I once rode an elevator inside a mansion. I was a boy. I remembered this today when I got on the elevator at work. I’m not sure why. The elevator at my building is nothing like that elevator that I rode nearly forty years ago. I rode that elevator in a mansion in the fall, the days getting shorter and colder. I rode the elevator today in the fall, the days getting shorter and colder, and when I pushed the button for my floor my finger touched that other elevator button, the one in the elevator in the mansion.
It was in 1978, November. My grandparents had wrangled a deal to serve as housesitters from the fall through the winter for the Cape Cod residence of some Johnson or another in the Johnson & Johnson empire. I’m not sure why. My grandmother was a painter who specialized in seascapes, so my best guess is that she sold something to a Johnson and then became acquainted with her or him. Also, my grandfather was one of these gifted blabbers who befriended people wherever he went, so he might have had something to do with the whole deal too.
November 1978 was right around when I truly started waiting, waiting in the way that the fans of the two teams currently playing in the World Series know better than anyone. Just wait. The Red Sox had a few weeks earlier lost a one-game playoff that had somehow centralized any and all nameless hurt in my young life, all the gnawing loneliness and stomachache worry and throaty grief. I’m not sure why. Fandom is silly, meaningless, but what else are you going to use to pin things down?
Just a few weeks earlier, I’d had one last sunburst of hope, and it had come courtesy of Rick Waits. Say the words “Rick Waits” to graying Red Sox fans, and they’ll be visited by that noblest of feelings, gratitude, thinking of the Fenway scoreboard on October 1, 1978:
Waits’ victory allowed the Red Sox to tie the Yankees on the final day of the 1978 season. I’m not going to go into what happened the following day, which I’m sure has been covered once or twice by someone somewhere. I want to hang a little longer with that feeling of Rick Waits, that feeling of hope coming from his random if not divine intervention.
You can’t do any of this yourself. I’ve known that for a long time, but I’ve also leaned too heavily on the idea of external assistance. When I was kid I dreamed Carl Yastrzemski would show up at my house to solve all my problems, and for years throughout my twenties and thirties my go-to daydream was an only somewhat refined version of this, involving people of influence and agency literally pounding on my door to tell me that I was talented and needed and would from then on live a life of full-throated song (plus there’d be money, blow jobs, awards).
This is why I started telling this story a few days ago. To try to be rid of it. I actually don’t think it’s possible to ever be fully rid of any of the habitual narrations in your mind, but you’ll never get anywhere close to getting free of them if you keep them entirely inside. And for the last few years I kept the story inside that begins “I once had a meeting at Sony Pictures Studios.” In fact, even inside my own head, I didn’t allow that word “once” to be a part of the story, because that “once” casts it into the past, seals it up, makes it singular, once in a lifetime.
But getting rid of the story is not really the reason I started telling the story, or not the only reason. I also wanted it to be part of my story. Everything I’ve lived and touched and wanted and failed to get. It should all be a part of it. I once had that meeting! It was just like in the movies—there was a security booth with a guardrail at the entrance, and after I explained my reason for needing to be on the lot the security guard pushed a button, and the guardrail started, slowly, to rise.
I don’t think life is a form of rising. For example, I don’t think my cat is going to get better. He’s all bones now. He still likes to be petted though, still purrs when you rub your hand over his thinly-covered skeleton. He’s been my friend for a long time. You wait and you wait for some kind of life of unending sunshine, and at the end of all the waiting is nothing more and nothing less than the frail rumble of gratitude in your bones.
I don’t think I’ll ever again ride an elevator inside a mansion. But I once rode an elevator inside a mansion. I got in and pulled a rickety wicker gate closed, and then I pressed a button and started, slowly, to rise.