Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Bathroom Story

It began as any other morning.  I stumbled from my bed to the bathroom, still not awake yet.  In those days my mother was working ten-hours days downtown at City Hall.  This meant that she left early in the morning, often before I was out of bed (which is impressive since my first period started at 7:45 a.m.).  She would leave, and my friend Teresa -- well, Teresa's mom, really --would give me a lift to school since neither of us could drive yet.

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I would get up, do my bathroom routine, then go back to my bedroom and get dressed.  I'd open the blinds on my bedroom window because Teresa (and her mother) and I had a system.  They would pull up to the building and honk.  I would wave from my window four floors up, and then take the old-fashioned, non-computerized, original-with-building Otis elevator down to the main floor, run down the sidewalk, and hop in the car.

You see, during my four years of high school, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment with my mother.  The apartment building had been built in the 1920s and had a beautifully renovated ballroom in the basement which was rented out for wedding and dances, including my own high school's prom.  Yes, prom was at my house (but that's a different story).  The building was U-shaped.  If you stood on the sidewalk facing the building, you'd be at the top of the U, looking down its center; a long sidewalk ran down the center of the U.  Four floors up (still at the base of the U) was my bedroom window.

So again, on this chilly winter morning I began my process as per usual.  It involved stumbling out of bed and blearily walking to the bathroom.  Because it was built in the 1920s, the entire building used delicious steam heat in the winter.  The radiator in the bathroom never turned all the way off.  As a result, 1)  it was always a bit stuffy in there, but 2)  I could put my towel over the radiator, and it would be nice and toasty when getting out of the shower.  Oh, and 3)  the bathroom door was permanently warped from the heat.  It would not completely close unless one slammed it.  We never closed it completely, let alone used the ancient turn lock.

So I stumbled up the step (yes, the bathroom had a step) into the bathroom and closed the door.  I have no idea why I closed the door when I was the only one home, minus the cat.   These days I never close the bathroom door, and I'm always surrounded by cats and dogs.

The bathroom routine involved peeing, of course, and then washing my hands and face.  I'd pop my contacts into my blind eyes and brush my teeth.  I would moisturize.  I would exit.  So I did all of those things, except the last one.

I went to open the door, and I couldn't.  The knob wouldn't turn.

Maybe I moisturized too much?  I wiped my hands on a towel and tried again.  Still no go.  The door was stuck.  The knob would not turn.

I tried again.  And again.  And again.  And -- was it getting hotter in there?  Or was it just me slowly panicking?  The radiator dutifully kicked out its steamy heat.  I was sweating, and my hands kept sliding off of the white ceramic door knob.

I must have tried for ten or fifteen minutes before the cold realization set in:  I was stuck in my own bathroom.

I was fifteen, home alone, and stuck in my own bathroom.

I tried not to cry.

How will I get out?  How will I get ready for school?  Who can let me out? 
I couldn't call anyone.  This wasn't Wayne Manor or a James Bond set; there was no phone in the bathroom.  Cell phones hadn't been invented yet.  I was cut off from communication.

Who will find me?  What if the fire department has to come and chop down the bathroom door with one of those giant axes?  My hair is unbrushed.  These were my concerns.

It'll be okay, I thought.  Soon Teresa and her mom will show up, and they'll see that I'm not upstairs in the window, and they'll know something is wrong.

Except my bedroom blinds were still closed.  I hadn't reached that part of my routine.  It happened after getting dressed, which happened after the bathroom routine.  Incidentally, hair-brushing also happened after the bathroom; I kept the brush on my dresser in my bedroom.

Whose bright idea was it to give me baseball pj's?
How will they know I am stuck??  My mind raced until I realized I could crack the bathroom window just a bit (it, too, was warped and only opened a couple of inches) and yell out.  The window glass was thick and frosted, and the window itself obscured by the shape of the building; they wouldn't be able to see me, but hopefully they could hear me.  What other choice did I have?  I resigned myself to my fate, and, in my pink flannel jammies, knelt down on the bathroom floor, put my head on the fuzzy peach toilet seat cover and dozed until I heard the honk of the car horn.

Fifteen or twenty minutes later -- or maybe it was only ten -- I heard the telltale honk of my ride.  I stood up and  put my mouth to the crack in the bathroom window.  "Teresa!  TERESA!"

Eventually a car door opened, and Teresa walked down the long sidewalk, looking around confusedly.  "TERESA!  I'm stuck in the bathroom!"

Trying to find the source of the yelling, she looked around.  "Leonard?"

