Folklorists have reported hearing "the locked-out nude" as far back as 1960. Very few things are more embarrassing to us than being caught in the buff; and though we laugh at stories like this one, our titters are of the nervous variety for we're all too aware we could easily be the (naked) butt of the hilarity.
A bachelor living in a highrise apartment who had just turned his bath water on and undressed one evening when the newspaper was delivered to his front door. Stepping out into the hallway to bring it in, stark naked, he became trapped outside when his door blew shut and locked.
[Nick Asbury, as quoted in The Independent, 1999]
"A largesse universal ... and may unworthiness define, A little touch of Harry in the night:"
So Shakespeare described Henry V creeping about his camp in the dead of night before the battle of Agincourt. And so it was, on a recent world tour of a production of Henry V, that I found myself in a similar position.
We had checked into a five-star hotel in Kuala Lumpur and then gone to drink the night away beneath the majesty of the Petronas Towers, the tallest buildings in the world. I caught a taxi back to the hotel at 3 am and, pleasantly woozy, went straight to my room, stripped off and fell into bed.
Then I did something I have never done in my life: I went for a walk in my sleep. I awoke in the corridor, facing the wall, having a pee into a plant pot. I'd obviously missed the bathroom door. Thinking, "That's odd, never done that before," but still half asleep, I pottered back to my room. I really woke up when I turned the knob. The door had closed and locked automatically behind me. I was standing on the 21st floor of a five-star hotel, locked out of my room, naked as the day I was born.
I would have to go to reception and ask them to let me back in. I walked to the lift and pressed the button. But as the indicator approached my floor, I panicked. Reception was bigger than most shopping malls. For me to go striding manfully across it, trying to fix the sniggering receptionist squarely in the eye, with my "largesse universal" swinging in the breeze, was not only unthinkable, but probably a criminal offence.
I hid around the corner as the lift pinged open. I couldn't go in there. What if someone got in? ("Morning, er, just going for a walk. You mean you don't do that in Malaysia? Oh my God!") Besides, it was lined with mirrors. Anyone getting on would think they had stumbled into an orgy.
I toyed with using the plant pot, Clouseau-like, to guard what was left of my manhood. But that seemed too ridiculous and, anyway, the pot was full to the brim. Then, inspiration. A couple of the company also had rooms on this corridor. But which ones? There was roughly a 50-50 chance.
I cannot tell you the courage it took to hammer on what could be a complete stranger's door at 4 am completely naked. What if I made the wrong choice? They would come blinking to the door and their eyes would pop as they saw what confronted them. A quick slam of the door, a dash to the phone and security would be up in a second, wielding batons and handguns. I would be thrown into a cell, still with no clothes, and left to rot a la Midnight Express.
Worse still, what if a woman answered? The scream would wake the whole hotel. Everyone, including my colleagues, would see me in my shame being led off to have various appendages chopped off. And I know which one would be first.
To untold relief, I had chosen correctly. It was the room of David, a fellow actor. He opened the door. "Whaddya think you're . . ." He too was naked. We stood looking at each other. "David," I said, after a while, "I'm in a bit of a pickle." He collapsed, laughing uncontrollably, and I ran into his room asking whether he had clothes I could borrow. But all his clothes were in the wash, and he could only loan me a pair of shorts and a fleece. A fleece? In Malaysia? I sauntered down to reception with a new-found confidence, and demurely asked to be let back into my room.
After a few questions to establish my true identity, and not a few questioning looks as to my attire, the assistant manager took me back upstairs and let me in, with me carefully ignoring, yet shielding, the plant pot in the corridor. I explained that I must have been sleepwalking (which is difficult to get over in the mixture of sign language and pidgin English we ridiculously use when abroad).
The show went well that week. But I'm sure on the opening night I saw a receptionist from the hotel in the audience, sniggering whenever I came on. One thing remains certain: someone on the 21st floor of a five-star hotel in Kuala Lumpur was lucky not to get "A little touch of Harry in the night".
