International Writers Magazine: NY Life Stories
Kindness of Strangers - a true story
Hello!" I yelled louder and louder hoping someone would respond.
My face was pressed up against my tiny bathroom window. I was straining
to see 5 floors down to the street behind my building. "Hello"
I kept yelling -voice rising in desperation, hoping someone, anyone
would answer. My eyes scanned nearby windows for signs of life.
All I needed was one human to notice me and help would be on the
But this wasnt
a main street; it was a quiet alley, exactly the kind youd want
your place to back onto, especially if youd just moved to New
York to become a writer. However, if you happened to be trapped in your
bathroom mid-afternoon on a winters day, this is the last space
youd want outside your window.
I wasnt locked in, no, nothing as ditzy as that. The door, newly
painted had closed emphatically behind me and simply refused to open.
I tried, believe me I did. I tugged and I pulled till my fingers were
raw but the damn door wouldnt budge. After 5 minutes of Herculean
efforts I sat on the toilet and pondered my situation. I could see the
comedy, even laughed out loud, then it dawned on me the gravity of my
predicament. My mobile was outside lying on my bed, my apt door was
locked so no one could get in and I had no contact with the outside
world, except through a tiny portal 2 feet squared above a back street
where nobody walks.
I peered through the window to scope out the possibility of climbing
my way down. No chance. The fire escape was too far and the 5 story
drop to concrete meant sudden death. Eyes scanned, mind whirred and
slowly, possibility and impossibility presented themselves in tandem.
Thoughts came along like this: If I spot someone down below I could
call out. And when what? Well I could ask them to phone one of my friends
who would of course come over and rescue me. Right. Except I dont
know any of their numbers off by heart. So a passerby with phone was
still no use. I could ask a stranger to come rescue me directly but
theyd be locked out of my building. Course, they could always
buzz another tenant until someone let them in. But even if they got
in the building, they still wouldnt get into my apt with its auto-locking
front door. Hmmm
what to do. I knew there was a superintendent
on the first floor and he must have a master key. Aha, thats it!
Finally I saw someone. He was young, black cap, nice shoes, cute
I hollered down. It took two calls before he looked up to my hands waving
furiously. "Hi" I shouted across the distance, "My name
is Annie, I just moved in and Im locked in my bathroom. I cannot
open the door, its stuck and left my phone outside." I grinned
a plaintive smile and went quiet, hoping hed feel sorry enough
Two things were going on inside me. I didnt want to ask too much
of him, he was clearly en route somewhere. I rarely ask family or friends
to go out of their way for me, far less random strangers. On the other
hand, I did need help and actually noticed a slight pleasure role playing
this damsel in distress; it was delightfully feminizing. This externally
imposed state of begging secretly felt good, especially because it was
mandatory. Being forced to submit to behaviors almost against my will
and fight back against habitual restraints like my fierce independence
was strange and exciting.
"Want me to call someone?" my savior hollered up from below,
phone in hand.
"Well, yeah that would be great." My ego was paying an unwanted
visit; instead of admitting I didnt know any of my numbers I began
shouting out random combinations resembling a friends mobile.
"xxx 646 1619, try that, her name is Jena." He tried, it didnt
work. "How about xxx 942 1916?"
no go. One last try "xxx
not in service. I apologized and we both stared
back, stumped and bewildered.
I knew what I had to ask him, but my desire to be polite was making
it difficult; Ive always struggled to ask for help. However, he
was the only person Id seen walk by in ten minutes and who knows
how long it would be before I saw another victim. This might be my only
"Theres a superintendent on the first floor, maybe you could
let him know Im stuck?" I asked tentatively. "If youre
too busy Ill understand, I could always ask someone else."
There I was ashamed of inconveniencing another, forgetting of course
that beggars cant be choosers. "It would help me out so immensely,
if you could find the super, I dont know what else to do?"
Funny how desperation gives us sudden courage.
