Let me preface this by admitting straight-off that this post has nothing to do with food. Except for the fact that for part of it I was comforting myself by daydreaming about eating a doughnut.
The day started off well. Splendidly, actually. I woke up early to go for a refreshing jog in the bracing winter air, excited to get some blood pumping and hopefully see some slobbery dogs in the park. Key to the front door in my sneaker, per usual, start the coffee pot going and yes — this is feeling right. Some cosmic force is smiling upon me for sacrificing sleep for sweat.
The jog is fine and cute dogs abound. Once, twice around the park and — that’s enough, right? The most important thing is you got out here at all. Maybe you even deserve a doughnut on the way to the subway, since they’re so small and stuffed with jelly and it’s still Hannukah so…it’d be sacrilege not to.
Take the now slick key out of my sneaker and unlock the front door to the building. Turn the handle on our apartment, which is always open (don’t spread that around). But not today. Loudly scream an obscenity to express your anger at the cosmic force that once smiled upon you — oh, how the fickle turn on us. You probably should’ve brought the key to the inside door but usually someone else is home and you thought Devon wouldn’t lock up, or maybe you didn’t think at all with the sleep still drying in your eyes and your brain all loose and foggy in your skull. A few more seconds for lamenting and self-indulgent melancholy, then snap to it.
First step: don’t panic. This has happened once before, and you did just fine. You squeezed through the gate to the driveway a few doors down, and climbed, Bourne-style, through the neighbors’ backyards, braced expectantly for a chastising Polish grandma in her pink nightgown, curlers still in her grey hair. But apparently this grandma was too busy sleeping, or perhaps coddling her cats and watching the Today Show with her bunioned feet propped up. It is surprisingly easy to trek through people’s backyards, especially when they’re the size of postage stamps. Ones fit for international mail, but still. Commit to a few fence-inflicted scrapes and scratches and then you’re basically home free. It helps when you have no other options.
But maybe the people who guard the driveway have gotten wise, or else your rib cage has gotten wider — regardless. You ain’t gonna fit without a rib removal, and there’s no time for such shenanigans.
Take a moment to assess: what tools do you have at your disposal? An ipod, the clothes on your body, a key to the front door. Your wits. No phone, no money, no metro card — nothing that will help you in this material world. And I am a material girl.
A thought blooms. A plan forms. Plan A: catch Devon on her way to the Bedford stop.
Commence sprinting, blatant disregard of traffic laws, and ignoring curious stares (What you’ve never seen someone frowning and running frantically around the streets of Brooklyn at rush hour on a Wednesday?)
Reach the Bedford stop, bend over to pant and wheeze like a dying cocker spaniel. No Devon to be seen; it was a fool’s hope anyway.
Okay, Plan B: run to realtor’s office. They might have a spare key, or at least some sort of heating system to jump-start your blood pumping. By now you’re definitely going to be late for work, but this is survival we’re talking about now. It’s Man vs. Wild, though in this case more like woman vs. one small apartment lock. You’re very tired from such avid sprinting, so decide to fast-walk to realtor’s office as a slight reward.
North Brooklyn Realty, even from steps away, has a dull, closed look to it, like its eyes have long been shut. Try the door anyway — defnitely closed. But you should probably rattle the door handle a bit in frustration anyway, just in case.
Sweeping the stoop of the shop next door is an elderly Asian woman. She informs you that the realty office opens at 11, which is still several lengthy, chilly hours away, and a time when your odds of getting to work at all will be 100% shot. There’s a phone number on the outside of the door. Pleading eyes, goosebumped arms – “Could I possibly use your phone?”
The woman is surprisingly affable – could the New York stereotypes be exaggerated? – and not only lets you use her landline straight out of ten years ago, but also offers you the use of a post-it when she sees you attempting to write on your arm while cradling the phone in the pocket of your shoulder. You’re led from a random broker to your realtor Anna and finally to your landlord, a portly Polish man with a penchant for drinking beer on your stoop into the late hours. He sounds groggy and possibly hungover. Though it’s well past nine you have the unpleasant feeling you woke him up. In response to your apologetic pleading he mostly grunts, and then mumbles something about 15 minutes. The line goes dead. The Asian woman smiles at your expectantly, looking up from her work shining a shoe. Her store smells pleasantly of leather and there’s a heat vent blowing in your face. It’s hard to tear yourself away, but soldier on you must.
Fifteen minutes was obviously quite optimistic. After what feels like a century, though is probably closer to a half hour, Robert pulls up on his motorcycle in camo cargo pants, a leather jacket, and some shoes that look suspiciously like slippers. They have sepia stains on their toes. He is not the type of person that can make any of these clothing items look good. As you get up from the stoop, your limbs begin to stiffen with what is surly pre-rigor mortis, yet try to be jolly and thankful. He is, to put it kindly, irritated.
“Why you dressed like this? No key? Why? What if I not home? I work? I go to work. Why no jacket? You lucky girl.”
And at that moment I did feel lucky. But even more so I had to pee, and I wanted to get this show on the road. Robert ambles into the apartment belly-first and pulls out a hefty key chain which contains approximately seventy-five keys – all a dull gold, all identical. It’s like some savage satire where you’re not allowed to laugh because it’s actually happening to you, and you’re really cold and worry your bladder is about to explode. He goes through about 12 keys before cautioning “Your key? Maybe on other chain. At home. I…no know…I…maybe we try downstairs. You climb outside?”
He seems relieved. “Okay. Much faster.” The keys go back in his camo pants and then we’re knocking on the door to the basement, which I knew contained an old woman but had never before seen. She was like a phantom in the attic, except that she’s in the basement and is, thankfully, very much alive. And, most importantly, at home. She and Robert exchanged some brisk words in Polish – she didn’t enjoy having her doorbell rang 18 times on a Wednesday morning? – and then gestured me inside. Apparently, this is where Robert and I would part ways.
“You go in, to boiler room…it goes outside, yes? Then you home.” His looks turns stern. He is admonishing me. “Next time bring key!” He emphasizes this life lesson with a wagging pointer finger. I nod vigorously before disappearing into the home of this Polish woman, who was not as old as I’d imagined, and in fact had quite nice copper hair. Her place smells like slow-cooked meat and has a lot of dark carpets and potted plants – in short, not entirely uncomfortable. I kind of wanted to stay for a while.
She clearly does not speak English, or at least does not care to try to engage with me as I make feeble noises of thanks and stoop to enter her boiler room which, true to its name, is quite hot. I have to kick open the door to the outdoors and then I am free. Sunlight streams onto my face and I turn my world-weary eyes onto the welcome sight of our bare, grim backyard. This feels like a revelation, but less fire and brimstone and more Mt. Sinai. I mount the stairs two at a time and open our screen door, victorious in my own dimly lit home. With a pot of now cooling coffee waiting for me.