I must find a Key to the City.

I was going to start this with a synopsis of what I recall to be my first exposure to Keys to City: childhood cartoons, more specifically, a Fairly OddParents episode where the mayor grants Timmy a Key to the City of Dimmesdale. DuckDuckGoing it, I found an extremely helpful list of episodes and their synopses — here’s an excerpt:

Episode TitleBrief Summary
11My Chemical RomanceTimmy finds out that Cupid has a chemical that makes people fall in love with each other. He hasn’t used it in years. Timmy steals it’s to make Trixie love him but everything goes horribly wrong. It’s up to Timmy, Cosmo, Wanda, Poof, and Cupid to save the day.
12Big BrotherSeeing how popular Cosmo and Wanda have suddenly become in Fairy World, Timmy realise that having a baby around can get you attention and popularity, Timmy wishes for Poof to pose as a human baby (at first Wanda was against it, but Timmy convinces her that Poof is so adorable everyone should know, and uses Wanda’s motherly ego in his favor) and use him to gain popularity throughout Dimsdale. Timmy tells the people of Dimsdale that Poof is his cousin visiting from out of town (he is even able to convince his own parents of that lie) It works, everyone in town adores Poof, and Timmy clings to popularity, including getting the key to the city, free burgers at some fast food place, and of course the admiration of one Trixie Tang. However a problem occurs when Francis steals Poofs favorite toy, causing Poof to become dangerous, but also causing the anger of big borther Timmy, who gains unbelieveable strengh and beats up Francis and gets Poof’s back his toy. Later Cosmo and Wanda tell him, he got that strength magicly through Poof because of the love they have for each other.
13Brotherly LoveTimmy and Poof are kidnapped by Mrs. Dooomburger. Can Timmy and Poof get back home safely? And will Timmy learn about “Brotherly love”?

Uncharacteristically verbose and detailed “brief” summary aside, I set out to find and watch the Big Brother episode of The Fairly OddParents. Only one problem, though. It doesn’t exist. None of these episodes do. In my search for a Key to the City — something real and of importance — I have immediately stumbled upon another niche subculture: the Fairly OddParents Fanon community, a fan-driven online community dedicated to writing new episodes and characters of the Fairly OddParents animated show.

Who wrote this episode? Who wrote this summary? Trawling through the edit history, the answer to the second question is user Asa97 or Asa Capra, an aspiring animation director from France. I message him on Twitter and while he opens up about his experience in the community, he claims that someone else must have written the episode and its summary. I press him for the truth, but get bored after a couple of messages and move on. But before I end our conversation, I ask Asa about his connection to Keys to the City, which he masterfully dodges by ignoring the question.

It’s not all a figment of my imagination, though. There does indeed exist an episode of The Fairly OddParents involving a Key to the City. In the first half of Season 3 Episode 17, Miss Dimmsdale, where “Vicky competes in the Miss Dimmsdale Beauty Pageant, but plays dirty to win,” the prize for the beauty pageant is a Key to the City and the power to be the Dimmsdale’s mayor for a day. I buy the episode for $1.99 on Amazon and watch it, but I’ve spent for no reason — a common theme. Nowhere in the episode is a Key to the City depicted. It is only mentioned in passing, alongside mayoral powers.

None of this matters. What was supposed to be a fun opening introduction turned into another wild goose chase. I am no closer to finding the Keys to the City — any city. Luckily for me, just like with nearly everything, there’s a Wikipedia list for this. I just have to track down the weakest person on that list and contact them to see — if not steal — their key. As the age old saying goes: “the dead are very weak” and fortunately many of the people on that list are dead.

The most dead person on that list? Viscount Cornbury, the 18th century colonial governor of New York, was awarded a Key to the City of New York by Mayor Philip French in 1702. The very first Key of the City awarded in the United States lies in the hands of the descendants of a dead British aristocrat, who are aristocrats themselves. Have we really won the Revolutionary War when the very people we fought against have the “Freedom of the City” and can still enter New York City as they please?

Fighting for the sovereignty of the United States, Hallie, an unpaid Quoc Thoughts intern, tracks down Alex Torrado, a male model who shares the same name with a direct descendant of the Viscount Cornbury. I send him a DM Instagram and ask if he is indeed a descendent of the Viscount. He replies “Maybe …” and I am intimidated. I do not follow up.

Hallie also tracks down Harry Bligh, a BBC journalist in his twenties. I contact him bring up the fact that he shares the same name as the heir apparent to be the 13th Early of Darnley. He’s “never been asked that question before,” but is “fascinated” and plans to ask his 90-year-old grandfather when he visits this weekend. He is not a descendant of the Viscount.