In classic recountings of the locked-out man, he's at least left with something to clutch in front of him, thus sparing him the ultimate humiliation of having to let it all hang out. Therefore, the newspaper he goes to fetch is key to the story -- it gives him something to partially hide behind. Other versions have him attempting to thrust letters into a post box just outside the door or garbage into a chute just across an apartment hallway. Once again, once the door snaps shut behind him, he's left with at least a little something to cover himself with.
Some versions conclude in a wonderful fashion -- they have the nude man attempt to climb a tree to regain access to his home via an open window. But of course he's spotted by the neighbors, who promptly call the police to report a naked weirdo on the loose.
Numerous folks have reported incidents of being stranded nude or nearly nude in public places. The entry for December 16, 1960 in John Kenneth Galbraith's 1969 Ambassador's Journal describes a time when a stripped-off Galbraith erred by attempting to return an item forgotten by a visitor now waiting at the hotel elevator. The room door snicked shut behind him, leaving him "inelegantly and utterly naked in the hall of a sizable hotel." He had the presence of mind to borrow the visitor's coat before going in search of a pass key.
Galbraith and Asbury are far from the only naked guests to have graced the hallways of various hotels -- according to a 1994 study done by Novotel New York, a Manhatten hotel, that year 74 guests found themselves locked out of their rooms stark naked, practically one-third of the year's 252 lockouts.
As for why so many nekkid travelers manage to put themselves into this embarrassing predicament, "It's first thing in the morning and guests are not fully awake," says Brian Reynolds, sales manager of the Swallow Hotel in Northampton, England. "They bend down to pick up their breakfast tray from outside - and bang." Sometimes guests become confused. "They are usually worse for wear," recalls Wendy Procter, resident manager at the Royal Moat House International in Nottingham. "They are looking for the loo and end up in the corridor. It sobers them up very quickly."
Guests will (and have!) use anything to cover their modesty: net curtains, tablecloths or even plant pots. Some hotels keep dressing gowns at reception or in the service cupboard on each floor for such eventualities. The Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza Midland Hotel in Manchester will provide spare keys to any guests who suffer from sleep walking, to tie to their ankles.
Naked locked-out guests should attempt to locate an in-house phone to acquaint reception with the situation. (Such phones are most likely found near the elevator. Housekeeping's supply room on each floor also likely houses one.) If a phone can't be found, the undressed guest should remain in the corridor, where staff will come to the rescue. Never go to the reception desk. One naked guest at the Nottingham Moat House did just that in the early hours, thinking the lobby would be empty. When the elevator doors opened, he was greeted by 500 people leaving a function.
Though nudes are remarkably common in hotel settings (where doors are engineered to snap shut), they are far less likely in other venues, particularly private homes. Whereas a hotel has every reason to assume thoughtless guests will, if left to their own devices, leave the doors to their rooms hanging open, home owners have far more reason to trust their domicile's inhabitants. Locking doors are therefore not engineered to snap shut behind the departed.
It's still possible to get locked out of a private home, but usually this requires the help of another in the form of a playful spouse, rowdy friends, or just a toddler who pulls shut a door for whatever reason toddlers do most things.
On the homefront, another tale stars a naked man, but this time the audience comes to see him:
This is the best kitty story I've heard in a while.
A friend of mind says a friend of hers was sleeping on a mattress on the floor of a living room with a picture window covered with curtains. Kitty comes along and pisses on his head. The half-asleep enraged man picked up the cat, and without thinking, threw it at the window. Claws extended, kitty landed on the curtains and pulled them down, at which point Mr. Sleepy Head jumped up, stark naked, and tried to put everything to rights, much to the shock and amusement of several schoolchildren walking past.
Sightings: The 1928 Russian novel Twelve Chairs made use of the locked-out nude legend. That story was turned into the 1970 Mel Brooks film of the same name. A 1987 Garfield comic strip also depicts the fate of a naked owner locked out by his vengeful cat. The 1987 film Roxanne features Daryl Hannah as a locked-out nude who turns to Steve Martin for help.