Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Last Guy on the Elevator

There is a man who stands with you on the elevator every so often. He's indistinguishable at first but it's not long before manages to show his true potential. When the elevator reaches the lobby he stays behind, making sure that everyone gets out safely, placing one steady arm in front of the doors to shield his fragile colleagues from these doors that may close like an alligator's jaws but it's ok, he would rather lose his arm than see anyone clipped on the shoulder by the door as they walk out. He treats getting off the elevator like he is evacuating a schoolbus that has just plunged into the ocean.

Last Guy on the Elevator makes a habit of doing this and of course everyone feels obligated to thank him for his kindness. He is, after all, doing a nice thing for everyone. Last Guy on the Elevator thrives on these thank-yous and probably feels a little sick in the morning when he rides the elevator and has to stand in the back like a normal person. Probably the same way Superman feels when he's at work.

But despite what he wants you think Last Guy on the Elevator is not a saint. He is not even doing a good deed. No, because his entire act of kindess is degraded by its awful, painfully artificial self-awareness. Last Guy on the Elevator is a pillar of the community that no one has asked for. He is about as useful and necessary as a series of Doric columns holding up your kitchen ceiling.

Today at my office there were two Last Guys on the Elevator, and as this sentence shows such a thing is a mathematical impossibillity. There can be only one Last Guy on the Elevator. I cannot imagine what went through the heads of either of these men when their supremacy was threatened, whether it was anger or fear or a teeth-gritting 'I always knew this day would come' scenario, but I really don't want to know. I prefer to think of this as a scene out of a nature documentary and when it comes down to it lions fighting for control of the pride don't think they just tear each other to pieces because that is the way of the world. So these two bastions of civic responsibility engaged in a grand battle of wills, one that although lasting only a little over three seconds had me stretching my neck around to an impossible angle to see who would be the victor. Imagine two guys trying to hold the door for each other. Imagine an automatic door trying to close on another automatic door. Imagine two warriors grappling atop Mount Olympus with the fate of the very world at stake.

I cannot tell you who won this battle because honestly I don't remember what either of these guys looked like, but I can tell you a little about the rest of the Last Guy on the Elevator's day. He will help an old lady across the street, even though she is only 65 and still very active. He will get on the subway and give a crisp dollar bill to the homeless man who forgets half the words to “Dream Weaver," holding it out long enough so this man looks him in the eye and remembers his unwavering generosity. He will go home to his aparment building where he will hold the door for an attractive young woman even though she's far away enough that it's inappropriate to do so and they share two or three awkward looks into each other's eyes where he keeps up a steady, satisfied smile and she keeps looking down at the floor realizing that this man is really taking this much pride in his measly accomplishment, like he is her father shielding her from the fact that Santa Claus does not exist and there is suffering in the world while beating off a pack of rabid wolves with a broken chair leg and his broad shoulder pressed against the cabin door. Then he will sleep. Enjoying the sleep of the Last Guy on the Elevator.

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