The longest stairway in the world is not the Niesenbahn path–11,64 steps of metal and stone that runs alongside the mountain tram. The longest stairway in the world sits inside the Milnernshein Wing of the Museum of Ordinary Inventions. It is housed next to a collection of non-Singer sewing machines that thrum and roar all night working on the world’s largest pillow case. Their plan is to hide in the corners and escape in the night. They do not have a wheel man yet–someone to sling the case over his shoulder in a nonchalant manner, wave to the guard and throw them in the back of a beat up station wagon. If you believe you are such a person, one with excellent moral character and a beat-up station wagon or means to procure one, apply within. Ask for Ralph.
On the other side of the longest stairway in the world is the original Escalator, back when Mr. Otis had the sense to capitalize his invention and not risk the loss of his trademark. This Escalator has no brake. It turns on in the morning and reaches a top speed of 20 mph–which is very fast for an escalator–around 8 AM and only slows down when an unlucky guard has to throw his entire body against the off switch before he goes home for the evening. One may wonder why they turn it on a all. There is no answer to this question and it is better that you don’t ask as it is rumored that the sewing machines are known for stitching the names of too-curious onlookers onto their pillowcase. That they have your name embossed in blue thread on white linen suggests a skill at organization and an unnamed plan. The Escalator believes it is merely a bluff, but will not say so out loud.
There is no beginning, and no end to the longest stairway in the world. While in the museum, the staircase appears to be a large wooden spiral with plush carpet and polished handrails. It stops frequently for landings: by the sewing machines, at the bottom of the escalator, at the top of escalator. When others hear of this, they say it is in impossibility. No circular staircase bends at a 45 degree angle. They are as straight as sequoia trees.
Other landings include the end of the line to the women’s washroom, the gift shop, the offices of the curator of the Library of Congress–though the latter is in an entirely different building and state than the Museum of Ordinary Inventions.
At this time, visitors to the Museum are not allowed to step onto the staircase as too many women have lost their children. Yet as there are not enough guards to protect the other landings in other buildings and cities, they cannot prevent the crowd of bemused travelers who step off the staircase and are slightly annoyed that they cannot return by the same route. That they are given a reduced rate admission is not enough to quiet their protestations and a petition has been circulated to issue a Public Notice of Inquiry into the wisdom of this practice.
In the interim, the Museum of Ordinary Inventions directs your attention to other exhibits. The wall of slightly crushed wire-rimmed spectacles, the dish room, the portrait gallery that some say is merely a collection of old mirrors covered in the film of dust and oxidized metals. If you are the more adventurous sort, the Museum contains the world’s largest virtual reality device though it is currently undergoing maintenance and repair. You may gaze upon it from the gallery and imagine what you choose. The English driving simulator remains a perpetual favorite.
The basement contains wire kennels filled with the offspring of Pavlov’s dogs. They do not salivate at the sound of a bell. They do not bark or chew. They sit at the gate and wait for the food, neither knowing or caring when it comes. When they bend their heads to eat, it is with great disinterest as if it is only the pressing finality of their biological functions that drives them to such a mundane action. If they could, they would eat only nutritional supplements–one a day–and the rest of their hours would be spent contemplating the mysteries of catechism.
On Tuesday nights, the Society for the Preservation of Former Nuns meets at the Holiday Inn bar across the street. After last call, with the pleasant fizz of gin and Scotch and Sister James Regina’s hillbilly sangria tingling in their extremities, they break in through the first floor window and take turns at the sewing machine. When they have completed their new, multi-colored habits they board the stairway to search for false prophets. Whether they have found any is another question you should not ask.
The longest stairway in the world only knows that it is the longest stairway in the world. It does not know who steps on, off, or slides down the banisters. Sometimes it thinks it hears voices and the whir of ancient machines. Sometimes it catches a glimpse of color: blue shoes and white gloves. These things are light touches against its own awareness and to fill the void it makes up its own stories of who and what and where.
This is how the longest stairway in the world grows taller and taller. We will never know its end or its beginning and it will never know our name. A fair trade, or so the Escalator says.