The Ins and Outs of My Gated Community

Being city-dwellers ourselves, we’ve always wondered what it’s like to live in a private community, separated from the world by cameras and fences. Dennis Mahoney happens to live behind such fences, and gives us the insider’s take on modern elite living.

Think of a big dorm for post-post graduates. Remove the kegs, the coeds, the ‘incense,’ the drunken basketball players sprawled naked in their own vomit. Then surround the dorm with a supermarket, a car wash, a gas station, a church, and a grammar school for beautiful little French children. Welcome, friends, to my gated community.

Living here isn’t much different than living in any other super-fortified modern residential complex with a swimming pool in the central courtyard. We don’t have razor wire on the fences. There aren’t snipers on the roof, at least none that I’ve seen, and if Dobermans and giant searchlights scan the perimeter at night, they do it long after I’m asleep, safe in my apartment.

My friend Steve recently experienced firsthand what a typical Saturday is like inside my gated community. Like so many outsiders—‘free-rangers’ we like to call them—Steve attempted to enter through the main lobby door. The door was locked, of course, and Steve had forgotten my number, without which he couldn’t dial my apartment from the outside directory. After a few minutes, a little girl opened the door. Steve thanked her and she smiled devilishly; surely she had been taught never to let free-rangers into the lobby. But Steve was met by one of our building’s crack security guards, who demanded to know where he was going.

‘Sorry,’ Steve said. ‘I’m from upstate. I don’t know how this works.’

He told the guard he was there to see Dennis Mahoney. My apartment is less than 20 yards from the lobby, yet the guard had never heard of me. Chances are I’ve said hello to this security guard a hundred times, but in all fairness, he probably knew me simply as Resident, just as I knew him as Security Guard. Asking him to find Resident Mahoney was as futile as asking me to find Security Guard Schitkowec or Wolfhausen.

Steve was out of luck. He walked across the street, dug my phone number out of his car, and called me from the Mexican restaurant up the block. I grabbed my keys and swiper pass, locked the door behind me, and took the stairs down to the parking garage. When I met Steve across the street, he laughed about our lobby’s tight security.

‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘Things have been a little tense since the attacks. They’ve even given the guards real bullets.’

‘God,’ he said.

‘Kidding, Steve.’

‘Oh. They don’t have bullets?’


Steve and I came to the same outer door I’d used a minute before. I waved my swiper pass in front of a sensor and the door unlocked. The door to the elevator bank also required a swipe. We went upstairs and passed a door marked Utility A. Obviously, the door was locked.

‘What’s in there?’ Steve asked.

‘Fuses and thermostats, I’d imagine,’ I said. ‘To be honest, I’ve never seen it open. It might be an evil laboratory for all I know.’

‘Or a torture chamber.’

‘Or the secret lair of enormous spiders.’

‘Probably it’s just fuses and thermostats,’ Steve said.

‘Yeah. Utility B is up the hall. I’ve never seen that one open either.’

Once inside the apartment, I warned Steve that the balcony door needed to be kept shut at all times because the cat might try to escape. Falling wasn’t the issue; the apartment is only one floor up. But the cat is neutered and de-clawed, an indoor cat with dim survival instincts. Indoors, he is Lord of the Apartment, but on the outside he’d soon lose his way, scurry into traffic, or die of fright. To the cat, however, the outside world is just another room with fresher air. Whenever I open the door, he moves like a laser and halts in disappointment on discovering the screen.

‘Never forget the screen,’ I said.

Steve decided to get some things from his car. I grabbed my keys and followed him out. Upon returning to the lobby entrance, I discovered I’d forgotten my swiper pass inside the apartment. Luckily, the lobby door was now unlocked. Saturdays are open house for prospective renters, mostly couples and families more than happy to sign a two-year lease. It was one of those rare occasions when getting into my community was easier than getting out.

Steve wanted a tour. I brought him past the indoor squash court and into the center courtyard. ‘Wait,’ I said, jumping back to catch the self-locking door—I still didn’t have my pass. One could just as easily be locked outside in the inner courtyard. Steve surveyed the courtyard with its kidney-shaped swimming pool, the little bridge and gazebo, the BBQs locked down for winter, the rows of neat apartment windows staring down like a hundred curious eyes.

‘Nice,’ Steve said. ‘Which way is out?’

‘Back the way we came,’ I said. ‘Do you want to see the neighborhood?’

‘Sure,’ he said.

I grabbed my car keys from the apartment, and we walked to elevator bank. Right before the elevator opened, the power blew. The hall went dark. Exit signs lit red—there were dozens of them. ‘What was that?’ Steve said at the sound of slamming doors. I told him every hallway had a fire door held open by a magnet. Whenever the fire alarm goes off, the doors swing shut to trap the flames.

‘What are they trapping now?’ Steve said.

‘Everything,’ I told him.

Steve was silent. He looked around, somewhat panicked in the deep red light of the hall.

‘Kidding,’ I said. ‘Loss of power killed the magnets.’

‘Oh.’ His shoulders loosened. ‘Elevators, too,’ he said.

‘Right. We’ll take the stairs.’

A sign in the stairway read, ‘Please shut door softly. Do not slam door!’ Down in the parking garage, I pressed a button on my key chain. The car alarm disarmed with a blip-blip. The doors unlocked. We got inside, locked the doors, and drove toward the gate, which opened automatically.

Getting back in required a swipe across a sensor at the automatic gate, which is only automatic if you’re leaving. There’s a smaller gate to the side for residents entering on foot. You need the swiper pass for that one, too, but getting out is easier—you simply press a green button marked ‘Open.’

Back inside, we passed the community mailboxes, but a separate key—the mail key—wasn’t on my general-purpose key chain. The mail key was in a basket just inside the apartment door. I got the key, leaving Steve in the apartment.

‘Don’t forget the screen!’ I said.

I returned for the mail, opened the box, locked it up, turned around and…discovered the door to Utility A slightly ajar. The room was dark, no bigger than a wide closet. It seemed to be empty. Impossible, I thought. I poked my head inside for a closer look, but the door creaked and I ran off, worried I’d be caught breaking into an off-limits Utility Room.

In the apartment, Steve had found a memo underneath the door: a notice from the management. It said that our community’s goal was to ‘maintain the highest quality living environment for its residents.’ We were asked to consider a few simple measures to avoid mold and mildew in our home.

‘The best way to avoid problems with mold and mildew,’ read the memo, ‘is to prevent excessive moisture in your apartment. Good circulation is key to keeping moisture at a minimum. Make sure your home is properly ventilated by operating your HVAC system and/or by opening windows and doors.’

‘What’s an HVAC system?’ Steve asked.

‘Heating Vent Air Conditioning or something,’ I said. ‘There’s a fan in the bathroom, too.’

‘That’s good,’ Steve said.

‘It sure is.’

I went to the balcony and swung open the door, careful to shut the screen in its place. A wave of winter air poured in. The room felt fresh and open. The cat made a sudden run for the door, coming up short before the screen. Foiled again.

‘You’ll never get out,’ I said to the cat.

He sniffed the air. So did I. You could already tell the mold was escaping.