CoffeeBeer >> Warts & All >> Gravity Clause


The box of Cheerios was my first clue that something was wrong. It was Wednesday morning, three days after I moved into my new condo. I was sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by boxes, my coffee and orange juice in front of me and the morning paper open to the funny pages. I picked up what I thought was a half-full box of Cheerios, but it felt empty. Certainly the stress of buying the condo was making me forgetful, and I’d been losing things right and left. (I didn’t find the television remote for a week, and I still have no idea where I left my sunglasses.) But I always keep a grocery list on the fridge; if I didn’t, I’d never remember what I needed. So I’m positive I would have written down Cheerios if I’d been low.

So I shook the box a little. I could hear the little O’s rattling inside. I turned the box to pour, and the strangest thing happened: the Cheerios glided out of the box and into the bowl in slow motion, bouncing languidly before they settled. Then a dozen Cheerios drifted slowly upward, hovered for a moment in front of my face, and then wafted gently across the kitchen.

Okay, I thought, perhaps it’s static electricity from the new carpets. Or maybe something’s the matter with the wiring. The electric service is supposed to be brand new like everything else, but you know how it goes with these new constructions. I decided to wait and see if it happened again, and then I’d call the condo association and find out who the electrician was. So I put it out of my mind and went to work.

Thursday morning the same thing happened. Only this time most of the Cheerios didn’t even make it into the bowl; they just drifted off into the air above the table. I started to wonder what sort of electrical field I was being exposed to. I felt okay physically, and my hair wasn’t standing on end. I grabbed my coffee cup and took a big gulp. The coffee felt strange, effervescent, as if it were exploding in my mouth. I spit it out and watched as vibrating globules of brown liquid wafted slowly away from my lips and across the kitchen, like air bubbles adrift underwater. I waited to see what the globules would do when they hit the wall: would they burst and dribble down the wall? No, they bounced like flaccid beach balls and floated away.

I decided to make toast. I was concerned about using the toaster but I wanted to see if the electric appliances were still working. I stuck two slices of bread in the toaster and pushed down the lever. The element turned red, the lever mechanism clicked, and the browned slices reappeared. And then I watched as they rose gently from the toaster and floated into the air, quivering delicately like soap bubbles just before they pop. This unnerved me, and I bolted from the kitchen and out the front door, figuring I’d just grab a coffee and scone at the drive-through on my way to work.

On Friday morning I walked into a startling scene in the kitchen: all sorts of things were drifting and gliding through the air. A notepad, two pencils, a spatula, a half head of garlic, a pair of potholders, a dozen plastic spoons—it was as if the kitchen were filled with water and everything was bobbing aimlessly in the current. A long string of paper towels hovered against the refrigerator; they’d come unrolled, one end still attached to the dispenser under the cabinet. I rubbed my eyes hard and took another look. I could see other items hovering a few inches above the counter: a bottle opener, a half-eaten muffin wrapped in plastic, the coffee canister, the sugar bowl. Even the toaster looked as if it were about to ascend any minute.

I decided to deal with it later and left. But things just got worse. After work on Friday I stopped by McSwirley’s to have a few drinks with friends. When I got home late that night, objects were floating about the living room. The couch had lost most of its cushions, a few paperbacks had wafted off the bookshelf, and there was an unruly mass of newspaper pages clustered against the window. As I hurried through I spotted the TV remote out of the corner of my eye: it was on the ceiling, grazing the dining room light fixture. Exhausted, I headed for the bedroom and collapsed on my bed, groping for my pillow in the dark. It had broken loose from the covers and had probably drifted off. So I grabbed the bedspread, squashed a corner of it up into a makeshift pillow, and fell asleep.

I dreamt I was at the beach bodysurfing, just like I used to do when I was in high school. I’d go out where the water was deep and wait for a good wave, bobbing up and down as the breakers washed rhythmically over my shoulders. When I’d spot the right wave coming I’d wait until it was almost upon me, and then I’d turn and swim as quickly as I could away from it. And if I’d done it just right I could feel the wave lift my body high into the air, taking me for a short but exhilarating ride above the ocean and the entire world. And then the wave would break and I’d roll down under the water and rise up again, ready for the next wave.

When I woke up Saturday morning I was floating a foot or two above the bed. One end of the bedspread was twisted around my legs and the other end dragged against the bed, teasing the fitted sheet which was gradually disengaging itself. The top sheet had made its way to the ceiling and my clothes were in disarray, floating here and there in odd bunches. I spotted my pillow trying to escape through the heating vent over the door. I jerked myself around to a semi-standing position and descended gently to the floor, rebounding with each step as if I were walking on the moon. I made my way cautiously through the doorway, taking care not to bump my head on the top of the jamb. Keeping my feet on the floor was nearly impossible; it was as if I were trying to walk along the bottom of a deep swimming pool. I finally gave in to the temptation to swim through the house. Using my strongest stroke—the breast stroke—I pushed off from the living room wall and glided toward the kitchen. Because it felt like I was swimming underwater I had to remind myself to breathe; the urge to hold my breath was too powerful.

