Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

If I Have to Be Trapped in a Lift, You Have to Read About It…

So I just spent a couple of hours trapped in a lift with a colleague. After a meeting meant to clear the air about certain things that haven’t been discussed here. Sometimes life has a fantastic sense of irony…

Our adventure began when we had almost reached our floor, heard an almighty *SNAP*, and felt the elevator begin to fall. Before we’d had much time to panic, the elevator came to a stop on the same floor the library occupies, and the doors opened a crack. We tried to force them open the rest of the way – no dice. We tried the emergency telephone button inside the elevator – no dice. We then spent an interesting several minutes calling out to students and staff wandering right past us on the way into the library – so intent on their reading, apparently, that it took some time for us to find someone willing to peer into the gap we’d pushed between the elevator doors, and listen to our calls for help.

The library staff were more attentive, calling security and sending someone out every few minutes to check on us. Security, when it arrived, asked how many of us were trapped inside. “Two of us!” we answered, only to hear the security guard say into her walkie-talkie, “There are only two of them” – which prompted my colleague to shout, “But we’re very important!!!”

The security guard then berated us for having contacted the library staff, rather than calling security directly by pressing the emergency telephone button. We advised that we had tried to do this. She didn’t believe us, and asked us to press the button again. We did (not that this seemed particularly relevant, now that they were on the scene, mind you – but we weren’t in what one might call a strong negotiating position…). The security guard said, “No – we need you to push the emergency telephone button.” “We are!” we replied. “No,” the security guard informed us, “not that button – the emergency telephone button.” Since we could see what we were pushing, and the security guard could not, we wanted to know, “When you say ’emergency telephone button’, do you mean the orange button in the bottom right, with the telephone on it?” The security guard indicated she would call the elevator repair company…

Left by ourselves for the time being, we discussed the sorts of things one discusses when trapped in a lift. Films we had seen recently. Holiday events. Small talk of various sorts. I mentioned that I should have brought the book I’m currently reading. I flipped through my notebook to see what it might have inside, and found a printout from someone else’s blog. My colleague wanted to see it – flip, flip, flip – clearly not reading a word. They then started talking about the fictitious rock group their son had formed on MySpace, which now apparently has its own Wikipedia page. I quietly despaired that this is everyone’s immediate association when I mention academic blogging…

The security guard returned, telling us that the elevator repair company would arrive in 10 minutes -20 at the most, and asking us whether we were okay. When we said yes, the security guard tried her best to suggest reasons that, in spite of our assurances, we might not be: “Are you getting too hot in there? Is it too stuffy? Are you thirsty or anything?” No. No. Not at all. “That’s good then – the librarian will check on you in a few minutes – you be sure to tell her if you’re not okay.” The security guard wandered off. Amused, I asked my colleague what good it would do, if we told the librarian we weren’t okay – what could she do about it? Noticing the strained look that flitted across my colleague’s face, I decided not to make any more comments like that…

Ten minutes passed. Several more minutes after that. Then the librarian wandered out to tell us that the elevator repair folks would be there in 20 minutes. “Twenty minutes from now?!” my colleague asked, voice sounding somewhat higher pitched than normal. “Are you okay?” the librarian wanted to know. I tried not to make eye contact with my colleague…

More lift discussion… How much does child care cost these days… How often do you make it back to England… etc.

The elevator repair person finally arrived, looked at us through the crack in the elevator doors, said, “Hmmm… the doors are stuck open”, and then closed them. No further communication. We discussed whether this development, which now leaves us in an airless, enclosed space, represents something that should, strictly speaking, be considered progress. A few minutes later, the elevator moved – just enough to stop between floors. Better and better.

Over the next half hour, we watched the lights for random floors switch off and on. With no apparent correlation, we felt the elevator move – up, down, up, down. Then we heard someone walking on the top of the car, exclaiming: “What is going on here?!” Small suggestion: this is probably not the best thing to say…

Just as my colleague had reached the end of their tether, and was pressing the (obviously nonworking, but I wasn’t going to point this out) “emergency phone button” to try to get someone to tell us what was going on, the doors opened again, and we could finally escape…

It’s a funny thing: on my own, I never take the lift to my office – shows me the dangers, I suppose, of hanging out with the wrong crowd… ;-P

Updated to add: I’ve been watching an email exchange on the incident flit around this afternoon, initiated by my colleague’s complaint to the powers-that-be, who responded – instantly – with a satisfying flurry of emails both up and down the food chain to make sure the incident would be properly investigated, followed by a very concerned individual response to us:

This is terrible news…I have already written to the respective people to get this looked into….are both of you okay is there anything we can do???

All of this is making me feel terribly guilty, even though I’m a mere “cc” on all this action: I feel like I should have broken a limb at least, to justify this level of solicitude…

My colleague has replied:

Thanks for giving the urgent notification to those that needed to know, and for your concern.

N. and I had a pleasant conversation, and managed to suppress for that time the anxiety of the lift dropping out of the sky! The Library staff were also very attentive. No major physical or psychological injuries apparent.

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