Thursday, December 17, 2009

As I’ve said before, I’m easily amused. It is a flaw.

When I first moved to the Portland/Vancouver area, I got a job in downtown Portland in “The Black Box," so named because it was all black on the outside, including the windows. Every morning it was like entering a coven. I’d sidle up to the elevators and jab the button, waiting for one of the doors to open and let out a vampire or a witch.

My training to process claims for a national insurance company began on the nineteenth floor. Sometimes my entire class had to travel to the fifth or the third floors for training. All twelve of us crowded onto an elevator and my trainer, Norma, came up with an inspired idea. You’ll just have to trust me on this, it wasn’t my idea. Honestly, it was Norma. Her idea was to turn around and face the back.


We swung around, our backsides facing the doors, and floor after floor, the doors would swish open and meet with silence. Some would slink into the car, tap the button to the floor they wanted, and stare at the ceiling pressing themselves into the front corner. Others would wait for the next elevator. A few asked, “What the heck is going on here?”

My sides hurt from trying to contain my laughter by the time we reached the third floor.

Learning medical and dental codes and medical terminology made my eyes glass over and my stomach knot. The only good parts of the training were the elevator rides. Sometimes we’d all crowd up against the door like the elevator was full. Sometimes we’d face the side. Sometimes we’d all stand to one side. Aaaah, good times.

At the end of my training, I moved down to the fifth floor. What a disappointment. Not only were there fewer floors in which to have “elevator fun” but I was alone. If you face the back when you are alone, people just assume you are nuts. I mean, not that I tried it or anything.

One day at four in the afternoon, I shut down my computer and sauntered out into the elevator lobby. A gentleman from the mail room grasped the handle of a little cart with two full bins marked, “U.S. Mail”. He stared up at the lights indicating which elevator had the best chance of reaching our floor first and pushed his cart toward the doors.

The bell clanged. The door hissed open. The elevator was crowded with about fifteen strangers. But it wasn’t full. If everyone had scrunched over toward the sides the man with the mail would have been able to squeeze the cart in. I stepped into the car and held the door.

No one moved. No one. My mouth dropped open in disbelief and my hand fell to my side. The man with the cart poised at the door, waiting for the shift of people. Except no shift occurred. As the doors whispered closed I stammered, “B-b-but the mail must go through.”

Phfffft. Whir.

I turned and faced all the people and placed my hands on my hips. “Through rain and snow and dark of night, the mail must go through. Aren’t you all ashamed?”

They stared at me and collectively said, “Ahhmm.” Two heartbeats later they all said, “No.” It was so perfectly timed, so precisely executed that it appeared to be rehearsed.

My hands flew to my face, but not in time to cover the snort of laughter, and like dominoes, one after another joined in. Some collapsed against the sides and snickered, others clutched their leather briefcases and chortled and others loosened their ties and tittered. The doors opened at the fourth, the third and the second floors, but the outsiders did not join us. They backed away like the healthy eyeing a pen full of swine flu carriers.

Would you have stepped onto the car if the doors had opened onto a crowded elevator with everyone roaring?

Sometimes life is simply good.


  1. Trust me, it's not a flaw. It's what makes you lovely.

    And the mail must go through.

  2. Jenku,

    What a nice compliment, thank you. And I'm trying not to remember you write fiction.

  3. Elevator stories. Who knew? I can't think of any. I'm jealous that you even have funny elevator stories. Did you get all the "easily amused" DNA in the family?

  4. Must be my stint as an elevator operator. We "old pros" have elevator war stories.

  5. Elevator etiquette...a rich mine of the weird and funny....with you as conductor into the dark shaft of laughter....bwahahahahaha! Great story. I believe I would have liked Norma.

  6. ps and i agree with jenku about you being a lovely person

    happy holidays dear cousin and friend!

  7. Perhaps there is a book here, hummmm? "Ten Steps to Elevator Etiquette: Let the mail go through". And thank you for your compliment. It makes me nervous that these all come from fiction writers, though.

  8. You know, non-fiction sells faster than fiction. You just might want to write that 'Ten Steps to Elevator Etiquette' book.

  9. Perhaps I'll write something and read it at our next critique. Although I'm not sure I'm "up" to it.


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