When I was growing up, we had a kitchen drawer filled with keys of unknown origin that accumulated over the years … and were still accumulating. Dozens of keys of every make, model and political affiliation.
My father was a carpenter and a locksmith, but even he didn’t know what the keys were for, although he insisted on saving them in case of … what? In case we got locked out of the bathroom and our only hope was to rummage through a pile of keys to find one that might miraculously open the door?
Unfortunately, the keys were suited for everything but the bathroom door. There were keys for suitcases, lockers, post office boxes, several models of Fords (my father only bought Fords), the shed, the garage, and one that I think opened the jail cell at the Shelton police station.
When we changed locks, we always kept the old keys. We never threw away a key. It was bad luck, I suppose, like opening an umbrella in the house or putting a new pair of shoes on the kitchen table. We had more keys than we knew what to do with, and that was precisely the problem — we didn’t know what to do with them.
If my father had been a banker, the situation would have been more manageable … and profitable. Instead of lost keys, we would have had a drawer filled with lost cash that he found on the bank vault floor.
In my fantasies, Dad would come home from work, throw a thick wad of bills on the dinner table and tell Mom, “Put this in the kitchen drawer. I found it at work today and no one claimed it. We can use it to pay his college education.”
The key drawer, however, only caused anxiety and frustration. “What’s this key for?” we often asked one another, but no one knew. Even after my parents died, I insisted on saving a few of them as mementoes.
Now I have my own key drawer. Actually, I share it with my wife. Actually, it’s not a drawer. It’s a huge German beer stein my first girlfriend gave me back in the days when I celebrated Oktoberfest. Whenever we come upon a mystery key, we toss it in there.
Every so often, I empty out the stein, although I don’t know what I expect to find. Inevitably, I put the keys back and return the stein to the shelf, and try to forget these unresolved mysteries. As my mother would say, “If you don’t use it, you don’t need it.” But I can’t bring myself to throw them out. It must be neurotic behavior. (Do you remember the days when we called one another “neurotics”? It was a popular term before Dr. Phil came along and all behavior became socially acceptable.)
Over the years, I’ve also collected several dozen electrical chargers and I have no idea what they’re for. Apple makes the problem worse by coming out with a new charger every few years for some insane and costly reason.
While I was rummaging through the drawer, I found chargers for camera batteries, for BlackBerries — remember them? — for iPads, iPhones and iPods, chargers for Bluetooth keyboards, for NOAA weather radios, for emergency flashlights, for car phones, for Fitbits, for electrical devices Thomas Edison invented, along with an assortment of chargers designed to be used in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Antarctica. I don’t think I’ll need them, but I save them anyway.
My wife has a drawer where she keeps broken jewelry and rosaries that will never be repaired, and I have another drawer for broken fountain pens, mechanical pencils, penlights with burnt-out bulbs and calculators that need batteries, along with a few dozen batteries that are probably dead.
The one useful drawer in our home is my In Case of Emergency drawer, where I store essential items that we’ll need if there’s a natural disaster or barbarian raid or I break a shoelace. But whenever there’s an emergency, I always forget to look in the drawer. Instead, I rush out and buy a replacement … eyeglass repair kits, calculator batteries, pencil lead, buttons, elastic bands, earplugs, pipe cleaners, erasers, magnifying glasses, and those tiny screwdrivers that I often need … but can never find.
Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.