Hold the Elevator
The “door-close” button has been out in one of the elevators in our building, and I’m fairly certain my fellow residents now dread the gamble they make each time they approach the landing—ready, waiting, eager to be whisked to floors above and below; then, when the ping of the sad, defunct car on the right announces itself, they shuffle in, deflated.
We all knew this was coming. For weeks the top edge of the button had slowly become more and more wedged into the panel behind it, daring everyone to push it harder. One day (though, conceivably many different days for each of us), we all walked into the car, jammed the door-close button to expedite our journeys up and down, and…nada. No orange light, no reassuring ding. Just a button that didn’t depress—except, what it depressed metaphorically within each of us—and elevator doors which remained open for seven long, excruciating seconds.
Over the last month, as I’ve stood in the right side elevator, carrying boxes from the package room, or wrangling Lucy, or simply shifting from foot to foot in awkward silence with neighbors I swear I’ve never seen before, I’ve thought an embarrassing amount about those seven seconds.
City living is so funny. I dwell in far closer proximity to my neighbors than I ever did when I was growing up in a single family home in Texas, and I notice all types of silly things about the people who live around us, without ever knowing them at all. Urban neighbors set a particular rhythm and write the song of how the building looks and feels and sounds. Because of the way our building is laid out, I can see across a courtyard into neighbors’ homes; I know how they decorate, who works from home like me, who stays up late, who’s never there, who works out all the time. I’m sure they know the same about us.
The patterns of the people in the building are a reassuring constant, like daily visits from friends who actually aren’t. The door-close button is really the thing holding this all together, I realized one day, standing in the elevator whilst leaning grocery sacks and a pack of toilet paper against the handrail, waiting, praying for the doors to close. We tap tap tap it to quickly enclose ourselves in the car, fantasies of our neighbors in tact, small talk only required in the most dire of circumstances. The guy across the way who rides his Peloton at 11:30 at night and does squats while watching reality TV can remain just that—the door-close button prevents ever having to change the narrative of these observations and imaginings. And yet, catch a ride with someone who strikes up a good conversation, and you realize how much you’ve missed. Or not.
This is high density living in a nutshell.
I’d stopped any attempt at using the button until last weekend, when Joe and I wandered into the elevator and out of habit, I reached around and jabbed at the button so we could descend two floors seven seconds faster than we would otherwise (a discussion about taking the stairs can be had another day). And then—magic! The button worked! I turned around and marveled to Joe.
“The door-close button! It’s finally back!”
“Yep,” he replied, looking at me like I was a little crazy. It might be the same look you’re giving your screen now.
“It’s been out forever. It’s basically thrown the entire building into an uproar.”
I know this because one morning about two weeks ago, a sign appeared on the right side elevator announcing work was being done on it that very day. I saw it when I walked into the building lobby, at the same time as a neighbor. We both noted the sign, and a beat passed.
“Maybe they’re fixing the buttons!” I commented. He mumbled his agreement, then walked away to take the stairs. In almost three and a half years of living here, I swear I’d never seen him before in my life.
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