She leaves her socks in San Francisco

I HAVE larger things on my mind, of course. I've just quit my job of 2 1/2 years, I have a few weeks to find a place in New York City and move there, and by the end of this month I'll have started a job I've never done before.

My moving/decluttering frenzy has me recycling old newspapers, giving away shoes I never wear and attacking the more personal repositories of frayed clothing: socks and underwear. So I marvel at the sheer number of unmatched socks.

Are they mad because we turn them into puppets by putting them on our hands, perverting their intended purpose? Is that why they run away? Or is there something about the structure of socks that causes them to disintegrate spontaneously in the washer or dryer, emerging only as puffs of lint in the filter?

I wouldn't mind so much if they were ordinary socks, but the disappearance of the Christmas socks stymies me. Every Christmas, my boyfriend's family gives me socks with pictures of animals on them. The ducks quack to each other about the scuffs on my shoes. The penguins struggle to feel at ease in the Bay Area's mild winters. The ladybugs find no aphids between my toes. But I had no idea that these minor complaints would cause them to flee my wardrobe.

Maybe the penguins will return once they hear I'm heading to the Northeast.

The animal socks tradition seems far more palatable to me than would themed sweaters or earrings. I'm more fond of secret festivity than of loud public displays. Even kitschy, glittery fabrics that proclaim one's love of kittens look like less of an eyesore when sewn into small socks mostly occluded by shoes and pants.

Indian women's clothes, especially for grand occasions, tend to the gaudy. I've been shoved into tunics swaying under the weight of more rhinestones, glitter and teensy mirrors than you could shake a wand at. (Oh, what joy I had this week tossing those scratchy things into the charity box!) So glitter-kitten sweatshirts hold a special horror for me.

Discreet ducks, hiding under black flats and gray dress slacks, quacking and sniggering as I discuss renewal rates, cheer me obscurely.

I can make my own little Casual Friday, known only to my feet. My boyfriend's mother enjoyed a similar sensation while wearing glow-in-the-dark dinosaur socks inside her boots during Christmas church services.

But maybe the ducks don't like hiding. Maybe they're hurt that I won't fly my duck flag high, and they've misunderstood my private joy for shame. Well, ducks, I've come out! I've showed you off publicly, in this column read by tens, nay, dozens!

Won't you come back?

Do the socks escape to provide comfort to the single shoes you see lying by the side of the highway? Do pairs of socks actually get along as poorly as married couples in the United States, with a divorce rate hovering around 50 percent?

As I pack, I look into corners I seldom see and even more seldom clean. A few stray socks have peered back at me, cowering behind a haze of dust bunnies. Evidently socks tend to burrow between the bed and the wall as I sleep, and fall off my feet and under the couch as I watch "Frontline."

So I pack and I toss and I reunite the rare pair of tube or ankle socks and am left with 10 singlets, just another loose end to wrap up before I leave California. I look for explanations and clever epithets for closure's sake, to make it easier to say goodbye.

I could toss these singlets, or turn them into rags, or wear them mismatched in New York — the folks at my new job don't seem like the type who would care.

Or I might take the singlets with me, to remind me of their twins, left behind in some apartment or Laundromat in the Bay Area, like the other half of a locket.