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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Faux pas in an Elevator

"I don't want to plummet to my death," I said while standing in an unreliable elevator surrounded by hundred-pound boxes. Moving a friend from one apartment building to another.

Before I explain just how inappropriate my comment ("I don't want to plummet to my death") was, let me describe the elevator. Context is everything.

The elevator was in an old building, a building so old that when it was built elevators were a new concept. You know how you think of elevators? Press a button, the door opens, you get on, press another button, the door closes, the elevator moves to the button-appointed floor, the door opens, you exit the elevator? Yeah, that's not how this elevator worked. I mean, it usually got the button-appointed floor right, but that's about it.

Here's how this elevator worked: Press a button. Wait. When the elevator arrives, you open a door as if you're entering a room which had previously been closed off by a door. Step into the elevator, close door. Press button. Glide down or rise up.

A sort of magic wardrobe, this old elevator. If you were standing on the fourth floor and opened the door without waiting for the elevator, you would be confronted with the gaping void of the elevator shaft. Entering that void would lead to ruin and shattered bones. However, if you entered the door at just the right time, you'd be presented with a tiny mechanically-operated chamber to transport you from one world (the fourth floor) to another (the lobby). Or, you know, you'd just take the stairs. Whichever.

Let me give more context: I'm wary of elevators. Whenever I get into one, I try to work out the right time to leap up just in case the cables snap, the safety-brakes fail, and the thing starts hurtling down a lonely shaft to a dead concrete stop. Jumping up just as an elevator reaches the bottom of its shaft, I'm told, can save your life. (I used to spend all my time in elevators hopping up and down until I was told that 1) it made me look insane and 2) the hopping put extra stress on the elevator's cables, increasing my chances of realizing my worst fear, which was/is being in a falling elevator.)

Wait, no. More context: Accidents happen. One of my dearest friends recently plugged in her hair dryer and set her entire apartment on fire. No fault of her own, but she nearly died escaping the conflagration. Another friend recently woke up with a dead wife in his arms (she'd been alive when he went to bed). No one's fault, but the wife was dead all the same.

So. The move. There I was, in mid-air, in an ancient elevator with boxes weighing more than humans, suspended from a cable, making a statement: "I don't want to plummet to my death." I made this statement in response to a question from a friend I was helping move from one building to another.

"Can we fit more boxes in the elevator?" the friend asked.

"I don't want to plummet to my death," I replied. I also chuckled. Dunno why I chuckled.

The friend shut the door to the elevator. The elevator installed in a pre-War building. The elevator which required its door to be shut manually.

Here's even more context: A few weeks ago, that friend watched his boyfriend slip out of a window and plummet to his death. The friend I said "I don't want to plummet to my death" to had very recently witnessed a loved one plummet to his death.

It didn't occur to me to joke, "I'm hanging by a thread here," which I was since who knew how much weight the elevator could take.

It didn't occur to me to quip, "How many boxes you want to stuff in here," since we are both gay and not accustomed to box-stuffing, and I'm a sucker for terrible bawdy puns.

It didn't occur to me to state, "I know this move must be hard for you since it isn't a move you intended to make. You wanted to move in with your boyfriend who fell out of a window and plummeted to his death."

What did occur to me to say, though, was, "I hope I don't plummet to my death." Because, frankly I didn't want to plummet to my death and the weight of the boxes made me nervous.

The thing about death is that you can't write about it later. You can't explain it. You can't justify it. When you die, you're dead and have no voice. at least not an audible one. It's an experience you have and cannot share. The living see one thing but the dead see quite another.

No one wants to plummet to his or her own death. No one wants to die in a fire, or in someone's arms. Or in an elevator stuffed with heavy boxes. But absolutely no one wants to remind survivors just how lonely death is. No one--me--wants to remind another person just how awful an experience accidental death appears when that other person witnessed it first-hand.

Death is a solitaire experience without the computer or a deck of cards. It's the one experience we all share and the only experience we can't discuss later, over coffee, as if we'd been in the audience of the new Spider-Man musical.

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