Otis

 

As she tried to time the revolving door that would save her from the blast of arctic air funneling down Seventh Street, her heel caught, only for a moment, between the massive wall of rotating glass and the jam that helped seal the door. She felt the tug at her heel and her leg gave an instinctive pull that freed it just as quickly as it had caught. The heel supported her into the building and another three steps before deciding to wobble and add another layer to her less than perfect day.

“Great,” she thought. “What else?”

She walked to the nearest seat in the lobby and set her Ralph Lauren shoulder bag down next to it. She began calculating her travel schedule once again as she pulled off her Valentino pump and tested the heel with her gloved hands.

“Thirtieth floor… sign the papers… back down… meet the Uber… back home… grab the luggage?” She let out a restrained breath. Her tongue began to unconsciously click against the roof of her mouth. “I’ve still got plenty of time,” she thought. To her relief, the heel seemed still intact, at least enough to finish her business downtown and get back to where a change into her travel clothes was already laid out.

She stood, slipped off the gloves, unbuttoned her overcoat and smoothed out her sweater dress. She pulled her bag once again over her shoulder and started for the elevator. The doors were already open, so stepping in, she pushed the ancient round button that brought the number thirty to life and stepped back toward the corner alone as the doors began to close. Just before they came together, a quick dark hand shot between them and gave an easy tug, triggering the safety sensor and the doors slid open once again.

“ ‘Scuse me, ma’am… is this one going up?” A short, dark-skinned man with smoky white hair stuffed up under a black porkpie hat leaned his head into the opening of the door to address her. He wore large tinted glasses and a broad smile that revealed what appeared to be a perfect set of immaculately white teeth. His hand held the door back in its pocket as his tilted waiting for her response.

She simply looked down at her shoes without a reply. Reaching up she gave a slight pull to the collar on her coat. She felt her tongue search out the roof of her mouth, softly snapping away forming an almost inaudible click that repeated itself a few more times before she regained control and stopped. Her body shifted very slightly to her left as he nodded, stepped into the car and searched for his button. As the doors finally closed, she looked casually at the Fitbit on her wrist. She shifted the bag to her other shoulder and fixed her stare on the Otis Elevator Company sign straight ahead of her.

The car began to rise, feeling to her as if it were in slow motion just like this whole day had started to feel. The man cleared his throat. He cleared it again and pulled a red linen handkerchief from inside his jacket. Her eyes were slowly drawn to the dusty creases along the back of his sport coat. She became aware of this and quickly brought them back to the Otis sign. A muffled ding signifying each new floor followed the rhythmic, ancient cadence that the elevator had memorized over the many years it had served others. The old man finished wiping his nose and folded the handkerchief into a neat square and tucked it back inside his jacket. He turned to smile at her.

“Do you work here, young lady?” He asked in a pleasant tone.

She started slightly. “Umm, no. I’m just going to visit my lawyer to sign some papers,” she said as her connecting glance at him shot away from his eyes to the wall behind him.

“Oh, I see,” the old man replied. “My son, he’s an attorney. He works down here everyday. I come to have lunch with him every Friday.” He waited for a response, smiling at her. When none came, he added, “He’s a good son. Smart kid. Gave me three beautiful grandbabies.”

At first she hadn’t noticed that the dinging at each floor had slowed, but now her eyes widened as she became aware that the elevator was barely moving, although it hadn’t completely stopped either. Her eyes shot up to the floor indicator. Her shoulders tensed as she saw that the antique indicator was as old as her own fears. It too barely moved, seemingly stuck between floors eighteen and nineteen.

“What’s happening? Why aren’t we moving?” She asked, not quite realizing she had said it out loud.

“Oh don’t worry, miss. This happens now and then. Happened to me three or four times on this old ride. They’ll get her going pretty quickly,” he said calmly.

She looked at him again and for the first time noticed the pin attached to the lapel of his jacket. It was round, about the size of a penny with white background with the image of a red and white road leading into a blue sunset with the slogan “Obama ‘12” written below the image. She was not aware of the slight shake of her head that came with the recognition of the pin. Her eyes hastily darted back to the floor indicator above.

“I don’t have time for this,” she snapped. “I have a plane to catch. “I can’t get stuck in this elevator.”

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“It’s gonna be OK, miss,” the old man’s face remained relaxed and smiling as his palms reached out, reassuringly.

The young woman stepped back from his gesture. She was now as far into her corner as she could get. Her eyes momentarily widened and both hands, now on the strap of her bag, briefly tightened. The old man’s smile faded into a thin, straight line, as he looked first at the woman, then at his outstretched hands. Almost as if it had been something he’d previously rehearsed, he stuck both hands into the pockets of his pants and stepped back into his own neutral corner. The indicator dinged once as the car finally slid to a fixed stop and the doors opened onto the nineteenth floor. He quietly turned his head toward the woman, but she had once again found the Otis sign. He redirected his view to the bustle on the floor before him and slowly stepped off of the elevator. The doors closed quietly and the young woman returned to breathing, looking distractedly at her Fitbit while her tongue found the roof of her mouth and began softly clicking away at nothing.

