It all began around 10:30 at night, when I decided to get out of my apartment for some fresh air. I had not left the apartment all day, and figured I would just go to the little park nearby for some stretching and maybe a few jumping exercises. So I head downstairs, but just as I get to the bottom I realized there were trash bags in the kitchen that I wanted to throw in the dumpster. I went back upstairs, got the trash, disposed of it outside, and headed over to the park. I did some stretches, proceeded over to the grass to jump a little, then reached into my pocket to change the song on my ipod. That is when everything fell apart.
I immediately noticed that my key was not in my pocket. Seeing as my sweatshirt contained the one and only pocket of my outfit, this was a very bad sign. I was not too worried at first. I had been doing all sorts of twisting and stretching while listening to music, so it could have easily fallen out without me noticing. The area I used for stretching was very small, plus well lit, so I thought it would just be a matter of retracing my steps and finding the key on the ground. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I went back to where I was stretching, searched everywhere, and found nothing. I then broadened my search to include everywhere I had walked from when I left my front door until I got to the park. While walking back to the front door I had one of those moments that I think happens to everyone when they know they lost something important. You get this irrational hope that the lost item will be somewhere, then you build that hope up in your mind to the point where you become sure that you will find what you are looking for. You try to hold onto this fantasy for as long as possible. For me, as I inched my way back to my apartment, scanning the ground for my keys, it became a certainty that I had accidentally left them dangling from the door handle. Or, even better, I had never locked my apartment! When I finally got back to my place and saw that there was no key in sight, and the door was securely locked, it was devastating.
This kicked off round 2 of about 1 million where I retraced my steps, hunched over, hoping for a glimpse of my precious keys. The funny thing about looking for things you’ve lost is how you start to expand your search parameters little by little. By about my tenth time retracing my steps I was searching under fences I never went near, scrutinizing grass I was never on, and looking desperately in the sand by the swing set. There was a little part of me that thought maybe, just maybe, I had blacked out in the middle of my workout, unconsciously played on the swing set, returned to where I was before, then woken up without remembering a thing. Unfortunately my keys were not in the sand, the grass, or anywhere else. The grim reality of what must have happened started to take hold.
The only explanation was that I had thrown my keys away with my garbage. The problem with this, besides the disgusting factor, is that they recently replaced the normal dumpsters on our street. They installed these enormous, circular mega dumpsters that extend a solid 10 feet below street level. So, it is not like I could just go through the trash. If I were to enter one of these things, I would have no way of getting out. Me tossing my keys in a dumpster may sound like the most preposterous, ludicrous thing you have ever heard, but it is not something people who know me well would put past me. In fact, there had been moments before where I was throwing out the garbage and still had my key in my hand from locking up. I always remember being cognizant of the key, and being careful to not inadvertently release it when I released the garbage bags. Apparently, this awareness was no where to be found on this particular night.
I lifted the plastic lid and peered into this monolith of a trash can, and was dismayed to see that there was not enough garbage built up for me to be able to easily search the area where my key might be. I leaned in to the dumpster as far as I could, and using my ipod as a flashlight I tried in vain to look for the keys. No luck. I pondered the situation further, and made another round of the park, my enthusiasm for the search fading rapidly. I was able to find a massive stick. By leaning my entire upper body into the dumpster and balancing on my hips, I was able to reach in and use the stick to fish out the 2 garbage bags I had thrown away. As was to be expected, there was no key. I sifted around through the trash as much a I could, but saw nothing promising. I can only imagine what passing cars might have thought when they saw a pair of legs sticking up out of one of the communal dumpsters.
I also made efforts to scope out the apartment building to see if there was a way I could enter through a window. Living on the third floor presented somewhat of a problem. But, for some reason I had it in my head that there must be a way in through the bathroom window, because some workers had installed a pipe from the outside one time while I was home. I figured out that the pipe I remembered came from the roof, which is where the workers had been standing, yet I saw absolutely no way to get on the roof. Maybe they had a latter. I eventually came across a long, thin power line that extended from the roof and ran by my window. My mind began to wander: “If I could just climb this 3 stories, swing to the side, kick in the window and then jump in the bathroom…” But then I came back to reality. I was no spiderman. 4 years at the supposed best university in the world and never one lesson on how to break and enter into a 3rd story apartment? Well rounded curriculum my ass.
