Published: March 18,2007

IT began when I was walking down the street in all innocence and several people called out at once, ''You dropped your glove!'' And just like that I was swept up in one of the unseen subterranean currents of the city, the current of lost and found. It holds you longer than you'd expect. It holds you and spins you around and around. I looked down behind me, and there was my glove on the sidewalk.

I picked up the glove and thanked each of the three people who had intervened on my behalf.

An hour or so later, I walked into a Starbucks and saw, on the floor, a wad of cash. I picked it up. It was a 10 and a 5. Not a fortune, but no insubstantial sum, either.

''Is this yours?'' I asked the man who was standing at the cream and sugar counter, next to where the cash had lain. He said it wasn't.

Another person said he thought the money belonged to a woman who had just left.

''Which way did she go?'' I asked.

''To the right.''

''Describe her.''

''She was with a kid.''

Out the door, to the right -- I moved quickly, and soon I saw a woman with a little girl. Right before I caught up with them, they turned into a Barnes & Noble, and I followed.

Just as I came up behind the woman, the girl dropped her pink hat. It fell to the floor like a weightless little cloud. This seemed proof enough that between the two of them, they couldn't hold onto anything.

''Excuse me!'' I practically shouted. They stopped and turned. I pointed to the girl's hat. And then, seized with feelings of chivalry and perhaps excitement at my imminent gesture of altruism, I bent down and picked it up for her. The woman said thank you.

Then, holding out the crumpled bills, I asked, ''Is this yours?'' The woman looked confused, glanced down into her purse, then again at the bills. ''Fifteen dollars?'' she said.


''I think it is,'' she said with a smile. The little girl in the pink hat hardly took notice. Perhaps this sort of thing happened all the time, I thought. Perhaps people run up to her mother and return things she has dropped every day.

All this would have been no more than a bit of random city choreography were it not for the fact that a couple of days later I went home and realized that my wallet was not in the pocket of my coat. Deep panic. A lost glove is annoying, but a lost wallet is a statement. It means that you have misplaced your identity, your money and your credit cards, along with various gift certificates, accumulated over various holidays and birthdays, given to you by your mother. What does it mean to be so careless with love and money?

I tore through the apartment and then emptied every pocket in my coat. Just before I had gone home, I rushed out of a deli with my wallet and loose dollar bills in one hand, a sandwich in the other. I now had the sandwich but not the wallet. Maybe in my moment of haste, I had pushed it into what I thought was a pocket, but was in fact thin air, and it had fallen to the street.

I pictured my wallet lying on the street. I wanted to rush outside to look for it. Then I thought: ''No, don't do that. It's crazy to think it's lying in the street. Keep looking in here.''

But barely a minute went by before I was standing in front of the open refrigerator. There comes a time in all searches for objects lost at home when one capitulates to the irrational urge to check the fridge. You realize that rationally, there is no way that whatever you are looking for is in the refrigerator. But it isn't anywhere else, and what's the harm in looking?

No sooner had I seen the fridge light blink on than I slammed it shut and raced outside. What is more irrational, looking for your wallet in the fridge, or on a city street?

I trotted back to the deli, eyes on the ground. I know there are worse tragedies than losing your wallet, but are there worse feelings than walking down a city block in New York looking at the ground with the deluded idea that your wallet, containing 80 bucks and credit cards and driver's license and gift certificates from your mother, will be simply lying on the street untouched?

In front of the deli, right in the middle of West Fourth Street, wet, flattened by many tires, lay my wallet.

But it wasn't over. The next day I sat in a diner on Prince Street and watched placidly as a tall man strode confidently down the street, chin high in the air, while his wallet slipped out of his back pocket. A woman walking in the opposite direction picked it up. I leapt to my feet, not sure which of them to address, the loser or the finder. I went after the guy. ''Hey!'' I called. He didn't hear me or ignored me. He was wearing a big black puffy down jacket. I slapped him on the back, quite hard. ''Hey!'' I said again, full of self-recognition. It was all I could do to refrain from adding, ''Idiot!''

I went back to my seat in the diner and watched as the man explained himself to the woman, and she handed him his wallet, smiles all around. Her gesture seemed to bring me full circle to the dropped glove; a cycle was complete. For a while after that, I didn't lose anything.