Avi Rockoff

The Great Escapers

Wikimedia Commons/Author illustration
Wikimedia Commons/Author illustration

A bit of comic relief, with no redeeming social importance

At the interstate rest stop, I looked down at my car’s electronic key in the cup well and wondered what it had in mind.

Author photo/illustration

Keys are not supposed to have minds. But when the stakes are high, you need to be sure.

And the stakes were very high. It was Erev Shabbat, we were driving through relentless, pelting rain, and still had 130 miles to go. Flash floods were reported ahead that might close off highways and roads. We only had one car key; no redundancy. If that key were to decide to leap out of the car when the door opened, then roll and hide under the chassis, we would be stuck. We would have to spend Shabbat and yomtov with nothing but a convenience store, Auntie Anne’s non-kosher donuts, and restrooms.

I therefore kept a close eye on the cup well near my right hand.  Checking every 5 minutes might not stop the cup from jumping out, but did confirm that it had not yet done so.

Why would my car key want to jump out? Exuberance? The joy of freedom? The glee of malice?

These thoughts are not rational.  But with high stakes, rationality is overrated.

Other common objects often associated with similar stakes are: passports, mobile phones, and wallets.


Wikimedia Commons/Author illustration

Passport stakes are always high. Traveling abroad, you must present a passport when you get where you’re going. If you tell the clerk, “I had it when we left, but it jumped out,” they might lock you up in the airport, or frog-march you onto a plane going back.

That is why they make passport carriers with zippered compartments, to keep passports from jumping out. Still, I usually tap the zipper often, just to be sure the passport did not escape. Houdini laughed at zippers.

The problem, of course, is not when the passports are in the packet, but when you take them out to show people. Passports know that is their chance to get away. I know, because I saw Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke.

I also know from personal experience.  Decades ago I was sitting at the El Al gate waiting to board. An airline employee spotted me, scowled, and strode over brandishing a passport. With the gentle solicitude for which Israeli officials are famous, he held out the passport and said, “Is this yours? It was on the floor. Next time, take care of it, will you?”

I know that while my passport was lying splayed on the floor, it was chortling its fool passport head off.

Mobile phones

Mobile phones are not the problem they used to be, because of electronic apps that, “Find My Device.” When you find them–anywhere in the cosmos–you click a button to make them buzz, or lock them so no one can get in except for certain Israeli cybersecurity firms.

Such apps give you the false confidence that you can find anything the same way. Until recently, there was no app to “Find my Wallet.”  Lately they have developed GPS “air tags” that you can attach to most anything.

Wikimedia Commons/Author photo/illustration

Air tags have many uses. Elders who wander. Youth trying to find itself.

Author photo


I started worrying that my wallet would disappear when I was in high school and rode the New York City subways. My left rear pocket where I kept my wallet had a button to secure it. We had however just read David Copperfield, so I knew that the Artful Dodger and his crew would make short work of a button.

I checked often, hoping no onlooker would wonder why this kid kept tapping his left buttock.

My wallet then held little worth losing. Nowadays a lost wallet can be a big disturbance. For one thing, licenses must be renewed. (Just thinking about replacing my Te’udat Zehut gives me hives.)

Losing credit cards is a bigger problem. These must be canceled, unusable till replacements arrive. Auto-renewals get bollixed up, causing painful streaming disruptions.

But maybe you think this is all much ado about little. Would my wallet just jump out of my pocket to have some fun?

On a US visit before the chagim, our local shul held late ma’ariv at 9:00 PM. One evening I went straight back home, with a short pit stop. Back in the house, I checked my left rear pocket–nothing there.

Had I even brought my wallet with me? Was it still in my office at home? It was not, not even wedged into the seat cushion, where it had hidden before. Perhaps in my bedroom. No.

With grim foreboding, I headed back to shul, now locked and dark. I keyed in the evening security code and made my way to the restroom. I opened the door, flipped on the light, and, silhouetted against the floor by the blinding fluorescent lights, there it was!

Author photo

“Silly wallet!” I cried, as we reunited. “Did you think I would abandon you here, on the cold floor, with no friend but a roll of 2-ply tissue?!”

I am sure I saw the wallet smile back, sheepishly.

Author photo/illustration

Heading home, I pledged greater vigilance, and a committed quest for deeper communion with my keys, wallet, passport….

Sorry, gotta go!  My left ear is ringing.  Either I found one of my objects, or one of them found me….

Wikimedia Commons/Author photo/illustration
About the Author
Avi Rockoff came on aliyah with his wife Shuli in March 2022. They live in Jerusalem. His new book, This Year in Jerusalem: Aliyah Dispatches, has been recently published by Shikey Press.
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