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The lost world
When my stuff disappears, couldnít it at least send a postcard?

In last yearís film Amélie, the title characterís father wakes one day to find that his ceramic-gnome collection, to which he is very attached, has disappeared. He can only imagine that his set of little colorful men has been stolen. But later he begins receiving postcards with photos of the gnomes living it up in Russia, Egypt, China. Greetings from the Great Wall, wish you were here ó from your Ceramic Gnome. Those sorts of notes. Amélieís father is only able to sputter with frustration and incredulity upon receiving the postcards; it never occurs to him that Amélie, a delectable young Frenchwoman with a penchant for playing tricks and hatching schemes, might have something to do with his gnomesí sudden and unexpected world tour. To Amélieís father, it seems more feasible that his inanimate possessions have shoved off and left him.

I know how he feels. More often than I care to mention, my keys, wallet, or some irreplaceable, highly important piece of paper shoves off and leaves me. I am a person who loses things. Ever since Iíve been old enough to have things to lose, Iíve set about scattering my possessions ó usually the most crucial ones. Iíve become so accustomed to my tendency to dispossess myself of important items that I often assume Iíve lost things when I havenít. But before I rediscover the "lost" driverís license, the picture of my grandfather, a friendís favorite shirt, I put myself through the torture of imagining the lost item wherever it might now reside: lying lonesome in the gutter outside a bar, left abandoned on the counter of a convenience store, adjusting to the home of the person who picked it up off the subway seat.

Thatís the thing about losing something: just because itís lost doesnít mean it doesnít exist anymore. It just means you donít know where itís doing the existing. What could be more maddening? Especially if the lost item doesnít have the courtesy to send you a postcard telling you how much itís enjoying Moscow.

Then, last week, I had that quintessential urban experience of returning to my car to find the windows smashed, the stereo gone, and my CDs, wallet, and Walkman pulled from their stealth hiding place under the driverís seat. After I got over the initial shock and primal urge to whine ó why me, why my car, why that CD no one but me likes? ó I got mad. I imagined the thief, looking somewhat like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, coming upon my broken-down but innocuous car and thinking villainously, This is the one.

Then, just to push the envelope, I incorporated my stolen stuff into the fantasy. Look, itís the thief, walking around the neighborhood using my Walkman, listening to my mix tape, using my money to buy lunch. I mean, the gnomes got a chance at a better life when they were taken from Amélieís fatherís front yard. They got to see Big Ben. But my stuff, I knew it could only be suffering. I certainly was. Especially when I talked to my credit-card company: in the three hours between the ramming of a lead pipe through several of my car windows and my discovery of the mayhem that had ensued, my things had been taken for several lengthy cab rides, to the movies, and to Walgreenís, where my card had been used to purchase several hundred dollarsí worth of toiletries.

Of course, in real life I know that my stuff has no actual feelings about having been taken from me, just as Amélieís fatherís gnomes had no feelings about being taken from him. And I also know that stuff is just stuff: itís replaceable, it canít make you happy, blah blah blah. (It still sucks when it disappears. Sucks more when someone else makes it disappear.) But the thing about stuff is that its destiny is determined, much like ours, by a bizarre convergence of human intervention ó whether malicious, benevolent, or bumbling ó and routine and inconsequential events: mixed together, they have consequences. Fate? Destiny? The word now understood for the first time by millions of Americans who saw that movie with John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale?

Whatever. All I know is that first this phenomenon tooketh away, and then, miraculously, it gaveth.

Hereís what happened: a couple days after the surreal scene in the parking lot, I got a strange message from a woman who didnít leave her name or number. She said sheíd seen a pile of CDs on the street, and that with them was a receipt with my name on it. "I donít know if you were throwing them away, or what," she said, "but I thought Iíd let you know." Then she gave the cross streets where sheíd seen the CDs, adding, just before she hung up, "I just hate to see someone lose something."

I hate to see someone lose something, too. Especially when that someone is me. Besides, this was starting to feel like an episode of Matlock, and I was intrigued. So I followed the womanís directions to a stretch of street in my neighborhood, and spent 45 minutes walking around the block with my face two feet from the ground, finding nothing but insect life. Iíd just about given up hope when I stumbled upon the man in front of whose home the thief had celebrated the acquisition of my stuff by passing out drunk. When he had finally staggered off, heíd left behind my CDs, perhaps deciding, in a more clear-headed state, that they were not to his taste. Imagine.

At the end of Amélie, the gnomes appear in Amélieís fatherís front yard as suddenly as they disappeared. Heís excited but bewildered by their return, probably not knowing whether to be happy or commit himself to a mental institution. In the end, I came out in a similar state: pleased to get some of my stuff back, dizzy from the twists of fate.

When I was a kid I thought the things I misplaced went to some Lost World, but now it seems clear that they remain on earth, bumped around by the same forces that bump me around. So the next time my keys decide to shove off to see the pyramids, Iím thinking they might make it back to me. Or at the very least send a postcard.

If youíve found Rebecca Wiederís driverís license, blue sweatshirt, or left contact lens, you can reach her at

Issue Date: June 20 - 27, 2002
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