Iron tombs of darkness, mind stealers, paralysis pods – elevators
I hate elevators with an intensity few can muster.
Those hydraulic-driven, iron caskets – like thieves in the night – have taken the things in life most valuable to me: my home, livelihood – even my self-worth.
But it wasn’t always that way.
There was a time I’d wake up in the morning with fire in my belly – afraid of nothing. Born Salvatore Bentino Pasquale (Sal) to a large Italian family in Brooklyn, I worked my way up from the docks and a shabby office on Canal Street to 45,000 square feet of prime, commercial, uptown real estate and an executive suite at Trump Towers.
But that was before. . .
I checked my watch. The night watchman would leave any minute now. I waited patiently, sitting on the curb, hidden nicely between two cars – the perfect place to keep an eye on the warehouse. I added another sugar to my coffee and waited.
. . .that was before the day I had lunch with Ed Koch.
The former mayor was an old friend of the family’s and lunch had been an annual tradition since the days he had served as a member of Congress.
“Do you get a new limo with every hairpiece, Sal?” he chuckled as he climbed into my twelve passenger coach.
“Let’s get ready to r-u-u-u-m-m-m-mble,” I shot back along with a trademarked Pasquale hug.
“Salvatore, you’re looking well. Grande la passion?”
“No such luck, Mr. Mayor. What’s your pleasure today?”
“I find myself in an erudite, playful mood. You could almost say academic.”
I paused, running my hand over a carefully trimmed beard. “Academia, eh?” I stared out my window at the city I had loved as long as I could remember.
“We’re not talking about Tartar of Bluefin Tuna are we?
I watched the miracle-like transformation from complex, powerful and sophisticated politician to a grinning school boy with a box full of puppies.
“And maybe a little Pate of Muscovy Duck?” Koch said, repressing a giggle.
I turned to my chauffeur. “Paul, it appears the Mayor’s in a Mediterranean mood today. Let’s head over to Terrace in the Sky.”
The restaurant, one of the Mayor’s favorites, was positioned atop Columbia University’s Butler Hall, with a sweeping view of the New York City skyline.
It had been over an hour since the night watchman had left. The street, located in an old industrial park in lower Manhattan, was now deserted. I walked with measured steps, prepared for the worst, anticipating the best.
The bolt cutters split the padlock on the warehouse side door effortlessly, and within seconds I was in. I dropped my nap sack and went to work.
I already knew where the elevator was and had researched what type it was, so the shape charges I brought would be the most efficient possible. Charges in places I collected my tools and left the building. Only one more item. I removed three sealed envelopes and placed them under the wiper blades of cars parked near the warehouse.
Now it was complete.
As we exited the car on West 119th Street I smiled at my friend of many years, looking forward to a splendid lunch.
We walked into Butler Hall and waited for the next elevator, sharing a personal joke about a particularly rowdy day he’d had as a City Councilman.
But when the next elevator opened, I just froze. I couldn’t move. My heart was beating so hard I thought it would split my chest and I was soaking wet.
“I can’t get on that thing, Ed.” I was terrified. I had never felt such a feeling of panic – of impending doom – in my life.
Ed took me outside, sat me under an oak tree and wiped the sweat off my forehead with his handkerchief. I could hear him talking on his cell phone:
“Josh, you’ll see him NOW, or do I have to remind you that the good folks at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine don’t normally take pre-meds from NYU with 2.5 Grade Point Averages, do they Josh? And if I didn’t love your parents as much as I did, you little putz, you’d still be working for your Uncle Saul in the garment district. I’m sorry, what’s that you say . . . A cancellation? Gee, thanks.”
The first of more than ten psychiatrists I would see for my terror of elevators.
And things only got worse.
My fear of elevators became so intense that I ultimately had to give up my suite at Trump Towers, and even choose a profession that would make it less likely that I’d have to travel in those… moving graveyards.
And I tried everything: cognitive therapy, serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, meditation, biofeedback, hypnosis, Freudian therapy, snake handling, acupuncture, crystals, but with no luck.
My drinking increased and I became so self-destructive that one night I put a gun against my temple and considered taking my own life.
It was in that poverty of despair that I decided to fight back.
“It seems like it was only yesterday that we drove to Terrace in the Sky, Mr. Mayor,” I said as he slowly entered the limo, nursing a sprained ankle.
I lowered my voice, “Look, Ed, I’m sorry that I haven’t called, but…”
He rested his hand on my shoulder. “You’ve got a lot on your plate.”
“What’s your pleasure today, Mr. Mayor?”
“Hand me your copy of the New York Times, Sal, will ya’, lad
“OK,” he said, now off in his own little world, “well there’s that new Chinese place in SOHO… Oh, look what happened to the Knicks at the Garden last night… Or we could head over to Tribeca and catch that new American restaurant with the chef who’s a dead ringer for Gregory Peck, and they say he can cook up… Oh look who died last night.”
There was a long pause, Koch folded the newspaper and furrowed his brow, “Well, the Elevator Bomber is at it again.”
“You don’t say?” I mumbled.
“Yep, says he struck his ninth target in as many weeks. Last night’s was in a warehouse in lower Manhattan. Same MO. Leaves a note at the scene saying he’s grieving over the loss of someone who died in an elevator. Signs it, ‘Of Thee I Suffer – an anagram for OTIS.’ ”
“What do you think about all this, Sal?”
“Have’t given it much thought really.” I said.
“No, I suppose not.” said Koch.
The Mayor reached over and poured himself a Coke.
“Would you like to hear what I think?”
“Sure,” I answered, “why not.”
“Yes I believe a person did die in an elevator; maybe not literally, but dead nonetheless.”
He raised the paper again obscuring his face. “But what do I know, I’m just an old man.”
As we drove along the Henry Hudson Parkway, the Mayor said, “OK, I’ve got it. Bayard’s, we haven’t been there in a while.”
“Paul, call and see if they’ll squeeze us in.” I said, smiling. Things had returned to normal.
“Warm Peekytoe Crab,” I said, reaching for a Coke and a chilled mug..
“Well you can be sure I’m looking forward to it but…”
“But what?” I said.
Koch gazed out the window at a refuse barge on the Hudson River headed for Virginia. “I could have sworn that lately you prefer most of your dishes served cold.”
I shot a glance at the Mayor, careful to keep my voice steady, “How long have you known?” I asked.
Until today I wasn’t sure . . .”
“Do you think I’ll do time for this?” I asked, my throat caking as I spoke.
Koch ran a hand over a freshly-barbered head. “”My friend, you are still in the ‘forgiveness stage.’ No one has died in these . . .these temper tantrums, yet! That will weigh heavily in the court’s decision. But I must warn you; everything I say is contingent on turning yourself in today.”
“I don’t think I could handle prison, Ed,” I said, feeling a wave of nausea pass through me.
“Sal, let’s enjoy the hors d’oeuvres before we worry about settling the check.”
That was our last conversation.
At my arraignment I was held without bail and remanded to Rikers.
And despite the horror stories I’d heard about the overcrowding and violence in New York City’s largest jail, I have yet to see a single elevator.