Monday, May 07, 2007

The Sound of the Screw
Or, "God Gets a New Pair of Dice"

If you've been reading me for any length of time, you know if there's one thing about my job that really gets to me, it's that no one benefits from what I do: aside from me, that is, and the machine that deposits money into my bank account.

But I digress: suffice it to say this past Thursday, I brought profound joy to someone's life — but not without some cost to me.

I moved last week, as many of you know, and though I expect this new place will be warmer in the winter and less likely to be frequented by police, it won't be without its problems. For example: landlords in this city aren't required to clean in-between tenants, and so few of them do. My new place, then, was fairly grotesque when I moved in, and I knew it was going to take a week or two of long nights after work to really get the place clean.

So this past Thursday, my goal was to essentially power wash the bathroom: clean out the gunk that had settled in-between the tub and the sink (which some genius separated by only 1/4 of an inch); clean out years of filth from the radiator; scrub down the tub with bleach-containing Lysol; etc.

I had just started cleaning when Maude tried to sneak in behind me. I ushered her out by blocking her entrance with my foot, and then promptly shut the door to keep her out for the duration of the cleaning. I opened the window a touch to help keep the chemical-ridden air from becoming too stifling when it occurred to me to try and open the door, "just to make sure I could."

If you know me — and my peculiar brand of luck — you can probably guess what happens next.

That's right.

The door didn't budge.

And no matter how hard I tried — no matter how hard I pulled — nothing happened.

In times such as this, a brief moment of panic is almost always followed by the most MacGuyver of instincts.

I glanced around the room for anything I could use to pry open the door. Here's what I had:
  • Toilet paper dispenser
  • Toilet paper
  • Coil brush (already used to clean out one radiator, and so was covered in grime)
  • Mop bucket with a large, clunky plastic handle
  • Large plastic splashguard stuck to the top of the tub
  • Can of Lysol
  • Bleach water
And that, my friends, was pretty much it.

By the time I'd finished taking inventory, the smell of bleach was already filling the tiny, unventilated room in the most undesirable fashion. Cleaning solvents aren't exactly known for being "health-friendly," and I'd already been battling "cleaning-related" migraines for the past couple of days.

So I turned to the window, opened it as high as it would go, and removed the screen.

I stuck my head out of the window and inspected the terrain beneath me:

The drop was just short enough that I could make it and possibly (but not definitely) survive, but just long enough — and without enough space for me to fall properly, and roll upon landing — that I'd likely shatter both of my legs, and possibly also a vertebrae or two. I could handle the broken legs, but a broken back just wasn't for me.

And there was no way for me to climb down, as there was neither a fire escape, nor enough space between the bricks for me to wedge in my feet and fingers.

It didn't take me long to process this information, though I continued to stare out of the window, imagining my Icarian descent time and time again.

So back inside I went, returning to my inventory. The way I looked at it, I could:
  • Make a rope out of the toilet paper; tie one end to the towel rack, and use the other to repel my way to safety
  • Pull really hard using the doorknob and/or a painted-over robe hook on the door
  • Attempt to unhinge the door, which was thick with layers of paint
  • Pull really, really hard
  • Try to use the disgustingly damp coil brush to pry open the door from all angles
  • Prop one foot up against the wall and pull really hard
  • Strip the splashguard from the tub and see if I could use any part of it to pry open the door
  • Pull really, REALLY hard
  • Unscrew the door knob altogether to try and gain access to the (likely broken) pin, using either my pinkie (if it'd fit) or the coil from the toilet roll dispenser to pull it up
  • Pull really, REALLY REALLY hard
  • Jump
I should add that no one knew where I was, and I didn't expect anyone (i.e. Washington) to even try to get a hold of me until after 9 p.m. (it was 6:30 at the time). And even then, there was no guarantee he'd go crazy with worry if I didn't answer my phone or open the door: I'd been little short of exhausted, and he'd probably just assume I'd shut off the ringers in the quest for sleep.

Or so my brain processed the future, ultimately seeing through to a million different ways of meeting a bitter end and — ultimately — earning a spot among other Darwin Award winners.

