Nowadays, No Smoking signs are so widespread that they’re easily overlooked, especially when they’re located in places one assumes to be smoke-free.
However, it’s funny what we notice in moments of sheer terror.
This is my story of how smoking – and one of those signs that tells us not to – saved my life.
The company that employs me allows two fifteen-minute ‘breaks’ for every eight hours worked. Taking my first break at 10 a.m. seems to cut up the day a little better.
On the day smoking saved my life, on my first break I waited the usual five to seven minutes for the elevator to make its way to floor 27. With nothing but a cigarette and a lighter in my hands, I hopped onboard like the elevator was a carnival ride, anxiously tapping the button for the main floor.
Usually, the elevator stops on 26, 25, 24, 21, and 18, flooding the metal box with more overweight women at each stop. I am shoved into a back corner and forced to endure conversations about exercise routines that’ll “start tomorrow.”
Now seems like the proper time to point out that not only am I utterly terrified of heights, I am also borderline claustrophobic. I say borderline because I’ve seen those shows, the ones with the crazies, and they can’t even step into a shower without dry heaving or breaking out into hives. My claustrophobia probably stems from the time in sixth grade when my parents purchased a tanning bed for our household. Despite the fact that it was probably inappropriate/negligent to allow a twelve year old to engage in such activity, my parents allowed me to give the bed a whirl.
After I’d taken my horizontal position, I gave my mother the ‘thumbs up’ to push down the lid.
Ten seconds after she flipped the knob to the ON position, the tanning bed became a radioactive coffin. Looking down at my weird prepubescent body, I felt as though I had been beamed up into a UFO, and that it was only a matter of time before they came with the probes. Mulder and Scully wouldn’t be saving my ass and I knew it, so I reacted with impulse, and quickly leaped upwards, receiving both whiplash and a bloody gash on my skull.
When mixing my two phobias together, one would think I’d panic at least a tad in an elevator on the 27th floor, but I never do, probably because I only use the elevator to take one of my six breaks for the day (two breaks, COME ON!), or to go home. During rides up in the morning or after smoking, I usually subconsciously distract myself with groaning…or if I’m alone – singing an original song by yours truly called “I seriously fucking hate my job, the thought of retiring here makes me want to die.”
On this particular Wednesday, feeling especially rebellious, I decided to try a trick I had read about on the Internet. Supposedly, if you are in an elevator and simultaneously hold the buttons for ‘Close Door’ and whatever floor you’re getting off on, you’ll skip past every other floor and go straight to your destination, non-stop.
What they don’t tell you is that when you do such a thing, some kind of karmic fat lady wrath is directed upon you and you are totally fucked.
But I didn’t know that yet.
I waited for the doors to shut on their own, then extended both index fingers, pressing ‘close door’ and floor ‘1’ at once.
Down I went!
I giggled as I felt the elevator move down…one floor.
Cool trick Internet, doesn’t work.
I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms and waited for the first set of co-passengers to shit on my parade.
But then, nothing. The door didn’t open. A cold sweat shot straight up my spine as I furiously hit button ‘1’ again. Nothing.
‘Open door’ – nothing.
Fire call, alarm, emergency – all nothing.
I lit up every button, the control pad now resembling a skyscraper – nothing.
Seeing a digital ‘26’ atop the fully lit panel, my fear of heights kicked in. Sweating and shaking, I paced around the tiny cube. How fucking fitting, I thought. I escaped my cube to die in a cube.
It was my last sane thought, as I started to both laugh and cry at the same time so hard that I almost vomited.
I looked back up at the ‘26’, my eyes going blurry with hallucinations, stretching the number to ‘2666’. Backing into the corner where I should have been in the first place, I slid down the metal wall onto my butt, and pulled my thighs close to my chest, squeezing my elbows that held my legs in place tight. I closed my eyes in hopes that once I reopened, the ‘26’ would just say ‘26’.
And then, slowly opening my right eye like a child watching a scary movie, I found it. Not 26, just a good old, normal No Smoking sign.
Now, I rarely tend to listen to authority. I mean, I take way more than two breaks a day! Dissident! For once, my lack of respect for The Man was beneficial.
This death lift wasn’t about to tell me what to do.
Gathering courage, I picked myself off the elevator floor.
I propped one foot up on the wall behind me like a regular James Dean, sticking the last Camel of my life between my lips.
I sparked a light.
A cigarette had never tasted so good.
Or smelled so bad. It was like hotboxing my old ’88 Escort with a cigar.
A thick cloud of smoke began to form and my eyes started to water.
Then, right as I contemplated how I was going to put out my cigarette, I heard angels.
Their voices were the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. –
And then it happened: –the elevator jerked back into motion.
Its main lobby recall fire function had kicked into gear.
The color probably drained out of my face.
When the elevator door opened, I saw employees from the entire building flood out the door, rushing to their assigned ‘meeting places’. Flicking my cigarette, I hustled into the nearest crowd and headed across the street, joining my own co-workers.
I stood by a lady I know who likes to gossip while I pretend I care. She was pretty upset. “I just hope it’s a drill, you know? Because I didn’t hit save on my computer..and I didn’t get a chance to grab my iPod. I mean what if it’s an actual fire!?”
“I dunno”, I replied, “Can I please have a cigarette?”
This is Kalie’s first post for FlipCollective. Follow her on Twitter at @kalienating.