My only excuse – at least the only one I can think of at the moment – is that, after a month out of town, I've had a cold for five days. Therefore: dislocated habits, grogginess, slow response time... well it's an excuse.
After a shower, vacuuming living room and laundry and feeling a bit more coherent, went to the corner grocery to buy some food. Knocking off items from list, mostly successful, a few pleasant surprises. Reach counter where the brothers, the one who runs the place and his rebellious younger sibling with the wavy hair, start to bag my items while asking, wasn't I away for a month, how was it, am I enjoying the weather?
And I realize I don't have my wallet. I say so, the younger says he'll put the bags behind the counter, and I up the stakes as I head for the door, saying: and I don't have my keys either. Damn.
As though one's choices start to fan out into implicit structures – solve puzzles, remember what tools you have, where are other copies of your keys? Can you call someone for help? You have your phone, that's good – plus ten points to start, then. I walk the three or four blocks home; I reach the door, no it is indeed locked, the keys and wallet are inside. Your mission, should you choose to accept it.
I knock on the downstairs neighbor's door while phoning my landlord: no answer from my landlord, that's no surprise, he should be at dinner with his family right about now. A second knock and the guy downstairs opens the door – I can't remember, did we exchange keys? – no, we didn't. He doesn't know what else to suggest – would you like to wait in here? No thanks, I'll...
Well I'm not quite sure what I'll do. I can sort of visualize my landlord's house, but the address isn't in my phone. Ian used to have a copy of my keys – no answer there either – let's try the landlord again. Aha – win thirty points – for eight years I have kept a copy of my home keys in my desk. In my locked office. At the university – fortunately just ten yards past the security office.
Phone out again: taxi ordered. It's getting chilly; how long will he take, do you think? Minus twenty points. After about fifteen minutes a pleasant young subcontinental arrives; I get into the taxi and start explaining, and fortunately he is kind/pleasant/in a good mood. Especially as it's Friday evening, getting on toward when people go out. I explain and explain, we reach the university – and glory be, someone has taken the block off one side of the entrance to my building, he can sit in the parking lot with no trouble.
Security office – a new guy, not one I know – drat; lose five points. I start explaining again: my office, right over there, unfortunately not on the building standard but instead on an 'A' key from when posh administrators used to have these three offices in a row (I kept the two chairs, and it took them two years to take the security cameras out), and for a long time Sue and Graham couldn't get a copy of the 'A' keys but supposedly security, and cleaning and maybe the porters, all have the key –
Try the landlord again. No answer.
He's pleasant but a bit helpless; he takes out a lot of unfamiliar keys and tries them one by one. No joy: minus twenty points. How about – Graham has a key in his office, at the other end of the building – no, the school office, the one behind two doors with number locks, I know the numbers –
While walking, try landlord. And Ian. And the taxi is still waiting
We go down there; the number locks are fine, but then the key locks – no, we don't have keys for those. How about the porters, they're in the next building? And the cleaners – no they leave their keys in the evening off in the Ivy Building (where the heck is that?) so that's impossible. Unless – Let's ask the porter, he's in the next building. An old friend, but he's tired and bored tonight, and responding very, very slowly to everything – the newer guy escapes an insoluble puzzle back to his office as the porter starts to dig through keys. A box of unsorted keys – what do you think? No, not really. Let's try some of these then...
While walking back, pass the taxi, shrug and say this might be a while, he doesn't look very worried yet. Try landlord twice: nul points.
Back to the security office. Extended discussion with bigger, more assertive guy, still one I don't know well, who runs through the normal British explanation of why everything is impossible. I, mostly patiently, wait it out, then use that stricken look to get him to unbend a bit and try to consider alternatives: we run again through Graham, cleaners, Sue, porters, missing keys, 'A' keys, who should have a copy and who shouldn't, and the entire history of ways that people have irresponsibily prevented Security from doing their job.
So, we can't get into the school office, where I know Graham has keys – hold on, the school office? Maybe we can do something – and he uses his walkie-talkie to call someone across campus. Call landlord again; I know he probably won't answer, but it's this or sit on the front steps in the chilly night air. And the man comes, someone I've never met, from another building: he, and the porter walk to the other end of the building with me, and we have another shot. But aha! he has a key that works, it works! So we're into the school office –
that should be worth thirty points at least; try landlord again –
Graham's desk: a bowl of keys. I go through them one by one, expectant – on the last pair I've found nothing and am getting worried, but the new guy says, hey what about these keys? Ah yes the bank of keys kept by the door, and THERE is one that says Bennett's Office, Will's Office, Paul's & Bennett's Offices –
Aha. One hundred points. No, leave the light on, I'll bring the key back in a minute –
race down two halls, there's my door and YES it opens. Lefthand drawer, hmm there were keys in here oh no what if they aren't there, HERE they are, an old set of most of the department keys including some that no longer have doors to them, including my own house keys –
back to the school office, drop off master key. Security office, he drones a bit in a self-congratulatory manner. My phone rings – it's my landlord, who's on vacation in Cumbria, and was wondering why there were fifteen calls from me – I say no it's okay now, I'll make a point of giving a key to the people downstairs, see you Monday. I thank everyone, the guy from another building chuckles and comments, the porter goes back to his office –
Out to the taxi: how long was that, forty-five minutes? Yes, it was about that long – Huge blessings on your head for waiting, yes just back home. As we weave through suburban roads, it's still chilly, but the end of the game is in sight.
We reach my apartment, I say wait just one more minute, run up the stairs – wallet, keys, plus a jacket because it's cold – back down: it can't be fifteen pounds, you were there for ages, are you sure it's not more? I give him twenty because he's been an angel, thank him, wave as he drives away.
GAME OVER – YOU HAVE WON – GO FOR EXTRA POINTS?
Yes, I'll go get the groceries, to win the extra points. Walk to corner shop (again), passing the younger rebellious brother (who's walking the other way), and say, did you really keep all my stuff for that long? Yes, we put some in the refrigerator, you could have just taken it and paid us later –
In the shop, the older brother puts together three bags, getting stuff out of the refrigerator. Pay him (yes my wallet's here), thank him again, take bags. Start walking home.
EXTRA POINTS WON!