The Art of Losing Isn’t Hard To Master: J. Crew Shirt Edition

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster …

Ben and I have been together for fourteen years and have been married for half that time. When you grow up with a person that way, you come to know each other pretty well. He understands that I will be stressed if I can’t make it to an airport around an hour before a normal person needs to arrive, and I understand that giving him things rather than experiences can be risky. Because the man loses things.

He doesn’t mean to! He values them! Things simply have a way of wandering away from him. (… places, and names, and where it was you meant / to travel. None of these will bring disaster. I lost my mother’s watch …)

In addition to countless umbrellas and small-scale items, since I have known him, he has misplaced:

+ gloves, scarves, and hats enough for an entire orphanage.

+ a very cool (honest!) pleather jacket he got a thrift store in Carrboro, NC.

+ several sweaters, including the one he was wearing when I fell in love with him, because it made him look like Harry from When Harry Met Sally.

+ his wedding ring.

+ my laptop, which I had lent to him for a day.

He didn’t lose the laptop precisely: he left it on a table while he dashed away to take care of something time-sensitive and when he returned — yoink! — it was gone. That was the most costly loss. My devastation was surpassed only by his, because he didn’t have the money to buy me a new one. On the plus side, though, once I accepted that my Toshiba was gone for good, I decided to make the switch to an Apple computer and I have never looked back.

A few nights ago, this familiar drama played itself out when Ben arrived home from work carrying several bags, none of them the one containing his newly bought shirt from J. Crew ($66, on sale).

“Where is it?” he kept asking, increasingly agitated. Babygirl got into the spirit of the thing, searching the apartment alongside her daddy for the missing bag. “It turn up,” she assured us, because that is what we tell her will happen when she can’t find, say, the straw she uses as a firehose. Only the shopping bag didn’t turn up.

“I must have left it on the subway,” said Ben at last.

“Ah well,” I said, cycling speedily through the stages of grief to resignation. Ben, however, wasn’t willing to concede. He posted an ad on Craigslist in case anyone found the shirt on the Q train and he called the MTA to see if there was anything they could suggest he do. Receiving no answer from the MTA, he walked back to our local train station to see if the station agent could call her counterpart at the end of the Q line in Brighton Beach.

No, she could not. But he was welcome to take the train out to the end of the Q line himself and speak to the people who search the trains, and perhaps get them to open what the employees refer to as “the tower.”

I questioned the utility of going all the way to the water’s edge. Wasn’t an hour of his time worth more than $66? Especially considering he had worked a full day, and especially considering that the odds were that the shirt was long gone?

And look! my last, or next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. …

He wanted to feel as though he had tried everything, so he went. As expected, the shirt was not to be found lounging about on the boardwalks of Coney Island or eating a hot dog at Nathan’s. But the trip was not a waste. The station agent there advised Ben to call the credit card company. Moreover, because he had gone to the edge of the borough and returned empty handed, he was officially able to report the shirt stolen, and the credit card company obliged him by issuing him a check for a refund.

Since he still wanted the shirt, and preferably at the sale price of $66 rather than whatever ridiculous price the shirt would rise to once the sale ended at midnight, when he got home he placed an order online. He had to pay shipping but okay, whatever.

Happy enough ending, right? Yes, but with a TWIST. Ben got an email in response to his Craigslist ad! Someone claimed to have found the shirt and returned it to the store. Could that possibly be for real as opposed to some very sophisticated scam? Ben asked the responder to verify the store to which The Good Samaritan had taken the shirt. Sure enough, TGS confirmed that s/he took the shirt and the receipt to the correct J. Crew. When Ben went to the store to pick up the bag, the clerks had it ready for him — along with his scarf, which he had left in there too.

Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love)
I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

— Elizabeth Bishop

Scrupulously honest, he called credit card company to cancel the reimbursement check. Too late, they replied; they had already sent it. He needs to return it with a letter explaining why.

He also returned the original shirt, as he was wearing the replacement one that he had gotten in the mail. Still, he noticed when he went in that though the 25% off sale had indeed ended, it had been succeeded by this point by a 30% off sale. As he reasoned to me later, he could have returned both shirts and bought a third version for slightly less. He refrained.

Here are the morals of the story:

+ If you leave something newly purchased on a subway train, call your credit card company.

+ There are people in New York City who, when they find a brand-new J. Crew shirt on the subway, will return it to the store listed on the receipt and go on Craigslist to locate the shirt’s rightful owner. They will do this rather than keep the shirt or sell it. When you ask if they will be interviewed about these decisions for a website, they will not reply.

+ There are shirts worth not merely buying but also working for.

+ The shirt looks good on him. $132 worth of good, if it comes to that, and a bargain at 66 bucks.

+ I am so, so grateful that we have managed to go fourteen years without losing the most important thing, which is each other. A few days ago, he found his wedding ring. Months later, sure, but it turned up! I take that as a sign.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.