A “key bump” is a small amount of cocaine snorted through the nose off the tip of an ordinary house key. Key bumps are especially nice at bars, or other party venues, that lack table space or any semblance of privacy. A quick run to the bathroom or turning ones back ought to provide enough time to perform the key bump ritual. It goes as follows: Insert the key into one’s little dope baggy, making sure a good amount of blow is wedged in the crevices of the brass key, insert into the nose, and snort away.
Suddenly, the people around you are most interesting. You are more interesting. The fear of rejection and the mountain of student debt at the precipice of collapse are a distant worry. There’s another cold beer in your hand. It doesn’t matter what you came here to do because there’s a woman across the bar giving you the eye, you’ve won your last game of pool; the night is looking alright.
Maybe I would take a girl home. Maybe we would sleep together. Maybe we wouldn’t. You can’t assume you’ll sleep together; if that thought is at the front of your mind, she’ll never—pay attention boys—never go home with you. But the ritual was always there. Getting drunk, sneaking off to get some of that white girl, and looking out over the bar, the party, the banal get-together, and thinking: who are these people and who am I? When I met the Buddhists, it was on a particularly bad night.
I was deep in my key bump ritual. My gram of blow was nearly gone and that made me sad. The Russian who sold to me was nowhere to be found. Molotav’s, in Lower Haight, was very busy, and no one had met my eye. I was lonely and stumbled out of the bar feeling the hunger only a night of drinking could bring on.
Ahead was the vegan sandwich shop Love’N Haight. It’s been around for nearly twenty years. It is run and operated by a woman and her children. I believe the man I saw there sometimes was her husband. According to a trusted friend, they are practicing Buddhists. I think they are Chinese. Maybe Tibetan. Since their opening, they have transitioned from a meat serving establishment, to vegetarian, to a strictly vegan eatery. It’s a staple in the surrounding community. And on this particular night it was packed.
It’s a small place that’s cash only, with strange murals on the wall, and no air conditioning. There were at least twenty people ahead of me. The crowd, not as intoxicated but getting there, roared in the line. I was already sweating from doing too much blow, and the heat from the shop and the fluorescent lights overhead was overwhelming.
I had two twenty dollar bills in my hand and a feeling of helplessness mixed with the courage only cocaine can bring. I marched to the front of the line, cut-off whomever was speaking to the woman who runs the joint, and made her the following offer:
“Get me the vegan duck on a Dutch-crunch and you can have it all.”
I flashed her the two twenties.
She looked at me, and turned to the man behind her, seemingly her husband. They had tired looks on their faces and said something brief and inaudible to one another. Another pause. The old man stepped to the counter beside the old woman. The man in the line who I had cut-off was huffing and puffing with his hands on his hips. The couple took another look at me. The husband, let’s call him, waved me over to the side, and asked me what I wanted.
The old woman whipped my sandwich together. I handed them the two twenties and they accepted only one. The old woman handed me the sandwich. She did not smile but asked me to be careful. I brushed it off and was already stuffing the sandwich in my mouth before exiting the building.
I walked out into the busy street to see other people like me. People drinking, partying, probably sneaking off to have their own key bump ritual somewhere and thought: I just bought a Buddhist. I left with yet another example of how everyone has a price. I thought about all the myths people hold onto to keep themselves sane: the hope in facts-as if they made anyone more at peace. God, philosophy, the myth of “the one”, and even the religion of the key bump and felt utterly disappointed. I walked home feeling convinced that anyone would skate the rules just to get a little ahead.
Time went on, things happened, and I was starting to feel less depressed.
I went back to that night and because things in my life had changed and I had the courage to consider the following: Instead of the Buddhists accepting my bribe as evidence of the world’s moral failure, maybe it was its opposite. I had a choice in how I interpreted the exchange, just like I had a choice in how I felt. Perhaps they saw me: a desperate not-so-young man and decided to do me a favor[i].
My Key bump ritual was coming to an end. I needed a new faith. I know, as a rational agent, they accommodated me to me out the door. At most, it was a passing moment of pity. But maybe they saw me, and understood my desperation, and did me one simple kindness. Perhaps they took the money, made me the food, and got me the hell out of there because that’s exactly what I needed. If I am willing and have the courage to see it like that, other events in my life could bear re-interpretation.
To be continued
[i] To be specific, perhaps they saw what Sartre called “bad faith”