The Curious Incident of the Moron in the Night-time

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This is the story of how I made a bank deposit and consequently almost died.

Late one Saturday night, past midnight, I returned to downtown Salt Lake City after an evening of diversion and, still feeling peppy, decided I’d stop by the ATM to deposit some money I’d had cluttering my wallet for several days. It was a cold winter night, the mercury hovering at around 20 degrees. I parked my car in front of a fire hydrant and left it running as I dashed to the ATM not 15 feet away. I completed my transaction quickly and hurried back to the car, only to find my hurrying had been useless, as my car doors were closed and locked. The keys were in the ignition; the car was running; and my cell phone was in there, too.

The enormity of the situation did not reveal itself to me all at once. For several moments I just stood next to the car, looking around dazedly, semi-consciously hoping someone who could help me would come along. I’m not sure what I expected. A benevolent locksmith? A kindly tow-truck driver who roams the city looking for poor souls to help? Either way, it was going to cost me money. I thought I had heard that cops sometimes carried slim jims with them to help in this sort of crisis — I mean the slim jims that are thin metal rods used to unlock cars, not the Slim Jims that are beef jerky, though I suppose those probably come in handy sometimes, too — but since it was late on a weekend night, all the cops in the city were loitering near the dance clubs, waiting to pop drunken drivers or break up fights.

I have free roadside assistance through the Kia Motor Company; however, not having used the service before, I did not have the phone number. For all I knew, the roadside assistance did not actually exist. For all I knew, the man at the Kia dealership had invented it out of bitterness at having to sell sub-par Korean automobiles for a living. Whether it existed or not, and whether I had a right to use it or not, I didn’t know how to contact them anyway. Besides, even if I did, it would probably be 45 minutes or more before someone arrived, and Lady Winter was already beginning to whisper her icy breath across my tender ears.

I thought immediately of two friends who lived mere blocks from where I was, either of whom could be summoned to come pick me up, or to stay with the car while I walked home to retrieve the spare key that I knew was somewhere in my bedroom. But because I live in the era of cell phones, I don’t know anyone’s phone number. I only know their location in my speed-dial registry. And knowing that Shane is #9 and Michael is #70 (to name two nearby friends) would be irrelevant if I were at a pay phone, like the time Mr. Burns tried to call Smithers by dialing S-M-I-T-H-E-R-S.

Eventually I decided my best bet was to walk home — a distance of approximately half a mile — and get the spare key. I had to hope my roommate was home, since my key to our apartment was currently incarcerated with my car key, but since it was now nearly 1 a.m., I figured he must be home. His life is interesting, but not THAT interesting.

Or so I thought. When I knocked on our door, no one answered. Either he was still out, or he was fast asleep. I knocked louder, hoping I could be heard over the din being caused by our Mexican neighbors across the hall, who were again having one dickens of a fiesta, as they are wont to do. No response. I had walked home for nothing, braved the arctic perils of Lady Winter’s frosty handiwork for naught, and goodness knows what was being done to my car in my absence. I didn’t care if it got stolen, as my insurance would cover it and I would at last be rid of the Kia-shaped albatross with the unaffordable monthly payment that had been hanging from my neck in recent months. I was more worried about the car being ticketed or towed, since it was, you’ll recall, parked in front of a fire hydrant.

At any rate, I walked back to the car, still hoping to find a police officer. I located one, sitting in his car and doing, from what I could tell, nothing. I asked him if he had a slim jim, the tone of my voice indicating the lower-case kind, and he said Salt Lake’s finest don’t carry them anymore, but that some cab companies do. His concern for my plight did not seem to extend beyond the warm confines of his police cruiser. Or maybe he misunderstood me and thought I just wanted some beef jerky.

I returned to the car to find it unstolen, unticketed and untowed. After a minute or two, a taxi happened by and I flagged him down. He told me he didn’t have a slim jim, but that a certain other cab company does offer that service, for which they charge $35. I thanked him and sent him on his way. I was certainly not going to pay $35 to have my car unlocked when there was a perfectly good spare key back in my apartment, or when I had theoretical access to roadside assistance, for that matter.

I weighed my options. I could gain access to my car by smashing a window. The insurance would cover it (at least, they would if I told them I didn’t know how it happened, which would add “insurance fraud” to the list of crimes I have committed in my life), but then I would have to drive around with a busted window until it got fixed. It would get me out of the cold right NOW, but it would put me back in the cold for an indefinite length of time after that. In a rare case of not choosing the short-term solution, I opted not to smash a window.

