Trapped in an Elevator

trapped in elevatorImagine you and a stranger find yourselves trapped in an elevator and by some stroke of fate both your mobile devices are stone dead. 

Imagine you’ve already used the elevator’s emergency phone to report your plight, but the guy on the other end says everyone down in Maintenance is off celebrating the birthday of this other guy’s 30 years of service. They’ll get to your problem in an hour, he says, two tops . 

Then let’s further set the stage by assuming that the two of you share a common language and that neither one of you has to go to the bathroom. Thus, on these two fronts at least, you can relax and really inhabit this little soap bubble of time in which you find yourselves floating.

Now the question is, not what you’re going to DO, as this list drawn up by the funny people at The Onion, but rather what are you going to talk about? You know what you’ve been taught NOT to talk about: the forbidden trinity of religion, money, and politics. Stay away from all three subjects in polite company, you have always been told, but you can’t just look over the person’s head like people do on the subway. That would just be weird.

Soooo, what subjects could you turn to pass the time?

Well, people turn to the topic of their kids pretty quickly, so maybe you could start down that avenue, sharing information about their ages and so on. There would be no turning to your dead phones to get at photos of course, but that’s ok: you could paint a picture with language, old-fashioned concept as that is.

You could also say a few words about other family members, though this can be a tricky arena.  I once spent a mere 60 seconds alone in an elevator with a man who was so furious he was hissing like a teakettle. “Bad day?” I finally asked. “EXCUSE me?!” he hissed, greatly offended by the question. “I…I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have spoken,” I stammered. He only paused for about 20 seconds before blurting out, “My damn MOTHER-IN-LAW!”

So I guess you have to be careful choosing your topics.

Here’s an idea: People love explaining their scars, I’ve noticed, though this might not be the right setting for that particular show-and-tell.

Ailments also make a reliable topic but they too might be dicey in this context, especially if your elevator-mate has been on earth long enough to have a nice long medical history. I mean, you might never get your own turn to talk!

The weather’s a pretty tired topic and sure there’s sports but what are the chances you’re both fans?

I’ll tell you what I go to when all else fails:

Television. You’ll never go wrong with TV shows. I don’t care if you’re Cleopatra the Queen of the Nile, you watch TV. 

At least a little.

Admit it.

Even if your tastes differ as to genre – I, for example find sitcoms almost unwatchable these days what with all the wink-wink of sexual innuendo – I bet within two or three minutes you’ll find common ground. And then you won’t even realize that the guys down in Maintenance have moved on from eating cake to doing shots. You have another human being and the chance to talk and talk, and really, what’s nicer than that?

Smoke ’em If You Got ’em

I shouldn’t be so hard on Newsweek. If it weren’t for Newsweek and TIME I would not only be unaware of who Snookie was I also wouldn’t know that the entire population of the US – 300 million people – is the same as the number of smokers in China. Think of it! That one fact alone! And here we are bitching about the smokers outside Applebee’s wanly dragging on their cigarettes.

In fact I remember the night two summers ago when I was killing time outside a Chili’s with two little people no taller than the doorknobs. We were racing up and down the straight grey carpet of sidewalk alongside the place when the larger of the doorknob children stopped in his tracks and stared, open-mouthed: There on the lone bench outside the front door sat two old women squinting through smoke and puffing like steam engines.

“What’s HE looking at?” demanded one of them.       

“I think he’s just maybe noticing your beautiful blue eyes!” I said – her eyes were really blue – but she just snorted. She knew why he was staring really. She gets that all the time I bet.

Well, we all have our weak moments when we make a bad decision and Newsweek’s troubling Diana’s quiet grave is just one example. My sister getting caught dragging on a butt in the biggest armchair in our living room at age nine is another. We all do it. But hey it’s the weekend; it’s no time to be focusing on the negative. Let’s end instead with this funny video from ONN the Onion’s spoofy news station, poking its own dry kind of fun at another ‘news magazine lite’, Henry Luce’s former baby TIME.

Our Dumb World

So it turns out cheering yourself up by listening to people call each other names on the Internet works, but only for a while. I got sad again last night but then did I get lucky! Around 10:00 I got a ladder out and began checking out the top shelf of my bedroom closet – I smelled dead mouse, I know I did – and instead found a copy of an “atlas” called Our Dumb World written by those merry online jokesters at The Onion. I’d bought it to give to one of our kids, then lost it, then forgot about it, hey HEY! here it was now, right next to this cute little sparkly nightlight still in the package.

The book has two pages for every one of the world’s countries, one with funny comments and one with a map – like their map for Greenland, which shows all kinds of key areas. (My favorites: “Mt. Enormous,” “God-It’s-Cold,” and a large area up by the northwest coast labeled “Shitload of Fiords”

Pretty funny stuff for a tame country like Greenland, right? But the stuff they have about France is even better. At the top of France’s page it says, in boldface, “One Nation Above God” and then launches in: “Located directly in the heart of the universe around which everything else revolves, the nation of France is the sole beacon of life in an otherwise black and empty void… The French have produced every great achievement in every field of endeavor in the history of mankind including the sculptures of Michelangelo, the symphonies of Beethoven and the writings of William Shakespeare …The people of France are extremely proud of their cultural achievements and offer no apologies for giving the world such things as self-indulgent cinema, the awkward ménage à trios or the Frenchman.” Then the map shows places like “Toplèsse,” “Whine Country” and “Sole Acre of Country That Has Never Been Surrendered to a Foreign Power.”

Egad! And I thought seeing people make fun of individuals on the internet was amusing! I know the world will never improve if we start mocking whole countries; but I used to be a high school teacher and it seems to me the writers at The Onion are like that witty kid in the back of the back of the room: you were grateful for his energy, even if you did sometimes have to send him to the principal’s office.