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Return to Sender by Randy Vancourt
by Randy Vancourt
Philately: the study of stamps, postal history and other related items.
I may be wrong but I’m fairly certain most people have never given the subject of philately much thought. I have always been aware that it had something to do with stamp collecting, but one summer day in 2007 I was destined to discover much, much more.
As a performer I spend quite a bit of time on the road. I’ve always enjoyed greeting audience members after my shows; I run around the building and appear at the exit to shake hands with people as they’re leaving. Of course saying hello to so many people every evening means that eventually many of their faces blur together.
This particular July had taken me, for two and a half weeks, to a beautiful town on the shores of Lake Huron. It was my first Sunday off, following a week of performances where we had shaken lots of hands and exchanged pleasantries with many people.
This afternoon I was walking along the beach by myself, just enjoying the peace and tranquility. I came to a small road that wound its way through a few rows of small cottages, so I decided to wander along and have a look at them.
Suddenly a jovial fellow appeared from the front door of one of the cottages, smiling and waving. He shouted to me, “How great to see you! What are you doing here?”
Based on his immediate familiarity I assumed he had been at my show the previous evening. In fact I was so sure of this that I convinced myself I recognized his face.
“Why don’t you come around back, “ he continued. “My wife and a few friends are there and you can say hello.”
Secure in the belief that I’d also met his wife at my show, I gladly accepted.
His backyard was set up with a BBQ, lots of folding chairs and a cooler of drinks. Clearly they were settling in for a relaxing afternoon. I was more than happy to be a part of the festivities, and immediately went to introduce myself to everyone. Fortunately my host got there ahead of me, and quickly shouted out to everyone there.
“This is Kevin Leblanc. We met at the philately convention in New Jersey about a year ago.”
I froze. I now realized that this fellow had not been at my show, and as I was fairly certain I had never been to a philately convention in New Jersey, the obvious fact was that we were two complete strangers. I knew I had a few brief seconds to make a very important decision. Should I tell him he’s mistaken and cause the poor fellow embarrassment, or should I simply play along? The answer became clear when he turned to me and said, “Kevin, can I get you a beer?”
It was hot and sunny, and if he wanted Kevin the Philatelist to have a beer and perhaps partake of a few snacks, then it seemed cruel to deny him that pleasure. After all, I’ve played lots of different characters on stage; how much harder could this be?
Within a few minutes “Kevin” was sitting on a lawn chair, happily enjoying a drink and pleasant conversation. The job of being a phony philatelist wasn’t that difficult after all. Until...
“Would you like to see my postcards?” my newfound friend asked.
“Why not?” I thought, feeling more than a little relieved. I had been a bit worried that we were going to spend the afternoon looking through hundreds of stamps. Thankfully his area of interest seemed to be stamps that arrive on interesting cards from exotic locations.
It was at this point that I discovered what separates the true fan from the mere dilettante. My expectation of a handful of postcards was shattered when he instead produced a dozen scrapbooks, each one jam packed with hundreds of cards, all with their own captivating, extremely lengthy, story.
I wasn’t sure what surprised me the most; the fact that he maintained such a massive collection of postcards, or that he felt the need to bring them to his cottage. Still, as I hadn’t yet finished my drink I felt I owed him my feigned interest, so we proceeded to discuss, in great detail, the various histories of each postcard.
When I say “discuss” of course I mean that he chatted away excitedly while I, with absolutely no knowledge of the subject, soon discovered that a few head nods and the occasional, “Oh yes,” or “Fascinating!” convinced him that we shared the same burning passion.
After what felt like hours, although it was probably only 30 minutes, he asked, “So Kevin, will you be at the next convention in Kingston?” As I had clearly made a real commitment to this charade, of course I agreed.
“Great!” he enthused. I’ll email you tonight and we can arrange a time to meet up.” Not wanting Kevin to overstay his welcome I figured this was my exit cue, so I thanked him for the drink, promised to see him at the next convention, and left.
I laughed to myself about what was eventually going to happen when he contacted the real Kevin and mentioned that they’d shared a drink in his backyard. I really wanted to hear that exchange as Kevin denied being there, followed by utter confusion as both men tried to figure out exactly who the interloper had been.
As I walked back up the hill to the place I was staying, something started bothering me. Was this a pang of conscience at having misled an innocent group of people?
No. I suddenly realized I was still here for another week and a half. How was I going to leave the house each day without running the risk of bumping into a potentially irate philatelist?
Bio: Randy Vancourt is a Canadian composer, writer and performer, which allows him to spend much of his working time traveling. A one-time puppeteer with The Muppets, he also wrote the theme song for the French version of Carmen Sandiego, which perhaps explains his interest in travel. He writes a regular magazine column and is currently preparing to publish a new collection. His biggest regret so far is not taking the contract to play piano on the MS Explorer, a ship that sank in 2007 en route to the South Pole.