There are nine of us in the elevator: five models, three petite brunettes who work for the magazine we’re here to see, and one delivery guy. There were ten originally, but one lucky bitch got off on the third floor right before the elevator stopped. The doors closed on her and we waited for our 4.5’x6’ box suspended in a shaft buried in the heart of an ancient brick building to move. Alas, it did not.
“Are we moving?” I ask the person behind me, wondering if my sensory perceptions are just a bit off. “No,” comes a matter-of-fact, rather glib answer that tells me we’re going to be here for a while. I groan, pressing my head against the elevator walls – a speckled grayish synthetic material that look all too similar to that of an airplane bathroom. “Is this really happening? Like actually?”
Considering all of the elevators New Yorkers go up and down on a daily basis – old, creaking things in older, creakier buildings – it’s a surprise that I haven’t found myself stuck in one before. There have, of course, been the seemingly near-misses – times when the elevator lurched either up or down in an unsettling manner – but the elevator never committed to stopping its journey entirely, only jokingly made me question whether it was going to drop me however many stories to my death below. Ha-fucking-ha.
After a minute of not moving, the Asian girl with the glasses presses the emergency button. It rings like a telephone, connecting us to some guy with a thick New York accent and a too-loud voice.
“Sir? Sir? We’re stuck in the elevator,” she says.
“Okay. Does anyone need emergency attention?”
This question continues to disturb me, as it relays just how freaked out people get while stuck in confined spaces. And, I mean, I get it. We’re all shoulder-to-shoulder, breathing in each other’s air and quickly beginning to heat up under our winter coats. There is no circulating air, no fan, nothing. It’s like being buried alive with eight other strangers. That is, of course, if you want to think of it like that. In which case, you’d likely be having a panic attack.
“No, everyone’s fine,” she says.
The man says he’s going to have someone from the elevator company come and get us out. If the mechanic doesn’t show up, he tells us, he’ll call the fire department. I am unfamiliar with the chain of command when it comes to elevators getting stuck. The fire department sounds rather extreme. This whole experience makes me feel like I am underreacting to a serious situation.
When the man hangs up the phone, we notice that the elevator itself has powered down. No longer is our destination floor lit up; the illuminated 6 has gone dark. The Asian girl with the glasses presses it. Nothing. She presses another button. Again, nothing. Now knowing that we can’t even pretend to imagine we have control over this situation, the sense that we are at the whim of the man on the phone and this stupid fucking elevator begins to pervade the group.
After five minutes, the group collectively strips down to its least-warm layers. Unfortunately, even the sub-clothing is too warm; one girl is wearing a black turtleneck, another is wearing fur-lined rubber boots, and everyone is wearing pants.
After ten minutes, the air begins to thicken with our breath, creating an almost tropical atmosphere of an invisible fog that rises towards the ceiling in the way that hot air does.
“Glad no one’s gassy,” a girl jokes, though this is not a joke at all. If someone farted I would likely die, asphyxiate on anything not resembling the precious oxygen that seems to be consumed by the increasing heat.
The delivery guy’s phone rings. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” sends the group into highly entertained chuckles.
Fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes. At this point, people are visible sweating, especially the delivery guy, who has his higher resting body temperature to contend with. By the end of this experience – and there is, in fact, an end to this story – beads of sweat have begun to drip down from his hairline and into the neck of his shirt.
Stripping down to our underwear is seriously debated, leaving me with the most beautiful lasting memory of an elevator filled with 5 six-foot-tall models, 3 cute chicks with nicer boobs than us, and one lucky man, trying to – uh-hem – contain himself.
As the minutes wear on, the group becomes more convivial, exchanging a series of jokes to lighten the mood. The magazine girls come up with the idea of carrying an emergency pack every time they enter this elevator and the rest of us verbally fill it with contents: canned food, Astronaut ice cream, a Bunsen burner, flares.
“This is like Survivor: Elevator Edition.”
The girl with the bangs rings the emergency line again, this time with a bit of sass in her voice. “Hello? Yeah, sir. We’re still stuck here. Could you tell us what’s going on?” We are put in contact with Officer David, a well-tempered police officer that tells us we’re doing a great job and asks that he have one point person with whom he will be communicating. I feel like I’m going through a miniature version of what a real emergency might look like, except, you know, without all of the blood and missing limbs and panic and stuff like that.
We are asked again if anyone needs medical attention, to which the Asian girl asks for an IV filled with vodka and Jamison. Officer David does not hear her.
“We haven’t forgotten about you,” Officer David says. I should bloody hope not. “Don’t anyone worry. We’re getting you out of here today.” As if tomorrow were an option? It’s not like we’re stuck in an Argentinean mine, a mile under a mountain. Doesn’t this shit happen all the time? And, more importantly, isn’t there some sort of idiot-proof method of getting people out? Apparently there is not.
Intermixed with the good humor are fleeting thoughts of morbidity, the best of which being the comment from a model about stories of people being chopped in half when having to crawl out from an elevator in between floors. All of us venture to pretend we didn’t hear her say that.
After forty-five minutes, we hear the burly voices of firemen on the other side of the wall. The group nominates the blonde closest to the door to be the one who meets her future husband as a result of this shit show. The publication we’re here to see is a bridal magazine, which would be the perfect place to run the story. It is decided that we will all be her bridesmaids. Fuck, something better come of this waste of my afternoon…at the very least make someone else’s dreams come true.
Something scrapes at the top of elevator, sounding as ineffectual as a coat hanger. Scrape. Scrape. Scrape. When that doesn’t work, they bring out something that sounds like a crimping iron clamping down on a thin strip of hair with metallic teeth. Finally, without warning, someone begins to pound at the outside door with what must be a giant wrench or a sledgehammer. The blonde in front backs away. I keep imagining I’m going to see a tool-sized dent appear on our side of the wall, that’s how loud and jarring this thing sounds.
“This must be what it’s like when zombies attack,” I say. But seriously, this is what it would be like.
And suddenly, nearly an hour later, the door cracks open, filling the box with cooler air and the vision of our NYFD heroes. We send up a cheer, feeling victorious in the culmination of our victimization. Though I in no way desire to relive the experience, I have to say that, if I did, I would want to be with these fine people – my eight new and temporary best friends.