She's leaning in the corner, for some reason I think maybe she's been in here all day, she looks at home. I think about asking her for a stick of gum; she's smacking a wad so blatantly and smugly that I can't help but notice that it takes up half her mouth (it's bulging out her left cheek- she's not alternating sides in an effort to undoubtedly rebel against the typical chewing regime). And that it's so purple it's even tainted the corners of her mouth a little bit, or so I think. Her lipstick is pretty dark. Girls like that frustrate me, I wish someone would tell them they don't need crap all over their mouth, you know, we can see it just fine the way it is, not like your lips can get lost on your face. Besides, the only woman I ever cared about who wore lipstick like that was my grandmother, and I don't think people like this epic gum-smacker are going for the senile look.

I could be wrong.

I decide not to ask for a stick of gum anyway, it's probably not sugar-free and I've been forewarned by my parents that if I take up bazooka gum again they will most certainly not foot the dental bill. That's fine by me, I'd like to tell them, I've actually no plans to return to any sort of dentist after my last encounter. Let me tell you, if your family should ever find themselves on the skids of the roller rink of finance and take solace in medicare, just explain to them that teeth are really not so important as peace of mind and security, and that you'd much rather let your pearlies rot out of your skull than find yourself in a vulnerable position at the mercy of a non-English-speaking Korean who, while being nice enough, is definitely drill-happy. I've never been one to fear dentists or doctors, truly, but I don't think I'll ever forget the day I went to see Dr. Nyiouoiuoiaaahkinwah, about a week before we were supposed to pack up our home of six years and move cross-country, about a month after both my parents lost their jobs, about three days before my sister had her seizure, and approximately two hours after my best friend of four years gave me a deck of cards and told me he'd probably fail to keep in touch. I was thinking about that, and about the Queen of Diamonds (because The Manchurian Candidate is a pretty good movie like that), and about how every dentist I'd ever been to told me to raise my left arm if I felt any pain, while this Korean guy was having his way with my mouth and my three surprise cavities (that apparently had to be taken care of there and then), and suddenly I became so acutely aware of the fact that I hurt. My arm went up, and I remember thinking as I started to cry (the most overweight tears you've ever seen) that I was a drowning person trying to signal to shore, but I didn't know which way shore was.

Not that I do now, but I do know that you follow the bubbles upward and that usually leads to the equivalent of The Olive Garden for starving lungs, and that I think too much and much too fast. And the dentist kept drilling until my salt water (from scratch!) got in his way.

I press the button for level 10, and note that level 8 has already been spoken for. I look at the girl in the corner who is pretending to be blissfully ignorant of our mutually uncomfortable situation, and I wonder what she's got to see about on level 8. 8 was always my least favorite number, all of its multiples proved difficult to remember, which made any arithmetic beyond multiplication more than a trial. I notice she's got an ipod or something attached to her head (which would be on the smallish side if her hair would consider a holiday in Straightville), and I suddenly wish I did, too. I really want to hear All Along The Watchtower today, all morning I kept praying that it would magically play on the car radio, but God apparently had bigger fish to fry.

I feel like I should stand in the opposite corner to bring some balance to our shared space, but I don't want to seem like a copy cat.

We're passing level two, and I realize my friend in the corner must have come from the basement level. Maybe she works here. Or maybe she really has been going up and down all morning for lack of anything better to do. Suddenly this seems appealing; I'd like to try it some day.

We've stopped at level three, which is my favorite number. There are few philosophies that I give any thought to, but there is one that I think of often. I read about it in the Beatles Anthology once—Paul McCartney talking about the first time he got high or something. He and the rest of the fab four are bopping around their hotel room completely out of their minds and all of a sudden Paul has this epiphany, this moment of total clarity where he understands the key to the universe, and he knows he's going to forget it so he calls up a sober pal or the bellboy or something and dictates to him this discovery. The next morning Paul takes a look at the piece of paper and all he sees written is "there are three levels". They all had a good laugh, and so did I when I read that, but it stuck. Maybe McCartney did discover the key to the universe after all, and maybe that's just the simplest way of saying it. After all, we are primarily concerned with the Holy Trinity, aren't we? But that's the thing. You can apply the three-leveled McCartney to anything in life- to everything there are three levels, the first level being the most obvious and the third level being the deepest and most evasive. I, for example, will probably never be able to understand anyone on the third level.

I had a dream about the Beatles once, too. I don't remember all of it, except that a friend and I found the fab four (in their Beatlemania-phase haircuts) on the ledge of a building, and they all had strange color-coded auras (Paul's was pink, John's was blue, I think George's was green, but I haven't a clue what Ringo's was), and each one of them had a newspaper in front of them, and all I wanted to do was hug Paul but I settled with stealing his newspaper. And then the building started to collapse like something out of Indiana Jones. My friend thinks it might have something to say about my sense of nostalgia, I say it means I just really like the Beatles- but then again, that might be looking at things from strictly a first-level perspective.

