Saturday, February 19, 2005


In Which I Am Trapped...

5:40 PM: Leaving work Friday night I decided to take the parking garage elevator up to the roof, where my car is. I usually take the stairs, but I've got a heavy box of stuff with me, so I get in, push the button for the fourth floor and...nothing happens. Push again. This time the elevator starts upward, then begins to shake violently. My intestines immediately do the same as I wait for the bottom to drop out. Instead, there's a sudden settling sensation and the elevator stops. Between the third and fourth floor of the garage. I am trapped.

5:43 PM: Still trapped. Have tried without success to open the doors and the roof hatch, both of which have evidently been secured against people like myself, lest we make too big a mess for the custodial staff when we are suddenly bisected or found dangling upside down in bloody ribbons among the shaft cables. Yes, I tried the phone. First thing I did. Opened the little compartment door and was met with four bare wires, each a different color. If I were MacGyver, I could probably tap out a simple Morse code message and get rescued, but in the event all I can do is stare sullenly at the wires. Why would they disconnect the phone? Maybe they just figured any one who was trapped would use their--

5:44 PM: Remember mobile phone, which I dig out of my bag. Battery is, of course, dead.

5:46 PM: Still trapped, but now have laptop turned on. Battery works great. I have a friend who is an electrical engineer who could probably figure out a way to charge my cell phone using my laptop battery. Hell, he could probably turn my laptop into a jet-pack. But he is not here. And it's just as well: The elevator is roughly the size of a small closet. Three people could stand side by side in it, but that's it. The elevators are situated on the outside of the garage and the back wall has a clear Plexiglass oval cut out of it, giving me a stunning view of my office building, a scant 30 feet away. The ground is about 100 feet below. I can see a little courtyard down there, where coworkers sometimes have their lunch. But it's winter. And getting dark. I can't see anyone.

5:53 PM: Still trapped. Have tried pounding on doors and yelling. No response. Interesting acoustics in here, though.

5:56 PM: Down below, walking to the garage, it's my assistant! I'm saved!! I begin hopping up and down and banging wildly on the Plexiglass. Hey! Hey up here! Look, it's me! Me! I'm waving wildly with both hands. She stops, looks up, waves, and...oh for Pete's sake! She's walking on, shaking her head and laughing. Oh, that wacky Magazine Man, doing his jumping jacks in the elevator! I scream her name, sounding like Stanley Kowalski in "A Streetcar Named Desire."

6:03 PM: Still trapped. You know, it's not exactly warm in here.

6:05 PM: Still trapped.

6:08 PM: Still trapped. While rooting through my bag, foraging for anything edible (found three petrified Tic Tacs), I come across a short phone cable for the laptop modem. I look at the emergency phone box, door still open, bare wires hanging out, and a plan hatches. If I can strip the down the wires on one end of my phone cable, I could splice it to the wires in the phone box, plug in the modem, turn on the built-in mic and call the security desk! I rummage through the bag looking for a knife. Find nail clippers. That'll do. Kiss my ass MacGyver! The Magazine Man is dialing out!!

6:21 PM: Never mind. Line is dead, and now I need a new cable for my modem. And I was so impressed with myself too...

6:22 PM: Yes, I already tried my Wi-Fi card. The closest hot spot is the Starbucks five blocks away. My engineering friend could probably fabricate some kind of booster for my card, using my phone cable, the petrified Tic Tacs and the waistband of my underwear. But he's not here. Good thing too: I'd be forced to gut him and climb into his body cavity for warmth. It's cold.

6:30 PM: Still trapped. To pass the time, I begin perusing my hard drive and find all sorts of odds and ends, including a list of things I wish someone would invent. My favorite is the Personal Undo: a device based completely on that ever-useful pulldown menu feature. Only instead of Undo-ing a spelling mistake or a formatting error, the Personal Undo would save you from a life of embarrassment and poor choices. Asked an oval-shaped coworker "When's the baby due?" only to get that stare that tells you instantly that she is not pregnant and you have put your foot seriously in it? Just hit the Undo button and start again. Got on a dodgy elevator instead of taking the stairs? Undo!

Also open a brief document titled "Nose Knowledge" and find these three interesting facts, which I evidently felt were important or unusual enough to capture, but which I have no recollection of writing. I didn't even know I knew the word "surfactant." The document reads as follows:

1. Chapped lips but no lip balm? Run a finger along the side of your nose and apply to your lips. The facial oils that collect on the side of your nose have natural emollients that protect lips too.

2. Another nose oil fact: if you're pouring a fizzy drink--such as soda or beer--and the foam is about to spill over, you can stop it by running a finger alongside your nose and touching that finger to the foam. The natural oils act as a surfactant and reduce the foam (be careful no one is watching you do this. They will automatically assume you are depositing boogers into a drink.)

