Three Keys and Two Fools-One of Who Was Me.

One spring evening, as people were out strolling, they saw Mullah Nasruddin on his hands and knees under a lamppost searching frantically for something or other.

“I’ve lost my keys” replied Mullah, when one of the curious onlookers asked about the object of his search.
“Let me help you,”said the man, and it wasn’t long before a half dozen more good Samaritans joined the search in ever widening circles. But their efforts were to no avail. The keys did not appear.
“Mullah, are you quite sure you lost the keys near here?” one of the search party asked, when it became obvious that the keys were nowhere to be found.
“Oh no, no no, not here, I didn’t lose the keys near here,” Nasruddin replied, not looking up, as he continued crawling around on all fours. “I lost the keys in the house.”
“Then why in the world are you looking for it them here the street?” asked one of a now incredulous member of the ad-hoc search party.
“The answer is obvious,” said Nasruddin. “The light is much much better here.”

Several weeks after the incidents of 9/11 I was drinking coffee at one of the sidewalk tables outside  the French Hotel, a favorite java joint in Berkeley.  I looked up from the book I was reading and was alarmed to see an Arab looking man, fast approaching, obviously distressed, and furtively looking first one way and then the other.  As hard as I tried to avoid falling prey to stereotypes and jumping to conclusions, I felt a gathering anxiety about his behavior and purposes, and then even more anxiety when I realized he was making a beeline to my table.  A few seconds later, he was looking straight in my face and informed me…that he’d lost his keys.
Whew! Here now was a chance to redeem myself (in my own eyes) and transform myself from a paranoid and suspicious neighborhood watcher to a helpful citizen.  Living the storied life that I do, my next thought was to remember Nasruddin and his keys.  “Let me help you look,” I offered.  “Do you think you may have left them here near the cafe?” I didn’t have to wait for a response.  I’d risen from my chair, ready to jump into action.  No sooner did I stand up then the keys appeared.  Right on the chair where I’d been sitting!”

Whose lapse, I wonder was greater, the absent minded suspected terrorist, or me, so oblivious to my environment, that I neither saw nor felt the keys when I sat down on them?

Now, at risk of illuminating a character fault that is well known to friends and family, but perhaps not known to readers of this blog.  I offer this sad story, as a cautionary tale.

A few weeks ago, I turned the key in the ignition of my car and heard something snap.  After that, the key simply pivoted in it’s lock and the engine would not turn off.  Luckily, Luis, my father in law was willing and able to come to the rescue.  It would be no big deal he said to replace the ignition. A trip to Auto Zone and twenty some dollars for the part later and Luis had the old one out in a matter of minutes… BUT, it turned out that the problem was deeper…a 10c spring in the steering column was broken and the ignition could not be properly set in.  Long story short (this part anyway) the entire steering column would have to be replaced.  Here, I offer some good news. You no longer need to rely on either the overpriced dealer or mechanic and the local U-Pull junkyard  to replace an expensive part.  Google what you need, and the whole world of junked cars becomes available.  A week later, a beautiful steering column, complete with all wiring harnesses, ignition switches and a a single key was delivered for the relative pittance of fifty dollars and change, shipping included!  Luis, had it all installed in half a day and I was on the road again having saved many hundreds of dollars.

On the road that is until yesterday, when I lost the one key that came from the eBay steering column. I spent several frantic hours scouring the house…and another surveying the garden where I’d been working the previous day.  I checked around the horseshoe pit in the backyard.  I called the restaurant where I’d eaten the previous night.  All to no avail. Then I remembered that that replacement ignition that we were not able to use and I’d forgotten to return.  Ah…what a relief!  The solution was at hand! Just, admit to Luis that I’d lost the key and hadn’t had the foresight to make a duplicate, and ask him to remove the ignition assembly that now had no key, and slap that extra ignition into the new steering column.   Easy enough. So we both thought.

