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We the chronically forgetful thank you, the returners of lost things

Frank E. Baker
OPINION: If it weren't for so many good people watching out for us, people like myself who often leave behind valuable or expensive things would probably even lose ourselves. Pictured: The author in the Chugach Mountains, no doubt about to leave something dear behind. Courtesy Brent Voorhees

We are the people who lose things, and it’s doubtful we can be helped. Throughout our lives, wherever we roam, we leave a trail of sunglasses, hats, coats, cameras, wallets and in more recent times, an assortment of mobile phones and iPods. If we’re inclined to venture into Alaska’s great outdoors, we leave behind binoculars, hiking poles, gloves, ice axes, knives and heaven forbid, pricey GPS units.

We’re fortunate, however, to live in a state inhabited by legions of Good Samaritans who come to our aid, pathetic as we are.

My history of losing things would probably interest many psychiatrists. Perhaps those leaning toward the world of metaphysics would be even more interested -- because I have an uncanny luck in getting lost items back. Of course, I couldn’t do it without those legions.

But I haven’t recovered all lost items. When I was 9 years old, I left a valuable ring on the edge of a bathtub in the Nicollet Hotel in Minneapolis. Years later, following a reporting assignment, I forgot all my notes in a taxicab. My dad had a prized ballpoint pen for 25 years. He was naive enough to lend it to me, and it was gone in two days. During a trip to Rome I left my wife’s expensive Gore-Tex raincoat on a bus.

The pattern emerged early in my life, but it didn’t become problematic until adulthood, when personal possessions became more expensive. And I’ve never been wealthy enough to easily absorb such losses.

Expecting me to not lose a cell phone, for example is like expecting a dog to program it. (They’d probably stand a better chance). About eight years ago on a hike near Arctic Valley I accidentally left one of those gray, analog cell phones about the size of a brick on the mountainside. Luckily, my home phone number was on it. A Samaritan, whose father by coincidence lives down the hill from me, retrieved it. I gave the finder a reward.

On a flight to Portland from Las Vegas, I left my iPhone plugged in near the gate. I didn’t notice it was missing until 30,000 feet and made a valiant effort to stifle a scream. The flight attendant refused to call from the airplane back to the gate. I said: “I bet you’d do it for Brad Pitt.”

But that story ended well. As soon as I landed, I began stuffing quarters into a pay phone like a mother bird feeding its young. I contacted my wife, the airlines, the McCarran International Airport lost and found and security. The best call was to my wife. After learning the airlines wouldn’t take 20 steps to walk over and retrieve the iPhone, which was ringing, she got ahold of McCarran's lost and found and was so persistent that they finally rescued my abandoned 4G unit. It arrived in Alaska by Fed Ex two days later.

Climbing up Pioneer Peak a few summers ago, I took some great photos of Knik Glacier. I placed the camera inside its case and put it on the ground. Then my attention was diverted by something incredibly distracting: a small insect flew by. I walked away without my camera.

The Samaritan who found it was an Air Force soldier who specializes in intelligence. Honest. I can’t entirely explain how he did it -- maybe it’s classified – but by looking at pictures of my house in the camera and seeing the house number, he deduced where I lived and who I was.

On the Fourth of July in Seward, I spent the day atop Mt. Marathon watching the race and taking photos, as I do most years. On the way down the mountain after the races, I stopped to put away my binoculars. That was just enough to throw me off. I placed my camera on the ground and walked away.

A day later I received an e-mail from a young Seward woman. She had found the camera and by going through my photos, figured out who I was.

Here’s the irony: For the commentary I wrote about losing my iPhone at the Las Vegas airport and how it was quickly returned by Fed Ex, I took a photo of myself gleefully holding the Fed Ex envelope. That photo was still in my camera. My resourceful Seward Samaritan zoomed in on the label to see my name. She Googled my name, which appeared from one of my columns in the Eagle River newspaper, The Alaska Star, which includes my personal e-mail address.

I’ve recently learned that there are quite a few others like me. A mountain climber in Seward told me he loses stuff all the time. My daughter does. This worries me because I’m deeply afraid of depleting our supply of Samaritans.

My wife and I are exploring options: 1) Never owning anything valuable again, 2) Technology, like a device added to a phone or camera that emits an ear-piercing ring if one walks away, and 3) Surgically implanting snaps in my arms, similar to those for toupees, so that electronic devices can be clamped on tight.

But deep inside I know that my only salvation is the Samaritans. You know who you are. Please follow me.

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.