A Collection Of Keys by Edgar Wilson Nye

Story type: Essay

I’m getting to be quite a connoisseur of hotel keys as I get older. For ten years I have been collecting these mementoes of travel and cording them away in my key cabinet. Some have square brass tags attached to them, others have round ones. Still others affect the octagonal, the fluted, the hexagonal, the scalloped, the plain, the polished, the docorated, the chaste, the Etruscan, the metropolitan, the rural, the cosmopolitan, the shirred, the tucked, the biased, the high neck and long sleeve or the decolette style of brass check.

I have, so far, paid my bills, but I have not returned the keys to my room. Hotel proprietors will please take notice and govern themselves accordingly. When my visit to a pleasant city has become a beautiful memory only, I all at once sit down on something hard and find that it is the key to my former room at the hotel. Sitting down on a key tag of corrugated brass, as big as a buckwheat pancake, would remind most anyone of something or other.

I generally leave my tooth-brush in my room and carry off the key as a kind of involuntary swap, so far as the hotel proprietor is concerned, but I do not think it is a mutual benefit, particularly. I cannot use the key to a hotel 500 miles away, and so far as a tooth-brush is concerned, it generally has pleasant associations only for the owner. A man is fond of his own toothbrush, but it takes years for him to love the tooth-brush of a stranger.

There are a good many associations attached to these keys, like the tags. They point backward to the rooms to which the keys belong. Here is a fat one that led to room number 33-1/2 in the Synagogue hotel. It was a cheerful room, where the bell boy said an old man had asphyxiated himself with gas the previous week. I had never met the old man before, but that night, about 1 o’clock A.M., I had the pleasure of his acquaintance. He came in a sad and reproachful way, and showed me how the post-mortem people had disfigured him. Of course it was a little tough to be mutilated by an inquest, but that’s no reason why he should come back there and occupy a room that I was paying for so that I could be alone. He showed me how he blew out the gas, and told me how a man could successfully blow down the muzzle of a shot-gun or a gas jet, but both of these weapons had a way of blowing back.

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I have a key that brings back to me the memory of a room that I lived in two days at one time. I do not mean that I lived the two days at once, but that at one period I occupied that room, partially, for two days and two nights, I say I partially occupied it, because I used to occupy it days and share it nights with others; that is, I tried to occupy it nights. I tried to get the clerk to throw off something because I didn’t have the exclusive use of the room. He wouldn’t throw off anything. He even wanted to fight me because I said that the room was occupied before I got it and after I left it. Finally, I told him that if he would throw a bed quilt over his diamond, so I could see him, I would fight him with buckwheat cakes at five-hundred miles. I took my position the next morning at the place appointed, but he did not appear.

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