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The Key

The transition to life in Paris has gone amazingly smoothly thus far; we’ve found the perfect boulangerie, a great local cafe, and even managed to find our way back to the best falafel place ever, which we were taken to once last year. We’re both sleeping, and quite soundly, and work has begun to click into place.

The transition out of life in Claremont — well, not so much. I’m a pretty compulsive keeper of lists, and a real creature of habit, and I discovered last night precisely why: when I deviate from the script, I can really make a mess. I now owe a significant number of people for helping me clean it up.

Part of the issue this time out was how I went about getting someone to stay in our place while we’re gone. My first impulse, since we’re gone all summer (and since the incredible shrinking dollar is making this trip more expensive by the day), was to attempt to sublet the place, so I spent a couple of months advertising for a summer renter, and only in the last few weeks of the semester, when I realized that renting the place out was unlikely to work, did I start thinking about a housesitter.

I got extremely lucky right off the bat, and was given a reference for a very trusted and responsible student who is staying in town this summer, and so everything was set. Except that she was going home for the first few weeks of the summer, and so I needed a second, interim housesitter. And again, I got a good reference, and so everything was again set.

Except the the interim housesitter was also going home, but would be arriving back in town two days after we left. No problem; the cats really can manage on their own for two days. I’d leave enough food, and the interim housesitter would be back in plenty of time.

The problem was that I did two condo-orientation walkthroughs in a period of three days, and hastily pulled together all the things that the housesitters needed. Including keys: I had a spare house key and a spare key to the pool area, but no spare mailbox key. R. offered to get one made, but it wasn’t ready by the time of the walkthroughs. And so for some reason that I cannot begin to fathom now, rather than handing the interim housesitter the house key and the pool key during her walkthrough, and telling her that the mailbox key would be waiting on the counter, I handed her the house key only, and told her the pool key and the mailbox key would be waiting on the counter.

Do you see where this is going?

Even so, the disaster could have been averted had I remembered to do the thing which I have done with every single other housesitter I have ever had, which is to say, as we head outside to find the dumpsters and the mailbox, “let’s try your key and make sure it works.” Perhaps I felt a bit too pleased with myself for having solved the housesitter crisis in such an inventive way. Or perhaps I was just too overwhelmed by the millions of details on my ever-lengthening list.

So when I got the email message last night, at about 11.30 pm Paris time, saying that the interim housesitter had been trying unsuccessfully to get into the condo since the night before, and didn’t know what to do now — well, not to put too fine a point on it, I kinda lost it. It wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that:

1. I left the cats enough food to see them through to midday on Sunday, in case the interim housesitter was delayed, but not much more than that, and my piglet male cat has been known to consume way more food than he ought to, so it’s all too possible that their bowls are currently empty, and that a Donner party type phenomenon might soon unfold.

2. My first line of defense in an I’m-out-of-town-please-help emergency is herself out of town. The good news, however, is that the key I was going to send her to get is stored safely in the closet in my department’s office.

3. And it’s Sunday. But my first line of defense calls my department’s administrator to get her on the case, knowing that, being the best person ever, she’ll take care of it.

4. But the department administrator says — and given the apparent state of my brain, I completely believe her — that at some point in the recent past I took that key back from her and never returned it.

5. So no one anywhere has my key. Except possibly the maintenance guys who previously handled the warranty-type repairs for my condo’s builder. And while I don’t have their telephone number, my friend who lives in the same complex probably does, so via a frantic series of back-and-forth emails, I ask the interim housesitter to call that friend, and ask her to call the maintenance guys.

6. Of course, that friend isn’t home. But I’ve remembered one other person in the world has my key: the woman who cleans my house every other week. Who lives near San Bernadino.

By the time we hit this point, it was about 1.30 am here in Paris, and I was rapidly nearing delirium. I told the interim housesitter that if the house cleaner could get her into the condo, she should try the key sitting on the counter to see whether it would open the door. And if not, to ask to keep the house cleaner’s key for the time being, until a copy could be made. And, worse come to worst, if the house cleaner couldn’t get her into the condo, she should call a 24-hour locksmith and send me the bill.

But the house cleaner did drive out and get her into the condo. And the key on the counter did work. And while I’m feeling about twelve different kinds of stupid, there is an all’s well that ends well aspect to the story, at least.

So I’m adding some serious present shopping to my list of things to do here. And distributing more emergency keys amongst friends to the list of things to do on my return.


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