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June 15, 2011

Biggest loser

My life is what occurs in the brief interludes when I’m not looking for things I’ve misplaced, or lost completely.

For me to say, “I lose things pretty frequently” would be like Congressman Anthony Weiner saying, “My wife’s been a little irritated with me lately,” or Glenn Beck saying, “My name’s Glenn, and I’m a dangerous little prick.” The magnitude of the understatement renders the sentiment almost meaningless.

The following pieces of information are factual:

I break into my truck with a coat hanger at least as often as I open the door with the key.

I’ve gone through eight, count ’em, eight, cellular telephones in the past three years.

I just lost my annual pair of $20 sunglasses after two blissful weeks, and I’ll be squinting till next June.

One time, I walked out of the bank with $1,000 cash in my pocket. Across town an hour later when I couldn’t find it, I lost my mind, cried a little, drove around talking to myself, and initiated several very strange and distinctly accusatory conversations with total strangers before I returned to discover $1,000 in an envelope on the grass 10 feet from the front door of my bank.

Losing an object that was, until recently, held in your hand initiates a cascade of thoughts and behaviors that begin with, “What in the hell happened to that thing I was just holding in my hand?” This thought, followed by a sigh and a curse word, signifies submission and the start of the hunt. Next: disgruntled poking around, methodical searching, panic, frenzied/irrational searching, laughter, resigned/pouty searching in the same locations already covered with the addition of a close inspection of the refrigerator.

Somewhere in this chronology, most misplaced things are found, and your chances greatly improve if the person who thoughtfully moved your stuff happens by and helpfully discloses the new, convenient location of your cigarette lighter, parasol, “Fletch” DVD, etc.

If, however, at about the 20-minute mark you are still unable to locate the “thing” in question, a dramatically increased belief in the supernatural, extraordinary and paranormal flashes upon your consciousness. At this point, the simple distress of losing something and wasting time searching for it is compounded by an unsettling clarity of your fundamentally erroneous conceptions of causality and previously held notions that the universe can be understood by humans in any significant way.

The last cellular phone I lost disappeared while I was sitting alone on the porch reading. After an entire day spent searching for it in an area no larger than 200 square feet, from which it cannot have strayed by any Newtonian mechanism, objective evidence-based reasoning has led me to conclude that a coyote came on the porch while I was momentarily away and took it, or that there is an alternate dimension directly adjacent to our own where things go when they tire of us and our persistent fetishization of them.

In being absent, momentarily or permanently, objects become “things” with which, we realize, we have actual relationships. These relationships are real and subject to the benefits, pitfalls and follies of any relationship. Pleasure, pain, longing, disgust, joy — all of these very real feelings can be derived from our interactions with the things in our lives. Likewise, objects derive from us and our attentions importance, place, status and meaning. We endow them with power, will and agency. In searching for a lost object, one realizes that the roles have changed significantly and something previously acted upon is now initiating the action.

We recently took my niece and nephews to an arcade and watched as they ran around pumping coins into games that would occasionally spit out little tickets that were hoarded like treasure and traded in at the counter for junky little trinkets and plastic baubles — in short, things whose purpose in this world is not to be used but instead to be wanted.

The kids enjoyed themselves, and I’m glad of it, but I felt a little guilty for facilitating this type of “thing-wanting.” Watching them play with the things in that room, largely in hopes of winning other things, it was easy to consider the way the kids themselves were being played by the objects. It is not altogether different from a great deal of what grown-ups do with much of their time.

I’ve been trying to keep that in mind in my daily searching excursions in hopes that one day, I’ll say to the things, “Fine. Get lost.” 

Tagged: Raised Relief |