I could already see the headlines:

Girl willingly plummets to death after being trapped in bathroom for days

Germophobe suffocates on bleach fumes

Girl knocks self out pulling on bathroom handle; suffocates on bleach fumes

Girl pokes self in eye with coil brush; bleeds to death on bathroom floor

And so on.

But I managed to somehow keep my cool (for the most part), though I will admit to cursing this city — which isn't tenant-friendly in the least — under my breath. I then worked my way down the list of options, attempting time and time again to pull on the door from every possible angle, oftentimes returning to the window to rescue myself from the buildup of bleach fumes emanating from the radiator (but just so you don't think I'm too stupid, I did dump and flush the remainder of the bleach water — too bad for me there was also Lysol settling on some of the walls).

During one of my trips to the window, I was met with the most Tantalan of sites:

A floor below me in the building next door, a woman was sitting at the dinner table with a developmentally delayed girl, perhaps 9 or 10 years old. But given the nature of their situation, I knew full well I should only "reach out" to them as a last resort.

But as I made my way down the list, I was quickly running out of options. At one point I called out to them, but their window was clearly shut and — as it turns out — does a fine job of blocking out sound. And because they were a floor below me, they'd have to crane their neck in the most uncomfortable fashion to even notice the girl in mismatched clothes and dirty latex gloves waving to them from above.

So I returned to my list, trying various options over and over again, oftentimes scanning the otherwise empty room for anything that might save me from my quandary.

It occurred to me, while watching my neighbors below, that I could try throwing something at their window. And after I exhausted the (f)utility of the splash guard, I worked a piece of it loose and chucked it towards them.

But gravity took hold of the plastic about six inches before it ever tapped that metaphysically distant window.

I was crestfallen.

So I did what anyone else would do: I tried pulling on the door really REALLY REALLY hard once more, one foot on the wall, one hand on the doorknob, another hand on the robe hook, and another (slightly less visible) hand making the sign of the cross.

I needn't tell you that I was pulling so hard that when the robe hook broke loose, I was propelled back against the radiator and into the tub with such a loud THUMP! that it was a miracle I was even able to stand up again.

I was scarcely able to gather my thoughts and count my injuries, however, as my collapse had been simultaneously met with a faint "klink!"

It was music to my ears. It was — dare I say — the sound of freedom.

It was the sound of a screw.

With the robe hook in one hand, I searched the tile for the screw with the other. I laid the hook aside — which would've shattered the window — asked my dearest Jude to bless the carpentry device — and chucked it delicately towards the window.

I knew even as I threw it that there was no guarantee the screw would make the journey. No guarantee I wouldn't crack the window. And certainly no guarantee that the woman would turn around to inspect the cause of the sound.

But it did; it didn't; and she did.

The look on her face — the scowl and subsequent furrow of her brow — was priceless.

But, again, she did something most folks wouldn't: she didn't just make eye contact and quickly turn away, pretending she hadn't seen some crazy girl waving frantically to her across the way.

She actually walked outside, bringing her scowl and furrowed brow (both well-deserved) with her.

But my journey to freedom was long from over. After a few minutes of "chit-chat," she ushered over one of my fellow tenants as he took out the garbage around the way, and he informed us that our landlady had left for vacation that very morning.

So there was no one to open the door and let me out.

It was beginning to look like the fire department was going to be my only option, but the space around my window was just tight enough — and nowhere near where a firetruck could pull up to — that I couldn't fathom them getting a ladder there.

They'd have to break through one of my doors.

I asked my neighbor if he had our landlord's daughter's number — she was in charge of maintenance emergencies — but after a few minutes upstairs searching for it, he returned empty-handed (must say, though, he was very kind — and very concerned — through all of this).

About that time another woman emerged from the home, telling me that she had the number I needed. She — as "luck" would have it — used to work with the daughter. She made the phone call that ultimately saved my sanity from what was turning out to be a steady decline.

