It was about six in the afternoon. I was in the bathroom of my Rego Park apartment, washing my hands, when I spotted a gnat on the gnarled wood door. I directed a smart slap at the bug and missed, but two other things happened: the door slammed shut and the doorknobs fell off simultaneously.
I tried to reattach the inside doorknob; I couldn’t. I stuck my finger through the hole where the knob had been, but all my jiggling failed to manipulate the latch (the part that’s controlled by the knob and slips into the wall). Remembering that actors in films always open doors by sliding credit cards against the latch, I tried the technique with my comb.It apparently only works with credit cards (and only in the movies).
By now I knew I was seriously trapped—and in trouble. Since I didn’t live with anyone, a roommate wasn’t going to enter my apartment and rescue me. There were no tools or phone in the bathroom. And exacerbating my predicament were two significant factors: I’m claustrophobic and the bathroom is small. I began to sweat heavily, my heart was pummeling my chest, and I began to panic.
I spotted a plunger on the floor and decided to break down the door. I grabbed the plunger and bashed the door with the wood handle as hard as I could for several minutes. The door was old, but its wood was hardly brittle; indeed, as I frantically banged away, it seemed marmoreal. Finally, I inflicted a meager indentation, a bruise. I concentrated on that, and after more minutes of pounding, a small vertical hole, about three inches long, was ripped in the door’s surface. But that was the extent of my success. I couldn’t enlarge the hole with further bludgeoning or by attempting to tear pieces of wood off from the gash’s circumference.
Breathing became difficult. I dropped the toilet bowl cover, hopped on, swept a row of containers off the window shelf, opened the window, wrenched off the screen, stuck my head and shoulders out the window and breathed deeply. I actually seriously considered climbing out the window and somehow making my way to the window in my living quarters in order to re-enter my apartment. Fortunately, even in my addled state, I quickly realized that the idea was insane. For one thing, it was raining. For another, I would have had to cross — jump — several feet of open space to the other room’s air conditioner, sit atop it and work on opening the window. Bad odds.
Then, because I couldn’t think of anything else to do, I screamed for help. No answer. I recommenced striking the adamantine door with the plunger handle. It wouldn’t budge. Some minutes later, head out the window, I gave more cries for help. No response. Back to hitting the door. Up to the window, pleading for assistance.
And finally I heard, “What’s the problem?”
“I’m trapped in my bathroom. Please call the Fire Department.”
“I’ll call the super.”
“No, please call the Fire Department. The super can’t get through the front door of my apartment.”
I heard nothing further from that man, despite my calling out to him. I went back inside, even more disconsolate.
When I returned to the window and called out, a different voice asked what the matter was. I told him. (Incidentally, I couldn’t see any of my interlocutors. They didn’t stick their heads out of their windows.)
“What’s your apartment number?”
I supplied it. He too disappeared, but before I vacated my window, he returned and said, “I’ve called the Fire Department. Be patient.”
“Thank you. Who are you?” He didn’t answer.
More time passed, but at last a fire truck drove up to my building.Its lights were flashing. I was, suddenly, embarrassed: All that for me?
A few minutes later, I heard the front door of my apartment being battered and then, through the bathroom door’s new aperture, I saw the hall light turned on. Ecstasy! In a few seconds, the incarcerating door popped open and there were about six splendid firefighters standing in front of me. I had been confined for, I would guess, between one and two ghastly hours.
“I’ve never been so glad to see anyone in my life,” I told my visitors. “I’m claustrophobic. It was a nightmare.”
“Do you want to go to the hospital?” the boss of the team asked.
“No,” I replied, feeling extravagantly giddy with happiness. “I’m okay now.”
We walked to my front door. A great deal of debris — including locks — was strewn on the floor. “How,” I asked, “did you get this door open?”
The head firefighter laughed. “We have our own keys,” he said. (What firefighters actually have is special equipment.) With that, he and his colleagues departed. They didn’t take a formal statement from me or even ask my name. I celebrated my emancipation by buying a rotisserie chicken.
Howard Schneider is a writer living in Rego Park.