Not surprisingly, my parents grieve over the fact that I place more stock in a wasted Beatle's philosophy of life than I seem to in the words of the Bible. God and I have a funny sort of relationship, though, to be quite frank about it. I am perfectly aware that I need God, but I don't really want him around, or talk to him. I need him selfishly, like a business exec trying to work her way up the corporate ladder. I don't want to invest myself in a relationship with This Guy, I just want to go to heaven. I begin to wonder if that's why most people love God, not because, in their perception, he's done so much for us and loves us bla bla and so on, but because we know that if we give ole Jesus some affection we'll get a nice spot in heaven in exchange. Seems like a bad deal for Jesus, or anyone, if you ask me. But does God honestly care about that kind of crap? He made us all, right, so he knows our shortcomings and that about a saintly percentage of 1 can love Him the way we should, so is He just up there like a woman in an unfufilling relationship, saying, Oh, why not, you're not the greatest but I'll take you anyway?

Sucks for Him. I hope he'll continue to play the part of put-upon wife to my hopeless husband. Or I'm lost.

Sure enough, we stop at level 3 and I can't wait to see who's about to join us, but this third-level guy is pretty disappointing. As he boards awkwardly he reminds me of any AC/DC song which is not Highway To Hell- promising, but unsatisfactory—basically because it is not Highway to Hell. He's middle aged and stuff, but he's got pretty nice hair and a shiny pair of glasses that make him look finicky. If I were writing him into a sitcom I'd make him a germaphobic case with OCD, like this guy I know who can't stand to see a shoe without it's mate or a piece of paper out of it's stack. I think such people should be nostalgic and lost like me; I think people like that should be shepherds in another time when there were not so many objects to put in order. I also sort of hate people like that. And anorexics, can't stand anorexics. They're too driven.

We've passed five while I fish in my pockets to keep my hands warm. I've got too many gum wrappers and change in there. I'm constantly preoccupied with the resolution to always give exact change, but I never quite make it. I always get stuck somewhere along the way, either forgetting where I put the effing nickels or just feeling sorry for the stupid cashier who has to watch me fish for the precise amount of pennies. I always suspect that those people go home after a hard day of receipt-offering and tell their pet dog Josephine (because all cashiers have one of those) all about those tiresome people who hold up the lines with their damn exact change obsession or their lack of folded bills. I always try to hand my bills over face-up for this reason. It's probably good to be precise. I'm not, generally speaking, but the phrase "precise amount" always reminds me of this gawky kid in one of my politics and debate classes who would always memorize an encyclopedia's worth of facts on the chosen topic of debate but who would always end up making a huge point for the other team because he had no clue how to argue. He reminded me of a grasshopper, and once he was having his say about how much money a white American once paid for a farm as opposed to what a Japanese immigrant paid for a farm and when he got down to the exact figures he quoted the major numbers and then a horribly sad, crestfallen expression settled in as he declared with great defeat that he did not "recall the precise amount of cents". That made me laugh.

There's a movie stub in my pocket also. I don't remember what it was to, but it was probably from way back when I liked to go to movies. Now I can't seem to pay much attention to stuff like that, except maybe on the first level. The dialogue gets too distracting, the people are too pretty, and all I find myself focusing on is the empty space between the actors's gigantic faces, wondering when it's going to get smaller, wondering when my own space is going to get smaller.

There is no one in this elevator whom I would like to eliminate my empty space. If this were a movie, such would not be the case. If this were an indie movie, actually, we'd all get trapped in the elevator due to some power outage, and there'd be a strange assortment of characters, some very attractive, some oddly shaped and strangely enough alright with that, and we'd all have quirky things in our pockets and life-changing character-developing stories to tell. We might even challenge a few stereotypes. Ooh.

Level seven already. How did I miss six? I never liked multiples of six, either, but at least six was three twice. And of course, six three times is a fun one.

I think Justin Timberlake is the antichrist sometimes.

We're almost at eight, and I'm having some seperation anxiety. I don't really want to be left with the man who personifies a below-highway-to-hell level of AC/DC music, and by now the flavorful smell of my female elevator friend's gum has become a comfort. But no, ding says the elevator and as soon as the doors have parted she seems to have vanished. As she disappears from my line of sight and the doors shut themselves again I wish maybe I was a bit more like her. I'm not sure why. Other people always seem to have more interesting qualities than your own.

The reliable sound of the doors dragging themselves shut for takeoff is interrupted by a hand intruding into our travel-space- a guy just barely made it, and both Highway to Hell wannabe and myself let this newbie glimpse a set of smiles at his nick-of-time arrival, and he seems reassured. Not that he needs it, I decide as I note his very rough, very coffee-house acoustic jacket. This is a fellow who is sure of why he is here. He probably even knows the best place to stand in the elevator. He might even call it a lift to impress the UK folks. I decide not to envy his jacket but to content myself with observation.

