Real Life: Just Around the Corner

In an instant, her predicament became known. It spread from outside, then into the security department, then to the employees, and then the whole ground floor. A crowd of staring onlookers amassed in under a minute.

“There is a woman trapped in the revolving door on the east side ground floor of the store!â€? people yelped, some half-panicky, some half-laughing. “The cops are here, and the fire department!â€? was the announcement that made it more grave, a mood broken by the inevitable half-whispered “Laaaw-suit!â€? yelped in a chiming voice by a Dureen in fragrances—with darting eyes and a cupped hand hovering over her mouth. “Dureen don’t leave your department!” was her quickly-strolling manager’s response, shouted with a pointed finger and a ring of jangling keys, which made her run back behind her counter and unlock her display case again.

“I hope she wore clean underwear.� and “I hope she wore underwear!� were the declarations uttered by the employees who had escaped to go gawking. “Is she hot?� was heard by employees in the crowded elevator on the way down, which was surprisingly spoken by a female voice which caused everyone look around to pinpoint who had said it, but never did.

They arrived from inside the store and outside on the sidewalk in wide-eyed waves. Everyone expected to see a woman in the throes of agony, possibly prostrate, and maybe even pretzel-like, trapped in the very-revealing glass cylinder that encased the revolving door; a butterfly in a jar. There may even be a little blood, some wailing, or at least tears! When people arrived on the scene they were mildly astonished. There was not a face wedged litigiously in agony against the glass, no trapped limbs, no gore that you could but couldn’t look away from, no screams of pain accompanying the store’s canned music, no jaws of life at the ready… but an ordinary woman inside one of the door’s four pie slice-shaped compartments, with her hands on the horizontal rail, literally walking around and around, spinning in the revolving doorway at a reasonable speed, seemingly of her own will. She was in good shape and of normal physical state. Dressed stylishly, or at least neatly and presentably, with auburn, curly hair cut into a bob, and good skin. The only stand out about her, physically, was her facial expression. It was the beaming, grinning-death-mask smile of someone caught in an excruciatingly embarrassing situation who had no idea what to do but smile. Pained, wet eyes…and a mouth with upturned lips stretched so thin and tight over her teeth, it looked like her mouth might give birth to her skull.

Oddly…

The shopping action inside the store in the area directly next to her slowed down to an almost-silence, which was very rare for a Saturday. The near-quiet allowed one to just make out, over murmurs of the crowd, her being talked to and coerced by store security as she just spun around and around, that painful facial expression displaying itself again and again like a German musical clock.

The surreal, calm mood was broken only once, in a moment of intense violence that occurred when a security guard tried to play hero and literally leapt inside the compartment sectional of the door she was in, attempting to forcibly yank her out. Her shift in demeanor was drastic. As he leapt into the moving compartment without warning, aiming for her lower half, her legs suddenly fluttered with almost light-speed, as she kept both hands on the door rail and her feet began to pummeled the guard’s face and upper body relentlessly like a hummingbird’s wings, and with no sign of stopping. The blurry action was made all the more visible because of her thick white hose and maroon, leather flat shoes. She gripped the bar of the door with all her might and fought him off with those legs like her life depended on it. This was an unexpected response, which caused the guard to finally crawl away after one of his legs became wedged between the door and the section she was in, to which she just kept violently pushing on and pushing on until he finally yelped like a hound and yanked it out with a fleshy scrape, crawling away from the battle. The woman snapped right back into spinning mode, and continued spinning and smiling that sweaty smile, which had now become twice as burdened. Witnesses who weren’t paying attention to the area of immediate carnage, and happened to glance up at the woman’s face, claimed it was the one moment she lost that horrible smile, which was replaced with something described as “demonic.” One onlooker, when interviewed by the local news, described the moment the guard was attacked as “very, very weird,â€? to which her young daughter added “That weird lady’s legs looked like a cartoon!”

The news crews seemed to appear out of nowhere, probably when the guard was being attacked. Then, the police and fire department arrived, for real this time. They wanted to know: was this woman just nuts? Was it a suicide jumper-type situation? Was this some sort of political protest? A terrorist decoy? The growing number of onlookers that could overhead the police and firemen’s questions seemed offended. People seemed oddly moved by this woman’s baffling behavior. She just didn’t seem to want to leave the revolving door. And she didn’t want to stop spinning. It was the on looking crowds who kept the authorities from really strong-arming her out of the door, resulting in a kind of reverse crowd-control. By all accounts she really seemed to be communicating through her body language that she was …well, really just having a rough time of it, and this was her “breakdownâ€? moment. The fact that her “moment” made no sense only made her more beguiling. Much like the crazy or homeless getting hassled by police in crowded urban areas, she quickly developed a kind of underdog status. It was all multiplied by the fact that she was dressed so nice, and appeared so normal. The authorities were at a loss to intervene, at least right away.

