Cellar Doors

For 25 years, I avoided walking atop the many cellar doors that line Manhattan’s sidewalks. Occasionally, I’d fail to pass a fellow pedestrian in time and be forced to traverse the metal hatch while it dipped an inch or so with my weight. The drop would provide a minor thrill–not as much as the one derived from leaning against a window in a very tall building, but similar.

Since my move to the small village, I’ve no longer needed to maneuver these frequent sidewalk hazards. But there’s been one notable exception: a mysterious box at the end of the running track where I frequently go for my morning walks.

Cellar doors

What’s in the box?

I wondered for 1.5 years, as I walked atop it–mostly carefree–enjoying the small thrill of the bounce and the crunchy, liquidy sound of my weight on the trap doors.

The other day the track team was out at practice, and as I rounded the bend, I learned what’s in the box. Sand. The athletes land in it after their long jumps.

Adding a new layer to my bouncy thrill, I learned that the words cellar door are celebrated as two of the most beautiful in the English language–by scholars, journalists, novelists, and even Donnie Darko’s school teacher. I came across this article about the euphonious nature of the phrase while trying to determine the proper name of the sidewalk phenomenon. I also found a number of NYC lawyers who want to know if we’ve been injured by a cellar door, making sure we know that it’s possible.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post, you might like this one about the sound of a plastic bottle. Or this one on footstep sounds.

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