Yes. I Know How To Pick Locks.

My father had one of these. Not a normal thing to have.

I discovered a lockpick gun in my father’s desk when I was a little girl. I didn’t know what it was. Even back then, I had a fascination with guns and armory and in general, weapons. My father explained what it was and showed me a little how to use it, as well as the other lockpick tools that were stored with it.

I never asked him why he had one. Or an entire lockpick set. It just didn’t come to mind. When you’re a child and you find things like this among your parents’ possessions, you take it as an automatic of course, why not? and move on. By the time I got older, old enough to think to myself, WTF was my father doing with a lockpick set? I had passed the point of no return. There is that moment, right, when we as children can ask our parents something and once you go beyond it, you can never ask them it again? And you think to yourself later, dammit, I should have just asked them then, but now it’s too late?

So there it was. But because of that incident, I learned a little about how to pick locks. And believe me, it’s not so difficult.

This skill came in handy when I was in college because of track and cross country. I had a lot of practices and workout sessions where even storing my key in the little pockets of my shorts was annoying. I lived in an apartment that had a loose lock and I realized that it was the easiest thing in the world to simply break into my own home, rather than cart around a key. I didn’t even need to pick the lock. All I had to do was have a square piece of cardboard around and slide it into the doorway and shimmy it a little and there you go! I was home free.

BTW, “picking a lock” and breaking into someplace by sliding something in between the door frame and lock are two entirely different things. Just saying.

I always kept some cardboard lying around for just this purpose. Sometimes, the property manager would actually do something, like clean the hallways, and my small stash would be gone and I would come home and swear and have to hunt some down. Usually, a few leaves out of a catalog in my mailbox sufficed if I squished them together.

The apartment building still stands today and I don’t know if they changed the locks, but if they didn’t, I would bet you anything that I could break into my unit right now, with just a piece of cardboard, something from a box that contained soda cans or instant food because those are optimal (flexible enough, but with substance).

My friends knew about what I could do so there was one point, shortly after I graduated and moved, that I received a call from one of them.

“Hey, so-and-so locked themselves out of their house!” He said. “They called a locksmith but he told them that it would take a few hours for him to get there and that it would cost XX, which is crazy. Can you help out?”

Great. I thought. This is the legacy bestowed upon me from my father. Free lockpicker. “Sure,” I responded. “What’s the address?” I got over there, met the slightly nervous couple who wanted to get back into their house but was also wondering just who I was, a random person their friend called up because she was known for being able to pick locks. Their lock was pretty stubborn, I remember that, it took a long time to wiggle it loose, but I did, and got them inside.

“Thanks!” They said. “We’ll call the locksmith and let him know that he doesn’t need to come after all!!”

“Uh, no problem.” I said. In my head, the thought drifted, you owe me one, a big one, to my friend.

I never fully disclosed my abilities afterwards until one day, my ex and I found ourselves locked out of our house in Baltimore. He had shut the back door with both of us outside and then realized that the lock was in the on position and that he had left his keys inside.

“Now what?” he asked. “I guess we should call my mom. She has a spare.”

I sighed. “No, just find me some cardboard.”

“What? Why?”

“I’ll just break in.”

“With cardboard?” He asked, disbelief spreading across his face.


“You know how to do this?”


“Are you sure you just don’t want a credit card?”



So I had to explain the physics behind breaking into a home with a credit card. The laws of which many people don’t understand (um, because how many people actually break into houses?!!?). Credit cards are small. They are just a little too thick. It’s hard to maneuver them around locks. They inevitably fall down, useless, and then you have to worry about retrieving them, an ID that has your name on it. Hello!!! Credit cards are the worse thing to use when trying to jimmy a lock.

We vaulted over to our neighbor’s deck and I shifted through their recyclables. “There!” I said. “Perfect.” Then we hopped back on ours, I did my thing, and we were in.

“Wow.” My ex said. “That was awesome. And…kind of scary.”

“It got us in, didn’t it?” I said.

After that, he loved to tell people of my skills. When our neighbors got locked out of their house, he told them that I could get them in. Which I did. He suggested, as a joke, that I put it in on my resume. Lockpicker.

The unfortunate (fortunate?) thing is that I doubt I can do it nowadays. I could always break into homes with those button locks, but those with bolts, the ones that you shut with an implacable ump of a switch? Those I have never had any success with, mainly because there weren’t many of those around back when I was, um, picking locks. And because I didn’t have my father’s tools with me. Still don’t.

I don’t know what happened to that lockpick set. I left it behind when I went to boarding school and my mother eventually sold things off, packed up, and moved to a condo. So I don’t know if it’s still around. I remember it clearly, though, even the little dents in that lockpick gun which meant that it had been used, which still begs me to wonder, why did my father have it?

I can’t ask, because my father is dead (I’m pretty sure), and even if he wasn’t, I think I know the reason. He was never one for the straight and narrow, he liked living life on the edge, and he had a very self-serving view of the law, primarily because he had experienced losing his older brother in Korea and also worked as a civilian in WWII camps and was entirely too enterprising for his own good, dealing in black market items like candy bars and army rations and the like.

He was a small-time criminal in his younger days (maybe older, who knows?!), if you put it in the worst way, but I don’t. I like to think of him as a scamp, a survivor, because he really had to scrounge and endeavor to support himself and try to help out his family however he could. I have very few fond memories of my father and however odd it is, that lockpick gun was one of them. Because it told me a lot more about his history than I knew before I became older and my mother unfolded, reluctantly, some of his earlier escapades. My father and mother, whatever their differences, were fighters, were survivors, and I think those are traits that they passed down to my sister and me. That’s why I’m somewhat scrappy, I think, and made me able to survive my travails, even if they were in modern times, where lockpicking is frowned upon.

But still handy.