Once I got to the kitchen I realized it would be next to impossible to make a pot of coffee. I swam back through the rooms and searched high and low, literally, for my wallet and car keys. Finding the keys was easy; they were hovering close to the kitchen windowpane, making a clattering sound against the glass. My wallet was more difficult. I found it in the bathroom, pinned to the ceiling of the shower stall by a chair cushion.

I made my way back into the living room and pushed off toward the front door, grabbing the door handle to brake my flight. I pulled myself down into as much of a standing position as I could, opened the door, and stepped outside. My foot slammed to the ground with a surprising force, causing me to stumble and fall to my knees. My next-door neighbour had just stepped out to retrieve his newspaper.

“Morning," he said cheerfully. "Need some help there?”

“No, thanks,” I grumbled, pulling myself up and staggering for the garage. By the time I reached the car my coordination had returned. I drove to a nearby coffee shop to contemplate my situation over a cup of coffee and a bagel. I decided I urgently needed to talk to the condo association about this gravity situation.

I found a phone booth in the parking lot and dug the number for the Golden Swallows Condominium Association out of my wallet. I dialled and got a recording:

“Thank you for calling the Golden Swallows Condominium Association. Our office hours are ten to five Monday through Friday and noon to two Saturday.”

Damn! I glanced where my watch would be, but it was probably still floating around my bedroom. I ran back into the coffee shop to check the clock. It was 10:30.

I drove around for awhile, trying to kill time. I didn’t want to go back home because I figured it would be easier to call the condo association with my feet flat on the ground. I drove downtown and parked, browsed through a few shops, and ended up at the hardware shop checking out drawer handles and cabinet knobs. I figured if my new place was going to be gravity-challenged I may as well look into some sturdier hand grips.

At 12:15 I found another phone booth and called Golden Swallows again.

“Thank you for calling the Golden Swallows Condominium Association. This is Merrilee.”

“Hi, Merrilee, this is Neil Bellows. I just moved into Unit 212, and, well, I’ve got a bit of a problem.”

“What sort of problem?”

“Well, I seem to be losing gravity.”

“Do you have your Property Ownership Agreement with you?”


“Well, then, can you give me your POA account number?”

“No, where do I—?”

“It’s in the upper right-hand corner of the first page of your Agreement.”

“But I don’t have my Agreement with me—”

“I’ll hold if you’d like to go get it.”

“No, you see, it’s at home and I’m not there. Can’t I just give you—?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t help you unless you have your account number.”

“What? But that’s crazy! Can’t you just type in my name?”

“I’m sorry, sir, but everything’s filed in the computer by account number. Why don’t you go find your Agreement and call me back? I’ll be here until two today, and from ten till five Monday through Friday—”

I slammed the receiver down and ran for my car. It was almost twelve-thirty, and it would take me a good twenty minutes to get home. And then if my file folders had been anchored to my desk by the earth’s normal gravitational pull, it would take only a moment to find the Agreement. But this obviously was not the case, and there was no way of telling just where that particular file would have migrated by now.

When I got home I unlocked the door, opened it slowly, and stepped carefully inside. Propelled upward, I hung onto the door handle for stability as my body rotated slowly around like the hands of a clock. When my legs were pointing in the vicinity of twelve o’clock I looked down, or rather, up: every object in the place had drifted to the ceiling. It looked like someone had turned the entire building upside-down.

Fortunately the ceilings at the Golden Swallows Condominiums were only ten feet high, so it was a simple jump down, or up, to the ceiling. I pushed off and let go of the door handle, drifting gently to the ceiling where my feet landed on a pile of papers and bounced back off. Before I could brace myself my head hit the floor and I ricocheted to the ceiling where I bounced again. This time I got my hands up in time to shield my head as I thumped against the floor. I bounced back and forth several times before my five-foot-eleven-inch body finally came to rest in the center of the room, two feet from the floor and two feet from the ceiling.

Great, I thought: now my place was completely gravity-free. But if this were truly the case, why was everything piled on the ceiling? Could it be from the centrifugal force caused by the earth’s rotation? That would make sense. If the earth suddenly had no gravity and kept rotating, everything would fly off the surface, wouldn’t it? Including myself.

As I reflected on this dilemma I noticed I was drifting at an excruciatingly slow rate toward the ceiling. I’d be there soon, I thought, soon being relative to, say, the rate of continental drift. To expedite the process I bent my head upward and blew forcefully; this succeeded in propelling me just a hair faster.

As soon as I felt my feet planted firmly on the ceiling I bent down slowly and grabbed the light fixture to support myself. Since everything in the place, including my condo ownership file folder, was on the ceiling right now, it was important to stay close to the ceiling. I decided I could propel myself from room to room by using ceiling fixtures and doorways for leverage.