But as everyone returned to the comfort of their abodes and I remained half out of the window like a lonely Rapunzel after a visit to Supercuts, I saw that little girl next door tilt her neck straight back — her mouth open with effort, and her stick-straight hair falling behind her — in an effort to "see" what the adults were talking about.

She looked at me, the concern on her face fading into a grin as I nodded to her — still wearing those dirty latex gloves — and offered the only thing I could muster at the time: a crooked, half-embarrassed, half-amused smile.

As I waited a good 20 minutes for help to arrive, I paced the two short steps between the tub and my door, inspecting my war wounds:
  • My right palm, quite sore, was already beginning to swell
  • There were painful grooves/scratches up and down my arm (from leaning on the window frame)
  • My back, neck, and arm(s) were all about to let me know just which parts of them, exactly, I'd injured in my fall
  • I was light-headed (remember, the room was full of cleaning products and I hadn't yet had dinner), wheezing with every other breath, and on the verge of another migraine
But you know, from the whole evening the one image I remember most clearly is that girl tilting her head back to get a look at the freak show (that'd be me) next door. And I thought of that again, laughing to myself, as I continued to wait for help to arrive.

So this, I thought, is what it takes for me to put a smile on someone else's face.

It was roughly 9 p.m. by the time my "ordeal" was over. I was tired and angry and sore and yet — still — mostly alive.

So be it.


A said...

I was, at first thought, thinking "I wonder if the door PULLS open"

Sadly it wasnt to be.

Glad youre alright, but really, this episode sums up your life pretty well.

Take care Grily,

~~ AJ

Stacy said...

Oh! This type of thing often happens to me as well. I feel your pain and your pleasure. Rapunzel after supercuts-hysterical.
Also, I just read this now, well after emailing you this morning, so I think there's some truth here.

I cannot believe they don't clean the apartments before re-renting them, what planet are you living on?

Anonymous said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Only you.

I felt bad laughing at this incident but at least it generated something positive.

"Paying back some ugly karmic debt, one mis-adventure at a time."

Matt said...

How long did it take you to write that post?


I once got locked in the bathroom of a rental apartment in my early 20s and actually kicked the door pretty good, cracking it. I then pulled apart the wood fibers and made a hole to climb out of....

Matt said...

I cannot believe landords are permitted to give dirty apartments to renters. That is utterly ridiculous. They should be spotless!

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Matt - I've been working on it, off and on, for three days.

I'm such a loser.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

PS - I probably would've tried that eventually. I kicked it once, in fact, just to see if I could unjam something. Anything.

But I wasn't wearing shoes — just plastic flip-flops — so it wasn't the best feeling in the world. Plus, I was worried about then having to pay for a new door.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Stacy - That was news to me to when I moved here, too. Where I hale from, it's required by law that professional cleaners tidy up apartments in-between tenants.

But not here. Yet another reason I've spent the last 10 days wishing I'd just moved out of this state altogether.

So tired of this place.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

AJ - Man, I wish it'd been that simple. But apparently the pin/latch mechanism was broken.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

BPP - Laughter is the only good that could come of this. So have at it. :)

Winter said...

Oh My God.

Do you know how happy I am that happened to you?

Because I only thought stuff like that happened to me.

P.S. Okay so I'm not really happy you hurt yourself or anything... or that you were in there for so long, or that the whole neigborhood knows that you are crazy..

I'm sorry what were we talking about again?

XOXO said...

One time I got locked in my utility closet...but, then again, I'd been drinking.

disgruntled world citizen said...

See, if you had just let Maude help clean this never would of happened. I'm glad you're okay and that you have some humor. It certainly does suck that landlords aren't required to lean apartments before new tenents arrive.

Pamela said...

Oh dear... I read and commented on the padlocks before I saw this post.
Now I feel like a rubbed salt in the wound.

This is funny (because it wasn't me).... and I'd stuff a roll of toilet paper around my landlords neck (by way of the top of his head) the next time I saw him.

How awful for you.

So, now do you have to leave the door open while you do your business?

(OH.. and what Matt said. Did you pay a cleaning deposit???)