Thursday, April 3, 2008

Locked Out

The gods are a vengeful and cruel lot. I bragged about how they bestowed a 50 Euro note upon your most humble and downtrodden author. Seeing my joy at this, however, they took it back with interest at a most usurious rate, while at the same time causing me to suffer a most frightful ordeal: they caused me to be locked out of my house with my dogs in the middle of the night in Venice.

Our apartment in Venice has an entrance with an electric lock, and then another lock at the top of the stairs leading into the apartment. Each has a key. At about 10:30 p.m. I decided to walk the dogs. I intended to simply go around the block (rather than stop in Campo Santa Margherita for a bit-o-wine, as I normally would) and come right home. I suited up, got the crazy acting dogs downstairs, and closed the door to the apartment. I immediately realized that I did not have my keys. The dogs were going ape shit, as they are wont to do when about to go out, and broke my concentration. I thought “well, I’ll deal with this after the walk.” Mind you, I was in the hallway and had locked only one door. I proceeded to go out the door to the street, and let it shut behind, me before I realized the gravity of what I had just done. Now there were two locks between me and my bed, and Karen was in Bologna.

So I walked the dogs. While doing so I did not panic, but used the time to think about what I might do to solve this problem. Of course, I had no money and no means to get any. I couldn’t even go to Santa Margherita and have a beer while I thought through my predicament. It occurred to me that perhaps I could find some wire, like a coat hanger, and jimmy the lock, or push the button that would unlock the door. I found no wire. I had in my possession, however, a notebook with a wire spiral binding, and two covers that were relatively rigid. I dismantled the notebook and tried for some time to get the door open with this combination of things, all to no avail. I had me a bona fide problem. My enemy now was not only the gods, but time.

There are two hotels right around the corner. I thought perhaps they would take pity on an old man with two dogs, in the dark and cold of night and let me use a phone book to find a locksmith. At the first hotel, the clerk looked in horror as the dogs and I came through the door, and he of course had no phone book. It is worth noting at this point that Venetians are not a particularly helpful breed, especially when it comes to tourists, and most particularly if they may be caused some inconvenience not involving the gouging of tourists.

I left that hotel and went to the next. There was a large black man talking on the phone. He appeared just as horrified to see me as the last guy, but was willing to produce a phone book. Although appearing helpful from that act, he gave me the white pages, and had no yellow pages. It was getting late. I tried to call the landlord’s agent, but no answer.

I decided to go to the police station. Although a law abiding citizen, I loathe to involve the police in my affairs, and avoid them as unto a plague; they are an unsympathetic bunch, and generally dangerous, at least in the U.S. The officer here, however, was helpful and friendly, and he had the yellow pages, which he gave me. Now my lack of Italian was painfully apparent, as I did not know the Italian word for locksmith. I somehow communicated this fact to him, and he looked up a locksmith and gave me the number. He also suggested that I call the fire department. Since I had visions of the firemen coming with the jaws of life, or a battering ram, I decided to first try the locksmith. There was no answer.

So I gave in and called the fire department. Of course, they spoke no English. I believe I got across the nature of my problem, and they told me to call the police. The police told me to call the fire department. Welcome to Italy.

Now it was about 1:00 a.m. Although I have referred to the gods as vengeful and cruel (and so they are), they at least had the decency to make the weather relatively warm and dry this night. My situation was desperate, but I would not freeze to death, even if I had to stay out all night.

I decided that the only answer to my problem was to convince the firemen that they needed to come, which meant I had to find a Venetian who would be willing to help a nasty tourist with two dogs and no money communicate with the firemen long enough to get them to get in their little boat and come rescue me. This Venetian would have to be young (i.e., not mean as piss), speak English (i.e., not old), and be willing to do something for nothing (i.e., intoxicated). But it was now after 1:00 a.m. Where would there be such a Venetian? Thankfully, I have not wasted my time in Venice, and I knew exactly where such a person would be: the aforementioned Campo Santa Margherita. The bars are open late and frequented by those of college age, who tend to be more flexible and enlightened. At this hour there was bound to be one or two Italians meeting my requirements sitting at an outside table.

The dogs and I walked around for a few minutes until we found a table of four young men drinking beer who looked like they would meet all my requirements. I asked if any of them spoke English, and they said “yes,” all at the same time, and then pointed to one of their number whom they claimed to be a master. And so he was. I explained my problem, and he got the guy at the bar to call the firemen. After a series of questions from the firemen, such as did I have proof that it was my house?, where was it?, what was my phone number?, and was I willing to shell out about 200 Euros or so for the service?, they said they would be there in five minutes. The dogs and I trotted home and took up a position on the bridge by our house.

After a few minutes a boat with five or six firemen came up and docked. I was relieved when they got out with a tool box, rather than a battering ram. I showed them the only ID I had, which was my boat pass, and told them I had more documentation in the house. That satisfied the leader, who seemed to be very nice, as did they all, and they proceeded to get into the first door. This they accomplished by pushing a piece of plastic sheeting between the door and the jamb, which took about 30 seconds. This enlightened a brother as to how easy it would be to get through a door I thought to be impregnable. We then went up to the entrance door, which took a bit longer, and a few more tools, but they managed to get it open without destroying it.

They came in, filled out a form and gave it to me, which I would need to take to the post office the next day to pay the 207 Euros, and then take to the firehouse with proof of payment. It was now after 2:00 a.m.

There is a deep philosophical lesson to this story, which may be what the gods were trying to teach me in a effort to tame my arrogance. I was out in the cold, in a most literal sense, with the dogs, who rely on me for their care and maintenance, without a penny in my pocket, broke and helpless. I could not speak the language, except at a most rudimentary level. I could buy no food or drink, and would not have been able to rent a room, even if I could find one that took dogs. I therefore needed the help of others, and I had to ask for it, and they had to be willing to give it. I recognized that there is only one demographic group from which I could expect to get any help: young beer drinking men. This group cares not that you come from a foreign land, as they do not recognize national boundaries, except as it might relate to the quality of beer. While drinking beer they pass no judgment and will help you if they can. Thank the gods that I knew this group and where to find it.

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