Monday, August 14, 2006

I Am the Key Master

SOME TIME AGO, I detailed how I stumbled upon a handbag at Whole Foods and, via the store's customer service desk, returned it.

Evidently, this began an unwitting streak of being a roving lost-and-found. Two recent incidents, both involving keys, point to this trend.

The first one occurred about two weeks ago. While entering the lobby of my building, I spotted a car key. It was one of the more recent ones, with the functional fob forming the base of the key, which was more of a long metal probe than a traditional key-shaped implement. A tag indicated the car was purchased at a Bergen County car dealer.

I went back out to the lot and pressed the panic button. (This feature, a Nobel Prize–level innovation if you ask me, is the only way I could find my various rental cars in the anonymous sprawls of the many Vegas parking garages in which I have wandered. Until I learned to write down the level and section, that is.) A white sedan in the parking lot across the street began honking and flashing its lights.

I took a look at the car, inside and out, to see if I could determine the owner. No clue. Based on its location, though, I figured that this person had bought something in the strip mall to which the parking lot catered, then had visited someone in my building. I went back upstairs to make two simple signs with my phone number, which I planned to hang on the two most likely exits this person would take.

I found the owner of the car while posting the signs. It turned out to be a regular visitor, whose elderly father had, until recently, lived directly across the hall from me. (He suffered a fall some weeks ago, and has been recuperating under close care in a rehab facility.) She left the key out front when she switched hands between her father's mail and her house keys, and when I found her in the entryway, she was digging through her handbag with the unmistakable air of someone who knows he or she came in with something and now, for the life of him or her, cannot put a hand on it. I asked her if she was looking for something, and she accepted her car key with gratitude and relief.

So upon returning home tonight, I had cause to think about that incident when what do I see sitting in a jagged brass jumble next to the mailboxes but a hefty set of keys. This was a little more serious. Anyone with half a brain and a larcenous heart could spend a little time figuring which key opens the front door, then do a few things: enter the complex at will, copy it and allow confederates to do the same, go door to door with what they suspect might be an inside key and try to break in, or sell the whole lot to someone with the time and inclination to do any of the above. Plus they'd potentially have a free car, as there was a key for some vehicle among the bunch.

As with the last car, I had only a fleeting moment of the risk–reward equation of grand theft auto, and scooped up the keys to at least get them away from thieving hands. Once upstairs, I had dinner, and while finishing, I made up another sign, this one with my cell number, because my plan was to write for a while at the library (my current location). I cleaned up, bagged my Mac, and headed out, affixing the sign to the front door before leaving.

Just as I was checking out a book that, fortuitously, had arrived today via interlibrary loan, my cellphone vibrated. I missed that call, but it immediately began vibrating again. Definitely the panicked repeat dialing of someone down a couple of dozen keys. It actually turned out to be that person's employer. The owner was a domestic or a home health aide (I didn't inquire which), and the caller was ringing me to see if she could head over to my apartment to pick up the keys. I explained that I would be there in about 5 minutes, as I was at the library, and the caller said the person would be downstairs to meet me. I also got her name — Maria — so they could ID themselves.

I drove back to the apartment quickly enough (despite a traffic backup from the train passing through town), and found a Latin American woman waiting in the front hall. She walked up to my car, said her name was Maria, and gratefully received her keys with several thank-yous and God-bless-yous. I briefly told her about the previous key incident, and she pronounced me a good person. Well, let's not get hasty, I thought, but I thanked her for it and let her head on out as I returned to the library.

So it seems like I'm on a streak! If you should happen to misplace something over the next few weeks, you might call me first before panicking. At this rate, I just may have found it.

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