He reminds me of the song Landslide, or he looks like someone who would like that song. The most memorable person I ever knew loved that song, which I always thought was a little weird because he, unlike Mr. New Jacket, didn't look like the type that would. He liked Hendrix and The Velvet Underground and The Doors and anything that might convey the feeling of being smoked out of his mind… not that he ever was. In rare moments of not being in love with him I wondered if that made him a coward in some ways, but then he'd do things like color-organize my pencils and write notes to himself on his hand and wave to total strangers and I'd basically forget about how afraid he seemed. I think everyone needs to be lost at some point or another if they're going to find anything, but the idea of actually searching doesn't appeal to a lot of people. Searching can be frightening, I wonder now if he ever tried it.

The elevator seems to be going a bit slower now, I wonder if I'm imagining it or if the extra weight really is slowing it down. I look at the sign over the buttons, it tells me that the weight limit is something like 1210 pounds, but I can't be too sure because my glasses are in my bag and I'm not about to take them out to look at that—landslide guy might think I'm trying to tell him that he's fat. Or he might start thinking I'm fat. Probably the latter with my luck. I suddenly pray that at least he'll decide to get off at 9. Not that it matters too much. But I hope he does. I'm sweating. Why am I sweating? 10. One floor away.

Getting closer to nine, I find something else in my left pocket and I craftily take a peak at it. It's an old note to myself. I just now realize I've bitten my lip and I can taste a bit of that metallic blood taste. "start over" the paper said. I don't even remember writing that. Oh. Why didn't they play All Along The Watchtower today? 10.

A miracle. With strange cat-like tread (like the Gilbert and Sullivan song) the Landslide Jacket reaches forward and pounds "9". I almost gasp and the elevator sort of lurches a tad as we come to a stop sooner rather than later. The doors whine open. I don't think I'm imagining that, they're certainly opening in more of a bitchy way than usual. The reflection of myself and two older men vanishes slowly to reveal the interior of floor nine. Nine, like 19, is kind of a useless number, but I think it's a likable one. Good enough for Landslide. I see him looking at me curiously as he finally steps over the threshold and begins to disappear around the well-wallpapered corner. I'm sweating, that must be why. I don't normally sweat this much, but 10 is getting closer all the time.

Closer all the time, kind of reminds me of another Beatles song about how life's getting better all the time because it can't get much worse.

Suddenly I'm back in that dentist's chair again thinking about that queen of diamonds and I feel that pang again and I sneak a peek at my faint reflection out of the corner of my eye to check if I'm shaking. Start over.

Confession- I've taken the city bus 4 places in my entire life. Once was downtown, and all the way there this retarded kid kept obsessing about pulling the request stop cord. He asked his mom if he could pull it at every freaking stop. His tongue was thick and I couldn't help but think that he'd grow up to be even more obnoxious and his tongue would just get thicker until it took over his whole mouth and his mom would have to take care of him until she died and no one would be there to take care of her in return. When she finally said he could pull the cord I reached out and yanked before he could reach it. I laughed.

I didn't feel bad about it at all until just now.

Here's ten. The doors drag themselves open and I remember reading the end of The Fountainhead and how Dominique saw Howard as she ascended and how he explained that he loved her selfishly. I wish I was loved selfishly. I wish I could exist on the third level of everything and I wish I knew as much about Bob Dylan as I let on at parties and groups where discussion of the musical masters is looked on as hip, and I almost start to think about God again and I'm scared and there's that pang and I see myself finally--- but the doors are open. And there's nothing there. The middle-aged ACDC song pushes past me, beyond the threshold, and I watch him walk away. Everything's quiet for a minute and then the doors start to shut again at their own pace. 10 and there was nothing.

My relief is stunning, but it's early yet. I think about taking the stairs but there might have been a mix-up and I know I don't want what I came here for. But I can't exactly leave immediately, not like this. I reach out my hand and push '1'. I have to start over. I don't get it at all, but here I go, from the beginning. I take a huge breath, but the light goes on for level 9. I wipe my face with my jacket sleeve and hope that ACDC guy hasn't reported me to anyone. Because I was sweating? Don't be stupid.

If life throws pleasant things your way, subtracts from your mistakes, you take it and you like it and you let retards pull the break cord as much as they please.

I decide to smile. I think about the precise amount of cents and I smile even wider as the grind of the doors welcoming a new traveler makes itself sound so musical that I disregard my penchant for All Along the Watchtower after all.

When I politely lift my eyes to acknowledge the next passenger I never see exactly who the person is or what they remind me of, all I really see is the gun and I know I won't see that for too long.

Once a few friends of mine threw me a surprise party, and afterwards I analyzed my reaction to the initial surprise carefully- one can take in so many thoughts and reactions in a small supply of seconds and I determined that in the first few of them exactly what order of deductions I came to: 1) there are people in my room 2) there are presents with bright purple ribbons 3) it's a surprise birthday thing 4) oh shit I must look really bad right now 5) thank god I cleaned my room yesterday 6) good gravy I'm surprised. It took six whole seconds to determine my surprise.

At the moment, something tells me I won't make it past 1) there it is 2) I'm going to die, and my left arm is in the air again, and even though I know which way to the shore this time I have a feeling that I'm going to drown anyway and here it comes so fast that I don't have time to let my smile drop, not even a little.

The first level button is still glowing. Should have gone up rather than down.

Oh well.

My lungs are open and the tide is coming in.

7