SOS Etiquette

Written by Jeanne Martinet on . Posted in Opinion and Column.


What happens when you become trapped in your New York apartment?

By Jeanne Martinet

When the doorknob came off in my hand, I couldn’t understand what had happened. It was as if I had been shaking a friend’s hand and had somehow pulled it completely out of its socket, like a scene from a horror film. After the initial shock, I felt incredibly stupid. I had known that the knob was loose; it had been loose for months, but I had put off doing anything about it.

I stood there with the detached knob in my hand. Panic started to take hold—mostly, I confess, because I was experiencing, on a fairly urgent level, the call of nature (having just woken up), and it was sinking in that I was stuck inside my bedroom with the bathroom on the other side of the door.

“Don’t get hysterical, just use your head,” I told myself. I took a deep breath, and slowly, gingerly, attempted to reattach the doorknob to the scant 3/4 of an inch length of spindle that was protruding from the doorknob hole. (The spindle is the square rod that connects the two knobs. You can see that I am now an expert.)

This proved to be a mistake; it slid backwards, threatening to fall out the other side. Cursing, I took the knob back off and grabbed onto the spindle with my left hand. I tried turning it with my fingertips, but the piece that was sticking out was too short to get a good grip.

At that instant I realized the fix I was in.

There was no phone in the room; my cell was charging on the hall table. What was I going to do? How would I ever get out? Would I be found weeks later with a brass doorknob in my lifeless hand?

Since I couldn’t open the door, my only course of action seemed to be to call out the window and hope that a stranger, in one of the dozens of apartments lining my inner courtyard, would come to my aid.

But would anyone listen? We boundary-conscious New Yorkers are pretty good at ignoring the outside world when we’re at home. We learn to tune out people’s loud moments of temper, frustration and other passions.

A lot of people scream out their windows when they are mad, or drunk, or both. It’s no wonder most of us are a bit suspicious when someone we don’t know yells something out there. Is the person unbalanced? Dangerous? Trying to scam us in some way?

And exactly what should I say? I could go with the traditional, and yell, “Help!” But this seemed too extreme for my situation. The last thing I wanted was to make anyone think I was seriously hurt or being attacked, and then have the police breaking down my door.

Also, I would have to give my address, which might be audible to hundreds of people. (I could see it now, the whole thing would be Tweeted: Woman in apt on Upper West Side, NYC, trapped in bdrm, yelling out window. If u want to know who this idiot is, her address is_____.)

What if I were to calmly, but loudly, call out, “Excuse me? Is anyone able to hear this? I’m sorry to bother you but I’ve been accidentally trapped in my bedroom—can you make a call for me?”

Then I remembered that the friend who had my spare keys is on my speed dial, and I couldn’t remember his phone number! Was he listed? Would an unseen bystander be willing to go that extra mile and look up a number? It seemed a lot to ask.

Perhaps I should I start with “sorry to bother you”?

The truth is that without visual contact, it’s very hard to get a New Yorker’s attention. And I am not a good yeller. Having lived in this city for many years, I have become a good nagger, a good bargainer and good at talking to strangers. But yelling to unseen hordes?

I decided I really didn’t want to yell out my window, unless it was absolutely necessary.

I steeled myself for one last attempt at saving myself. I reached into a bureau drawer, where I latched onto a cotton handkerchief. Carefully, praying under my breath, I wrapped it around the end of the spindle. The fabric was stiff enough that I got traction, and the door opened.

I sleep with a screwdriver in my bedroom now. And you would not believe how carefully I listen to the sounds coming from nearby apartments.

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Jeanne Martinet, aka Miss Mingle, lives on the Upper West Side and is the author of seven books on . Her latest book is a novel, Etiquette for the End of the World. You can contact her at JeanneMartinet.com.

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