25 January 2012

Pedway ghost

The elevators at work sometimes make me feel like a ghost. They fail to recognize me fully or at all. I stick my arm into the closing maw of one, which shoves my elbow aside before reconsidering my claims to reality at the last instant. The pair of sales reps inside don't pause their conversation.

Other times I press the button for my floor and its little orange halo will not light, which I may not notice at first. Instead I whoosh through two dozen stories of atmosphere in my dim capsule until someone else summons the car, entirely at the mercy of anywhere anyone else wants to go.

There are of course some forces at work here, mechanical quirks and human errors (how many times have I blindly walked onto an up elevator intending to go down?), and sometimes I solve the mystery to some extent, realizing for instance that some Charon of the system requires that I scan my key card as his fare. Often, however, I don't sort it out in time to avoid an embarrassing trip in the wrong direction, wincing goodbye to the departing members of the car as I remain and wait to go back up.

In general as I move through the office and the pedway below I feel ghostly, flickering into and out of visibility at the most inopportune times and through no desire of my own. Here I am, hungry and attracting no attention at the sandwich counter. And here I manifest myself as someone I vaguely know walks by and either waves or does not wave, but certainly notices the panicked half-smile on my face when I try to figure out which it was and what I should do when I catch her eye accidentally and too late. And then, my god, there are the system of pedway doors that demarcate the boundaries of the skyscrapers perched above. At what distance must one hold open the door for someone approaching from behind? Should one hang back or speed up if someone else threatens to undertake such an act of chivalry? (In the elevators, some men silently insist that women get off first, though I -- in a shapeless, puddle-splashed jacket, clutching a bike helmet and dabbing at my cheeks to sop up or at least spread around the tears the wind has produced -- am clearly not the specimen of womanhood these rules were built for.) My own girlfriend has walked by me in the pedway before and I have not seen her, too intent on making it through this minefield to get my lunch.

Down here, among the busily chatting and expensively shod, I feel as I often have when wandering at dusk through well-off, gold-windowed neighborhoods: inherently suspect and with the feeling that I should want to steal something. But are the ghosts in stories ever thieves? They take maybe a token from the living, something of sentimental value, nothing more. What use would they have for anything else?

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