Lessons from a Lock

It started with a bad padlock. The key I’d been given by my predecessor didn’t work, even after I tried the two methods I usually pursue. First I ignored the problem, hoping it would go away, but the lock did not magically disappear; neither did my need to access what lay behind it. Then I tried every key I had, repeatedly and with greater force, until I broke one. It was then that I began the official process, all wrapped up in red-tape as it is.

Having been told I couldn’t just call for a resolution, I entered a Work Order and then waited a couple of weeks. When there was no reply (and still, neither the lock nor the need for access disappeared – I re-checked) I called the Department Head concerned and told him about my dilemma. He told me to be at the lock in 5 minutes, making no mention of the need for a Work Order.

A young man arrived with bolt cutters in short order and began straining against the hardened steel. I watched for a while, uncomfortably unsure whether it would be better for his pride for me to cheer him on or ignore him completely. Still seeing no progress, I stepped forward hesitantly, “At the risk of embarrassing both of us, do you mind if I give it a shot?”

He cocked his head, clearly confused by my offer. For those who don’t know, I’m a big girl. At home I chop wood and haul water as a way of life. I’ve used bolt-cutters to cut padlocks at home, something he was clearly unaware of as he showed me how to hold them. He carefully placed the cutting ends on the lock and stepped back to smile at me encouragingly. We were both a little surprised when the lock snapped. His face reddened and so did mine. Yup, both embarrassed. By some ritual transcribed in my genetic code, I slid automatically into the platitude generations older than me:

“I think you loosened it for me. Thanks!”

There’s a reason these old lines stand the test of time… His smile returned immediately. I asked about a replacement lock as he returned to his duties, but apparently I had to check with housekeeping about that.

I arrived in the Housekeeping office to find a crowd within. I was uncomfortable in their midst, so I asked rather rapidly where I could find a lock. The answer was equally quick: there are no locks. When I asked when they were expecting to get more, the ranking officer in the room rattled off some words to one of his subordinates. Then, in a moment straight out of some surreal sit-com, the housekeeper dug under the desk and pulled out 2 heavy, 1-foot square boxes. Somewhat perplexed, I stepped closer to confirm what I was seeing. Indeed, it was true: the box on the right was full to the brim with locks. The other held hundreds of keys.

Keys & Locks

As I strained to suppress the uproarious laughter fighting to escape me, the housekeeper took a casual glance and shouted back that there were no locks. The official explained to me that more were on order, expected to arrive in a week or two. I had a vision of my unprotected door and asked if there was nothing that could be done. He smiled kindly as he shook his head. “No… There are no locks.”

The next day, one of the housekeeping staff that I’d been friendly with stopped by my office and inconspicuously dropped something on my desk. Tied up in assisting guests at the time, I couldn’t quite see what it was. As soon as I had a spare moment, I ran over and found a brand new lock with a matched pair of keys awaiting me.

The moral of the story is one that most ships’ crew learn in short order: The landlubber’s law that “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” applies doubly out here. In our closed community there are intricate connections that run through all departments that can accomplish more than official channels ever will. Running deepest in the largest departments, these networks are known as various mafias in shipboard whispers, and are generally distinguished by nationalities. They are responsible for the little successes in our daily lives, generally at the moments when we find ourselves tearing at layers of red tape in frustration.

Speaking of which, I hear my Work Order is still in the queue.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *