I asked a cat burglar to break into my apartment. Who else would I ask?
I had just moved to a brownstone in the West Village, so there was no way I was going to pick up the bill for a locksmith when I took out the garbage at 2 a.m. and forgot the right key.
Chuck, my neighbor across the hall, was an older man, blind and bedridden. He always left his door unlocked so the homecare aides could come and go. If I could just get into Chuck’s apartment, I could climb from his fire escape onto mine and get through my window.
I knocked on Chuck’s door.
“Hello, do you mind?” I asked as I turned the knob gingerly. As an Armenian girl from Vancouver, I am very trusting. And, of course, I’m resourceful.
“Who’s there?” croaked Chuck, the disturbed phlegm in his throat triggering a coughing fit. “Get the fuck out of here!” He always talked that way, even to his homecare workers.
“I’m sorry,” I said, sounding like sweetness itself. “I just need to go out your window…”
“GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!” More coughing. Some wheezing.
I went back downstairs. Surveying the fire escape, I thought that if I could just pull the emergency ladder down I could use it to get to my window.
It was now 2:30 a.m. A young couple strolled by.
“Excuse me, could you help?” I asked. “I locked myself out.”
The guy looked at me uncertainly, so I pointed as innocently as I could to my window on the third floor and said, “No really.” Then I darted to unlock the vestibule door to prove I had rights here. “I just forgot my door key.”
Once this very Upper East Side guy was sure I was safe to be around, he seized the opportunity to show his date how chivalrous he could be. He balanced himself on the top of the front gate and strained for the locked fire escape ladder, but he just didn’t have the chops, or the reach.
Anxiety brewed in my chest. From the corner of my eye I spied a man on a 10-speed. I mean a real 10-speed bike, like the ones they had in the ’70s. He wore a teal Members Only jacket, which were to men what Andre Michelle jeans were to ladies’ asses in the early ’80s. This lovely street urchin and I locked eyes; I knew he would be my knight in shining polyester. As he slowed his chariot, he asked without hesitation if he could help.
“I’m locked out of my apartment; do you think you can get onto that ladder?”
The Upper East Sider scowled. Not only did he lose bragging rights in front of his date, but now it was obvious that I was soliciting an actual cat burglar. Maybe so, but I reasoned that if I pay him, he is not a cat burglar; he is, in fact, a handyman.
My cat burglar’s name was Marcus Alexis—at least it was that night. He was a real pro; it took him less then a minute to devise a plan.
“Wait here,” he said authoritatively.
He loped down the street and returned carrying a light blue plank with “Property of NYC” painted on it in white. He wedged the blue wood between the steps of the ladder, then shimmied up the plank about 12 feet, grabbed a rung, and hoisted himself up.
“Which window, Miss?” he called down in a stage whisper.
“That one there,” I said, pointing. “I’ll meet you out by my front door.”
The Upper East Sider made one last half-hearted stab at gallantry. “We’ll wait here until he’s out of your apartment,” he said.
It’s not like I couldn’t tell there was something off about my cat burglar, but he was so good at his craft.
On my way down the hall, I heard a frantic, smothered cry.
“GET THE FUCK OUT!”
Chuck’s door opened and Marcus poked his head into the hallway.
“Uh, wrong window,” I explained.
While I gave Marcus instructions to go back into the lion’s den, out the window and across the fire escape, Chuck was nearly convulsed. “Fuck you bitch!” Cough. “Get the fuck out!”
Marcus was freaked but remained fearless. With one last “Fuck you bitch!” from Chuck, I closed my neighbor’s front door considerately.
In less then a minute, Marcus had opened the right door, his smile revealing fewer then five teeth. I gave him $30 for his truly gallant gesture and then stuck my head out the window to thank the Upper East Side couple. The guy yelled back, “You’re nuts lady!”
I waved farewell.
Nuts maybe. But I’d made it inside.
Liza Deyrmenjian started her own garment manufacturing business, became a filmmaker and started her own school. She is currently working on her book, 48 Hours to your own business!, while developing her next film, 22000 Days.