The Semi-Adventures of a Nomadic Mathematician Rotating Header Image

Losing Keys

Unlike books, keys are stunningly easy to lose. The event becomes more frequent as the owner of the keys advances in age.

I was just beyond my teenage years when the disaster first stroke. The niggardly person I had always been, I never lost anything before, so as to save purchasing the item again. Hence I panicked when I lost our key on the first day of our trans-European hitchhiking tour, which we started in a dilapidated hostel in London. There was a fifteen pound deposit on that key, enough to feed four of us for a week, or so we calculated. I regretted ever volunteering to keep the key.

The damned thing just vanished, the metal evaporated into thin air, and we did not even leave the room yet. I unpacked my bag four times — my bag was at least twice as big as the total volume of all my belongings today — and found nothing. The key was refusing to re-enter our corner of space-time.

Typical London view

The view from the room in London where I almost lost my keys for the first time.

While my nervous breakdown was in the making — fifteen quid, for Christsake! — I began to cast accusing eyes at my travel buddy, who had also been packing on the same bed. With an innocent face, he claimed that no key was under his control. This was true, he had no control over it, but when I finally persuaded him to unpack, the mischievous key reappeared. The moral of the story is: always fence up the area where you pack your bag, and let not the saint-like mien of professional key hiders mislead you.

Ten happy years passed without losing even a single key. Then the disaster stroke again.

The circumstances are of great importance in losing your keys. Japan has a thing for not insulating buildings. This has been the case for thousands of years, and it did not change in the twenty-first century. This is odd, because Japanese winters are bitter cold, and malicious winds are ever keen to blow through the cracks and freeze the humans inside. For this reason, I was always wearing an inordinate number of layers of clothes, including at least three pairs of pants.

Now if you wear so many pairs of pants, ideas will occur to you to stuff things in the additional pockets that you gain this way. Pockets are magical attractors of objects. I never have a pocket without having something in it. I surmised that the zippable pocket of the middle layer of pants was the perfect place for my keys because:

  1. The keys would not scratch my other items in the more accessible pockets.
  2. The keys would not get lost even if yakuza members were to shake me upside down; a likely event that I expected every day.

Then one fine morning I was in a hurry for my Japanese class. I was fumbling to get the keys in the pocket. After a minute of misery, I assumed that they were in position, and dashed off. The keys were not in position, they were slowly escaping between the layers, assisted by their great friend, gravity.

We got through the day’s lesson, Fujisan wa takai desu, then we went for tea. My keys were no longer following me. Oblivious to the loss, I was returning to my apartment in the evening, looking for the keys in the hidden pocket. I stripped half naked as I tried to retrieve the items that were not there.

Japanese spirit

I bet this dude never lost a single key.

Desperate calls followed as I was trying to track down the manager of the unit, who was on vacation. My lack of Japanese did not help. I could explain to anybody that Mt Fuji was a tall mountain, but we did not get to the lesson yet in which lost keys would be reported.

Eventually I was directed to the caretaker, whose family was startled by gaijin barging in at night, demanding a set of spare keys. They coped with the situation, and granted me the keys.

The next day the sensei at the school was waiting for me with the lost keys in his hand. The rascals wormed their way out of my pants while I was learning about the height of Mt Fuji. Japan is a country where you can feel genuinely stupid for the slightest mistake, and such an enormous blunder leaves a permanent scar on your ego.

Just a few months later, I had a series of disasters with a set of keys in Singapore. Well, not quite the same set, as they were making regular escapes, but identical keys anyway.

The sequence of misadventures started with the unspeakable horror of losing my keys for real. That baleful morning started as if I had been a man of iron discipline: I woke up at six, and a few minutes later I was jogging by the river to do 10km. Little I knew about the whole in my pocket.

As I trotted along river, my keys found the opening, and — keys always being notoriously opportunistic — they dropped to the ground and vanished forever.

The apartment belonged to a friend, who went overseas for a few months, and the spare keys were deposited with her girlfriend. I messaged her, and she told me I could pick up at the financial centre later, when she went for work. Not having any cash on me, I ran to the destination. Sweating profusely, I was standing in the midst of posh skyscrapers. Men in power suits cast suspicious eyes at me. It was an uncomfortable moment in my life.

Having retrieved the keys, I made duplicates, checked whether the duplicates worked, and returned the originals a few days later. So far so good, but the door was a tricky one: it locked automatically upon closing. So a week later I accidentally locked myself out.

We had to repeat the whole procedure again with my friend’s girlfriend. This time I was not wearing my sweat-soaked running singlet: I chose a more formal attire to lock myself out. I made two more duplicates, and I permanently attached one to my bag.

Singaporean soap propaganda

I wish the Singapore government would also put up posters for senior citizens on how not to lose their keys.

A week passed. Knowing that I had the keys in my bag, I ran off to attend some research nonsense. Returning late at night, I noticed that my new duplicate would not open the coursed door. I had never checked if it worked, and it was a lousy duplicate made of an undefined cheap metal that was cut roughly in the shape of the original, but not quite. I gave up trying after ten minutes, and called a locksmith. An hour of waiting and sixty dollars later, I reunited with the functional duplicates.

Keys and old people are not good friends. Either dispose of all your valuables, so you do not have a reason to use keys at all, or stop ageing now. Choose whichever option is easier for you. My vote goes for minimalism, as my brain is already at an advanced stage of decline.

Comments are closed.