And Is That Man In The Courtroom Today?

In the building where I work, we are required to use the elevators as a security measure. The stairs are to be used only in a fire, or if a pair of weirdo accountants need a place to make out (just kidding, the accountants really aren’t supposed to go in there either). Anyway, there are two elevators, each with its own terrifying quirks.

The left one is okay, except that the buttons don’t always work right away. In fact, the doors will sometimes close before the elevator’s tiny brain understands which floor you want, sealing you from the outside world and its refreshing oxygen. I’ve stood alone and motionless in that elevator repeatedly selecting my floor, wondering what exactly the bright red FIRE button actually does, or if anyone would actually be on the other end of the toy phone. Eventually though, the button lights up and the elevator moves. Nobody has gotten stuck. Yet. (Just in case, I always keep a granola bar in my bag for dinner.)

The right one, meanwhile, has fully functional buttons but screeches and groans like the hull of the Titanic as it ascends. The sound is loud and unsettling in a raw, industrial-accident kind of way and the cab shakes a little when it happens. You get used to it.

Regardless of the elevator with which you entrust with your life, you’re assured a glacial trip. I’m certain that if give the chance, I could clamber up the greased wires faster, laptop and all. In any event, when the doors finally open you’re spit out into a locked vestibule, guarded by a fossilized octogenarian reading the newspaper. Security intact!

I mention this because my greatest fear is getting roped into a drawn-out conversation in the elevator with a co-worker. Most people are content to ride in silence but some simply need to talk, as if the fact that we’re both employed by the same gigantic multinational bank requires each of us to know how the other feels about the freakishly mild winter we’re having. It’s usually women who want to talk about weather.

Men want to talk about sports, and assume that since I’m a man, I’ll be eager to talk about sports as well. This is usually a problem. First, I’m never eager to talk about anything. Second, while I’m a fanatic baseball fan, I hate talking about it; and third, I could hardly care less about the other sports, whatever they are. But none of that matters to an elevator man, because elevator men want to talk about football! Men!

I don’t know much about football. I remember that Joe Montana and Jerry Rice were pretty good and that Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games last season after crashing his motorcycle into a women’s bathroom. I know that a man named The Refrigerator existed in 1986 and that the Buffalo Bills played in 4 straight Super Bowls, so they must be pretty good. I also somehow just spelled “Roethlisberger” correctly, so I’ve got that going for me too.

Hoping to play it safe, I’ll mention something cautiously optimistic about the Eagles and just ride it out. In general, Philadelphians are bonkers about the Eagles but also hate them at the same time, so it’s important to be vague. If pressed for specifics, I’ll purposely say something weird to make the other person uncomfortable. Frankly, it’s just easier to duck into the men’s room if I see someone waiting for the elevator and pretend to pee for a minute so I can ride the next car alone. Not that I’ve ever done that twice already this week.

While I have little in common with the general population, I feel like runners click, even those of us who’ve literally got nothing else going for us. To that end, I funnel what little social grace I have into being a polite runner; I feel like we’re on the same team. I say hello to just about every runner I see on a run, and have been known to actually chat amicably with complete strangers at races. Strangers! I don’t talk to people I know; I’ll go an entire day without speaking to a single person at work. It’s not that I’m unfriendly, I’m just indifferent.

Anyway, I was out on a run last weekend and approached another runner on a deserted stretch of road. She was running toward me on the same side of the street and as we got closer I realized that we were both wearing the same shirt from the 2010 Philadelphia Half Marathon. I smiled my friendliest smile, motioned toward her shirt and cheerfully said “Hi! I like your shirt!”

She looked straight ahead and ran past without saying a word. Her complete and utter lack of response briefly made me wonder if I’d actually said anything at all. Did I say that out loud, or just think it? Bewildered, and concerned that I’d imagined this runner completely, I turned my head to see if she was still there. As the 2010 Philadelphia Half Marathon shirt rounded a corner and disappeared from view, I decided that she might have been a ghost. The experience left me so disoriented and befuddled that by the time I got home I wasn’t sure if she was the real one, and that I was the ghost.

At home I was recounting the story to Mrs. B and, after enjoying the relief that comes with the realization that you’re not a ghost, was dismayed at the possibility that she brought up. “What if she didn’t remember what shirt she was wearing?” Mrs. Bacon asked.

Well that changes everything.

Now, all of a sudden, it’s not a cheery Sunday morning. It’s dark out and eerily still. I’m not happy, benevolent Mr. Bacon; I’m a suspicious guy on a deserted street who has all the room in the world but has chosen to run straight at this poor girl. I imagined the scene as it quite possibly went down from a different perspective.

“Just keep running. Don’t make eye contact. Just get past this guy.” She tells herself. I continue to approach, examining her body more intently the closer I get. Finally, after staring at her chest for several seconds, I look her straight in the face and growl, “Hey… I like your shirt…” real slow and draw-out like, with a lascivious grin.

I imagined her later filing a police report. “He had a sinister beard, officer, and chilling eyes. After leering at me and expressing his pleasure with my attire, he then turned to ogle me as I ran away. … Oh yes, I would certainly consider him dangerous.”

It could have really gone either way. Personally, I think she knew we were wearing the same shirt and was just a jerk. Or maybe she was deaf. And… blind. Regardless, I’ve learned my lesson. I’m never complimenting a woman on her clothes again; it never sounds right when you say it out loud, anyway. From now on, it’s “Hi! You look a little chubby in that shirt! Eagles suck!” There’s no room for miscommunication there.