For some people, elevator rides can be an uncomfortable sensation.
Particularly when the elevator is crowded. Some folks surreptitiously view themselves in the side mirrors while others examine their shoes and some find enormous interest in the roof of the elevator or the bank of numbers on the panel.
The more bold travellers will text on their cell phones, and some even try calling, while others will closely examine an item of clothing worn by the person next to them. But the true daredevil may even try and strike up a conversation.
But usually it is a quiet, if somewhat strained, short ride to your intended destination.
It therefore, was with some relief that I arrived at the elevator bank on the ground floor of the company executive building to find I was the only person in the queue.
Clutching my company internal envelope to my chest, I entered the first available elevator and pushed the 9 button. All I had to do, on the instructions of my boss, was deliver the envelope to the receptionist on the 9th floor, the office suite of the corporate elite.
It was the mid-1980’s and I was a young, newly appointed administration clerk in a large corporate.
In those days senior management and the lowly office staff, like me, rarely crossed paths and so being sent to the Executive building was not a task to be undertaken lightly.
My boss had made it very clear that I was to go there, deliver the envelope and get out. Under no circumstances was I to attempt to engage in conversation with any personnel in the building and it would be best if I kept my head down and kept moving.
Listening to the bullet list of instructions I wondered whether my boss had, in some previous life, worked for a mysterious and covert military establishment that snatched people out of their beds in the dead of night.
The lift door closed and I anticipated a 30-second incident free ride to the 9th floor, where I would quickly deliver my package and then if it looked like the down elevators would be occupied by serious and/or elderly people, I would descend using the stairwell.
Disappointingly, the elevator stopped and the door opened on the 3rd floor.
In stepped an attractive lady of about my age, who I shall call Judy, greeting me with a tantalising smile and a “hey you, how are you this great morning?”
“Fine”, I mumbled retreating towards the rear of the elevator.
She continued to make small talk, rather loudly considering we were only four feet apart, about this and that, none of which was of particular interest to me but fascinated by her bubbly demeanour I did my best to look captivated.
Stopping on the 4th floor she exited with a mischievous grin and a finger-wiggling wave.
What a lovely person I was thinking as I smiled and waved back.
And then it hit me – in both nostrils.
Women don’t do that in public, do they?
The stench was overpowering.
A concoction of decaying skunk flesh, rotten eggs, sulphur, ammonia and rotting cabbage would not even come close.
I could actually taste it!
You sneaky little………
As a youngster in boarding school, I shared a cubicle with a boy who maliciously and continuously polluted the air in our confined space, courtesy of his mother’s weekly cabbage and broccoli pies. His response to my repeated complaints was that I could alleviate the problem by breathing in deeply until the stench dissipated.
I was not going to be caught with that one a second time.
I clamped my handkerchief over my mouth and nose with a feeling of dread beginning to overwhelm me.
How I was going to explain the putrid smell should someone else enter the elevator? Do I try and pass the blame onto the now departed Judy, which would sound really lame, or do I just remain silent, which of course could be perceived as an admission of guilt.
Or, I could possibly glare at them in the hope that they would assume that somehow, they were to blame.
I had no time to decide, the elevator stopped and the doors opened on the 5th Floor and in stepped 5 people. From the dress code and the age bracket, I had to assume they were all senior management.
Retreating back to my corner, I made every effort to look menacing and confident. Flaunting my new look I glared at one of the men in the miserable hope that his colleagues would see my accusing stare and assume he was the guilty party.
The two women immediately blanched and began scrambling in their purses for what I assumed would either be tissues or a can of air freshener, unless of course, smelly elevators were the norm in the building and they were actually reaching for miniature, pre-assembled gas masks.
But let’s take a breather for a moment and reverse the roles.
Assuming you are one of the five new arrivals, how would you react to the situation?
- Would you have a small chuckle to yourself and ignore the situation in the hope that your managerial colleagues were suffering as much as you were?
- Immediately spot an opportunity to embarrass a colleague by blaming them for the indiscretion in the hope that the MD would look favourably on you for unmasking a possible weakness in the alleged offender;
- Point to the real culprit and ask him to explain the reason for his insubordinate behaviour and highlight the errors of his parents in not providing a decent and respectful upbringing;
- Find out which department the individual worked for, contact his boss and suggest a posting to a one-man department;
- Hold your breath and punch the button for the next floor.
Fortunately, no one uttered a word, probably in fear of inhaling the mixture but in unison and without hesitation, all 5 individuals turned and blessed me with their most accusatory and disgusted look.
Dear God I begged, if you have any compassion for me let me drop through the floor. Obviously, I was not due any special favours as the floor stayed where it was and so did I, cringing in embarrassment.
Is it possible that you can be embarrassed for the same infringement twice in the space of 60 seconds?
Because the elevator stopped on the very next floor and in stepped my coup de grâce.
Mid thirties, crew cut, bulging muscles desperately trying to free themselves from tight fitting clothes and with a truckload of self-confidence and arrogance. You know the type.
The wonder boy who steps into the room at the office party and immediately attracts the attention of everyone, just as you were about to drop the punch line of your carefully memorised joke about senior management to your co-workers. You are left unfulfilled and open mouthed as your audience rushes over to the man of the moment in the hope of being the first to receive his public anointment.
“Good God!” he exclaimed, “who dropped that one?”
Glancing around at the occupants of what had now become, for me anyway, a torture chamber, his eyes came to rest on me, standing isolated in my favourite corner being on account that the other 5 occupants had immediately pulled as far away from me as the confined space allowed.
“Man, you need to see a doctor”, he said pointing his finger at me, which I thought was unnecessarily aggressive considering I was the only one in the corner and there really was no need to publicly point me out.
With hands on hips, which went along with the rest of the well-rehearsed managerial stance, he peered into my terrified face, “which department do you work for?” he demanded to know.
“Masonry”, I stammered, having had no idea where the word came from, it just popped into my head. In fact, I was employed in the Commercial department at the time, a piece of information I decided should best be kept to myself, even under threat of a public flogging.
With a look of complete astonishment on his face, he glanced over his shoulder and asked no one in particular, “do we even have a masonry department?”
The thought, now you do, flashed through my head but fortunately went no further.
Before the abuse could continue, the elevator stopped and the doors opened on the 9th floor. I almost cried with relief.
Finally, my escape.
My tormentor, who turned out to be the Group Financial Director, was not going to allow me to slink off into obscurity without further public humiliation.
Stepping into a busy reception area, he bellowed, “don’t use this elevator, that young guy”, pointing at me, again, “dropped a you know what, and it’s now a no-go area”. Of course, everyone within earshot turned to see who this depraved idiot was that had the temerity to assault one of the executive elevators.
My life was ruined. I would forever be known as the employee who defiled the executive building elevator. My promotion prospects had just gone up in a puff of greenish tinted fog.
Finally, to my everlasting relief, the elevator doors closed automatically, I pushed Ground and in a state of near collapse was favoured with an incident free ride to the ground floor.
After walking around the concourse area for a while in the hope of removing the awful stench from my clothes, I managed to persuade the security officer at the front desk to deliver the envelope for me. I was never going back to the 9th floor.
As for Judy, I never saw her again or found out what her name was but the incident remains engraved in my memory as though it happened yesterday, and although recollection of the exact dialogue may be a bit fuzzy, the events are crystal clear in my mind as is the humiliation.
Featured image: Courtesy of Flickr by philon