I learned about breaking in from the movies. When the crook was locked out of a massive vault, he’d file his fingers for increased sensitivity, and “crack that safe.” So I did the same when I was around 14. I had been hired to work in a mail room. I had to push boxes of pamphlets from my town hall to the post office. City Hall was one of those grand old Carnegie-era buildings with a rotunda, and I could see nowhere but up from the basement that was pamphlets-land.

This basement was also where my town kept its huge old walk-in safe. Cool, I thought, “this will be easy.” I’ll put my ear up to the tumbler, roll the dial forward and then back after sandpapering my fingers, until I hear or feel clicks each way, and after opening it, I’ll run away to Monaco maybe with the city’s tax money and Barb Conrad. It did work almost like in the movies. The tumbler made a tiny click, another sluggish opposite turn, and the latch released and the huge metal door slowly opened. My jaw open too, I glanced around the basement, stepped out the door, and looked up. Domed ceiling. Silence. Echoing footsteps from somewhere. No one.

Inside the safe were brownish file cards, envelopes, and what I think now were maybe tax statements. I didn’t see any sign of bundles of cash or coin. I panicked, I pushed the heavy door closed with both hands, twisted the massive handle, and spun the dial. Face it, I wouldn’t have gotten past more than the dime store soda fountain with Barb anyway.

Sad to say, I never could get the safe to open another time. Oh, I tried! Repeatedly, I tried. Damn it. So much for sensitivity and a life of crime.

Since that time, I’ve been locked out of cars, houses, school rooms. I’d get into them with other techniques learned in the movies. Hot wired cars, broke into doors by cracking side windows, so I could reach through and turn the lock from the inside. Fished through car windows to pop locks with coat hangers. Been boosted up so I could shinny through an open overhead transom. Usually, I lock myself out of things stupidly.

Hardest of all seems common place these days. You get locked out because you have forgotten your own PIN. This happens to all of us, doesn’t it?

When such things were fresh and new, I had my first automated bank card. I went to the heavy walk-up window, and drew a blank. The machine took my card, and asked me what my PIN was. This sounds familiar now, but it was early days for me and I panicked.

I tried my birthdate, no luck. I tried 1492, no luck. I tried 1215. What had I used? It didn’t occur to me to ask for my card back, or maybe it wasn’t an option. Then came the shock. In extreme slow, silent motion the door came down like a guillotine. It had swallowed my bank card, and a note came out saying to visit the bank during regular business hours. It was a cold Saturday, I could barely feel my fingers, and no amount of sensitivity was going to see me with cash for the weekend.

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