Everybody on the planet is a locker room full of lockers. Some of our lockers have real simple Combos that we are fully aware of, and some have Combos that are so impossibly complicated that we haven't a clue.
10/16/2012 03:47 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2012

Dear Mr. Mellon,

I am a security guard in a federal prison. When you say life is hard, and that it is all chaos, no offense but I get the feeling that perhaps you have not seen hard living or real chaos. Come to work with me some day, any day, and I will show you hard living and I will show you chaos. The question is what do we do with these caged humans now. Some of them -- and I do mean this -- if they could grab me, they would bite into me, tear away chunks of me, and they would spit those chunks onto my boots. They like my boots because they are expensive boots and so they want them, and because they can't have them, they resent them, and therefore they would enjoy spitting chunks of my flesh onto them. Again, my question: Is there nothing to be done with these caged animals other than to keep them in cages?


Dear Jerome,

I know under the circumstances, given the info about your nice boots and chunks of flesh and spitting and so forth, that it's in bad taste to do what I'm doing at the moment, which is dancing in a tight circle and screaming huzzah at the ceiling. Because thanks to your letter, I now have the opportunity to share with you my Combo Theory.

Jerome, remember when you were in high school and you had a locker? And that locker would not open -- just would not -- unless you twisted that little knob this way and that way in exactly the right sequence. That sequence of numbers was your Combo. Nobody, but nobody, could open your locker if they did not use the right Combo.

Well, Jerome, here's what I think is some pretty exciting news: Schools are not the only thing with lockers and Combos. People have lockers and Combos too. Everybody on the planet is a locker room full of lockers. Some of our lockers have real simple Combos that we are fully aware of, and some have Combos that are so impossibly complicated that we haven't a clue.

Jerome, let's begin with those boots of yours which I'm betting are pretty snazzy. In one of your billions of lockers, you store the concept of Boots I Like. To get you to purchase boots, your Combo knob has to be turned in a certain sequence. First, you have to see the boots, which turns your knob to the first position. Now you look at the details that are important to you -- maybe quality of leather, stitching, how the sole is affixed to the boot. If you approve of this, then your knob arrives at the next position in the required sequence. Now you check your wallet. You consider your bank balance. Yes! The knob turns to the next position and the locker springs open. You got yourself some nice new boots.

That's an example of the Simple Combo. A much more complicated Combo is the Combo, say, to your I Want To Get Married Locker. That particular locker of mine -- the I Want To Get Married Locker -- didn't get sprung open until I was 41. I lucked out. My wife and I agree that we are pleasantly stunned by our daily contentment. We have become helplessly devoted to the wild swings of life together and to the friends and family swinging with us. For both of us, the notion of cheating -- of navigating the wreckage of guilt and hurt and anxiety and deceit, in exchange for navigating the short-term kick of the pleasures of a different body, leaps beyond selfishness into the suicidal.

Yet I am convinced that in both of our locker rooms, each of us has an Infidelity locker.

That is, there exists some sequence of events -- no matter how mind-bogglingly against the odds -- that would set tumblers in motion in the precise required sequence and then a door springs open and the dark of a never-before-opened locker spills out and Huh?? You did what?? With who??

And then, surprise: life suddenly changes forever.

I'm not just talking about my wife and me. I'm talking about everybody. Everybody has an Infidelity Locker. And that's just for starters. Because get this: Everybody has a Stealing Locker. An Arson Locker. A Raping Locker. A Killing Locker. A Lying Locker. Name a crime. Name a misbehavior. Name an act of idiocy. Everybody has a locker for everything. Anybody can be made to behave any way. All that really matters is the Combo.

Which brings us, Jerome, to your terrific question. What's to be done with your caged Humans? Here's what I know: Every one of those caged animals is a locker room filled with precisely the same lockers I have in my locker room, precisely the same lockers everybody has in their locker room. And therefore, every one of those people has a Combo to lockers that shall set them free. Lockers of enlightenment. Lockers of redemption. Lockers of rebirth. Lockers which, if opened, spring open other lockers, other lockers that have been closed since being born and ignored and broken. The Combo sequence might begin with a dream, or a single line in a book, or an unexpected act of kindness, anything which presents the distant light of a new way of thinking. And if that light is followed, if there is a wanting, lockers will keep springing open, springing open, springing open.

And so what's to be done with Human Beings in cages is this Jerome: That guy who would bite a chunk out of you and spit it onto your boots? You must believe wholeheartedly that there is some sequence of events, some combination of timing and emotional readiness, no matter how unlikely, no matter how complex, that might lead to the day when there's a knock on your door and there he stands, the guy who did that to you with his teeth, and when he holds out a brand new pair of snazzy boots and really means it when he says I am sorry, a little knob in you will turn to the beginning sequence of that Combo to your locker of Forgiveness, and you say thank-you, come in.

Wouldn't that be some day? Wouldn't that be some world?

Your Fan,

Waldo Mellon