Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Isn't this how the Watergate burglars got caught?

I don't know how things are at your place of work, but here in the Teeny Tiny Law Office I don't have a bathroom to call my own.

There is a men's room on the floor, just across the hall in fact, and like most such places in office buildings in downtown Chicago, it is locked.

One needs a key to gain access. Indeed, the washroom key is a prized possession and carefully guarded. Reaching for the key becomes second nature, even instinctive.

Indeed, many's the time I've been working at home, and I've gotten up from the computer to answer Nature's Call, when I've reached for my trusty key. I usually walk a step or two with the key out, in fact, before I realize that these security arrangements are not in force within my house. That moment of realization is, frankly, embarrassing. Fortunately, when I work at home, there has never been anyone there to observe me when I've done this.

It was not ever thus. In my lifetime, women's washrooms in downtown Chicago buildings were locked first; only later were the men's rooms secured as well. (Of course, when I started, there were still some buildings in Chicago that didn't have nearly as many women's rooms as men's rooms. Seriously.)

This morning I noticed (after using the key as usual) that someone had taped down the latch. In other words, I didn't need the key; I could have simply pushed the door open. The tape was quite noticeable, of course, on the edge of the door, but I didn't see it at first, although a small piece had folded over onto the front of the door.

Isn't this how the Watergate burglars got caught? I thought to myself. (Yes, yes, it was.)

I mentioned my discovery to my colleague here at the Undisclosed Location. He'd forgotten his bathroom key at home last week; this incident prompted me to remember to ask him if he'd found it yet. "Not until this morning," he admitted sheepishly. And he'd come into the office yesterday (because of the court holiday, I had not come downtown) and had to bother building security twice as a result. (Our office key has also gone missing somewhere along the way. I have my suspicions.)

"Maybe security taped it up for me," my colleague ventured, brightening. "That would have been nice of them."

"I kind of doubt it," I said.

"Probably not," my colleague said, sheepish again.

My father used to tell me that Erle Stanley Gardner started off life as a lawyer. Because Gardner had no business to speak of, he used to invent mysteries and solve them -- in books -- books he wrote about a lawyer named Perry Mason. After awhile, it didn't matter that Gardner had no legal business. He sold plenty of books instead.

I thought about Gardner this morning as I pondered the Mystery of the Taped Bathroom Latch for a good 10 or 15 seconds. My guess is that our building management is fixing up an empty office for an incoming tenant and one of the workers figured out a way to get around borrowing bathroom keys. It is blue tape on the latch, the kind the painters use.

I guess Mr. Gardner must have rented space in a more exciting building.

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