My new house came with an electric lock installed on its front door. As locks go it has everything you could ever want- beefy rubber push buttons squish and click with a satisfying amount of travel. LEDs hidden behind each number begin to glow as you approach the panel. If you enter the house and forget to lock the door behind you, it takes initiative and screams at you until you remedy the situation. My old house in my old town had an old generic deadbolt and it had none of these features- the decadence of this new lock was unexpected but welcome. It Wi- Fi connects, lights up, counts down, whines and grinds and it even has a built-in alarm. It has everything! Everything except an instruction manual.
A day or two after taking possession of my new house, the lock’s LED indicator started blinking red instead of its usual orange. Curious. Is it supposed to do that? I have no way of knowing. Is it telling me the batteries are low? Is it indicating that the Wi-Fi router is out of range? That would make sense, seeing as its preferred Wi-Fi router was packed up and shipped off to somewhere else. What does it want?
The previous owners had thrown the manual away. They didn’t need it. After all, I imagined, they planned on staying in this house for the rest of their lives. Mastering the lock and its features had been a high priority for them when they first installed it, and once they had read the manual and programmed the lock to their liking, they obviously internalized all the instructions and discarded the manual. The lock was simple to them. But life isn’t simple- it’s complicated and unpredictable and it rarely goes exactly as planned. Somehow their forever home ended up sold, and the lock they entrusted with safeguarding their lives was now found in my incapable hands.
Hours after the red blinking initially started, my curiosity turned to concern when the lock started audibly whining every fifteen seconds or so. Annoying. It demanded something from me, but what?
There are often a thousand little things to do in life that are worthy of procrastination, but for the purposes of safety and security, changing the locks on a new house isn’t one of them. There’s no telling who has the lock’s current code in their possession. Maybe the previous owners shared the code with some criminals who cleaned them out. Heck, that’s probably why they had to sell their house to begin with. To avoid filing for bankruptcy, they had to sell their house, which was the only thing remaining in their name after ne’er-do-wells stole all their stuff. You can bet those gangsters would be back using that same (unchanged) code to obtain unlimited access to my house and all my earthly possessions. There’s no way the old owners could have known that their unfortunate run-ins with law-breakers would be passed on to me. Life is unpredictable. In any case, the lock’s aggressive tone burnt the procrastination out of me.
I searched the company’s website for a .PDF copy of the instruction manual but each of the three separate editions I found contained insights which simply didn’t apply to my lock. The make and model numbers matched but the programming instructions didn’t seem to do anything.
“Hold the program button for 30 seconds until the lock extends,” but the lock fails to extend. Am I counting seconds wrong? Are these M-I-S-S-I-P-P-I’s, or steamboats? Am I expected to pull out my phone and use a timer app? The instructions were clear but clearly didn’t work. “To program the lock, press the program button and the lock button together for ten seconds until you hear a beep, then input your new desired code”’ but the lock persisted in its insolence, ignoring every input, hell-bent on doing its own thing.
Forcing the lock to cooperate was becoming tiresome. The lock was beginning to seem as if it legitimately possessed a mind and personality of its own. It was the protagonist living its own story and it had chosen me as its antagonist- actively relating to me exclusively through a posture of open rebellion. Intentional spite. The lock (not I!) had chosen to make this personal. Well… that might have been a bit extreme. Perhaps the lock raged not against me per se, but rather, its fury was directed towards the situational changes that put me in power over it. I could empathize with that. It missed its old family, it yearned for familiarity, it longed for the touch of yesterday. Don’t we all? Aren’t we all powerless over the many circumstances that define our existences? Often the areas where we succeed in exercising control only leads us down a path of frustration and unforeseen consequences. Who doesn’t pine after the comforts of the old and the familiar when faced with the daunting uncertainty of a new situation? I get it. But there comes a time when we must accept the changes that life brings our way. For the lock, that time had long passed. Also, it’s a lock, not a person. I’m doing everything I’m supposed too- is the lock itself defective?
I ran to the store and spent five dollars on some AA’s and changed the batteries, reasoning that nothing worked as intended because the lock wasn’t properly powered. Sure enough, with fresh batteries, the LED turned green! The incessant whining stopped. I knew it. Batteries were the problem. I am one with the machine. Then, using a combination of hybrid techniques pieced together from the various manuals, I somehow managed to add a user code. No one set of instructions worked on their own but jumping from one step in one manual to a different step in another manual eventually bent the mechanism to my will. Lord of the locks, Neo from the matrix, I don’t need an instruction manual, I AM the instruction manual.
The next day it starts again- red blipping and persistent chirping. At least my new code still worked. Within an hour, the whole lock goes totally dead. Well, if cheap batteries fixed it for a day, I reckoned more expensive batteries would last longer. Twenty-dollar batteries installed- green blinks, happy beeps and all is well. But the next day, it’s more of the same thing.
Every bit of information I can find indicates that cheap alkaline batteries are supposed to last at least a year in an electric lock. When I change the batteries, the lock functions as intended, and so that’s exactly what I do every day for a week. But how are daily battery changes any sort of improvement over a dumb old lock? I wanted to stab it with my screwdriver. I wanted to push the fine Phillips head into its nubby buttons through its fragile circuitry and clean through to the other side. I could probably do it too, if I really leaned into it. But, as satisfying as that would be for me personally, it wouldn’t solve anything.
Enough is enough. One last time, I change the batteries and let the lock flash and scream itself into oblivion. I resolve that, from that day forward, I will only use the back-up physical key the house came with. With dead batteries the lock is just a plain old deadbolt. Problem solved, good riddance.
A week later the lock starts blinking green and working exactly as you’d want it to- fully featured and fancy. It’s totally unexpected. It defies all reason, all logic, all laws of God, man and machine. Nobody touched the batteries or the programming or did anything to it. Out of the blue, it just decided to work, and has for months now. It must be haunted- this must be the true reason the old owners sold me the damned house. Either that or it’s just another case of life being unpredictable. Isn’t that just what everybody wants? An unpredictable lock for an unpredictable life. No instructions, no answers, no sense in any of it.
And so, I carry my key.
This was originally written in the fall of 2022 for my creative writing class in the ‘non-fiction essay’ category. I hope you enjoyed reading it!