Every once in a while someone in my apartment building scotch-tapes a personal sign in one of the elevators; often about something that was lost—or possibly taken by mistake—from the laundry room or lobby.
A typical sign might read:
“Lost—one medium length blue wool sock, please check and see if you have it. 12a.”
“Did you accidentally pick up my dry-cleaning from the lobby? I am missing my yellow-striped blackfleece vest. Please return to doorman. Thanks”.
Sometimes, if the missing item is particularly important or valuable (or there’s an implication that there might be something a little “funny” about its disappearance), the notice can become a bit emotional:
“Second Request! Please check and see if you accidentally took my beige sweater with mother-of-pearl buttons. It’s my favorite sweater. Return to doorman.”
Over the last couple of weeks, one of these postings turned into a sort of dramatic miniseries…
The first sign said:
“Do you have my pants? (Slightly faded khaki, Eddie Bauer, size 32 medium). Please return to 9f, Charles.”
First thing—he put his name on the note. Usually these requests are anonymous, a generally understood apartment building etiquette; people usually don’t get personal over an item of clothing, especially if there is even the slightest hint that it might have been taken deliberately. We all have to live together, right?
So this was a bit different than average sign. Then there was the detail. Not everyone is so precise in their description of the missing item; so, there was a hint of OCD. And more than that, the note had an almost childlike, unembarrassed directness to it, which was also unusual; “Do you have my pants?”
It sounded like a little kid saying, “Where’s my playdough?” or, “Did you take my chocolate Easter bunny!?”
I had a friend once with a very lively two-and-half-year old girl. One time I was sitting in his living-room waiting for him and his little girl ran in, totally naked.
With a big grin on her face and arms spread wide, she said, “Look, my clothes went away!” “Yes,” I said, “I see that. I wonder where they went?” She got a frown on her face, as if she was giving that question some serious consideration, when my friend’s wife walked in, scooped her up and took her back to her room.
…The first sign about the missing pants, which was left up for about a week, was replaced by second, more urgent, plea:
“You might have picked up my pants, (Slightly faded khaki, Eddie Bauer, size 32 medium) from the dry-cleaning delivery in the lobby by mistake. Mistake or not, it is VERY IMPORTANT that I get these pants back.
Please bring to me or to the doorman as soon as possible! 9f Charles”
That note was up for a couple of days, then a third appeared, scotch-taped at eye level and in much larger letters. There was a definite air of hysteria about it. Some of the usual details were missing and—for a sign about missing clothes— it was getting very personal:
“I have to go to a good friend’s wedding this weekend and I NEED to wear these pants (Eddie Bauer Khakis). If you have them for whatever reason please call (*Here he listed both his cell-phone, office number, and personal e-mail address).
“I am not blaming anyone but the wedding is this Saturday. Give them to the doorman or hang them on the door-knob of 9f.”
There were no more signs. Saturday came and went.
I was hoping he might have posted one more, letting us all know that he got his pants back and everything was fine.
But he didn’t, and I was left to wonder if Charles ever did get them back, if he bought another pair of pants or maybe, out of shame or despair, didn’t go to his friend’s wedding at all.
During this ten-day long serial drama, I was considering the various alternative explanations at work here…
Charles was publicly asking if someone had his pants. Maybe he was talking to one particular person and, for some reason (could have been a rift or embarrassing intra-building hanky-panky), he either didn’t want to—or couldn’t risk getting in touch in a more personal way.
Then I thought, maybe there weren’t any missing pants in the first place. It could be purely psychological; a cry from the heart from someone who has lost something really precious… “Do you have my pants?” “What happened to my favorite teddy-bear?” “Where’s my Mommy!?”
I had the feeling that Charles was stuck in that place (a place I know very well) where the first thing you do is assume it was somebody else who has your pants; that either by accident or deliberate malice, your pants have been taken away from you by outside forces or bad people.
Blame. Yes, blame. That elevator sign was telling me that Charles still had a lot of work to do. He needed to come to understand, through the process of grieving, that it doesn’t matter what happened in our childhood; when we reach a certain point in our lives, we alone are responsible for the location of our pants.
Or it could have been a melancholy philosophical question, the kind we all ask ourselves from time to time—especially when get older…”Where are the snows of yesteryear?” “Where have all the flowers gone?” “Where has youth disappeared to?” I mean, really, haven’t we all wondered, as we look back on our lives, what actually did happen to our pants?
I didn’t have Charles’ pants so I had no reason to contact him. But I wanted to tell him that in this situation, as in all upsetting situations in life, he could benefit from the wisdom of The Buddha: We can never lose our pants because we never really had them in the first place. They were merely an illusion which arises from the desperate need for attachment—to youth, to happiness, to pants…
Well, unless I want to some serious investigative work, I’ll never know what happened. And anyway, who am I to judge or even offer advice to Charles? I never paid any attention to my clothes. Maybe Charlie has a better grip on the realities of life than I do. As Mark Twain once said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society”. Absolutely.