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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lost Gloves


This is a city of the left behind as much as it is a city of the moving ahead. Walking along the streets, one might see piles of clothes--coats, pants, a shoe, mated or alone--and think, "My god, another homeless person exploded."

Yo-yo Ma famously left his prized 266-year old cello in the trunk of a taxi some years back.

Whole people are left behind as well. They wander through the city, sleeping where they can, begging for change, occasionally seeking help, occasionally blowing their own minds with drugs or a bullet or a header from on high into the gum-clotted sidewalk. Most just maintain, though--they're left behind and resigned to their fate. Josie comes to mind. She was left behind. Her children have long since moved back to Ireland; they seldom try to contact her. Maybe she deserved to be discarded or maybe it was her own decision, I don't know.

The first time I came to New York, in March of '92, I remember walking with my group to the St. James Theatre, to see 'The Secret Garden,' on a bitterly cold evening. As we turned off Broadway onto 44th St., a young woman no more than 20, wrapped in an army jacket and with her long dark hair whipping densely across her contorted face, met us from the opposite direction, screaming about... something. I don't remember what she was screaming. She was clearly disturbed, either at that moment or for the rest of her life, and she was screaming into the night while pulling her jacket closed then pushing it open. We passed her without incident. And just past her, on the sidewalk, was a lone black glove. I always wondered if it might have been her's, and wondered if perhaps that was the reason for her vocal misery--the loss of a glove.

This is the reason I'm always sad to see the random mateless glove when I move about the city. These left-behind hints of human remains, with fingers and palms but no body, and no longer part of a pair. It's stupid, I know, but I can't help it. There is nothing more depressing to me than a glove left behind. I see a lost glove, and I immediately have a vision of that young woman, her coat opening and closing, the dull Broadway light smashing into her frantic hair, and her screams, her mouth opening and filling with hair even as she pushed all of her breath out into the cold wind, and behind her the dark glove, fingers splayed out as if reaching for something.

And you see these gloves everywhere. The saddest of all are the gloves a well-meaning pedestrian has set aside as if hoping the glove will be rediscovered by the person who dropped it, or put to good use by a new, ungloved person. Outside of a deli where I get coffee on most mornings, there's a small pile of unmated gloves, all sizes, all colors, none matching, and they sit on a small wall, and the pile grows larger every day. Not even the homeless seem to want them, which to me seems kind of impractical of them--so what if none of the gloves match? The purpose of a glove is to warm, not to be fashionable.

Because of that chance encounter with the screaming girl in the Army jacket, and then the glove on the sidewalk behind her, I don't wear gloves. I'm afraid of losing them. It doesn't bother me when I leave behind an umbrella, or a hat, or a scarf (though I am I think overly conscious of not losing these things to the point that I'm almost certifiable about it), but the thought of leaving behind a glove makes me too uneasy to take the risk. Seriously. Perhaps it's a Freudian thing: gloves, more than any other article of clothing, look like a human body part, so to lose one is like an amputation, and we all know what Freud says about a man's fear of amputation (hint: sometimes it isn't just a cigar). But I don't think that's the reason.

Incidentally, I'm not the only person fascinated by lost gloves, if fascinated is the correct word. There are websites devoted to them, and even an art project.

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