I’ll Take The Stairs.

Come in if you must.

Come in if you must.

There’s a saying that anyone who wears a necktie is untrustworthy because they start every day by tying a noose around their neck. And don’t get me started on neckties which are just the right size for a garroting, but that’s another story. It’s a little known fact that neckties were invented when a company boss who was waiting for his dresses to come back from the cleaners decided a small strip of fabric would be the ideal way to hide the fact that he was wearing the same suit he’d had on yesterday, and his employees just followed suit. I’m lucky to be in a job where I haven’t had to wear a necktie since the initial interview, but it occurred to me that I start most days by stepping into a small metal box. It doesn’t matter that it’s a small metal box that moves. A lot of people are going to make their final exit in a small metal box that’s moved by a hearse and their pall bearers, and, let’s face it, most elevators aren’t that much bigger. I’m not claustrophobic, but I do get elevator anxiety. It’s not just that they make me think of coffins. I plan to be cremated not because being in a little box bothers me, but because I’ve already made very specific plans about what I’d like done with my mortal remains, and ashes will disperse nicely while a bloated rotting corpse floating down the middle of a mountain lake is likely to freak out the tourists.

I did once meet a woman who had claustrophobia. Or maybe it was just a fear of elevators since that’s what she told me she had. She came into the office where I work sweaty and panting because she’d just ridden the elevator up to my floor and it was too much for her. A friend-not much of a friend, really-had given her the job of delivering a packet to an office in my building. She just couldn’t remember which office. She couldn’t even remember which floor, just that it was higher than the floor where she’d stopped. I’m still not sure why she hadn’t written any of this down. She’d gotten off because mine was the lowest floor that had offices-everything below was the parking garage-so it was the only place where she felt comfortable getting out. I tried to help as best I could. She didn’t know the name of anyone in the place she was trying to get to. I’m not sure she even remembered the name of the friend who sent her on this mission. Since this was before cell phone became more common than neckties I let her borrow the office phone and somehow she got in touch with someone who could help. I think they came to get the packet, and they were smart-they used the stairs.

My own elevator anxiety isn’t anywhere near that level. It’s just more of a general discomfort, and it’s not really elevators themselves that bother me. It’s other people in elevators. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. It’s a little known fact that the full Sartre quote is “Hell is other people in elevators”. Most of the time when it’s me and only one or two other people we all stand around and pretend the others don’t exist, which makes it a little easier but still makes me strangely uncomfortable. Or sometimes people want to chat. And I don’t mind small talk but it seems like the conversation only gets interesting when we get to my floor and I have to end up cutting things short. It’s like the farewells between people being rescued from a sinking ship. Not that I’ve ever been rescued from a sinking ship, but I imagine that’s how it would feel, only more uncomfortable because you’re not being lifted out of the elevator into a helicopter. The worst thing is having to ride the elevator with a huge number of people. Most elevators say the maximum capacity is twenty-three people, but my maximum capacity is about three. Any more than that and the stairs start to look like the best option, but if there’s a big crowd already in the elevator I feel uncomfortable saying, “I’ll take the next one, thanks” because I’m afraid the people already in there will take it personally. And you always get that one big guy with a bad combover who yells, “Come on! I won’t bite!” which just draws attention to how he’s foaming at the mouth. Or if it stops before the floor I’m going to and a bunch of people file in if I step out they might to think I’m some kind of weird racist and they’re going to be in there wondering what I have against Belgians. But I’m not really any more comfortable riding the elevator alone either. What if I fart and then right at the next floor someone gets on? Or maybe there’s something wrong with the building’s plumbing so it seems like I have, and “Boy, I wonder if they’ll ever get the pipes fixed” is not a great conversation starter with a complete stranger. It’s not going to pass muster when they think I’ve passed muster gas.

Also I have this weird habit. You know that funny feeling you get when an elevator comes to a stop and it sort of feels like the bottom has dropped out of your stomach? I really love that and I’ve found that if I jump up in the air right as the elevator is stopping it’s even better. It’s almost a compulsion, but I’ve found that if you’re in an elevator with other people and you suddenly jump up in the air it kind of freaks them out.

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12 Comments

  1. Ann Koplow

    I sure loved the elevator ride of this post, even though I remain distracted throughout — even while I was laughing and thinking up-and-down thoughts inspired by your inimitable writing — trying to remember what movie I saw lately where a major plot point involved a guy who hated to wear a necktie.

    Hey, I just remembered! It was “Father Goose” starring Cary Grant and Leslie Caron. Here’s some more good advice — check out that movie. It’s a good antidote to elevator anxiety.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you for that wonderful suggestion. As an added bonus Allan Sherman also sang about Cary Grant, to the tune of “Marianne” by Terry Gilkyson & The Easy Riders.

