Monday, August 09, 2004

Going Down
So I'm waiting for the elevator and when it finally comes a guy gets off leaving the empty elevator smelling like cologne that, if applied to a dumpster, would keep the flies off. I get in and push M and when the elevator stops one floor down a woman gets in who is very pretty except her lips point down all frowny. I want to tell her the cologne isn't mine but I can't think of a way to say it without making her think A) I think I am too good for cologne or B) I am flirting with her.

I don't know her. It's just that I don't want one single human to associate me with that smelly cologne. But the more I think about how I might bring up the subject of the cologne, the more I notice the frowny lips and how they don't belong with the rest of her. I wonder if the lips go up when she smiles, so I smile at her and she nods back and sort of smiles but not enough to make the lip ends go upward, so it remains a mystery. Maybe if I explain the cologne situation, she'll say, "Oh, that's good because I was about to puke from the smell" and then we'll share a broad smile and I can find out about the lips, but I keep quiet.

I can't stop looking at her lips. I don't want to stare, so I steal glances and I am pretty sure she is not noticing this -- no, I'm positive because I am careful that way. I can't help wondering if she is aware of the lip mismatch: how they don't go with her flaxen hair or her button nose or what I would have thought of as her "cute butt" back before I saw that Discovery Channel special on human attraction, which taught me that men are in fact under the primordial spell of hips ideally suited for child bearing. And, call me crazy, but what child wants to look up at a mama who is frowning back as if to say, "You are such a disappointment to me" even when she is smiling? Probably she is blissfully unaware of the lip problem because she comes from a long line of people with frowny lips and so she associates that with beauty.

The elevator stops again and Cyrus gets on. He's about a hundred and eighty years old and now I am challenging my own reasoning about the cologne and the pretty frowny woman because I realize that I quite frankly don't care if Cyrus associates the cologne stench with me, in the unlikely event that he can still smell at all. Cyrus is very fit for his age, though. He goes to the Y and works out and then afterwards walks around the locker room naked. What is it about old men and their need to strut naked around the locker room? Young men put on a towel but old men let it all hang out and get into lengthy, naked discussions in the hallway about the transcontinental railroad and the battle of Iwo Jima and fiber and college basketball and that goddamn construction on the bypass and the idiot son-in-law who won't shut up about the timeshare in Hilton Head. Is it war-related? Is it like, "I lived in my own filth in a freezing foxhole for three weeks straight so you could be free to work out on that treadmill, mister, so now you are going to look at my sagging buttocks and testicles whether you like it or not?" Isn't there some sort of Star Trek appliance they could install at the Y to magically cloak old naked guys in the locker room? Until there is, I don't want to hear another word about how great technology is.

Decaf Sally catches the elevator just before the doors close, to everyone's dismay. Sally is still on everybody's shit list since she sent around the note promising to "use the right coffee carafe from now on and sorry about all the headaches." The decaf thing is on account of the Fadkins diet, which apparently is not only anti-carbs but also anti-caffeine. The diet ended in a spirit of self-affirmation for Sally, though, when she ceremoniously quit Fadkins by duct-taping a dozen bagels to her thighs and dancing on the lunchroom table. I try to hide behind Cyrus so Sally won't see me because she and I are having an ongoing bumper-sticker duel in the parking garage. She is Proud To Be An American and Supports Our Troops, whereas my Kerry/Edwards For A Stronger America and If You Aren't Completely Appalled Then You Haven't Been Paying Attention bumper stickers have given her something to think about. But that does not mean I wish to discuss it in the elevator.

In order to avoid eye contact with Decaf Sally, I pretend to read the elevator inspection sticker, which is up to date. This does not make me feel safer because I saw a maintenance crew working on the elevators once and learned that a giant bungee cord is all that stands between us and a grisly plummet that would probably end with our heads somewhere inside our body cavities. Still staring at the inspection notice, I learn that the elevator inspector's surname is "Toker" and I wonder if the inspector is a stoner. It occurs to me that if I speculated about this out loud, I could probably make Decaf Sally go right out and acquire a Dare To Say No To Drugs bumper sticker, but I keep quiet.

At the next stop, Allen from Finance gets on. At lunch, we voted him "Most Likely to be Referred to as Least Likely to Commit a Mass Murder, After the Fact," so I curl even further back into the corner and try to look invisible. Before the doors close, The Woman Who Argues Out Loud With Her Computer And Loses gets on. She is wearing a pair of Bono-style sunglasses, even though she won't be out in the sun for a dozen more floors, plus the usual congestion in the parking garage. I steal a glance at Frowny and close my eyes and pray for the Mezzanine to rise quickly.

Our elevators comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, which means their bright display of floor numbers and Braille are accompanied by a soft woman's voice, which announces the floor number and direction at each floor. Now, she says, "Going down." We are speaking in euphemisms, she and I, which indicates that I might be evolving more slowly than is ideal. Perhaps another Discovery Channel special is in order.

Mercifully, we skip a few floors without stopping and by now there are enough people in the elevator that I stop worrying about being blamed for the cologne. Just when I think we might zip all the way down to the Mezzanine, the elevator dings and slows to a stop and the doors open and the recorded woman softly says, "Fourth floor" and then "Going down" and I smile both at the euphemism and in greeting as two more people step onto the elevator.

One of them, a handsome-but-rotund woman, puts the elevator's bungee infrastructure to the test but we all valiantly conceal our terror. She knows Frowny and they strike up a conversation about which reality TV contestant they are most willing to dial an 800 number in support of. I am at first disappointed because during the descent I had imagined Frowny spending her evenings reading Goethe and attending gallery hops and sipping champagne at the Jazz Factory, but that all fades when her friend tells a story that is clearly leading up to a raucous punch line about a bawdy moment on reality television.

I hold my breath, hoping for the guffaw that will at long last reveal the direction of the lips and here comes the punch line and there explodes the laughter and the lips go... farther down! The more she smiles, the lower the lip ends go and the elevator stops and the doors open and the recorded woman's soft voice says, "Mezzanine" and "Going Up" and I let out an involuntary puff of breath and Frowny and Handsome-But-Rotund and Cyrus and Decaf Sally and Allen and The Woman Who Argues Out Loud With Her Computer And Loses and the rest of us cheerfully leave the cologne behind and walk to the parking garage, where we get in our cars and wait in line for the stoplight to change.

So I'm waiting in traffic and ...

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