My life is a bad sitcom


This morning I locked myself, naked, outside of my apartment.

Let me start by saying that the door to my room is terrible. Generally, you have to apply your shoulder to get it to close all the way. It has a lock of the variety that arrests the doorknob, preventing it from turning. This has no effect unless the door is sufficiently closed that the bolt has caught in the recess in the door, which generally requires a conscious effort. I tend to lock my door at nights, just in case. Last night I locked it, but the door was not sufficiently closed for the lock to be effective.

So this morning I woke up and opened the door, having forgotten that the door was locked. I closed the door behind me. It is worth pointing out, here, that the bathroom is immediately across the hall from the door to my room. I tend to wake up and stumble across the hall to the bathroom without bothering to gather up clothes, then dart back to my room when done showering in order to change. So I went into the bathroom, naked, and took a shower, shaved, combed hair, brushed teeth, etc. I had about 15 minutes until class started, and was on schedule to get to class and get a good seat.

I left the bathroom and grabbed my doorknob. *snickt!* The knob wouldn't turn. "Huh?" I thought, followed shortly by "Oh no." I tried wiggling the knob. No dice. I tried forcing the door open. This was very silly. I lack anywhere close to the strength required to force a door open by brute force. After about ten minutes of this I started getting desperate. My room contained my laptop, my books, my keys, my wallet and, most significantly, my clothes. It also contained the only phone in the apartment, preventing me calling maintenance for help. I contemplated going into my roommate's room and crawling out of his window and into mine. Nope, his door's locked.

When you're locked out of your room and naked, with no prospect of getting into your room to be found within your apartment, a lot of thoughts go through your mind. Most of them are "Shit!" or some variant on that theme. Others are "Why the hell did I lock the door?" and "If only I hadn't closed the door behind me this morning." Eventually I calmed down and tried to figure out what to do. I came up blank. I slammed my shoulder into the door a few more times, still to no avail. I decided I probably had to go outside. I slammed my shoulder into the door again. After about ten minutes, I worked up the courage to wrap myself in a towel and creep out of the apartment. Fortunately the apartment's exterior door has a switch that allows you to close the door without it locking. I hit this, then put a doorstop in just in case. I sneaked downstairs. Nothing in the lobby to help me, just a maintenance request form that gets you a reply in a few days. I stared into the vestibule. There's the intercom. I could go out and try finding a button to call maintenance for an emergency, but I couldn't reach the intercom and hold the door open without stretching my leg out far enough to render it rather unlikely that my towel would remain in its proper place about my waist. Further, if the door did close, which seemed likely, I'd be locked naked outside of my whole building. Not a pleasant thought. I couldn't even see what I would press on the intercom to call maintanence, just the individual tenant buttons. I decided to return to my apartment to regroup.

I started to get desperate. I was pacing. Class had started 15 minutes ago. I would be stuck here all day in my towel if I didn't figure something out. I wound up in the living room. There I found my salvation: Last night, as soon as I came home, I set up my Nintendo Entertainment System in the living room, in order to play Castlevania 3 on the big screen, in honor of Halloween. Normally when I come home I immediately empty my pockets onto the bookshelf by the door to my room. Last night I didn't do that; I had immediately set about moving the Nintendo. I didn't think to empty my pockets until I started playing. I had emptied them on the coffee table, then forgotten left them derelict during the night. The upshot: There, on the coffee table, were my keys. I grabbed them, unlocked the door, and giddily got dressed for the day.

Some lessons: 1. Don't lock your room door unless it's really neccessary. 2. Don't close the door behind you in the morning. 3. If you do wind up locked out, your experience will be much more pleasant if you bring some clothes to the bathroom with you. At least some boxer shorts. All of these lessons fall under the umbrella of the overarching lesson: Don't be an idiot.


My favorite part of this is that you did, in fact, leave your apartment and go wandering around your building wearing only a towel when your keys were sitting out in the living room all along. I think lesson #4 should be: search your apartment for means of entrance to your room before moving on to look for other solutions.

