Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Key to Lead to Something

I've only known this parcel locker key for a few seconds at a time, separated by many days or weeks, taking it out of my mailbox and putting it into the keyhole of one of the lockers, turning it and opening the locker to get whatever package awaits. I usually glance quickly at the writing on the rubber rectangle the key and its two rings are attached to, and then let go after I get my package. The key stays in the lock, as is customary, and I go back to the house.

Yesterday, I opened the mailbox and found the parcel locker key sitting in front of a small stack of mail, including the latest issue of The New Yorker, which, shockingly, small as it usually is, is now priced at $5.99. Used to be $4.99 I think, but I never imagined the magazine could be hemorrhaging enough money to merit a price increase. Yes, I know it's industrywide, but I think I need to renew my subscription soon, even though it's far from being over, just so I can get a lower price for two years.

I took the key out, meant for the bottom locker, and stuck it in the first keyhole. It wouldn't budge. I turned as hard as I could and it wouldn't move at all to the right. I tried the keyhole a few inches under it, reserved always for the mailman to unlock the locker with his key and take out the parcel locker key when necessary. I thought maybe if I turned that lock a certain way with the key, it might release the first lock. Still nothing. Great. I called the local post office and told them that the mailman probably didn't turn the lock to where it should be for me to open the locker. The woman who heard this problem told me that she'll note it for the mailman on the route tomorrow, which is of course today.

Bargain Book Shop ( hasn't sent my latest order yet, which includes The Collected Plays of Neil Simon Vol. 2, so I know not to anticipate that. I'm hoping that it might be The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers, which I ordered from McSweeney's ( at a bargain price of $5, but it was out of stock for a time, most likely until they printed a new batch. I got an e-mail notice about a week ago saying they had shipped it. However, I'd hate for this anticipation to lead to some DVD a PR firm sent me for review. I haven't requested anything in weeks, but I'm on some kind of automatic mailing list through some firms which means I get whatever's set to be released. A pleasure sometimes, but usually nothing worthwhile. I hope it's that book.

I've had the parcel locker key in the left pocket of my Rocky sleep pants from yesterday afternoon to about 20 minutes ago when I took it out and put it in front of me, across from the computer monitor. The rubber rectangle is bendable, but not Jell-o like, and after it's bended, it moves by itself back to its original state. On one side of the blue-green-colored rectangle, it has the United States Postal Service eagle logo on the left, and to the right, it says:

If found- drop in
any mailbox

On the other side, it says:


The brackets represent white space on the rectangle and are longer than what this blog program forces me to use.

Over the five years I've lived here, there had been pen writing on the "locker no." side, but it gradually faded, and the mailman used what looks like a permanent black marker to write the letter "B" and "BOTTOM". There wouldn't seem to be a lot to consider when looking at this rubber rectangle, but I think about the history it's had, like me. It's weathered days, nights, rain, heat, cold weather, and was left behind when my neighborhood and my family and I had to evacuate for that one day in October 2007 when a wildfire got frighteningly close. It's known the hands of a few, been the gateway to many expected and possibly eagerly anticipated packages, and obviously has always remained silent, just like me in living here. Silent in speech, I mean. Yet, I wonder about the years before I got here, if there were people with dirty hands who used it, if anyone else had lived across from our place before we got here. There's the landscape, the hillside, the streetlights, but really, this is the only piece of personal history my neighborhood has, closely related to us humans of this neighborhood. Weeds get trimmed, the lawn is mowed, flowers might be replanted, streets are re-tarred, and this is the only thing that really hasn't changed. I'm almost tempted to keep it as a memento of this neighborhood when my family and I move, but I want my book, if that is what's in that parcel locker. Plus, the key should obviously be left for others, serving them as well as it has served me. Just now, I noticed that there's wrapped around the middle of its right side, probably to repair some small tear I can't see, even through the tape.

I've been awed by the tall buildings of downtown Los Angeles. In San Francisco, I've wished I could live there, impressed by how many books were in stock at City Lights, and impressed at simply driving by the baseball stadium, whereas in South Florida, it took 20 minutes to get to the one in Fort Lauderdale. But I've always loved the small things more, like this parcel locker key, like the gravel kicked up by my walking in the patio, like the ripples in the community pool from a slight wind. I know the buildings in that part of L.A. have history, and so does the baseball stadium, but to me, the more interesting history lies in what doesn't dwarf us. I hope there'll be someone else in the years to come who will see this parcel locker key as I do. After the mailman comes around and fixes the lock, and I open the locker and hopefully find my book (thankfully, McSweeney's makes sure their packages are securely sealed), and I leave the key, I won't ignore it as I have in the past. I like that for at least one night out of its entire lifespan, it's been here, inside, sitting in front of me. I know. It's really nothing. It's human-made. But I still wonder. It's like the temporary bargain book store at Buena Park Downtown that closed that I'll eventually write about. I wonder where those books have been to, which stores they sat at, unclaimed, maybe flipped through once or twice, and shipped back out because no one was buying them. I wonder about the authors whose books didn't sell well, if it discouraged them or if they just shrugged their shoulders and moved on to the next idea.

All this from a parcel locker key. I like that.