"TEREEEEEEEEEESAAAA!  I'm stuck in the bathroom!"


"I'm STUCK in the BATHroom, and I CAN'T get OUT!"

"You're stuck in the bathroom?"

"YES!  And I CAN'T get OUT!"

I honestly hadn't thought past this moment.  My goal was to tell someone I was stuck.  I had achieved that.  I had no idea what Teresa would do with this information.  Like any good girl, she went straight to her mother, who was waiting impatiently in the car.  Soon, I spied the two of them making their way down the sidewalk, Teresa's tall, lanky figure next to her mother's large, waddling one.

They will save me!  But how will they get in?  They didn't have a key.  No one had a key except me and my mom.
And the building manager.

The building manager was ninety years old if she was a day, and she intensely disliked anyone under the age of sixty.  The fact that she leased an apartment to a woman with a teenaged daughter was nothing short of miraculous.  (I'm sure it helped that I was an exemplary teenager.)

I can't imagine the story Teresa and her mother had to tell Pat to get her out of her apartment, probably wearing a housecoat and slippers.  But within minutes I could hear the front door of our apartment opening, and all three of them trudging in.

Both Teresa's mother and Pat the building manager jockeyed for control of the situation, shouting instructions to me from the other side of the warped wooden door.  I tried opening the door again.  They tried opening it from their side.

"It's locked," the building manager said.

"But I never use the lock," I said.

"Try turning the lock," she said.

"But I didn't lock the door," I insisted.

"Try turning it anyway," she said.

I tried.  The lock was stuck, too, possibly in the "locked" position.  How did that happen?  I didn't use the lock.  I never used the lock.  But the door was nevertheless both stuck and locked.  Stu-locked, if you will.

This comedy of errors continued for a bit with no real progress.  "Turn the lock again!" Pat barked.  I did, and it turned as smoothly as a hot knife going through butter.  No problem.  It unlocked, and I was free.  I stared blankly at the women gathered in front of the bathroom door.  Now what?

Teresa's mom would take Teresa to school, for which she was now late while I got ready for school.  Pat the building manager said she'd drive me to school.  I shuddered at the thought of her elderly self behind the wheel of a car.

No, Teresa's mom insisted, she'd come back to get me.  Teresa's mom didn't like me all that much (in fact, she still doesn't), but heaven forbid someone else do her job.  Or get credit for my rescue.

I was able to get dressed and brushed and packed in the twenty minutes it took Teresa's mom to drive to school and back.  Once at school, I had to head directly to the dean's office for a note to admit me to class because I was horribly, horribly late.  I had already missed first period, second period, and homeroom.

I sheepishly entered his office.  This was not my first encounter with dean, nor would it be my last during my four years there.  He already knew me on sight.

"Why are you late?" he asked, getting out a pink slip to admit me to class.

I dutifully said, "I was stuck in my bathroom."  Two seniors who were working in the office during their study hall, collecting attendance slips and things, started snickering.

One of them said, "Yeah, a pink elephant sat on my car this morning; that's why I was late."

The dean managed to keep a straight face the entire time.  "I'll need a note from your mother," was all he said before sending me on my way. 

I don't know about you, but in my high school, when classes were in session, the halls were absolutely silent.  There was none of this "hanging out in the hallway" bullshit I've seen nowadays.  You were in a classroom or in the library.  If you were in the hallway, you better damn well have had a note saying why.

I clutched my note in my sweaty hand as my footsteps echoed loudly on the beige linoleum floors.  I think all Catholic schools have that same floor and the same beige wall tiles, too.  I had to go down the hall, down a flight of stairs to the second floor, then down another hallway to get to my third period class, Honors Biology.

I opened the door and tried to slip in as unobtrusively as possible.  But the teacher still looked at me, as well as twenty-four other pairs of eyes from their lab tables.  There was no way to not be obvious as I walked in late, even though I tried to be invisible (all five-feet, one-hundred pounds of me).

Mrs. B. regarded me and said, "Welcome, Leonard.  Why are you late?"

And again, I responded, "I was stuck in my bathroom."

While the classroom snickered, she, too, took it all in stride.  "You may take your seat," was all she said.  I slunk into my seat.

And forever after that, long after she had forgotten my actual name, ten, fifteen, twenty years later, she still remembers me as the girl who got stuck in her own bathroom.

Teresa and I both produced notes the next day from our mothers proving our story was true.  We were so terribly late to school because I was stuck in my bathroom. 

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