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Has Anybody Seen My Shirt?

By Dave Fox
Stockholm, Sweden

If you happen to know where my brown plaid shirt is, please let me know.

The missing shirt, one of only three non-T-shirty short-sleeved shirts I am traveling with, is the latest victim in the packing, unpacking, and repacking ritual I perform every 48 hours.

This ritual is a necessity in this part of the world, where atmospheric conditions are such that whenever a tour guide enters a hotel room and puts his backpack down, the bag explodes, causing the guide’s various articles of clothing, toiletries, paperwork, electric cattle prods, etc., to get sucked under the bed or behind curtains.

Sometimes when this happens, I forget to retrieve certain items. Over the last several years, I have lost a camera, a shortwave radio, numerous pairs and styles of boxer shorts, two toothbrushes, seven bottles of special shampoo without which my scalp takes on the appearance of an iguana, an alarm clock, a mobile phone, a mobile phone battery charger, a Swiss Army knife, the keys to my condo, and now my shirt. I suspect that somewhere in Europe, there is a little-known strip mall with a shop called Dave-Mart, which specializes in used electronic gadgetry and fashion for short men. Hotel maids, underpaid in their main jobs, supplement their income with commissions they earn by scavenging under beds in hotels rooms where I have slept.

It was two weeks ago in Bergen, Norway, that I lost my cell phone battery charger. Arriving in Oslo, I could actually picture the charger, still plugged into the outlet, cord resting innocently on the desk in my hotel room. So I called the hotel and spoke with a receptionist named Tonja, who promised to contact housekeeping and call me back later that day.

I never heard from Tonja again. I am concerned she might have been snuffed out by a maid who sold the charger on the black market.

In America, where a new charger would have cost maybe 10 bucks, this would not have been a big deal. But this was Norway. Replacement cost: 400 kroner, roughly 60 US dollars, which made me very sad because I could have just about purchased two small Norwegian beers for the same price.

More troubling than the loss of my mobile phone charger last month was what happened last year. I left my actual telephone and house keys sitting at airport security in Oslo and boarded my flight to Copenhagen without them. The phone was a wonderful little Nokia that played nifty tunes when it rang. I have made numerous attempts to recover the phone, to no avail.

It was shortly after September 11 last year that I left the phone sitting unattended. Airport security was jittery. You would think they would have evacuated the airport and blown the phone up in a safe place where there were no people, such as the non-smoking section of a Parisian cafe. But no, the phone is still out there. I know this because I call it from time to time. I call it in the hope that someday, somebody might actually turn it on and answer it and I can ask them to send it to me. Instead, I keep getting my voice mail — my own voice on my own phone, which is out there somewhere — probably in the Nokia section at Dave-Mart. I am always too annoyed to leave myself a message.

Losing personal items is not the only occupational hazard I face. Due to continental drift and the hole in the ozone layer, I also routinely injure my fingers and toes when traveling in this part of the world. It’s a wonder I still have all my digits intact.

Before departing Seattle this year, the nail on my big toe was ripped right off my foot during a freak sleeping accident. I was apparently having some sort of tour guide anxiety dream. I then lost a finger nail hoisting my backpack for the first time of the season. In Stockholm, the sliding door on my hotel closet slid faster than I expected, squishing my all-important middle finger into a purple lump. In Oslo, I smashed my other big toe on a door frame that was designed by a man who apparently thought it would be clever to put an inch-high strip of wood at the bottom of the frame so that people like me who tried to stumble to the bathroom in the dark would experience pain severe enough to make us forget about our bladder-related needs.

Then there’s my Copenhagen blister. Every year in Copenhagen, I get a blister on the same toe — the second toe from the right on my right foot. The rest of my toes go unscathed.

Mystified by this phenomenon, I finally took a good hard look at my blistered toe last year and discovered it is actually deformed. For more than 30 years, I had gone through life oblivious to my birth defect — a pointy flap of skin on the bottom of my toe. You learn lots of things about yourself when you travel.

So anyway, if you happen to see my brown plaid shirt before the maids get to it, please mail it to my office in Seattle. And if you feel like giving my old phone a call, and someone happens to answer, please ask them for directions to Dave Mart.

Published on Thursday, July 25, 2002

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