Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Locked Out

On the off chance that you may have forgotten, especially given my double-fortnight of blog silence, perhaps the fact that I jumped back into things yesterday by primarily writing about commuting and work and so forth reminded you that Mondays are Working Stiff Days here at PA, which in turn might have triggered the recollection that I am very much a creature of habit. I like new experiences and I have fun getting into adventures, but if there are things I need to do over and over again I really would just as soon do them more or less the same way every time. Which is not a terribly earth-shattering stance to take, but it has been known from time to time to get me into a bit of trouble.

Obviously the time I spent at home for the birth of our second child was in one sense entirely out of the ordinary, but the days and hours themselves were something of a mixed bag, with old habits and inescapable responsibilities re-worked into new configurations or varying divergence from the norm. Previously I took the dogs for a walk every night around the same time, barring heinously inclement weather; during the paternity leave I would walk the dogs some nights or just let them run around the fenced back yard other nights, depending on how exhausting the previous 24 hours had been. Before the little girl made her debut, we were paying a housekeeping service to come clean our house every other Wednesday; once my wife stopped working we put that luxury on hold for a bit, then scheduled a cleaning for a Friday afternoon about three weeks into my leave.

Those might seem like a couple of random examples but they ended up linked in my mind forever when I took the dogs for their first walk in several days on the Friday that the housekeepers had come. Whenever we have a cleaning scheduled, anyone who might otherwise be home tends to make themselves scarce so the housekeepers can work in peace, and the housekeepers come and go as they please since they have a spare key to the front door. My wife and I always use the deadbolt to lock the front door, but the housekeepers for some reason always lock the front doorknob instead when they leave. Here’s the thing about using a deadbolt as a matter of habit: it’s almost impossible to accidentally lock yourself out, as you can’t pull a deadbolt shut behind you. You can, however, pull a door with a locked knob shut without even noticing. Of course this is exactly what happened when I was led by the leashes out the front door that fateful Friday night.

Another habit-driven aspect to take into consideration: I’m pretty terrible about misplacing things like my cell phone, wallet and keys so for half the year I tend to leave all those things in the pockets of my jacket. If I leave the house, I grab my jacket, and have with me all of those other vital items as an automatic given. But of course our little springtime bundle of joy arrived along with a pleasant change in the weather, so I didn’t put on a jacket when I went out to walk the dogs. Thus I was locked out with no keys, and no cell phone, and no wallet.

Also it was later than usual when I left the house, and later still when I got back from the necessary business, which was when I finally and fully realized my predicament, sometime after 11 p.m. or so. And the late hour had two unfortunate effects: 1, my wife was that much more tired and, as it turned out, soundly asleep; and 2, I was that much more uncomfortable with the thought of knocking on any of my neighbors’ doors for assistance. All the lights in all the houses on my cul-de-sac were out.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Of course before even contemplating knocking on a neighbor’s door I would just go ahead and knock on my own, and so I did, but to no avail. I should mention as well that just before gathering up the dogs, their leashes, the flashlight and a plastic bag I had taken leave of my wife as she lay on our bed, very near a state of dozing at the least, her upper body curled protectively around the well-zonked form of our daughter. Thus my initial impulse was to knock on the door just loudly enough to rouse my wife, without knocking so urgently as to startle her unnecessarily. Of course when this failed to produce any sight of her, I knocked more forcefully, and then for longer stretches at a go. I threw in some doorbell ringing, as well, for good measure, but I was less enthusiastic about this approach because the doorbell always makes the bigger of our two dogs bark protectively. I had already known that any doorbell ringing of any kind provokes that response, up to and including the sound of a doorbell on tv (e.g. at the beginning of the Just For Men commercial where the skanky-but-shallow neighbor stops by to borrow a cup of milk from the generic gray-haired bachelor protagonist. This spot has been in HEAVY rotation for the past month, I am just saying.) What I learned on the night of the lockout was that even if I am the one ringing the doorbell and my dog is standing right next to me and we are actually outside the house on the front porch, the dog will still bark.

The next span of time was a bit of a blur as I tried various approaches, none with any success. There are five ways into the house: the front door, garage door, and three sliding glass doors in back. All five were locked tight. (I might have forced the garage door, but never quite reached that level of desperation, or the equivalently desperate point of breaking one of the front door windows to reach in and unlock the knob. I thought about those things, but never seriously.) I threw rocks from the garden at our bedroom window, hoping those might wake my wife for at least being closer to her sleeping head, but no. (That was a first, by the by. For all my teenage hi-jinks I never had to throw rocks at someone’s bedroom window to signal it was time to sneak out or anything.) I tried pounding on the front door in different combinations, banging on the glass of the windows for a while and then thudding on the lower half. I quickly dropped any pretense of not wanting to alarm my wife, or not wanting to wake up our son (who is notoriously difficult to get back to sleep if he comes fully awake in the middle of the night) and actually considered that if I could wake up our son, that might in turn cause my wife to stir since she is evolutionarily more sensitive to the cries of our offspring under any conditions. But no such luck. I don’t know how long I kept at it, only that it was long enough that the dog stopped barking at the doorbell, even when I rang it ten times in a row.

