My kingdom for a key

"Your daughter and I are going to a swimwear sale," announced my wife one recent Saturday afternoon. "It would be nice if you boys could have all that winter grime beaten out of our carpets before we return."

"We read you loud and clear," I said, as they departed.

"I'll get a couple of baseball bats, Dad," volunteered my son.

"Where did you get those, Glenn?" I asked on his return, pointing to a pair of handcuffs jangling from his belt.

"From Robert. I traded my whole collection of Mad magazines for them. They're the real thing, Dad."

I examined the formidable metal bracelets."Nobody can get out of those," the owner assured.

"Not so," I corrected. "Houdini could free himself in seconds."

"Really, Dad? How'd he do it?"

"There's a trick to it," I said, allowing the disbeliever to handcuff my hands behind my back to my desk chair.

"There's someone at the front door. Be right back," said my son.

"I'll be free before you return," I promised with Houdini bravado.

"Dad!" called my son. "It's my Little League coach. He's talking me to practice."

"The key!" I shouted. "Where's the key!" But the screen door had slammed with the finality of a prison gate.

Not to panic. Perhaps I could loosen the rung around which the cuffs were entwined. After 15 minutes of futile effort my next plan was to check out my son's room, where a spare key might be found. In the custodial grip of my desk chair I managed to maneuver through the furniture-clogged passegeways of the dining room, and kitchen to the cluttered domain of my twelve-year-old. Probably my freedom lay in one of his desk drawers. Clenching a ruler with my teeth I opened each drawer and poked about -- without success. Then the wall phone rang in the kitchen. I grasped the chair and staggered down the hall repeating aloud, "Keep ringing," hoping it might be one of the girls, who could mount a rescue mission.

With my head popped the phone from its cradle, which dropped almost to the floor. I shouted, "Hold on? Hold on!" for it took a moment to fall on my knees with the wrought-iron monkey on my back. I managed somehow to fall on my knees with the wrought-iron monkey on my back. I managed somehow to secure the phone between the wall and one side of my face. A woman's voice said, "Sir, this is station WAAM. We have a questions for you . . ."

"Miss, I'm in a bit of a predicament here --"

". . . and if you give the correct answer, sir, you will win a free weekend for two at a nearby resort."

"Miss, my hands are rather tied at the moment. Could you call back --"

"Here your question, sir: Name three famous volcanic eruptions other than Mt. St. Helens."

I was near to erupting myself, but the mentioned award would certainly please my spouse. "Uh . . . Krakatoa . . . Vesuvius . . . and, ah, Mt. Etna?"

"Very good, sir. Our congratulations." The caller rechecked my name and address and hung up.I rested laterally on the kitchen floor to consider my next course of action as the phone company reminded me about the unseated receiver, which meant no more calls. If I could get outside . . . lots of passing traffic . . .

With my nose I released the catch on the screen door, pushed my way through and rooted my chair in the center of the sloping front lawn. My improbable circumstances immediately worsened with the rumble of thunder and absolutely no way I could get back into the house.

During the next ten minutes a dozen motorists zipped past, most of whom merely waved at my vocal SOS's. Everyone sat on his lawn in my part of the world. A female jogger appeared. "Are you an authority on handcuffs?" I cried as she passed by.

"You'd better sit indoors. The sky's about to unload on you," she advised, quickening her pace.

I needed a refuge from the impending storm. What about the garage? Could I get into the garage? I wondered, as raindrops pattered around me.

I negotiated the front steps to the driveway like some laden beast and positioned myself before one of the garage door handles. I forced my right foot under the handle close to the pavement in an effort to raise the pulley-operated door. Once the door could be set in motion it would mean "dry land" for me. On my seventh attempt I was able to coax my objective upward enough to wedge my left foot under it, then my right. I was now ready for Operation Lift Up.

With the summer storm bellowing overhead I counted to three, then used all the leg power I could muster. I was, however, too successful. As the door lifted, so did I, tilting my chair backward onto its rear legs. Quickly I applied braking pressure with my feet against the inside of the door, preventing myself from toppling backward on manacled hands. Ten minutes later that was my status quo in the midst of "The Rains of Ranchipur" as the girls, followed by my son's coach, turned into the drive.

"You boys never cease to astound me," began my wife, wielding a towel while my son was uncuffing me, "the devious methods you employ in your efforts to avoid a little responsibility."

"I'll be a model prisoner from now on," I promised, massaging my wrists.

The postscript to the whole deplorable affair occured two weekends later when the girls had occasion to wear their new bathing gear as guests of a tourist concern called the Flying Carpet Travel Service, while the parolees were batting away at a species of carpet not even a Houdini could fly.

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