Captive Audience / by Courtney Mehlhaff

Some friends of mine live about four blocks away from me, and tonight they dropped off a set of keys so I can watch their house while they're on vacation. These friends have had a copy of my keys since last year, when I proved I was not trustworthy enough to be left alone in my own home. Here's what happened.

I was cleaning out the basement, which had been left fully stocked by the previous owners with all manner of junk -- wobbly shelving, used paint cans, old lamps and mirrors, carpet and linoleum scraps, and about 100 ft. of coaxial cable for some reason. But they'd also left a wardrobe-sized storage cabinet that was in decent shape, and I decided it would serve me well in the laundry room, which was on the opposite side of the basement.

I also decided it would be a good idea to move this large piece of furniture all by myself. After all, I'd been manhandling everything else on my own, and if I waited around for someone to help me, it might never get done.

So I did what all foolishly ambitious people who live alone do. I rocked that bad boy back and forth on its bottom edges all the way across the basement. But when I got to the laundry room doorway, I made a fateful decision: I went in first, intending to pull the cabinet in after me.

You know what they say about the road to hell.

In a few short seconds, the cabinet was hung up on the baseboard lip, with about an inch of clearance on all sides. It was really wedged in there. And I was stuck. I'd purchased my first home and then immediately trapped myself in my own basement. Like an asshole. With a mortgage.

I'd like to think I get marginally smarter with each passing year, but sadly that's not always the case. Self-administered booby trap notwithstanding, I was bright enough to take a thoughtful pause to reevaluate my situation and regroup. I sat down and assessed my options.

There were no windows I could use for escape, but there was a utility sink, so I had water. My phone was also in my back pocket, although all my doors were locked and/or security-barred, so any rescue attempt would involve a B&E. 

There was only one thing to do. I attacked that furniture with renewed vigor and all the desperation of someone who fears having to explain themselves to first responders. Did I get the cabinet out? Yes. Did I break it? Of course. Did I pull an insane number of muscles in my chest and back in the process? No surprises here.

It's one of those stories you debate not telling anyone. But I'm glad I did. Because after I related it to my friend from the neighborhood, she said, "Yeeeeeeaaaahhhhhh . . . we're gonna need a set of house keys from you."  It was a nice way of volunteering to save my dumb ass the next time I miscalculate, which is a very neighborly thing to do.