got OS X booting

Ok, so I'm back in an original-ish state. But now, it appears I can't boot anything but my hard drive! Why does Apple hate me. They love me when I want to use their software. Why can't they love me just for using their hardware?

So, on this Intel Mac Mini, I do not clearly remember ever having used any of the boot-up keystrokes successfully. Option? What's that? I think it's Alt, on this Windows Keyboard. Holding the Alt key down while I boot gives me no boot menu. Why do you mock me, The Web? Why do you tell me that it works? (yes, I've also tried the windows key, but I'm pretty sure that's Command, not Option). Same with "c". I booted from this CD on this very mac not 60 minutes ago -- to boot OS X when it wouldn't boot automatically. Then I got OS X booting by default again by selecting the volume in the Boot Disk. Now, I cannot boot from that very CD that saved me, no matter how furiously I depress that semi-circular letter. Maybe Apple has some secret conspiracy to not honor bootup keystrokes executed on that most hated of competitor's keyboards?

Ok, so *somehow* I booted that Live CD on this machine, what seems like ages ago -- it might have been with a C. But maybe by that time I had already destroyed the alternative method of booting.

I guess my next option is to destroy the bootability of my computer again, thus forcing the beast to look for an alternative in the optical drive. But my real goal is to get it booting from a USB stick. An impossible task which is monumental, even from this far-off vantage.