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Help! I have an ethical dilemma!

by Prince Of Petworth October 28, 2008 at 11:03 pm 27 Comments

Keys I found, originally uploaded by ericandkatherine.

PoP contributor Eric Nuzum  has an ethical dilemma and needs your help in figuring out what to do.
“Good morning,” I called out to my neighbor Angela, who, despite living a few doors down from me for almost a year, still looks at me every time she sees me with a grimace that implies that she isn’t entirely unconvinced that I plan to kill, rape, rob, burn, mutilate, or bother her. “You didn’t…by chance…lose anything in the street…did you?”

“Like what?” she flatly replied, almost sounding interested.

“Like, I don’t know, a key or something?”

“You found a key…but you don’t know it’s a key?” she asked.

“I know it’s a key.”

“Then why’d you say you didn’t know? If you found a key, just say ‘I found a key.'”

“I found a key,” I said.

“Well, it ain’t mine.”

“Thank you, Angela.”

This was the second conversation I’d had about the keys I’d found right where the curb meets the street in front of my house. You know, that crevasse-like collecting point for potato chip bags, bottles, chicken bones, leaves, and syringes. However, one recent morning I looked down and saw something shiny: a set of keys. They were two identical keys, fairly new (but didn’t appear brand new) held together on a cheap metal ring. They looked like standard size keys–like for a door lock. Outside of a five-digit code on the side of the keys, there was no distinguishing marks, tags, or brand names. 

My first key-related conversation hadn’t gone much better.

“Hey there,” I called out to my neighbor, an old retired military guy (as evidenced by the multiple bumper stickers on his fleet of vehicles announcing this fact) who occasionally parks his pick-up in front of my house (instead of across the street in front of his house).  [Ed. Note: In Petworth parking is copious and there is an unwritten rule that the resident of the home parks in front of it.]

“I found something of value in the street yesterday and I’m not sure who it belongs to,” I said.

“Well, if it’s money–it’s mine.”

“It isn’t money,” I replied.

“Well, what is it?” he asked.

This was my real problem: how do you ask people on your street if they’ve lost something when you don’t want to reveal much about what it is? I thought about giving him hints like “They’re shiny,” or “They’re made of metal.” But eventually decided on the direct approach.


“Keys?” he asked rhetorically. “What are they to?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, how are you supposed to find out who they belong to if you don’t know what they open?”  Story continues after the jump.

It was a weird piece of logic, but I admired his novel approach to problem-solving. He was suggesting that instead of finding the owners, I should find the lock. Then, once I’ve found the lock, the owner should be pretty easy to ascertain. But this would entail roaming through the neighborhood, walking up to every lock I find and trying my key in it. It didn’t seem like the best idea.

But that is the general problem here–there are no good ideas. Thus, my big dilemma, which I now bring to you, dear neighbors and readers: If you found an unmarked pair of keys in the street, what should you do with them?

These two conversations ended my attempts at “Option #1: Ask around.” Obviously, it was time to move on to Option #2, or #3, or #4, or whatever 17 others you come up with in your comments.

It’s just so hard. When confronted with a lost item, “doing the right thing” shouldn’t be complicated. But it is. These damn keys have been a pain in my ass since I found them.

When I’ve asked others about what I should do, everyone first scolds me for picking them up in the first place. They say I should have just left them there, which is also no good. I mean, who is to say that the next person to happen across them would be so honest and neighborly. Who is to say they wouldn’t go around the neighborhood trying to stick the keys in every lock…and then steal the contents…and then spray paint a big “fuck you” on whatever they unlocked…and then it would all be my fault because I hadn’t picked up the stray keys.

This line of discussion inevitably leads to the next potential solution:

Option #2: Put the keys back. This seems smart on the surface, but it negates any potential benefit of a friendly/honest person finding them in the first place. It’s kinda like helping an old lady across the street, then, when you reach the other side, pushing her back out into traffic again.

There are two other ideas that I hear often:

Option #3: Throw the keys away. No way, because with my luck–the minute DPW carts away the contents of my Supercan, I’ll figure out who they belong to and I’ll have made things even worse by getting rid of the keys. Let’s imagine how I’d feel when my neighbor Joseph comes knocking on my door at 3 a.m. in a desperate search for the lost keys to the cabinet that holds his nephew Haji’s cancer medication. Little Haji would die–all because I “didn’t want to get involved.” Pul-eaze.

Option #4: Put up a sign/ad on Craig’s List/call the 5-0/etc… I thought of this one, which probably explains why it is such a stupid idea. What if I put up a sign saying “Lost keys” and someone calls–a notorious marauder or something–and claims to be the keys’ owner. I ask them to identify them, what are they going to say? “They’re shiny?” “They’re made of metal?”

There you have it. I still have the keys. They are sitting here waiting for me to figure out what to do. And I’m stuck. On one hand, you could say that, since I’ve had them for awhile, whatever damage is done. They have been replaced, lock rekeyed, or weren’t that important in the first place. On the other hand, you could say that any good act I was attempting to accomplish is moot unless I do something other than pick them up and put them on my kitchen table.

So tell me, friends and neighbors, what should I do with these $%@#*& keys?



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