Cat Burglar

I was in Fremont, California. It was the summer of 1975.  I had my sample case with me. I’d worn my hot pants to stay cool. I had already rung three dozen doorbells.

Selling books door to door wasn’t always a cake walk.  It was lunchtime. I had one more doorbell to ring before I’d take a break. It was the last house on a long street before it dead-ended into the undeveloped golden hills of California.

I pushed the wrought iron gate to the courtyard that was half open and walked up to the door.  Then I heard the gate swing shut. I’d pushed it too hard.  I dropped my case and ran back to the six foot tall gate. It had locked, and I was now locked inside the courtyard.

I rang the doorbell.Twice, then again and again. No one was home. I started calling, but I knew no one would answer. This was a nice neighborhood that required two paychecks to pay the mortgage.  I’d just confirmed that by ringing everyone’s doorbells and getting no answer.

It was five or so hours before these people might get home from work. Plus, it was Friday, so if they went out for TGIF, it would be even longer.

The only window inside the courtyard led to the attached garage.  The window wasn’t locked, and I was able to open it and climb inside.  Now what?  The inside door from the garage to the house wasn’t locked, either.

Okay, I can get inside, but what if they have a huge dog?

I held my breath as I turned the doorknob.This was 1975. No cell phones. I needed to get to a phone to call the police to come help me.

I walked into the kitchen. So far, so good. I called out to see if anyone was home. No answer.

Then I saw the golden retriever on the back deck. The slider was open, just far enough for the dog to get back inside. I ran into a bedroom and shut the door. There was a desk phone on the nightstand.

I called 9-1-1.  I told the dispatch person that I needed the police.

“I just broke into a house because I got locked inside the courtyard when the gate swung shut behind me.”


Eventually I was connected to the police. I didn’t know the house number, but I told them it was last house on the street. It was a cul-de-sac, and I knew the name of the court. Dispatch said the police were on their way.

I went to the bathroom (it had been hours) and sneaked past the sleeping dog, I went back to the garage to wait, where I would be safe. I stood at the open window, eating my PBJ sandwich since I was behind schedule (this was my break, after all).  The police came up the sidewalk and I could see them at the gate. When they saw me in my hot pants with my sample case, they stifled their laughter. I was no cat burglar, just a clueless college girl.

“Pull down the release lever to the garage door,” one of them said.


Long story short, the police told me how to to get out.  In my defense, I had grown up in a house with no garage, and neither sets ofgrandparents had garages, so I had no idea there would be a release lever.

Then they asked for my peddler’s license, which I had in my case.  The police got a good laugh out of the whole thing. I got my freedom back, the dog didn’t bite me, and the couple that lived there allowed me to demo my books when I returned the next day, on Saturday.

“Hi, I‘m the one that broke into your house,” I said when they answered the door.

They didn’t buy the books.

I didn’t win the weekly warrior award for locking myself in someone’s house.  Janet Wolfkuhl got it for being bitten by a dog. Nobody even voted, as we usually did. Our fearless leader decided that Janet deserved it.  I never even got to tell my story to the group at our Sunday gathering.

Now I have a house with an attached garage. I know where the release lever is. I don’t have a courtyard, so it’s unlikely that anyone will have to break into my house to find a way out.

But if they did, it would be Karma. After all, I was a cat burglar for about 45 minutes back in 1975.


I should’ve opened the gate with less force, should’ve told our fearless leader what happened BEFORE the meeting started, and I should’ve raided the people’s refrigerator and fed my PBJ to the dog.

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