An elevator and its discontents

A few nights ago, I was leaving a friend’s apartment on the third floor of my building. My arms were filled with the leftovers of a pan of lasagna that I had contributed to a small, “socially distant,” dinner gathering.

I had four floors to go to return to my unit: ordinarily, I’d take the stairs. But the messy, tomato-drenched sauce that was swirling in the lasagna pan made me think: “No, this would be a good time to use the elevator.”

So I did. Or rather, I tried to.

Once I got on, the elevator descended from the third floor to the lobby, instead of going up to my floor, reminding me that elevator’s computer is programmed always to travel to the nearest selected floor, regardless of who pressed for it, first.

When the elevator door opened onto the lobby, I encountered a tall man in his early 40s, waiting a few inches from the doorway. He was hovering, as if ready to pounce.

Seeing him, and conscious of the pandemic, I said (as neighbours usually do, here): “I’m just heading up. May I send the elevator back to you?” I expected to hear the usual answer of, “Sure, fine.”

To my surprise, this hulk of a man, barked: “I’m getting on!” elbowing his way past me (and the now splashing lasagna), into the elevator. He jostled me into the elevator wall, so that tomato sauce sprayed onto my clothes and the floor. I briefly lost my footing and steadied myself by pressing a hand against the elevator wall.

Shocked by this display of aggression, I blurted out: “But, social distancing!”

To which he replied, with a hateful sneer: “You can do whatever you want!”

The effect of his words was an unmistakable “Go to Hell.” So, I instinctively fled the elevator to protect myself. As he repeatedly pressed the “close door” button, like a maniac, I shook my head in shock and anger.

Regaining my composure, I realized I was far better off waiting for another ride than dealing with that neighBOOR.

So much for gentlemanly manners, I thought, whether in pandemic or in “normal” times.

Was that behaviour the result of alcohol or narcotics? Possibly, though neither smell nor appearance could confirm that.

Now, I should explain that the elevator dates to the 1970s and holds, at best (even in pre-pandemic times), three people. And, in this particular building where I live and work, tenants know that during a pandemic the elevator is for single occupant use.

Having to wait in the lobby for someone who has earlier priority of the elevator is at times mildly frustrating. But the elevator moves quickly, so no one has to wait for long.

In the effort to encourage safety, months ago, building management removed the lobby furniture and posted a sign, saying “social distancing must be practiced, when arriving and leaving the building.” In light of the pandemic, few neighbours take issue with this.

However, my anti-social exchange with the “neighBOOR” reminds me that in the entrepreneurial world of marketing and communications, one also on occasion meets “sociopath” types of people.

Four years ago this spring, I encountered a very rude client who made working with him miserable— and being paid, next to impossible. He showed no respect for our signed contract or for a decent level of communication. I realized quickly that he was a “bad client” whom I should have screened out: After completing the project (which three times the amount of time and effort it should have), I revised my screening practices, saying to myself: “Good riddance! Never again!”

These sorry individuals never make any rational sense. When “push comes to shove” (haha!), my neighBOOR saved maybe 100 seconds of time out of his weekend, while showing me what he was made of.

The American psychologist Angela Duckworth commented recently, in an interview for the “Harvard Business Review”: “If you haven’t learned anything from the pandemic, you haven’t been paying attention.”

More than neglecting to pay attention, this boor showed total disregard for others. . . . It’s not an overstatement to associate him with the same kind of hatred that has underpinned racial profiling and brutality (currently in the news) toward  African Americans, African and Indigenous Canadians by law enforcement. These kinds of systemic injustices start at the individual level. We can only begin to address them by examining our own attitudes and behaviours, especially in times of crisis.

One insight people near me have gained through Covid-19 is the importance of pausing from our pre-pandemic, turbo-paced, instantaneously demanding lives.

Many of us have found that we can improve ourselves, our relationships and our businesses by slowing down, evaluating and acting on what matters most.

The “neighBOOR” from Hell didn’t know how to “pause” for a minute for a neighbour’s sake, much less to reflect on his life. He was beyond learning anything from anyone. He’s the client you learn to screen out of your business, as quickly as possible.

Considering “what matters most,” manners still do. Good people know they’re sometimes the only way we can show decency.

And in the end, goodness prevails. Yesterday, I saw another, very different kind of neighbour in my building lobby. We’ll call him Jim.  Jim patiently lets seniors go ahead of him, while he waits for an empty elevator, usually sharing a joke or story, in the process.

Having at other times  encountered the “neighBOOR” from Hell,  Jim has dubbed the elevator, “the COVID BOX—a coffin for our times!”


Only a true idiot would rush headlong into that.

While there are more people like “Jim” in the building and in my business than the “neighBOOR” from Hell, boors do occasionally appear, happy to exploit crisis times.

Then, more than ever, the stairs look appealing!

And now it’s your turn. Have you found decency and its opposite, in entrepreneurial exchanges during this pandemic?  I’d love to hear your stories, so please write in!