On Christmas Night, Sarah Pescosolido had a problem she didn’t think she could solve. Lucky for her, a stranger was happy to help.
On Christmas night, after spending my day watching my kids play with their Christmas presents over at their dad’s house, nearly falling asleep on the couch, I came home to my apartment around 6 pm, exhausted. I was taking out my trash to the dumpster behind my apartment complex.
Wait – first, you need to know that while I was at my ex-husband’s house, he dragged a number of large boxes of my stuff out of his basement and helped me load them into my car. Upon returning home, I spent probably half an hour lugging said boxes up to my attic, and needless to say, I worked up a sweat. Took off my hat, jacket & sweater. Then it was time to take out the garbage, so I grabbed the 2 over-stuffed garbage bags and headed out my back sliding door.
As I headed out in to the cold winter night, I reached my hand behind me to prevent the door from sliding all the way shut – just in case the wooden rod that’s used to prevent break-ins should slip back down into position.
Imagine how I felt when I heard the sound of the sliding rod, looked and realized it had indeed fallen back into its door-jamb position, preventing me from getting back into my apartment.
I spent a moment in disbelief. I did not just lock myself out! It was freezing out. It was night-time, and I was alone, tired, phone-less and key-less, sweaty and un-showered, locked outside my apartment wearing yoga pants, sneakers, and an over-sized ratty turtleneck… and it was Christmas night. Most of the lights in our apartment complex were out, indicating people were away for the holiday. Naturally, my first action-instinct was to attempt to will the door open again with my mind, but that didn’t work. I saw a few lights on in neighboring apartments, so I ran over and began knocking frantically on every door.
Eventually I saw a young man stick his head out of a door I’d knocked on. I ran over, introduced myself and quickly explained my situation. He told me his name is Steven and invited me in to brainstorm as to how we could get me back into my place.
I tried to explain what had happened in detail, but was flustered. Steven asked to see exactly what was holding the door closed. We went back outside, across the courtyard to my back deck where he inspected the still-very-slightly open glass slider and the still-not-completely-jammed wooden rod. We agreed that if we could get some kind of long, bendable or bent object through the space in the door, maybe we could reach the wooden rod and flick it up, out of the doorway.
He ran to his apartment and retrieved a golf club. Brilliant! Only it didn’t work, because we could only reach our fingers through the space in the doorway, and that didn’t give us enough room to maneuver the golf club anywhere near the wooden rod. We both went back to Steven’s apartment to brainstorm some more; he also lent me his winter jacket, since I was starting to shiver.
Steven asked me if I thought my front door deadbolt was locked, and I answered that I knew it was. I wondered if we should call a locksmith, but was hesitant to do so on Christmas night if we could find another way.
He told me he had an idea and ran down the stairs to his basement. He came back up carrying some collapsible metal tent posts. We taped a metal coat-hanger to the end of the tent post and went back for Round 2 of the Door War. The tent-post/coat-hanger combination got us close… Steven was able to get the coat-hanger underneath the wooden rod, several times, only the tent post wasn’t providing any leverage. He bent the tent post several times to give it an arc, but there still wasn’t enough maneuverability to get the coat-hanger to hook the wooden rod.
We retreated again to Steven’s apartment to think and get warm. This time he produced a metal curtain rod from the basement. This, we were sure, was going to do the trick. It was stiff enough to flick the wooden rod out of it’s lodging place and long enough to reach.
Back at the door, Steven’s ease with conversation was comforting. He asked how my Christmas was aside from being locked out, and we joked about how we felt as if we should be starring in a reality t.v. show, “Extreme Holiday.”
We realized we had to bend the curtain rod to get a better angle, and Steven was still having a hard time maneuvering it under the wooden rod, since the open space in the doorway was so narrow. It seemed like we were so close, but still couldn’t get that wooden rod to move.
Frustrated, I asked if he knew if it was possible to force the electronic garage door open. He said he wasn’t sure, but we may as well try…
We walked together around to the front of my unit and tried lifting the garage door up by the handle, to no avail. It wouldn’t budge. Steven flipped open the key-pad beside the garage door and started punching numbers, but nothing happened. My next-door neighbor, Feliciano, had just returned home from Christmas dinner and came out onto his front balcony to have a cigarette.
