*** ‘Vignette City’ is an ongoing project of daily writing and urban photography ***
The thing you have to understand about an elevator is that it’s a box that goes up and down.
That sounds simple, I know.
But did you know that the first elevator shaft is 4 years older than the first elevator?
Yeah, nobody does.
The whole history of elevators is like that.
When Peter Cooper designed Cooper Union in 1853, he included elevator shafts in the design because he thought, “How hard can it be? It’s just a box that goes up and down.”
But it took another four years before anyone figured out how to make a working elevator.
Not so simple after all, is it?
Have you ever been in an elevator that is even a little bit off?
Have you ever been standing there waiting for one and the doors open and it shows up and it is a half an inch lower than it is supposed to be? You would look at it and you would think to yourself, “Well that is just not right. Obviously something is wrong with this elevator.”
Would you get on it? Say you’re on the seventeenth floor, are you going to get on an elevator that is even a little bit off? Let me just tell you: you aren’t. Because you’d have to be some kind of lunatic to do that. Because all of the sudden the reality of the whole situation would come crashing down on you and you would think to yourself, “What am I doing? I am hovering two hundred feet in the air inside a steel skeleton wrapped in glass and I’m about to step into a death box dangling from a cable? What terrible decisions have I made in my life to bring me to this moment?”
Not so simple after all, is it?
See, that is what I try to explain to people.
Elevators and hamburgers, these are things that we simply require the best out of. We want clean warm water in the mornings and television shows that are always there when we want them. I am not simply somebody who inspects and maintains elevators. I am somebody who helps to propagate the myth that the world we have made for ourselves is one that just works. Who do you think picks up your recycling and makes sure that your old Apple laptops get recycled in a responsible manner? Elves? Do you think the Tooth Fairy handles these things?
Well if you think that you would be wrong.
Also, where would you even get that idea? Why would you think that the Tooth Fairy is even qualified to inspect elevators? See, this is what I am talking about.
Do you know how all those office people look at me when I show up in my gray overalls? When I say, “I need the keys to such-and-such place.” They look at me like a trash person. They look at me like I was sluiced out of my own mother’s body wearing a grease stained gray jumpsuit. Like I am not a person with a mechanical engineering degree and a really nice body under my zipper. I mean, not the most toned perhaps, but still good. A fit body. One that they might even find attractive if they saw me swimming laps or at my yoga class. Yes, yoga. Because yoga does not belong to the executive vice presidents and their secretaries. I have dirty hands after a long day, but I can wash that off and put on my makeup and nice dress with big shoulders and I can go out and sit at the end of a bar and look just as charming and coquettish as anybody else.
I can swizzle my straw around in my drink while you hit on me and giggle and dangle my stiletto off my toes with the best of them. But then when I agree to go up to your hotel room with you because you’re in town for a convention and we’re both pretending not to notice that you have a wedding band tan line from that Oklahoma sun or wherever you’re from, the elevator doors open and the car is a half inch too high and seeing it spooks you back to sobriety and your senses and you remember your kids and how you are so much older and closer to death now than you ever thought you would be and so you apologize and wander off and all because this box is not quite perfect and it scared you.
See, that is what I am saying.
I do this work because I know how important it is. I know that it is essential that people like me make sure that people like you never have to be reminded that we live of the edge of collapse and oblivion every single moment of our days.
That is why I save all the money I can. Why I haven’t bought a new dress or new heels in two years. I plan to retire as early as I can, as early as the union will let me. I’m going to get a little piece of land out in Wyoming or maybe northern Arizona, we’ll see what the market is like in a few years. I’m going to live out there someplace where I don’t have to pretend at all. I’ll plant my own crops. I will kill the occasional big game and I will skin it. I’m someone who you see in your office a couple times a year and you don’t even know that some nights I watch videos online about how to skin animals, but I do. Because I am someone who has the ability, the strength to want to actually look at the world, the real world.
A slightly misaligned elevator car doesn’t frighten me, because I know it is just a box that goes up and down. You think it is something else. You think it is something magic that is not dangerous at all. Because you live in some weird life where nothing should ever be dangerous, because you don’t like that. It does not make you happy.
Let me tell you though, when you’re in Wyoming, or maybe northern Arizona, and you’re staring through a scoped rifle at an elk charging you down, you won’t have time to complain about what makes you happy, because all you have time for is to live. All you’ll have time to do is not think, to trust your own existence, and to know that every second of your life has led to that one and that is when you don’t think, you act, and then you wait to see if you were right.