Monday, September 3, 2007

Shoulda Ordered In...


What do the following things have in common?
a) a can of Diet Coke
b) a milk carton
c) a paper clip
d) a Continental One Pass card
e) a New York State Driver's license
Click Read More to find out.


I was sitting at home, playing on my laptop. Larry was at work. He would not be home until 8:00 in the morning, the end of a twenty-two hour shift. The life of a NYC transit police sergeant is one of long, shitty hours and extreme heat.

At 7:03, Larry called me. I told him I was finishing off the last of the Chinese food. In addition to this, I had three Sam Adams beers.

Something you should know about me: I’m always, always hungry—in my head. Always looking for something to eat, at all times of the day. Even right after a massive dinner, I’ll think of dessert, even though I don’t always act on it.

I’ve had food issues since I was a kid. Since yia yia (Greek for grandmother) told me I needed to eat because I was too skinny. Little did she know how this would affect us down the road. Every time I gain weight, I blame it on her. This is what they call transference.

Something else you should know about me: I can not be trusted when left home alone. I become a gluttonous slob. So, at 9:45, I decided that I’d go across the street for not one, but two Sicilian slices of pizza. And since the three beers and helped me to relax, I thought I’d finally start on my long-awaited travel journal after eating and washing the pizza grease off my hands.

I put on some shorts, sneakers and a white undershirt. I grabbed my wallet and my cellphone and put them in my pocket. As I grabbed my keys, I decided that I should throw out some of the beer bottles and soda cans that were accumulating on the countertop. When I came back with my pizza I would clean some more.

I walked out the door and let it close by itself. I pulled it shut solidly and walked to the compactor room. I dumped the few cans and bottles into the recycling bin and checked for my keys. I checked again. I took everything out of my pockets and slapped my thighs.

Fuck. I raced back to the apartment door to find it locked. Double fuck. What did I just do? In my mind, the image of the door locking repeated itself sadistically.

So I finally managed to do it. I locked myself out. I must have put the keys back down when I grabbed those cans and bottles. Stupid idiot.

I needed to find the Super right now. I ran down to the lobby to find Allison’s apartment number on the buzzer panel. At this moment, she was my only hope. It wasn’t too late, so she was probably home. And if she’s out, I’d just wait for her to come back. I ran back up to knock on her door. An angry dog barked and snarled from the apartment across the hall. The noise made it impossible to hear if anyone was in there, so I walked away. I’d go down to the lobby and ring her buzzer.

At the elevator, I heard a door unlocking. “Oh, please let that be Allison,” I thought. A man peeked out of his door and just sorta stood looking at me.

“Hi, I just needed to measure something in the elevator,” he said, producing a piece of Plexiglas. I held the door for him while he held the piece of Plexiglas against the wall in the car.

“Okay, thanks,” he said, and walked to his apartment.
Stop him, said the voice in my head. “Excuse me. Do you know if Allison is around tonight? I’m locked out of my apartment.” I must have looked particularly pathetic, because he invited me into his apartment as he searched for the number and wrote it down on a scrap of paper.

I looked around his apartment. The one-bedrooms in this building are much larger than I’d thought. This one has a full sized stove. I’m going to start saving now.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”
“Bob,” she said offering a handshake.
“Thank you, Bob. I’ll call Allison and see what happens.”

As I walked to the door, I noticed a sign on the back of his door: Remember keys, cell phone, wallet. How apt. “I need a sign like this on my door too,” I joked.
I walked down to the lobby and called Allison from there. I got her voicemail and left a message. I had a feeling she was probably gone, as it was Labor Day weekend. When she called back a few minutes later, I was elated—until I heard how far away and crackly her voice sounded. Then I was sick to my stomach.

“I’m not in the building right now. I’m not even in town right now. And Angel (her boyfriend) is also out of town,” she added. I cringed hearing these words. “What about your friend down the block?” she asked.

“She’s in France,” I stated. So, with one phone call, three of my possible solutions were eliminated.

Since it was still rather early, I called Larry on his cell phone. Because he works in the subway where cell signals dare not go, his phone is turned off most of the time. I left a message and opened my wallet. After seeing that I had a good amount inside, I deliberated my options:

a) I could leave, hop in a cab and stay at my parents’ house in Astoria. But I was too embarrassed to tell them what I’d done.

b) I could stay, and wait for Larry to call back. I’ll meet with him and get his keys.

Larry is good about returning phone calls. I’m sure he’ll check his phone. Any second he’s going to go up to the surface for a cigarette break. It will be any second now, I thought, putting my wallet away.

