Monday, March 30, 2015

Other People's Problems

"Could you help me with something? I can't work the elevator to the Wellness Center."

One of my neighbors said this to me at the end of the floor meeting last week. Can't work the elevator? I had no idea what that might mean, but saying "yes" to the request for help was one of those "good neighbor" things I could do at almost no cost to myself. (Counting cost kind of takes away from the virtue points, I know, but the neighbor would get the help she asked for, whether my personal halo got polished or not, so what the heck.) Plus I wanted to know why she couldn't work the elevator.

My neighbor, Rita, only recently moved in here from a small town on the Oregon coast. She uses a walker and has just enough Dutch accent to make her speech pleasantly non-standard. Her mind is lively and bright, generally cheerful, and she is not someone who can't work an elevator. We agreed to meet and walk to the Wellness Center.

I expected to have to slow my pace in deference to her walker, but either I didn't, or her conversation was so pleasantly distracting that I didn't notice the pace as we took the elevator from the sixth to the second floor ("This one doesn't give me problems," she told me), then walked along the corridor and across the skybridge to the elevators that give access to the Wellness Center.

"This is the one", she said, with a tone of fear in her voice that I had not heard before. The elevator doors swung open, and she explained, "See? It's too big." I still thought I was dealing with a psychological crink of some kind until she hesitantly pushed the walker onto the elevator.

Then I understood. There was only one handrail in the elevator car, at the back of the car, and the buttons for the different floors were on the other side. She couldn't reach them without letting go of the handrail and pushing the walker or walking unsupported across the elevator floor. "Wait, let me do it," she said. Bravely, she let go of the handrail, switched hands so that one was on the walker, reached across the elevator car and pushed the button for the Wellness Center floor. "OK, I'm OK now, I've done it, I know how to do it," she said, smiling broadly. (Rita has a great smile.)

To me, the elevator was spacious. To her, it had been an unknown space too wide for her to reach the buttons without losing stability. I don't (yet) have problems with falling. She knows in her bones that she can fall without support, and an obstacle as small as six feet of elevator floor between a handrail and the floor buttons is a serious challenge.

It's easy to dismiss other people's problems as trivial or self-indulgent. I'm sure there are people who prefer to whine about things instead of just getting on with it. But Rita is not one. Walking a mile with her behind her walker has opened up my view of the world.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


There is this bug.

Well, OK, I'm not sure if it's always the same bug. It's about half the size of a dime, brown, with beetle wings and thin articulated legs. Every few months, I look up from my computer, and it's walking around on my desk. Very non-threatening sort of bug, clean lines, not slimy, a reasonably small number of legs so not millipede-creepy, moves deliberately so no dashing about, no pincers or stinger, just, you know, a bug.

I skootch it into a glass, cover the glass with an envelope I haven't gotten around to recycling yet, and walk it a couple doors down the hall to the staircase which has outdoors access, and shake it out of the glass. It tumbles a few feet, then spreads its wings and buzzes gently off into the air.

I am moderately interested in knowing what kind of bug it is and extremely interested in knowing how it gets into my apartment. I have no unscreened windows, and it's much bigger than the openings in the screen mesh  on the windows that I can crank a few inches to get fresh air. If it had only visited once, I would think maybe it rode in on my jacket from outdoors. If there were a constant stream of the bug and his relatives, I'd think there was probably something Maintenance should plaster over somewhere. But one bug every few months, always on my desk walking around on the piles of paper, not the least bit secretive or even very imaginative. Never any trouble about getting it into the glass, no thrashing around while it's in there, just walking up the side of the glass until it falls onto its back to the bottom, at which point it gets upright and starts walking up the side again.

The next time the bug appears, maybe I'll take its picture and ask Bryan the gardener what it is. At least then I can call it by name as I walk it down the hall to the staircase.