Dangerous Keys

So the great Silver Lake Reservoir draining is finally complete and the big water bowl is empty… until they get around to refilling it. All of its potentially toxic water has been flushed away through a series of subterranean tubes connecting to the Ballona Creek which pours onward into the Santa Monica Bay where the carcinogenic parts per million of all that bromate-tainted water will be diluted into inert nothingness, or an unexpected complex chemical reaction with the saltwater and the bacteria and the styrofoam and the plastic bags and the shopping carts and the gull shit and the hypodermics will ultimately create the monster for the three-quel to the coming sequel of “Cloverfield” who will then go on a rampage across the city. Could happen.

As the reservoir’s level has slowly lowered over the last 60 days, people have been either hopeful or apprehensive as to what might be revealed rusting and rotting away down there on the bottom, but there hasn’t been anything noted as of yet. Personally I know of one 27-year-old relic that’s down there somewheres, if it didn’t get swept down a pipe at some point in such a long interim. It’s a set of keys on a ring, one which I heaved over the fence into its southeastern waters one very early morning back in 1981.

The keys were to the Swensen’s Ice Cream Shoppe that used to be on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, across the street from and in between what used to be Fiorucci’s and RJ’s restaurant. I had worked at Swensen’s for a while during my first and second year at Beverly Hills High School, promoted to night manager before I was fired by the owner’s daughter — Desiree or Dell-something; who badly managed the place for her dad — for not being willing to hold some marijuana for her.

I turned in my keys, cleaned out my locker and collected my final paycheck. I stayed pissed off for awhile not just because I was out of a job, but also because Swensen’s had been the center of my social universe. To have both yanked away so unfairly was a good lesson to learn early but nonetheless a hard one.

A few months later I ended up getting a stockclerk job at the long-gone Hunters Books on Rodeo Drive and Little Santa Monica (they’re calling it Santa Monica South nowadays), but in that unemployed interim I helped my mom, by then a distributor for the Herald Examiner whose territory included Echo Park, Silver Lake and Los Feliz and Franklin Hills. On weekends I’d get up with her at 2 a.m., and together we’d go pick up all the papers at the Herald Examiner plant downtown, then deliver whatever routes were open or down and we’d get home around sunrise. During the week I’d often have to go across town after school on my little Yamaha Champ scooter and help with collections or customer complaints. Sometimes I’d drive the old 1965 Ford Mustang and cover paper routes solo, especially those in the steeper areas of Silver Lake and Echo Park, where paperboys never lasted.

I don’t remember how long it was after I was fired from Swensen’s that I found the spare “just in case” set of Swensen’s keys I’d had made on my own at some point after I’d been promoted to night manager. Maybe it was a couple days later or a couple weeks. However long it was, when I discovered them I immediately saw dollar signs and started plotting a little payback heist. Ultimately I decided to hit the place in the morning on my way to school. Come up Wilshire to the alley between Beverly and Rodeo at something like 7 a.m., enter through the back — it would be easy pickings. There was no alarm and no surveillance system. And knowing exactly where the money was kept after closing, I could be in and out without turning on a light in a minute, tops, and a couple hundred bucks richer. Maybe a little more if sales had been exceptionally good.

So it was all set. I spent a couple mornings casing the place and both times were all clear so on the third I found myself standing nex to a dumpster by the back door, just a deadbolt slide away from more cash than I’d ever held at one time. I though about all the games of Asteroids I could play. All the cigarettes I could buy. All the movies and doughnuts and candy and softdrinks and everything else I could get get get.

And I was scared shitless. I had the key in my hand but something kept me from putting it in the lock and opening up a door onto what could have been the beginning of a life of crime. So I walked away. I tried again the next day, having attempted to rationalize the jitters, but the fear was real and paralyzing.

I vowed to give it one last try that following weekend and I brought the keys with me when I went out downtown alone to pick up the morning edition of the Herald and deliver it to our subscribers in Echo Park. Coming back before dawn along Silver Lake Boulevard after finishing up with the reservoir on my right, I felt for the keys in my pants pocket and suddenly brought the car to a stop on the deserted street, threw her into park and before I could think twice I was out of the car with the keys in my hand and I was heaving them for all I was worth past the fence and out over the water where they plunked through the surface some 30 feet or so away from the edge and sank.

Rarehad been the times I felt such immense relief.