When I had Bruce in Music Appreciation I played a recording of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. I explained to the class that the composition was about an actual event in history, the defeat of Napoleon in Russia. I asked the students to think of some major event in their own lives, and to imagine what kind of music might best describe it. They were to think about it for a week before telling anybody about the event or the music. I wanted their brains to cook and cook with music, with the lid on tight.
    The event Bruce Bergeron set to music in his head was getting stuck between floors in an elevator when he was maybe 6 years old, on the way with a Haitian nanny to a post-Christmas white sale at Bloomingdale's department store in New York City. They were supposed to be going to the American Museum of Natural History, but the nanny, without permission from her employers, wanted to send some bargain bedding to relatives in Haiti first.
    The elevator got stuck right below the floor where the white sale was going on. It was an automatic elevator. There was no operator. It was jammed. When it became obvious that the elevator was going to stay there, somebody pushed the alarm button, which the passengers could hear clanging far below. According to Bruce, this was the first time in his life that he had ever been in some kind of trouble that grownups couldn't take care of at once.

    There was a 2-way speaker in the elevator, and a woman's voice came on, telling the people to stay calm. Bruce remembered that she made this particular point: Nobody was to try to climb out through the trapdoor in the ceiling. If anybody did that, Bloomingdale's could not be responsible for whatever might happen to him or her afterward.
    Time went by. More time went by. To little Bruce it seemed that they had been trapped there for a century. It was probably more like 20 minutes.
    Little Bruce believed himself to be at the center of a major event in American history. He imagined that not only his parents but the President of the United States must be hearing about it on television. When they were rescued, he thought, bands and cheering crowds would greet him.
    Little Bruce expected a banquet and a medal for not panicking, and for not saying he had to go to the bathroom.

    The elevator suddenly jolted upward a few centimeters, stopped. It jolted upward a meter, an aftershock. The doors slithered open, revealing the white sale in progress behind ordinary customers, who were simply waiting for the next elevator, without any idea that there had been something wrong with that one.
    They wanted the people in there to get out so that they could get in.
    There wasn't even somebody from the management of the store to offer an anxious apology, to make certain that everybody was all right. All the actions relative to freeing the captives had taken place far away--wherever the machinery was, wherever the alarm gong was, wherever the woman was who had told them not to panic or climb out the trapdoor.
    That was that.

    The nanny bought some bedding, and then she and little Bruce went on to the American Museum of Natural History. The nanny made him promise not to tell his parents that they had been to Bloomingdale's, too--and he never did.
    He still hadn't told them when he spilled the beans in Music Appreciation.
    "You know what you have described to perfection?" I asked him.
    "No," he said.
    I said, "What it was like to come home from the Vietnam War."


- Excerpt from Hocus Pocus, by Kurt Vonnegut