How I got a key to my house after five years

I’ve lived in an unlocked house since 2000, but I got a key last night and the doors are locked. Here’s what happened.

On Saturday night, my wife went out to the mall to reserve a copy of a new album she wanted (System of a Down’s Hypnotize—my wife rocks). She went to Sam Goody, where there’s a guy who really knows his music. The next day, an idiot angry at his girlfriend and, by extension, the world, opened fire on people in the mall, using the Sam Goody and its employees as a hideout complete with hostages until he gave up after three-and-a-half hours.

Tacoma, Washington, is a strange place to live, because this kind of shit happens. A few years ago, it was some Special Forces guys in a running gun battle with gang members on the South Hill. The DC sniper came from Tacoma. I remember Ted Bundy’s brother being called out of a drafting class in high school—he just sort of appeared from nowhere, having hidden like a ghost until that moment, when the intercom called for him—he had to go to the office to learn that his brother had been captured by the police for, I think, the last time. In Tacoma, everyone seems to know someone touched by a maniac. But I’d kept the doors at home unlocked.

My wife recently lost a friend to domestic violence, when another alienated boyfriend set the friend on fire while she slept. A week ago, she went out to the garage at night and interrupted two people rifling through my car. A few weeks ago, a serial rapist’s path ran through the area. I have a brother-in-law who steals prescription drugs from the house, too. Ever since my mother-in-law moved in a couple years back, the doors get locked a lot more, but I’ve managed to live without a key, coming and going with the assumption that the doors will open when I get home.

So, last night when my wife went out to get the CD at Sam Goody’s, I went along. Two guys were selling crack in the parking lot, ten paces from the substantially increased yet still indifferent security services at the mall entrance. Inside the mall, there was the mobile phone storelet (one of those mid-mall stands) where the guy started shooting. The Disney Store’s windows, which had been shot out, were replaced. The place was largely deserted. And Sam Goody’s was open.

It was strange how much of the story I’d absorbed from the news and radio. I could trace the steps the gunman took and, based on his apparent unwillingness to shoot people he actually spoke to (he turned away from the guy who offered him a free phone to start shooting and never pointed the gun at his hostages) judge that he wasn’t schizophrenic and detached from his moral reality, just stupidly angry.

The girl at the counter was uneasy when asked about the store having reopened, she’d been one of the hostages. There was an awkward exchange about the fact that everyone was okay—Kiera is preternaturally friendly and makes friends everywhere, so she was checking on the guy who gives her music recommendations (the Joe Hudson who called the Associated Press)—and the girl apologized for not having called about the CD coming in (“We’ve been kind of busy,” she said with something between a smile and tearfulness).

I started to play the XBox 360 demo near the counter, but turned it off when I realized it was making gunfire noises identical to those that had actually happened there a few days before. It made me feel a little sick. There was much relief exchanged in a few moments, and we left. Kiera wants never to go to the mall again.

On the way home, we stopped at Lowe’s and got four copies of the key to the house. The doors are locked now, because it makes my family feel safe. I feel lonelier.

Author: Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and business model hacker. He operates this site, which is a collection of the blogs he's published over the years, as well as an archive of his professional publishing record. As always, this is a work in progress. Such is life.

3 thoughts on “How I got a key to my house after five years”

  1. My dear sir, I know that you have a fondness for your particular home and area, but all of this begs the question: why stay there? There are areas in which this isn’t the norm in Washington State and beyond. This reminds me more of New Haven, Conn., circa 1991, when I wound up walking five minutes ahead of the Yalie who was shot by never-caught assailants (probably simple robbery by crackheads).

    Also, a key is fine, but not much help. An alarm is really the only thing that increases security because it’s way too easy to pick any lock.

  2. Glenn—Well, the door was unlocked until today, so it’s not so bad. Besides, the crowds in some parts of Washington state and most major cities bug me…. And there are feral idiots everywhere.

    We’ve got the alarms already, just never saw the need to arm them; that changes, too. The door, however, is what I lived with unlocked, and so I feel that most.

  3. We had a mall shooting here in Charlotte NC on Monday 11/28/2005.
    http://www.charlotte.com/mld/observer/13288951.htm

    Police quote:
    “The thing that happened at Eastland Mall was because two groups of guys happened to be shopping at that mall at that time,” he said. “If those two guys had been at SouthPark or at Carolina Place or at your local Wal-Mart and ran into each other, you would have had the same result.”

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