Helping out the elderly is a fine idea, and good for society. As long as you don’t lock yourself out of your friends house like I did last thursday night when I spotted a frail oldster struggling with a heavy bag, and rushed out the door to be his girl scout hero.
Turns out, my friend Julie’s door locks from the inside. I was cat-sitting, and all my belongings were locked inside, deaf and dumb to the crisis. I had no phone, no wallet–just a couple of useless empty pockets.
But at least I had real pants on! When I spotted the old man moments earlier from my perch in the livingroom, I was wearing my pajama bottoms. I’d settled in for an evening of drinking my friends booze, eating her ice cream and staring out her window at the parade of Bad Berkeley Fashion: Tevas with sundresses, yoga pants, multi-kulti quilted handbags, and those ubiquitous, horrible patterned leggings that flatter NO LEGS ON EARTH.
And then I spotted the old man! Humping painfully along with his overstuffed bag. Stopping every 20 feet or so to rest. Then humping along some more.
“Christ,” I said, taking a swig “Someone should help him.”
Several seconds later, I found myself stripping down, and changing into my real pants, gearing up for some good samaritan action. There is nothing short of an actual five alarm fire that would cause me to run out into public wearing my pajamas, okay? The old man may have been trapped under his bag of potatoes, and squeaking for help, but I have my religious convictions.
When I finally made it outside, pants on, I spied the old man, grunting up the stairs of what I assumed was his house.
“Ah, very good, he’s home” I said. “What a relief.”
But when I turned around to go back into the house, the door was locked!
(insert expletive thought bubble here)
Some keep a cool head under crisis, and know just what to do. My instinct is to shriek and run around in circles until I pass out and wake up in a soft, psych-ward bed, where I’m spoon-fed jello and benzos by a hot nurse. However, in that moment, nature was calling me to rise above my usual hysterics. “Just pretend you are at work,” my inner voice said, referring to my Office Management day job where I deal regularly with crises such as broken water coolers, fruit fly infestations, mysterious leaks, and ordering last minute lunches for executive staff meetings. “you got this!”
It didn’t help much, but it got me moving forward. My plan was to go to Rex Key and Security on University Ave–The guys at Rex know me, because I often call them when one of my cube-mates gets locked out of their desk drawers.
It was 7:00 PM, and I had no idea what Rex’s hours were. Nor could I call them to find out or look it up on my phone. I had to just go. Go!
My walk quickly turned into a scamper. I artfully weaved in and out of herds of slow-walking teenagers, and idling passersby. Then, I got stuck behind three broheim Cal students carrying on a discussion about Epigenetics.
“But when the chromosome changes it alters the DNA sequence, breh.”
“That’s what epigenetics is, breh.”
They were a solid mass of nerd meat. No matter how I tried to dodge them or get ahead of them, they were always just ahead of just behind me, following close, and going on and on about heritability and shit.
I wanted to turn around and shout FUCK EPIGENETICS!!!!!” As loud as I could–if for no other reason than being the first human being to ever shout that. Also, I hated them in that moment. Burning hate.
I arrived at last at Rex Key and they were CLOSED. However, there was an after hours number to call. If only I had a phone!
Fortunately, I’d formulated a back-up plan while I was scampering down University. Go directly to my office and pray that someone is working late and can let me in. There, I will use my office phone to call a locksmith. A plan!!
As I rounded the corner onto Oxford street, I heard a bum saying to another bum “Even the sun shines on a dog every now and then.”
I took it as a good omen. Yes! I’m that dog!
Then I discovered the office was closed. Fuck good omens, and fuck dogs and also: fuck the sun.
At this point, my steely determination began to melt away into a stream of molten panic. I suddenly wanted to tear my shirt off and eat it, and then run directly into traffic. I wanted to beat up the bum for giving me false cosmic hope. I wanted to throw poop. It took some serious, I mean SERIOUS intervention by my rational voice, combined with a keen awareness of my white privilege to talk me down from that ledge. I knew at this point, I would have to rely on the kindness of strangers to help me out of this mess.
