The Unbearable Lightness of Being

September 3, 2004

"Our elevator is under repair. We regret that during this time you will be unbearable." – sign supposedly seen in a hotel lobby in Tokyo, Japan, Brussels, Belgium, or Hahira, Georgia.

There are three elevators in the building where I work. One is currently under repair, and we’ve been notified that they’ll be working on at least one of them at some point for the next five months. And one of the remaining two is on the fritz. So the entire building is stuck with one working elevator. Fortunately we can take the stairs from the lobby, which wasn’t always possible. The last company that managed the building decided that, for security reasons, the stairwell doors in the lobby would be permanently locked. There were two reasons for this. The first is, obviously, no criminal is smart enough to operate an elevator, even though the decision to lock the stairwell doors was made after someone broke into the vending machines. That someone got in by taking the elevator. The second reason is that, if there was an emergency that made all the elevators inoperable the managers wanted to make sure that it would be as difficult as possible for anyone to get in to or out of the building. Fortunately the new managers realized how stupid this was and fixed the doors so they could at least be opened from the inside, so at least we could get out even if no one could get in. And now with the elevator shortage the doors can be opened from the outside as well. Personally I don’t mind. I like taking the stairs, since when waiting an hour and a half for the elevator isn’t an option, especially when the doors always open to reveal that every single person besides me who works in the building is already in there. The problem with taking the stairs is that by the time I get to my office I’m breathing like an obscene phone caller, which reminds me of a joke. A husband and wife are sitting at home. The phone rings. The wife answers, listens for a moment, then says to her husband, "It’s someone breathing heavily." The husband grabs the phone and says, "You lowlife scum. Why don’t you crawl back under the rock you came from?" After a moment he gets red in the face, turns to his wife, and says, "Your brother’s car broke down and he had to push it two miles to a service station."

But I digress. The other problem with taking the stairs – at least now – is that too many other people are taking the stairs. I like to move quickly when I’m on the stairs – especially when I’m leaving. Part of this is because I’m happy to be leaving, but I think part of this stems from when I was a child and I thought there was a hideous creature living in my closet. When I’d come down the stairs from my room to the kitchen I imagined the creature was at the top of the stairs watching me. This made me so nervous I’d sometimes skip the last step, or the last two steps. I once made the mistake of trying to skip more than the last four steps and had a linoleum pattern on my forehead for a week. But I digress. Other people bumble along down the stairs, taking their time, usually carrying eight or nine pieces of luggage. The worst ones, though, are the ones who stop to tell each other their life stories, which I wouldn’t mind if they would just leave enough space for me to get by. And don’t blame me if I happen to overhear details about your private life that I didn’t want to know in the first place. Next time you have to talk about your colonoscopy don’t do it in a fifteen-storey echo chamber. All I can say is, I hope they get the elevators fixed soon. Life without them is unbearable.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

[Note: the offerings are not written by me, and, as far as I know, are as anonymous as the sign seen in the Hahira hotel lobby, or the obscene phone caller joke. People send them to me and I send them on to you, although I’m sorry to say that the internet which was once a medium where jokes, easily digestible nuggets of information, and urban legends roamed free, it’s increasingly become a way for companies to send ads about everything from credit cards to colonscopies. This has become so prevalent that some e-mail programs block the word "colonoscopy", so if you don’t receive this e-mail, now you know why. – CW]


A cowboy was herding his herd in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced out of a dust cloud towards him. The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, Ray Ban Sunglasses and YSL tie, leans out the window and asks the cowboy, "If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, will you give me a calf?"

The cowboy looks at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and calmly answers, "Sure. Why not?"

The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his AT&T cell phone, surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite navigation system to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo. The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany.Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses a MS-SQL database through an ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with hundreds of complex formulas. He uploads all of this data via an email on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response. Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer and finally turns to the cowboy and says, "You have exactly 1586 cows and calves."

"That’s right. Well, I guess you can take one of my calves," says the cowboy. He watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on amused as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car. Then the cowboy says to the young man, "Hey, if I can tell you exactly What your business is, will you give me back my calf?"

The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, "Okay, why not?"

"You’re a consultant." says the cowboy.

"Wow! That’s correct," says the yuppie, "but how did you guess that?"

"No guessing required." answered the cowboy. "You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked; and you don’t know anything about my business……Now give me back my dog."

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