Getting to the upper floors of a building has always been fairly straight forward in my life. I don’t like to brag, but I’ve pretty much mastered both stairs AND elevators.
Social work has made even this difficult.
A lot of my clients live in NYCHA apartments, better known as the projects. I’m sure their reputation precedes them.
The elevators in these places are notorious. I’ve been in crowded elevators that residents were convinced were going to get stuck between floors, because we broke the sacred “six people at a time” rule. (Little known fact—elevators can count.) They were planning who would crawl out of the ceiling to pry the doors open and go for help.
There is also the fact that these elevators are not places you would want to bottle perfume. Like I said, they get stuck, and when you gotta go…
Terrible elevators shouldn’t be a problem for fat Americans, right? Get a little exercise, tubby. The problem is, lots of these places are over 20 stories high. If you’re on the top floor and don’t happen to be Lance Armstrong, you probably aren’t going to make it.
If you don’t go into cardiac arrest, there’s another problem—people hang out in the stairwells. People you don’t want to run into in a poorly lit area with few options for escape (such as, say, a stairwell.) They’re a favorite of drug dealers and other people I try not to associate with.
I was visiting a family on the second floor of one such building a while back. I took the elevator anyway, for all the aforementioned reasons. On the way back out, I found that there was a crack dealer and a crackhead customer standing in front of the elevator. The dealer was standing by the window, counting his money out for all to see. The crackhead was, predictably, mumbling and scratching herself.
I decided to risk the stairs. I opened the door, and was immediately hit in the face with smoke. This made me think of two things: 1) I hate the smell of crack. 2) Why do I know what crack smells like?
Realizing I was stuck between a crack rock and a hard place (I apologize for that one, I really do) I headed back for the elevator. As I waited for it, I realized that the dealer was trying to get my attention. I turned to find him smiling and waving, looking up from his drug money to ask how my day was going.
I’ve found that the only way to act in these situations is something I call, “pretty and dumb.” “I’m fine, how are you? Look at all that money you’ve got! You must have won some sort of a sweepstakes.”
Luckily the elevator was working, and I was able to beat a hasty retreat. I’ll soon be investing in a parachute, for any similar situations in the future.