The Spectator: What’s In Your Pocket?


Last week, I put on a jacket that I had not worn for some time. I put my hand into one pocket and drew forth the usual items that one usually finds in a pocket –be it jacket or pants. There was a used book of matches, three cents, a key, a rubber band and two paper clips. The other pocket yielded bits of paper, none of it green with pictures of Washington or Lincoln. The bits of paper had phone numbers, cryptic messages or names. One had a series of numbers. Finding such messages, names and phone numbers can be very unnerving especially when none of them makes any sense at all.

I looked at one piece of paper; there was no date, just the message “important. Call Doris.” I had no idea who Doris was or why she wanted me to call her. How old was the message? Had it been transferred from jacket to jacket? From pants to pants? Was Doris some mystery woman from my past? A childhood sweetheart waiting patiently for my call? Was the message perhaps the opening line of the great American novel that I intended to write? Perhaps it was a bit of dialogue, or the key to the espionage, spy thriller that I was also laboring on. Worse still is the phone number with no name to accompany it. What do you say if you do call the number, “Hello, I found this number in my pocket. Who are you?”

This can make you feel very silly especially if the person on the other end is your mother. Worse still, it could be a process server who has been trying to reach you. You could also dial the number and breathe heavily. Maybe that way you can find out who’s on the other end of the line. I usually disguise my voice and make believe I’m doing a survey or giving away free samples. That way, I get to find out who I’m talking to.

Finding a series of numbers on a piece of paper can really drive you mad. Is it part of a license number of the car that drove over you lawn last weekend? The combination of your child’s piggy bank? Perhaps it’s the key to a code.

One day I found these series of numbers in a sweater pocket: 23 34 42 59 72. It took me two months to realize they represented subway stops on the IRT. Another time I found a note that simply said, “Bring home twelve.” When I wrote the note, if I did, I must have known what to bring home. Did I ever bring home the twelve whatever they were? Was I to bring home 12 beers, 12 people, 12 hairs for a party, or 12 roses? I couldn’t remember bringing home a dozen anything’s.

If you look I your pockets now or in your purse, I’m sure you’ll find messages, numbers, jottings, phrases or little pieces of paper that will cause you attacks of anxiety.

Throughout the pages of history, men and women have stuffed their pockets with these messages or reminds of things that were evidently important to them. Things they were supposed to do or bring home or avoid:

As George Custer rode into battle, he reached into his saddlebag and found this note from his wife: “George, bring home some Indian blankets.”

Juilius Caesar found this note in his toga: “Important, call Brutus!”

The captain of the Titanic found this note in the vest from his mother: “Wear your galoshes.”

Tony Bennet found this note in his pocket after a tour: “Don’t forget your heart.”

Isaac Newton found a cryptic note in his jacket that said, “Sit tight!”

General MacArthur found this kind of note in his uniform pockets: “Don’t forget. Call the press!”

Abe Lincoln couldn’t figure out this note he found in his pocket: “Eighty-seven years ago.”

Ben Franklin came across this scribble in his jacket: “Go fly a kite!”

Moses found a piece of paper in his toga that simply said, “Take ten!”

The Mayor of Pisa discovered this note in his pants pocket: “Get name of engineer.”

Jesse James’s scrap of paper said, “Left 2, Right 26, Left 0, Right 16 –open!”

Richard Nixon was forever sticking notes in his pocket from his secretary. One day he found one in an old sweater, which said, “Turn off the tape machine before you go home.”

Ted Kennedy, when cleaning out his pockets found one, which he can’t remember ever reading: “Take a left turn before you come to the bridge.”

Richard Burton, when married to Liz Taylor, was forever finding notes in his pockets like: “Pick up necklace from Tiffany’s on way home.”

Saint Patrick, while changing his vestments, found a slip of paper, which said, “Watch out for the snakes.”

John Wayne couldn’t explain what this note in his vest meant: “Ballet lessons cancelled today.”

Billy Martin was often confused by notes he found in his baseball uniform pants pocket. “Pick up your check. You’re fired. Signed, George.”

Pope John Paul II can’t figure out how long he’s had this note which he found in his cassock: “Bring kielbasa and cabbage on the way home.”

So, start looking through your pockets. A mystery woman or man may be waiting for your phone call. Or a note might remind you that the shirts that you left at the Chinese Hand Laundry in 1952 or now ready.

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