“Look. You are a nice white middle-aged lady with real pants on. Real pants!! The most anyone is going to accuse you of being is peri-menopausal. As long as you don’t hyperventilate or mumble incoherently about epigenetics, you will be FINE.”
As I rounded the corner down Allston street, I saw that the David Brower Center (our next door neighbor) was holding a fancy event. Glittering globes of wine, and earth-toned linens. Elaborate snacks with curly-cues. Dare I enter?
I edged closer, and peered in the window like an orphan. And then I saw him. A vision from heaven! Stan Ramos, the Brower Center Facility guy. Someone I totally know! Stan. STANN THE MANNNNN!!!!! Stan is a husky, salt of the earth motherfucker with a Brooklyn accent. I regularly meet with him, and a city of Berkeley chick about three times a year to discuss what’s happening on our city block. When I needed help, some months back, with writing an Emergency Plan for my office, Stan sent me their emergency plan and let me use it for” inspiration” (pretty much copied it word for word), Then, when we had our big annual emergency fire drill, Stan and all of his trusty Emergency David Brower Center Minions in orange vests were efficiently directing their staff safely to the other side of the street. Meanwhile, my staff were just roaming around. Some went to get coffee. One asked if we should take a head count or something. A few came straggling out a minute or two later after the alarm had gone off. If it had been an actual emergency, I would have lost some people.
Suffice it to say, Stan Ramos from the Brower Center is the guy you want around in an emergency. I marched into the fancy event (trying– dear god– to ignore the table of snacks) and explained my situation to him.
“Sure thing, I’ll hook you up” He said.
And hook me up he did. The locksmith told me he would meet me at the apartment in ½ an hour. Since it takes only 15 minutes to walk to Julie’s apartment from the Brower Center, and since I had no money, and was therefore not a real human being who belonged anywhere really, I decided to just walk home very very slowly. It would be good for me since I was in a state of near panic for the last ½ hour. A nice slow contemplative walk.
As I walked down Allston, I peeked into the window of the Hotel Shattuck Five Bar. I’ve never gone into the Five Bar. Mostly because it’s an upscale place, and I’m more comfortable in sleazy dive bars tended by barkeeps with open face wounds. However, since I was walking extra slow I peered more intensely at the people inside, and I noticed three of my co-workers! I’d totally forgotten that they invited everyone out for an impromptu happy hour at the Shattuck Five.
Not missing a beat, I marched right in and sat down with them, under a big glittery chandelier.
“Guys, guys… You will not believe the evening I’ve had….” I announced, and proceeded to tell them the whole story,
“Wow, that’s quite a tale,” said my co-worker Blake, after I finished. “Would it make you feel better to have a meatball and some fancy potato chips?”
Is the pope catholic? Is the sky blue? Do birds shit in the wind? FREE SNACKS?
“I think your evening is about to get much, MUCH BETTER,” said Christopher, patting me on the shoulder.
“Yeff, I beleff it is,” I said, stuffing food in my face hole. “Dank god. Wellf, I gotta run!”
Revived by free snacks, I stepped merrily into the early evening light. The locksmith was on his way. And soon, I would be back in my pajamas, cradling my iphone, and telling Fritz the cat all about my lock-out adventure.
I took about 20 jaunty steps and was then stopped by two women in their late 20’s.
“Excuse me, can I ask you a question?” Asked one.
“Sure,” I said.
“Are you in a relationship?”
What is the right answer. Yes? No? It’s complicated? I should reframe; What is the RIGHT answer to elicit the quickest response, and not invite further dialogue.
“Yes?” I said.
“See, I told you!” Said one to the other, jabbing her with an elbow.
“Can you help us?” asked the first one.
“Yeah, can you help us FIND LOVE?”
Normally, I would not decline such a thrilling invitation– after all, as someone who hasn’t been in a relationship in over five years, I obviously have plenty of good advice for how to find love. Unfortunately I had a date with a locksmith and I was now running late.
“Sorry, I’d love help you, but I gotta meet a locksmith!” I shouted. “But, believe in yourself, don’t give up, and all that bullshit.”
