Where my family grew up, in northern Maine, houses were not locked. If one needed to borrow something, you would just let yourself in to that neighbor's home, take what you needed, and leave a note. With large families and little means, cooperation was a survival issue, and privacy was not part of the lifestyle. There are still many places where doors are not locked.
Although New York City is infinitely safer than it was 40 years ago, that does not mean security is no longer an issue, nor does it mean you can let your guard down. I lock car doors everywhere I go, even at my family's home in the country. If you click here, you will see an extraordinary photo for a New Yorker - the only time I have displayed a photo from out of state on this website to illustrate a point.
Keys, therefore, take on a much larger meaning here. So much so, that an entire episode of the TV series Seinfeld was about apartment keys. In this episode (The Keys), with complex arrangements of loaning and borrowing, keys take on mythic proportions. In one scene, Kramer says:
No, no, no, it's o.k. I don't care about the keys. It's my fault. I gave the keys away with my stupidity. I broke "the covenant of the keys."
I don't want the keys back! No, I'm glad the way things turned out. I was clingin' to those keys, man! Like a branch on the banks of a raging river. And now I have let go. And I'm free...to go with the current. To float. And I thank you.
In another scene Kramer says:
Because you see, George, having the keys to Jerry's apartment? That kept me in a fantasy world. Every time I went over to his house, it was like I was on vacation. Better food, better view, better TV. And cleaner? Oh - much cleaner. That became my reality. I ignored the squalor in my own life because I'm looking at life, you see, through Jerry's eyes. I was living in twilight, George. Living in the shadows. Living in the darkness...like you.
Although an outsider may see this as a nonsensical, farcical indulgence of one of life's minutiae, it is not. In a large city like New York, there is no transparency regarding homes or lives. Often you may be acquainted with someone for years and perhaps only know that person's building address or neighborhood, having never seen his or her apartment. Our homes here are sacrosanct. In tandem with the security issues, to give someone keys to your home is the ultimate act of trust. If someone ever entrusts you with their apartment keys in New York City, please act responsibly, lest you break the covenant of the keys...