At this point, I had lost hope of finding the keys, and saw no other way of entering the house. So, I redirected my efforts toward finding a way to either get a replacement key or find somewhere to stay the night. The problem was, it was already around 11 or 11:30. Have I mentioned yet that I didn’t have my phone? Or my wallet? Or that my car keys were on the same ring as my house key? Lacking a phone, I walked the short distance to my managers apartment, and knocked on his door. I know it was 11 at night and he has 2 young kids, but I really wanted to get back in my house. Plus, it was starting to get kind of chilly. There was no answer. A look to the street revealed his car was not there. Great. My options were dwindling. I could have gone to Brian’s apartment, but the prospect of having to grovel before that kid and ask to sleep in his spare bed was out of the question. He is just too unpleasant to deal with. Plus I had heard his Mother might be out visiting, so that would be kind of weird. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had rejected me anyway. There was another managers house, but it was about 3 miles away, so it would have been past 1 AM by the time I got there.
Thus, I decided to I was going to man up and handle a night outside, homeless style. Maybe I would find my keys once there was sunlight. Or, at least I could seek someone out and not be barging in on them at 1 AM. I really did not think it would be that bad. It could even be kind of an interesting experiment. It was already midnight, so there would be sunlight and people out and about in roughly 6 hours. Killing six hours is nothing! Unfortunately, there were a couple of things I was unprepared for. The first, and most pressing issue, was how cold it became. It must have gotten down to about 35-40 degrees, which is not that bad, except I was wearing running shoes, a thin T-shirt, basketball shorts, and a not so warm hooded sweatshirt. That was it. It quickly became apparent that I was going to have a hard time staying warm. The second issue was how tired I would get, and how strong the desire to sleep would become. Obviously, conditions for sleep were less than ideal.
There were a couple of things I had going for me though. I had eaten just before I left the house, so hunger was not an issue. Also, I had my ipod, and it was fully charged. This was a huge boost. It provided constant entertainment, through podcasts and music, plus it was a more than adequate flashlight. I am fairly certain I would have died without it. I could have kissed Steve Jobs. Also, I was using my Bose headphones, which do a better job as earmuffs than I ever gave them credit for.
So, my first order of business was to try and find somewhere that wasn’t freezing to hole up. I started out in what I guess you could call the basement of my apartment entryway. My apartment is a part of a huge structure containing about 5 different entryways. Each one has the same layout. You walk up a few stairs to a foyer, and there is a stairwell that goes up to the apartment units and down to a little basement area. Some of the entryways have a basement that opens up into a more substantial room, and some are just a tiny area at the bottom of the stairs. My entryway only had the small area, but it was considerably warmer than street level, and it was the first place I went, so it became my home for the next hour or so. I kept busy listening to music and doing little exercises (which also helped me keep warm.) But, I soon became exhausted, and decided to give sleep a go. I naively thought that once I found a relatively comfortable position I would drift easily off to dreamland. I mean, I could sleep sitting upright on airplanes, why should this be so different? Well, the difference is airplanes are not made of hard, cold, dirty tile. And I mean cold. Whatever part of your body was touching the ground or the wall would instantly become uncomfortably frigid. Thus lying on your side and exposing half your body to the tile was out of the question. The only hope was to curl my knees in and try to rest my head against the wall, which was made problematic by my bulky headphones. After trying all these various positions I became aware that I was being watched. In the nearest window sat one of the cats that I always saw around. I don’t know if he is mad that I have never attempted to feed him or care for him, or if I was in his sleeping spot, but he looked angry. He just stood there, glaring at me with an unbroken gaze. It was really disconcerting. I decided that having a black cat stare at you so menacingly cannot be good, plus I was increasingly uncomfortable in this little hovel, so I decided to head for higher ground.
My next stop was the landing at the bottom of the last flight of stairs leading up to my door. I am not sure why I thought this was a good spot. I think I had some delusion that somehow my door would be open, or that my neighbor would come out and tell me that he had a spare key to my place. Whatever the reason, I sat here for a bit, and found that if I pulled my arms in from my sleeves while also extending the sweatshirt over my legs I created a better buffer from the cold. Somehow, it was in this position, sitting almost straight up, that I came the closest to falling asleep. But, as I began to drift off I was pulled back to reality by the cold and the uncomfortable pressure this seating position put on my body. It also probably didn’t help that I couldn’t stop thinking about how dumb you have to be to get in a situation like this. Who throws away their key? Who locks the door when he is going so close by? Who doesn’t take their cell phone?!?!?
