Welcome to Randyland!

Photo Randyland 1

The real Randy or a cardboard cutout? I’m still not sure.

Randy Gilson prides himself on celebrating the insignificant. Little did he know that when he purchased a dilapidated house in Pittsburgh for $10,000 at an auction back in 1995, it would become known as one of America’s most colorful public landmarks and among the most photographed places on Instagram.

Growing up in a broken home, poor and sometimes homeless, he ignored the taunting of others and focused on working to create something out of nothing, both with his life and with his surroundings. Randy says that his struggles became his strengths; “…I taught myself to repurpose, reuse and recycle…” As a young boy, he would rummage through the trash and recondition toys he found, to the delight of his five siblings at Christmas.

He’d love to sneak over to the yards of his elderly neighbors and mow their overgrown lawns. Distressed by the garbage and abandoned homes in his neighborhood, he later started the Old Allegheny Garden Society. He purchased whiskey barrels, filled them with flowers and placed them along the streets. Neighbors started volunteering to assist him and his dream of creating a peoplehood (his term for connecting people together for a common goal) took shape. Over time, 800 barrels, 50 vegetable gardens and eight parks spruced up the area.

He gave his newly purchased, ramshackle house the “Randy touch,” gathering bricks from homes in the area being torn down and believing in their energy, each with a story of the lives they housed. He lovingly positioned his collections of recycled objects around the yard and invited passersby to come in, chat and peruse at no charge.

Today, Randyland is a whimsical expression of pure joy. Colorful murals line the walls of the outdoor art space. The psychedelic staircase leads to nowhere and is decorated with bright colored metal chairs seemingly suspended in air. Mannequin heads sit on a table next to a pile of sand and toys. The worry box provides pen and paper and invites you to write down your concerns, then drop them in the box. Souvenirs are displayed on the honor system, requesting the purchaser to place the money in a nearby lock box. Seating areas welcome all to stay awhile, take in the assemblage of oddities that encircle them and read the uplifting visitor comments left on the bulletin board from all over the world.

Photo Randyland 4

I’m guessing the telephone is for emergency situations?

On a lovely Saturday afternoon, my visit to Randyland was an eye-opening experience of wonder and delight. My love of anything quirky and my awe and reverence for anyone a bit eccentric merged into a feeling of pure bliss. As I left that haven of happiness, I had a big smile on my face and a spring in my step, hoping never to forget how one man had the ability to turn waste into wonder.

Photo Randyland 5

 

 

 

Advertisements

Do I Need More Pippi in My Longstocking?

Photo Pippi Longstocking

Our only similarity is that we were both born with red hair. From the first time I met her, she was my idol. She is fiercely independent, unconventional, playful and unpredictable. Her pigtails fly in the wind, her grin widens and her freckled face flushes, as she races from one adventure to the next with her best friends: her horse, her monkey and the two children that live next door to her at her home, Villa Villekula.

Pippi Longstocking (full name Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Longstocking) is the figment of the imagination of Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. Recuperating from an illness, Astrid’s daughter asked her mom for a story and named the main character Pippi. Initially rejected by publishers, the books have since been translated into 76 languages and made into television shows and movies.

As a little girl reading the books, my eyes would widen and my heart would race; how exciting to be so free! Little did I know that my personality had already evolved, as observed by JC*. She quickly realized that, rather than inheriting her easygoing nature, my tendencies for perfection and order were thanks to my dad.

She knew she had her hands full, but guided me along with such patience. By the time she received the call that I was in the nurse’s office by second period on my first day of junior high, she was resigned to the fact that I was a bit different from other children. Apparently, I did not see the humor in being handed one of the first computerized class schedules, having only a few minutes to arrive before the bell rang and being mistakenly assigned to the boy’s bathroom for second period.

In my efforts to be a bit more spontaneous, I have actually made some major strides:

  • I visited a model home and did not rearrange anything (I’m not sure if this counts, since Mr. Wiz* was holding my hand, tightly).
  • I polished my fingernails a completely different color than my toenails.
  • On a whim, I changed my grocery shopping day from Friday to Thursday.
  • I double snoozed my alarm.
  • I impulsively ate four Triscuits with lunch, rather than my usual three and did not worry about biting cracker number four precisely on its horizontal markings.
  • I went on a trip without any pre-planning, waking up each day and deciding on my next Wait a minute that was a friend of mine that did that, not me!

Oh to be a bit eccentric! What fun it would be to make paper airplanes out of my to do lists with my avant-garde pals. Regrettably, I am only able to participate as a spectator, realizing that the only flow I am able to go with is if it has first been documented on an Excel spreadsheet.

At first, I thought that living vicariously through others was unfortunate. Then I realized that family and friends are as fascinated with my quirks as I am with theirs. They loosen me up, I keep them on track and together, we walk through life one unique step at a time.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.