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Thursday, Feb. 02, 2006
It occurs to me that Iím going to miss this transitional year when it passes on.

Iíve not put a name to it until now, but thatís what this year is, in essence. A transitional one. Passing from owning a home and business to owning neither, from big debt to none, from big things to small.

Iím fond of this way of living already. Days spent building little things, chasing squirrels from attics, being a bartop poet. Just idle days for the most part. Earning my keep as best I can. I thought I was pretty laid back before this all started last May, but Iíve advanced to utter passivity and plumbed the pool of calm without so much as a ripple.

Itís nice. Iím already fond of it.

Thereís a painting hanging on many a wall. An old man, vaguely Swedish in flannel, bowing his head over a loaf of bread set on a wooden table. Hands clasped and thanking God for the Daily Bread (you can see it here if youíd like) in the most quiet and serene manner. I wouldnít say that Iíve obtained that state of mind and maybe never will, but itís a gladness to know, even if itís just for a while, how placid things can be.

Sometime in the late spring the transition will end with the end of our lease on this little hut in the Ďburbs. Maybe the grace will go with it. But Iím hoping it will stay around for a little while. Maybe longer.

Not to say that being in a state of mental relaxation doesnít have its own peril, mind you. When dealing with our daily Outfoxed oneís guard mustnít ever go down altogether.

Because when you find a need to go to the Home Despot and snag a piece of comely lumber, driving along in sunshine on a February day as you are and whistling happy tunes, it is considered good form to park ones truck and depress the lock button only AFTER removing the keys from the vehicle.

You know, like one has done for the past 30 years or so, and nearly every day at that.

I came out of the Despot with my little orange baguette and stick of lumber, ready to toss them in the shell of the truck. Curiously, the hatch was unlocked, leaving open the portal to heaven for any potential tool thieves who might happen by. Nothing was amiss (or missing, for that matter) but it was unsettling. I always lock the hatch. I am completely anal about keys and locks, as my wife will testify.

So I closed the hatch and ambled to the drivers door, fumbling in the Carhardts right pocket for keys, then the left. Feeling handfuls of stuff, but no keys.

Men know this feeling. We usually carry half our wordly lives in the four pockets of our pants. Not feeling something familiar on the first go-round doesnít necessarily mean it isnít there, it just means you havenít gotten to the bottom of the pocket quite yet. Occasionally, as was the case yesterday, you have to do a search and destroy mission, and empty the whole sorry mess onto the hood of the truck.

The right pocket had a lighter, some coins, the cap to a tube of caulk, a pen, two drill bits and a receipt. The left had some crumpled bills, a knife, two magnetic bit holders with two more drill bits clinging to them, the lid to a box of screws, two squashed cigarette filters (unlit, thankfully) and a fat pencil. The rear? A stuffed wallet and a cell phone. No keys.

Now, I didnít want to, but it was a dead certainty that looking through the window of the truck was gonna be necessary and sure enough, there lay the keys. Right on the center console, right where my serene mind and calm hands had left them.

Assessment time. Iíve got tools, money and communication capabilities. Check. Iím an experienced door man, I can worry a lock open and bypass glass. Check. Thereís absolutely no need to think about calling for help from my wife who knows where the spare set of keys are. Double check.

I tried the easy way, crawling through the shell of the truck to the sliding windows that separate it from the cab. No good. The shell window was pryble, the truckís definitely not. The door windows were framed in steel (and whatever happened to those cars you could slip a coathanger through the weatherstripping and yank the lock? Who took those off market?) and impenetrable.

I considered walking the six miles back to the house. I really did. Breaking out a window. Or calling a cab. Anything but the awful alternative.

It was only due to my state of grace that I broke. And called Ally from the cell phone.

I Ďsplained, and listened to the braying and chortling.

ďSo let me see if Iíve got this. You locked yourself out of your truck. You, the original anal key man who frisks me daily for rings of keys and buys spare batteries for the garage door opener. Youíve got tools by the acre in the back of the truck but nothing to cleverly slim-jim your way in. And you want me to come to Home Despot and rescue you, is that what youíre saying?Ē

ďYup. But isnít it great how calmly Iím taking this?Ē

ďUh huh. Dandy. Why donít you go over to the hot dog guy by the Despot front door and get yourself a nice early lunch while I get myself off work, drive to the house, find the spare keys and . . .Ē and she was off describing a mission to Mars using only her wits and a unicycle while chewing gum and pedaling. At the same time.

But there was the Despot hot dog guy. There was that. Happens that he had the Italian sausage already grilled, and a heaping pile of onions and peppers. And much as I donít cater to soda as a rule, I bought one yesterday.

Ally pulled up in the due course of time, as I sat on the tailgate with legs swinging, munching on my Italian sausage and swigging a Coke. She stayed in the car and dangled the spare key from a finger and gave the mega-grin, a little come hither look that Mae West would have been proud to bear.

ďAw, did you have fun out here in the nice sunshine, old-timer? Maybe I better stick around and follow you back to the jobsite, make sure you donít get pulled over for driving too slow or something.Ē I carefully opened the truck door and snatched the ring of keys, stuffing them deep within the Carhardts.

ďNo, that wonít be necessary,Ē I huffed. And you might remember, while youíre sitting there all smugly and stuff, all the times I had to drive fifty miles to bail you out of a jam just like this.Ē Itís true enough. She went on a tear for a couple of years, locked cars were a bi-monthly thing for a while there. Sheís had locksmiths come out to her in three different Southern states by my reckoning.

ďAnd I havenít forgotten, sweetie. My big knight with all the keys. Reckon youíll remember to take them with you now?Ē

ďItís done. Iíve got another 30 years before I pull this stunt again.Ē

ďWell címere and gimmee a kiss, I got to get back before the office blows up.Ē

I did. And a very lingering kiss it was, too.

ďOh lord. Youíve been into the onions, havenít you. Better get back to your construction site sailor. You smell like an Italian deli, you do.Ē

All things considered, itís one of the nicest things sheís ever said to me.

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