3 hours later, after trying a half dozen solutions that included fashioning makeshift tools, and all to no avail, Luis was using a high speed drill to blast out what had proven to be an otherwise immovable object.  I have never, ever seen Luis fail to solve a mechanical problem, but this one was truly baffling him, and the drill was the tool and method of last resort.  A slip of the drill could have resulted in damage that would require yet another complete steering wheel, but he has the hands of a surgeon, and the patience of Job, and little by little the stubborn part fell away and late in by afternoon, all was well again. Everything except my self esteem was back together and the key worked like a charm.  Luis was a good sport about all the extra work, and amenable to a visit to the local pub for a thank you beer and some nachos. I learned more about his 50 year career as an auto-body mechanic, starting as a boy in Puerto Rico and working on Rolls Royces, Mercedes, Corvettes, and Cadillacs in the Bronx and Queens.

We drove back to the house in Luis’s Jeep and I remembered that I’d been having an intermittent problem with brake lights.  Luis suggested we take a quick look, and take a quick look we did.  Luis pumped the brake pedal, and I went to the rear of the car, and there…were the missing keys…dangling in plain sight, from the lock of the wagon’s rear door.  Luis never said a word, or if he did, I didn’t hear him.  I was too busy, flattening my forehead with the palm of my hand, and blathering a sheepish and pathetic apology.

I’m going to look for a connection between these three stories, but first I’ve got to find some better light.



  1. I think these vignettes can be key to unlocking memories. You could tell them to a group (esp, seniors) and then open up the discussion on lost keys. I just got an email yesterday about lost keys at a shopping mall. Person called the police when he noticed that his car was missing, Then called his wife, told her what happened, and asked to be picked up. She said, “You fool! I dropped you off at the mall! Now, please tell this police officer who pulled me over for driving a stolen vehicle. Yes, it has all the earmarks of an urban legend. But, it’s a great little story, My story of lost keys happened at the Chicago NSN Conference in 2003 when Bobby Norfolk became my knight in shining armor: Very silly poem written to Bobby Norfolk upon finding my keys (in the trunk of my car )


    (July, 2003)

    Would I, could I find your keys?

    I will look in the car

    I will look near and far

    In the trunk

    On my knees

    In the dark

    Behind the trees

    I will find them. Now, let me please

    Let, let me, find your keys

    I will look here and I will look there

    I will look for them everywhere.

    Not in the car Not near/nor far

    Not in the trunk Not on my knees

    Not behind the trees

    I won’t give up till I find your keys!

    I can’t find them here…I can’t find them there

    I can’t find them damn things anywhere!



    I will, I will find your keys!

    Wait a minute I’m on my knees.

    Under the car

    Up on the bar

    What is this I seize?

    Could it be, I seized your keys?





  2. A fool and his keys are soon parted…no that’s not how it goes. In any case, as an expert “finder” of other people’s (who shall remain nameless) things, I have this to offer: It’s usually where they said they checked already. As to a link between these wonderful stories, my best guess is that humility is an invaluable virtue which we need to learn again and again and again. Thanks for making me smile each time I read your blog, Bob:)

  3. This is a really good story and a wonderful illustrates how we storytellers and writers are compensated for bad experiences by the fact that there is always a good story in it. Oddly enough I heard story with similar dynamics from a friend last night in which she lost her wallet while out shopping with her sisters, with whom she’d always had difficult relationships, but while she was panicking one of her sisters stayed with her comforting her while the other retraced their journey through all the shops and cafes they’d visited and she suddenly had a real experience of how much they loved her. When they finally got back to car park a good Samaritan had handed in her wallet, so she decided to go back to the last shop to pay for the dress she’d selected, only to find her sisters had bought it for her. Sometimes losing something creates the light to see by.

  4. The key to linking this three stories may be what you define as a place with better light. I can think of several possibilities – but at least one of them is improper for a lady of my years to put forward. : – ) So glad that Liz has such a talented father!!

  5. Great tales woven together nicely. This reader finds it challenging to wash my car let alone work on it. Thanks for looking in the mirror and sharing what you see.

  6. good stories Bob- I was also hitting myself in the head the other day- while visiting parents in Nyack I pumped my own gas- put 8 gallons of diesel into the car- it went one mile and died- best part of story triple A towed me to Anton’s in Congers where they pumped it out and I was back on my way next day- my head hurt for a couple of days- I now know that when pumping gas don’t use the green nozzle (also don’t eat the yellow snow)
    Dave Goofster Carey

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