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Padded Cell: My Lost Phone Panic Attack

By Alan Resnick / Detroit

I’m not one of those people whose cell phone is an extension of their arm. I make only a handful of calls each week. I text a little, periodically check my email, and play an occasional game of solitaire. The vast majority of the apps on my phone are rarely if ever opened.

But I experienced a feeling of complete panic two weeks ago when I got in my car after leaving a Costco near my home and could not locate my phone. I knew for certain that I’d had it before entering the parking lot, having used it on my drive there.

The first thing I did was to check my pants and coat pockets. I felt my keys and wallet, but not my phone. So I shoved my hands into my pockets again, because it had to be there. Then I checked a third time, my unease rising by the minute. Fortunately, the vehicles on either side of mine were unoccupied, so I was spared the indignity of having a stranger watch me frantically and repeatedly thrusting my hands into my pockets and possibly misinterpret what they saw.

Well, the phone must have fallen under my seat. So I got out of the car and used the controls on the door to move the seat as far forward and then as far back as possible. No luck. I then wiggled my hand between the seat and the driver’s console, and found nothing but half a pistachio shell and a nickel.

Obviously the phone must have somehow jumped off my person and gotten lodged under the passenger seat. But just as I was about to wedge my hand between it and the console, a thought dawned on me: If I simply turned on my car, the information screen would tell me in an instant if my phone was connected.

So I started the engine and saw that the phone was not connected. As my heart began to sink, I got out, lay down prone on the pavement, and looked under the car.

Still no phone.

My typically rational style of thinking was now crumbling under a wave of anxiety.

I brushed off my pants and jacket, put my mask on, and walked briskly back into Costco. As I approached the Customer Service desk, one of my best friends was steering his cart out of the building. I gave him a quick: “Hey. See you Saturday” and kept moving while making a mental note to apologize for our brief encounter when I saw him over the weekend.

Customer Service directed me to the supervisor’s desk in front of the cash registers, where I was greeted by a fellow named Josh. I told him that I had apparently lost my phone in the store and asked if I could leave my name and number in case someone turned it in.

Josh suggested that I first walk through the store and see if I could locate the wayward device. That made a lot of sense to me, so I pulled out my receipt and decided to retrace my steps based on the items listed.

My first purchase was the Bouchard probiotic chocolates, but my phone was nowhere to be seen. I then walked to my next purchase, the oven roasted turkey in the upright refrigeration cases. Since the turkey was on the top shelf, I had to step up on the ledge to reach it. As I began to raise my arm, I realized that my phone would have had to defy the law of gravity and fallen upward to be where I was about to look. So I stepped down and berated myself for my stupidity.

Visits to the ground turkey and flank steak cases yielded nothing, so I went back to talk with Josh. He asked for a description of the phone, and my name and number, adding: “Don’t give me the number of your cell phone.”

Under normal circumstances, Josh’s statement would have provoked a smart-ass response. But since I was the putz who had lost his phone, it didn’t seem like the time for snark. I decided that I would leave my wife’s business number, as it is a land line and I could pick it up whenever it rang in our home.

But I couldn’t remember if the last two digits were 30 or 94. What if I gave the fax number instead of the phone? Josh would hear that screeching tone and bury my phone at the bottom of the lost and found pile. So I left my wife’s cell number and crossed my fingers.

As I was walking out the door, I suddenly heard Josh’s voice: “Alan, is this your phone?” I turned around, thinking to myself, “It couldn’t be.” It wasn’t. The phone Josh was holding was too large and had an unfamiliar screen image.

After walking back to my car and heading home, my thinking became even more disjointed and illogical. What if someone finds my phone and guesses my passcode? I keep no financial information or credit card information on there, but what if somebody sees the username and password to my Netflix or digital New York Times subscriptions? And what of all the inconvenience that lay ahead?

Should I just head over to the Apple store and get a new phone? The Genius Bar should be able to access my phone’s contents on my iCloud account … if I can remember the password. But what if they won’t see me without an appointment? Even if they did, I would still have to go to the T-Mobile store and have the phone activated.

Maybe I should go to T-Mobile instead and see if they have the phone in stock. But then I’d have to go to the Apple store to get my iCloud information downloaded. Ugh.

Perhaps it was best to just go home and wait to see if Josh calls.

But what if my wife’s not home and Josh contacts her? Anita won’t be able to reach me until she gets home. And what if she gets home, Josh hasn’t called, and it’s too late to get to the Apple or the T-Mobile stores? I had to work the next day and couldn’t remember all my user names and passcodes because they are on my phone and not anywhere else.

Heaven forbid, what happens if I get into an accident on the way home or while driving to Apple or T-Mobile? How do I contact Anita and let her know that I’m O.K. or being taken to the hospital? I wasn’t sure if the other driver would be terribly receptive to me asking, “Sorry for rear-ending you, but can I use your phone to make a couple of calls while you’re waiting for the ambulance?”

These and other incoherent thoughts totally consumed me for the 20 minutes it took to get home from Costco. I turned into our driveway and saw my wife’s SUV as the garage door began to open. I parked, took a deep breath, and went into the house, ready to tell her about my ineptitude.

But Anita met me with a smile and said, “Josh from Costco called. He has your phone.” I sighed in relief, briefly shared my tale of woe, and returned to my car.

And for those next 20 minutes, I was the safest, most attentive driver on the road. I kept my distance from the vehicles in front of me, carefully entered the two roundabouts en route, and made no attempt to beat a stop light that had just turned amber. Just for good measure, I parked toward the end of the Costco lot.

After masking up and returning to the supervisor’s desk, I spoke with a fellow named John. (Josh was at lunch.) He went into the back room, brought out what looked like my phone, and asked me to enter my passcode.

Voila, it was mine.

At home, I went through my phone’s contents to see if there was anything that made me squeamish, and made some deletions for safety’s sake. Then I took out a sheet of paper, wrote down all my user names and passwords for work, and stuck the piece of paper in my wallet.

Just in case.


Alan Resnick is an industrial psychologist with over 40 years of professional experience. He and his wife are sheltering at home in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He is passing the time by cooking, exercising, catching up on friends’ recommendations of must-see TV and writing.



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