Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Strange Case of the Missing Scarf

When I picture a Lost and Found, it looks like this: a space in a school gymnasium or at the back of Wal-Mart, a rummagable tub of stray umbrellas, knit caps, and single mittens.

But attending a conference in Chicago recently with my partner, Ray, I got a whole new picture. At the Chicago Hilton, where furs and jewels pass continuously through the lobby, the Lost and Found is a secret locked room located deep in the Security Office (a simplified version of Headquarters in "Get Smart"), where you press the buzzer and a uniformed security officer lets you in, where you file a report of your lost item and wait.

And wait we did when, after a painstaking search of our double-bathroom, 12th-floor room, we reported that Ray's winter scarf, a present from me last Christmas, was missing.

When it was time to leave the next day, we still hadn't heard any news of the scarf. So, while Ray waited for his truck to be retrieved from valet parking (the attendants, I swear, were dressed exactly like the witch's guards in The Wizard of Oz), I ran back to Security for one last try.

I rang the secret buzzer, and when the security officer let me in, I recapped the story of the missing scarf. At his desk far behind the impassable counter, he flipped through his official log, then said, "Were you at Kitty O'Shea's at all? A scarf was found at Kitty O'Shea's."

Kitty O'Shea's was the hotel bar where we'd eaten lunch the day before. "Why, yes," I said as it dawned on me, "we were." And as well-meaning as Gomer repaying Andy for saving his life, vacuuming for him at two in the morning, I offered to go get the scarf myself, when.... The security officer told me to stay put. He got on his walkie-talkie, and a second security officer was dispatched to Kitty O'Shea's.

During a ten-minute wait (while the scarf, I supposed, was being dusted for fingerprints), I thought about Ray out there, wondering how his broken toe was doing, but mostly if he'd tipped the valet parking attendant. Then SO2 returned, carrying a white bag. Still in Gomer mode, I smiled at him broadly, holding out my hand. But instead of giving me the bag, SO2 went around me and behind the counter, officially handing it to SO1.

Then SO1, looking down into the bag, said to me, "Can you describe it?"

Suddenly, I was a baffled freshman in one of my own composition classes. Suddenly, I wasn't sure that I wasn't a pathological scarf-snatcher, a secret agent about to steal the scarf-concealed microfilm. "Uh ... it's gray," I stammered suspiciously. "Gray plaid ... I think."

Obviously, I couldn't be trusted. And so, when SO1 pulled out Ray's scarf, which was actually mostly brown, and I chirped "That's it!" and he simply handed it to me, I was a little disappointed in the whole official process. (Like being handed a bag of gold that you've just described as silver.)

Still, I had the scarf back! I was giddy with mission-accomplished satisfaction, and I turned to go when....

(Not so fast there, ma'am) SO1 reached into his desk and pulled out ... THE RELEASE FORM. Not only did they need yet a third description of alleged lost item (I recklessly wrote "Gray plaid scarf") but also the day, time and place it was lost (gee, if I'd known that ...), my address and driver's license number, and my official signature.

Finally, after I thanked SO1 for his time and trouble (he dropped the Jack Webb routine for a moment and smiled), with the white bag in my clutches, I made my escape past the concierge and the bell captain, through the chandeliered lobby, back to Ray and Charleston, where the next time we lose something, we'll only have to rummage.

published in the Hometown Herald Winter 2004

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