Yesterday I went into an office building in the Garment district. Its a grey neighborhood, dirty and dusty from so many carts full of threads and buttons and hot dogs being pushed around all day. I was on one of those perfectly square and banal little errands to pick up a thing I needed from a place. I suppose the mix of feelings upon entering the building were:
1-a soft little happiness, due to the fact that I was finally getting this little errand done, and also because I was picking up the thing from a very nice person I hadn’t seen in a long while and that’s always good.
2-an equally soft but equally present little case of nerves, because no matter how many times I look at the piece of paper which has a building address and the accompanying suite number, I am always convinced I will end up completely lost in a rabbit warren of grey, soulless, identical doors.
I get on the elevator. And its me, and a normal looking woman about 30, and a normal looking man maybe about 38. We each go to press our respective little number buttons. It seems like we are going to have a mega normal ride together.
The girl, as she presses her button, says in a slightly exasperated, but not too loud voice, “Oh, this is so annoying.”
Because she’s holding her lunch, I assume she works in the building and that there’s some little glitch with her floor button or something. Something pet peevey she knows about and she’s having a bad day and she just had to mutter out loud to herself about it. I get it. I’ve been saying things out loud to myself a lot lately. Like I was in Rite Aid in LA a few months ago and this douchebag was yelling to his douchebag friend from across the aisle:
“SO GET A KEGLET! AND SOME HEINEKEN”
and then, without meaning to, I said softly, and completely involuntarily, but still audibly, “oh holy fuck.”
So I know what it is to say annoyed things through your mouth hole even if you’re not supposed to.
But then she turns to me and the man, and very deliberately goes off.
“WHY do they still make the 13th floor the 14th floor? Its STILL the 13th floor! Its so RIDICULOUS! What’s the POINT???” She gestures aggressively with her hand, which is holding a brown paper bag with a bagel in it. (I don’t know how I know, but I just know there’s a bagel in it. She seems like the kind of person who on her lunch hour, even when she doesn’t want a bagel, just thinks, ”oh it’s the easiest thing to do. I guess I’ll just go to the place down the block and get a bagel, a-gain.”) Anyway she continues: “Everyone KNOWS its the 13th floor. I HATE THAT. Why are we still doing that? I mean, RIGHT?”
She looks at us. The man looks at her and sympathetically says, “Society.” Then she gets off with a final har-ummph. Me and the man continue upwards in silence, but I really feel like I need to talk about what just happened. I mean, maybe he agrees with her, and I’m not totally sure I disagree with her, but it felt like it needed to be discussed. So I say, “Wow. She really wants it to just be called the 13th floor, huh?” He turns and looks at me, and it was like I could feel his relief flooding all over the floor. “Yeah, right?”, he says, looking at me in the electrically connected way only two people on an elevator who have the same feeling about a recently departed third party can look at each other. “Weird. Its just a superstition.” I smile and shrug. “Yeah, I know.” Then it’s his floor and he turns to go with a final friendly nod. I say, “Have a good one,” which is a really satisfying thing to say to a stranger.
I continue the ride up alone, weighing the debate about the elimination of the 13th floor. Of course she is right. It’s completely stupid. But then there’s the part of me that thinks: Its nice. Its a nice thing. The missing 13 button still puffs a sprinkle of magical childishness, a secret finger crossing as the answer to an old time jinx, into these dull old buildings, which otherwise can feel so tired and out of breath.
And if nothing else, it made three people who don’t know each other talk to each other. And that feels lucky.