Thursday, April 28, 2016

Signposts along the Road - The Keymaster

I have been thinking recently that it would be fun to write about the little things that, throughout my life, seemed to point to me finding my way back to the depths of my childhood imagination and ending up "here" becoming a maker of things.

Having the luxury of looking back always makes it easy to see these things from the distance. Most of them, of course, I could never have known or reasoned out at the time. . . but it is interesting to see the way they lined up, or returned again and again periodically, to point me in a certain direction or to act like signposts along the road. . . even talismans at times.

I don't usually think of things as foretelling or "signs" but actually believe they are indeed placed there to allow us to see, with this hindsight over time, that we made the right choices.

So today's look back is at one of the more ethereal ones (they are always fun to write about aren't they?) and one of my favorites.

The Keymaster

I - I have written before about one of my early childhood friends, Becky. She was the only girl who played with us boys at the apartment complex where I lived with my mother til the age of 12. Becky was a few years older than me and was a great sci-fi fan and she got to play all the juicy roles as elf and fairy queens, Sara Jane Smith, the Bionic Woman, the scientist trying to help Godzilla, Zira from Planet of the Apes (to MY Cornelius), aliens and astronauts etc etc.

When we would play games that were crafted more from our own imagination, she used to like to call me the Keymaster. She probably saw it in a movie or show that I never saw but it was also due to me having an old skeleton key that my grandfather had given me. I would always bring the key along as a prop for our little adventures.  Because, ummmmm, you ALWAYS need a key! The funny thing is, while Becky and I played together alone only once in awhile, whenever other kids joined in, they always wanted to be the Keymaster (everyone wanted that key!) . . . but Becky, taller than most all of us boys, would just shake her head and say, "No, Nicolas is the Keymaster and that's the way it is!" I was 10 years old and I felt like such an adult. lol

II - Truth be told,  I've always loved keys. When I was 16, I  also learned how to make illicit copies of keys. I saw it in an old bank heist movie, using card stock paper and crimping pliers to make an indented copy of the key in the thick paper and then, carefully cutting it out and gluing it to a key blank, You could buy blanks in any five and ten back then and I got my hands on one, glued my paper key to it and filed the blank down to the shape of the key. It took months of filing (it wasn't exactly fun "play") and, when it was complete, the key worked once in the lock I had and that was enough. I felt like I had really achieved something and, basking in my own small glory, I thought then too about those days of being the keymaster. . . I laughed about it and went on my way. . . back to the more relevant games of my teen years. . .

III - Fast forward to adulthood and the middle of my creative "lost years".  Early Thirties. Looking back now I can see I was teetering on the brink of packing the creative world, the one I loved and nurtured for all those years so dearly, away.

I never knew the girl's name but she was like something out of Through the Looking Glass. The first few times she came into the coffeehouse I managed, I remember thinking she was, in a city that prided itself on keeping it weird, the perfect ideal of that off the wall weirdness. She would order a pot of tea, usually Lavender Earl Grey, sit up in the huge front window of the shop and read a vintage book. She was hard to miss with extremely pale, white face powder makeup which allowed her pale blue eyes to really glow, vintage, colorful dresses and bows and shoulder length ringlet curls (a wig I believe) and ruby red lipstick to add the finishing touches.

One day she popped her head into the shop on a busy day and yelled out, "Hi Nicolas!!!" and waved at me with such enthusiasm. The girl I was working with that day asked me "Who is that?" and I had to say, "I actually don't know her. . . and you know, now that I think of it, I've never told her MY name."

A few weeks later I got a call from another employee asking me if I could come down to help with someone who they thought was a little "disturbed". When I got there, I was told the person was in the bathroom. A few minutes later, the Looking Glass Girl emerged. Dressed sort of the same as always but everything was just a bit . . . askew.

All a bit disheveled. . .  she got in line and I motioned to the girl working that I would take care of her.

When it was her turn, she ordered two cups of tea, asked how I had been and then spoke a few lines of quick dialogue, very low, that I couldn't make out at all. I got her teas, set them on the counter and before I could say anything she said, "Did you put enough honey in them honey?"

Caught off guard I replied, "Oh, umm, no. . .  I didn't know you wanted any honey in them."

