The scientist rolled up to the bicycle stand at the university early on a weekday morning, a weekday morning just like any other weekday morning, and prepared for the ritual.

He slung himself – actually, he staggered – off the bike (he was ashamed that he had difficulty dismounting from a machine that was prominently labeled “comfort frame”), and walked the front wheel level with the battered slats of the rack.

He shrugged off his backpack, to his back’s relief, and set it down next to the two-wheeler. He reached into his trouser’s pocket and pulled out a keycase. He reached into the side pockets of the backpack and pulled out a cable and a D bar. He threaded the cable through the bicycle’s front wheel and the near slat of the bike rack, ensuring both were engaged, and pulled the end towards the central post of the bike frame. He threaded that end of the cable onto the D bar, and inserted the bar through the back wheel and the central post so that both were engaged. He inserted the key into the D-bar’s crosspiece – which by itself accounted for nearly half of the backpack’s total weight – slid the crosspiece onto the D-bar, and locked it in place. He removed the key and returned the keycase to his pocket.

Into the pockets of the backpack that had held the bike lock, the scientist slipped the front and tail lights that he had removed from their fastenings on the handlebars and seat post. He secured the pockets, and slung the backpack back onto his back – a back now drenched with the sweat that had sprung from his body in the few minutes since he had dismounted from his eight-mile ride. He reached for the pressure clip that bound the seat to the frame, opened it, and pulled out the seat. There was no room for the seat in the backpack, so he carried it in his left hand as he checked the fastenings of the bicycle one last time, and walked to his office and laboratory a hundred feet away.

He stepped to the door and, as the signs on the door told him to do, or else, he entered the magic numbers into the keypad. The light flashed green, he turned the knob and entered. A chiming reminded him, as if he needed reminding, of the box around the corner that he needed to visit in the next thirty seconds and enter a second set of magic numbers, or else. He did so; a final chime assured him that the forms had been obeyed, and he had leave to be in his own space without screaming alarms and disgruntled peace officers.

Out of his pocket came the keycase, again. Next to the key for the bike lock was the key to the scientist’s office door. The door yielded to the key, he opened the door and stepped into his office. Into their assigned places on the bookshelves went the bicycle seat and the bicycle helmet, sunglasses tucked inside. Onto its assigned place on the floor went the backpack, from which the scientist drew the clothes that he would change into once he had dried off enough for the change to do any good.

As he was toweling himself off, considering the needs of the day and, at the end of it, the need to do the lock and key stuff all over again in reverse order, he thought of the time, a generation and more ago, when he asked his father why he never locked anything. His dad had replied “because I’ve never lost anything, so why bother locking?” And he thought of another day, some years later, in a faraway place, when he went to lock something and was sharply told “Don’t do it.” “Why not?” “Because if you leave your place unlocked, the locals will leave your stuff alone. If you lock up, the folk here will rob you blind.” He had left his things unsecured, and nothing had vanished.

There are still places in these United States where doors are seldom locked. Once upon a time, the scientist had lived in such a place, and had vowed never to leave, never to go to a location where the defining objects of civilization were those that bore the name security. Circumstances had dictated otherwise. And now, in the name of stuff, some of which was wearing the top-hat-and-tails name intellectual property, he was living his own personal orange alert.

It just didn’t seem right.

O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2008 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.


  1. We didn’t used to have to lock stuff up, but no longer. Now you have to jump through hoops to keep the bad guys from stealing you blind. I hadn’t thought about having to take the bike seat, too. dang it is bad out there!

  2. Depends on the area still. My house could go unlocked, and I’ve accidentally left my garage door at my apartment open all day. Everything was there when I got back. It doesn’t matter. I lock up regardless of where I am because of the people in my house, not the stuff. I figure that if someone is going to all the trouble to break into my apartment to steal my tv, they need it a lot more than I do, and they’re welcome to it.

  3. Seems like every time I speak with someone who’s lived in one place for any length of time, Amber, they say the same thing.

    Brig, I have tended to subscribe to the “need it more than I do” theory myself. However, it’s also been pointed out, on numerous occasions, that there are places in the world where most people are desperately poor and you could still leave your doors unlocked, your wallet on the kitchen table. Remember Steal This Book, where Abbie Hoffman argued that it isn’t immoral to steal from the “Pig Empire” (in fact, it’s immoral not to)? It’s kinda difficult to defend against a culture that’s given itself permission to steal.

  4. There is a part of me that understands ‘these days and times’ but a larger part that buries my head in the sand and says ‘not me’ and ‘if they want it they can have it’. Having never lived where my neighbors or I had to worry about being robbed I still don’t lock my doors, car or anything else that doesn’t automatically lock.

  5. I always lock my doors. I always have since I’ve lived on my own. I blame it on my mother’s voice in my head telling me to “Be careful, Brookie.” I’m sure my Aunt Quilly can describe that little voice to you well since I’m sure she knows it, too.

  6. Brooke — at least I was allowed to cross the street without holding someone’s hand before I hit my teens. Your mom was a bit TOO protective imho. (Now watch, she’ll show up and read this!)

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