldn't. Within weeks She surprised me with a replacement Albert. When I opened the box, however, he turned out to be Albert's evil twin. His clothes were different colors and his face was dark and menacing. A sign. Things were not as they should be.

I sloppily glued Albert back together; he went back on the bookshelf with his evil twin at his side where guests would always inquire as to why I had twin garden gnomes. Since then I have been gifted with two more. So there I was, four garden gnomes in a 9 x 9 dorm room. Bizarre indeed. I still have them all, Albert, Evil Albert, and the two nameless have made it through five moves since college.

That's why The Philadephian thought of me when he saw a garden gnome. Now when I see one, all I see is mischance and lost opportunity. How She wanted so much for my life to be full of Polaroids, but I misread the signs and detoured off the yellow brick road. ~Braticas

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