My encounters in the elevator in my building have spurned the idea that universal consciousness has never been so relevant as it is in this day and age. As I age and observe people observing me, a young woman, I still do not realize that my perception of myself is expertly cloaked beneath the veil of a world-weary woman. (This is the air I give off though I have no clue from where it hails). Or it could be that it is purely sexual, a primal driving force bubbling under the surface of every man. I could claim the latter, and though my few experiences have been with men, I do get knowing looks in the elevator from women, and even significant interchanges with them. I recall an cluster of Indian women one evening, all elegantly ornamented in beautiful silken saris, glowing from a wedding celebration, laughing and sharing with me their joy.
There is a projection of yourself in your immediate space that you ooze, and human beings read these signals; the urge for human connection is evident more than ever before–even in a friendly city like Chicago where it is quite plausible for an immigrant of any nationality to come up to you on the street and tell you his or her life story.
But in the elevator, there is something about a chance encounter, a meeting with someone alone in an enclosed space for a brief moment in time, under harsh flourescent lights that evokes a spirit of interrogation and confession. I also attribute my reception of these encounters to the expressive nature of my face and spirit. I seem to invite storytellers to me. I should have been an investigative journalist or a psychologist.
My first encounter: a South African gentleman who kindly shared with me his short story of being in this country thus far. It was a recounting of how he was now somehow responsible for several payments for magazine subscriptions. I am sure he was coerced into them by slick advertisers (the likes of whom I know all too well). He was kind and extended his hand. I shook it and felt an awakening of my spirit then, how else to describe seeing a flash in my mind of long travels and distant lands, vegetation, wildlife I have only seen in photos. He had come so far and was proud to be here. He had warmth to give a small blonde girl in the elevator. There was an assurance that whatever trouble I had been grappling with in my mind at that moment, that it was insignificant in the grand scheme of life.
The second was with a small man of Serbian or Russian decent–it was difficult to localize his accent in a short span of time. He studied my face with such intensity I thought he might grab my face between his small, rough palms and devour me. After a moment, a voiced question with a soft caress to his own cheek, asking, “Of where I come from.” I told him I was Lithuanian. He nodded and left the elevator, sure I was Swede or lying.
The next was with a man who opened a dialogue after I sighed painfully while waiting for the next car to arrive. “You look like you’ve been rode hard and put up wet.” I remarked that that was one of the most unusual and fascinating expressions I’d heard in awhile. He countered with, “Well I’m a cowboy.” I asked, “Oh, where are you from?” He answered, “I’m from the East coast originally, but I’m a Michigan cowboy. There’s cowboys in Michigan, you know–where there’s cows, there’s cowboys.” “Well, that makes sense,” I said and began to study the numbers on the elevator hard. He got off at 16 telling me, “I’m the disappointment to the family. I left home, went off to Vietnam and fought, and went to school.” I sarcastically commented, as the doors closed between us, “Yeah, that’s pretty disappointing.”
These chance encounters with characters in my life, like a waking dream journal (ala waking life) waiting to be seized, yearning for analysis based on the coincidence of their entrance into my consciousness.