The Door Opens: A Prologue
There was no door bell at 98 Benefit Street. Just a brass door knocker.
I followed my procedure of documentation: I stepped back, framed the knocker in my camera, and took a photograph. Then I pulled my little audio recorder out, and pressed record:
“This is 98,” I recited, and held the recorder up to the knocker.
With my free hand, I reached out, lifted the knocker, and let it fall three times. Three knocks resounded along the street. Quickly, I turned off the recorder, and pulled out a piece of paper with ten questions I had prepared for people living with door knockers. I had ten copies of these questions in my bag, but up until this afternoon, I hadn’t needed them. No one had been home yet on Benefit Street, and I had just six blocks left to go.
But this house was different. This house didn’t have a door bell. Every other house on the street thus far had supplied a door bell alongside the door knocker. It had felt strangely schizophrenic to me, a case of two identities competing for primacy. And the tension was not lost on me; every time I stepped up to a door, lifted the knocker, and let it fall three times, I wondered if I should have used the door bell instead. When no one responded to the knocker, I usually pushed the doorbell and held it for a few seconds, just as a final check.
No one ever answered.
The door cracked open. A woman asked what I wanted. Stumbling through a short speech I had rehearsed for this scenario, I explained that I was a student at Brown doing a project on door knockers. Would she mind if I asked her some questions about her door knocker?
She didn’t believe me.
She asked me what class this research was for. She asked where I was from, what year I was, what I was majoring in.
I tried to respond in a way that would give her the confidence she needed. But she was still skeptical. And then her cat escaped through the door.
She gasped. She explained that the cat had never been outside before. She begged me to catch him.
So I put down my door knocker survey and my pen, and crept towards the cat on the brick sidewalk of Benefit Street.
Fortunately, I caught the cat. I picked him up, and handed him over to his owner.
And in that moment, something changed. The woman trusted me. She opened up the door wide enough for me to enter.
“So you want to know about the door knocker?” she asked.
“Alright then,” she responded, “come on in.”