Having lived in big cities for the past 12 years, I’ve always assumed that my co-occupants and I are all cosmopolitan enough to understand the basics that go along with riding an elevator. In New York, one is faced with this challenge every day. In L.A., skyscrapers are less common, but no one would dream of taking a staircase (nobody walks in L.A.), and so we still have to deal with sharing space on an elevator. I never gave the protocol much thought — you get in, you mind your own business, you get off.

Well, I stand corrected. Apparently, people have lost all sense of decorum when it comes to riding elevators. And the other day, I was faced with such an elevatorial affront that I now feel compelled to make a list of what not to do when sharing this cramped, 4-square-foot area with your fellow citizens.

Here’s what went down, and then the list.

I was leaving the gym. I happened to notice this girl standing a few feet away from me. She wasn’t particularly remarkable, just one of those people who randomly catch your eye. She did not appear to be waiting for the elevator. I turned, and when the elevator arrived, I got on. Unbeknownst to me, she had saddled up behind me and joined me for what should have proven an uneventful, two-story ride. I stepped to the back, faced forward, and hit P1.

She, on the other hand, walked in, faced me, and STAYED THAT WAY. Mind you — we were the only two people on the elevator. Just me, facing front, and her, staring at me, back to the door. It was around this time that I began to notice that she had about 50-75 pounds and probably 5 inches on me (I’m short). The doors closed. She remained facing me, and looking me in the eye. It was around that time that I realized she was going to try to kill me.

My eyes narrowed, my face got serious, and I began digging in my sweaty gym bag for my keys, so that I could at least go for the jugular once she launched her attack. She maintained eye contact with me the entire time. I maintained back.

We remained locked in this optical duel for about five seconds, which feels like a long time when your life is passing before your eyes. I don’t know if she finally realized what she was doing, or if she just somehow knew that I had once learned to carry my keys facing out when walking through parking lots and so identified the fact that I would have owned her in a fight. I’ll never know, because out of the blue she snapped out of her murderous trance and turned to face front. It was the same moment that we arrived at my floor, and as I disembarked, I was able to recognize the look of terror, resignation and brave determination that had permeated my eyes. But I was safe — I had prevailed.

Anyway, I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through. I can only hope that at this point, you’re not wondering what the big deal was about my story. If you are, the following list is for you. If not, read it anyway — you never know what kind of unspoken code you might be breaching.

How To Behave On An Elevator

  1. Get off the phone. I don’t care who you’re talking to — no one in there wants to hear your conversation, even if you were smart enough to get Verizon and you have the best reception in the world. A) Fuck you for having reception on an elevator, B) NO, they can’t hear you if you have any other carrier and even sometimes with Verizon, and why are you so shocked that the call gets dropped when the doors close? What the fuck did you think was going to happen? Don’t even try to look down at your phone and give a little, “huh!” like you had no idea that was coming. What are you, a barbarian? And C) You are in sanctified silence. Show some respect.
  2. Know your audience. Try to gauge how awake people are and how receptive you think they might be to your humor before you launch into your spur-of-the-moment comedy routine, inspired by events transpiring on the elevator. If the elevator stops, half the people on there are terrified, and now they’re doubly terrified that they’ll get stuck there with you, the fucking amateur comedian. Only when you are 100% sure that your commentary will be received well — like, when you’re sharing an elevator exclusively with your friends — should you embark on unsolicited elevator humor.
  3. Got a kid? An elevator is a bad place for him or her to learn about buttons. My glance down at your little friend who has just hit floors 2-15 is not to convey that I think he’s adorable — it’s to convey I think he should get his sticky little fingers off the buttons, by force if necessary, because I actually don’t want to stop on every floor. You probably don’t even think that’s cute behavior — and if you don’t think so, neither does anyone else.
  4. TURN AROUND. This was the main problem with my attacker. I’ll never know why she did what she did — but eye contact is highly unacceptable in an elevator, for more than a split second, accompanied by a very brief nod and a quick pivot. Even that is too much interpersonal contact for some people, and I totally respect that. But if you’ve remained in the position you were when you walked on — back to the door — you are in massive breach of etiquette. Turn around immediately, and you might even want to apologize for the mini-seizure that led you to even consider such an uncouth maneuver.
  5. Move all the way to the back. The exception here is if you are alone on the elevator, or if it’s just you and one other person. In the case of the former, you may stand wherever you choose. In the case of the latter — or if your solitary ride is interrupted — the appropriate positioning is one person at the back, one towards the front, or off to the side. Continue maneuvering to maintain as much space between persons as possible as the elevator continues to fill.

These are just a few tips, but I feel like they’re a good place to start. The bottom line is, shut the fuck up and turn around. If that’s all you take away from this advice, you are going to be just fine.