Ten minutes later, desperation kicked in. I got in the elevator and headed back upstairs. I suddenly remembered what Pam told me back when I worked with her at
Citi Habitats. “You can use a MetroCard to open a locked door.” I never saw her actually do it, but I still believed it.

Of course, I had no MetroCard and leaving the building to get one would leave me stranded out on the street, where I’d be at the mercy of the Friday night drunks, bums and muggers. I looked in my wallet. The closest thing was my Continental Airlines One Pass card. It was laminated, so I started to jam it into the space between the lock and the door jam.

After an hour of bending, twisting, flexing and jamming the card every which way, I had to stop and rest. Luckily with the holiday weekend, there was hardly any people around to see me do this and call the police. And good luck trying to explain that I really live here with my only piece of ID showing an Astoria address.

I put the mangled card away and set out to find another tool. I had to activate my inner MacGyver and get creative. I went to the compactor room on my floor to find something in the trash that I could use. Any other night, the bins would be full of trash. Tonight, they were almost empty; just a few bottles and cans.

But six floors also means six other compactor rooms, so I went down to the first floor and found a milk carton. I tore it apart and figured the cardboard was slim enough to work.

After a ten-minute struggle, the smelly milk carton parts went back to the bin.
On the second floor, I found a booklet. I tore the cover off and tried again. Nothing. Yet, I could hear the fucking latch clicking ever so lightly, as if whispering, “Just go to sleep. You’ll never get in.”

I gave up and rested. My knees were sore from the rugburn. The hallway was hot, and there was no ventilation. I was sweating now. If anything, I’d lose a few pounds by morning.

At 11:45, I heard a door open down the hall. I wanted to run and hide, since this was just so humiliating now. It was one of the drunk lesbians I’m so fond of mocking. I put my head down, as if that would make me invisible.
“Are you okay?” she asked, seeing me sitting on the floor.

“I’m locked out. Allison is away and Larry won’t be home until 8:00 in the morning.”
“Dude. I’m so sorry. Do you need anything? Something to drink? Something to eat? Aww…dude.” Now I felt truly homeless. Maybe I could have spent the night outside and made some money.

“No, I’m good, but thanks.” I knew that if she gave me even a slight amount of water, the urge to pee would be crippling. And where would I do this?

“Something to read?” she asked, holding the elevator door open.
“No, don’t worry about me. I’m sure Larry will be calling any second.”
She got in the elevator and when the door closed, I made another frantic effort with the mangled One Pass card in my pocket. I could easily imagine the trailer for an independent film based on this: “A tale of desperation and triumph. An epic saga about determination and the will to live…”

Another few minutes and I was frustrated and tired all over again. I wanted to kick the metal, fire-proof door down, but I’d probably shatter a bone in my leg. Luck was not on my side tonight. In fact, I believed I’d have done something to deserve this fate, so as I crammed the card in once again, I prayed silently for a miracle.
The lesbian returned and asked me if I needed anything. She told me that I could just knock on her door.

“Thanks,” I said, as she took one last look at me before closing her door.

A few minutes later, the other lesbian came stumbling out of the apartment towards me. She’s the older one who can’t hide her drunkedness as well. Right now, she was so drunk, her knees knocked together when she walked. I tried not to inhale in the badly ventilated hallway. I explained why I was pathetically sitting on the floor.
“You’re a cop, right?” she asked. No. A cop would be a little more resourceful than this, don’t you think? A cop would be back inside sleeping by now.
“No, that’s Larry. He’s at work.” I’m the gluttonous loser who has more air in his head than anything else.
“I have an idea. Let me go get something. Tell your cop boyfriend not to arrest me. I’m really sneaky. I can open that for you.”

As she stumbled away, I deliberated the situation. Sure, it would be great if she could open the door, but then she would know how to open it anytime she wanted. Larry would not be happy if I told him that the oft-fighting lesbian couple down the hall knew how to get into our apartment with a book of matches or a CD booklet.

Again, she came fumbling down the hall. She had a piece of cardboard in her hand roughly the size and shape of a bookmark. Unfortunately it did nothing, although she swore up and down that this was the trick she used at the salon she manages. Although she used an ID card with it. Eventually she gave up and I thanked her for helping me. She told me to just knock on her door if I needed anything. I looked around the hallway. I tried to imagine where I might hide a spare key in the future. And then I imagined someone else finding the key and trying every lock on the floor until they got to ours and cleaning us out.

