Evanston RoundTable, June 29, 2017
With apologies to Marcel Proust, this is not about madeleines or childhood memories. It is about losing things, things that inexplicably vanish when just a moment ago they were lying right there.
Keys, books, glasses. Sometimes trivial, like a left sock or the crossword puzzle. Sometimes critical, like a passport or a credit card. A ring drops from a night stand and disappears. Grandpa’s pocket watch, carefully stored in a certain drawer, goes missing.
Apparently the phenomenon is widespread. An online questioner asks where things go. Someone answers:
“Once I was driving in the middle of nowhere, through hayfields. There was a semi-truck behind me. I looked down at my speedometer, and when I looked back after literally, a fraction of a second, the truck was gone. There were no roads, no driveway. If he went off the road he would have been in a ditch. I still would have been able to see him, because we were driving through these fields, I could see several miles in any direction. My explanation using science I don’t understand is that I read somewhere that matter is made mostly of empty space, and maybe sometimes matter just collapses.”
Someone else on the same site suggests pilfering spirits are to blame:
“We had a prankster of a ghost doing all that. Try telling it to STOP! Don’t threaten, don’t yell, just firmly tell it that you’re sick and tired of the pranks and it’s getting too expensive.”
So there you have it: matter collapses, drops into the enormous space between molecules, and disappears. Or else it is plucked away by a ghost.
OK, so that is probably not the answer. And yet these random disappearances remain mystifying and frustrating. Especially the older one gets, because there is the nagging possibility we are actually losing, aside from things, our minds as well.
Still, there are a few ways to combat the missing-item syndrome. One is to announce to yourself, in a clear, loud voice, where you are putting something.
“OK, I am sticking the parking ticket in my back pocket,” you say, and repeat, “back pocket.” That may seem harebrained (especially if anyone overhears you), but it has the benefit of employing both the speaking and auditory systems to reinforce the desired item’s whereabouts. Later, when you are thinking where you put your parking ticket, you will remember hearing yourself say: “back pocket.”
Another tactic is to maintain a notebook for identifying the location of various items. We have titled ours, “Where the Bleep Is It?” and use it to record such things as:
— Long-nose lighter for space heater: basement tool shelves
— Cross-country ski boots: on shelf in basement closet
— Mom’s PTA gavel: in pencil holder across from bed
Now if we can just remember what we did with the notebook.