Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Keys to Life

I sometimes think that life can be defined as the gradual accumulation of keys.

When I was a kid I did not have any keys. The front door was generally unlocked, and when it wasn’t someone else had the key. I was just along for the ride. And then I got a house key. I still have it on my keychain, and whenever I go back east to visit my parents it gets good use. It’s over three decades old now – the chrome has worn off, leaving the brass underneath showing, and it still has the locksmith’s phone number stamped at the top, the one that starts out with the alphabetical exchange.

Hey kids – did you know phone numbers used to have letters in them? I grew up with a phone number that started off with the “Midway-9” exchange, which had a much more homey feel about it than “649” ever did. My grandparents were at Hilltop, which was only a couple of miles away.

So I had one key.

Then I learned how to drive and acquired a second key. I believe there was a third one as well, since the trunk and the ignition might have been separate keys in those days. It was a 1973 Plymouth that had its own zip code, but it could turn on a dime and store most of my friends at a go, so it was a great car. I didn’t have keys to the equally vintage Nova my dad drove, though, as it was a stick shift and even today driving one of those that is a skill that eludes me. Kim tried to teach me on her car once, but it got so bad that the car wouldn’t even start for me. She’d get in and it would start right up, but as soon as I got behind the wheel, nothing. It was as if the car just knew.

So I did pretty well for a while with three keys.

Then I went to college and cycled through a whole mob of keys – keys for dorm rooms, sublets, mailboxes, apartments and so on. I was getting older, and my keycount was increasing.

By the time I got out of graduate school I had keys to all sorts of things, some of which I actually needed.

Over the last few years I have been slowly bulking out my key ring, to the point where I now have to have subsidiary key rings locked in places accessible only via my primary key ring. I have my house keys – two of them, since the front and back doors no longer match. I have keys to my car and Kim’s, and the great honking fobs that come with them that allow you to lock and unlock the things without the keys. I have keys to get me into Home Campus – the front door (and a fob for that too) and my office, which is where I store an entire ring of keys that I use for my Performing Arts Coordinator position – keys to the auditorium, the lighting catwalk, and so on. I’ve got a mailbox key too.

And yesterday I started my semester at Not Quite So Faraway Campus, where I was awarded three more keys – one for the front door, one for the office I share with two friendly colleagues, and another for something labeled a “Smart Cart,” although really – it requires a key. How smart can it be?

Probably smarter than I am in some ways. It only needs one key. I now have enough keys on my key ring that it looks like I am smuggling a grapefruit in my pocket.

Or perhaps I’m just glad to see you.

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