Photo by Holly Northrop
September 2012 - In anticipation of an Occupy Wall Street march up Park Avenue, I am polishing the brass poles of the canopy and humming The Internationale. Although my employers, the bankers and traders who live in this elegant pre-war co-op, are hostile to OWS’s call for higher taxes on the rich, I am among the movement’s most enthusiastic supporters. No one can appreciate how inequitably wealth is distributed in America better than a Park Avenue doorman.
Last month, while I was carrying his bags to the elevator after his return from the Republican convention in Tampa, Mr. 16B lectured me on how Mitt Romney’s plan to cut taxes, particularly on capital gains, would stimulate the economy and create jobs. The hedge fund executive was untroubled by the fact that he, who derives most of his seven-figure income from capital gains, was already paying a lower tax rate than I, his capital gains-less doorman.
To prove that, despite his regressive views on taxation, he was not an ungenerous man, Mr. 16B gave me a gift from the convention: a ROMNEY FOR PRESIDENT button. I thanked him for the souvenir, which showed the Bain Capital bloodsucker in front of an American flag, grinning ghoulishly, as if he’d just shut down a factory and thrown a thousand people out of work.
After Mr. 16B got in the elevator, I put the button safely away in the desk drawer. Repulsed though I was by the thought of ever wearing it, I wanted to hold on to the button, certain that it would someday be an important artifact—a symbol of the last days of our Gilded Age before it was swept into the dustbin of history by Occupy Wall Street and other progressive forces.
Blind to the inevitability of their downfall, the plutocrats will defend their wealth and privilege by any means necessary. Last year, our billionaire mayor unleashed his goon squads to drive OWS from Zuccotti Park. Now that the activists have re-emerged, Wall Street’s man in City Hall is again doing everything in his power—e.g., denying them a permit to march in the street today—to silence them.
I’m at the desk, sorting the tenants’ mail when I hear the distant rumble of the parading protesters. The chant of “We Are the 99%” gets louder as they slowly advance up the sidewalk of Park Avenue. I’m going to greet the valiant idealists with my fist raised in solidarity. They will undoubtedly cheer my courageous act of defiance, my willingness to ally myself with a cause anathema to my masters. But just as the vanguard of the march reaches 72nd Street, a taxi pulls up in front of the building. I open the taxi door and assist Mrs. 7A with her bags. Shackled to her purchases from Bergdorf’s, I am unable to raise my fist as the marchers begin passing by.
Hurrying into the lobby, I unload the bags on Carmelo, the elevator operator. Before I can get back to the door to welcome the next wave of protesters, I am shanghaied by 3C and her pug, Harry. “Can you take him for a quick walk?” she asks, handing me the leash.
When we get outside, the dog ignores the marchers, but lifts a leg in salute to the pole of an alternate-side parking sign. With my free hand, I am finally able to pay tribute to these crusaders for social justice. My white-gloved fist militantly raised, I await the warm embrace of proletarian brotherhood.
“Millionaires should walk their own dogs,” shouts a dreadlocked demonstrator.
“There’s something wrong in this country,” shrieks a young Elizabeth Warren-type, “when the pets of the 1% are treated better than 99% of the humans.”
Responding to the shrillness of their tone, if not the meaning of their words, Harry yaps at the protesters. The little dog scrambles wildly, trying to get at them. I become entangled in the leash, stumble, and lose my hat. Our antagonists laugh as I struggle to pick up the hat while restraining the belligerent pug.
“Your job is so degrading,” heckles Dreadlocks.
“Your job is so degrading,” repeats the group behind him.
The news of my degradation echoes down Park Avenue over the human microphone.
“There is dignity in all honest labor,” I tell them. “From each according to his abilities…”
That I would dare to quote Marx to justify my job as a toady of the 1% enrages the young lefties. “Class traitor,” they hiss, menacingly shaking their END CAPITALIST RULE and THE WORKERS UNITED WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED signs at me. Before I can explain how I’m trying to change the system from within, I am struck in the chest by a copy of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of America. The Essential Chomsky glances off my right shoulder. Some unemployed post-colonial studies major nearly brains me with Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. Though his aim is a little off, his timing is perfect. Harry has just evacuated his bowels, and in my eagerness to welcome the marchers, I have forgotten to bring a plastic bag. I try using the book to clean up after the dog, but poor Harry has been having digestive trouble of late. The Wretched of the Earth, however trenchant and profound a critique of colonialism, is not very absorbent. I’m going to need the hose.
After disposing of the soiled book, I give Harry to Carmelo and open the service entrance door. While I uncoil the hose, OWS continues to abuse me. Although I am upset by the Tea Party-like hooliganism, I understand that their alienation is the inevitable result of a de-humanizing capitalist system that turns worker against worker. So I stoically purge the sidewalk of Harry’s excrement and ignore their gibes—until Dreadlocks sneers, “Love your bow tie.”
“Is that jacket genuine polyester?” taunts one of his comrades.
“Is that jacket genuine polyester?” taunts the human microphone, repeatedly.
In my years as a doorman, I have learned to grin and bear insults, but beneath the green polyester carapace is a vulnerable, sensitive soul; and I’m a little touchy about the uniform. I blast my tormentors with the hose. Dreadlocks, my primary target, squeals at the shock of the cold water; a few of the rabble-rousers pathetically try to deflect the torrent with their signs, while the rest, forsaking all pretense of solidarity, run for cover.
Even as I’m savoring my revenge, my liberal guilt begins to conjure up images of Alabama sheriffs and civil rights demonstrators. I reluctantly cease fire. Within seconds, the insults start again, louder and uglier than before. I resume my attack but the mob doesn’t run away. Confused, I continue to douse them until I realize that these people, who’ve been living out of their cars and sleeping in parks, are goading me into giving them free showers.
When they see me putting the hose away, the soggy agitators shuffle off up the block. Angry and disillusioned, I spend the rest of the afternoon questioning my left-wing convictions. Can my entire political philosophy be as misguided as my allegiance to Occupy Wall Street? Have I unjustly vilified job-creating financiers, like Mitt Romney, whose great wealth is only fair compensation for their heroic contributions to the nation’s prosperity?
I am still brooding when I open the door for Mr. 16B. He gives me a little wave as he negotiates a deal on his cell phone, something to do with “variance swaps.” If the taxes he and the other tenants had to pay weren’t so much lower than mine, maybe they’d decide they couldn’t afford to employ a doorman. What would happen to me? I certainly couldn’t depend on those lazy, smelly, obnoxious protesters to give me a job.
I take the ROMNEY FOR PRESIDENT button out of the desk drawer and pin it to my jacket, checking out the result in the lobby’s full-length mirror. This uniform: the hat, the bow tie, the gloves, the polyester suit—viciously mocked by Occupy Wall Street—has never looked so good.