“Feliciano,” I called up to him.
“Hey, how are you doing?” he asked.
“Feliciano, I locked myself out of my apartment! Can you think of any way to get in?” I asked.
“Is your balcony door unlocked?” was his reply.
“I’m pretty sure it’s locked,” I said.
“Are you sure? Because ours doesn’t lock. Do you want me to check?” He asked.
I said yes, absolutely. And with that, Feliciano hopped to the top of the balcony railing – cigarette still in his mouth – and gracefully swung his tall frame around the balcony divider to my deck. He tried the door, but it didn’t budge.
“You were right, it’s locked.” He said as he deftly climbed back over the balcony divider, cigarette never faltering once. “Do you know your code for your garage door?” He asked, now back on his own deck.
“No, I have no clue… how can I get it?”
“Call the landlord,” he replied. “Do you have her number?”
“I don’t have my phone, “ I admitted pathetically, “but if you tell it to Steven, I can call with his phone! Do you have the number?”
“Hang on a sec,” Feliciano said as he ducked inside.
A moment later he was back, reading me the phone number. I thanked him profusely and then dialed from Steven’s phone as we walked back to his apartment.
I left a cursory voicemail for the property manager, saying simply, “It’s an emergency, please call back as soon as you can. Thanks.”
Meanwhile, Steven had researched locksmiths on his smartphone and reached one that only charged $15 for a house-call on Christmas. I told the locksmith my address and asked him to come as soon as he could, in case the landlord couldn’t help. The locksmith predicted someone would be at my apartment in half an hour.
We received a prompt call back from the landlord’s management company, in which the property manager quickly provided the secret code for the garage door.
Steven walked quickly with me back to my garage and stood by, using his cell-phone as a flashlight as I punched in the code. Immediately the garage door activated and lifted, allowing us access to my apartment. We looked at each other, relieved. Okay, I was elated. I asked Steven to come inside, where we phoned back the locksmith and began to pick up the remains of our break-in attempts.
In all, I think it took us about 2 hours to get in, and I honestly think I would have lost my mind if Steven hadn’t been there with me to keep me calm and encouraged that somehow we would get in. Somehow, a complete stranger became my partner-in-crime that Christmas night.
I thanked him, stumbling over my words as we both picked up the mangled assortment of tent poles, curtain rods, and duct tape scattered along the kitchen and back deck. I told him I’d do something nice to thank him, although he insisted “it was nothing.”
The next day I was in Barnes & Noble and saw some “Worst Case Scenario” books that I found particularly amusing in the context of what Steven had endured with me the night before. How to survive if your car rolls off a cliff… how to stitch a gaping wound… how to survive a nuclear holocaust… Surprisingly, there was nothing on ‘How to break in to your own apartment after locking yourself out on Christmas night.’
I got him the books, and also a gift selection of beers from around the world (he had opened an exotic-seeming beer once we’d contacted the landlord, and had offered me one.) I wrapped the gifts, wrote Steven – a.k.a. “MacGyver” on the gift tag and marched over to his back door.
I rapped on Steven’s glass slider, surprising him. It appeared he had company, so I just handed him the thank-you gifts with a rushed explanation that I was really grateful for all he’d done for me the night before. He seemed somewhat incredulous, but happy, as he told me, “Hey, I was happy to help! And at least you got your entry code out of all that! I kind of wish we’d been able to get in using one of our tricks though.”
He smiled, and I knew he meant it.
Tonight I heard a rap on my glass slider. I jumped up to see Steven standing out in the rain, holding a bottle of wine with a bow around it.
“You didn’t think I was going to let you get away with giving me all that stuff and not give you something in return, did you?” He told me, grinning.
“You saved me that night, Steven! I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.” I said truthfully.
“I still kinda wish we’d been able to get in using the curtain rod, though,” he admitted, and we both laughed.
“I’m never going to forget that code!” I told him.
“If you do, I’ve got it in my phone now, “ he said.
There’s something about the expression ‘happy to help’ that often seems dismissible. In this case, not so. Good people sometimes take you by surprise, when you least expect but most need them. Not only that, we sort of had fun. I can’t imagine a more unexpectedly fortunate turn of events.
photo: williac / flickr