SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
November 23, 2008

Beyond the Door

 

It had been well over a month since my oven had died (this time for good), so I finally broke down and called my landlord. With all that free-floating gas in the air and all the smoking going on in here, I didn’t want to be one of those idiots whose final claim to fame was as a small item on page fifteen of the Post entitled “One Dies in Brooklyn Gas Explosion.”

            My landlord has always been a sweetheart. I’ve been here nearly twenty years now, and she’s always taken good care of me. So when I told her about the stove, she decided that it was about time she got a new one. The stove, after all, had been here before I moved in. And while she was at it, she would get me a new fridge, too, since mine was all rusty and greasy, having been here just as long as the stove. It all sounded fine with me.

            Then in passing, she mentioned that the handyman was going to be replacing the building’s front door.

            This was a good thing, too. Whenever my landlord has a chance to make improvements on the building, she does. She’s a rarity that way. And there was no denying the front door was in rough shape—it was warped, the paint was peeling, and the knob was always threatening to fall off. My landlord had been talking about replacing it for some time now, and finally had the chance. I could just stay in my apartment for the couple of hours it would take, and then they’d be done with it.

            I obviously don’t know much about the handyman game. They showed up around ten Wednesday morning and filled the front hall with two-by-fours and circular saws and drills and what not, and set to work. I couldn’t have left the building if I wanted to. By six that night, after a long day of drilling and pounding and sawing, they had successfully removed the old front door. That’s it—they just removed the door, leaving a gaping, inviting open doorway. Now I really couldn’t leave the building, out of fear some ne’er-do-well would sneak into my apartment while I was away and steal my beer and my novelization collection.

            It was only a minor inconvenience at this point. It’s not like I go out much anyway. And before they left they told me they’d be finishing up the next day.

            But after another long day of pounding and drilling and sawing, things looked pretty much like they had the previous day. The building was still doorless, the handymen were promising they’d be finished the next day, and I was still trapped. I began to wonder if it was taking them this long because they were actually making the door from scratch themselves. That would explain all the boards piled up in the entryway.

            I start to get a little funny in the head if I stay inside for too long—especially when I have no choice about it. The smokes, food and beer supply were still holding out, so that was good—but things were going to be getting slim soon.

            Friday came and went, again with no front door hanging in the frame at the end. I was doing a lot of pacing and mumbling, giving myself lectures and coming up with awful jokes, all of which began, “How many Dominican handymen does it take to hang a door?”.

            Morgan and I had made plans in Manhattan for Saturday, but now it was unclear if I’d be able to leave the building. My fear was that the handymen would see me leave, then hang the new door in place (complete with heavy duty modern lock) in a matter of seconds, trapping me outside without a key.

            That’s just the kind of thing they’d do, too, I bet, I began thinking.

            Saturday morning I called my landlord to find out what the deal was. I didn’t want to be a pest, but jeepers.

            The handymen wouldn’t be coming back until Monday, she assured me, and I didn’t have to worry about being locked out. Oh, she added, also on Monday morning these same handymen would be removing my old stove and fridge and installing the new ones, so I’d need to clean the fridge out before they showed up.

            That would be no problem, given that with each passing day the fridge was growing emptier and emptier.

            I still felt weird leaving my doorless building for the weekend, so Morgan and I put off our plans, and she came to Brooklyn instead.

            On Monday morning, I dutifully cleared all the non-perishables (mostly wine, beer and mustard) out of the refrigerator. I left the milk and juice in there until the handymen showed up, in the hopes they wouldn’t be left sitting on the counter long enough to spoil. Then I waited.

            Now, maybe it’s the German in me, but when someone tells me “early Monday morning,” I assume they mean, oh, nine or ten. After all, that’s the time they’d been showing up to . . . well, do whatever it was they were doing down by the front door. But nine came and passed, as did ten, then eleven and twelve. I took to pacing and mumbling again. I really only had one night’s worth of food left in the house, and if I wasn’t able to get out to the store that afternoon (or at least early the next morning) I was going to be in some pretty iffy shape. Not to mention anything about the beer and smokes situation. But I had to wait, given that they were bound to show up at any moment. Or at least call or something.

            On Tuesday morning—a week after learning this was all going to be taking place—I had no choice. I was now out of food, so I ducked out of the apartment shortly after seven to restock. There was still no front door or new appliances, but the front gate had been repainted. And shortly after I returned from the store, a man with a drill and a hammer set himself up in the hallway outside my apartment and began pounding holes in the wall. I was told to expect this, but I’d been told to expect this on the previous Thursday. So far as I knew, this was just some random lunatic who’d wandered into the building.

            It was getting absurd and bad. Because I had to stay off-line on the off chance the handyman called to tell me he was on his way with the stove and fridge, I had missed some important business emails, and as a result may have blown a deal. I tried to explain the situation, but even as I did I knew it sounded like a classically bad excuse. “I missed your note because I was trapped in my apartment with no stove, fridge or front door.” It would’ve been more believable if I’d said I had a dose of the plague or had been abducted by aliens.

            I finally called my landlord to see if she had any idea when I should be expecting the handyman. I probably should have done this the previous day, but I didn’t want to tie up the phone line.

            She wasn’t answering, so I left a message, which meant once again I had to sit and wait to hear from her. My stomach wasn’t feeling so good. I started listening to Laibach records and contemplated throwing bottles out the window at random passers-by.

            I didn’t do that, though. Instead I sat down and continued waiting. As I listened to the drill tearing away at the other side of the wall from where I was sitting, I was convinced once again (as I am every few weeks) that whole damn thing really was just a big sick joke on God’s part.

 

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