After lunging, groping, and blowing my way through the rooms as I leafed through scattered piles, bundles, and heaps of papers and debris, I finally found the file folder containing the Property Ownership Agreement in the bathroom. Now all I needed to do was find a telephone. Locating my cell phone promised to be impossible, so I groped my way back to the bedroom where my old-fashioned corded home phone was plugged into the wall. The receiver was dangling at the end of the cord near the ceiling. I grabbed it and pulled my way very carefully toward the dialler. With my file folder firmly in hand I crouched against the wall and dialled Golden Swallows. Fortunately Merrilee was still there. I gave her my account number.

“Okay, Mr. Bellows,” she said after a moment. “How can I help you?”

“Well, like I said before, I don’t seem to have any . . . gravity.”

“Okay, let me check something here. Yes, it looks like you didn’t make a gravitational agreement with us.”

“A what?”

“It’s explained in Article 7.3.1.”

“Where, you mean ‘Definition of Property Owned’?”

“That’s right. If you read that part it’ll explain.”

I read aloud. “‘Unit is defined as the area horizontally and vertically between the walls, from the bare floor under the carpet up to the ceiling. Any walls within the unit that support the entire complex are not included. Owner also owns a percentage share of the common elements of the complex.’ So?”

“Now read Item Number 4.”

“‘Common elements are defined as being all property in the complex except the individual units, including balconies and external storage areas.’ I still don’t see—”

“Just keep going. It’s Number 7. The small print.”

I skimmed down through the items until I stopped abruptly at, the Gravity Clause.

“‘Gravitational forces are not considered common elements unless prior arrangements have been made with the Condominium Association.’ What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

“If you could turn to Article 10.4, Other Fees, Item Number 2, it explains.”

I continued reading:

“‘The Condominium Association may treat gravitational forces as exclusive use common elements assigned to each unit under the terms of the Declaration. Owner will automatically receive the right to use the gravitational forces assigned to the unit upon purchase of unit, as long as prior arrangement is made with the Condominium Association and a monthly fee is paid. Otherwise the gravitational force will be separately deeded to the owner if requested. This deed will be subject to the availability of gravity; if none is currently available, owner’s name may be put on a waiting list.’ So you’re telling me I need a separate deed just to have gravity in my condo?”

“That’s right, Mr. Bellows. Since you didn’t make an arrangement with us when you purchased the property, I can make an appointment for you for an inspection. And then we can put you on the waiting list.”

I made the appointment for the following Tuesday morning at 9:00. On Tuesday at 10:00 there was a loud banging at the door. I swam down from the ceiling, pulling myself along the moulding toward the door handle. Opening the door carefully I guided my legs to the ground until I was almost standing.

“Hey, how ya doin’ there?” blurted out a scrawny man wearing coveralls and a Dodgers cap. “I’m Leonard from Maintenance. You called for an inspection?”

“Yeah, come on in. But be careful—it’s a little tricky.” I turned and forced my legs to step back into the room as I pushed up on the door handle for leverage. My feet wouldn’t quite touch the ground.

“Whooie!” Leonard whistled as he watched me. “Gonna need special shoes for this one.” He opened his tool chest and pulled out a pair of orange rubber boots with large suction cups on the soles. He pulled these on over his shoes and walked methodically through the room, the suction cups smacking loudly with each step. He traipsed around from room to room like this and made wet clicking sounds with his mouth, looking up now and then to study the items pinned to the ceiling.

“Yep,” he finally said. “Looks like ya got no gravity.”

“Yes, I know!” I snapped. “So can you do something about it?”

Leonard looked up at the ceiling one more time as he pulled a notebook out of his hip pocket.

“Sure can do!” he said as he flipped through the pages. “Yep, we’ll getcha some gravity in here. I’ll just put ya on the waiting list.”

“How many people are on the list?”

“Let’s see here…well, actually, right now there ain’t a soul!”

“So you can do it right away?”

“Well, no, there’s always a waiting period for a gravity order.”

“How long?”

“Well, depends on two things. First, how many units in the Golden Swallows complex are up for sale, and second, it depends on the tidal phases. Ya see, this is how it works: if the sale of a unit goes through smack dab in the middle of a full moon or a new moon when we’ve got a spring tide, sometimes we can do a gravity installation in several units at the same time. But if the sale goes through and it’s a neap tide, meaning the moon’s only at a quarter or three quarters, then there’s a heck of a lot less gravitational pull to deal with and we can’t guarantee anything. Sometimes there ain’t even enough gravity to hold down a broom closet.”

So that’s where things stand, or rather float, for now. I’m still on the waiting list—I’ve been on for seven months now—and God knows how long it’s going to be before I can walk across my floor again. With the way the housing market’s going right now it may be a very long time.

But I’m getting used to living on the ceiling—in fact, I’m almost getting to like it. I’ve rearranged my entire place so the ceiling’s the floor and the floor’s the ceiling. I’ve even started to take the light fixtures out of the ceiling and install them in the floor, and I’ve moved some of the door handles up so they’re easier to reach. It gives me a whole different perspective on things and a new way of looking at the world. And I’ve been feeling more fit lately, too. I think it’s because I’ve had to learn to control my movements and I’m using a lot of new muscles. I look better, too: stronger, healthier in general.

You know, I just may go ahead and cancel that gravity order.

© 1997 JC Mitchell

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