After probably another hour I decided that I needed to try and find somewhere warmer. I scoped out the next two basements over from my place, and found that they were much better suited for bum-living than mine was. I was pumped to find in one an old discarded piece of carpet. Yes, I know how unbelievably disgusting that is, but I needed something to provide me with warmth and cushioning! The ground was freezing, I tell you! In the other entry I found a large, stiff pad of some sort. I could not figure out what exactly it was. Maybe the cushion off of some bizarre looking couch. The good thing was, it seemed like someone had recently put it out of their house, because it looked new-ish and not dirty. So, I hauled the carpet our from one basement, across the complex, and into the next basement. I set up the pad like a pillow, and voila, I had just created a kings sleeping quarters, at least in my desperate eyes. Alas, while the carpet provided cushioning, it was a less than optimal blanket, and part of me was always exposed. The thing I was using for a pillow was far too stiff. After much fussing and changing positions, I realized sleep was not going to happen. I began to do stretches and exercises to pass the time. I also listened to interesting podcasts about the Steppe peoples and the Second World War. I pored through music I hadn’t previously given much attention to, and I pondered over who had it tougher: The rappers I was listening to who had to struggle every day growing up in crack addled ghettos with no father figures, battling decrepit education systems and trying to make a living in a place with 40 percent unemployment. Or me, a well to do young man with a steady job, but who was faced with 6 hours of being cold and sleepy. It was basically a toss up, in my mind.
After much fantasizing about how wonderful my bed was going to be, and how I was just complaining about a bed I used to sleep on, and how I would never do that again, and how I would blast myself with my heater for hours on end, I noticed the sun was starting to peek through the darkness. My salvation was near. I thought that around 7 AM I could walk over to Eddy the managers apartment and he would solve all my problems. Problem was, Eddy was still not there. Where he was all night I still haven’t found out. So, at 7:30 AM the next morning I was still without a key. The only thing I could think to do was to run to my other managers house and pray that someone would be there to help me. I took off, and quickly realized that almost 5.5 kilometers of sometimes uphill street running was going to be a pain in the ass. But, I was spurned by a combination of not wanting my manager to leave for work and some sort of new found energy from being in the sun, and amongst people again. It took me about a half hour, and I arrived at the door panting and soaked in sweat. My manager was shocked to see me, so early and in such a state. Instead of telling him about spending the night homeless, I just said I had gone out that morning after waking up unnaturally early, and had lost my keys. For some reason I decided that if people found out about me spending the night outside they would think I was absolutely insane. Mercifully, my saga ended when my manager took me to get a new key, and delivered me back to my home, and my lovely, luxurious bed.
Things I learned from all this:
1. Even if you are just going out for a little, bring your goddamn cell phone. How hard is it to grab it off the couch before you step outside?
2. Never leave your house without a backpack full of thermal underwear, a weeks supply of food, high powered flashlight, inflatable mattress, GPS system, cat food (to provide as an offering so they don’t scare you if you happen to sleep in their basement) and a hunting rifle. There were a lot of stray dogs wandering the park while I was looking for my keys, and had one of them attacked I would have been a goner. No such problem had I brought a rifle. Basically, you never know when you are going to get locked out of your apartment and have to face the concrete jungle. I escaped with my life for one night using only my natural guile and intuitive survival instincts, but the average person might not be so lucky. I have some shopping to do to be prepared for my next night exercise trip gone awry.
3. When you are throwing away garbage, check if you are about to throw away your car and house keys BEFORE you hurl everything in your hands into a million square foot dumpster.
Follow those simple guidelines and you should feel safe to leave your house or apartment whenever you wish. Also, I wanted to point out one more thing before I end this. Which is that homeless people are some badass mofos. I have much new found respect for anyone who can sleep outside without a blanket and a pillow. I can also see why so many homeless are alcoholics and drug addicts. I’m sure it is a million times easier to sleep on a ratty carpet with a stiff couch cushion after you down a liter of vodka.
I want to say I will be super-extra-careful with my key in the future, but that is probably not the case. For some reason, it is just in my DNA to lose things and be generally absentminded. But, at least I have a new appreciation for things I was taking for granted, which is always a good feeling.