The first thing I learned about unidentified bodies is that they need nicknames. A moniker can derive from the place where a body is found, like Cheerleader in the Trunk, discovered in Frederick, Maryland, in 1982. It can refer to when a corpse turns up, like Valentine Sally, found on a February 14 in Williams, Arizona. Or it can memorialize a physical characteristic, like Tok, Alaska’s One-Eyed Jack, who was wearing a leather eye patch when he was located in 1979. Nicknames serve as convenient shorthand for cops tracking cases. They can also generate intrigue, empathy, and investigative leads. The best nicknames tell stories that captivate.
That’s the second thing I learned about unidentified bodies: Story is everything. Of the 4,400 unclaimed, unnamed bodies discovered in the United States annually, law enforcement identifies 75 percent within a year. After that the chances of putting a name to a body plunge dramatically. Drumming up public interest with a compelling narrative is often the only way to keep cases from being forgotten.
I have a strong respect for choreographed mass dancing; I grew up with the understanding that seminal moments in Bollywood films must be commemorated with synchronized hip shaking. The Wildhorse was a divine revelation — white people, they’re just like us!
There I was, a Yankee of Indian extraction who had always dismissed country music without a second listen, tearing through Nashville’s Lower Broadway — swaying along to cover bands at Tootsie’s and Robert’s Western World and perusing star-spangled cowboy gear at Boot Country.
Eight years ago, I’d never have imagined I’d be playing the VIP bestie of the supermodel Coco Rocha. Or, for that matter, casually strolling by Matt Damon, pretending not to be aware of his scripted meet-cute on a New York City sidewalk. In 2009, I’d lost my job as an ad sales and marketing executive at a publishing company and was having trouble finding a new one. The recession was affecting most businesses, and unemployment had reached its highest level in 25 years; months of interviews and rejections had me searching desperately for new avenues. Unexpectedly, I’d find my first days back at work on a film set, as an extra. What initially seemed like a temporary gig turned into a viable, even unexpectedly stable, way to make a living while also learning the nuts and bolts of a fascinating industry.
Food thus becomes a way of seeing, an invaluable "touchstone for understanding what real love is." Not just for Nunn, but for all those who read this insightful, unsparing, and touching memoir.