When I'm walking on the streets of New York City, I hear a jangling sound. It is not change in my pocket, but the 13 keys I carry. I feel like a jailer. The weight makes holes in my pockets.
I live a life of relative simplicity. No car. No country house. No safe-deposit box. Modest possessions. A small apartment. Why the need for so many keys?
Let me examine them one by one.
The key with the distinctive red-plastic top unlocks the two doors leading from the street into my apartment house. The doors are open until 11 p.m., when the doorman leaves. When I arrive home late on a bitterly cold night, how reassuring it is to reach for the red key and enter the building. Warmth lies within.
A small key on my key ring opens the mailbox by the elevator.
On the sixth floor where I live, I have two locks on the apartment door. The cylinder on the top lock sometimes gets stuck. I jiggle the key to no avail. I have to ask the super for help. He is able to open the door with a duplicate key. The lock needs fixing.
l keep my bicycle in the living room, leaning against the fireplace screen. In the rough-and-tumble city I have chosen to live in, heavy chains are necessary to secure a bicycle to a lamppost on the street. Two keys serve this purpose.
My office in SoHo requires a whopping seven keys: one to open the door at the front entrance on Greene Street, another for the door leading to the mailbox, and a third for the mailbox. Then I need a key for the elevator to gain access to the second floor and a key for the office door.5
The building also has a door on Broome Street, the original entrance to this 1870 cast-iron structure. It is much used, since the elevator often breaks down. The door leads to three steep flights of wooden stairs. When I walk up and down the stairs, I am transported back in time to the world of Dostoevsky and 19th-century St. Petersburg. Only the smell of cabbage soup is missing.
The 13th key is for the fire door leading from the stairs to the second-floor hallway.
Keys are practical and necessary. In our daily life we have a need for the practical, but also for the poetic. And so, on my key ring I carry an ornament depicting the winged horse, Pegasus, symbol of poetic inspiration.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society