Racine Rodriguez from Channel 7 “News Your Way!” had been the first to arrive on the scene, reporting “…a bizarre case at Macy’s department store of a woman trapped in a revolving door. Not because of an accident, not because the door is malfunctioning, but because (pause) the woman is just too afraid to leave the space.â€? This fact was deduced from the surreal interview Racine conducted with the woman, in typically ballsy television fashion, and confirmed in the voice-over by Racine reading from a dictionary the definition of “agoraphobia.”

The interview taping was described as a “fucking nightmare,â€? by Frank the Channel 7 sound engineer. In a rush to make deadline for the 5 o’clock broadcast, the newscasters scrapped the idea to pin-mic the trapped woman because, even though the police said they didn’t mind them approaching her, they also unfortunately told them about the security guard’s near amputating scuffle earlier. So they just decided to make the best of it and dangle one of those huge, fuzzy boom microphones over the woman in the door while Racine shouted questions to the her from a stationary position outside the store. Visually, the cameraman claimed using a hand-held camera to record the exchange would be like “watching a ping pong match up close with binoculars,â€? as he put it, so the whole thing was one long, pulled-back still shot. So Racine, who was keeping her distance, was to the right of the camera’s view, weirdly holding her microphone outstretched with a stiff arm in between each question (shouted in that condescending, parental voice that only newscasters seem allowed to use) which she kind of hypnotically waved back and forth slightly like a water diviner every time the woman passed by in the revolving door and then disappeared back inside, alternated by the fuzzy gray boom mic dipping in and out of frame.

At first, she just kept talking non-stop as she spun around and around, ignoring Racine’s inquiries. Only one fourth of what the woman was saying was audible, as she kept appearing, disappearing and reappearing over and over—but seemed to make no allowances for this in her speech. This was of course alternated with the swish-swish sound of the black rubber dividers that scraped and slapped along the inside of the curved glass. Soon, Racine also began to realize that the woman could probably only hear her when she passed by the open part of the door. So she started to condense her sentence-long questions into a brief one-second blips of really fast words yelled into the door’s ever-shifting opening, spoken rapidly and with absolutely no gaps between words to save time. The two women shouted over each other like this during these brief moments of connection, which sounded like “… ery sorry for this eve…laustraphobia…anic attack on the stree… …can’t seem to let go…ngth to sep…out! Pl…am very sorry for…my thoughts!� Then in a typically parody-proof television news moment, Racine concluded the interview by facing the camera and almost scolding-ly posing a question to the viewers: why no one was intervening to try and help this poor woman?

But if you could take that seriously, the answer to the question seemed to be hiding in the stereotypes associated with typical big city group-think phenomenon. Small groups of one or two people will help a person in public in distress by actually intervening, but when large groups of people gather around a person in distress, people surprisingly don’t seem to want to penetrate the invisible partition separating them and the “victim,� save for their voices, which often shout urgent suggestions in their direction. The scene outside of Macy’s department store, which was now dark and closing time, reflected this. People gathered around the police barricades and simultaneously shouted advice at her on how to instantly cure her obvious neurosis. “Take a deep breath hooo-nee!� and “It’s gonna be ok darlin’! We all got problems!� and “Remove! One! Finger! At! A! Time!� …peppered with the occasional jab, (usually from kids or queens) like “Girl get la-aid!� and “You ain’t gonna change into no Wonder Woman, girl!� When police or fire fighters looked like they were about to make a move, the glut of onlookers collectively booed, which as noted before, seemed to have a negative effect on their authority

After the footage of the interview aired on New York’s local Channel 7, it was quickly put on the web, and linked on all the usual internet spots within hours. A woman trapped in a department store revolving door as an accident is a page 6 or 7 story in a daily paper. A woman who is agoraphobically trapped in a revolving door, who spins and spins of her own free will because she literally can’t stop, and no one tries to do anything about it—that’s the kind of odd phenomenon that’s weird-news-that’s-quickly-becoming-big-news

