The other occupants of the elevator looked at one another in disbelief. A thirty-something blonde woman in a skirt suit mouthed the word “what?” as the others, two teenage boys and a forty-something man, shook their heads. Teddy cleared his throat and repeated himself.
“Tonight I’m going to dress up like a giant baby and spank myself with a hot pocket. Fresh from the microwave, son.”
He placed each hand inside an armpit to form makeshift wings, then flapped them in a slow rhythm as he swayed back and forth like a snake charmer, locking eyes with each member of his audience in turn.
The bell sounded behind him, and the blonde woman, who looked like she had just been slapped, avoided eye contact and pushed past him. The others, two teenage boys and a middle aged man, held goofy smiles as they sidled around Teddy, still flapping his wings, and left him alone in the open elevator. An Asian family hesitated outside of the doors.
“Going down?” said Teddy, letting his arms fall to his sides.
The father, a short man with squarish glasses and meticulously parted hair, nodded nervously.
“Not in here you aren’t,” Teddy said. “This elevator is for Whites only. You Orientals aren’t going to come in here and contaminate my elevator with your rice breath, understand?”
The mother gathered their two young children a bit closer to her as the father straightened himself.
“Excuse me?” he said, his brow furrowed.
“Chongy chongy chong chong, chong chong chong,” Teddy sang in the clichéd melody of Asian cultures as the elevator doors closed, leaving him to stare at his own reflection on the silver surface. Teddy was unmistakably Asian, Chinese actually, and from a certain angle, in a certain light, he thought he looked a lot like Bruce Lee.
“Whites only,” he muttered to himself with a chuckle.
And for the second time that day, sweet relief washed through Teddy like warm rinse. It cleaned away the crippling fear in his chest and mind and left behind nothing but contentment and relaxation, like he was lying in a hammock standing up. Like the few seconds after an orgasm. Like a massive dose of Xanax.
Teddy pushed “G” for ground floor, and as the elevator descended he pulled up the timer app on his phone and set the clock for one hour and thirty minutes. That’s what he got now. One awkward encounter used to last him the rest of the day, but every time it seemed to take more and more to get less and less. But he could worry about that later.
By the time he made it the conference room at the Hilton hotel across the street, he still had an hour and fifteen minutes left. His advising professor, a thin balding man named Dr. Neal, met him at the entrance with a handshake.
“You ready to go up there and wow these folks for an hour?” he asked.
“Just tell them to save their applause until the end,” said Teddy with a wink. “And please, no flash photography.”
Dr. Neal guffawed and slapped him on the back.
“What happened to that shy kid I used to know?” he said. “You’ve really come out of your shell in this doctoral program, Teddy.”
“What can I say,” said Teddy, “I’m a people person at heart.”
Dr. Neal walked Teddy through the audience to the podium as the two discussed projector controls and question and answer etiquette.
“Good luck,” said Dr. Neal, who smiled and left Teddy at the podium, standing before an audience of over a hundred of the nation’s top social psychologists.
“Good morning,” Teddy said, flinching a bit as his heavily speakered voice boomed through the large room. “Today I will be discussing how and why different groups of people respond to violations in social etiquette…”