Friday, December 7, 2012

A French Manner of Looking at Things

Tonight I had just gotten back to my apartment from a lusciously lengthy lunch at Le Départ Saint-Michel where I had spent more than two hours eating my steak au poivre, drinking my carafe of côte de Rhone and watching the deepening pall of dark gray as it engulfed the sea of umbrellas on the Quai and in the Place St-Michel.

I pushed the little glowing thing that activates the lights in the ante-chamber and inner-sanctum and the stairs. 

I did that so I wouldn’t stumble in the dark between the entry door and the stairway up to the first floor where my apartment is. 

At this time of year that dark is profound.

Then I hit the first key in the four key sequence that opens the electronic security lock. 

Like numerous times since I arrived here in September that first key said nothing. 

Each of the keys, you see, speaks as it is touched to let one know that one has actually made each key do its electronic magic.  If the sequence keyed has been correct that electronic magic results in a “click” of the lock and allows for a brief period of time in which one can push open the door and enter the inner-sanctum.

If one of those keys doesn’t speak one is out of luck as far as getting into the inner-sanctum.

The first key in the sequence that causes the door to click has had a mind of its own from the day that I arrived.

On that arrival day the four key sequence had recently been changed from the last time I was here in March and I was all excited to prove to myself that I had memorized the new sequence correctly (there was, I will admit – and if one would have been among the handful who had read Screen Saver one would know this to be true – the element of hope that the curse of first time entry syndrome would not attack me on this first day of September 2012).  At my age it takes little to excite me and anything that seems to prove that I still have eluded senility usually is in the category of those things that do – excite me.

So I keyed the sequence from memory. 

There seemed to be an arrhythmic pause when I keyed the first number in the sequence, but the key nonetheless spoke and the lock clicked and I got in.

It wasn’t long before that arrhythmia had become a quite frequent statement: “I just am not talking now”. 

So spoke that first key in the sequence.


It finally got so bad that one day I just couldn’t get into the inner sanctum.  I had been trying for – it seemed – an interminable span of time and I finally called my landlord on my iPhone and said “I don’t know if I can get in.  The first key doesn’t work.  I assume that if I try long enough I can get in, so I am not asking you to come and help me, but I am calling you to let you know that this thing needs to be fixed.”

Thierry is unaccustomed to me making statements that express both dis-satisfaction and emphasis.

So he took me seriously.

“I will come tomorrow and …” I can’t remember what he was going to do but I was comforted.

And after a few more tries the first key spoke, the lock clicked and I got into the inner sanctum.

The upshot of Thierry’s visit the next day was that I was the only one in the eight stories that comprise our building who had any problem with the lock.

Somehow that didn’t surprise me.  The French – who have unbelievably short fuses on some things (things I would often consider trivial) accept as the normal order things which an American would consider intolerable and would have passed a bond measure to rectify.

So I knew I was on my own.

Knowing that no one else has the problem hasn’t made the problem go away.

Nor has knowing that no one else has the problem kept others of this community from being unable to access the inner sanctum.

More than once I have become a member of a gathering throng of fellow residents who cannot get the first key to work. 

It is a nice way to meet people.

The difference between me and most of them is that sooner or later one of them admits to himself or herself that the god damn door isn’t going to open and they ring their apartment from the bank of keys that buzz each of the apartments.

There is one of those keys marked “McKeehan” but no one is ever there (since were I to buzz it I by definition am not “there”) so buzzing it doesn’t do me any good.

But for the one of our little doorway conversation group who finally decides to resort to exceptional measures there is always some one at home and the door clicks and we all get in.

I guess that says that they really don’t have the problem – I am the only one with the problem.

Unless I happen to be in the throng sans problem when the problem is manifesting itself.

How French.

On those many occasions when no one else shows up and when I have tried the first key so many times I have wanted to scream “open you son of a bitch” I have resorted to the dactyl equivalent of that shouted epithet: I start randomly touching keys – all of the ones other than the first make reassuring chirps (usually) and then finally I go back to the first.

Then, frequently that crucial first key chirps after all its brothers or sisters have been stroked randomly and to excess.

Often, however, it doesn’t.

In those non chirping circumstances I start all over.

It was after several weeks of doing this that one of those random and rather voluminous sequences resulted in a “click”.

The door opened.

“Who knows” I said to myself.

Tonight, after the random number generator had been invoked for the countlessly additional time there was a click.

“Who knows” I said.

“God I love France” I thought I heard someone thinking.

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