The Fine Art of Losing Things

One of the pitfalls of being human is that if we live long enough, we reach a point at which we spend extraordinary amounts of time looking for things that were securely in our possession moments earlier.
We’ve all done it. One minute you have the pen you were using, the charger for your device, your sunglasses, your temper … and the next – poof! Gone – often for an infuriatingly long time.
I once spent over an hour looking for a pair of shoes I’d absentmindedly stashed in the refrigerator while grazing. I was a teenager then, so senility wasn’t a factor. Now, from the perspective of greater age, I know that the chilled shoes were but a harbinger of things to come.
These days, I can lose almost anything in almost no time and with no effort whatsoever. It’s remarkable, and more than a little annoying, how quickly indispensable possessions vanish and how difficult they are to find.
Wallets, for example. I lost mine a couple of years ago, looked everywhere (including the refrigerator) for it and, failing, canceled my debit and credit cards. A few hours later, a woman called to say she’d found it in the middle of a downtown street.
The most frequent offenders, as we all know all too well, are keys, glasses and remotes. A day seldom passes without my losing one or more of these things. One of our remotes is smaller than an iPod and is programmed – the evidence is indisputable – to burrow into the depths of the couch, dematerialize and inexplicably transport itself from room to room.
It doesn’t help that our toddler grandson likes to hide it in the laundry hamper.
One novel and highly successful method of losing things is to put them on the roof of your car and drive away. This was the likely explanation for my lost wallet that was found in the middle of the street. It also has been my method of choice for losing not one but two library books.
If there’s one thing you don’t want to lose, it’s a library book. I learned this the hard way a number of years ago by putting one on the roof of my car and driving off to a destination now forgotten. The consequences, however, are remembered indelibly.
Some books would be almost criminal to lose – classics, first editions, out-of-print books, books signed by their authors … Happily, this was none of those. It was a novel by Fannie Flagg. “Fried Green Tomatoes,” the movie, was big at the time and it made me want to read another of her books, which happily was in print, not a classic or first edition and not autographed.
But replacing it was, shall we say, a process. An expensive process. When a librarian explained how much it would be for the library to purchase a new copy, put one of those impregnable library covers on it and do whatever else is required to put it into circulation, my knees got weak. Fillings have been replaced for less.
Granted, it was a hardcover edition. But still …
“How much would it be if I bought a copy and brought it in to you?” I asked the librarian.
“Well, that would save you some money.”
This was in the days before almost any book you think of could be purchased with a couple of keystrokes. The options then were yard sales and used book stores. It took a while – quite a while, actually – but luck was on my side. Triumphantly, I returned to the library with a used but serviceable copy and waited while the librarian totaled up the fees.
They were less than replacing a filling, but considering that I’d bought the book myself, still a bit of a shock. I vowed never to lose a library book again – and didn’t.
Until a recent trip through Oregon. We stopped in Baker City for lunch at a restaurant with a model railroad running from table to table, something you don’t see every day, and reached our destination uneventfully that evening.
Well, not quite uneventfully.
“Have you seen my library book?” I asked my wife.
“No. When’s the last time you saw it?”
“In the car when we stopped in Baker City.”
That’s when her sister, who was following us in her car when we left the restaurant, dropped the bomb:
“I wondered if that was your book?”
“What book?”
“The one lying in the road right after we left the restaurant. The car behind you ran over it.”
Once again, I’d left a library book on the roof of the car and unwittingly driven away.
Even an old blind dog gets a bone once in a while, though. The library’s total this time, book and fees: a comparatively trifling $16. Apparently Fannie Flagg commands a higher price than Larry McMurtry.
Speaking of the library, I was there a few days ago, reached for my library card in my wallet and noticed that my driver’s license was missing. Retracing my steps and checking with lost-and-found departments yielded nothing. Another case of just plain gone. Poof! Thin air!
Which is why this must end. I have to get to the Department of Motor Vehicles before it closes.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Statesman and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

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