Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"The Alarm Button"

There are places in life where there are signals telling you that everything is unmistakably not okay.

Ambulances have sirens. I understand why. They’re trying to race through traffic. The sirens are signaling the other drivers to “Get out of the way!” The thing is, there’s a sick person in that ambulance, and they’re scared, because somebody called an ambulance for them, and that’s never a good sign.

That sick person is hearing the blaring siren. To them, that siren’s not signaling other drivers to, “Get out of the way!” The siren’s saying, “If you don’t get out of the way, this sick person’s going to die right here in the ambulance.”

In my view, the shrieking siren seriously amplifies the fear. From a health standpoint, that can’t be helpful. The amplified fear could hurry up the dying.

What am I suggesting? Outside the ambulance: A siren. Inside: Soundproof. With soothing music. Or, for sports fans, a ballgame.

“Alarm Buttons”, such as ambulance sirens, are everywhere. And despite the unquestionable service they provide, I dast question the entire concept.

You dast?


An Argument For The Deleterious Quality of “Alarm Buttons”

The “Alarm Button” on elevators is always red. Why? Red is the scariest color. It’s blood. It’s the hottest fire. It’s “Red Alert.” Red screams, “Trouble in the extreme.”

Why does the “Alarm Button” have to be red? Why can’t it be blue? Or a bright, sunny yellow? And why does it have to say “Alarm” on it? You’re already alarmed. You don’t need a reminder, printed on the button. Why can’t it say something more calming, like, “Assistance”?

The jarring thing about pressing the “Alarm Button” when you’re stuck in an elevator is the acknowledgment you’re making. The acknowledgment is this:

“I’m stuck in an elevator!”

Pressing the “Alarm Button” confirms this condition as a certainty. Nobody presses the “Alarm Button” when they’re you’re not stuck in an elevator. You just ride the elevator, staring at the “Floor Indicator.”

Until you actually press the “Alarm Button”, there is a chance, not a great chance, but a possibility still, that you may not be stuck in an elevator. If the elevator’s reached a floor, it could simply be slow in opening its doors. If the elevator’s between floors, it could be, I don’t know, resting, but soon to be back in action. You merely need to be patient.

Pressing the “Alarm Button” says, “We’ve given up hope. We’re stuck.” The “unspoken” in this admission, at least for people who have serious elevator concerns, are the words,

“And we’re going to die. Right here.”

(Yes. It’s the same message as in the ambulance.)

For “Elephobes” like myself, a stuck elevator is a vertical coffin. I know that sounds extreme to people for whom elevator riding is no big deal, but some of us are different. To us, being stuck in an elevator turns almost immediately into, “The end of the line.”

An elevator is a small, enclosed space. A crowded elevator is a small, enclosed space with a lot of people in it, making the space you occupy even smaller. It also means that you’re sharing the oxygen. Which you imagine – no, you’re certain – is in very limited supply.

You can’t move. Your oxygen is rapidly depleting. And you can’t get out, even if you want to. This is where they’re going to find you. The only question is the amount of freaking out and clawing at the walls and trying to pry the doors open and screaming, “I’ve got to get out of here!” you’ll do before you expire.

At some point, a passenger – not me, I’ll be hyperventilating and pulling at my suddenly suffocating clothing, as I beg in tearful desperation, “Don’t press it. We’ll be moving any minute!” – but some less panic-stricken passenger will do the sensible thing and press the “Alarm Button.”

Remember, the “Alarm Button’s” not like the “Alarm Button” the teller presses when the bank’s being robbed. That button flashes or rings in the Police Station, but you don’t hear it in the bank.

On a stuck elevator, you definitely hear the “Alarm Button.” It’s an alarming sound, which skyrockets the adrenalin coursing through the system of the claustrophobics entombed in the elevator to the level of, “Adrenalin Cubed.”

The elevator “Alarm Button” can be clearly helpful in the Big Picture – people are alerted that you’re in there and they send for help – but when you’re standing there, a prisoner in a suffocating vault, hearing that shrill, alarmy shriek? It can stop your heart.

Not helpful.

Best case scenario? A posthumous recovery.

“What happened?”

“He died.”


“The ‘Alarm Button.’”

You see, sometimes, it’s not the thing that gets you, it’s the thing that stands for the thing. In “Cowboy and Indian” pictures, there was an invariable truism:

“When the drums stop, they attack.”

The townspeople are huddled in the stable, surrounded by bloodthirsty Indians. And always, always, there’s the drums.

Boom-boom-boom-boom. Boom-boom-boom-boom. Boom-boom-boom-boom. Boom-boom-boom-boom.

Suddenly…they stop.

I’m in the movie theater. The drums have stopped. My breathing immediately turns shallow, and I’m sitting in a pool of sweat. My friends are confused by my behavior.

“They haven’t done anything yet.”

“They will,” I reply.

I’m getting this weird vibe from you today, Early P. Where are these disturbing thoughts coming from?

I’ll tell you, Italics Man. Tomorrow, I visit the doctor for the semi-annual “checking of the numbers.” That’s where the blood-test numbers tell me what I’ve got.

Here’s hoping none of them lead to the setting off of the “Alarm Button.”


R.A. Porter said...

We're hoping for you too, Earl. No Alarm Buttons.

Disciple said...

Hope everything goes well and you're A OK.

As for the elevators, I share your distaste. More disturbing to me is the placard they place in all of them which indicates that there is "very little chance of the elevator dropping uncontrollably or of running out of air." Very little? Very little comfort is more like it.

rms said...

I like red, red is my favorite colour.

I almost always make sure I have water and a book when I'm in an elevator. Hey, any place I can get a few minutes reading done.

All the best for tomorrow! Warm Canadian wishes for great health! (And you can tell I'm Canadian by my accent on my typing, eh.)

Cameron Dixon said...

Now I want to know how you know what the elevator Alarm Button sounds like.

Anyway, everyone knows that for the rest of the universe, the emergency colour is mauve.

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