November 26, 2004

Missing in Action

I lost my iPod.

One minute I was listening to This American Life while waiting for my sister-in-law, Janet, to pick me up at the subway’s “Kiss and Ride.” The next we were in front of her house. As I was getting out of her car that polar white earphone cord swayed in the late November breeze. Naked, empty, and alone.

You know that moment. You stare in disbelief, wondering why your eyes are deceiving you. You know it’s there. But you’re momentarily blind. Your sight will return with a blink and all will be as it should. And you can continue with your life as planned.

With my second blink I started to search. I looked under my seat. I looked in the grass by the door. It was dark and cold. Fallen leaves looked like a sea of iPods but it was only wishful thinking. And once again I stared at the end of the cord. Nothing had changed. It was still gone.

We headed back to the subway parking lot. I had been wearing it on a belt clip. It was very secure except when you got in and out of cars. Last week I discovered that when I wore it while driving, as I exited the car the iPod hit the steering wheel twisting it 90 degrees. This unlocked the device from the clip and it fell to the ground. This happened twice before I figured it out. Luckily, my beautiful Vaja two-toned Argentinean leather cover protected it from damage. Perhaps something similar happened when I got into the passenger seat this time. That was the only logical solution. I was banking my near-future happiness on that. Yeah, that was it.

I willed my iPod to be sitting on the blacktop waiting for my return.

But as we pulled up the lot was empty. I retraced my steps from the car back to the place where I last stood listening to Ira Glass talk about crime scenes and the messiness of death. This was definitely a crime scene. I had been robbed.

I asked a man sitting right where I had been if he could move. “I lost something,” I said. “What are you looking for?” he asked. But I was embarrassed to say. I heard the truth dribble out of my mouth.

Just two days before my cell phone had also decided to leave me. You know how it is. You’re totally secure your possessions are cemented to you. They belong to you and they are with you. Well, like your children, at least you always know just where they are. You feel that special calmness that comes with this order. Then suddenly your reality, to say nothing of your confidence is questionable.

I last remembered putting my phone in my backpack. I could remember putting it there. Or was I just remembering that I should put it there before I left for work. Reality blended with wishful thinking. I was in trouble.

I searched the pack inside and out —first the usual, then the unlikely places. Susie did a backup search. A good two hours later, after turning the house and car inside and out, I stood there once again where I started, looking at my backpack.

I decided to look one more time. I literally would not believe my eyes. I was determined to be even be more methodical. I took each item out one at a time. No panic. Methodical. I examined every piece carefully, making sure I was actually seeing each for what it really was.

And there it sat! Why, it wasn’t even hidden under anything. Just as I couldn’t believe it was missing, I couldn’t believe I had found it. I was very disoriented.

And now my iPod.

I had a business card tucked in its case and I wondered if someone honest would find it. There would be a message on my phone machine tomorrow. Should I offer the finder a reward? Would he sample my music before handing it back to me? I quickly assessed my library for any embarrassing cuts. There were those two songs by N’Sync. Yes, I admit it. Better cast a wide apology to you now than you find out through other nefarious means.

As we drove back to Janet’s house I could feel an oncoming bad mood, like a migraine you know is going to hit you right between your eyes. This was not good for the wellbeing of my wife’s family who sat waiting for our return. They had gathered for a pre-Thanksgiving meal and I had volunteered to bring the good cheer.

In one last attempt to salvage the evening I mentally retraced my steps. I visualized getting into the car. As I sat down the bending of my waist torqued the Pod, releasing it from the clip. I watched it fall —into the groove between the front seat and the car’s chassis! Yes, that could happen. I reached down to test my theory and just behind the seat, at the very limits of my reach was “something.” I felt the corner of a padded rectangle. Could it be? I tried to grab it but it slipped just outside my grasp. I would have to wait forever until the car stopped.

As I opened the back door there it sat. “Nah nah nah nah nah. Made you look. Made you look.” it seemed to say. Was this a new feature of Apple’s latest iPod software upgrade? Were all my gizmos trying to get away from me? Had I misused and abused them? C’mon now. I didn’t think artificial boy bands were cause for divorce.

Even though I had looked under the seat, its armature prevented me from seeing the unit just on the other side. I had been so close to merely a momentary loss —you know, one where you catch your breath with relief at what might have been. So close.

Fifteen years ago, I lost the ruby ring my father had brought back for me from Thailand. I left it in a faculty washroom where I stupidly took it off to clean my hands. Two hours later I noticed it was missing. But, of course, when I returned to the bathroom it was gone. A student laid her personal philosophy on me at the time. It was hard to listen: “If it’s yours, it will come back to you.” Yeah, sure. But two weeks later another teacher walked into my classroom with ring in hand asking me if it was mine. For my protection I haven’t worn it since and it’s new home is a safety deposit box.

My iPod was mine. Boy bands and all. I’d struggle in the next few weeks not to overly protect my tech possessions. Cell phones and mp3 players aren’t very functional from the protective vault of a safety deposit box.

It would be a joyous holiday season after all. If I could just remember where I put my electronic car key.

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