Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I spent the beginning of last week babysitting a house with two large German Shepherds. After working at Heartbeat Theatre on Monday I drove straight to the house, let the dogs out, and feed them dinner. I was trying to catch a 5:10pm train downtown for an author event so I made a quick supper for myself, grabbed my car keys, and went outside to get my overnight bag from the car. A small cream coloured curly haired dog greeted me in the front yard and stretched his short legs all the way up to my thigh. A woman came by and apologized for the dog's enthusiasm. I smiled and said it was 'no problem' and headed back inside. I turned the door knob. My hand was met with unexpected resistance.

My heart stopped. I took a deep breath and told myself not to panic. When I had first arrived at the house the door knob had taken some force to turn so this wasn't unusual. I tried again. Nothing. My anxiety began to rise ever so slightly as I pulled and shook the door with all of my might. Still nothing. The door was a steel fortress protecting the house, the dogs, the keys, and my cellphone.

I walked around the front of the house trying to open every window. Nothing budged. The woman with the curly dog walked by once again. "Are you one of their neighbours?" I asked, gesturing to the fortified house. "Yes," the woman responded. "You wouldn't by any chance have a key to their house, would you?" I asked and added, "I'm watching their pets and...I seem to have locked myself out..."

She checked her watch. "Oh! They normally get home around five. That's in fifteen minutes."

"Yeah...they're in Hawaii for the next two weeks. They left this morning."

The woman's face fell along with my hope. I suddenly remembered the back of the house. I had bolted the back door before going outside to get my bag, but it had become unusually warm in Chicago. Maybe the owners had left a window open for a breeze! I walked along the side of the house and was met with a five foot tall solid wood fence. Naturally, the lock was located on the inside of the fence. I leaned over as best as I could, but was lacking in about three inches of length. I tried to extend my reach with my car keys, but was only able to brush the top of the lock.

(I should take a quick aside and explain that the pet/house-sitting I do in Chicagoland is all organized by a company called PetLand*. Pet owners contact PetLand whenever they need dog walkers or house-sitters. PetLand, who has done background checks on all of its employees, then calls those of us willing to do house-sits and sees who is available. Not a bad way to make money, but it does make the experience of staying in someone's house and taking care of their pets oddly impersonal. I meet the owners once before they leave and then that's it.)

Ten minutes later I was sitting in the nice neighbour's kitchen with her dog in my lap. She offered me her iPhone and I looked up the number to PetLand. I was trying to track down the boss, Janet*, who would be the only person with a spare key to the house or knowledge of where a spare key may be. Janet was, of course, gone for the day and the store clerk told me that she was not allowed to release her cellphone number. She said that she would call Janet and I gave her Nice Lady's home phone number and hung-up. Nice Lady, a professor at DePaul, went upstairs to grade papers. She told me to make myself at home and that she did not have to be anywhere until her yoga class, which was an hour and half away.

The phone rang. "Georgia, it's for you!" Nice Lady called from atop the stairs. "Georgia," Janet said before I had barely uttered 'hello', "what happened?"

"I've locked myself out of the German Shepherds' house. I don't even know how it happened! I was going outside to get my stuff, I didn't even shut the door and it somehow shut and locked behind me."

"And you don't have the key."

"It's in the house along with my cellphone."

"Where are you now?"

"Some nice neighbor's house. They have a dog walker, though. I assume it's a PetLand dog walker because I saw a PetLand packet on their table. Can you contact whoever that is and get their key?"

"I'm going to have to go back to office because I'm the only one with a key to the back room."


"It's going to take me an hour to get there."

...Of course...

While Janet made her hour long trek back to PetLand, I sat in Nice Lady's kitchen, wondering how this situation could possibly be anymore embarrassing. An hour later Janet called.

"It's not good," she said, when I asked if she found a key. "They don't use our dog walker and they're new clients so we don't have a key." I saw dollar signs float past my eyes as I thought of what a locksmith was going to cost. Would they have to change the locks or could they just get me in the house? "However, I do have the number to their dog walker, Adam*, and the number to a neighbor who might have a key." I scrambled for a pen and began to write the numbers on my arm before Nice Lady appeared with a scrap of paper. I thanked Janet and told her I would keep her updated.

For some reason, Janet had the dog walker's name and cellphone number, but only the neighbor-with-the-key's number. As luck would have it, Nice Lady was the head of the neighborhood watch! She pulled out her list of names and numbers and found that the house was right next door! Nice Lady suggested we go over in person to get the key. As we walked out of her house I shut her front door behind me. Nice Lady gasped and spun around.