About the time the story was rapidly being prepped to make the city’s morning papers, the Macy’s store management made the decision to not intervene, not bolt the door shut, and allow her to keep spinning with the all-night guards already hired keeping watch. During that night, in front of the crowds that were still there, there were cheers when one of the guards tossed (at her bowing approval) a large plastic bottle of water in at her, which she was able to reach down with one hand and open. It was the first time anyone had seen one of her hands lift off the rail. Later there was less applause but just as much appreciation when the guards and some of the people raised big cloths so she could have a few minutes of privacy, which everyone learned was so she could pee, when the same sealed water bottle was kicked back out by her from under the cloth and into the store, full again

When the story hit the early edition of the papers the next day (the photos of her were quite fetching), it soon hit the national and international cable channels. By noon, was just twenty four hours after she’d first became trapped in the door (it was assumed), there was a line around the block just to come see her. The police came back and forth, psychologists and psychoanalysts… even hostage negotiators were brought in to pry and plead with her. Everyone that was brought in to help her get out of this unbelievable situation also seemed to become somewhat smitten with her, and eventually displayed what seemed like a hidden, vested interest in having her stay in the door “…for a while longer.â€? People brought her food, which she was always able to accept and eat with one hand if it was tossed in at her just right, and the tosser didn’t come within the unofficially defined borders surrounding her door. The store set up a crude but practical system to allow her to go to the bathroom, all while still revolving inside the revolving door. People started showing up with gifts (mostly paperback self-help books—smart donors brought audio versions on compact discs—and the usual heart-shaped white and pink knick-knacks) that they laid near the revolving door’s perimeter

That evening—after her story had closed almost every local newscast in the nation as the “and now a lighter look at the news” piece—jokes about her became routines in almost every single television comedy talk show host’s opening monologue

All the while, the woman remained in the door, amazingly finding the energy to keep spinning for two whole days. She was pretty slim. At some point, someone finally came up with the idea of turning on the mechanized door motor (which was used for a brief period in the late 90’s) so she wouldn’t have to push it herself. This slowed down her pace considerably, which had been rather frantic. Then, predicting exhaustion, someone thought of giving her a Kitchen Wizard, a kind of skinny director’s chair on swivel wheels that was sold to the incontinent so they could wheel around the tiny NYC apartment kitchens that usually didn’t allow for normal sized wheelchairs (and that was a semi-famous device due to a highly popular and highly creepy late night infomercial that aired locally a decade earlier, and made a semi-star out of one it’s 97 year-old, dwarf-like actress who spent most of the commercial rolling around in the device in a kitchen set while kicking her feet, grinning like mad and holding a rainbow sherbet ice cream cone which at one point turned into a wizard’s magic wand accompanied by rather inept-sounding laser blast effect). The device worked like a charm, and became this woman’s revolving throne. She usually kept at least one hand on the door’s rail (although some whispered that she had been seen removing both hands briefly when they were trying to get the chair to her), and she just rode the door then, like a kiddie carousel. The gifts continued to pile up, the lines stayed long, people kept shouting advice at her and blowing kisses or tossing roses. After it was learned in the papers that her name was Linda. The press dubbed her “Spinning Belinda.” This all occurred on only her second day. Her strained smile was replaced by a rather normal-looking one. She seemed right at home, trapped in a neurotic loop, for the world to see

Even more reporters showed up to get her story. This time from major primetime news shows and big magazines. She always shouted to them through the doors opening, always smiling, often waving. She was extremely friendly and forthcoming with information. Since reporters were more interested in her situation than her life story, they tended to focus on this. Her personal life remained a bit of a mystery

All that could really be deduced from her interviews was that she had suffered from extreme panic attacks all her life and, how did she get trapped in the revolving door? Well, just beforehand, she had been walking along New York’s bustling sidewalk. She started to feel a major panic attack coming on; the intense claustrophobia, sweating, nausea and heart palpitations. She decided to duck into the nearest indoor entrance available, to get away from the frenzied mob, and found the Macy’s entrance. She entered the revolving door, but in those few seconds it took clasp both hands on the door compartment’s rail, push, and rotate inside of it into the store’s interior, she found the crowd and loud music inside to be just as bad. So she kept going all the way around so she could go back outside again. Unfortunately, the outside sidewalk was still just as assaultive as it had been seconds earlier, so she kept going around and decided to give the store’s interior another try. But nope, still too loud, so it was back around to try facing the street again…and so on and so on. Before she knew it, she found herself locked into a kind of alternating-stimulus agoraphobic/claustrophobic reward/punishment locked whirlpool. She knew it wasn’t “normal,” but she discovered the comfort zone within the revolving door to be just right, at least in comparison to the inside and the outside. And well, she’s still calling it home. That was her story for now at least

