Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pump the Shackle. Twice.

It seemed like an easy assignment. Pick up a combination lock at the hardware store and drop it off at the high school before the teenager goes off to lacrosse practice. But I know how things can go with all that's related to the teenager, so fortunately I gave myself a little extra time.

The guys at the hardware store are usually extremely helpful. I’d hoped to get a lock whose combination could be reset to something memorable. This is because we currently have several combination locks in our kitchen Junk Drawer and I have no recollection how to open any of them. We also have several codes that are printed on the back of the MasterLock packages. However, none of those codes seemed to match any of our locks.

The hardware store guy was nice, but couldn’t direct me to a resettable lock. They had the kind that you can make a word for the combination, and I called my son to see if that style would fit on his lacrosse locker. Just get a regular lock, he said.

I had one in my hand, standard silver with a black face. I think it cost three or four dollars. But then the inevitable happened. My eye was drawn up to the top of the peg-board display to a line of colorful, newfangled locks.

“What’s this?” I asked, removing a bright blue $11.99 specimen. It wasn’t even in a typical MasterLock hanging package – the lock was affixed to a snappy, pyramid-shaped case. It looked as though the lock itself was onstage.

“Those are new,” the guy explained. “They’re directional.”

Meaning there are no numbers. The combination is a series of arrows – up, down, left, right – and you just move the face in the proper sequence, like a joystick.

I reached up to replace the blue lock, quietly deeming it too flashy. “They’re really popular,” the guy added.

So of course, I bought it.

I drove to the high school, pulled up to the front door and began fumbling for all the various ID I was about to need in order to drop something off at the front office. As I pulled my paperwork together, the teenager strolled up to the car from his lunch hour and knocked on the window. “I got you a lock!” I said, elated that I would not have to enter the school after all.

He grabbed at it, but I realized he should just take the lock, not the whole pyramid package, so I flipped it over to see what the combination was so I could release it from its plastic home. No combination on the back of the lock. None on the back of the package either. I squinted at the infinitesimal instructions and learned that the information we needed was inside the pyramid. I literally had to saw open a trap door on the package with my fingernail to get at it.

Two small paper rolls fell out; they looked like tiny treasure maps. I opened the first and it was useless, just a bunch of stickers to decorate your lock. The second contained the information we needed, so I carefully ripped off the tiny circle of tape that held the roll intact and let it unfurl before me. It did indeed contain the combination, but when we entered it, it didn’t work.

“I have a class that starts in three minutes,” said the teenager. As if I were somehow dragging my feet.

He tried the combination. No luck. I looked back on my treasure scroll and at the very top was a tiny little sentence or two that explained how you had to clear the lock before the combination would work. That seemed simple enough. Except I didn’t know how to clear it. And the instruction that explained how had just been partially destroyed when I removed the tape. Literally, the first six words had been ripped off and I couldn’t find them anywhere.

“How do I do this? What did it say?” I said, frantically jamming my hand into the crevice next to the front seat to try and retrieve the itty bit of paper.

“Mom, I have to go,” said the teenager.

“Read it in Spanish!” I told him.


“The instructions are written below in Spanish. Read that. What does it say?”

“I have no idea,” he said, validating anew my disappointment in our school district’s language program.

I’m not sure how I figured out that you need to pump the shackle twice, or how I even knew what the shackle was, but once we did that and entered the code, Bright Blue gave it up and the teenager dashed off with his popular, overpriced combination lock while I tried to imagine the over/under on how many days it would take before he’d lost the thing entirely and I was back at my junk drawer, racking my brains for combinations long gone.


  1. Yes, and if you ever DO forget the combo to your lock at, say, the gym, they send a man with a tool that cuts the lock off as if it were a twig. So what good is a lock anyway? If it can be cut off like a twig?

  2. You fool!

    Now I tell my sons who have more money than I do, to go buy their own damn lock because it's their responsibility not mine, or their crazy mothers. My electronic, kid/teenager junk drawer has stopped growing since I've reinforced taking responsibility for their own must have's. Their animosity towards me grows but that's supposed to be happening anyway.