Ultimately I decided the only way I would be able to wake my wife up would be to call the house phone however many times it took to penetrate the haze of sleep. And since I didn’t have my cell, and all the neighbors were apparently abed themselves (and I’m not really close enough with any of them to feel super-comfortable waking them up) my only option was a pay phone. I herded the dogs through the fence gate into the backyard and set off at a walk to the edge of the neighborhood, wondering if in fact pay phones exist anymore. I genuinely considered it a possibility that they had been completely phased out of the suburbs since I couldn’t remember the last time I had even taken notice of one. But this was my longshot last chance play, so I hustled over to the diner a couple of blocks away.

The diner did not have a pay phone outside and was locked up for the night, so I still don’t know if there was one inside or not. But across the street from the diner is a small (sketchy) motel, and that seemed like another likely place to find a public phone. Likely, but not factually, as it went. The front office was locked and I deliberated hitting the after-hours buzzer and throwing myself on the mercy of the night manager to ask to borrow their phone. But as I was making up my mind and looking in through the office window I saw … a bare foot. I don’t know if the night manager (or someone else) was sleeping on a cot in the office, or engaged in other nocturnal activities thereabouts, but that pretty much made the whole scene way too creepy for me and sent me off again, toward the 7-11 another block or so away.

Not to get all morbid or anything, but at this point I was exceedingly close to losing my freaking mind. Not so much about whether or not I would be able to get into my own house before dawn, because that didn’t seem like the world’s worst hardship all in all. But something about roaming my neighborhood on foot close to midnight and trying to solve an absurd problem of my own making had me partially convinced that all manner of calamity was befalling my family. I was plagued by nightmare scenarios: my wife had some kind of undiagnosed childbirth complication that took weeks to manifest but now had dropped her into a coma, the baby had somehow been accidentally smothered beside her (because of course people in comas are somehow restless sleepers prone to spontaneously rolling over), my son hadn’t woken up because he was paralyzed with lockjaw since he had sat down in the unmowed grass of our front lawn earlier that day and no doubt been thoroughly colonized by ticks, and since I had chucked the dogs in the backyard with their leashes still attached to their collars they had no doubt by now strung themselves up in mindless neurotic self-destructive fashion.

I assumed the cat was fine.

Anyway, the darkness of my soul was shortlived once I reached the arc-sodium glow of the convenience store parking lot. I am pleased to report that even this many years into the 21st century, 7-11 has a payphone outside and, furthermore, those payphones allow you to make collect calls. Which I proceeded to do. I hit the home voicemail four times before finally getting through to my lovely wife on the fifth consecutive attempt. Which might have been a blessing in disguise because that gave me an optimal amount of time to figure out the most efficient and reassuring way to convey the parameters of the situation once I had her on the line. I knew that a phone call in the middle of the night, from a number she wouldn’t recognize, would probably cause more than a little panic in my better half, but as I’ve already mentioned, I was long past the point where I was interested in anything other than getting the front door unlocked and doing whatever subsequent damage control was required.

Anyway, grateful as I am to whichever telecom micro-corporation operates the 7-11 payphone biz, I will take them to task for their automated process, which is as follows: you dial the 0+number you want, and a robo-voice asks you to say your name after the beep, and then it dials the number, and when a human being picks up at the other end the robo voice VERY SLOWLY says “You have a collect call from [recording of you saying your name]” Of course at that point my half-awake, fully-worried wife was shouting “I accept the call!” which very nearly made her miss the fact that the robo-voice was in the process of explaining that in order to accept the call she had to press 1 on her phone, which, COME ON. It makes perfect sense from an electronic processing perspective but when does anyone ever make a collect call when it isn’t an emotionally keyed-up situation where people are not at their rational, patient, instruction-following best?

At any rate, my wife dutifully pressed 1 and I quickly told her I was calling from 7-11 because I had locked myself out with neither keys nor phone. I hoofed it back home and by the time I got there found not only the front door opened but the dogs prancing around the kitchen, unclipped from their leashes, and no one suffering any medical maladies at all. My wife was mortified and hyper-apologetic about sleeping through me knocking on the door, but I told her not to give it another thought. I was already at the point of looking back on it and laughing. It was clearly the kind of thing that basically would only happen to people deeply sleep-deprived and completely off their routine due to the arrival of a newborn, and given how utterly, utterly thrilled I am about said arrival, I really can’t begrudge the odd mishap that comes along with the territory.

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