3. The nose contains erectile tissue identical to erectile tissue, um, elsewhere in the body. Both are controlled by the same part of the brain. This is why some people have reported explosive sneezing fits during foreplay and intercourse. Also a small number of women on certain medications (notably antidepressants and antiseizure drugs) have reported experiencing orgasm after sneezing (if I ran a pharmaceutical company, I'd be throwing my entire R&D budget after that!) Any practical application? Well, if you've ever felt a sneeze coming on, only to go away (I hate when that happens), thinking of something arousing--for men, a Playboy centerfold (for my wife, an image of me cleaning the bathroom without being asked)--can trigger the sneeze.

6:40 PM: Still trapped. For an hour now. I've been trapped three other times in my life. When I was a kid, my brother dumped me into a giant wicker laundry basket, then put something heavy on top of the lid. I was probably 4 at the time, and couldn't get out, but I wasn't freaked out either. Instead, I made a little nest out of the linens in there and fell asleep. Eventually my mom got to wondering where I was, and when she couldn't find me, my brother was too scared to tell her what he had done, so a house-to-house search of the neighborhood ensued. When he thought the coast was clear, my brother returned to let me out, but mom caught him. It was a sweet moment.

Many years later, in graduate school, I lived in the servant quarters at the top of a dilapidated old mansion near Dempster St. Had my own bathroom and everything. One day, I ran to the bathroom, slammed the door shut behind me, and as it closed I heard a "sproing" and a clattering sound that suggested something essential had just come loose in the door. Sure enough, when I went to leave, the doorknob turned freely in my hand, but would no longer engage the bolt inside. I was alone--my housemates were gone for Spring Break. After a few futile minutes of trying to slide my credit card into the catch, I ultimately escaped by knocking out the hinge pins, using my toothbrush and the heel of my shoe as a hammer. Could not have been more impressed with myself if I had successfully spliced a couple of phone wires and called for help from a stalled elevator.

The worst time, though, was when I was about 8 and messing around on the roof of a house we were fixing up. I wasn't supposed to be up there, but my dad had gone down the hill to the truck about 100 yards away, so I took advantage of the fact by climbing up and having a look. My mistake was in deciding to investigate the chimney. Of course, I lost my grip and fell in feet first, slipping out of sight, getting wedged tight about three feet from the top. I tried to move, but one of the belt lugs on my pants was hooked on something. I'm not claustrophobic really, but man, it was like being entombed alive and I panicked. I shrieked as though I'd been dealt a mortal wound. My dad is generally a laid-back, phlegmatic type, but I learned that day just how quickly he could move. In about 5 seconds, he appeared--slightly winded--at the top of the chimney, leaned down, hooked a hammy fist under my arm and yanked. I was so grateful to be out of there, I didn't even mind that he had pulled me right out of my pants.

6:55 PM: Still trapped. It's dark. It's cold. Think my computer battery is dying. Feel sleepy, actually. If someone finds this on the hard drive of my laptop (after prying it from my stiff lifeless fingers), please post this final message to my blog, Somewhere on the Masthead, and let everyone know my real name is--

Hang on a sec...

6:56 PM: I can hear someone below me! Fiddling with the elevator buttons! I suck in a lungful of air and yell with such force that I pull a muscle in my foot. Faintly in the distance, I hear a voice ask, "Someone stuck in there?"

I discover that "Duh" is one of those words that loses all meaning if you scream it really loudly. But I think I got my point across.

7:10 PM: Elevator is moving! Laptop almost out of pow


10:27 PM: Home! In bed, warm, sipping a hot wife, with a drink at my feet, and the dog in my arms. Life=good.

Where was I? Seems like I was about to tell you all something important. Ah well...

"Bet you're glad to be out of there," says Her Lovely Self.

"I'll say," I mutter. "But at least I managed to keep my pants on this time."

She's giving me A Look. All of a sudden, it's colder than an elevator in here...

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Holy Crap... that was a story. I don't think I would have stayed that calm. I can't say I have ever been trapped anywhere. Not sure how I would respond to that. You sounded like you did great though, a few hours and some convience taken from you, but you got a great story in return.
I'm with Batonga. I've never been trapped anywhere either, and the two elevators in my building are breaking down all the time. It's bound to happen sooner or later....Luckily there's a lot of traffic on them, and the call buttons are connected directly to campus police. I checked.
My biggest fear is getting stuck on an elevator and having to pee. Tell me, how would you handle that one?
I can picture it now: Me, stuck on the elevator laughing my arse off thinking about your story. Of course, the person/people stuck with me (it's a busy elevator) are looking at me nervously and pushing the call button with vigor for fear of being stuck with someone a bit off.

Another great post. I've never been trapped anywhere--oh, except for my skin, and poverty, and my family. I seem to be taking your posts metaphorically. A really good read.
We had been blogging trying to find how our world sees computers and PCs. Computer has been a lifeline for us. Your site provides some of the best examples of this sort and we will bookmark yours. Another one we found was and appears to be related to yours is computer desk site/blog. It pretty much covers computer desk related stuff.
Another nose oil tidbit: it's handy for lubricating diopter rings and other external bits of motion picture cameras. Most readily available oils/lubricants are too heavy and just cause a world of trouble.

Really enjoyed the story. The ass't who sees you and keeps going is classic.
That was pretty amazing.
You cheered me up so much.
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