Now that you bring this up I can recall locking my naked self out of my room in my co-op a couple of times, but the context was very different than yours. A certain nonchalance toward clothing prevails in the Berkeley co-op system in general and Wilde House in particular; take, for instance, the naked workshifts policy that could be relied upon to spring up in at least 3 houses (one of them being Wilde) at the end of any given semester. Behind on workshifts? Earn double hours for all workshifts done while naked! Your housemates will ogle your ass, and you will not get charged a massive fine. Everyone wins.

As you can imagine, spending two hours in the living room in a towel waiting for the house manager to come home with the lockout key didn't really raise any eyebrows around there.

I did search the apartment! I conceived elaborate I Love Lucy-style schemes to crawl out the window onto a ledge over the three-story drop to the pavement! I just didn't look at the coffee table while concocting these schemes.

And, talking to a friend today, it could have been much worse. Apparently Columbia's solution to this problem is that locked out people have to walk to the housing office on 119th and Morningside Drive. From my apartment on 113th between Broadway and Amsterdam, this is a half mile walk. Further, it is early November, and the weather was sunny and dry this morning. It could have been raining or, a month from now, the ground could have been covered in snow and the temperatures sub-zero. Also, my shoes were locked in my room with everything else I own. So I could have had to trek a mile round-trip to the housing office through the snow, shoeless, with nothing to shelter me from the elements but a flimsy towel. I also don't relish the (inevitable) stern lecture on reponsibility with keys from the functionary in the housing office, while standing in front of him/her, cold, naked, wet, and shoeless.

Is the school in charge of your housing? I thought you were living in an independent apartment sort of thing. And do these people have no pity? Locked-out naked people is what RAs are for, not what walking 1/2 mile in the snow uphill both ways with no shoes is for.

Ah, now you've got me started on one of my favorite topics: Columbia's institutional wealth.

Columbia University is rich. It's one of the richest schools in the country, behind Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. Yet: Columbia has a fairly modest endowment. Not small, by any means, but one of the smallest in the Ivy League. Where does its wealth come from?

Land. Columbia has the fortune of being an educational institution founded before the American Revolution on what would become the most valuable real estate in the country. At various points early in its history, the State of New York granted Columbia free land to encourage higher education in the state, often in the great undeveloped northern reaches of Manhattan, where it was expected the city wouldn't grow for hundreds of years, if ever. Columbia made strategic purchases and moved the campus several times before ending up in Morningside Heights, at the time a farming community and home to Bloomingdale Asylum.

So Columbia made a lot of money renting out land to other tenants. Until the mid-80s, they owned the land Rockefeller Center was on, and collected a lot off the rent there. They soon realized the value of Manhattan real estate and have begun buying up as much land as they can get. Now they're the second largest landlord in Manhattan, and they're getting bigger. They already own almost the entire Morningside Heights neighborhood, and they're expanding into Harlem and Manhattanville. For the sake of illustration, imagine if Berkeley owned, not only its campus, but also 90% of the buildings bounded by, say, Piedmont, MLK Boulevard, Cedar, and Ashby, plus a large amount of land scattered throughout Oakland and the East Bay, that they just rented out to people, and you'll have a good idea what it's like.

So the upshot of this is that the University has lots of housing, which they rent to students at a somewhat reasonable price. Law students get guaranteed housing for 3 years, and it's subsidized to be below Manhattan standard (I pay $800/month for my place in my two bedroom, all utilities + high speed internet included). You also get allocated housing through the Office of Institutional Real Estate, which, while slow and bureaucratic and inefficient, is a lot less trouble than the hellish process of finding a Manhattan apartment on your own (To give you an idea, 90% of apartments in Manhattan won't let you through the door to look at a place without a referral from a Broker, who will demand 2-3 months rent as commission when you find a place. You need to be prepared to take a place on-the-spot or it'll be gone in an hour, so do any scoping out of the neighborhood beforehand. Be ready to scramble to follow up on any lead, because it's a race with other potential tenants to see the apartment first. In addition to the hefty security deposit, be prepared to show income statements from your employer showing that you make at least 48 times the monthly rent per annum, as well as bank statements proving that you have enough money in the bank that, should you lose your job, you could stay there and pay rent for 6 months. They can do all this because there are about 3 people who want an apartment in Manhattan for every apartment that's available).

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on November 1, 2005 2:10 PM.

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