Best Things to Keep in Your Pocket

Best: Money

Second-best: Interesting fobs

Keys! We all use them to lock and unlock things. But loose, keys can get lost, puncture your skin through your pants pocket, or worse. That’s why keychains are such a handy invention—just wind your keys through a spiral ring (best), or fasten them on a chain (not as good). But what if your keys look like everyone else’s, or are of no use when performing simple on-the-fly repairs? Simple! Add a fob!

Say you have a beer. But you don’t have an opener. These clever, animal-shaped openers will turn your problem into no problem at all! Simply apply the business end of one of these guys (it’s fun to pretend the gator is thirsty) to your bottlecap, exert a little upward pressure, et voila! Cold, refreshing beer, straight from the bottle. ($1.49-$5, Cherrydale Hardware, National Geographic Museum Store)

Need to summon the police? A dog? A police dog? This anodized whistle will do both, and its kicky purple coordinates nicely with yellow (a complimentary color). ($1.49, Cherrydale Hardware)

With its gasket and screw-top, this fob provides watertight storage for your meds. Bonus: We’re pretty sure drug-sniffing dogs can’t tell if you transport weed in there instead. ($4.99, Cherrydale Hardware)

Have you ever wondered how big something was but been miles from home, where you store your rulers, etc.? That will never happen again with this measuring tape, which offers three-plus feet of sheer measuring competency. ($2.49, Cherrydale Hardware)

While it won’t replace a toolkit, this multitool will probably get you through most close-in camping trips. Pliers, wire cutter, knife, Phillips and flat-head screwdriver, file with hook (for nail cleaning?), all bouncing satisfyingly at the end of the keys to your Corolla. ($12.99, Cherrydale Hardware)

If a wearable multitool seems a bit much, pare down to this blue anodized-aluminum bottle opener, with key-shaped Phillips and flat-head screwdriver blades. ($1.99, Cherrydale Hardware)

I have been carrying one of these for years; not only does it tighten and loosen most screws, it serves as a convenient blade for slicing through packing tape. Could live without it but would miss it terribly at least once a week. I was not able to locate one in a survey of several hardware stores, and Pratt-Read did not return my phone call, but you can usually find these up by the cash register in nice old-fashioned hardware stores for a couple of bucks.

—Andrew Beaujon

Suck It, Gauguin!

(Photograph by Darrow Montgomery)

Vincent, with his large yarn head and black-bead eyes, has a red beard, carries sunflowers, and, just in case you still don’t get it, he’s missing his left ear. An embroidered tag describes his special power as inspiring creative genius. If creative genius means finding ways to explain to your friends why you have a cat toy attached to your keys, you need to familiarize yourself with the String Doll Gang.

Vincent is among the latest to join the 80-strong cast of “kooky characters” that are a big hit in Japan and Taiwan. They’re distributed in America by Kamibashi, a company founded by a husband and wife who taught English in Japan for seven years before moving to Asheville, N.C. Kristen Daniels, co-founder, writes in an e-mail that string dolls initially struck her as “a clever idea and each of the characters were very cool, as well.…We bought about 20 of them and immediately sent them to a ‘designer toy store’ selling some funky Japanese greeting cards at the time. She sold out of them right away, and we knew there was potential.”

The dolls are about 2.5 inches tall, come with a lobster claw clasp, and retail for about $10. They’re made in Thailand by people who “receive a very fair price per piece,” writes Daniels on In May 2008, she and her husband, Chris, went to Thailand and Laos to back up the claim. “We work with several different string doll groups and have agents in Thailand (a Canadian guy and his Thai wife) who are responsible for our line of dolls and all of our original String Doll Gang characters,” says Daniels. They work in a northern mountain village “and they either work from home or come to the home of the family who manages the group. It’s a great job because it’s very flexible and can be done from anywhere.”

Locally, the gang, which includes Some French Guy, Moody Cow, and Gus the Plumber, can be found at several stores, including Pulp on 14th Street NW and Barston’s Child’s Play and Wake Up Little Susie, both on Connecticut Avenue NW. We found ours at Ginza in Dupont Circle (1721 Connecticut Ave. NW),the quirky Japan-themed store that’s always worth a look. There among the String Dolls, Hello Kitty kitsch and a few more tasteful gifts—a boxed set of fancy chopsticks, say, or a ceramic sake set—are several options to make your keys stand out. In addition to Vincent and his friends, $6.95 (plus tax) will snag you “Tiger W/ Bell,” which does not possess special powers but won’t creep out your cat, either.

—Jule Banville