The Elevator Operator's Big Day
It had been a fairly uneventful day for John when the elevator doors slid silently open and he stepped inside. He was slightly startled to see an elderly elevator operator in full uniform standing beside the controls. The stooped operator’s name tag read simply “Paunch.”
“What floor, sir?” Paunch asked.
“Eight,” John said, appraising the white-haired man. “You don't see real elevator operators around much anymore.”
“Been a lift-operator all my life,” Paunch said proudly. “Just like my father and his father before him. Wanted it, trained for it, lived it. It's a lot more than just saying ‘What floor, sir?’"
The doors opened again and a tall, well-dressed businessman stepped inside.
“What floor, sir?” Paunch asked.
The doors closed and the elevator continued its ascent. Steve noticed the operator tapping his foot to the unassuming music piped into the box.
The doors opened yet again and a flustered businesswoman got aboard.
“What floor, ma'am? Paunch asked.
“Uhhh… nine,” she answered.
The elevator had just resumed its climb when suddenly it jerked to a stop, a loud buzzing sound accompanying the flickering lights. Paunch’s eyes snapped open, alert and bulging.
“Whoa,” John said. “Everybody okay?”
“Probably electrical,” the businessman said.
“Happens all the time,” the businesswoman said. “It usually starts back up in a few...”
“OK, STOP IT! SHUT UP! THIS IS NO TIME TO PANIC!” Paunch yelled, taking command of the room, his pencil-thin legs spaced wide apart, his arthritic arms held wide, ready to act, his head darting from side to side. He'd been waiting all his life for this.
“Men, remove your neckties, belt, and suspenders. Women, scarves and nylons in a pile on the floor. Hurry. You! Down on the floor!”
He shoved John down onto all fours, quickly stepped onto his back, and grabbed for the escape hatch in the roof.
“Hold steady buddy or this box will serve as a coffin for us all,” Paunch grimaced.
“What the hell are you doing?” the businessman balked.
“Saving your corporate butt, buddy. I've trained for fifteen years for this moment. You must've said your prayers last night, pretty boy.”
Paunch hoisted himself through the ceiling hatch, disappearing from sight. Before anyone could say anything, his upper body dropped back through the hole, his wrinkled arms flailing.
“Your belts! Hurry! Seconds count, man!”
Stunned, Steve removed his belt and held it up. Paunch snatched it away and disappeared into the darkness above them again.
John and the others traded looks of disbelief. Was this guy nuts?
“There’s an emergency phone right here,” the businesswoman said, reaching for the receiver. Instantly, the elevator operator whipped the belt at the phone, causing her to recoil.
“Drop that phone! I been 45 years waiting for this moment and damned if I'll be second-guessed by some pencil-pusher behind a desk. Now, I've secured
my belt to the piping for the coolant system. I'm not going to kid you, it's pretty thin. It may not hold, but a slim chance is better than no chance at all. Ladies first...”
“Uh, no, it’s okay,” she said, backing away. “I’m sure it’s just the power.”
“It should be running in a few seconds,” the businessman added.
“This bickering does NOTHING but cost us valuable time!” he growled down at them. “You can stay here and perish like sardines in a plummeting can, or you can grit your teeth, gird your loins, and save yourselves. Now come on!”
Paunch slipped back into the darkness. They could hear him stomping around overhead.
“Keep close,” they heard him say. “If I can just... reach... the ledge...”
Suddenly the lights came back on, the elevator music resumed, and the elevator jolted slightly as it began to move again. Through the open ceiling panel, they could hear Paunch’s yell of surprise and then the scream as he fell to his death.
The occupants stared at one another in horror for a moment and then, BING, the elevator doors opened.
“Oh, this is my floor,” John said.
He exited, resuming his otherwise uneventful day.