He was already walking around the side of the building headed for the
front door. "Thank-you sooo much!" I screamed after him. "If
you save me Ill love you forever." Im so dramatic,
It was cold while I waited, sitting patiently on my toilet; the window
was open. In tank top and jeans I shivered in silence. Every few seconds
I looked out the window to see if my savior had returned. He finally
showed up, his face furrowed and said "I met the postman in the
hallway, he told me today is the supers day off. We buzzed him
anyway, but no one was home."
My heart sank. Shit. What do I do now? There were only 2 keys that could
help me, one was on my bed and the other was with George, the absent
super. I suddenly started to get scared. If George was off and I had
no phone, how would I ever get out? I might be stuck in here for days.
I had no scheduled meetings or people until Friday so no one would miss
me. What if I starved to death! Panic was courting. I looked back out
my would-be savior was staring up in limbo. I let him
go, told him Id figure something out, faked a cavalier smile and
thanked him for his effort. He frowned sympathetically and said hed
come check on me in ten minutes. Apparently he worked at a tavern on
the corner: note to self.
Now what. I looked out across the barren street and noticed two carpenters
staring up from a lower unit under construction. I waved; they smiled
and opened their window while I explained my situation. They offered
some technical tips on how to jiggle the lock and push on the handle,
but what they didnt get was my door wasnt locked, it was
stuck, wedged closed super tight from a recent coating of paint. They
continued to encourage me to jostle the knob and push hard. I felt my
frustration rising inside at their well-meaning but unhelpful suggestions.
"If I could open the door myself Id already be out!"
I answered with irritation. I knew that anger, unbidden, was making
its way into my mind and all I could think was if youre not part
of the solution, youre just part of the problem.
I sat on the toilet again trying not to be stressed. "Breathe",
I mumbled. If I could just keep calm and breathe, something good would
manifest. Id once done 10 straight days of solid meditation and
none of it was helping me now. Suddenly, "Hey, anyone up there?"
It was a new voice outside my window.
I leapt up and saw a uniformed serviceman looking up from the ground.
He explained he was the same postman my would-be savior had met in the
hallway. "So George-the-super isnt here?" I asked one
He shook his head knowingly, like hed been coming here for years.
"Nope, Wednesday is always his day off."
I explained my conundrum again: new to city, brand new apt, first time
in bathroom, recently painted, door too tight, couldnt open, no
phone, no super
He called up a question, "Your apartment door
is it only the
bottom lock thats locked?"
"Yes." I confirmed.
"I could try jimmying your front door open with a credit card,
but I thought I should ask first." This street savvy postman was
already my friend.
"Really?" I lit up. "Yes, please
please could you?
Do it, break into my place, whatever it takes. If you save me, Ill
love you forever." This time I meant it. He smiled and disappeared
around the corner.
I waited. Two minutes, three minutes. My heart was pounding with possibility.
Then I heard some noise outside the bathroom door and knew he was in
my apartment. I began knocking from inside to get his attention. "Im
coming," he answered "just stand back." All of a sudden
the door flew open and at last I was free!
I ran out and doused him in a shower of thanks -glowing with exuberance,
adrenaline and relief. There he stood
bald, chubby, middle aged,
with warm open eyes -he was exactly what a local hero would look like.
"You are my hero!" I squealed emphatically, giving him a hug.
He smiled wide, "I liked the: Ill love you forever part."
"I do." I re-iterated and confirmed my eternal debt.
Shyly, he offered "well maybe we can go out for a drink sometime;
since youre new I could show you around town."
"Absolutely," I agreed, "anytime". He pulled out
some paper, asked for my number and happily I wrote down the right one.
We waved bye as he disappeared down the hallway.
I flopped on my bed and started to write, it was the only thing I could
do to capture the impromptu madness of my first day, in my first apartment
in New York.
© Annie Lalla Feb 2008
this 10 min story told out loud in my own voice: damsel, distressed
most have barely heard of it, many are intrigued, few are
brave enough to go. If this is your first encounter with the phenomenon
of Burning Man, welcome.
previously Annie Lalla on Hacks
There are no cars here. You walk everywhere by foot. All transport
of goods is accomplished by wheelbarrows marked "Taxi" on the side with
I am in Kerela now, Trivandrum -the capital of this southern Indian
state. It is noisy and bustling and very raw, but also extremely soft.
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