Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Treading the Last Waters of August

In Ancient Rome, the Dog Days extended from July 24 through August 24, still the case, according to Wikipedia, “in many European cultures.” Not many Romans in sight these days, but maybe it’s purely cultural that so many French, Italians and Germans come to New York to suffer weather New Yorkers flee to France and Italy (but not Germany) to avoid.

No one in his or her right mind would have opted for the stifling, roasting summer of 2010 here. If the French had a word for it, it was yuch. On this day after the Dog Days, I recall sweltering in better New York circumstances….

I was ten minutes away from meeting a friend at “Alice's Tea Cup" (one of my two daughters’ three restaurants, I relate with pride) on a late August afternoon when my elevator went dark and came to a standstill. I used the light on my cell phone, its battery already low, to find the alarm on the panel. I hoped to let someone know I was trapped, but the alarm was as dead as the lights and the fan. The air in the elevator grew stifling. I began to peel off one layer of clothing at a time, folding and stacking each new article neatly beside me on the elevator’s leather bench, where I had resignedly seated myself in darkness, envisioning being discovered, eventually, flashlights shining on my dank, naked body. I imagined the woman waiting for me—an Ambassador, to make me feel worse—thinking I’d knavishly stood her up. I mused over a scene from “Sweet Charity” where Charity and her high-strung beau are trapped in a stopped elevator, and he reads a sign that says, “Capacity: 2000 pounds” and, in a panic, cries, “I weigh 163, how much do you weigh?!”

Trying to preserve my battery for an ultimate emergency, I sporadically dialed and finally reached our doorman, just long enough to learn from him that it wasn’t the elevator alone, nor the building, lacking electrical power—it looked like it could be Manhattan’s entire Upper West Side, possibly the East Coast, that was effected. It was more than plausible; I’d been through this East-Coast-blackout-thing before (which reminds me of another, salacious, only-in-New York story I don’t know you well enough to tell—yet.)

Hours later, I heard voices calling to me. My rescue squad had arrived; I didn’t care what took them so long. “Can you find…” and they described two locks or latches on the elevator doors. I used the scintilla of battery power remaining to search, grope… and find them, as the phone-light dimmed and died. Following shouted instructions, I released the contraptions and… is this madness?... opened the doors! Into pitch darkness. “You have to jump,” a voice instructed, adding
sadistically, I thought“from the elevator.”

Now I have to interrupt myself to tell you that many years ago an actress-friend was downtown at a city building stepping off an elevator when it abruptly moved, and she was cut in half. The memory, when I allow myself to have it, haunts me. “Jump?” “Yes!” Into a black hole. I took a deep breath, braced myself… and, ready to absorb the painful shock that would shoot through my legs when I landed… jumped! And landed softly, immediately, less than a foot below. I stood there stupidly, not knowing what came next. A door opened, the only door on the floor, and a housekeeper stood waiting for me to enter. Sting’s housekeeper. Sting’s apartment. Behind her, an anxious doorman and super. We passed through Sting’s apartment, past his row of mounted guitars—which, I have to say here, I’ve seen in a better light. The rear, service staircase being the only entree by stairs to our apartments at present, I exited Sting’s back door and slowly climbed the five unlit flights to mine—this was so distinctly unglamorous, so mundane now—and knocked at my back door. My wife, Jean, monitoring news of the blackout by portable radio in a kitchen lit dimly by a battery-operated lamp, opened the door, surprised to see me. She had no idea that I had been in our building—been in our elevator—no more than 75 feet away the entire time.


  1. That sounds like a horror movie of sorts with a funny ending. Though impressed you didn't black out, all i really want to know is a) who is the actress who was cut in half and is that literal? and b) tell us more about sting's apartment!

    Great writing, as usual.

  2. My God...

    I... I'd laugh if it wasn't for the fact that I didn't breath once this entire story!

  3. Is "jump" still the common cheer in NYC?

    It sounds like a good suspense thriller with a comic relief.

    I'm glad you came out alright and safe.
    Did you ever meet your Ambassador friend?

    Great story only to be told by a great writer.

  4. Mosnieur Le Renard, I believe the Frecnh word you were looking for was bluchez.:) I am pleased that your harrowing experience ended on a positive note. I was unceremonioulsy in Matt Damons home on Astor Place a few years ago. I wish I had such a great story to attach that event to. So glad though that you were able to find the light at the end of the levator tunnel.

    Mme Elsie

  5. Sarah told me that she thinks your Salacious Blackout only in New York story is the best story you've ever told us... though I can see why you might not want to share it with strangers...