"No," I said.

"That door is locked!"

I fell against the wall and slid down the the ground. "What is happening?!" Nice Lady began to laugh hysterically. "I swear," I said, "I've never even locked myself out of my own house! This never happens to me!"

"We'll deal with that later. Let's go get that key."

We went next door, my head hung low, and were greeted by the neighbor's teenage daughter who seemed to be experimenting with mascara for the first time.

"Ya?" she said, obviously annoyed that we had interrupted her trial and error time.

"Is your mother home?" Nice Lady asked.

"She's out for a wa-wlk." It was like listening to an SNL parody of a Kardashian sister.

"This young lady," Nice Lady gestured at me, "is babysitting Barbara and Lucy's* dogs and has gotten herself locked out. Apparently your mother has the key. Do you know where that might be?"


"Do you know when she'll be back?" I asked.

"She went for a wa-wlk."

"We've established that," I wanted to respond. Luckily, Nice Lady interjected with, "Well have your mother call us as soon as she gets in, okay?"


Walking back to her house, Nice Lady led me to her backyard. "I hope you're not an axe-murderer," she said, "because now you're going to know where our spare key is."

"Don't worry," I said, clearly not listening to the words coming out of my mouth, "I've had two FBI background checks." Nice Lady gave me an odd look, but continued walking in the direction of her secret rock. She lifted it. No key. "Oh that's right," she said, "when my husband's out of town he takes the spare key."

"How long is your husband out of town for?"

"A week. He left for Springfield this morning."


"My children should have a key, though."

"Oh good!"

"They live in downtown...and their numbers are in my cellphone..."

"...Which is in the house..."


We walked to the front of the house. As we passed her garage door Nice Lady stopped suddenly. She squinted at the rear entrance, which consisted of a plexiglass door and a wooden door. The reflection of the wooden door in the plexiglass was slightly askew. Nice Lady walked over and found the door mercifully left ajar. Huzzah! We made it into the house with just enough time to answer a call from Janet.

"What's happening?" she asked after Nice Lady handed me the phone. I explained waiting for the neighbor to get back from her walk. "Those dogs are probably ruining the house," Janet commented.

"Well I had just fed them and let them outside before I went to grab my stuff. I was actually about to crate them so they should be fine."

"Why were you going to crate them?"

I suddenly realized my mistake. With PetLand, house sitters are supposed to start their watch at 3pm and not leave the house until morning. Have I ever actually adhered to this rule? Of course not, but I wasn't about to let Janet know that.

"Oh. I was going to go hear an author give a talk downtown."

"You know that when you start your sit at three you are expected to stay in the house the rest of the night. Is this going to be a problem?" Her I'm-the-boss voice was beginning to appear.

"Oh no! Travis [the assistant manager] said that we could leave to go get dinner if we needed to."

"Well yes, you can do that, but that's something that should only take an hour."

"The author event was in Uptown and I was going to drive so it was only going to be an hour. If even that really because the talk was only a half hour long." In case it's not obvious, I was making up every word. The author event was in downtown and I was planning on taking the train. The total excursion probably would have been close to three hours. Luckily, though, Janet trusted my words. She told me to call her as soon as something happened and hung up.

Another thirty minutes went by and Nice Lady's yoga class was looming dangerously close. I knew I could not expect her to miss her class to let me continue to hangout in her house and read her New York Times. She came downstairs in her yoga clothes. "Let's give the neighbors another ring," she suggested. Just as I had suspected, Mini Kardashian had never given her mother our message. Nice Lady explained the situation and said that we would be over momentarily. I barely placed a foot on the neighbor's doorstep before I took the key from her hands and bolted to the German Shepherds' house. Two and a half hours had passed since I had been inside the house. The spare key in my hand seemed to good to be true and yet...it worked! I threw the door open and was greeted ecstatically by the bear-sized dogs. I grabbed my cellphone, THE KEYS, and called Janet to relay the good news as I walked back over to the neighbor's house. I thanked both the neighbor and (especially) Nice Lady for helping me out and wished them both a good night.

As I walked back to the German Shepherds' house I made mental note to get Nice Lady a gift card to somewhere. I walked inside the house, shut the door, and stopped: I had never asked her name...

1 comment:

  1. I just can't wait forever for you to blog some more. There was that promise in FB and I keep looking for your post. Alas. You're in a boat.