Going Up



Neighborhood: Upper East Side

I’m headed to the elevator, working at my volunteer job in Lenox Hill Hospital, carrying patients’ EKG printouts, which I am supposed to distribute to various wards. Getting on at the basement level, I press the button for the 8th floor—the psych ward, which had been my temporary place of residence until I was discharged six months before.

There are two guys in the elevator. One of them is around 5 feet 8, maybe 200 pounds, big gut, completely bald. The other guy is about 6’2 and looks like a retired pro athlete, wavy salt-and-pepper hair. Both of them have thick arms and work-lined faces. They’re in their mid-to-late forties and are wearing wrinkled dark green shirts, with an elevator repair company name in white script over the left pocket, green pants and scuffed-up work boots.

They take a couple of seconds to check me out. There’s nothing much to see, an older guy, a clerk type in clerk clothes with a laminated hospital volunteer ID tag hanging around my neck. They look away, and Baldy says to Wavy-hair—obviously continuing a conversation they were having before I stepped in.

“So this guy calls me, the guy who says I owe him the money? He’s talkin’ to me and it’s like being whacked with a bat, you know what I’m sayin’? Bam! Bam! Bam! How the fuck I’m suppose to talk to a guy like that? Nice? friendly? I’m suppose to say, Hey man, no problem—whatever you say…Fuck that!”

The taller guy nods his head and says, “Fuck him—you don’ need that shit; it was me, I’d—”

They stop talking as the doors to the lobby floor open. Standing there is a beautiful Indian woman in her mid-twenties; maybe five foot two—long, inky dark, glowing black hair. She’s wearing an emerald-green jacket, a dark red patterned scarf, and long golden earrings with red stones in them. She has a face like a princess in a fairy tale and is enveloped in an aura of pure grace.

She’s supporting an older woman dressed in an elegant-looking sari and leaning on a cane. Her mother? Her aunt?  

The older woman is very thin. The skin of her face is blotched and unhealthy looking. I would guess she has been sick for a long time. It is obvious that she is used to bearing her pain with fortitude and dignity.

“Excuse me,” says the young woman, in a voice like a silver bell, “Is there room?”

“Sure, sweetheart,” says Baldy, “Step in. Where you goin’?”

The young woman gives him—all of us—a bright though melancholy smile, “Radiation? Please?”

“Sure, no problem—that’s the fifth floor,” says Baldy.

The two women walk in, Baldy pushes the button and the elevator starts to rise. We all stand in a state of suspended animation. Complete silence. Fifth floor. The doors open; the older woman, with difficulty, turns and nods at the young woman and then looks at us and smiles, “Thank you.”

“No problem,” says Baldy.

The women get out, on their way to radiation, leaving behind them a slight scent. Something otherworldly, something that pulls at you. The door closes. Again, silence. The three of us stand there, looking down at our shoes as the elevator rises.


Mike Feder is a (now retired) long-time radio host/personality with WBAI-FM in New York City and Sirius XM radio.

He has been a New York City welfare worker, a New York City and New York State probation officer, the owner of a used and old bookstore, a paralegal, a book abridger, and a performer/writer of autobiographical stories. (Books: New York Son; The Talking Cure, a Life on Air, and, A Long Swim Upstream)

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