We all have two secrets. One very private, one embarrassingly public. The private one is that there are an awful lot of socks in our dresser that don't match. I just rid myself of, count 'em, 20 divorced, separated or confirmed bachelor socks. Then there is the glove problem. On Jan. 10 I lost my first glove of the season. I think I dropped it on M Street. Hundreds of people probably passed over it, mumbling to themselves about the poor dumb fool who couldn't even keep track of his glove.
Connoisseurs of lost gloves could deduce that I was in the midst of transferring a package of newly bought goods -- books, in this case -- while at the same time putting on my hat and returning my wallet to the back pocket. Gloves lost in such throes sit high and dry in the middle of the sidewalk.
Other gloves give clues to other histories.
During the winter of 1981-82, my wife and I, both inveterate walkers, picked up every glove we found on the streets, logged them in and laid them out on the couch, so to speak, wondering what manner of thoughtless owner had lost each one.
We began our watch the week after Thanksgiving, and for a while it looked as if we had outsmarted ourselves. Both of us remembered legions of lost gloves on the streets a year before, but that winter, along our usual routes between Adams-Morgan and downtown, we didn't find a single glove until Dec. 12, when we found two. Then, finally, it got cold. By the time we found our last glove -- June 15! -- we had collected 77 gloves. Only eight pairs were among them; of the remainder, 30 were left-hand, 30 were right- hand and one was a finger puppet.
Nota bene, we did not go out of our way to look for gloves, except once. My wife had a friend stop her car at 16th and Euclid Streets NW so she could scoop up three gloves freshly revealed in the melting snow. Well, not exactly fresh. Some of our finds were fresh, especially during the year-end revelry. We found a glove or two or sometimes three each day from Dec. 26 to Jan. 2. We found a pair of nice brown knit gloves at 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, still warm. No Sherlock Holmes is needed to deduce their story.
In addition to gloves lost by fumbling shoppers and careless revelers, we classified two other broad types: gloves from inept exact-change artists and gloves from those who have failed to master opening a car door with a gloved hand. There was also a pattern to when gloves were lost, or rather, were found by us. Generally gloves came thickest with the thaws or the rains. That changeable Washington weather is the glove-seller's best friend.
Some people show respect for lost gloves. At Kalorama Road and Connecticut Avenue we found on a mailbox the left hand of a pair of fine pale blue leather gloves. It slid right onto my wife's hand. Later, at the same corner we found a long red cloth glove, very glamorous but perhaps a tad too demimundane. It had been left to lie in the white snow, until we came along. At a bus stop on 16th Street, I found a child's mitten, with the grimacing face of Mickey Mouse on a newspaper vending machine. Mickey was trying to use snow shoes. There wasn't a child in sight, so I took it.
I mustn't leave the impression, however, that glove collecting is normally that rewarding. Indeed, there seems to be a type of glove that could best be called a street glove. These are cheap gloves with holes at the cracks of the fingers and with leather flapping off. Why would anyone put a glove like that on in the first place?
Perhaps there is a special species of glove that stays on the streets to be picked up by the woebegone when they are caught out in the cold. They get what use out of the glove they can and then throw it back on the street to be of service to someone else during the next cold wave.
The gloves generally in the worst shape are curbside gloves. By late February, I tried to avoid sticking my nose too far out in the gutter for fear an odd lump might be a glove. People getting into and out of cars should look where they are standing. Otherwise -- glop! -- into a swill of melted snow, road salt and less savory urban flotsam goes their glove. In self-defense we took to carrying a spare veggie bag in our pockets to take care of curbside gloves.
After research like this, the experience of losing my own gloves no longer fazes me. When I lost a glove this winter I rummaged through the glove collection and found an ideal unmatched pair, a very warm left-hand glove and a very tight right-hand glove. I push my bank's automated teller machine buttons with the fingers of my right hand. It pays to have a lean and hungry right-hand glove. But why should the idle left hand suffer?
Was glove collecting worth it? Sure. Some nice objects just happen to be lost gloves: the little finger puppet glove; the brown knit glove with needlepoint flowers on it, very pretty; the brown mitten with the gold heart, two gold snowflakes and a 'Love You' in white and blue. Not that we still collect gloves. We still have 72 on hand, for thermal or aesthetic purposes.
Of course, if anyone recognizes his or her glove, we'll gladly return it. But as I went through them the last time, I had an eerie feeling. There was that brown glove with the red lining that was just the kind I wore as a kid when I was out sledding, those gray work gloves that looked so familiar, and all the bulky black and brown leather gloves that resembled Christmas presents from age 12 up to last year. The mittens had holes just where I remembered I had sucked and bitten holes, and the big gaudy mitten looked much like one I once bought for a college flame.
Maybe all my gloves had just come home to roost. Well, not all my gloves -- just half of them.