Perhaps instead of just finding a Key to the City, I could have one for myself. What have I done to deserve a Key to the City? Not much, but the bar is low — if Scarlett’s Magic, a really tall cat can receive the Key to the City of Corona, Calif., surely I can as well. I’m nearly four times as tall as that cat!

In California, it seems that being big is the most surefire way of getting a Key to the City. God, Who is “huge” or “very big” depending on who you ask, was given a Key to the City of Stockton, Calif. My hometown of Westminster, Calif., however, has never given out any Keys to the City — what a better way to start than with me, one of her tallest sons? Given the demographics of the city, I have calculated that I fall around the 90th percentile in terms of height — less than 9,000 people in the city are taller than I am. I tried to contact the City of Westminster to request a key, but their Twitter DM’s are closed and I do not know of another way to contact the city.

There was this quest in RuneScape that required you to use some clay in order to copy a prison guard’s key — the same old-timey kind as God’s Key on the right — and a few months ago, I used a machine at the grocery store to copy the key to my apartment — the kind we’re all used to, like Scarlett’s Magic’s Key on the left. Clearly keys of all shapes and sizes can be copied. I could set out to copy a Key to the City, but this begs a larger question: what’s the point of a Key to the City?

Many sources tell me that the Keys are symbolic — symbolic of the residents’ trust — but Buzzfeed’s “Which Type Of Bread Are You?” quiz tells me I’m Soft Pretzels. It’s not stated directly in the results but I can only assume it means that I take things literally and do not have time for metaphors or symbolism. The keys here are clearly physical items — what do they unlock?

I walk down the street to Broadway Locksmith Inc. Except I didn’t. I wrote that sentence a couple of months ago and never got around to doing it. And now it’s rainy all the time. I don’t like going out in the rain. It’s also gloomy like every day of the week and really miss seeing the ocean.

Surely, though, it’s just a key like any other and if I can recreate a key with the same function as a Key to the City, I will have a Key to City. While I do not have the skills or machinery replicate a physical key, I am a chef, a baker, and an inventor of foods. In 1984, the mayor of Seattle gave Bob Hope a quiche with a design of the Space Needle, claiming that the city does not award keys. The source is a Seattle Times article from the same year, which I cannot find online.

I love going through old records to confirm facts that no one cares enough to even doubt. I had planned to go to my local branch of the Seattle Public Library who told me that they should have microfiches of the Seattle Times from 1984, but it rains all the time here. I don’t like going out in the rain. It’s also gloomy like every day of the week and really miss seeing the ocean.

I bake/buy (it’s the latter) a quiche and decorate it with an image of the Space Needle using Sriracha — it is the condiment I have with the thinnest nozzle. I have done what Jimi Hendrix was unable to (they were going to give him a Key but cancelled) and I now possess a Key to the City of Seattle, though, strictly speaking, I guess I no longer possess it. It is in me — and, soon, it won’t be.

Perhaps the real keys were the friends we made along the way. I may not have found a Key to the City but I will never forget the bonds that I have formed with Asa Capra, Harry Bligh, the person who answered my phone call at the Capitol Hill branch of the Seattle Public Library, and Jimi Hendrix.

Actually, no. It would be uncharacteristic of me to end on such an unsatisfying note — downright communist, if anything. I had tried stealing, earning, and baking a key, but I had given up before even trying the most American thing of all: buying a key. I go on eBay and type in “key to city” — I am immediately inundated with pages and pages of results: Boston, Omaha, Las Vegas, Indianapolis! I have my pick. For the price of thirty-five McChickens when they were still a dollar each, I can have free access to Miami Beach and Portland — with enough leftover for half of the key to New Orleans.

I’m not sure that any of these keys are real, though. Almost every single one is labeled “Vintage Authentic Key to the of ___” and they all look virtually the same. Looking them up returns nothing and I’m pretty sure that most of them were sold at one point as souvenirs or forged en masse. One of these stands out to me, though: it’s titled “Vintage Skeleton Key To The City Stockton California Solid Brass Bottle Opener” and the seller claims “I do believe this was actually awarded as an official key.” If you’d been reading carefully (and I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t — I don’t even read these to proofread), you would have noticed that Stockton was the same city that awarded God the Key to the City. In fact, that was the only key that was awarded by the city, and if this was an official key, then this must be God’s key. I buy it for fifty dollars and to own a thing once owned by someone else makes me them. I have become God.

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