Have you ever locked your keys in your car? I have, several times. I would imagine it's at least a dozen, but that's not counting the times I've done it and was lucky enough to have a spare key around. Those almost don't count, because they lack the panicked realization that you just did one of the dumbest things in the known universe.
I did it, most recently, last week. The past few times I've locked my keys in, I decided to add a degree of difficulty. Last year, I did it on a hot day with a car full of fresh groceries. Two years ago, I did it in the middle of downtown Charleston while Christmas shopping. Last week, I did it at someone else's house, in the morning, already late for work.
There are few "stomach-punch" feelings as bad as realizing the door is locked and the keys are in the ignition. There are things that feel worse, of course, but those usually involve death or torture or any sitcom on the Disney Channel -- and they also normally don't come with the added 1-2 combo of knowing you did this to yourself. You. Yourself. Idiot. Stupid. Shouldn't be allowed to own a car.
The first thing you do -- after checking frantically for a spare key you might have unknowingly hidden on your person -- is walk around and check every door, just in case the car fairy magically decided to leave the rear passenger door unlocked.
The next thing you do -- we all do it; it's in our DNA; don't pretend your ancestors weren't cavemen and experienced the same rush of embarrassment and anger when they locked the keys to the dinosaur in the stone box -- is you, for the briefest of seconds, think about just smashing the car window and saving yourself the headache.
(We can't help it. It hurts to be stupid. It pains us. We all want to be Fonzie, but we walk through life -- too often -- a nation of Potsies.)
This past week, that second turned into two and then into five. I did not get to the "pick up a rock and find the right weight" stage, but I was so full of angst and utter humiliation I did ponder the choice longer than a rational person should.
Eventually, of course, you overrule the "smash the window" option because a.) you aren't in an action film being chased by ninjas, and b.) that's a much dumber thing to do than locking the keys in the car in the first place. It would be like getting something stuck in your teeth and deciding to punch yourself in the face until it came out.
When I eventually got to work, several co-workers said, "So, I hear you had car trouble." I wish! Car trouble involves grease, radiator steam and words like "carburetor." People feel sorry for you if your car breaks down. When you lock your keys in your car, people still feel sorry for you, but it's a different kind of "sorry." It's not about empathy, it's about sympathy ... for you being a moron.
Is there a point, as grown-ups, when we stop being humiliated by life's every mistake? If there is, I'm still waiting for it.
As a kid, we're conditioned to believe everyone over the age of 21 has it together and that when we mature, we'll suddenly focus on PTA meetings, paying our taxes, proper lawn care, a good canasta game and having enough inner confidence not to be rattled by those little screwballs that life throws us.
Well, here I am: 35 and I don't want kids, I waited to the last second to do my taxes, the guy I pay does a great job with my lawn, I don't know what canasta is (although it sounds like it tastes delicious), and just last week, I was seriously considering causing hundreds of dollars of damage to my car in lieu of a $50 tow truck call.
(Here is the point where a good columnist would turn this trivial event into a larger metaphor about local Beaufort politics or the debt ceiling or one's belief in God or some other really clever, important point. But, no, stop waiting, this is about locking your keys in your car. We will suffer together.)
Eventually, I made the right decision. I walked home, called my insurance company, walked back, and a few minutes later a kind tow truck operator had my keys in my hand. He was friendly and even admitted he did it all the time, which went a long way to ease my embarrassment -- even though, I'm sure, he was secretly thinking, "Wow, what a dope."
As we navigate through the streams of life, I hope all of us get to the point where we can have enough inner confidence to take even the most excruciating, soul-punching gaffes in stride. I hope we can reach a level of maturity to be able to laugh at life's biggest blunders. I hope we can find patience and poise in the realization that we're human, we're fallible.
But since I know none of that will ever happen, I hope we can at least remember to check the ignition before closing the door.