SideLines: How to win an argument with a locked door

It was one of those things you see in the movies, but you never think it’s going to happen to you.

I was coming home from work a few days before Halloween. Like usual, I was a little rushed, trying to do too many things at the same time. I unlocked the front door, dropped some things off, then went back to the car to get the rest of my stuff. As I left the house, I left the heavy inside door open with the keys still in the lock, letting the screen door slam behind me. Generally, I try not to let the door slam, but when I’m in a hurry I’m not always as conscientious as I should be.

After gathering the rest of my things, I headed back towards the house. To my complete surprise, the screen door wouldn’t open. It was locked from the inside, which wasn’t even possible since there was no one in the house except my cat, who kept looking at me impatiently, waiting for me to come in and feed her. Doing the only manly thing I could think of, I shook the door handle, which obviously didn’t do any good.

No problem, I thought, I have my other house key. I’ll just go around to the back door and let myself in that way.

Unfortunately, the back screen door was also latched from the inside. There was no way to unlock either screen door from the outside with a key.

For a long moment, I felt like Griffin Dunne in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 movie, “After Hours.” Dunne’s character goes on a blind date and, through a series of misadventures, can’t find his way home. In my case, I was home; I just couldn’t get inside.

In TV or the movies, the person is usually draped in a towel when he accidentally locks himself out. I was fully dressed. Also, unlike Dunne’s character, I didn’t have an angry, vigilante mob chasing me through the streets of Manhattan accusing me of something I didn’t do. It was just me and my stupid, stubborn door, and an impatient cat on the other side. Still, it was a very strange feeling. Your house is the one place you should always be able to get in; when you can’t, the world doesn’t seem right, like you’ve been violated.

Twice, I have accidentally gotten locked inside a small gas station bathroom without windows. Besides making me claustrophobic, those experiences have convinced me that locks and door handles, in their own strange way, control the world. Imagine what life would be like if you couldn’t depend on either one. It almost sounds like a Stephen King story.

Since I hadn’t replaced the old-fashioned screen on the front door with a storm window yet, I was able to punch a hole in the screen, reach in and flip the lock, much to my hungry cat’s relief. I couldn’t do that with the back door, which is much newer and has a sliding window you can only change from the inside. Just like that, the mini-crisis was over and life was back to normal, except now I have to replace the screen.

I guess, the whole thing has taught me to always be prepared for anything because you never know what’s going to happen. And, even though I don’t expect it to ever happen again, always keep your outside screen doors unlocked.

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