Teens retrieve my keys and admiration

March 19, 1997

I hate going to the mall on a Friday night. That's because I love teenagers, and your chances of seeing any at that time and place are practically nil.

But go I did last weekend, and I came away with an even higher regard for teens than I had before.

I was accompanying my friend, who had some shopping to do for a wedding shower. This was embarrassing enough - me, standing in the nightie section of Penney's, saying things like "You're kidding, they put lace there?" (My friend theorized that the reason half of our marriages end in divorce is because of weird eveningwear.)


And in the fragrance store, where my friend uneasily asked for a "passion-scented candle," the clerk gave her a long, measured, baleful look which said a lot of things, but can basically be summed up with "Why, you slut." Which left us hastily and unconvincingly saying it wasn't for us, it was for a friend's wedding shower, etc., etc.

Anyway, since my friend has a key to the apartment building, and since I seldom lock my own door (I probably shouldn't have announced that) I left my own keys home.

Which would not ordinarily have been a problem, had it not been for a certain storm sewer grate and I bet you can guess where I'm going with this.

Yes, she was giving me her keys to drive, but it was not what is known in football circles as a "clean hand-off." In what took two seconds but seemed like two hours, the keys fell to the ground, started sliding, stopped and asked directions, then gleefully headed straight for, and down into, the grate.

The good news was that it wasn't a particularly deep grate. We could see them glinting and laughing at us from down below in the streetlight. With proper tools they could probably be fished out.

The bad news was that the proper tools, along with my own keys, were inside the apartment building, which was locked drum-tight.

This necessitated an assault on the side of the apartment building to a second-story window. I made it to a fire-escape landing, popped the lock and assumed the worst to be over.

But I hadn't counted on Bubba.

The cat was front and center, alert and interested, and of a mood to cause difficulties. Every time I'd make a lunge to get in, he'd make a lunge to get out. I hope nobody has this on videotape.

I'd jump, he'd jump, I'd let go of the sill, catch him, throw him back then catch myself back on the landing. We went through this exercise about four times, with Bubba showing no signs of tiring from the repetition.

And of course this was one of those guillotine windows that won't stay open without a prop. So there I am, the window going after my throat, me hanging off the landing, the cat hanging off me and I was starting to get really annoyed. Finally I propped open the window with Bubba then shielded him with a screen and then screen, cat and myself all rolled into the kitchen in a tangle of fur, wire and blood.

I emerged on the street a minute later armed with a coat hanger, flashlight and kitchen tongs, where I found my friend surrounded by three teenage boys.

I was considering the distinct military disadvantage of having to defend ourselves with tongs when the fellows grabbed all three appurtenances and went diving after the keys as if they were their own.

On my word, I have never met three more eagerly helpful young men in my life. They retrieved the keys in an instant, and I wish I knew their names.

If you are reading this guys, thank you. And as for everyone else, I think the moral of this story is crystal clear: Never go to the mall shopping for passion candles without your keys unless you first tie up your cat.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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