One block later, I found myself being circled by two teenage boys on bikes. I don’t know about you, but teenagers scare the living shit out of me. Much like how someone who has lost a limb often feels phantom limb pain, I suffer from “phantom adolescence” pain. That is–The mere sight of a teenager makes zits appear on my soul. Phantom pubes start to sprout from my brain stem, and then I am suddenly transported to a crowded high-school lunchroom–carrying a tray of hamburger gravy to a table of misfits, misshapen nerds, foreign exchange students, deaf mutes, and special ed kids. My people.
Finally, one of the teenage boys stopped in front of me.
“Hey, can I ask you something?”
“Sure, what,” I said, trying to feign indifference, though I was sweating profusely.
“So, there’s a dead body over there,” he said, pointing. “And, it’s in a plastic bag, and it’s starting to smell bad, and it be all dripping and shit. Do you wanna go…smell it?”
I stared uncomprehendingly. I’d apparently moved past phantom adolescence into some other realm of absurdity. A place where strange women asked me for love advice. Where meatballs and potato chips rain from chandeliers. Where teenaged boys want me to smell a dead body. Where the sun shines on a dog every now and then.
I had lost my capacity to absorb it all, and therefore my ability to speak correctly.
“Ugh, no,” I said. “But, uh, good luck with that dead body and the stuff.”
They erupted into a sinister combined cackle which sent chills down my spine, and continued to slowly circle me as I walked back to Julie’s house.
By the time I got to Julie’s it was completely dark. The teenagers on bikes thankfully dispersed to somewhere. I sat on the porch steps and waited with the elderly cat, for the locksmith to appear.
“What a fucking evening,” I said to Fritz. “and all because of an old man with a big bag.”
The locksmith arrived at last! Unfortunately he was the chatty type.
“How long have you had the cat?” he asked, shoving a pin into the lock.
“Uh….Since he was a kitten,” I said.
“And how long have you lived here?”
“Oh, uh, ..several years now, I guess.”
I’d debated what to tell the locksmith if he began asking questions like this–In the end, I concluded it would be much safer to just lie and pretend it’s my apartment, rather than explain about the cat-sitting, lock-out, etc etc. After all, what’s stopping me from paying someone to break into a stranger’s house? What if I had bad intentions???
“Do you like it here?” he asked.
“Sure, it’s a great neighborhood…
The locksmith grunted and swore. “This lock is upside-down! And also, it’s really hard to get open. I gotta go to my truck and get a different tool. Be right back.”
This scenario repeated itself several times. Him swearing and getting another tool, and then asking me more questions. The further into the lie of being Julie I sunk, the more elaborate my lying became. I was a lying machine.
“Did you notice your lock was upside down?” He asked.
“Well…I’ve grown so used to it, I don’t really notice. But it is a sticky lock sometimes. I find that dry weather causes it to stick even more.”
“Do you work around here too? Shit, this lock is….”
“Yeah, I work at the UC Berkeley Library.” (Note: there was NO REASON to lie about this, but I was on a roll)
“Oh yeah, doing what?”
At that point, Julie’s neighbor stepped out onto the landing. He was in his pajamas, rubbing his eyes.
“What is going on out here?”
I’d completely forgotten that Julie’s neighbor’s living room is RIGHT outside the stoop where I was sitting there, loudly impersonating Julie while a strange man swore and jabbed wildly at her door lock with a series of hooks and prods.
“Uh….Hi, I’m Arlene. I’m watching Fritz the cat while Julie is on vacation, and I got locked out.”
“Oh. Gotcha….Hmm. Well….uhh…let me know if you need anything…”
Fortunately for me, the locksmith stopped asking questions about shit, because he finally got the lock open.
As I was signing the invoice, the locksmith said “Can I ask you a question?”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Yyyes.” (Lying— AGAIN!!!)
“Well, you better tell your man to spot you some money to cover this expense,” he said.
“I certainly will, sir. 150 dollars is nothing to sneeze at.”
And with that, I bid him goodnight, slid into my pajamas, ate a dozen ice cream bars, and shook my head at the crazy crazy world.