      All day, all night, Cary Grant.
      That’s all I hear from my wife, is Cary Grant.
      What can he do that I can’t?
      Big deal, big star, Cary Grant.

      Reply
  2. kdcol

    A friend in junior high introduced me to the whole elevator jumping thing. I still want to do it but I guess at my age it’s not as acceptable/forgivable(?). And let’s not get started on how people have lost limbs (and at least one head) due to putting said limb/head in line with a closing door. Yeah, I usually shoot for (taking) the stairs.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      A high school friend introduced me to elevator jumping. I don’t really do it as often as I used to, but once in a while, just for old times’ sake, I do it if I’m alone in the elevator. The people who’ve lost limbs or heads reminds me of something I wrote a couple of years ago about the “death files” news sources kept. I included a story I’d heard about a very short obituary that went something like this: “Mr. Jones looked up the elevator shaft to see if the elevator was coming. It was. He was forty-two.”

      Reply
  3. Gina W.

    I have ridden an elevator at work for the past 18 years. For 9 years I was on the 9th floor of an eleven story building; then our company bought a new building an I’ve been on the 7th floor of a 7 story building since then. So I know all about the stresses of riding an elevator every day. More than once I’ve stepped into the elevator and noticed that the previous occupant has passed gas. Then there’s that horrible moment when someone else gets on and I’m tempted to say, “It wasn’t me”. But then the person would probably be like, “Yeah right. He who smelt it dealt it”. Making small talk with strangers is bad enough but even worse is when it’s someone you don’t like. I mean, I try to get along with everyone but there are just some people in this world that you can’t get along with. A long elevator ride with that person is slow torture. In fact, in the past when I’ve seen someone I don’t like in the parking lot, I’ve purposely sat in my car for an extra minute so I don’t have to ride the elevator that person. Ugh, life has so many little annoyances. Elevator riding in one of them. I guess he answer to this would be to get off my lazy ass and take the stairs.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Have you ever shoved your arm in just as the elevator doors were closing because a person who was in there–a person who saw you coming–was jabbing the “DOOR CLOSE” button when they saw you coming? That makes for an unbelievably uncomfortable elevator ride. The discomfort is alleviated if you stand there feeling smug about wrecking their efforts. But taking the stairs is a much better option for so many reasons.

      Reply
  4. TwerlaP

    At the firm where I worked in the early 90’s, all the women wore the female version of the business suit. With those bowtie thingies. I always figured the clients would rather see a little cleavage than my face turning red. So I rarely wore them.
    During a review for a promotion, one of my bosses mentioned the tie thing. I said if he wanted to wear a skirt and pantyhose, I’d be happy to wear a tie. The HR guy mumbled something about not getting into anything ‘sexual’. That was the last I heard about ties.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      As I was writing this I was thinking about how men use ties to compensate for the fact that suits, unlike dresses, all look the same. I think men should wear skirts once in a while just to get an idea of what it’s like.

      Reply
  5. Spoken Like A True Nut

    “L’enfer, c’est les autres dans l’ascenseur.” How wonderful to know the full quote at last. The elevator certainly does bring an extra nuance to the line. I shall have to track down my old French teacher and admonish her for teaching us from what I now realize was obviously a woefully abridged version of Huis Clos.

    The elevator in my building moves like a slow-mo replay. The stomach-dropping stop at the end of the ride is very drawn out, and it takes several long seconds for the door to open after the screeching final jolt that lets you know that yes, the brakes are indeed functioning correctly today.

    If you happen to be in the elevator with another passenger, this is a good moment in which to give your riding companion an awkward smile, or perhaps an eye roll and slight shake of the head as if to say “Man, these old buildings, eh?” Don’t worry, there will be ample time left over to then studiously ignore them by looking down at the floor and shuffling your feet self-consciously until the door finally creaks aside.

    At which point, of course, you immediately flee as if l’enfer itself is hot on your heels.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I just hope the brakes keep on functioning. This sounds like one of those old elevators where the doors have to be opened manually, which I think is preferable. It’s too easy to get trapped in the ones with automatic doors, especially the older ones. I used to know someone who’d gotten trapped in older elevator in a library. He used the emergency phone to call for help. Half an hour later he called again and the person he’d spoken to before apologized profusely for forgetting to send someone out.

      At least he was in there alone.

      Reply
  6. Shawna

    I love taking my kids on elevators and watching them freak out. That’s probably mean, but it is hil-ar-ious. And, I’m one of those jerks who pushes every button before I get out. You’re welcome.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It’s best if you can get them in one of those glass elevators where you can see the floor speeding away. Those are perfect for freaking out the kids. And now I know why I’ve been stopping at every floor.

      Reply

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