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Peterson: Keys to life? Hanging on to them

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We all have fears, and among mine are misplacing my keys, which leads to losing them, which leads to panic.

Of course, panic is overdoing it.

Panic is tempered by knowing that I can call a locksmith, which is a very cool low-tech word in these high-tech days. A locksmith can smith any lock. If smith isn’t a verb, I am making it one. It sounds a lot better than breaking and entering, which is a crime under certain circumstances.

It might be that panic occurs because locksmiths are expensive. If you lock your keys inside your car, a locksmith can get to you within minutes and unlock the door in seconds. For that service, you might be expected to pay $75 to $100, although it has been a number of years since I’ve locked my keys in my car.

To prevent panic, I go to an Ace Hardware for copies of keys. I scatter them in secret hiding places and in obvious places. I’ve lost count of how many copies of keys I have. I’ve also probably forgotten where I put them.

My wallet is lumpy, not with credit cards, but with keys – a key for the car, a key for the house, a key for my office at work, where, in my desk, I have a full set of keys to all of the doors I might need to enter.

My key ring always goes in my right pants pocket. “Always” is a frightful word because it means there are no exceptions. As soon as I unlock a door, I return the keys to my pocket. I’ve used them thousands of times, so my brain has become hard-wired on proper handling.

If I forget my keys, I have the copies of the main keys in my wallet, which is a fairly recent development, given the number of years I have been entrusted with keys. I got a set of keys right after I got my high school diploma. It was a coming of age.

I decided to put keys in my wallet after I locked myself out of my car in a parking lot in Rockford. I was wearing a suit and tie, and found myself on my hands and knees trying to find a key hidden in a magnetized box that sticks to the underside of the car. I couldn’t find it, although I crawled around the car several times.

I don’t trust magnetic boxes because I believe they will be knocked out of place when jarred by a pothole or plowing through deep snow. I couldn’t find the box, so I called a locksmith, who arrived in minutes, took seconds to unlock, and I paid the price.

I found out later that the key was stuck to a piece of metal under the car that my hands did not feel. And I cannot begin to tell you where – or if it’s even there – the box is now.

I’ve come into possession of a new set of keys for an apartment I use once a week at seminary.

I carry those keys with me only when I am at school, so the odds of forgetting them or misplacing them is high. And I cannot copy them because they are stamped with “Do Not Duplicate.”

It’s only been three weeks, and I haven’t lost them, so I’m feeling pretty good about that. The trouble is, I can’t seem to make them work to open the two deadbolts on the door. Someone inside the Spartan apartment has always had to let me in.

The last time I used them, I wrote down how to use them, which I never imagined having to do. A lot of unimaginable things are happening these days. I write down combinations to locks and computer passwords, and I hide them cryptically in my notebook. But writing down how to use a key? Never.

I discovered that one lock needs to be turned to the right to unlock it, instead of the usual turn to the left. The second lock turns to the right and you have to keep pressure on the key because the doorknob doesn’t work, so the latch keeps the door from opening. Yes, it’s come to this. Detailed notes on how to use keys.

I’ll find out next week whether my notes will let me through the door. That is trusting I don’t forget them at home.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at

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