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Between the World and Me…

Having spent a significant chunk of my thirty-year teaching career in the English classroom, I feel I’ve come to know a good book from something less. My very core has been built from the bottom up by the literature I’ve been able to take in and more importantly by the books I’ve been so fortunate as to help others understand. So when it comes to recommending a book for others to read, I don’t take this risk lightly.

And make no mistake there is a risk in sharing a book with another soul. In a way, it becomes an act of sharing yourself and all of the vulnerabilities inherent with the act. But in this case, and through this vehicle of a blog, the risk is well worth it. Even when the book has already, been around for a while.

The book is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’ve told my wife that although it’s a nonfiction work, this is a book that should be read as a follow up to Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, the seminal novel that pulled back the curtains on life within apartheid. Unfortunately, Mr. Coates succeeds in making me cry for my own country as he pulls back these curtains of ours.

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I recommend this book because it is important! I hope you keep this in mind as you work your way through it. And make no mistake; it will take a bit of work… on a few different levels. First, Coates is brutally honest… and being the target of direct honesty is seldom as pleasant or romantic a notion as it sounds. Second, his book is an open letter to his own child, which will hopefully bring the truths he is sharing to an empathetic ear. Whether or not we are parents, we all have children in our lives. Think of those children if you can put yourself in his place. Third, his stream-of-consciousness style of writing requires a trip or two to your desktop dictionary. That is a blessing in disguise.

If you choose to get your hands on this book and give it a proper reading, please remember that it should not be considered a gift. In fact, it is like most good books, a tool. Once it’s in your hands, you must decide how to best use it.

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If Not Now…

If I don’t start now, when in the hell will this thing ever get going? So with much tipping of the proverbial cap to my beautiful wife, my inspirational kids, an encouraging old Texan, and an unselfish writing mentor from The Sunshine State, here goes.

My life has changed. That much I’m beginning to comprehend. About this time a year ago, I was given the option to retire early with some rather appealing carrots being less dangled before me, than smacked up against the side of my head. In reality, it was serendipitous in that the job I had held for the past five years was being eliminated in a massive numbers crunch by the school district. Oh yeah…details. I was a teacher. Well…at least a facilitator. Things get a bit murky when one slides toward the end of a career. Over the span of thirty years, I had earned a living as an educator. And for the greatest part of that time, I was a pretty decent teacher…”decent” being a relative, but in this case accurate term. As a secondary English teacher, I had years when I knew I was serving a purpose and I felt myself making an impact. Kids were better off as a result of skills I had helped them discover within themselves. It was hard, but it was fun.

Changes came and things gradually matriculated into my becoming an instructor of technology at the elementary level. From day one, I knew I was in over my head. For the love of Pete, I’m a Baby-Freakin’-Boomer! I could fool the third graders (at least for awhile) but the fifth graders had me figured out from the git-go. Which is not to say I wasn’t useful. I was just overmatched. These kids knew more than me about technology by the time mom and pop brought them home from the hospital. Natives. That’s what we in business would soon learn to call these learners. Technology Natives. Being a “Technology Neanderthal” I set to sharpening my spears and headed into the fray.

It didn’t take long for me to understand that to survive, I simply needed to be somewhere close to honest with them and let them teach me as I facilitated their learning experiences. So every day, I found myself the smartest kid in the class and started to learn. It was a blast and to some degree, I got better, which helped them become better. Things were looking good. However, it was at this point that I chose to jump away from the safety net of the slower elementary grind to the spasmodic world of the middle school enigma. After twenty-four years as a professional educator, I felt like a first year rookie all over again. Except…I knew what was happening to me when things started to fall apart. That first year, the seventh graders grabbed a handful of me and squashed me on the floor like a red grape on “Fruit is Your Friend Day” in the cafeteria. I was coming apart at the seams and little, if anything I could do was going to stop it. These kids were articulate in about a dozen different technologies that I had never even heard of. Learning curve? More like a learning fastball…just on the outside corner where my bat couldn’t even reach. Days seemed dark and not surprisingly, my nights seemed darker. I was stuck trying to teach an outdated technology curriculum to a very much “updated” clientele. Before I knew it, that year and another had passed and the concept of a technology class had become obsolete. The educational world turned to mainstreaming technology via integration into the classroom curriculum. Great idea. Tough sell.

So as I limped to the end of my teaching career, it wasn’t with my head held particularly high. I still get some great notes from former students that help me feel wholesome, but being out of the game isn’t a horrible crime against humanity and the education of our kids. I am going to be fine…but indeed, my life has changed and it’s time to move on. If not now…when?

With a little luck, I’ll find what I’m looking for as a travel this path…down to the river