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  • Waiting to be Crushed to Death

    Posted on January 15th, 2010 Patricia No comments

    According to this repairman, after free-falling for three seconds, the elevator would reach a speed of 96 feet per second. He was very specific about 96 feet per second. He was drawing this explanation on his clipboard for me with arrows.

    You tend to spend a lot of time thinking about elevators when you live in a high rise apartment. Every time you have to walk the dog or go to the laundry room or get your mail or buy groceries or go to work, you have to take an elevator to get there.

    I’ve spent a lot of time on elevators.

    I’ve spent a lot of time waiting for elevators.

    I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about elevators.

    You might say I get a little preoccupied.

    There are some optimists among us who believe if you were in a free-falling elevator, the way to survive the fall would be to jump in the air at the exact moment you are about to hit bottom.

    I overheard this while I was riding in an elevator at the World Trade Center. I overheard this from a group of eighth graders who were screaming and arguing about it on the same elevator I was on.

    They were on a field trip.

    I was not on a field trip.

    “Would, too!” said the girl with the purple streak in her hair.

    “My brother said it’s true,” agreed her friend dressed all in black.

    “Let’s all jump at the same time,” said the boy with the gold earring in his eyebrow.

    “Cool!” they all agreed.

    I got off on an earlier floor than originally planned, wondering if I was ever like that when I was a teenager and also wondering if it’s painful to have your eyebrow pierced and how I would look with purple hair.

    Their teacher looked at me in an apologetic way as I made my premature departure. As the elevator door closed behind me, I heard the teacher say, “If one of you so much as lifts one foot, you will be suspended for life!” I think she meant it. She was louder than the kids were. I could hear her voice after the elevator door closed and the elevator continued its descent.

    I know for a fact that these future citizens of America were optimists. I asked an elevator repairman one day when the elevators in my building were being “maintained.” Regular elevator maintenance helps relax me. This was information I needed to know.

    The repairman said he got his information from a very reliable source: his boss! And every smart employee knows better than to argue with the boss because he’s always right.

    According to this repairman, after free falling for three seconds, the elevator would reach a speed of 96 feet per second. He was very specific about 96 feet per second. He was drawing this explanation on his clipboard for me with arrows. I was very impressed. An upward leap would achieve a speed of 14 feet per second. He knew this number was accurate, too. You’d still be going downward at 82 feet per second. One way or another, you’d still be smashed upon impact.

    This well-informed repairman used flat-as-a-pancake as his description. He scribbled a lot of lines on his explanation worksheet and drew a line to the word, “SPLAT!” He also mentioned a squished bug on your windshield. And he was very sure of his numbers. He took his hands and smashed them together for effect when he said, “Flat-as-a-pancake. Smooshed.”

    And I believed him.

    Even IF you were able to instantly accelerate upward at 96 feet per second, which you can’t, unless you have superhuman powers or a speed pack attached to your back, as the elevator was free falling down its shaft, you would still be smashed upon impact. Flat-as-a-pancake. Smooshed. Squished like a bug.

    As I spend my days writing, I think about things like free falling elevators.

    I have found there is a strange similarity between writing and elevators. Like the ascent of the elevator, writing can be so head-filling, so stomach-losing, so totally speed-zone-wonderful that it just doesn’t matter what anyone says or does; I’m not getting off the elevator.

    And sometimes, when that phone call or letter comes telling me that someone wants to print my work, I feel like I can fly right through the roof.

    But sometimes, as I drop the envelope with my writing into the mailbox, I wonder whether I’ll be able to increase my upward speed enough so when the rejection letter comes, I won’t be left flat-as-a-pancake, smooshed, squished like a bug.

    I also think about earthquakes and tsunamis.

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