It used to be a box, and every bar has one: An old, cardboard liquor box, stained, brittle in places from where it was soaked from a spill, adorned with flowery sharpie art from an enterprising worker on a slow night. The content of the box varies from month to month. Like Margery Williams’ Velveteen Rabbit, the value comes from what’s inside. The box is labeled “LOST AND FOUND.”

It’s natural to leave things here. It’s a bar. Someone gets caught up in conversation, their drinks, or a fly-by-night courtship. The weather might change abruptly.

The things we leave behind are an amalgamation of utilitarianism, practicality and style. A bar’s lost and found is a dumpster-dive grab-bag that solves the issue of fighting a raccoon for your rightfully acquired goods. Need a quirky umbrella? Here’s four. How about those Ray-Bans? They’re prescription, but you don’t know that yet!

Christmas does come more than once a year.

The clothes situation is problematic. You can’t just start wearing things you find. When a person who comes in to claim a lost coat finds you wearing it, it’s uncomfortable for both parties. There’s an order to it. A statute of limitation of one month exists for coats, shirts, raincoats, Jordans and hats. Pants and flip-flops are immediately trashed (Obviously. We’re not savages.)

Perishables are a crapshoot. Dive bartenders receive food from friendly regulars all the time. This is different from just finding someone’s food. It’s gross to eat a random stranger’s leftovers that were not intended for you — just don’t. Even if it’s an everyday regular, just toss it. You don’t know where they’ve been. Two years of sanitary practices should have taught you this. Water bottles are left all the time, but my personal preference is that they are left alone. There’s something about never feeling that a water bottle is truly clean unless it was yours from the start. Those things were made for mouths.

A statute of limitation of one month exists for coats, shirts, raincoats, Jordans and hats.

Unopened cookies, pastries and candy used to be okay, but with the nationwide rise of edibles, it’s a gamble. Unless the unopened package clearly states, “This snack does not contain THC,” I wouldn’t risk it. There’s nothing worse than catching an unintended buzz at work. Upon reading this last sentence, I realize that my employers read this column so I cannot recommend a buzz at work, intended or not. Just say no. That also goes for vape pens and discarded cigarette packs. Lighters are fair game.

Common decency abounds, so there are certain items that extend the statute of limitations. Jewelry, phones, smartwatches, keys and wallets are all items that should have their own section. A reasonable effort should be made to find the owners of these items, because these are usually missed and will be looked for. But you don’t have to advertise a found item unless it’s a child or a pet.

Employees are then allowed to make a claim: first come, first serve.

These rules, while varying and fluid, should serve as general etiquette when dealing with someone’s abandoned possessions at the bar. The box exists in many places. It serves as a transit, a waystation, shelter from the storm. The contents are alive, each with its own story in a constantly changing world. The boxes represent humanity; they’re us.

They’re the leavings of the main character of every story told. Until they’re found.

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

⚡ Join The Society ⚡