When we moved into our old house 20 years ago, the front-door lock was kind of finicky. Some days it wouldn't lock, and some days we'd think we'd locked it, only to come home to find the door swinging in the breeze. Worst of all, when we did get the lock to catch, it wouldn't unlock, and I'd have to get a ladder and climb in a second-story window to get back in the house. The door was so old and feeble it seemed pointless to get it fixed, so finally we gave up and simply stopped locking the door. I last had a key to my house in 1993.
This wasn't really a huge problem all these years, as our house is, as my neighbors will tell you, the most run-down one on the block, and no self-respecting burglars would bother to burglarize us. (They could clean us out and we'd have to file an insurance claim for toy box full of hundreds of old headless Barbies, a collection of baseball bobbleheads, and a computer that works for 20 minutes before freezing up. Our TV is so small a burglar would think it was a computer monitor.)
I personally liked the lack of commitment that came with not needing a key, and I didn't want to spend the money necessary to replace the door.
The issue has grated on my wife's nerves, though, and last month, we finally had a new door installed, a big thick mahogany one with a nice heavy brass lock. The guy who installed the door spent an extra hour making sure that it made just the right noise when it closed -- kachunk! It cost enough that were my house to catch on fire, I'd ask the firefighter to unscrew it from its hinges and drag it to safety and let the house burn. The first thing we did was go out and get keys for all the key chains in the house, plus one for my father-in-law, who lives two blocks away.
Coming home from work on Tuesday, I was already in a bad mood. My wife needed the car, and I had to ride the bus home, something I find depressing and annoying. (If you are a regular bus rider, please don't be offended by this statement. You have to admit you're a fairly depressing group of people, staring out the windows like prisoners being driven out to work detail. And I, personally, find that annoying.)
When I finally did get to my house, I found nobody home. My wife was off to watch one of our daughters run cross country, and our other daughter was at volleyball. I walked to the front door, tried it, and stood mystified for a moment when it wouldn't open. I peered in the windows. I frowned, walked around to the back door, and tried that one, too. Locked. Side door? Same thing. I texted my daughter.
"Why don't you have a key?" she texted back.
I texted my wife. "Why don't you have a key?" she texted back.
I trudged the two blocks to my father-in-law's house, and he gave me the key off his heavy key ring, which seemed to contain every key he'd ever owned since 1922, with strict instructions that I was not to lose it. I walked all the way back, tried the door, and ... nothing. It wouldn't turn.
I turned around, stomped back down to his house, and asked him if he was sure, really sure, it was the right key. He was positive, he said, adding that I wasn't turning the key right. You had to pull the door toward you before you turned the key. I didn't know this because I've got so little experience with having a front door that locks. I turned around and walked back to my house.
When I got there, I stuck the key in the lock, pulled the door toward me, and tried to turn it. It was the wrong key.
I waited in the front yard for for my wife to get home, as people walking their dogs glanced over at the angry man, pacing the lawn, mumbling and cursing his wife, his father-in-law, his daughters and, especially, his stupid new front door. Every once in a while I'd give one of the dog walkers my patented "What are you looking at?" glares.
I was pining for the good old days, when you could trust your neighbors, and nobody needed to lock their doors in this town. All those passers-by, though, probably went home and made sure they had nice, sturdy locks on their own doors.
There are a lot of crazies out there these days.
Homemaking is a column about the people, projects and pride that make a house a home. Peter McKay, a Ben Avon resident, is a nationally syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate. To see past columns, go to www.post-gazette.com. Contact him at www.peter-mckay.com.