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John Kelly's Washington

A Profound Sense of Loss

By John Kelly
Tuesday, September 28, 2004; Page C10

Here is a story my Uncle Joe once told me:

As a young man, Joe lived in Alaska and worked in the salmon industry, first aboard a salmon boat, then along the line of a cannery, where he would gut fish.

One summer while he was toiling on a heaving fishing boat, his ring slipped from his finger and sank in the chill, blue water. He thought it was gone forever.

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Later, cleaning fish at the canning factory, he cut into a particularly fat salmon with his knife and felt the blade clink against something hard.

That's right. It was his finger. Gave him a real nasty wound, too.

The moral of this story is not to listen to your uncles. But I thought of it when I heard from the people at the West End Dinner Theatre in Alexandria. About 10 or 12 years ago -- no one can remember for sure -- a member of the audience at West End lost a ring. And not just any ring. His wedding ring somehow slipped off his finger and rolled away.

The staff tried to find it, house manager Brendan Sheehan told me, but that sucker was gone, hidden beneath the floorboards, they suspected. They took the man's name and promised to get in touch with him when, and if, they found the ring.

Well, last week they found the ring. But they'd lost the number.

The ring "was never found until we were taking the theater apart," Brendan said. "They were taking apart the banquettes."

Now, they never would have found the ring if they hadn't taken apart the banquettes. And they never would have taken apart the banquettes if not for a bit of sad news: The West End Dinner Theatre has lost its lease. The Foxchase Shopping Center on Duke Street is being renovated, Brendan said, and so the curtain has fallen there for the last time. The staff is taking apart the scene and costume shops and removing lights and equipment.

"This has been my life," Brendan said. "It's kind of horrible that it's all come to a halt." Brendan and others are hoping the theater can reopen elsewhere in the spring.

As for that ring, it's a size 9 man's gold wedding ring, engraved with "CEV 2 DRP." It also has a date engraved on it. If it's your ring, you'll know what the date is. E-mail me at kellyj@washpost.com or call 202-334-5129.

Ways of the Wallet

Chris Bennett of Springfield wondered whether something he's always heard is true: If you drop a wallet into a mailbox, will the Postal Service return it to its owner?

Jim Quirk, a spokesman at Postal Service headquarters, said, "As a general rule, we would prefer that people, if they find a wallet, either give it to the person that lost it or bring it to local law enforcement."

But Jim said that any non-mail item found in a mailbox is brought to a supervisor, who starts trying to find the owner.

"This actually happened to my daughter," Jim said. "She had her purse stolen at the mall. The thieves ended up throwing her pocketbook in a mailbox. The post office called the house and got a hold of my daughter, and she gratefully went and retrieved it. It's not unusual."

What might be unusual is the reason Chris Bennett called in the first place: "I've probably found like six or seven wallets in the last three years," he said. "I find them all the time."

He's found them along Hooes Road and Gambrill Road, along the Fairfax County Parkway and Silverbrook Road near Lorton. Chris bikes everywhere, so he's probably more attuned to the landscape than most of us, his eyes peeled for broken glass or flung-open car doors. "I just tend to pay more attention," he said.

And whenever he finds a wallet, he drops it into a mail collection box, hoping that it will find its rightful home.

"I'm always fantasizing that I'll find some drug kingpin's wallet with $10- or $11,000 in it," Chris said.

So far, he hasn't. And have you ever lost your wallet, I asked.

"Not yet, knock on wood."

Paradise Lost and Found

We all lose things. I remember as a kid playing some stupid game with a buffalo nickel in the front yard of my house at 1905 E. First Ave. in Mesa, Ariz. Not surprisingly, I lost the coin.

Distraught, I pored through the grass. And found it!

Then I started playing my game again -- throw the nickel in the air? Flip the nickel behind my back? -- and promptly lost it again. Forever.

When I was 12, I lost my wallet while flying unaccompanied on an airliner. It was a shiny black wallet that my father had given me and had a puffy, garishly colored map of Vietnam on it. (Every kid I knew then who had a father serving in Vietnam had one of those wallets. Are kids today getting Iraq wallets?)

But we also find. Once, when I was young and carefree and on the way to my girlfriend's apartment near Dupont Circle, I spied a $20 bill on the ground. There was something about the bill that gave me pause. It was crisp and flat in a way that suggested it had just come from an automated teller machine. And no one takes out just $20 from an ATM.

So I scanned the concrete. Sure enough, there were three more twenties as fresh and inviting as if they'd just left the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. It was if they didn't exist until I saw them.

In an ideal world, all the things you've lost and all the things you've found balance out in a cosmic, karmic way.

I once was lost, but now I'm found. Where am I found? At kellyj@washpost.com.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company