by Joshua Bernstein
a period in the eighth year of my life I couldnt get
enough of my doorknob. Nothing was unusual about it; the doorknob
was cheap brass, not unlike millions found in suburban bedrooms
across the country. The doorknob featured a push-button lock
that wouldve caused an incompetent cat burglar to laugh.
To unhinge the mechanism all one did was take a wire coat
hanger, preferably with a flat lip, and insert the tip into
the horizontal slot on the locks exterior. Wiggle. Shimmie.
Twist. POP! A bedrooms contents revealed. And though
I was a curious child who, with the turn of a hanger, interrupted
his parents noisy, mid-afternoon coitus, what the lock
concealed hardly intrigued meI craved the POP.
the lock was disengaged, the latches and hinges would hastily
slide into a resting position. The result? A slight metallic
POP. The sound was dismissible, even trivialit was akin
to an old car radio crackling on or the hiss of a gas stove
awaiting a pilot light. These sounds barely registered on
hammers and anvils, white noise blending into the aural landscape.
My bedroom locks POP, though, sent my internal Richter
scale into a San Francisco tizzy.
the eldest of three children, I had my own bedroom. My younger
sister and baby brother shared. It was an ideal situation
for a son schooled in privacy by a dad with a den and a mom
with a sewing room. They loved their locks. But I didnt
use my lock for their reasons; I was too young to keep secrets,
too young to lead a separate life.
eight I was frightened of three things: my closet, the space
beneath my bed, and my bedroom door. With lights off, benign
objects and areas assumed sinister bents. The coat rack revealed
itself as a zombie. Clandestine closet monsters were keen
to suck my brains. And beneath my bed? Another 15 years must
pass before such horrors can be recounted. To keep closet
fiends at bay I closed the door. A second pillow was my defense
against beneath-the-bed baddies. As for my bedroom door, through
which criminals would surely dash to pilfer my precious baseball
card collection, my defense was, of course, the lock.
brushing my teeth and peeing, Id retreat to my bedroom
and engage the lock with my index finger. PING. My Mark McGwire
rookie was safe. Id close my closets, peek under the
bed, and hop onto my mattress. With everything secure Id
pull my Star Wars covers tight around my head and drift into
dreams, a land where POP was just a Midwesterners way
of saying soda.
stormy night flipped my compulsive switch. Lightning and thunder,
in my television-polluted mind, were fertile ground for criminals.
I had to be double sure my door was secure. That night, after
preparing for bed, I depressed the button. PING. I twisted
the knob, testing the lock. I twisted too far, though, because
the door unlocked with a loud POP. I engaged the push-button.
Again I checked. POP. Engage. Check. POP. Engage. Check. POP.
And on and on until certain my room was secure.
took me five minutes.
saw nothing wrong with that.
thats where my problem began.
first Id double-check my door. PING. POP. But after
that stormy night, I was never convinced my door was properly
locked. Hence, Id try again. And again. Usually four
or five tries satisfied me. That was manageable. But somewhere
along the line the locked door stopped concerning me so much
as that POP. It equaled safety. It equaled comfort. It had
to be perfect.
soon, before I could fall asleep I had to hear a flawless
POP. A clear, concise SNAP of metallic latches. Because it
was so personal, its difficult to describe POP perfection.
The closest analogy is Diet Coke Man.
my brick-lined college town walked a middle-aged man. He always
cradled a half-finished two-liter of Diet Coke. He would stroll
the streets at night, his head dipped groundward, intermittently
stopping to examine a scrap of paper or lift a rock. Diet
Coke Man intrigued me; for what was he searching? One day
I asked. "Theres an A and a B world," he mumbled.
"Im trapped in the B world and Im trying
to find my way back to the A world." Diet Coke Man knew what
he wanted. So did I. POP.
and pushing and POPPING and PINGING. Id lock and unlock
my door more in one night than most in a lifetime. It was
quite a ruckus, a rapid-fire mélange of snapping and
twisting metal, punctuated by POP, blessed POP. My mania wouldve
driven many to a bell tower. Luckily for fellow suburbanites,
my parents owned no firearms.
traveled easily in our ranch-style home. In later years, no
matter how much I tiptoed, my mother always knew how late
I slunk home. "I heard your doorknob creak at 2:30 in the
morning, Josh," shed say. "In the morning. What
type of son comes home at 2:30 when his curfew is 12?"
A stupid one. Their bedroom was across from mine.
the beginning, my parents ignored me. "Its just
a phase," I could see my dad saying as he scrunched another
pillow over his ears. "Hell grow out of it, just
like he grew out of eating cigarette butts." They allowed
me to click and twist unfettered. Some nights I only needed
a few turns; others a few thousand. But like with most manias,
the latter soon swallowed the former alive.
was losing sleep in search of my sound. My parents were, too.
Thats when they intervened. Sort of. "Joshua Michael,
will you please stop whatever it is your doing and go to sleep!"
my mom would holler from her bedroom whenever my twist-o-rama
began. "Like us," shed add, "if only
youd stop making that noise! Youll be sorry if
you dont stop!" I needed to hear my sound, but
I feared punishment even more. As a reprisal, my dad was partial
to hiding the monitor of my cherished Apple IIE. I was eight
years old and dog less; the computer was my best friend.
to parental intervention, I started going to bed without my
POP. I say went to bed, not sleep. The POP had become my Halcion,
Xanax, and NyQuil; without it I was an insomniac mess. After
a POP-less night, Id make sure I heard my sound the
next eve. Like an addict, I started sneaking around for my
fix. Id retire early to bed, feigning exhaustion, while
my parents remained in their respective studies at the opposite
end of the house. Then Id work the door until I got
what I wanted.
these years later, a number of things still strike me as odd,
which they should. First, I never trifled with the lock during
the day; my obsession only arose at night. During the day,
my fixation was limited to locking the front door when I left
for school. And I only did that once.
even though the other bedrooms had push-button locks, they
little concerned me. Maybe it was a juvenile lesson in territoriality.
Dont sleep in another mans bed. Only twist your
own doorknob. It made sense.
parents reluctance to discuss my problem was another
curiosity. There was no, "Why must you unlock the door
800 times a night?" or even "Stop doing that or
well put you up for adoption." Maybe they, like
most parents, were reluctant to admit their child was off-kilter.
Remember, in suburbia abnormalities were kept behind closed
doors. But, as I mentioned earlier, they probably placed their
bets on my outgrowing the obsession, thereby avoiding confrontation.
Like my teenage years, when their attitude toward my copious
intake of both marijuana and Zima was, "If we dont
see him doing drugs, he isnt doing drugs." For
some, blind ignorance is, assuredly, bliss.
was how my doorknob mania ended. It would be nice to say a
steady diet of parental protestations caused me to curtail
my obsession till I kissed POP goodbye. It would be even better
to say three electroshock sessions a week cured me. Better
yet would be if my parents removed my doorknob and I was committed.
And then I could say I conquered my demons to become a well-adjusted
member of society, a veritable after-school special. Yeah,
I could say all that, but Id be lying. I just sort of,
you know, stopped.