Jeffrey Schuster

Last week I was riding the F train out to the Central Branch of the Queens Public Library when I suddenly realized that my gloves were missing. I checked my coat pockets. I checked my backpack. I looked on the floor, glanced under the seat. Damn! Gone.

Where could I have dropped them? I knew I had them on when I left the house. I was sure of that. As I retraced my steps in my mind I suddenly remembered hearing the train pull into the Steinway St. station. I also remember having to rush to get my money out for a token. I had scrambled down the steps to the token booth. Then it hit me. Right then I must have pulled my gloves off and stuck them in my armpit as I dug for change. And then, rushing through the turnstile, they must have fallen out. I was in too much of a hurry to notice. I pictured them -- leather gloves that I've had for a couple years now -- lying on the cement just beyond the turnstiles. So there I sat in the rocking subway car, heading out to the end of the F line in Queens, feeling sad about my lost gloves.

As I sat there, elbows on knees, hands locked together, I had a sudden flash of a lost shovel from my childhood. A month ago I was on the phone with my Dad and, at one point, I asked, "Hey, do you remember a shovel I had when I was pretty little?"

He remembered it perfectly. The scoop was half-blue and half-brown, a child's size shovel.

I told him how puzzled I was by its disappearance.

"Oh, you were always losing things," he said.

"I was?"

"Yeah. You were always losing hats and gloves. We had such a terrible time with you."

The mention of gloves jogged my memory. It's true. I was always coming home from school with something missing. What my parents didn't know, however, was how I ended up losing all those things. For example, my friends and I loved the James Bond films and we especially liked an evil Asian henchman named Odd Job. Odd Job had a special bowler hat with a razor-sharp brim. He would spin it at his adversaries, usually slicing their heads off so quickly that their mouths and eyes were still moving and twitching as the head lay on the ground.

Anyway, one cold winter afternoon, I was horsing around with a friend. He was standing on the steps outside one of the school buildings. I was standing at the bottom of the steps. My gloves were stiff from the cold.

"Ha! Odd Job!" I yelled at my friend, flinging one of the gloves off my hand.

The glove spun through the air. My friend ducked. The glove sailed past him and twirled through a two-inch gap in an open window. This was the window for the girls' bathroom.

I walked home that afternoon, one hand gloved, the other deep in my coat pocket.

Another time, during winter recess outside, a bunch of us were taking turns grabbing onto the back fenders of passing cars and then sliding along the icy street. My turn came. The guy behind the wheel looked like a retired farmer. As he passed, I ran up to the back fender and grabbed hold. I slid along for a good thirty-to-forty feet before I let go. My hands, however, came away bare. Astonished, I saw that my two gloves were frozen to the fender. My classmates were hooting and laughing as the old farmer drove into town with my gloves. I felt kind of sick inside, wondering how I was going to explain losing both of my gloves to my parents. Later, walking down Main Street, I saw the farmer heading home. To my surprise, the gloves were still stuck there. I guess he hadn't noticed them. I ran after the car, but it was useless. After twenty steps, he was already a block away.

The most serious loss, though, was the time I lost my glasses. I started to wear glasses when I was in the second or third grade. The first couple years I didn't have to wear them all the time, so I kept them in a case and carried them back and forth to school in my bookbag. One spring afternoon after school, Ken Pins and I were fighting. All the way home, we pummeled each other with our bookbags. That evening, I emptied my bookbag and couldn't find them. Eventually I had to tell my Mom. My Dad went through the roof. He made me retrace my steps home, checking everyone's frontyard, the sidewalks, the streets I crossed. He also made me knock on everyone's door. I had to ask them if they had found a pair of glasses that day. I knew it was kind of hopeless. I had a bad feeling about where they were. I remembered that Ken and I slugged it out for a long time by the edge of the creek. I went back there, checked the grass and under bushes as best as I could. They had probably slipped into the creek, I figured.

My parents had to buy me new glasses and I was under a watchful eye for a long time after that.

But the most haunting loss, to me, was that shovel. I must have been about five years old when my father gave it to me.

One afternoon my Dad came home early and told me to get my shovel, that we were going to a plot of land off county highway X-47. My uncle Wally and his fishing buddies were digging a pond there. I went into the garage where all the garden tools were hanging. It wasn’t there. I searched through the rest of the garage. Not there. I went to the backyard, thinking I might have left it by the sandbox. Nope, not a sign.

I came around to the front of the house and my Dad was waiting by the truck. “Let’s go. Where’s your shovel?”

I had to tell him I couldn’t find it. This completely baffled him. He’s one of those people who never loses anything. At seventy, he has the same tools he used when he was a young man.

I was frantic. I looked in the evergreen bushes in front of the picture window. No where to be found. I couldn’t explain how it disappeared. My father, of course, was furious. He assumed the worst. Maybe I had taken it to the town creek and left it there. Or maybe I took it with me to the area in town where they were building new houses. My friends and I were always playing on those sites. Maybe I had broken the handle and ditched it somewhere, afraid to show it to him. Maybe I lent it to a friend and that friend lost it. In his mind, any of these scenarios was possible.

Because I couldn't find the shovel, I had to stay behind. For the rest of the afternoon I kept looking for it. I never found it.

Last week, then, I was thinking about that shovel as I strolled up and down the aisles of the library, remembering how bad I felt about not being able to go with my father to that pond. I'll never know what happened to it. I pulled a few books down, checked them out, and returned to the subway.

Back at home, my hands were cold as I dug the keys out to the front door. Inside, as I pulled my backpack off, I looked over to the bed and there, one lying on top of the other, were my gloves.

free hit counter