More than anything she just seemed to keep saying that she really was sorry for all of the trouble, but she was sure that if all these nice people, whom she was forever indebted to for all their help and support, just gave her a little more time she’s sure she could overcome her agoraphobia (which she always paused before saying, presumably so she could pronounce it right) and walk out of the door because she believed that people could accomplish anything if they put their minds to it. The interviews always ended this way, on an upbeat note. When she wasn’t being interviewed, lauded over or stared at, she would occasionally sleep—yes—kind of napping in her chair half-asleep, the way a cat does. When she did this, the mechanized door would push her along in her Kitchen Wizard like a bumper car and her head would sometimes slowly tilt to one side, which would cause her to jolt awake

A week passed. Two weeks passed. The door never stopped spinning and she never got out. There were still lines to see her. She became a tourist attraction. There were curbside t-shirt and souvenir hawkers. Her story kept getting covered by more and more media. She made the cover of her first national major magazine (her face had been airbrushed to look even prettier). Within a month there were already appearing stories in the press about how there were so many stories appearing in the press about her

Small backlashes started against her but always seemed to fizzle. One paper quoted her out of context, as saying she “…adored all of this attention� and pasted it above a photo of her which had been Photoshoped to make her eyebrows appear to arch inwards slightly like a cartoon villain. The botched eyebrow Photoshopping job was analyzed and exposed by many online sites, and then became a major story in itself. Speaking of, many websites devoted to her began to spring up on the internet, from what appeared to be a growing, devoted fan base

The take from The New York Post was rather cynical every time they wrote about her. After weeks of icy innuendo, the Post’s columnist Wanda Croe finally came right out and tried to expose the incident as nothing more than a surprisingly crass but nevertheless unsurprisingly desperate publicity stunt staged by Macy’s themselves, which had shown a decline in profits in the preceding few years. The cover headline was “Obsessive Compulsive Carou-(Sell?)—Macy’s Entraps Mentally Retarded Shopper in Freakshow Dollar Deal.â€? The story was mean, inaccurate and purely speculative. It didn’t even mention any sort of real medical conditions—the public’s collective opinion on the matter—that could have lead the woman to be involved in such a predicament, save for the story’s insulting headline. Croe even quoted the store’s manager out of context, reducing his only contribution in print to “We’d like shoppers to know that the two doors to the woman’s right, and the one to her left, are still open for traffic.â€? The article concluded by suggesting that Macy’s promotions department “…comb the halls of Bellevue for possible future spokespersons.â€? Even though Croe claimed she was only joking about the “mentally retarded” jab—due to pressure from other media outlets that still (quite accurately) reflected the public’s love for this woman—the crass phrase got the story out there, and therefore it’s ideas. This was typical Croe modus operand

But Croe’s story did finally shed some refreshing light on the bizarre nature of the situation. Why hadn’t anyone intervened? Why was this strange woman being allowed to spin around in this store’s revolving door day after day, eating, smiling, being interviewed and going to the bathroom (behind a new quickly-retractable wall contraption that the store had constructed—which helped with Linda’s other personal hygiene concerns)? Why was she still there? The fact that she “seemed happy” was no longer an acceptable issue-settler. Indeed, Macy’s seemed more crowded than ever due to the incident and it’s attached media attention, and was no doubt turning a hefty profit due to it all

The week after that story appeared was the week when the President of the United States mentioned her in a press conference, jokingly comparing her to Congress, which he was entangled in a public battle with at the time. It didn’t win the President any popularity points, especially when he mispronounced her name as “Spinner Belinda.” New York City’s mayor was oddly quoted a day later on Channel 5 FastNews, saying that the woman’s tragic situation was a side effect of the city’s scarce public bathroom problem, which was one of his personal causes that week. He claimed that urine build-up in the body can cause violent and schizophrenic behavior in people, and based this knowledge on his experience as a hunter when dealing with bears that had been in hibernation for the winter. He claimed crime statistics in the city could be compared with samples of the city’s sewer water and certain patterns could be traced. Politicians running for office began using her as a reference point when accusing opponents of waffling or becoming wishy-washy on issues. Another politician was hissed at a press conference when he tried to joke that her motion should be tapped into as an energy source to help with growing energy concerns. Somehow it made them look bad and made her more lovable

