Elevator Virus | COVID-19 Stories | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Elevator Virus 

Last Updated: 05/01/2020 11:36 am
In a Rut - TIM DAVIS
  • Tim Davis
  • In a Rut

My apartment building is in Washington Heights. It was built in 1920. It is a proud yet decrepit pre-war veteran of a building, housing 60 units and one small elevator that fits five people, if you're lucky.

This is an elevator story.

The elevator is like a tiny prison cell with an automatic sliding door. On each floor there is another door, outside the automatic sliding one, which must be opened to access the elevator. Each door has a small square window about head high crisscrossed with metal slats so one can barely see those outside waiting to enter the elevator. The window, in my prison imaginings, could be opened to slide in food, then quickly slammed shut. Inside, everything is embossed metal and steel. It is like an elevator out of Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor.

It is March 2020 and I am avoiding the elevator at all costs. 'Social distancing.' I take the stairs. But on this particular day I have laundry to do and I don't want to clomp down the stairs with the laundry cart, go outside, open the locked gate to the alley and enter the basement where the laundry room is located. "Middle of the day," I think. "No one around."

The elevator arrives. I get on. "No one. Whew." I push 'B.' We creak slowly down, 4, 3, 2... The elevator lurches to a stop in the lobby. As we stop, I can barely see a head outside the door window. It is my neighbor on 5. He is a sweet guy with a mild mental disability, round, smiling, Humpty Dumpty face. I am usually glad when I see him. We talk about baseball and he laments his forlorn Mets on our short elevator trips. But today I don't want to see him. Not today. Social distancing!

Before he can open the door, I call out, "Going to the basement, going down," pointing down with my thumb through the small window. I frantically repeat the thumbs-down gesture like an ancient Roman at the Coliseum, thirsty for blood.

He pulls the door open and gets on, smiling, laden with recycled shopping bags overstuffed with food. "I'll come for the ride," he says in his jovial, innocent voice. I scoot to the back of the elevator. "We are supposed to be six feet apart, you know," I say, trying to be amicable. He looks wounded and says, "I'll go over here in the corner and hold my breath." He turns away from me and puts his mouth up to the crook in his elbow as if he were going to sneeze into it. There is a huge intake of breath as he faces the wall. He talks through the holding of breath.

"You'll be alright, I won't breathe," he says in a strained voice, his back toward me. The next 10 seconds are excruciating as I hear him straining to contain the air escaping from his lips. The elevator comes to a stop. The door opens and I push my cart swiftly out. As I look back through the little cell window I see him, facing the wall, still holding his breath, looking like a child who has been punished and sent to stand in the corner of the room.

As I wheel the cart toward the laundry room the lump in my throat grows and my eyes fill with tears. So many tears, I cannot see where I am walking. I cannot see. How I will I ever separate the lights from the darks?

Joe White is an actor and teaching artist. He is a member of Actors & Writers Theatre Company.

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