In Case of Loss
I bought a fancy notebook for my trip to Alaska. I needed someplace to lodge my sloppy handwriting. Not to mention my sloppy thoughts. Inside the front cover are some blank lines. Above the lines, the manufacturer has printed—in faint gray font—the words: “In case of loss, please return to:”. I suppose that’s me. After that, there’s a line for the reward. Reward? I always figured the reward for finding somebody’s lost diary is reading it. So I leave all the lines blank, and get on with the business of filling up my new notebook with words.
On the subject of Alaska, it’s not what you think. No glaciers where I’m writing from. No grizzlies. No dog sleds. Not even tourists. I’m staying for a couple weeks in a sprawling city of 300,000 people. And with all the daylight they get around here in summer, there’s plenty of time to kill. I slay some of it by riding around on the municipal transit system. They call it “People Mover.” Buses take me and a few other weary riders past strip malls, thrift shops, gas stations, fast food joints, trailer parks, homeless shelters, corporate towers, and a hospital. The hospital is in a part of town grandiloquently designated as the “U-Med District.” Each morning I go to this hospital and set myself up at one of the cafeteria tables and drink coffee. That’s when I write in my notebook. Like I’m doing now.
My scribbling is often interrupted by the overhead paging system. After all, this is a hospital. At this moment an urgent voice is saying: “Code blue! Code blue!” Staff are being summoned to one of the many intensive care units in this vast institution. Yet nothing is happening here in the cafeteria that I can see. I go back to my scribbling. It’s an okay place for this kind of thing. Nobody bothers me. My only complaint is this cafeteria has just one window. It’s high on the wall opposite from where I sit. If I look up, I can see it. It’s cloudy outside this morning, but just now the clouds part and a ray of sunshine comes streaming through. Along the way, the light runs into something—I can’t say what—and a peculiar shadow is cast on the wall next to me. It looks like the shadow of the painter Ralph Blakelock. I’m tempted to take a picture of it, but I’m committed to scribbling these words. So I go back to that.
I don’t get very far—just to the end of this sentence—before I stop and take a sip of coffee. A quick look at the wall next to me reveals both sunlight and Blakelock’s shadow are gone. The clouds have returned. I go back to my scribbling. Soon enough that’s interrupted again by the paging system. “Code blue complete,” says the voice. “Code blue complete.” I guess the scribbling is too. After all, there’s no reward in it.