Saturday, August 30, 2014


OK, y'all, I'm trying something a little different.  Thought I might post a few of my short stories on here, in installments.  This way I get to feel all published and stuff, even though it's just on my own damn blog, but also I can get some critical feedback from y'all--and hopefully, entertain you a bit as well.


When the elevator started shaking wildly, my first thought was that divine retribution was happening very, very quickly. The elevator doors had been open, on the 18th floor, when I ran into it and pushed the “L” button over and over. I have noticed that everyone seems to believe in the power of the elevator button: the more times you push it, the more frantically you push it, the sooner the elevator will do your bidding. It doesn't, though. It never does. I was the only person on it—after all, it was a Saturday, and there are never many people inside an office tower on Saturday. Even so, I was running a cold sweat as the sterile, corporate-looking thing made an insipid bing for each floor it passed. I was staring at the indicator above, so I knew that I was somewhere around the lobby's mezzanine when the shaking started.
The elevator made horrible shrieking noises. Somewhere over my head, there was ominous crashing. The elevator came to a stop in its tracks—on its cables—whatever it is that elevators have, so suddenly that my gut felt as though it were still traveling to catch up with the rest of me. The lights blinked a few times and went out. Thankfully, the cheerful and barely-audible music went out with them. I have never understood why building management companies feel the necessity for music in elevators. It's always something awful anyway. Maybe they figure that if it's music that nobody likes, there's no risk of annoying any one person more than anyone else, because everyone will hate it. Then why have it at all? I know that music is supposed to keep you calm, but is anyone ever really that upset in an elevator? Or, at least, is anyone normally that upset in an elevator? This time, I was, but the music certainly hadn't been calming to me in the least. It was a particularly awful version of “Brandy,” which hadn't been a great song anyway and was rendered that much more awful by some crappy string orchestra. The emergency light came on, its dim bluish light producing a light that reminded me of way too many horror-movie scenes.
The shaking kept up for a few more seconds. I had figured out that this probably wasn't God's way of getting me, figured that it must be an earthquake. But that's stupid, I thought, we don't have earthquakes in Virginia. Once the shaking stopped I took a couple of deep breaths and tried to stay calm enough to figure my options. (“Brandy” was no longer around to help maintain calm.) It didn't take long; you don't have a lot of options when you're stuck inside an elevator. I could sit there and wait, or I could try my cell phone, or I could push the “emergency” button. No matter which I picked, I was good and screwed.
Better to get it all over with, though. I rang the emergency buzzer. I heard a bell sound somewhere below. There was an intercom, but when I pushed its button too, I got no response. I tried the cell phone, but 9-1-1 just gave me a busy signal. Maybe this really was an earthquake. If it was there probably wasn't much chance anyone would get here anytime soon. I sat on the floor. Most of the big downtown office buildings have glitzy marble tile floors in their elevators, but this one was a relic of the 70s and had grey carpet. A bit more comfortable to sit on, anyway. Except—damnit! Something bit me in the ass. A staple. I contemplated the person who must've dropped the staple. Yesterday, when she was taking reports to a different office. Or home to work on. And she's probably sitting at home out in the West End somewhere right now, maybe working on the reports and pissed off that they came unstapled. And wondering what the hell that was, that just happened. And I'm stuck in this elevator, waiting for them to come and get me—and I do mean come and get me—getting my ass poked by the staple she dropped.
It was then that I started wondering what was going on outside the building. I could just make out the sounds of sirens. The elevator must be pretty near the lobby, then; if I could hear them. Terrorists crossed my mind, too. After 9/11, every time somebody farts, you think about terrorists, but that couldn't be—even if terrorists had bothered to find Richmond and attack it, they surely wouldn't pick a Saturday, when there wouldn't be many people in the financial and government districts.
I probably sat there, sweating and trying to avoid staples, for another fifteen minutes or so. I tried 9-1-1 again with no luck. Maybe I should just call around, I thought; someone will be able to tell me what's going on. I tried a few numbers in my phone, but every try gave me either a busy signal or that damn boop-boop-BOOP sound and “We're sorry, but...”

I gave up on the cell phone. If only I had something to read. This was getting boring, even given my state of mind. Few things are more annoying than being in a situation where you're waiting for something inevitable and you have nothing to take your mind off of it. I'd already read the little placard that informed me the elevator had been inspected by C. Howell of the Commonwealth of Virginia. I was perversely pleased to note that, for a fairly high-rent office building, the certificate had expired a couple of months earlier. I wondered if the inspection included checking to see if the thing would be safe in an earthquake. I supposed not; since (as I'd already said to myself repeatedly), Virginia just doesn't have earthquakes. I wondered what they do with elevators in California. Probably nothing extra; there's probably not much you can do to an elevator that makes it any more earthquake-proof than its building. Besides, aren't you supposed to use the stairs in an emergency? Well, I hadn't known this emergency was coming, or I would have used the stairs. If I had I'd be home by now. And still waiting for someone to come and get me.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

The more things stay the same...the more they change.

I loathe change. Anyone who has spent more than three minutes in this blog can probably decipher that.