She bristled (literally and visibly) shutting her eyes super tight. . . and launched into an unexpected, diatribe of undecipherable nonsense and broken sentences which lasted about 15 seconds. After which, she looked me right in the eyes again and repeated, "So I ask you again. . .  did you put enough honey in them honey?"

And my reply, this time, without hesitation was "Yes, I did, the perfect amount."

Her face lit up with the biggest smile I had ever seen on it and she said, "Thank you honey." and she took the teas, put her own honey in them anyway and left, beaming.

I think it's unnecessary to go into her decline beyond that because it was alarming but, a few weeks later I saw her for what would be the last time. Many of my employees had told me that she came in on occasion and would "act up", mostly the babbling and what some described as "mean looks" directed at them and other customers. . . but it seems that, if I was around, she was always calm and collected and held it together.

That last time though. . . when she came in, she went straight back to the bathroom and was in there for a good half an hour. When she came out, she stood at the far end of the counter and waited til she could catch my eye, then frantically waved to me to come over to her.

When I did, she handed me a half used packet of gardenia scented bath salts, a bottle of her perfume, a deck of cards in a little velvet pouch. At this point I noticed she had one more thing in her closed hand. She leaned over and whispered, "Nicolas, please take care of these things for me until I come back.". . . then she held out the last item in her hand, reached out, and put it into mine saying, "Nicolas, you must keep this safe. . . you know you are the Keymaster." and there it was. . . in my hand . . . a beautiful, tiny, skeleton key. The other kids working that day, who were concerned as I went to talk to her,  overheard every word and for months after I was referred to as "the keymaster" quite often in the shop, especially when a problem of any sort needed to be solved or handled.

In retrospect, I do not want to appear so casual about the Looking Glass girl's mental health. The coffeehouse was just a block from a church parish dining hall that served the homeless and displaced and two non profit facilities that dealt with many troubled people. It was, looking back, just an almost daily part of life in that neighborhood during those years.

And please know that I could never look at an event in the stream of someone's personal, mental decline as a "sign" for myself from the universe.  I do have to say though that the Looking Glass girl, always in her own paracosm, even when seeming to be even-keeled, was in that way definitely a kindred spirit of some sort. My own paracosm may be a conscious choice but it is as far removed from most people's view of our world's reality as can be in many ways.

The idea of her calling me the keymaster, some 25 years after I was first anointed with it by Becky, makes me think that there is grace to be found within every situation. And the threads, no matter how much we may have lost our way, are always there revealing themselves.

We never really can let them go. . .

And though I never saw her again, I held onto the things that the Looking Glass girl entrusted to me until I sold the coffeehouse. . . just in case she ever returned.

So to each of these parts of my path, I must bow graciously and remember them all as equal parts of my path. Important in their own way.

All a small part of what led me "here".


  1. Wow Nicolas, what a story! I truly believe every single person comes into our lives for a reason. You are the key master! I think I would have kept the skeleton key she gave you.

    1. Stacy it really never occurred to me then to keep it once I had sold the shop. It had been almost ten years of being the "face" of that corner shoppe and I just felt like I wanted to let it all go when I decided to try the creative route. . . to reinvent myself yet again. It was really interesting to view it again from the distance of some years however. . . and yes, now i wish I still had it. :)

  2. Yes, that is such an amazing story, hard to understand the incredible coincidence of the name keymaster. Yet it is easy to see how she must have felt she could relate to you.... I think you have a quality that makes people around you feel you understand them, and of course you often do. This sort of relates... In my head i picture you with the voice of the male singer in the group ' of monsters and men' and he seems, in all their songs, to be caring for the woman singer who is slightly less mentally stable. I can't really say why i have thought that, but in a way it makes sense to me.

    1. That's great Andrea! I love that! Well, I think looking back I was really the "apprentice" in all those years. I learned so much from each phase and each person. Even that childhood friend Becky taught me a lot about just being "me" when it was so uncomfortable in my own skin as a child. . . though it would take years to put it all together. It all seems so much clearer from the distance doesn't it? Though I do try so much more now to pay attention to those little signposts and allow them to help guide me along. I think now, the keymaster is the creative me that finally accepts the role fully and knows it will be my role from here on and that it requires a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice and a lot of constant attention to it's needs. And, for me, to remember to always be in service. . .