Well, I did it again. I’ve made almost every blunder imaginable since moving to France. And I keep adding to it.
First I was locked out of my apartment when returning from a visit to the States. It wasn’t enough that I had endured a grueling 23-hour travel day. The keys were left in a drawer in Atlanta.
Then there was the fiasco with putting gasoline in “Lucy,” my diesel-engine Citroen.
The latest was a doozy.
My good friend from Sete, Nancy McGee, was on her way to visit me in Uzes for the first time. (That’s Nancy McGee of “Absolutely Southern French Food and Etiquette.) It was a Saturday afternoon and I had just finished straightening up the guest room when she called from her car to tell me she was approaching Uzes. I told her I’d meet her on the main street of town and direct her to a nearby parking lot. I grabbed my keys and the two bags of trash I wanted to drop off in the dumpster on the way. I turned around to lock the door to the apartment, then changed my mind.
“It’ll just be a few minutes,’ I said to myself. “No need to lock the door.”
I literally flew down the 55 steps that descend to street level of the building; dashed out into the parking lot; then headed for the trash dumpster.
Lifting the lid of the dumpster, I tossed the bags of trash into the barrel drawer; flipped the front lid closed with a “bang;” and listened while the barrel drawer rolled upside down, dumping its contents into the bowels of the can below…with a loud “clunk.”
Suddenly I felt a wave of nausea. You know that sick feeling you get in your gut when you know you’ve done something totally stupid? Something irretrievably dumb? I was overcome with it. I almost threw up. “Oh no!” I said to myself (although the language was not quite as polite.)
I had dropped more than the bags of garbage. My keys were no longer in my hand. They were in the dumpster.
When the nausea subsided I ran to the meeting place to find Nancy.
“What can I tell her?” I said to myself, knowing she would think I was a total “bean brain.”
Nancy’s car approached the parking lot. As soon as she stopped I opened the passenger door and jumped in, breathless.
“You won’t believe what I’ve done,” I moaned.
“Oh dear,” said Nancy, surely thinking I’d killed someone judging from the look on my face.
“I threw my keys into the dumpster,” I cried. Then I blurted out the whole story, including the fact that she’d have to drive us around the whole weekend. We had a list of places to see near Uzes.
Maintaining her customary, calm composure, Nancy pulled the car into a vacant parking space near my building.
“Hey, wait!” I exclaimed as we were unloading her overnight bag and her tiny Papillon dog from the back seat. “There’s a telephone number on the dumpster! You can call the company and explain what happened,” I chirped, hopefully.
Nancy is from Canada and she has lived in France for nearly 30 years. She speaks French like a native. When I told her how I knew there was a phone number on the dumpster — because I’d had an earlier episode with the dumpster and my cellphone — a false alarm — she wasn’t amused. Nevertheless, she called the number. Of course there was no answer. It was Saturday evening. Nancy left a message on the answering machine and she gave several phone numbers so they could call us back.
If there was any good news about the key incident it was that my apartment door was unlocked. Also, I had a second set of apartment keys. But that was it. No extra key to the tower entrance downstairs. No key to the large wooden door at the street level. No key for my mailbox. No extra key for the car.
“This is going to be a big problem,” I lamented to myself. “And it’s going to cost me a bundle, “ I predicted.
“When does the city picked up the trash?” Nancy asked later, after we’d had a glass of wine to settle our nerves.
“Early Monday morning,” I answered, recalling the noises I heard under my bedroom window each week. A big garbage truck parks beside the dumpster and pulls the cans out of the ground. It’s a noisy process that seems to take forever when you’re trying to sleep four stories above.
“Go down there and ask the man to help you look for your keys Monday morning,” Nancy suggested –as if I could converse with anyone in French.
“I thought about that,” I admitted, “perhaps he’ll understand sign-language,” I said to myself.
Nancy didn’t volunteer for duty. I didn’t blame her.
“I’ll do it,” I said.
Picking up the trash
Sunday night I could hardly sleep. Plotting how I was going to communicate my dilemma to the garbage man was all I could think about. Just when I dozed off, I heard the familiar, jarring sound of the big garbage truck below the window. I peered out and the garbage “extraction” process had already begun.
One of the two dumpsters was being lifted out of the ground. “Oh my God,” I shrieked to myself. “It’s too late for me to get down there!” Then I saw the dumpster that held my keys in its belly was still firmly planted. I had time to act. In fact, I figured, I had too much time. So I sat in a chair at my bedroom window, with a coat thrown over my nightgown, and I watched.
It was all very organized … and automated. The crane on the truck lifted the dumpster and … the driver punched buttons on a remote control and … the crane and dumpster moved over the backend of the truck … and ..the bottom of the bin flapped open…and the contents fell out onto all the other garbage in the truck.
There was no way the garbage man would help me sift through a truck full of trash for my keys. Nor would I!
Monday morning Nancy drove me to the Citroen dealership before she left town for Sete. We were certain they would cut new keys as I waited since I had a plastic replacement key I’d found among “Lucy’s important papers.
No such luck. The key had to be ordered from the factory. Plus, “Lucy” had to be towed to the dealership to program the new key. A week later.
Bottomline, my blunder with the keys cost me a pretty penny. Replacing the keys to the apartment wasn’t a big deal. Obtaining new car keys was expensive and a pain in the neck… but I now have friends at the dealership. The weekend with my friend, Nancy, was a blast — including a party for the opening of La Grandmère wine and coffee house in Vers Pont du Gard , La Grange
P.S. Nancy says the trash company returned her call Monday afternoon. They apologized for not offering any help. The office was closed for the weekend. They informed her that if I had lost the keys on a weekday, they would have sent a small truck to the dumpster and sorted the trash. I could have found my keys.
Geez. Next time I’ll be a little more intentional when I do something really stupid.
Read about the lost cellphone here