Illustration by Russell Christian.
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Slackjaw by Jim Knipfel
Man in a Cage
I folded my cane, slipped it into my bag, and entered the lobby of the office building. The lobby was empty, all but for the guy who manned the front desk, who was just wandering around.
I'd been in this building before and headed straight for the elevators. I felt my way to the button and hit it. It didn't light. I hit it again, but there was still no response. It didn't seem that out of place in this building. I figured the message had been sent.
A minute later, the doors of one of the elevators creaked open, and I stepped inside. The doors closed again. I felt my way across the panel of raised numbers (thank god for those) until I found the one I was looking for. But once more, when I hit the button, it didn't light. I shrugged, and waited for the car to jerk upwards. It didn't move. I hit the button again, holding it down this time, but nothing happened.
Okay, by now it was becoming clear that something was a little out of whack. I hit a few other buttons, but they didn't light, either.
I sighed, and began feeling for the "open doors" button near the bottom of the panel. When I hit it, a loud, piercing bell rang.
I stopped hitting that one and hit the one next to it. Nothing.
It was pretty evident that I was stuck. That guy was in the lobby. He must have a set of keys or something, so I rapped politely on the closed metal doors, hoping the sound would carry.
A moment later, I heard a voice outside the door.
"What are you doing in there?" he yelled.
I thought that much was pretty obvious.
"Umm...trying to go upstairs?"
"Well get out of there—I told you the elevators were broken!"
He'd done no such thing, of course, but I wasn't exactly in a position to argue.
"Why'd you get on there in the first place?" he shouted.
"Because the doors opened!" Jesus.
"Well get out of there!"
"I can't—the buttons aren't doing anything."
"Hit the button, then!"
I rolled my eyes, and hit the button. Once again, the shrill bell erupted.
"Whoops," I said through the door. "Wrong button." I hit the right one and nothing happened. "Look—I'm hitting the Open button, but it's not working."
"Well then you're just gonna stay in there."
I could tell from his voice that he was walking away and leaving me trapped in the elevator. Son of a bitch had never told me that the elevators weren't working, and he knew it. Thank god I'm not claustrophobic.
I was amazed that no one else had come into the building over the past few minutes. Of course, maybe they had, and they just knew better than to use the damn elevators.
I reached the point—fairly quickly, I thought—where I had no choice but to just give up and wait.
I'd been stuck on elevators before. When I was a security guard at the Guggenheim, I was assigned to the freight elevator for one of their big opening night parties. My job was to ferry the caterers up and down to various levels. It was an enormous old elevator whose walls had been painted and repainted over the years by art handlers, Expressionists, and truck drivers.
Sure enough, though—15 minutes after my shift started, the elevator got stuck between the second and third floors. I'd been warned that might happen. Fortunately, I'd been given a stool to sit on, and I was alone.
After two and a half hours of shouting up the shaft to the head of maintenance, they finally sparked it into life again. I had to confess, I was much happier trapped in a big freight elevator than I would've been out in the museum proper, dealing with all the jackasses who were there for the party.
This was different, though—I had an appointment to keep. I couldn't afford to be stuck in the damned elevator for two and a half hours. But there really wasn't anything I could do now but wait.
Oh, I suppose I could've hit that emergency call button, but what the hell good would that do? The guy in the lobby already knew I was there—he was just unwilling to help me out, is all.
I began to wonder what I'd done to earn this man's animosity Maybe it was because I hadn't said hello when I came in, too intent as I was on finding the button and getting upstairs. Impoliteness is a fair enough reason, I suppose, for keeping someone trapped in an elevator. Well, that'll teach me.
Several minutes later, I heard a small scratching around the edge of the door. It became more intent, and a moment later the door slid open a crack. I slipped my own fingers into the space and began pushing. With some effort, the door opened enough for me to squeeze through. The front desk guy was on the other side.
"Thanks," I said.
"They're working on the elevators upstairs," he said. "It'll be a few minutes."
"Okay," I said, then stood off to the side and waited, wondering what brought about the change of heart. Maybe he figured it wouldn't look so hot when other people showed up and found there was a guy trapped in the elevator while he just sat there, doing nothing. Well, whatever the reason, I was grateful.
A few minutes later, the doors of a different elevator opened, and I stepped aboard.