“Hell is other people” Jean-Paul Sartre once noted. Had he lived in New York, he might have added that being with other people in an elevator is hell in a tin can.
For anyone living or working in a New York high-rise, elevators are a bane of existence, inflicting incalculable travesties upon human dignity and mental well-being. Think I’m exaggerating? Picture the last time you were on one, packed into a crush of bodies on an infernal voyage of the damn bouncing from floor to floor to floor. Recall the soundtrack of coughing, sneezing and imbecilic conversation, the smell of garlic breath, body odor, stale perfume and somebody’s pungent food order. (I should note here my visceral aversion to the scent of Vietnamese takeout and patchouli oil. Encountering either one makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little; encountering them in combination makes me fall into a dead faint.)
Of course, even a ride in a not-so-crowded elevator can seem interminable, especially when someone else is talking. How often have you cringed at some moron shouting “I’M ON THE ELEVATOR!” into his phone in an ever-louder crescendo. Or wanted to plug your ears with epoxy in order to block out the insipid chit-chat about this movie or that restaurant, as if the opinion of people heading to the LIRR or NJ Transit actually mattered. (They do not.) It’s even worse when the subject is co-workers.
But a special circle of hell belongs to those times when it seems like you’ve got the elevator to yourself and then, suddenly, you don’t. This indignity takes two forms that are especially egregious. The first is when you are alone, speeding smoothly to your destination, when the elevator suddenly jerks to a stop and someone gets on. Then they get off…on the next floor! People, there are stairs for that sort of thing. The other is when you’re alone and the doors are almost closed when they fly open and everyone from a single individual (who, yes, stops at the next floor), to an entire crowd pushing you against the back wall, gets on.
This last torture by the way, reminds me of when I worked in a building with two elevators fronted by a reception desk. Behind it sat a security guard—a Pakistani gentleman, I believe—with a frog-like face. He had an override button at his disposal, which allowed him to stop the elevator doors before they closed. He usually did this to hold the elevator for someone coming through the front entrance, feet away from missing the ride. Often, I’d be on the elevator with the doors a half-inch from shutting, when he’d open them for this reason. Conversely, when I was the person rushing to get to get to the elevator in the lobby, he’d let the doors close. In either case, the glare I directed at him would be returned with a thin-lipped smile.
Needless to say, these are the sorts of things that can send you into a homicidal rage—or at the very least, remind you that the hope you briefly entertained, “today is going to be a good day, ” is nothing more than a pathetic delusion.