No Great Illusion

Caroline is a former film student, kindred spirit, frequent subway-crier, and headboard enthusiast. She lives in Brooklyn.

My writing here.

Send me a letter: nogreatillusion [at] gmail [dot] com

This is Something That Happened To Me

I can’t sleep. It’s 5 AM. I need to write this all down so I can stop thinking about it.

I work evenings and get home very late, usually around 12:30 or 1 AM. When I got home a few hours ago, I found that my key wouldn’t open my apartment door. I had had this trouble with the door to the building in the past, but in that case it was the key that wouldn’t turn, and the outside entry. This time, it was the door to my apartment and the key seemed to be turning fine. It turned easily and I could hear it click, but the door wouldn’t open no matter how hard I pushed. It still felt locked.

My super does not live in Brooklyn, nor does he take calls at this late hour, so I called a locksmith. I asked how much it would cost on the phone, but the dispatcher told me that they couldn’t give me that information and wouldn’t know until they worked on the lock. I had $70 in my wallet, and a credit card, and I hoped that would be enough.

The locksmith called to confirm the address, arrived ten or fifteen minutes later than he said he would, but seemed nice enough. He fixed my lock in about twenty minutes, drilling off the old, broken cylinder and replacing it with a new one. Then he went to his car to “talk to his boss about the services he had performed” to figure out my bill.

When he came back, ten minutes later, he presented me with a hand-written, itemized bill of $613. I told him it seemed exorbitant. He told me his credit card machine wasn’t working. I told him I didn’t have that kind of cash in my home. He offered to give me a ride in his unmarked vehicle to the nearest ATM. I told him I didn’t get into cars with strangers. I made a phone call to someone I trusted, who agreed with me about the ridiculous price and the sketchy situation. I asked him to send me a bill. He said they don’t do that. I spoke to his boss, who said that the credit card machine was now working (magically, it seemed), but she couldn’t take my information over the phone. They would need to make an imprint. After working for hotels for the past two years, I am aware that credit card imprinting is now illegal in New York State. I also didn’t want to hand my credit card over to this person.

The locksmith threatened to call the police and I allowed him to do so, remaining calm, terrified, and on the phone. The locksmith called 911. Police arrived and the locksmith met them outside to give his side of the story. I came to the outside door and the officer told me to pay the man. I said “But - ” and the officer interrupted me. “Pay the man now or you’re under arrest.” I explained what was happening on the phone, trying to stay calm. The officer told me I had to hang up or he would arrest me. I hung up. He asked me why I had called the locksmith, if I couldn’t pay him. I said I assumed he could send me a bill. The officers looked at me like I was crazy. I told the officer I would defer to his judgment. I asked him to give me a ride to the bank, as it was 2 AM in Brooklyn and I was already shaking. He said “No. You can walk your ass there.” 

So I did. It was only a couple of blocks away. I began to cry on the way. The locksmith followed me in his car. I took out $600 - so much money to me. The cop pulled up and watched me pay the locksmith. I walked away in a daze, crying. The officers did not check to see if I made it home safely.

When I got home, I couldn’t stop crying and shaking for two hours. I was sick to my stomach. I was $613 poorer. I have never had so much as a speeding ticket. I trusted that the officer would recognize the situation for what it was - a scammer, taking advantage of a young girl living alone, who obviously didn’t know better. I know now I should have asked for a quote in writing before he began. But I still can’t believe that this happened to me. I’m almost positive my landlord won’t pay for this, though fortunately, I had the foresight to ask to have it stated on my bill that the key was tried and the lock was defective.

I feel let down by something. I don’t know whether it’s my expectations of justice or my own naivete. Something has failed me tonight. I feel shocked and massively depressed.

I’m scared now. I’m scared to be alone here. I’m scared of this person who knows my apartment number and how to get in. I’m scared of being locked out again. I’m scared of cops who aren’t concerned about my safety. I’m scared of being silenced. I’m scared that I was in the wrong. I’m scared that I wasn’t.

  • 19 January 2011
  • 598