My only choice, really, was to get that spare key. Roommate or not, I had to get into my apartment. I gave my car one last look and headed home again, resolute this time because I had a backup plan.

As I walked through the crisp, frigid air, my nose and hands now raw with the chilled reminders of Lady Winter’s splendid yield, the clubs began to close and young people in various states of inebriation and undress spilled out onto the sidewalks, filling the night with a melange of slurred profanities and sweat-mingled cologne. These people all had a way to get home. I was completely sober and adequately clothed, and yet I had locked my keys in a car that was still running. You tell me who’s the idiot.

By now the fact that my car was unattended and vulnerable to attack at 1:30 a.m. in the downtown area of a major city had settled into a comfortable place in my mind, next to unalarming facts like “I have some leftover pizza in the fridge” and “I should probably do laundry tomorrow.” That my car was currently running, locked, and parked next to a fire hydrant had become nothing more than a bit of information. I fully expected it to remain true forever, that from now on, I would simply always own a car that was unprotected and illegally parked next to a bank. It had become part of who I was.

I reached my apartment to find the Mexicans still engaged in high-octane merry-making and my roommate still either not home or completely unconscious. As late as it was, I knew it HAD to be the latter. The guy simply doesn’t have friends who can stay out this late, I’m sorry. I pounded extra-hard on the door, but to no avail. So I left the building, went outside, and threw rocks at his bedroom window. I was unconcerned about breaking the window, not just because the renter’s insurance would cover it (again, perhaps requiring fraud on my part), but because we live on the third floor and my pitching arm is less than what it used to be, and what it used to be is nothing. Still, despite the pelting of stones against the walls 10 feet below his window, my roommate did not wake up.

And so it came time for Plan B, my backup plan for accessing my apartment. I was going to have to climb up to the balcony.

I believe I mentioned our apartment’s status as a third-floor dwelling. Standing on the ground, I could just barely reach the second-story apartment’s balcony. I would have to hoist myself up onto it, then stand on that balcony’s railing and do the same thing to get to mine. At any point in the process, I could fall and break my neck, an event that would be covered by my health insurance with no fraud necessary, if I had health insurance, which I do not, which means in actual fact an extreme amount of fraud would be necessary. But I had no other choice. Even if I gave up on my car and decided to just be a pedestrian from now on, I would still need to get into my apartment and out of the stinging, polar night that Lady Winter in her gorgeous wrath had bestowed upon us. The balcony — and its access to the sliding-glass door, which is never locked — was my only hope.

So I climbed, carefully and as nimbly as an out-of-shape 30-year-old man in a heavy winter coat can climb. I looked like a retarded sloth, the one the rest of the sloths leave behind when predators attack. I envisioned a number of scenarios in which a police officer drove up, or another tenant walked by, or the people whose balconies I was standing on emerged with shotguns. But I did not imagine them very vividly, because the majority of my attention had to be paid to the matter at hand, the matter of not dying.

I reached my balcony and found the sliding-glass door unlocked, the first thing in several hours that had happened according to my expectations. The key was where I thought it was, and after pausing a moment to defrost and rest my legs — I had walked 1 1/2 miles tonight, which is more than I had walked over the course of my entire life — I headed BACK to the car (make that two miles, now). It was still there, unmolested since the last time I’d seen it. I was kind of disappointed, actually. Part of me was hoping to find it on the back of a tow truck, or being spirited away by hoodlums, or on fire — you know, just to keep the night entertaining. But no, it was there, unscathed, and still running. (That it might have run out of gas while I was gone had crossed my mind as one hilarious possible outcome.) I unlocked it with the spare key, got in, and drove home. My ordeal was over. But my door-ignoring, sleep-through-anything roommate’s ordeal was just beginning.

My roommate was extremely apologetic when I told him the story the next day, and of course I didn't really hold him responsible. But I WAS banging on that door pretty loudly. I'm just sayin'.

The verbose, poetic-sounding references to "Lady Winter" are from last year, when my friend Smacky and I were roommates. Most Saturdays, we would be lounging around the house all morning, being lazy and watching TV, and then we would get very hungry and have to drive to Carl's Jr. or Del Taco or some such place to get food. And going outside would of course be a traumatic experience, cold and snowy as it is in Utah, and one time for some reason we started talking in pretentious, writerly voices about Lady Winter and the cruel, beautiful deeds she inflicted upon all humanity. We found no end of amusement in using that voice to say things about the cold weather.

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