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Strange things happen in Elevators

     Elevators. They go up. They go down. They live in all kinds of buildings. Some are very elegant, all gold and mirrors. Others are utilitarian, made to get the supplies to the right floor.

     You meet people in elevators. Very briefly, but intimately. By the time one of you reaches your floor, you part company gladly, or reluctantly, or just cheerfully. "Nice talking to you. Have a good day!" Most often, you have an "almost opportunity" in elevators. Almost made a friend. Almost spoke to that interesting-looking person. Almost asked her to meet for lunch later in the day.

     When there are more than two people in the elevator, there is always that one who sets the tone for the others. He might be very cold and businesslike, making any friendly exchanges seem frivolous. He might be breezy and friendly, inviting conversation. Usually it's the person standing there alone when you enter, before the others arrive. He, or she, looks down, or right past you, when you step into the elevator. Standing rigidly in front of the panel of buttons, he blocks you from pressing the button for your floor. And doesn't give you the friendly nod, or ask, "What floor would you like?" Your only recourse is to mumble, "Excuse me," as you gingerly reach across him to press the button.

     Having told the elevator what floor you want, the temptation is to retreat to the furthest corner, far away from this forbidding man. But your pride wins out and you firmly take a stand two feet away from him. He's staked his claim. You will stake yours.

     The elevator reaches the second floor and the doors open to reveal the next occupants. You watch the Man hopefully, willing him to get out. But of course he doesn't. Two or three people enter, bumping into each other as the Man stands his ground, not budging from his spot directly in front of the control panel. The newcomers press their buttons and quickly retreat, right onto your claim.

     Do you move to make room, or do you stand firm leaving the newcomers to stake out smaller claims to the back and sides of yours? The Man is unmoved, oblivious to the activity all around him. With everyone intent on finding a place to stand for the next 30 to 40 seconds, very little conversation takes place. People are sizing each other up, trying to decide how far away from each other they will take up residence.

     Suddenly, at the fifth floor, a bubble of sunshine floats in, chatting vigorously to whomever will listen. "Oh, are you going up? Wonderful! I thought I'd missed the elevator and would be late to my meeting. Beautiful day, isn't it?" He spies the eight-year old who got on at the third floor. "And where are you going today? Let me guess. You're going to the dentist on the 8th floor." The eight year old solemnly shakes her head no. "No? No dentist? What a disappointment. What then?" The girl ducks shyly behind her mother, who smiles and explains, "She has the day off from school so she's coming to work with me."

     The elevator stops. The Man gets out. Probably wasn't his floor, but the chatter was suffocating him. All that babble. Better to walk up the last three flights of stairs than to put up with that. A collective sigh of relief ripples through the car, now occupied by nine people of various sizes and ages. Everyone smiles at the friendly gentleman, the mother and her daughter, as if giving them permission to continue their chat.

     A woman behind the gentleman speaks up, "My children are out of school today, too. But I'm not sure I could handle bringing them to the office. They're too rambunctious."

     "You should have taken the day off," volunteers a scholarly young man, standing in the corner. "Yeah, why not?" chimes in another. "Oh, I couldn't do that. I wish I could," the woman speaks wistfully.

     The elevator stops again and the doors open to absorb a preoccupied man carrying an expensive briefcase. The occupants shift comfortably to make room for the newcomer. "You. Tell us what you think. Should this young woman play hooky from work and spend the day with her kids?" "What?" The man looks startled. "Are you talking to me?" "Yes. You look like an intelligent man. Should this young lady skip work and go home to spend the day with her kids who are off school today? What do you say?"

     Flattered, but confused, the businessman says, "Are your kids off today, too? Of course you should skip work. I don't know what in the world I'm doing here myself."

     The doors open. Eighth floor. The mother and her daughter get off. "Have a good day!" several people call out.

     As the elevator ascends, the scholarly young man speaks quietly once more from his corner, looking toward the young woman. "Your kids are going to have one whale of a surprise today. They're going to be very happy." Without explaining, he steps out at the next floor.

     The doors close. The woman and the businessman with the briefcase are the only ones remaining in the elevator. They glance at each other. "Going down?" he asks. "Yes," she responds. "Me, too."

     Strange things happen in elevators.

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