Let me jump back to my Super Seventies childhood for a moment and talk about the word "hate."  I was instructed (not by my parents, who were born in the 30s and had a slightly better grip on things) but by my teachers and the somewhat younger parents of friends, that I should NEVER say I hated something, or someone, because "Hate is a very strong word." Well, friends, Richmonders, countrymen, lemme tell y'all, I know it is.  And if I say I hate something or someone, I really mean that I hate it. I don't dick around with this and yes, it IS a Very Strong Word, which is precisely why I employ it.  This is one of the beauties of the English language:  we have a wide variety of words that address almost every known condition. So yes: if I've said that I hate you, that probably means that I actually really, strongly hate you.  Not enough to kill your pets, because I like animals a lot more than I like people, but enough to rescue your pets from you because you're an awful person, find them a good home, and then kill YOU.

Oh, crap, I was talking about change. Or at least I meant to, until I got all sidetracked because I was thinking about the dude who cut me off on Route 113 last night. As the kids would say, "my bad."

I am now at my favorite beach resort, Cape Henlopen, I mean, Rehoboth Beach.  See, it was initially incorporated as Cape Henlopen City, which actually sounds a little bit more impressive, but then the Methodists got into the act and found some Biblical crap so here we are with a perfectly nice beach town that nobody can spell unless they are from here.  It's not made easier since there's a small town somewhere on Maryland's Eastern Shore called "Rehobeth," thus frustrating every attempt at spelling anything at all.

Every year when I take my beach week, I revel in the joys of this old resort.  No matter how many new generations of Like Totes OMG Washington suburbanites "discover" the place, it is still full of people that I have known since the earth's crust cooled.  I can count on attending Mass at St. Edmund's church, and run into three Baltimore families and at least one person I know from Philadelphia.  Invariably when I stop for ice cream at the Royal Treat--which many of us still think of as the "Hotel Royalton"--I'll bump into somebody from Frederick or Allentown or Richmond.

So, every year when I come to Rehoboth Beach, I think "Oh, look, it hasn't changed a bit."  It has, though, and this is the strange thing.  In Richmond, when one lousy building gets torn down, I die a little.  Even if it's nothing but a 1915 tire store on Broad street, I think of the Broad of years gone by; I mourn the Richmond that no longer is.  I imagine my grandfather buying new tires for his Buick there and taking a happy motor trip to... Rehoboth Beach, where, I also imagine, everything looks Just The Same as it did in 1915.

It doesn't, though; it doesn't even look the same as it did in 1985.  The difference is that since I only see the place for a week or so every year, it's not as immediately obvious. I figure that of all the buildings on Rehoboth Avenue, the main street of the town, about one has been ripped down and replaced every year since I was a teenager.  Since that's thirty years now, and Rehoboth Avenue is about five blocks long, that means that pretty much the whole Goddamned town has been torn down and replaced, or at least completely rebuilt.

Thankfully, the "feel" of Rehoboth Beach is the same.  It's still a pleasant beach town full of the "nice people" of Baltimore and Philadelphia, with occasional Richmonders and Pittsburghers thrown in.  (Washington people visit here too but there's no such thing as a "nice person" from Washington.)  We all sit around on porches in madras shorts and drinking way way too much gin: it's a lovely summer life.

Yet I wonder about the "things don't change" idea.  Since I seem to insistently believe that Rehoboth doesn't change, even though it quite clearly does, do other people feel the same way about Richmond, or Baltimore?  And does the change matter as little to them as Rehoboth's changes seem to matter to me?  Every time I go downtown I shudder when I see the empty lot where Thalhimers stood, and nearly break into tears when I see the Colonial's beautiful facade with no theatre behind it.  I know that there are thousands of people in Richmond who feel the same way about those particular buildings, but.. what about the nice little houses on Navy Hill that got ripped down for I-95? (Oh, right, I forgot that in the 60s those houses didn't count 'cause of how colored folks lived there.) Or that Council Chamber Hill--one of the Seven--was wiped out entirely for the same project?   and really, can I still pretend that 2014 Richmond is the same city I inhabited in 1991?

I think that most of us don't really want to see, or even imagine, that change has come to us: it means that we're getting old.  I may be a special case (and by that I may mean one who should be down at Central State) in that I don't want things to be any different than they were in 1921.  (I'd go earlier, but I need the Colonial to be open.) Aren't we all a bit nostalgic?  Even my Baltimore friends who grew up in not-so-fashionable neighborhoods recall a restaurant or a store that, while not elegant, had good food or cheap beer or the penny candy that everyone loved.

I haven't yet seen too many awful changes in Rehoboth Beach, yet.  Mind you that I just got in last night, spent all day on the beach today, and all evening drinking and dining with my best friends right in our own (rented) beach house.  I'll see the town itself tomorrow.  You know what doesn't ever change? the singing of the million different bug species, the sighing of the pine trees and the crashing of the Atlantic.  (Oh, and also the occasional Gato Del Stink.  Despite its  many delights, Rehoboth got skunks.)