When one of my students comes to my class late, I always ask, “What’s your excuse?” This is not only a valid question of judgement, but also an exercise in real world speaking. The usual answers are: I slept too long — I couldn’t find my bike — I was waiting for my roommate — or my personal favourite — I didn’t eat breakfast so I can’t walk good. Then I ask the rest of the class if they think it’s a reasonable excuse. Well, yesterday morning I got a taste of my own medicine, but I had the end-all excuse to put them all to rest.
That morning I woke up a little later than usual, 7:20, and I crawled out of bed to take a shower and get ready for my 8 o’clock class. Next to my bedroom is my office, which has a door leading out to the main area of my apartment. Last week there was a burglary in one of my foreign colleagues apartment, where, in the middle of the night, the robbers busted through some steel bars, which encase most windows here, and stole his laptop and some cash while he was sleeping. Since then I’ve been sleeping with a knife and a clothing iron next to my bed, waiting for their return. I’ve also been locking my office door for extra effort on their part.
That morning, I unlocked my office door and turned the knob when…nothing. The door didn’t budge. I pushed and pulled while jiggling it with no success. I was thinking — Shit. Alright China, you got me again. Now what. And because of the steel bars over the windows, there was no way I could even crawl out.
I called my class monitor, Jimmy, to tell him I was going to be late and to keep the students from leaving. I also asked him if he could call the security guards and see if they had a spare key or perhaps some ancient Chinese secret of opening my front door to try the jammed door from the other side. He said he’d come to the teacher’s village to see what he could do. I was a little irritated, but even more, I was just enjoying the moment because I reveled in the thought of what was going to happen next.
Jimmy showed up ten minutes later and I could hear them trying to open my front door. No luck. Well, at least the fact they couldn’t get that door open was a little comforting. He came around to the back of the apartment block and was yelling at my second floor window.
“Lance! Lance! They can’t open it,” he said as I came to the window. He was trying to contain his laughter.
“Alright.” So, dreadfully, I had to do what I didn’t want to….call Mindy. She’s the head of the Foreign Affairs Office and my boss. Let’s put it this way, you don’t want to talk to her unless you absolutely have to because…well, she’s just, she’s like a Chinese version of Nurse Ratched in Keasey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That said, I dialed her number and waited.
“Yes Lance.” She never says hello.
“Hi Mindy. How are you?”
“Mmm…mmm,” she murmured. “What is it?”
“Well, uh, I’ve got a little problem with my door….,” I told her the jist of it.
“I’m busy right now. I can’t help you until 11:30,” she replied irritably.
“But I’ve got class in ten minutes. What should I do?”
“Just break out of your apartment. I have to go. Bye.”
I smiled. I looked down at Jimmy and said, “I’ll be out in a few minutes.”
Ever since watching COPS as a kid, I’ve always wanted to kick a door in. The feeling of busting down someone’s door and coming in like a badass, eyes wild like a madman. Only here, the other side of the door was just my living room and I had no one to surprise. But, I was barefoot and all of my shoes were out by my front door….then I remembered. In the cabinet of my office bookshelf, I had stored my fancy dress shoes I never wear. They were a $200 gift from my ex-Korean girlfriend and I’ve probably worn them two times in two years. I pulled one of the dusty ones out and put it on, finally giving me a reason to wear it again. Showtime.
I took a few steps back and booted the door square beside the knob thinking it would gloriously bust free on the first kick. Not. I must’ve kicked it 20 times, wood chips and paint flying everywhere, before the inside lock finally broke off.
I quickly got dressed and met Jimmy downstairs.
“How did you get out?” he asked curiously.
“Ancient American secret,” I smiled.
I was 30 minutes late to class and most of the students were half asleep or texting on their phones.
As I walked in they all asked in unison, “What’s your excuse?”