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Monday, January 31, 2011

Moral luck

This week something strange happened to me.  I was in an elevator in my co-op, and I got stuck.  All four elevators in my 23-story building were replaced last year, at a significant cost to shareholders.  Yet the expense was necessary, because the old ones had begun to fail too often.  The new elevators were speedy, and after a few kinks had been worked out last year, they were running smoothly.  Until I stepped into elevator No. 3.

I got into the elevator on my floor, and was headed toward the lobby.  I pressed L, and the doors closed, but the elevator did not move.  The doors opened again on my floor.  I pressed L again, and the doors closed, but the elevator did not move.  One more time.  Of course, this should have been my clue to take another elevator, but I am a stubborn human being.  This time it cost me.

On the third try, the L button remained lit, and the elevator started to descend.  At about the fifteenth floor, it stopped.  The doors did not open, the L button was still lit, and I was stuck.  I pressed the button for the third floor, to see if that would prompt the elevator to move.  It did not.  I pressed the phone button on the elevator panel, but no one picked up at the front desk, and now I was peeved.  I wasn’t nervous.  I just thought, “This stupid contraption is wasting my time.  How much did we pay for this thing?”

I called our concierge on my cell phone, and Vinnie picked up immediately.  He said the mechanic had been working on elevator No. 3 and was about to leave.  Vinnie grumbled something about the need for better elevator mechanics.  He told me not to worry, that they would get me out in a few minutes.

I stepped away from the elevator panel, and reclined against a corner.  I was alone, but perhaps I could check my email, I thought.  I did notice the four shiny wooden walls around me, the painfully bright miniature elevator lights above my head, and a rising tension in my throat, but I quelled my own imminent claustrophobia by scrolling through my email on my beloved iPhone.  After about ten or fifteen minutes, my forehead was damp, but I was still okay.  Vaguely I could hear the mechanic on the other side of the door, perhaps a floor above or below me.  I didn’t even know on what floor I was stuck.

Suddenly the elevator moved.  It descended I would guess about two floors, and then braked hard to a stop.  I was getting angry.  Again it moved, and again it stopped abruptly, as if the emergency brakes had been automatically applied.  On the third time the elevator moved and stopped without rhyme or reason, the doors popped open on the third floor, and I jumped out, relieved.

A handyman from our building asked me if I was okay, and I said that I was, although I felt dizzy.  As I walked from the lobby onto Broadway, my head didn’t feel right.  I had errands to do, groceries to buy, manuscripts to send out, and I did all those things, but within an hour after my elevator incident I felt as if someone had kicked me in the head twice.  Perhaps those jolts in the elevator had been more severe than I had imagined.  I wondered how my brain had sloshed inside my head as the elevator dropped and jolted to a stop twice.

After two hours, I had to lie down.  It took about half a day to get my bearings again, to rid myself of being lightheaded.

Days later, I am fine.  Don’t worry, dear reader.  I’ll imagine you worried, even though you didn’t.  It just makes me feel better to think that, and sometimes you need to do whatever gets you back on track, even if it is only within your imagination.

Today, as I was walking home with my son after his tennis lesson, a woman who was texting as she drove a shiny SUV, narrowly missed us on a crosswalk on Broadway.  Well, narrowly missed my son.  I put my hand to his chest and stopped him, having eyed the driver and her fingers furiously working her little gadget over the steering wheel.  How do we ever survive in this world?  With a little luck, and sometimes a little help.

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