Thursday, December 13, 2007

Going Nowhere


When I was in Catholic school, the nuns used to tell us about Limbo, where those souls still marked by original sin would go until Judgment Day.

The list included babies who had died before being baptized and all those people who had passed on before the Resurrection. I always pictured it as a strange, gray world where people just waited and waited.

I got my own taste of limbo today when I got stuck on the elevator.

I had come in early because my colleague is off for the next two days and I have to do his job as well as my own.

I had some feature stories to do as well and I wanted to go to the gym at lunch time.

So naturally this was a perfect time for the elevator to crap out on me. Notice that I said "on me," as I take these kinds of things very personally.

My building is being renovated and looks like 10 cents worth of God help us. I have to go around the corner to get in through the Pine Street entrance and there are temporary walls inside that have shrunk the lobby down to Lilliputian dimensions.

It's very confining and it makes me think of that weird building in "Being John Malkovich," only without the humor.

The elevator service is also incredibly slow because of all the work, apparently. I don't know what the renovations are all about, but this goddamn place better look like the Sistine Chapel when they're done or I'm going to carve my initials into someone's rear end with a Ginsu knife.

I come in from the cold, I see an open elevator door, and I make for the thing like it's the last lifeboat on the Titanic. (I wasn't in drag, though--at least not today.)

It's just and me another guy, no herd of cube rats pressing every floor and slowing me down in my vital work. Doors close, we're flying up in the air. Then we get to the 12th floor--where my companion plans to get off--when it all goes to hell.

The elevator stops dead and the button for the 15th floor, my floor, of course, goes dead. I step forward, hit the button again, and nothing happens. The doors won't open, the buttons won't light up and we're going nowhere.

I don't like heights, elevators, small spaces, basically everything that was happening at this moment. I hit the emergency button and someone answers...eventually.

"Is there a problem?" the voice coming out of the speaker asks.

"Yeah," I say, "we're stuck on 12. Can you open the doors?"

"We'll get you some help."

"Can you open the doors?"

"In just a few minutes."

Spiffy. The other guy is taking it much better than I am, surprise, surprise, and he nods to the Captivate TV screen mounted over the speaker.

"At least we have TV," he says.

Yeah, TV in an elevator. I'm sure everyone laughed when they first heard this idea, but there it is. When you really can't tear yourself away from a screen, you have one anywhere you want it.

"I thought the biggest problem today would be the weather," he adds, noting the blizzard said to be heading our way, although it didn't amount to much. I think the weatherman must work for the elevator company in his spare time.

Meanwhile, I was getting tense. I felt like I was dangling 12 stories in the air. I looked down at the emergency button, the one you hit if the cable snaps and you don't want your remains scrapped into a Dixie cup.

How the hell does that work? I ask myself. And will I be able to push it or will I too busy screaming like Fay Wray waltzing with King Kong?

I'm going on a trip very soon, a plane flight, and I am terrified of flying. I've been taking some steps to prepare myself, but I sure as hell didn't need this little episode.

Is This Thing On?

Though I guess it proves disaster can happen anywhere, even during the most routine events...like an elevator ride.

"Hello?" I say at the speaker.

"Yes?"

"What's going on?"

"We're going to have someone there in a few minutes."

"That what's you said a few minutes ago." I say. "I do have a job to go to, you know?"

I start to perspire and I'm aware that I'm getting panicky. I take out my date book where I keep my parents' mass cards, one with St. Martin and the other with St. Patrick, and I kiss them both.

Please, God, let me get out of this, I mutely pray.

I've been thinking a lot about my parents recently and it seems I've been sending them in two different directions. I miss my mother so much, even after five years, and I have all these beautiful memories that bring me to tears.

With my father, though, I seem to have nothing but anger, as I recall--and relive--all the fights and bad times with him. I don't get it, I don't see why I can't just put these bad thoughts away and get on with my life.

I turn my mother into a saint and my father into a devil. Neither one, of course, is accurate, but I feel that I was unworthy of her love and undeserving of his abuse.

"Hello?" I snap at the speaker.

"Yeah, just a few more seconds..."

Screw you, buddy, I want out now. I'm glad there's only two of us in this elevator and I'm starting to wonder if I'm going to freak out, will this man have to slap my face like they always did in the old movies.

The elevator rumbles, drops one flight to the 11th floor, and the doors open. My companion and I step out into the lobby.

"Are you guys out?" the voice asks.

"Yeah," I say. "Now how do we get our floors?"

I was not anxious to stuck again and I was hoping there was a stairwell someplace around here. But the voice from below is confused.

"Just take another elevator."

"Oh, yeah," I snap, "so we can get stuck again."

I mutter "twit" as the elevator doors close. I wonder if this guy has seen my face, will he know me as the weenie who whimpered on the 11th floor.

Another elevator arrives, we step on, and there were three people from my office, talking and joking, completely unaware of how I had just narrowly cheated death.

"We got stuck in the elevator," I say.

"Oh, yeah...?"

Yeah, and please try not to get too excited. I don't want to spoil the fascinating conversation you've got going on.

My companion, the calm guy, gets off at 12 and I wish him well. I also start to feel ashamed about how I had behaved. For Christ's sake, guy, have a little gumption will you?

I'm doing a story about kendo, the Japanese sword-fighting art, and Zen Buddhism makes up a large part of its teachings. The samurai was supposed to fight without thinking about death, thus eliminating fear. Well, Toshiro Mifune, I ain't.

I got to my desk, got to work, and eventually put the man-eating elevator out of my mind.

I've got more important things to worry about. Like getting on a plane.

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