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Monday, June 29, 2015

Keys to the Kingdom

"I turn my head and you may go where you want,
I turn it again, you will stay 'til you rot.
I have no face, but I live or die by crooked teeth."

-Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere

I don't go to the doctor for a physical nearly as often as I should.  If I did, it would probably only be a matter of time before he asked me about the giant welt that always appears to be on the front of my right thigh.  Knowing what I do for a living, he'd probably assume that it's something work related... and he'd be right.  I wasn't kicked by a zebra, rammed by a goat, or otherwise hit by an animal (not there, at least).

Instead, that red spot is the exact location where, all day everyday, half-a-hundred keys slam up and down into my leg as a I walk.

Even by zookeeper standards, I have a ridiculous number of keys on my work key ring, and they seem to be breeding and multiplying, because it seems that there are more every week.  There are animal keys, and staff area keys, and gate keys, and public area keys, even a key to the paper towel and toilet paper dispensers in the bathrooms.  Through years of painstaking practice, I've managed to memorize the order and location and the subtle differences between the keys on the ring, until I can usually find the one I'm looking for on the first or second try.  I seriously have had nightmares where a tiger or bear is loose and coming right at me, and I'm standing at a door trying to fumble my way in to safety, but I can't find the right key.

The only thing more exasperating that figuring out which key to use is losing them.   You imagine that some insidious prankster is going to pick them up, somehow know what they go to (which would be impressive, since I rarely can remember) and then let the monkeys out for a gag.  When I stand up, the first thing I usually do is pat around my waistline looking for my keys and radio - even if it's my day off and I was at the movie theater or something.

Obviously this wouldn't happen if I was smart and returned the keys to my belt clip after every use, but I'm stupid and lazy, so I don't always do so.  Often, I leave them in the lock while I pop into an exhibit.  Unfortunately, my main animal key, that one that opens most of the exhibits, is so old, used by generations of keepers before me, that it's slightly worn down.  That means a) it doesn't open locks as well as it used to and b) if left in a lock, it tends to fall out.  Lots of time spent kicking around leaf litter or mud or snow looking for keys that have dropped out.

Once, I had to catch a big male kangaroo for an injection, leading to one of the more exasperating key lose adventures of my career.  The simplest way to do this was for me to grab the big guy's tail, slowing him down so that another keeper could grab his body, then the shot could be administered.  I did my part and grabbed the tail.  The second keeper didn't do hers.  Seconds later, I was inventing a new sport, kind of like water-skiing on dry land while holding on to a 'roo tail, only later it transitioned from skiing to being dragged across a yard that seemed to mostly consist of prickly plants and kangaroo droppings.  By the time I pulled my face out of the mud (I hoped it was mud, anyway), I noticed that my keys, which had up until a few minutes ago had been stabbing me in the leg over and over again as I was dragged around, were now gone - the belt loop had torn off.  It took a half hour of pacing the yard (under the smug, watchful gaze of the male kangaroo) before I found them.

Another annoying thing about keys is the noise that they make.  When walking around the zoo, I often find myself holding them tightly in one hand so they don't jangle.  It's especially useful of a trick when you're trying to creep up on animals, or visitors who are misbehaving.

Maybe the zoos of the future will be super high-tech, and all of the exhibits will be opened by retinal scans, or thumbprints (I hope not - I think I wore my fingerprints off years ago), or something like that.  Then maybe keys won't be needed.  Until then, I'll be slouching around the zoo, my right side pulled a little lower to the ground by the weight of a few pounds worth of keys.

I'll try not to jangle too much.

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