Keys and Cylinders

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Well, here’s a totally random thing from my workday: one of my tasks is maintaining the lockers in the library that employs me. We have 28 of those quarter-deposit lockers, for temporary use, for shoving your stuff safely away while you go eat a meal or something. At the end of the semester, I have to go and clear ’em out, and then I discover the remnants of meals, or the entire worldly possessions of some poor homeless person, or discarded gym clothes. My very least favorite task in my whole job, actually, and not really because I almost always have to touch something I would rather not touch (which happens surprisingly often in library work) but because I have to make a judgment call about the appropriate use of our lockers, and sometimes have to decide whether to throw away old notebooks or something that I fear will be actually missed. Not that it has yet happened that someone has come for something I decided to discard, but the stress is there nonetheless.

The other part of locker maintenance is replacing lost keys. I don’t much like that part of the job either, to be honest. Some poor sap loses a key and I have to use my master key to take out the whole locking mechanism, knock out the cylinder and replace it with a new cylinder and matching key. I am not what you would call handy; my first attempt at this task, armed only with all of the appropriate tools and a several-page instruction chart with copious illustrations, probably took half-an-hour. These days it takes perhaps two minutes, so that part of the job has become less stressful, which is nice. I was even able at one point to fix (well, restore to working condition) the mechanism that had become jammed because instead of a quarter some eejit had stuffed in two dimes and a nickel. So that’s all right.

We can send back the old cylinders, the ones that the missing keys worked with, to the company we buy replacement sets from, but I tend to just shove ’em in a sack and forget about them, largely because I hate thinking about the whole task of locker maintenance, and also because sometimes the keys turn up and I figure I can put them back together and use them again just fine. And when a key does turn up, I have no idea which cylinder it works with, so I just shove it in a sack and forget about ’em. And nobody else really cares or notices, so after a few years there’s just this sack of cylinders and another smaller sack of keys, and we call all ignore them together.

This year, though, for the first time in my recollection, the lockers were almost all empty at the end of the year! There were only two lockers with anything in ’em at all: one had the same three binders that one guy has been using or pretending to use for years, and one had two hymnals and that’s it. Nothing disgusting or dangerous. I even opened the hymnals and they were actual hymnals—the pages hadn’t been cut out to make a space for a bomb or a nest of alien lice in formaldehyde or a syringe or anything. Just hymnals, and for all I know they had just been stashed there for a couple of hours while a choir boy went to class; I put them back and locked up the locker again and forgot about ’em.

But to celebrate that the academic year had ended without my having to do anything distasteful or indeed without my having to make any locker-related decisions of any kind, and also because I had to move all of the locker-related stuff from one place to another, I decided it was time to actually test the keys against the cylinders. So out they all came, together with some spare locker mechanisms because that’s how I know that they actually work together properly, and it turns out at this point I have ten keys and thirty cylinders. So that’s a lot of key testing all in one day. It seems I am not actually very good at time management.

In the end, though, I did find three sets of keys and cylinders that still work together! Huzzah! The next time we need a replacement, we can use one of those sets. And the remaining seven keys and twenty-seven cylinders, I threw in a sack and fully plan to forget about ’em.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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