After stopping at the corner Starbuck’s for Chai tea lattes I let Bill and myself into Jana’s NYC apartment on Saturday afternoon; she was letting us use it while we were in the city to see Kinky Boots. Bill had never been there, it was a beautiful afternoon, and I was excited to show him the second and third level terraces. After showing him the first floor and loft we climbed the stairs to the second level where the bedroom and bathroom are, along with sliders leading out to a deck occupied by a large covered grill and some plants. We continued our tour to the third level where a door at the top of the stairs leads out to a rooftop oasis. A table with a large red umbrella offers shade to the chairs set around it. Planters sit on the deck and on raised platforms, a flowering vine winds around a trellis and reaches toward the sky.
I unlocked the deadbolt with the key hanging in the lock. Opening the door I palmed the key, made a comment to Bill about keeping the key with me so as not to lock us out and promptly closed the door behind us. I’m not sure what made me do it but I immediately checked the door handle to make sure it was unlocked. It wasn’t. Panic rushed through me for a brief second as I stood there jiggling the handle.
“Oh my god, it’s locked!” Bill was already at the opposite end of the terrace, ready to enjoy his latte while overlooking Broadway. “The door locked!”
I inserted the key that unlocked the deadbolt into the door handle keyhole. It fit but wouldn’t turn, wouldn’t unlock the door. I didn’t have anything with me besides the key that wouldn’t unlock the door and my chai tea, no purse, no phone, nothing. I was starting to panic. Bill, who thankfully had his cell phone, remained calm.
“I can’t believe I closed the door! Why did I close the door?” While I swore Bill took an old plastic coated ID card from his wallet and tried to slide it between the door frame and door, behind the metal latch. After a few minutes I called Jana, told her what was going on after she asked if all was okay. She hung up to make a phone call to someone who might have a key to the apartment. Bill kept trying the door with his card, I started looking under every planter, every pot, every surface that looked like it might hide a spare key.
“There’s got to be a spare up here,” I kept saying between curse words, sliding my fingers across the top of the door frame. (Jana took over the apartment from her brother, who moved out-of-state last year, and didn’t know if there was a stashed key).
Jana called back a few minutes later with good news; Liz, a woman who used to walk her brother’s dogs and water the plants had a spare key and was two blocks away. “As soon as I told Liz what happened she laughed because she’s locked herself out, too. She had to climb down the fire escape and into a neighbor’s apartment to get out,” Jana told me. “She should be right there.”
Relief washed over me. I relaxed, stopped looking for the imaginary spare key, Bill stopped trying to break in. We both took a seat at the table under the umbrella and laughed. Knowing we’d be sprung soon we started to enjoy our view of the city. It was sunny and warm but not unbearable. It was a lovely afternoon to be spending on a rooftop terrace in NYC.
Half an hour later, when Liz still hadn’t shown up, I alternated pacing with standing in front of the locked, glass-paned door willing her up the stairs.
Bill’s phone rang.
“You put the safety bar on the front door,” Jana said. “Liz is there but she can’t get in.” I swore again. More than once, more than twice.
“Take her number.”
Without pen or paper I repeated Liz’s number to Bill; he lightly scratched it into the deck railing with the key that wouldn’t unlock the door. “Let me know what happens.”
I called Liz. Thinking the key to the front door would probably be the key to unlock the terrace door she agreed to knock on doors until she found someone who was willing to let her cut through their apartment to get to the fire escape. I’m terrified of heights, was anxious just looking at the metal stairs leading down the side of the building and had already made the decision to sleep on the terrace rather than attempt descending those stairs. I believe my exact words to Bill were “my ass would have to be on fire to go down the fire escape.” But, Liz bounded up those stairs as if she didn’t have a care in the world.
We tried the three keys Liz had but none of them even fit in the lock. More curse words escaped my mouth. I tried the deadbolt key for the tenth time but it still wouldn’t unlock the door. Bill slipped his ID card between the door for the tenth time but couldn’t get it behind the latch. Jana called to let us know she called a locksmith who was on his way. Liz headed back down the fire escape to wait for him on the front stoop. I swore again then looked under every pot I had already looked under for a spare key. Bill sat down, calm and relaxed.
The locksmith arrived, removed the safety latch, got in through the front door and, with Liz in tow, rescued us from our rooftop pen. Bill and I thanked Liz over and over, offered her a few bucks to buy a coffee or drink but she would not accept it. I wish I could say the same about the locksmith. An emergency, late afternoon call on the Saturday of Memorial weekend cost $419. I forked over my credit card, chalked it up to “these things happen,” and thanked the locksmith for coming out. All in all, we were locked out of the apartment for two hours.
After everyone left, Bill led me back up to the sliders on the second level. He stepped onto the terrace and I closed and locked the sliders behind him. With one hand, in about two seconds, he was able to lift the door off its track and slide it open. Too late, Bill had thought about scrambling down the third level terrace wall to the second level to try to break in through the sliders. By the time he had the thought the locksmith had already been called so he didn’t bother.
“You’re telling me the second floor isn’t secure,” Jana said when I called her later that night.
“Yup, but nobody’s getting in from the third floor,” I assured her.