Let me preface the following story by saying that I took every precaution to not end up in the situation that I did. But sometimes the universe just conspires against you, despite your best efforts. And that, folks, is what happened to me.
After last week’s Z&S meeting, I walked out of my apartment with Zelda, a full trash bag in my hand and keys in my pocket, with every intention of dropping the trash in our building receptacle and heading back inside to lounge on the couch with my roommate’s dog. Alas, fate had other plans.
Trash successfully deposited, I turned around to open the door and realized I had grabbed the wrong set of keys. I had the keys to the basement, to my mailbox, and to the backyard, but not to the front door of the building or my apartment door. Zelda, already striding down the sidewalk towards the train, turned around with a worried glance at my exclamation of horror. Hoping against hope, I tried the door and found it unlocked. Relief flooded my veins as I pushed it open, waved to Zelda, and told her I was good and that I’d left my apartment door ajar, which I had.
Ascending the stairs, however, my heart fell into my stomach. A brisk summer wind had pushed the door to my apartment closed, leaving me — keyless, phoneless, walletless — on one side and a whimpering dog on the other. I sat down on the landing and cursed my own stupidity for grabbing the wrong keys. The dog continued to whine as I then tried to break into my own apartment, to no avail. I tried to pick the lock, sans proper tools. I climbed up onto the roof, descended the fire escape, and attempted to crawl in through the window. Ten minutes later, I was assured that our apartment was in fact pretty burglar proof, but at a loss as to what to do next.
Having thus failed to break and enter into my own apartment, I bit the bullet and knocked on my neighbor’s door. We’ve lived in our apartment for over two years and have never really known any of our building mates. Neighbors have never been a part of my life in New York. Even though we shared the floor of our Manhattan sixth floor walk-up with another apartment, we never knew anything about them other than what we gleaned from the loud domestic disputes that spilled into the hallway. And since moving to Brooklyn, the people in our building have rotated out every six months or so, so we tend to go by the old Frost philosophy of “Good fences make good neighbors,” i.e., “Don’t bother us and we won’t bother you.” But trapped in my hallway, with no idea when any of my roommates would be home, I decided I had no other choice.
Luckily, our (minimal) interactions with our current across-the-hall neighbors have been mostly positive, and on this Monday afternoon one of them was blessedly home. I asked if I could use his phone, mostly just to let one of my roommates know I was locked out and to ask when she would be home. At this point, I realized I had another problem: Child of the 21st century that I am, the only phone numbers I have memorized are my parents’. The rest are in my phone, which was sitting on the coffee table just behind a locked door.
I Googled Stephanie’s workplace and tried calling her there, but she was away from her desk. So I did what I do in times of trouble: I called the bar. Though my neighborhood hang wasn’t officially open yet, I had a feeling Casey would already be there stocking the shelves. Fortunately, he pulled through, answering the phone and offering me safe haven at my home away from home until one of the roomies came back.
As I walked the fifteen minutes to the bar, I realized that I had hardly ever walked alone in this neighborhood without my headphones on or without looking down at my phone. This was Bushwick unplugged, a whole new world for me. It was a pretty good day to be locked out, actually. It was sunny; it was daytime (the last time I was locked out of somewhere, it was Zelda’s apartment (pictured above), and if I remember correctly it was both nighttime and quite cold). Armed with a plan of action and the prospect of beer, my panic subsided, and I was able to really observe my neighborhood for the first time.
The sun beating down on my shoulders and my roommate’s shoes on my feet (I’d slipped them on to take the trash out, incorrect size seeming trivial for a quick trip up and down the stairs), I took to the sidewalks. I passed open hydrants, heard Spanish speeding off the tongues of the elderly park goers and the click-click of at least three games of dominoes. It was lovely. Living in New York, we get jaded very quickly. We think about the fastest way to get from our home to the train and back, scurrying from Point A to Point B. We avoid eye contact. We avoid any contact. This forced exile from my home and my phone made me confront the environment I live in. And it was actually kind of nice.
I arrived at the bar, borrowed a computer to notify my roommates of my situation, and then unplugged for the rest of the afternoon. I talked to my neighbors. I petted many dogs. I helped Casey out with some errands and reveled in the fact that I had a neighborhood so interesting and safe and littered with people who wanted to help me. New York is a place that makes you want to lock yourself in, to avoid human interaction and try to protect yourself from the outside world. But sometimes, you have to lock yourself out. It is better, I think, to fill up your days with new people and new opportunities, to shout “Here I am” and just embrace the crazy concrete jungle that you’ve decided to make your home. I closed the door to my apartment. But I opened one to a place that I didn’t realize I had at my disposal, just beyond my doorstep.