Sunday, April 22, 2007

a damsel in distress.

(and now for something a little different).

Earlier tonight I spent an hour shuffling heavy cartons around my storage unit, dismembering useless cardboard boxes, pouring styrofoam peanuts into plastic bags. I had those damn packing peanuts in my hair, stuck to my pants, drifting into the hallway. As soon as I closed my hand around the escaping ones, more floated away. I got hotter and more exhausted with every minute, peeling off my jacket, pausing to catch my breath. But at last I was done. Bags of trash were lined up next to the door; a giant cardboard box was filled with other giant cardboard boxes. I could only think of one thing - haul everything away and return to my apartment to finish cleaning up before my mother arrived in...fifteen hours. And then disaster struck.

Blindly I shoved everything that needed to be thrown away out of the storage locker, closed the door, clicked the padlock closed, and then....wait for it....realized that my jacket was hanging on the folding chairs that were leaning insouciantly against the wall behind the door. With my keys inside. The keys that enable me to a) get into remote-controlled entrance from the parking lot to the elevator, b) get into the secure, locked storage room, c) into my storage locker inside said secure, locked storage room, and finally, d) my apartment. It only takes minutes to sprint to the front desk, frantically beg the doorman to give me a) the spare key to my apartment, and b) his own personal set of keys which will get me back into the storage room. But things get worse. I can't find the second key for the padlock anywhere in my apartment.

And here a lifetime of self-training kicked in. I grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries, where the scheming villain was always locking poor Nancy in closets or down in cellars or trapping her on sinking boats. She always managed to get out with the help of a handy broom or hairpin or buttonhook or something. Later, I would read the Mrs. Pollifax novels, by Dorothy Gilman, about an elderly woman who volunteered to be a CIA agent. Her first endeavor (The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax) involved her being kidnapped in Mexico City and transported to an Albanian prison, where somehow she managed to escape with a stolen gun and two companions, one of whom had a broken leg and a bullet wound (from which she had removed the bullet, using a borrowed penknife and some brandy). Whereas I had never so much as managed to unlock a door with a credit card, I always felt that if I found myself in any situation where I had to crash a car into the mountainside and break the rear window to get out (The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax) I would know exactly what to do.

But meanwhile, there is a set of keys behind a padlocked door, and I have to get them out and finish cleaning my apartment, preferably tonight. What would Nancy Drew do?, I think to myself. If I had something long and thin perhaps I could snag the sleeve of my jacket, pull it off the chair, slide it close enough to the wire netting of that little cubicle I use to store old books and cd players that don't work and most of the contents of my mother's kitchen cabinets so that I can grab my keys from the pocket. A hanger made of a single piece of wire refuses to unkink itself in my hands; another one that has a tube of cardboard to drape your trousers over obligingly pops apart. I run back downstairs, back into the creepy silence of the storage room, which, frankly, freaks me out a little, shiver with anticipation as I slide the unbent wire through a crack to poke at my hapless jacket. I feel it give a little, tug harder, and then BOOM! the chair crashes to the concrete floor.

I am glad that there are no witnesses to my insanity. One sleeve is caught beneath the fallen chair; I have to slide the wire hanger under the door and pull, pull, pull until finally it is free and I can slide it over to the stretch of fencing that encloses my little unit. I am so close - but the sleeve defies my efforts to capture it until, at last! I catch one corner of my jacket and pull it closer, closer still, until finally I touch warm fleece, work my way around the pockets, and the keys fall into my hands. The night still stretches before me - there are beds to be made, dishes to wash, pots to scrub, books to put away. But I have succeeded in this one thing. Thanks to Nancy Drew.

No comments: