The Kindness of Strangers

You really never know how you’re going to react in a life or death situation until you’re actually in one. Some people panic. Some people freeze. Some people become heroic. I mostly just kicked.

It was Saturday afternoon around 3:00pm, and I was doing my laundry. After pulling my clothes out of the dryer, I hugged them briefly for warmth, then folded them neatly in my basket. As I headed out of the basement and pulled on the door handle, it wouldn’t open. I yanked a few more times, rattling the door more violently. It then became all too apparent to me that the latch on the outside of the door must have slammed shut when I closed the door, locking me inside.

I was trapped.

In the basement.

In winter.

In a little red hooded sweatshirt.

My first thought, immediately after “Oh you have got to be f*cking kidding me,” was, “If I ever make it out of here alive, I’m so blogging this.”

I didn’t have my trusty notebook with me to record the experience, but I’ll try my best to recap my thought process as I endured what was both the longest and shortest hour of my life. Any bad swears are due to the post-traumatic stress disorder that I’m probably suffering from right this very moment.


Clean laundry – yay! Oh god, it’s so warm, and smells so good. I almost want to crawl inside the dryer. A lot of cats die by crawling into dryers. Didn’t Kerry’s cat die in the dryer? How do I have five unmatched socks? God, that drives me nuts.

[Balance laundry basket on hip, then pull on door, which doesn’t budge. Set laundry basket down to pull again with two hands. Still doesn’t budge. Think about it for a moment, then realize that the latch must have flipped shut when I closed the door.]

Oh f*ck.

You have got to be f*cking kidding me! Okay, just step back a second. This is so not a big deal. I’ll just kick the door really hard and someone will hear me. Yeah, right. Just like they heard my apartment door being kicked in when I was burglarized last year.

F*cking morons.

[Kick the door for about 10 minutes. Listen every few minutes for any signs of life outside. Hear nothing and resume kicking.]

Maybe I should try Morse code. Three fast, three slow, three fast is S.O.S. Who the hell knows Morse code? I mean, everyone knows Morse code for S.O.S. but who would actually pay attention to it?

[Look around basement. There are no windows, only storage lockers, benches, a broken stove, washers and dryers.]

A broken stove? What can I do with a broken stove? Coils, steel, metal racks… think, dammit, think!

Okay, maybe there are some tools down here. I’ll just have to break the door down. Crap, I’m totally gonna have to call my landlord to tell him I broke the door down because I was trapped in the basement. Godammit. I hate calling him. Then he’s gonna be all, “You did what? And hey, did you even pay your March rent yet?”

[Walk back up to door and slam shoulder into it, thinking this might jiggle the latch loose. This hurts a lot, and is nothing like when Bruce Willis does it in the movies. Return to girly kicking and door rattling.]

Let’s see, what else is down here that I can use? Here’s a wooden table leg. No, probably not. Bed frame? It’s heavy enough, and if I got a running start, it just might work. But as a last resort only. I could always just wait for someone to come down and do their laundry. But no one does laundry on Saturday night. I’ll be here until Sunday afternoon.

Oh god, I’m so thirsty.

There’s got to be something here that I can use to get out.

[Open random unlocked storage lockers, looking through neighbors’ crap. Broken lamp, ceramic plant pots, Christmas lights, game of horseshoes…]

Horseshoes! I could use those for something, definitely. Like a hammer. What am I hammering? Something. The broken stove maybe? What does that even mean?

Hey, that’s kind of a cool antique dresser! I sure wouldn’t keep it down here, though. It’s covered in cobwebs. Is that a dead cockroach? F*ck.

[Scan the basement walls. Look to see if windows have suddenly appeared. Notice a little crack in the third panel of the door. Did I do that? Look at the fuse boxes on the west wall.]

Fuse boxes! I could cut the electricity, then surely someone would come down here to check the fuses. Or are they all so stupid they would just assume it was a blackout, and light some candles? Yes, these people are all that stupid. I hate these people. I should smash all their stuff. Except that antique dresser – I’m just taking that if I ever get out of here alive.

[Kick door really hard, thankful I wore heavy shoes today.]

Oh, god. I’m dying of thirst. I’m really glad I went to the bathroom before coming down here, though. What if I had to pee on the floor, or worse? Oh, I don’t even want to think about that. Is there any food down here? My mouth is really dry.

[Hear car going through alley. Run to door and resume kicking.]

I think I hear a car slowing down. Oh, I can kind of see something through the crack. Hello?! Hello?! Oh crap – it’s pulling away. They’re pulling away! Damn you!

[Kick really, really hard. Alternate patterns of kicking. Kick to the beat of Push It. What seems like an eternity passes until I hear signs of life outside.]


I hear someone! Someone’s walking this way!

Hello?! Can you open this door please?

[Door opens, and I see my neighbors from two houses down. I don’t know them, but always wave to the man when he’s walking his fat-bellied dogs.]

Oh my god, thank you! The latch shut when I closed the door! I’ve been trying to MacGyver my way out of here for the past hour!


We shook hands and laughed, and I decided to never to do laundry again. I thought about how important it is to be nice to neighbors and wave to them when they are walking their fat dogs. And then I immediately called Natasha to tell her my tale. We spent the next 20 minutes playing through various fantasy sequences where my lack of human contact turned me into a savage:

“I love how you started going through everyone’s stuff after only being locked in for like five minutes.”

“I had to! I could’ve been down there for days! I was trying to figure out how I could short-circuit the whole building. Or carve a hole in the door, push a metal rod through, and wiggle the latch until it flipped open.”

“What if you went all Rip Van Winkle, and when they found you, your hair was really long, and your nails were like claws?”

“Totally! Or I would’ve turned all Lord of the Flies, and as soon as someone came through the door, I would have killed them with all the booby traps I had created from two bicycle tires and a milk crate.”

“And then you’d be eating bugs and catching rats to survive. Why did you just turn into Gollum?”

“I almost did! And I was so thirsty down there!”

“Aren’t there wash basins in your laundry room?”

“Uh… oh yeah, I guess there are. So I wouldn’t have died of dehydration, that much we’ve learned. But I almost forgot how to talk, I was down there so long. I was like Nell… tay ina winnnn…”

“Did you find a beachball and draw a bloody smiley face on it like Tom Hanks in Castaway?”

“Yes. Yes, I did. I was all, WILSON!!!

“Well, I’m glad you survived. You should always bring your cell phone with you to the laundry room from now on.”

“No doubt. All right, I need to go get some food. It’s like, you don’t even know how good food tastes until you’ve been deprived of it for so long. See you later!”

I just hope someday someone finds the self-portrait I drew on the wall using laundry detergent and spider legs. Otherwise it’ll be like I was never really there.

32 Responses to “The Kindness of Strangers”

  1. romy Says:

    brilliant psychological self-portrait. i love how you went through all the phases of isolated confinement in about 20 sentences. :)
    and i’m glad you got out.
    so … what did you eat?

  2. nina Says:

    hey, did the experience mess with your head and did you mess with the date or did romy anticipate your brilliance by a whole 7 hours?
    Anyway, I think knocking out electricity was pure genius. You have survival skills. Gypsy blood.

  3. nina Says:

    …I mean, I know you didn’t really knock out the power, but thinking of it: brilliant. BTW, how does the dresser look in your apartment?

  4. jenny Says:

    Romy: Thanks! When you’re all alone with your thoughts for such a long period of time, it really allows you to fine-tune your self-analysis skills. Once I escaped my grueling bonds of imprisonment, I ordered some Thai, of course!
    Nina: Romy is actually clairvoyant. She’s cool like that. And I’m glad you liked the fuse idea – I was pretty proud of it myself. Oddly, last week I was thinking of writing about how my friends would often discuss which of us would survive longest on a deserted island, and they always unanimously voted that I would die first because I’ve never been camping and I don’t like to pee in the woods. I think this proves them wrong… ;)

  5. Caitlinator Says:

    I got locked in a public bathroom in Africa once. It was the scariest five minutes of my life so I hear you on this one, sister.

  6. Peggasus Says:

    I’m hoping there will be eleven more parts of this tale, involving cheating wives, pooping midgets, gay cops and shootings of brother-in-laws recently relased from prison. And of course it wll be called ‘Trapped in the Laundry Room.’

  7. Kevin Says:

    So you’re running through all the pop culture possibilities with your friend and you little red, hooded sweatshirt did cull up memories of Little Red Riding Hood? No jokes about the Big Bad Wolf trapping you in his lowly basement?

  8. kb Says:

    jenny, i’m totally with you. i got locked inside a house once. ridiculous, yes. i took a nap, everyone who lived there left… bolting the doors and setting the alarm as they went. after unsuccessfully rifling through drawers for keys to the doors, i ended up jumping from the second floor balcony landing in some bushes to pad the fall. all this to see nell carter sing on the mall for the 4th of july. being trapped and a “nell”… it’s all too familiar.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Dear Jenny,
    I wish I could have been your stunt double. And yet, perhaps an hour of imprisonment is worth something if you can get a fairy tale like this out of it. Hilarious.

  10. Tracy Lynn Says:

    Dude! That’s amazing! You are a master of the survival situation! I only ever seem to get locked out of places, it takes some skill to get locked in.

  11. jenny Says:

    Caitlin: Foreign country trumps domestic basement anyday!
    Peggasus: Are you actually David Lynch, because that sounds like the plot to all of his movies.
    Kevin: I never mentioned my attire, otherwise that most certainly would have come up!
    kb: I don’t know which I’m more impressed by – that you jumped out of a second story window, or that you went to see Nell Carter. Gimme a break!
    Viv: See… I need a stunt double! A really strong one who could kick down doors really easily!
    Tracy Lynn: Yes, indeed, it takes a special person to get locked inside a building. My mom always said I was special.

  12. sween Says:

    Awwww! Jenny, you’re so cute! You say “F*ck”! That’s just adorable. (However, I would have been offended if you said “Fu*k”. Or “T*rkish Delight”.)
    My advice would have been remove the fuses, replace the fuses, remove the fuses, replace the fuses… until somebody came the f*ck down!
    But I also would have probably spent my time making a cool fort with the washers, dryers, and fabric softener sheets…

  13. mike Says:

    You wouldn’t have starved, I’m sure. Just climb into one of those dryers. I hear cat tastes just like chicken!

  14. Edgy Mama Says:

    Next time I get stuck in a dark, cold basement, I’ll think of you.
    One of my kids managed to lock our bathroom door the other day–while she was outside the bathroom. So we couldn’t get INTO the bathroom. That was cause for panic. Luckily, I have a friend who picked the lock with a steak knife. I didn’t ask.

  15. ms. sizzle Says:

    i was like nell. ha ha ha. that is so funny.
    chickapaaaayinthewiiiind. ;)

  16. Karen Says:

    I once woke up while sleepwalking, and found myself trapped in a pitch-black, windowless room. I nearly destroyed the place in my blind panic, but finally realized that I was in my own bathroom, forced myself to quit flailing around, and found the doorknob. Scariest couple of minutes of my life. Also among the most pathetic, now that I look at it in writing.

  17. jenny Says:

    sween: Of course I say “f*ck” – I’m Can*dian now. Everyone knows the Americans pronounce it “f%ck.”
    mike: Mmm… cat… wait a minute! I like cats, and not in that way!!
    edgy mama: Hmm. Picked the lock w/ a steak knife, you say? Well… as the saying goes – keep your friends close and your enemies closer!
    sizz: OMG – you really saw the movie, didn’t you? did it make you insane?
    karen: Next time that happens, call edgy mama. She has friends who know stuff.

  18. trisha Says:

    Well, now you are just showing off with the funny.

  19. Fiorello La Guardia Says:

    Oh, Jenny, I was immediately dreaming up a last movie scene to this story…the guy who opened the door was single, rich, handsome, and just waiting all his life to rescue a beautiful damsel in distress.
    You and he fell in love in about 10 minutes.
    And they lived happily ever after…..
    LaGuardia Studios Production

  20. 3rdtimesacharm( 3T ) Says:

    LMAO! (Sorry) I’m laughing with you, of course.
    That would have been more than a little scary! But damn it made for some quality and funny blogging! :-)

  21. Pants Says:

    You faired better than I would have…I would have drank bleach.

  22. jenny Says:

    trisha: Noooo… now, when I juggled three clementines in the lounge at work the other day with my eyes closed, now that was showing off!
    Fio: wow – that’s almost exactly how it happened. Except his 60 year old wife probably would’ve decked me…
    3T: share my pain to entertain, that’s my motto!
    Pants: Bleach, huh? Didn’t have any of that. How about half a bottle of Tide w/ Febreze, and three dryer sheets?

  23. shari Says:

    Jenny, Jenny, Jenny… I leave for just a few days and look what happens?! Clearly you cannot go to TequilaCon unsupervised, so I guess I’ll have to go with you. Oh, by the way, I loved being in your new country. You Canucks are just so easy going! Of course, our laundry facility was right in our condo, so there were no basements to get locked into, so maybe that’s why we got such a positive impression of the place…

  24. Jessica Says:

    Too funny, Jen – and I don’t mean to bring the humor down but I had a kitty die in a dryer once. She had a full litter of tiny babies, too – we tried to feed them by a syringe but it just wasn’t enough.

  25. The Other Vivian Says:

    I’m sorry that you’re misfortune gave me so much amusement. Ok, no I’m not – that was some very funny shit. And it was only like 5 minutes. Thanks for the laugh!

  26. sandra Says:

    Efficient panic — I like it! I think my favorite might be when you tried to Bruce Willis your way through the door. I’ve always sort of thought I could do that, if it came down to it…but apparently not so much.

  27. egan Says:

    Was there a well and a dog named Precious there with you? Glad you made it out alive. Do you swear in real life?

  28. jenny Says:

    shari: this is why you can never go away again, and why it’s critical that you come to tequilacon. my life depends on it.
    jess: whoa. yeah. um… way to bring this entry to a screeching halt.
    t.o.v.: you can laugh, it’s okay. i was laughing for the first 30 minutes myself. then the fear set in…
    sandra: well here’s a tip – if the door opens in, it’s really not a good idea to try to slam your body into it.
    egan: aaaaaaghhhhhh! it puts the lotion on the skin!!! and f*ck yeah i f$&#^-ing swear in real life. Dang! Shoot! Crap! what kind of a chump do you take me for?

  29. The Scarlett Says:

    The Nell thing got me … oh, and now I’m going to be going around saying, “tay ina winnnn” the rest of the day while trying to look winsome and lithe.

  30. Postmodern Sass Says:

    Jenny, now that you’re Canadian, you need to move up here to Canada. We don’t even have locks on our apartment doors, much less our basements. And who on earth would put a lock on a laundry room? As if!

  31. claire Says:

    I love how you took inventory of the basement in your MacGuyver-y efforts. Next time (let’s hope there’s no next time), if the hinges are on the inside, maybe you could knock out the pins with the horse shoes?

  32. Hyperion Says:

    That fresh Laundry Smell and warmth should be available as a plug in for your car. Imagine how much it would wake you up on cold mornings if you would get that static-cling goodness.