Spokespeople and politicians soon learned that the public didn’t see her as some kind of freak, and making her seem as such never went over well. The answers to the question of why this woman was still spinning in the door never got answered, or people stopped asking

The woman’s situation brought out something in people that made them identify with her. The phenomenon that happened out on the sidewalk with people seeming to want to help the woman help herself, and lambasting authority figures who seemed to want to help the woman by force of their own, parlayed into a national phenomenon. And while achieving that, she herself had reached pop culture icon-status, being routinely parodied in online and television comedy routines. A clever t-shirt design with a graphic of her became a trendy big seller. Pop singer Tommie Hauke wore one on her now legendary appearance on Last Night’s Show, where Ms. Hauke almost died on live TV during an unfortunate stunt where her DJ tried to simultaneously scratch records on a turntable and pour and eat a big bowl of Froot Loops, with her slip and fall in the electrocuted soy milk leaving her prostrate but facing up so her “Spinning Belindaâ€? shirt made it into all the iconic news photos that reported her near-death. This caused the shirt sales to skyrocket. One highly-rated television sitcom even tried to have her on the show in a guest appearance, in a highly-reported idea to actually build a temporary set around the front of Macy’s that mimicked the living room of one of the characters on the show. But the idea was scrapped due to budget concerns

Labbicia Talomoby became the first person allowed inside the door with Spinning Belinda. Labbicia’s daytime talk show, Labbicia, was the highest-rated television show of it’s kind. Labbicia joined Spinning Belinda in the revolving door (in an adjacent compartment) and wore a mini-cam strapped to her head—to give viewers an idea of what Spinning Belinda’s life was like. The situation was treated with the same gaudy reverence used when showcasing a celebrity’s expensive home. The show had good ratings, even though many critics thought Labbicia’s handling of the subject was “cornball.â€? Television shows actually sent in make-up and hair crews in to make sure she was looking her best before an interview, actually reaching inside the compartment of the door to hand her make-up and hair curlers and then shouting through the glass instructions on how to use it. The stylists found this process “impossibleâ€? but it was hard for Linda not to look good, she was naturally very pretty

During one heavily televised moment, three old college friends of Linda’s showed up at the front of Macy’s on what was revealed to be her birthday. They had read about her in the press, obviously. They brought their newly famous old friend a birthday cake and some daiquiris, and the three of them each leapt into the other three remaining compartments of the door and, all facing each other, had a birthday party for Linda, passing pieces of cake and drinks through the opening of the door exit or entrance when one of the dividers slowly rotated past it, spinning constantly. They sang “Happy Birthdayâ€? (the still steady stream of onlookers joined in), took pictures of each other, reunited and gossiped about old times… they even wore little party hats. One of the women had a toddler that she brought with her into the compartment who cried relentlessly the whole time and actually threw up at one point, but everyone agreed it was adorable.

The bizarre phenomenon couldn’t last, but somehow it did. Requests for her interviews became more and more frequent. She’d acquired a press agent whom she’d never even met. Signing releases became a daily occurrence for her (they made a little makeshift tray desk for her chair, she practically had a whole office in there by now—which all spun). Fashion designers began to donate clothes to her. Soon, the very store who’s door she was agoraphobically trapped in hired her to be a live-in model for their clothes. Her first real “job” since, and as a result of, arriving in the public eye. A renowned designer in a Milan held a fashion show which featured his models running around in circles inside glass revolving doors installed on the runway as part of his fall show. The designer dedicated the collection to her; “To Belinda, for your unending inspiration and strength.â€? In a strange twist, other department stores in the city began to feature their own paid models in their own ground floor revolving doors—modeling the clothes of their current stock. Linda stopped signing releases and contracts because she now had several agents and managers to do that kind of thing for her. Television and movie (and even video game) rights began to get sold. Endorsement deals were proposed. Merchandise was produced and hawked and bootlegged and sold again. People came out of the woodwork. Deals were made. Money was earned. Long after the brink of absurdity had been tipped, people continued to stare and stare. A quickie, ghost-written autobiography was written without Linda even being aware. Initially titled If They Won’t Stop The World Because You Wanna Get Off, Then Stop It For Them: The Story Of Spinning Belinda, which was scrapped for the much more succinct title; Real Life, Just Around the Corner.