The Key to Distress

  • Barbarella

To suffering there is a limit; to fearing, none.

-- Francis Bacon

'This is taking a really long time. We should have given our ticket to our waitress and stayed inside," David complained. "She offered," I reminded him, "But I wanted to stand outside and watch people. Don't worry, it'll probably only be a couple more minutes. Hey, get a load of that one." Following the direction of my tilted head, David looked to his right and saw a silicone-swollen, collagen-injected, over-bleached freak of nature teeter forward on four-inch, hip-twisting heels.

David scrunched his eyes closed as if they burned. "Wow," he said, muttering the only word that could convey his mix of awe and disgust.

"My feet are killing me, I'm going back behind the rope to sit down," said Ellen.

"I bet you're exhausted," I said, following her. "You've been traveling since five o'clock Boston-time this morning. Now it's like midnight for you." Upon collecting them from the airport, I had insisted that Ellen caffeinate herself and Kirby nap so that by the evening they'd be alert and in the proper state of mind to experience my new downtown haunt, 30-Two Bar & Lounge.

"It shouldn't take this long," David said. He stood by the valet podium looking exasperated.

"The game just let out; you know how the traffic sucks down here," I suggested. Earlier in the evening, I had considered ordering the lounge's limo to fetch my crew, but my control issues prevailed, and I ended up ordering my guests into my humble Corolla.

Though I share my father's neurotic distaste for having other people sit behind my wheel, comfort and convenience for my little entourage made valet parking the prime option. I hadn't brought my phone and I wasn't wearing a watch, but as we waited to see the valet rounding the corner in my car, I could sense as well as David that an abnormal amount of time had passed.

"Hey, Joey!" I called to the guarder-of-the-rope. Decked out in a sleek gray suit, thick-framed rectangular glasses, and high-tech ear-piece-communication-device, Joey would have looked equally at home as Brangelina's bodyguard. "Twenty minutes to fetch a car? Don't they park it right there?" I pointed to the garage half a block up.

After exchanging words with the senior valet guy, Joey returned to my side with a full report. "Apparently, when you handed your ticket over, the kid he gave your keys to had to park two other cars first. It takes like eight minutes to get to the lot because of traffic on the one-way street and they have to go around the block. It should be here any minute," he explained.

Reassured, I turned my attention back to the droves of baseball fans marching by in ball caps and jerseys. But then the senior valet guy appeared at my side and asked a most horrible and offensive question: "Are you sure you gave us your ticket?"

"Yeah, I'm sure," I shrieked. Then, in a calmer tone of voice, because appearing sane at this crucial juncture of the evening was of utmost importance, I said, "I handed it to you as soon as I walked out of the restaurant. Like 30 minutes ago. Are you trying to tell me that you have lost the ticket?" I crouched behind the podium and examined rows of key-chains hanging on little hooks. Mine was not among them. "I think I'll sit now," I said, in a shocked whisper.

"I know I gave them to one of these kids," said the head valet, whose face seemed to be growing paler by the second.

"Right," I said. "I'll be sitting right here."

I plastered a calm expression on my face and plopped down onto the square leather seat next to Ellen. Jordan, another smartly dressed fellow with a high-tech earpiece, was quick to grab two more leather seats for Kirby and David.

"Would you like something to drink?" Joey asked.

"No thanks," I said. Then, noting the pleading look on Kirby's face, I said, "On second thought, how about another Thai Mojito for my friend here?" Kirby looked grateful. Don't panic, I told myself. One of those guys has your keys in his pocket, and it's only a matter of time before he gets back here with them.

"What kind of car do you have?" asked Senioro Valet, his face morphing from alabaster to a lovely shade of crimson.


"What year is it?"

"I think your guys will notice the personalized license plates, with my name on them, before they determine that it's a '98," I said, chiding myself for being snarky. "Seriously, though, I'd be happy to go look for it myself," I added, in an attempt to appear helpful. But he was off again, giving orders to his car-parking minions.

I wasn't smiling, but I did my best not to frown. Kirby was enjoying his drink, and Ellen was chatting with David about car-related snafus of her past. The owner of the restaurant was on the sidewalk, talking to the supervisor of the valet company on his cell phone. I could tell by the way they held their ears and whispered into their shirt cuffs that Joey and Jordan were being remotely updated on the situation. Joey walked over to me with a smile on his face and my heart soared.

"They found your car!" he said. "And a locksmith will come out and make you a duplicate key."

"I'm sorry, but what? Duplicate key? Are you trying to tell me that they have my car but not my keys? Should I start panicking now?"

Senioro Valet materialized beside me. "This is what we think happened," he said. "We think your keys might have been left in someone else's car. So we're going to search all the cars until we find them."

"And if they happened to have fallen into one of the 15 cars already returned to their owners in the last hour?" Calm, stay calm.

"I'm pretty sure we can find them," he said, before withdrawing his now burgundy face.

"Okay, Joey," I said with despair. "I'll have a White Elephant." Joey held his finger to his ear and, addressing his cufflink, said, "White Elephant for Barbarella." I had the cocktail in my hands a few minutes later and sipped to quiet the voices in my head. The first voice was mine: Every key I have is on that chain . What a fucking hassle. How are we going to get into the house? Bright idea, Barb, leaving all the keys on the same chain. You've got Dad's keys on there too. Shitshitshitshit! The second voice was my father's: Would you rather lose your keys or find out you have cancer? It's not the end of the world. Worse things could happen. You are not measured by the circumstances of your life, you are measured by how you react to them. My voice piped back in and it sounded stubborn and pouty: Why does it have to be cancer or keys? This is horrible. I'm going to scream. No, I'm going to cry. God, how embarrassing if I start crying right here on the street. Fuckfuckfuckfuck! Breathe. They're not gone, they can't be gone, so breathe. Man, this sucks ass.

"Hey! Look at that!" David's face lit up and I followed his gaze toward the street to see my car in the midst of a three-point-turn. I felt like jumping up and kissing everybody the way I had when I learned that I couldn't get rabies from a squirrel bite.

The embarrassed senior valet ran toward me as I was getting in my car. "I knew they were in another car!" he said, his face returning to a more natural shade of tan. "Please, at least let me give you back your money."

"Oh, right, thanks!" I chimed. "I'm just happy to have my keys. Thanks so much!"

"You handled that so well," Ellen said on the way home. "I would have totally freaked out." It was hard to hear her over the hysterical voice in my head: What if someone had driven off with my keys in their car? What if they found my keys a week later and couldn't figure out where they came from? I would never have gotten them back! And there's that little silver heart I got in New York on there...and the last piece of that copper fish Dad gave me when I was 13.... What if it was gone forever?

"Thank you," I said to Ellen with equanimity. "In situations like these, it's important for one to realize that something as simple as a set of keys is really minor in the grand scheme of things."

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