Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Check Your Pockets. Check Your Bags.

The next time you leave a room/plane/house, check your pockets and check your bags.

The next time there's an announcement advising you to check for your belongings be it on bus/train/plane, listen to it and check your belongings.

The next time someone asks you if you're sure you haven't forgotten something, listen to them and check that you haven't forgotten that thing. This is especially true if the person is "The Girlfriend", Mum, Dad, Grandma, or sibling - they seem have a sixth sense about these things. Check your pockets again.

It doesn't matter whether you're jet-lagged, tired or irritated by a flight delayed for 5 hours, wanting to head home or escape from the plane, from the tedious meeting or from that person who's been getting on your nerves. Check your bags.

It doesn't matter that you looked at the bag five mintues ago. It doesn't matter that you are feeling little superior and efficient today and don't want to appear like a tottering, doting old so-and-so. Check your bags.

It doesn't matter that you're a little uncomfortable in the heat, or cold and needing a sweater, or hungover, or that your stomach is given you fits. Or tired and out of sorts. Check your pockets. Make sure you have that key.

It doesn't matter that you're happy (she kissed you!), that you're sad, that your mind is on other things (work, work, work), a missing relative, a financial matter or perhaps a health issue. Check your pockets. Check your bags nevertheless.

Am I getting through? Or is this too much repetition?

Really, do take the time to check around. It won't even matter if you get a reputation for being late. Showing up is everything and you can smile and charm your way through that. That minor friction is part-and-parcel of interaction in human society. People will find something to complain about in any case.

If you don't, know that there's nothing worse than that instant when you realize that you've left something behind. If you're lucky, you'll be close to that place you left your belongings and will be a little sheepish. And that is the best case.

If you're not, then you'll be cursing yourself. You'll be scrambling, running after the taxi who's speeding off for better fares. Phrases like "arrant stupidity" will be floating in your dreams for the next few days. You'll be out of sorts for even longer.

You won't spend a week second guessing yourself wondering if you are going soft. Did you leave it in the cab? Was it in the plane? Or somewhere in the airport. You'll spend a week being bounced from agency to agency dealing with officious and overworked people who couldn't care less about your trinket. You'll be in voice mail hell, leaving hopeful messages that you know deep down no one will listen to.

Thus two weeks ago I spent a whole night screaming "Idiot. Idiot. Idiot" over and over again after I left my bag on the Virgin Atlantic plane bringing me back from a London escapade. I was so depressed that I didn't write for ten days a week, so disgusted with myself that everything suffered. I had lost that priceless notebook, you know the one I'd been carrying around for 5 years now, the one with the 30 pages of the novel, you know, with those 30 pages that I hadn't printed out or transcribed since I still mostly write longhand.

I'm sure you all have occasions where you've lost something important. For me it's getting worse as I grow older and I've had 3 occasions in the past year

  1. After a weekend in New York, I somehow lost my home keys. I suspect they fell out of my pocket. I only discovered the loss as I tried to open my front door.
  2. On the next trip to New York barely two weeks later, I lost my wallet. Losing credit cards, cash and various IDs, I had just enough coins on me to call home and get a subway token. I visions of trying to walk from mid-Manhattan to Roosevelt island. Luckily for me, I had removed my social security card which I had needed to carry the previous day. Sidenote: I got very worried about identity theft six months later when I started receiving financial statements for someone with an arabic name, Youssouf something or other (post 9-11 paranoia or was it the Cat Stevens clone Homeland Security is looking for?).
  3. the aforementioned bag left on the plane
To compensate for my growing forgetfulness, I've fallen into the comfort of routines - obviously these routines didn't prevent this past panic but I'd been fine for almost a year. I've become a firm believer in the Save Lots of Copies Everywhere (SLOCE) redundancy approach. I stash away emergency money, have duplicate keys, back up my data on various computers, give emergency records to relatives etc. But this can only go so far: there's always that item that isn't backed up - my notebook in this last case.

In addition to embracing routine, I've take to reducing the number of things that I own and carry around such as keys, striving for a certain zen, the essence of life.

The good thing this time is that the redundancy did pay off, I did have spare house keys, cash and could more-or-less function.

I suppose I should add 2 more occasions to the list:
  • My cousin lent me his cell phone, which I promptly left somewhere an hour later. This I blame on the fact that I haven't gotten a cell phone yet so it's not part of my routine
  • A week ago, when it became clear that no kind soul was going to return my bag, I bought a new replacement bag and again promptly forgot it in a restaurant just an hour later. My only justification is that the bag was empty but this was troubling
In any case this just goes to show that it is very easy to lose things given the amount of things one has to keep track of these days. Perhaps, the old folks have it right: developing a routine is the way to go. They say that if you do something 17 times in a row, it has a good chance of becoming second nature. Joy in Repetition as it were. And so I soldier on.

Luckily in this case the parable has a nice ending. After a week of phone and email harrassment of Virgin Atlantic, Logan Airport baggage services, the State Police, and the Transportation and Safety Administration, I got a call informing me that my bag had been turned in. I rushed to the baggage service office and was so grateful that my precious notebook had been found that I didn't complain that the cd player and some cash had been quietly lifted by someone with sticky fingers in the chain of people who had handled the bag. I had resigned myself to the loss of everything and hell, they even helpfully left the headphones and the carrying case.

So again please check your pockets. Check your bags.

And check out this BBC story Bags of Money: Handbags Spill Secrets of their Worth

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