Wanted: Personal assistant for newspaper columnist. Duties include compensating for failing memory and chronic absent-mindedness. Salary negotiable.
The columnist mentioned above would be me.
My memory, never great, is getting worse. How much worse became all too clear recently – on a day impossible for even me to forget.
No, as a matter of fact, it’s not strictly an aging thing. I’ve always been forgetful. And notoriously absent-minded. I once spent the better part of an hour looking for my shoes and found them in the refrigerator. I was 16 then.
There’s no denying that it’s getting worse, though, as I’m sure you’ll agree when you’ve finished reading the saga of the lost keys and wallet.
And they weren’t even my keys.
It began, as days are apt to do at my house, with a call from a female in distress. Usually it’s the teenage-granddaughter-in-tears syndrome, but this time it was our younger daughter calling in behalf of her youngest, who is six. A mixup had left her without a parent for a special event at her day care. My wife was going to cover for our daughter, who had to work, but a communications breakdown had left both thinking the other would be there.
“They have little tables set up for each kid and their moms,” she said, her voice breaking. “I have this image of poor Chloe sitting at her table all alone while all other kids’ moms are there.”
A heart-rending image if ever there was one.
My wife, meanwhile, was volunteering at a homeless shelter, oblivious to the unfolding tragedy. The good news was that I volunteer at the same shelter, so the solution was obvious. I would relieve her while she went to the day care.
It would have worked, too.
Except for the key fiasco.
I was washing dishes when another volunteer asked if anyone had seen the shelter keys.
Moments later, “This is serious, guys. The keys aren’t anywhere. Are you absolutely sure you didn’t put them somewhere?”
More silence. This led to a visit to the kitchen from the office manager, whose normally placid demeanor had evaporated.
“We can’t have lost those keys!” she said. “They’re the keys to everything we have! Could any of you have used them for something and forgotten to put them away?”
Still more silence. She might as well have been talking to a room full of statues.
We’re not talking an ordinary set of keys like those you keep in your purse or pocket. This was an industrial-sized ring of keys – keys to the front door, back door, office, clothing room, laundry room, gate, storage areas, you name it. No one wanted to think about what could happen if all those keys had fallen into the wrong hands.
“There was some guy here a little while ago that none of us had ever seen before” one of the volunteers said by way of reassurance. “He said he’d just gotten out of prison.”
“Could your wife have taken the keys when she left to go to the day care center?” the office manager asked me.
I told her it was doubtful, a premise validated when my wife returned an hour later with no knowledge of the missing keys.
“Are you sure you didn’t do something with them?” my wife asked me, her eyes narrowing. “You know how forgetful you are.”
“Me? No way! I’ve been in the kitchen the whole time. Haven’t had to open anything but a bottle of bleach. Didn’t use the keys, haven’t needed the keys, haven’t seen the keys.”
Wishing them luck, I left for home with a clear conscience.
So you can imagine my reaction when I got there, reached into my pocket for the house keys and found …
The missing shelter keys. They were in my pocket the whole time! I hadn’t used them or needed them; I’d just casually picked them up, stuffed them in my pocket and walked away with them – all without having the slightest memory of it.
Embarrassed? Absolutely. But, embarrassed or not, the only thing to do was drive back to the shelter and return them as quickly as possible.
The office manager was surprised to see me there.
“I thought you went home,” she said.
“I did. Have you changed the locks yet?”
“No. We’re going to have one of the guys sleep here tonight in case somebody uses them to try to get in and take something. Why? … Did you find them?”
“They were in my pocket.”
“What?! You had them all along? How could you have done that?”
I told her about finding my shoes in the refrigerator at 16, hoping she’d understand and sympathize.
She looked at me like I had three heads.
“It’s inherited,” I lied. “Well, I have to go now. My lawn needs mowing.”
The lawn part, at least, was the truth. Red-faced and humiliated, I drove to the gas station to buy lawnmower gas, reached for my wallet and …
No wallet. It wasn’t in the glove compartment, wasn’t under the seats, wasn’t stuck between the seats … It was in my pocket when I returned the keys, so it must have fallen out then. There may be worse places to lose your wallet than a homeless shelter, but none came immediately to mind.
Even an old blind dog gets a bone once in a while – I didn’t get a speeding ticket driving back to the shelter.
The wallet, however, wasn’t there.
“We’ll be sure to let you know if someone turns it in,” the office manager said.
“Right. And I’ll let you know when the Cubs win the World Series.”
Losing a wallet with your debit card, credit cards, health insurance card, driver’s license and other things you can’t live without makes you a little crazy. You panic. You go a little crazy. You look in places you know it couldn’t possibly be. I looked in the trunk of the car, checked my pockets a dozen times, went home and turned the house upside down – even though I was certain the wallet had been in my pocket when I left home.
For old time’s sake, I looked in the refrigerator.
Then I called and canceled the cards.
A few hours later, the phone rang.
“Is this Tim Woodward?”
“You don’t know me, but I found your wallet in the middle of Ninth Street by the Cottonwood Grill.”
The Cottonwood Grill? That was blocks from the shelter.
There were only two possible explanations. A) someone had found the wallet at the shelter and walked all that way to toss it into heavy traffic on Ninth Street or B) you-know-who had absent-mindedly lain it on the roof of the car and driven away.
Wonder which it could have been.
The fact that I’ve driven away with everything from groceries to library books on the roof of my car is immaterial.
The next day, the woman who found the wallet met me and returned it. Everything that was in it when it was lost was still in it. Offered a reward, she declined.
“It was the right thing to do,” she said. “I was on my bike when I saw it lying in the street. I was in a hurry because I wanted to ride to Bogus Basin, but I thought about how I’d feel if it was my wallet and said to myself, ‘Jodi, you can take a few minutes to help someone.'”
Thank you, Jodi Cuccia. If there’s ever anything I can do for you, just say the word.
On second thought, don’t say the word.
Make it something I can’t forget.
Write me a note.
Send me an e-mail.
A telegram …
A registered letter …