Locks and Ladders

I was cooking ground beef for homemade burritos when I got the idea to check the mail.

If I run downstairs and grab the mail and come right back, it won't matter that the stove is on. It'll take less than a minute.

I grabbed the key from the counter top and dashed out. What was the big deal about checking the mail? I don't really remember. This was during my unemployment sabbatical from work. My best guess is that I was probably looking forward to receiving a letter from my best friend (or from Publisher's Clearing House).

I pulled the letters from the mailbox, locked it and rushed back upstairs to the apartment. When I reached the door, I looked at the lock. Then I looked at my hand. In my palm was one key: the mail key.

With a sinking feeling in my gut, I realized that someone, in an effort to travel lighter, had separated the mail key from the house and car keys. Sure, it might have been me, but for now it was easier to blame someone.

I attempted the credit card trick with the stiffest envelope in my hand, but unfortunately for me, credit card statements do not behave like credit cards. I pushed the mail key against the keyhole, thinking, maybe?

No, it didn't work. The movies always make breaking in seem so effortless. Well, I'm here to tell you--it's not.

As my bad luck would have it, my husband wasn't due home for another two hours. He was doing a dinner program for work, which left me home alone with the cats, who were all locked inside with no comprehension of English and no opposable thumbs.

I had to think quickly; the beef was cooking.

My first stop was the apartment office. Everyone cleared out at 6, but I was hoping someone would be hanging around late, that maybe I could enjoy a happy coincidence after my shitty luck.

The place was deserted.

If all else failed, I could call someone from the office to get the apartment key so I could unlock the door. The catch was in the small print of the apartment lease. If you called after hours, it was 50 bucks. Fifty bucks! When you're unemployed on a sabbatical, the best solution is the one that's closest to free.

I ran back to the apartment (the beef was cooking) and tried to devise another solution. I went around to the back side of the building, to the grassy hill that my balcony overlooked. Even though it was just one level up, I was in no shape to attempt it.

The movies make scaling a building look so effortless. Well, I'm here to tell you--it's not.

I could hear the smoke alarm screeching. I thought back to the conversation we had with the apartment manager when we toured the building. She said one smoke alarm would set off a chain reaction throughout the apartments that shared the same building. I'm happy to report that this was a lie. The only alarm going nuts was the one in my apartment.

I needed another plan of attack (the beef was burning).

Our apartment building shared the road with a duplex. I could see this house from the balcony window and I often wondered how the occupants felt about having a five story building towering next to their back yard. Did they resent us? I approached the house, but I wasn't going to ask them this just yet. I was going to ask them something completely different.

You see, parked next to the house was a Comcast cable van. On top of the van was a ladder. With a ladder, I could easily reach the balcony and get through the door that I didn't lock.

The people in the house were nice enough, but I had to wait for the cable guys to finish up. This was understandable; when you wait a week for the cable guys to come by, and you take off work so you're available during the four hour window when they're supposed to arrive, you don't want to let some interloper swoop in to steal your cable guy.

I waited in front of the house, making sure to glance in the direction of the apartment complex with an eye trained to any smoke plumes that might be rising from the vicinity of my apartment.

Eventually the cable guys emerged from the house. This was when I had to put aside my panic and be charming enough to convince them that lending their ladder wasn't an invitation to a lawsuit.

Let me tell you, the charm worked like, well, a charm. The guys pulled the van closer to the building and followed me with the ladder in tow.

"Please don't fall," said the guy who was holding the ladder. I reached the balcony and threw a leg over the railing.

Strangely enough, what I was doing was a repeat of something that happened when I was a kid. My family had set out to run some errands on a weekend, and for some reason, we ended up dropping off my mom. My dad, sister and I went home. It was then that we realized my mother was the one holding the house key. Even back then, someone was carrying out the sinister plot to separate keys.

Without bugging the neighbors or hounding innocent cable guys, my dad calmly took the ladder from the shed and extended it three stories up, to the balcony on the top floor while my sister and I watched from below. From there, he climbed over the railing and entered the house through the sliding glass door.

The fumes of burning beef and scorched teflon hit my nostrils as soon as I opened the door. I turned off the stove, opened the windows and went back outside to thank the cable guys.

Lessons learned:
1) Be nice to your neighbors; you never know when you'll need to borrow a cable guy
2) Don't check your mail if you're cooking
3) Don't separate the keys, no matter how much someone insists.

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