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Stealing clothes, hanging from fire escapes—it’s all part of growing up.

By Jennifer Weiss

Illustration by Regan Dunnick

I adored my chemistry and ethnomusicology courses, but the best part about summer school was living in the sublet room in the house on Pine Street. Finally, I was paying my own rent, buying my own groceries, with no College House RA to call on for help—on my own, more or less.

As I shampooed my hair one morning toward the end of summer, I reflected that the previous two months had been an unequivocal success. I stepped out of the shower, dried myself off, and combed my hair. Softly humming, I wrapped myself in a towel and padded back down the hall to my room.

I was locked out.

At first, I thought I must be mistaken. I repeatedly attempted to turn the knob. I jiggled it in case it was just stuck. I even heaved my shoulder against the door. Nothing budged. Furthermore, I was beginning to feel conspicuous.

When I am caught in unfortunate circumstances, I try to be optimistic and find some way in which the situation is actually positive—a blessing in disguise. I mused, “Well, this situation is good because it’s not happening during a nuclear war.” Nope. “This situation is good because at least I have a towel.” I sighed.

One thing was clear—I had to find some clothes. I decided to ask the other girl who lived on my floor if I could borrow something to wear. I really didn’t know her, and I cringed at the certain embarrassment involved in asking her, but I had no choice.

She wasn’t in her room, but when I knocked, the door slid open a few feet. On her bed lay a beautiful stack of freshly laundered clothes … If I wished, I could dash into her room and grab something to put on; there was no one to stop me. Ashamed of my thought, I chastised myself: “Jenny, you can’t sneak into someone’s room and steal—er, borrow—her clothes. That’s a terrible and immoral thing to do!” But after a moment’s hesitation, I snatched a T-shirt, some shorts, and a pair of flip-flops, and sprinted back to the bathroom to change.

The flip-flops were hopelessly large—the girl was about eight inches taller than me. Plus, I was terrified that she would return home, catch me wearing her clothes, and think I was really creepy and strange.

I briefly considered calling the managing company for the house—but subletting is prohibited in most lease agreements, and I didn’t want to get the student who had rented to me in trouble. Then I remembered that my fourth-floor room had a small door that led out to a fire escape. With renewed hope, I walked to the backyard and surveyed the fire escape. The fourth-floor door looked awfully high, and the stairs seemed narrow and rickety. Nonetheless, I began climbing. 

By the second floor, I was getting nervous. The old, rusty stairs pitched to one side, and the handrail swayed with the slightest touch. Once, when I stepped down, the rung broke off and my leg crashed through up to my hip, cutting my shin. Glancing at the pavement three stories below, I grabbed the stair above with my hands and pulled myself onto the escape again. To make matters worse, my humungous flip-flops were constantly tripping me, but I couldn’t remove them because the rungs had so many sharp edges.

When I reached the fourth floor, I felt like I’d conquered Everest. As I tried to open the fire-escape door for my room, however, I discovered it was nailed shut. I stamped my feet in frustration, causing rusted bits of fire escape to break off and fall to the ground. Sighing, I headed back down the stairs.

Resigned now to calling a locksmith, I wandered the house looking for someone who would lend me a phone. (There were none in the common areas of the house, and mine was safely sealed inside my room.) A sympathetic young man on the first floor invited me in and assured me that I could use his phone. He also suggested, however, that there was a locksmith just a few blocks away. Elated, I marched off—but when I arrived —at 3:05—I found that it had closed at three o’clock. 

After a quick stop at High Rise East to consult a phone book, I returned to the house with the names and phone numbers of three locksmiths, borrowed the telephone of my first-floor ally, and began calling. The first locksmith would charge $140, the second, $95, and the third, $65. An hour later, I gleefully entered my room, $65 dollars poorer, four hours after my initial lock-out. The place had never looked so good. I removed my borrowed clothes, laundered, ironed, and folded them, and placed them on my neighbor’s bed. She would never know.

The peculiar thing about this experience is that although it was frustrating, I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment when I finally got into my room. Initially, I was intimidated by the mere prospect of knocking on a strange girl’s door to borrow a T-shirt. By the end, I had taken (and returned) an entire outfit, climbed four stories on a dilapidated fire escape, shopped prices for locksmiths, found a telephone, and made a new friend on the first floor.

I think my experience of being locked out was a good one, not because it didn’t happen during a nuclear war (although that was fortunate), but because it helped me understand what being grown up is about—accepting challenges, embracing experiences, and unlocking doors.

Jennifer Weiss is a sophomore from Calabasas, California, majoring in theater arts and linguistics. She is now unbelievably careful with her keys.

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