Barefeet and a heartbeat

August 1, 2009

Guelph Mercury, 29/07/09keys

What are you looking at me for?

Nothing to see here – just a wayward columnist walking barefoot into a fancy downtown hair salon, like some homeless gypsy blown in by the wind.

Nothing unusual about that.

At least there wasn’t anything especially unusual about it – until he returns twenty minutes later, slightly sweatier, and still barefoot. He’s out of breath, and mumbling something about keys. And then he’s off again, riding a bicycle, using cardboard strips that he’s fashioned into peddling shoes.

Drivers slow down to do a double-take. A man leading a group of children actually frowns and shakes his head. Teenagers with mohawks and nose piercings hanging around outside the drop-in centre stop and turn, saying: what’s up with that weird guy?

That’s about the point your columnist tries to remember: How did it come to this, again?

It probably began some point in childhood, when he got used to the idea that house keys were not a necessary part if life. The family home was never locked in the 18 years he lived there, and if there ever was a house key, we’d long ago lost it.

That was normal for the neighbourhood, which figured locked doors didn’t make much sense if there’s no one to keep out. This was a place where the collective memory could recall only one crime in 100 years: someone stole a man’s car right out of the driveway and drove it to the next town over. The man had left the keys in the ignition, of course. Turns out, the neighbour’s kid did it.

And so, your columnist has had a troubled relationship with house keys ever since. They’re never around when he needs them. And when they are around, we’re often separated by a locked door.

That was the case when I sauntered out onto the back deck one recent morning. It was sunny and warm. A perfect summer day. It was a nice moment, until I tried to get back in. I was locked out. Everything else, including footwear, was locked in.

No matter, just use the spare key that you keep under the plant, I reckoned. The one you used two days earlier when you had locked yourself out. The one you didn’t return to its spot. Oh, right.

Fine. Call the locksmith who solved this problem two weeks ago when you once again locked yourself out. The one who sweet-talked the deadbolt like he was trying to get some action. The one who wanted $60 for three minutes of work.

Of course, calling anyone would require a telephone. So your columnist appears barefoot on the neighbour’s step, and a kind man from California opens the door. Lets him use the phone, calls the lady of the house.

He’s in luck. The lady has an appointment at a hair salon downtown, and a key-transfer meeting is arranged. The kind neighbour drives the barefoot columnist to the salon, where he waits inside the entrance and employees wonder if they should call the police. Just be  happy I put a shirt on today, columnist thinks.

Then the lady arrives, hands over a key, and the columnist heads back home, still barefoot. Wincing and tiptoeing the whole way. He knows walking barefoot across downtown is a dangerous proposition, especially considering this city’s very public problem with sidewalk urination. Gets to the house, finds he’s been given the wrong key. Heads back across town to the salon, this time using a bicycle.

At the salon, walks barefoot across a carpet of other people’s hair, finds his lady. This time, gets the right key. On the ride home, vows to hide a dozen spares under every object on the back deck.

That and a spare pair of shoes.

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