Hillary Carlip's unconventional book: The author explains why she's saved the shopping lists of strangers for her new work ''A la Cart''

Hillary Carlip has never had a conventional career. She juggled in the 1980 movie Xanadu (and won on The Gong Show), taught Ellen DeGeneres how to to eat fire on camera, and published a 2006 memoir with the apt title Queen of the Oddballs: And Other True Stories From a Life Unaccording to Plan. All of which may explain why she’s fascinated with other people’s plans — particularly their shopping lists. For years, Carlip has collected strangers’ left-behind lists. ”I have file boxes filled with them,” says the 51-year-old Los Angeles native.

After years of imagining who these people might be, Carlip teamed up with Dominie Till, a makeup artist she found on Craigslist (!) who had worked on The Lord of the Rings, and transformed herself into a diverse array of shoppers for a series of guerrilla-style shoots at L.A. supermarkets. Carlip’s new book, À la Cart, depicts 26 of these imagined characters, including Pammy, who shops for Fresca, Nair, Vaseline…and a tarp. ”That little pink fox on the list made me think of Silver Foxes Productions,” Carlip says. ”She produces porn films for the senior set, like Driving Miss Daisy Chain.” June, whose typed and numbered list calls for ”newt, book on newt,” and ”shirt for jules,” inspired Carlip to ”find Mom jeans, with elastic at the top.” Though she refuses to name a favorite (”It would be like choosing a child!”), Carlip can’t hide her love for Derrick’s list: ”Mouse traps, cheese, mouse.” ”When I found that,” she says, ”it was like I’d struck gold!”