Dorothy Wilhelm: Toilet diving and other ways car keys go missing

contributing writerAugust 5, 2012 

I was having a pretty good day until I dropped my car keys in the toilet. It wasn’t even my toilet. I watched in horror as they sank like special effects from “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.”

You really can’t afford to let smart keys or fobs get wet because their little brains won’t work and may have to be replaced at great expense. I had to act fast. What are the chances of that?

Trying to be practical, I was carrying my keys in my waistband so I wouldn’t need a purse, when they slipped out and into the unused toilet bowl. Statistics tell us that toilet diving is the most common water mishap likely to overtake keys, even more common than dropping them in the swimming pool or off a boat.

I was not at my own home, so I tried not to disturb the hostess’s other guests by yelling “So where’s the disinfectant?” All I could think of was that wet little brain (the key fob, not mine) that would no longer unlock the car door if I couldn’t rescue it. As we all know, if you lock the car with the remote, and have to unlock it with the key, the alarm will sound until you can work out how to turn it off, or forever, whichever comes first.

I comforted myself with the fact that my dog considers toilet water a gourmet beverage and at least one study shows that this water is cleaner than the water in many junior high school drinking fountains. “I’m going in,” I said grimly, visualizing myself in a black wet suit, like a hero from a B movie. I dived in. Well, just my hand.

I’ve had my share of problems with car keys. I’ve lost my keys or locked them in the car several times, just as more than a million and a half Americans do every year. When my oldest daughter was a baby, I had to call the sheriff to get her out of our accidentally locked station wagon. I think he used a coat hanger.

“You’ll never get the door open with that,” I wailed.

He did, though, with one deft motion. “Never say never, lady,” he remarked.

I once dropped my keys into the elevator shaft on the fourth floor of the Tacoma Security building; they went through that teeny tiny crack between floor and car. And that was not as bad as the day I locked the keys in the car with the motor running in front of an airport motel. It was very hard to explain to the man from the auto club then, and I don’t care to try to explain it now, either.

Back to the current crisis. I fished the keys out of the water and wondered how to get them clean and dry. I washed the keys and my hands carefully, trying to keep the keys dry. There was a nicely lettered and framed sign on the wall that said, “These towels are for guests. If you are not a guest, please dry your hands on your clothes.” Obediently, I dried my hands on the seat of my jeans, borrowing the time-honored hygienic practice of 12-year-old boys. But how to clean and dry the keys? Water was flowing out of the fob into a puddle on the counter, which I mopped frantically.

We have to keep this in perspective, I reminded myself. People drop all sorts of things in their bathroom receptacles, like dental retainers, dentures and yes, car keys.

Once I dropped my whole battery pack into a similar location while doing a TV shoot. I brought it to my director, saying innocently, “It just quit working. I don’t know why.” When he opened the pack to take out the battery, water flooded his shirt. We’re not very friendly any more.

People tend to avoid shaking your hand when you return from dealing with such an incident, but unbelievably, when I pressed the button, the remote still worked.

I learned that people who have no waist shouldn’t try to carry things in their waistband. I guess you’d call this a key discovery. The drive home was uneventful.

Dorothy Wilhelm is a professional humorist and national speaker. Her book, “No Assembly Required, Volume 2” (Laughing All The Way) will be available soon. Details at Contact Dorothy by email at

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