I started to nod off when a high-pitched scream woke me up. I assumed the lesbians were fighting again, but it stopped. I headed for the stairwell where I sat down and stared at the exposed bricks. If I wanted, I could count all the bricks, much like a lunatic in an insane asylum counting the holes in the drop ceiling tiles.

I cradled my head in my hands. Could I sleep in the stairwell? I heard the scream again, but this time, it was longer. I realized it was not a person, but someone’s dog. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, but if someone was torturing a dog right now, I’d have to go kick someone’s ass, tired as I was. I’m sure I’d find the energy necessary to kick down someone else’s door. Oh, please. I’m such a wimp. I might have the guts to call 911, but only while hiding in the compactor room with the door closed and the light off.

I went back to the compactor room and looked again. One of the Diet Coke can’s I threw out earlier was still there. I grabbed it and creased it in the middle. I flexed it back and forth until the can tore open. There was some liquid left in the can that got all over my hands. I tried to fashion an aluminum tool out of it. Did you know how much noise a Diet Coke can makes in an empty hallway at 1 a.m.? Enough to make you stop. I dropped the pieces back and returned to my apartment door.

I tried to sleep again, but I could hear more noises. The elevator kept moving and I could hear it opening and closing on other floors constantly. I worried that someone might creep up on me and steal my wallet, so I took out all the extra cash and credit cards and put them under the door. I kept my driver’s license and about $40.00.

The elevator door opened and Marge, the neighbor across the hall appeared.

“Are you okay? What happened to your knees?”
Again, I explained my predicament. And again, I felt like a bum as she offered me something to drink.
“I have an air mattress. It’s only down in the storage room. It’s no trouble at all.”
I turned her down. I figured that this was my fault so I needed to suffer through it.
“You know what? Let me see your door.” I said. I wanted to see why this was impossible to do. Apparently, the latches on these doors have three little parts that go in two different directions. I think they’re designed to be impossible to be opened by, say, an idiot with food issues who locked himself out.

We tried to brainstorm, in an effort to figure out how to do this. I thought that with all the books lining her walls, that she’d have at least one cheap cardboard bookmark, but that was not meant to be. She offered up a paperclip, which did nothing.

“At least I know that if I can’t get in after three hours, no one can.”
Marge wanted me to call a locksmith, but I tried to explain that would mean a new lock, new keys and a frustrated Larry at 8:00 in the morning.

“They don’t have to break it, they can just pop it open.”
“Really? Alright, it’s worth a call.”

There was a sticker on the door: 24-hour locksmith. I dialed, and with each ring, my hopes faded. The sticker should have read: 24-hour locksmith (except for the Friday before Labor day) I got answering machine and left a pathetic message. I’m sure that my asking them to open the lock without breaking it sounded like a disgruntled lover trying to ransack his ex’s apartment in the middle of the night.

After declining Marge’s offer of a folding chair, she went back inside. I could hear the sounds of her bathroom: running water, a toilet seat, and most bizarrely, the sound of someone apparently peeing while standing, followed by the sound of a toilet flushing. Could Marge actually be a hermaphrodite?

I went back to the compactor room to retrieve the aluminum pieces I’d torn apart earlier. In cramming them into the tiny gap, I found that they tore apart. I went back and trashed them.

I made a frantic last-ditch effort to use my driver’s license to pry the latch open. With each try, I checked the license for damage, but found it surprising resilient. Good ol’ government plastic. Now, if it could only I could get it in just the right spot.

It was almost 3:30 when I gave up for good. Maybe I can sleep for five hours.
I must have changed positions about 32 times. I woke up and looked at my watch: 6:00. Great, another two hours now…

Just then, the elevator door opened and out stepped a shocked Larry.
“What are you doing here?”
“I got locked out. I’ve been out here since 10:00 last night.” I said, wearily. He felt awful when I told him that I’d been trying to call him.

He put the key in the key in the lock and it was the most beautiful sound in the world: a satisfying series of clicks, followed by the creaking of the opening door. Lucky for me, he was too concerned to notice the messy apartment I never cleaned up.

Larry likes to joke about me sleeping in the hall when I snore, so next time I can just say, “Been there, done that."

3 comments:

S* said...

"I worried that someone might creep up on me and steal my wallet, so I took out all the extra cash and credit cards and put them under the door."

I love that line. It totally sums up your desperation and irrational sleep-deprived state of mind.

eleni said...

awww, honey...that is the saddest story I have readin a long time..of course, you could have called me..actually, I was in the hospital that Friday, so it would have been another stroke of bad luck for you...awww...bet you'll never forget your keys again, huh?..

poody said...

I would never have lasted as long as you did my friend.