Local Lifestyle

Monday, Jul 30 2012 04:59 PM

Membership has its privileges, but anonymity isn't one

By The Bakersfield Californian

Sam was moving back to town and, being the organized man that he is, had requested his own house key. I could do that and at $1.79, a freshly ground key seems like a great deal. I went to my favorite hardware store and after waiting for two ladies ahead of me to finish, I handed over my key chain to the key maker behind the counter.

I have eight keys -- two truck keys, a Honda key, a Lexus key, a house key, a key for my Club Car Lock and a couple of other keys whose origin I can't quite remember.

I have stared at the mystery keys and for a moment I can almost place them, but then the ship glides into the fog, disappears and takes the keys with them.

Making a key takes less than two minutes and before you know it, before you really want your new key because wouldn't you prefer to watch the key maker perform his magic for a while longer, your turn is over.

This time the key maker smiled when he handed me the key chain and the newly made bronze key, turning it over in his fingers to check for metal shavings.

I smiled in return and then he pointed to the plastic white oval promotional key tag, which I had forgotten I had.

On the front, it read, "Just for Today." On the back, inside of two circles, were the initials "NA" and then underneath it "Welcome."

He smiled. I smiled. What was I missing? It was as if he was waiting for me to say something.

I thought it may have had something to do with the "Welcome" printed on the plastic key tag so I said, "Thank you," thinking maybe I had missed a social cue and hadn't thanked him for making the key in the first place.

"How long have you been a member?" he asked.

A member of what? The key-making appreciation club? We were having two different conversations and I began to think that his was more interesting.

"What does NA stand for?" I asked.

"Narcotics Anonymous," he said.

Oh. That would explain the "Just for Today" on one side of the key tag, although I wasn't sure how "Welcome" fit in.

"No," I said. "Somebody gave me this and I can't remember who. It may have been John Axt."

Great. I was fumbling around trying to explain myself and while I was at it, I had thrown John -- as clean a liver as you'd ever want to meet (his liver was probably spotless, too) -- under the bus.

"No, I haven't seen John for a while so it couldn't have been him," I said, sounding about as insincere as you can sound.

He smiled as if he had seen my type at meetings before. His smile was a gentle one that said, "After you've gone through the stages of denial, the group will welcome you back with open arms and forgiving hearts."

"No, really," I said. "I'm not a member and I'm not saying that I wouldn't be a member if I had to. If I were a member, I suppose that part of healing would be to admit it to a fellow member in a public situation."

I was talking fast. The faster I talked, the less truthful I sounded. I didn't even believe myself. I wouldn't have been surprised to have looked down and seen needle tracks on my arms, a rubber cord trailing out of my back pocket and my shoes gone.

He kept smiling, I kept talking and fortunately another customer came up behind me in order to have a key made. I paid for the key at the front counter. Sam had his key, and I had had a moment of truth I hadn't even bargained for.

These are the opinions of Herb Benham, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email him at hbenham@bakersfield.com.

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