Like many American homes, mine has about 10,000 keys.
We have golden keys, silvery keys, round keys, square keys, rubber-coated keys, little keys that virtually float in your pocket and big keys that are so heavy they make your pockets sag.
And like many Americans, I have virtually no idea what most of these keys unlock.
This became apparent to me recently when I tried to find the spare key for the backyard gate. I needed it to get the roof fixed.
Without the key, the roofer couldn't get through the gate, and therefore couldn't get his roofing material from his truck in the alley and up to the soggy roof.
The roofer couldn't get past the gate because I lock it, with a key, every morning when I go to work.
I lock the gate out of habit, without thinking. That is what I did the day the roofer and his crew stopped by to work on the roof. My roofers are big fellas. Had they wanted to, they could have "moved" the gate and the fence attached to it with their bare hands. But, being nice guys, they just left a note saying, "gate locked."
Upon receiving the note, I immediately issued profuse apologies. You can blow appointments with your doctor and reschedule without a hitch. But miss a date with your roofer and it could be weeks before you see him again. That is because roofers only work when the sun is shining. Lately that has been happening about once a week.
I also began looking for a spare key to the back gate. I figured I would send it, along with with a friendly gift, maybe a new trowel, to my roofer to patch things up.
I found plenty of keys in my house. I found ones that might fit the back doors of my old apartments in Louisville and Chicago. I found one that might unlock the basement door of the house we used to live in. I spotted keys that might ignite the old Toyota, traded in 10 years ago. And I uncovered several that looked as if they could free the padlocks clinging to bicycles in the basement. In part, I kept these old keys for sentimental reasons. But I also kept them in the vain hope that someday I will find the lock meant for one of them.
None of my keys, however, fits the back gate.
And so, I ended up going down to a locksmith and getting a duplicate key made for the back gate.
I had to wait, of course. People who make copies of keys, either at a locksmith's shop or a hardware store, are always in demand. Saturdays are especially heavy "key days."
Some Saturdays I'll walk into a hardware store and one clerk will be totally devoted to making keys. He can't mix paint or sell steel wool. He has become a specialist, like the guys in liquor stores who used to sell wine but now only punch out lottery tickets. The "sideline" of the business has become the main attraction.
Eventually I got my copy of the key made. And I took it home and tested in the back gate. It is important, I have learned, to make sure copies of keys work. If you don't, you can go out of town leaving a copy of your house key with a trusted neighbor. The trusted neighbor will be able to put the copy of the key in the lock, but won't be able to get in house. Your mail will pile up and pets will howl or worse.
The point is that locks are quirky. Sometimes they won't accept substitutes. But in this case, the duplicate key worked. So I sent it to my roofer.
I think I'll tell him to keep it. That way, next time I need it, I'll know where to look.