The Doorman’s Double Life, #2



960 park ave ny 10028

Neighborhood: Upper East Side

The introduction to this column, and its first episode, can be read here.


    I am here less than an hour before I slice my finger with a box cutter while breaking down some boxes 8B left in the hallway—her weekly fix from the Home Shopping Network. I should probably put a bandage on it, but the boss is bellowing for me to polish the brass in the boiler room. He says it looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in months. In fact, I haven’t ever cleaned the brass in the boiler room. It’s news to me that there is anything brass down there. Anyway, I get a rag and the polish and go to work on the two brass door knobs that the boss has suddenly decided must be positively luminous in order for the building to survive another day. I’m rubbing one of the door knobs vigorously when some of the polish gets into my open cut. It feels like I’ve been given an injection of napalm. I cry out in pain, but get no sympathy from the boss. “I know, it hurts for you to do a little honest work once in a while,” he says. I run up the stairs to wash out the cut. The service car is ringing furiously. I ignore the elevator until after I’ve cleaned out the cut. I say a quick prayer that I don’t die of blood poisoning and answer the call.

     Mrs. 18A is shrieking at me before I get the elevator door open. The woman is so frantic I assume there must be an emergency, a flood or a gas leak. But the situation is even worse than I feared—her dog has pulled a glue mousetrap from under the oven. Miraculously, the trap did not get stuck on the dog, but it is now lying, sticky side down, on the linoleum tile. She’s screaming at me to get it up. It’s ruining her beautiful new floor. I try to peel it off, but it might as well be painted on the tile for all I can move it. I pull harder and a small piece of the cardboard trap comes off in my hand. I throw it in the garbage before giving the trap one final yank. “Don’t pull too hard,” commands Mrs. 18A. “I don’t want you to pull off—”

     Rip! Too late. The mousetrap and the tile are now both in my hand. From her agonized expression and banshee’s howl you’d swear I ripped out her pancreas along with the tile. I am cursed for my incompetence. She threatens to have me fired, sued, arrested, and killed.

     Although I am blameless in this case, (then again, maybe I’m not; I suppose if I had held down the tile with my left hand while pulling with my right, the tile wouldn’t have come loose) she is right. I am the worst porter this building has ever had. That’s not to say I don’t work hard or that I’m unreliable. I’m never late for work and I haven’t missed a day of work in the two-and-a-half years I’ve been here. I’m also still young enough, despite my ever expanding girth, to be an effective beast of burden. But any task that requires an iota of intelligence or manual dexterity is beyond me. For example, on Sunday the old lady in 4C asked me to change the battery in her smoke alarm. I tried at least ten times, but could not get the new battery to fit into the slot. She looked at me with disgust. “Get down from there,” she snapped. “Let me try.” I got down off the chair and helped her get her arthritic, osteoporosis-ridden old bones onto it. Within five seconds I heard the battery click into place. She beamed triumphantly atop her pedestal, looking down on me with scorn and pity. I should’ve kicked the chair out from under her. She wouldn’t look so goddamned smug with a broken hip. To add to my humiliation, she wanted to pay me for my trouble. I said I didn’t want the money because I hadn’t done anything. “For trying,” she said, forcing two crumpled singles into my hand.

     Having said all that, I’m the last person who should be throwing stones, but the absolute helplessness of the tenants is pathetic. True, I have to ask my brother or my father to come to my apartment to hang a set of blinds or fix a bookshelf. And despite countless hours of instruction, I still can’t change a tire. My helplessness is born of a singular stupidity, but the tenants: they wear their infant-like dependence as a badge of privilege. They remind me of something I read in the Guinness Book of World Records. In it there was a picture of an Indian guy with the world’s longest fingernails. His nails were so long (I don’t remember the exact length) that they spiraled inwards like the horns of a ram. The book said that long fingernails were a status symbol in the highest caste of Indian society. The incapacitatingly long nails were a way of saying that he could afford to have someone perform even the smallest tasks for him. So it is with the tenants. Unlike me, they could probably learn to program their VCRs or change their own light bulbs, but then the neighbors might get the impression, not that they’re self-sufficient, but that they can’t afford to have someone do it for them.

     I make it to six thirty without destroying any more apartments and relieve Vince for his break. As he goes out, Mr. 3B and Mrs. 10A enter the building followed by one of the dry-cleaning delivery guys who is carrying what looks like the entire men’s department of Bergdorf’s on his back. “I know that can’t all be for me,” I say.

     “Sorry, my friend.” He doesn’t look too sorry, unloading his cargo piece by piece: 12B, 7C, 18A, 5E. The two tenants in the elevator are waiting for me, so I don’t have time to put the clothes in the package room. I take them to their respective floors, operating the elevator with my right hand and carrying about twenty five pounds of dry cleaning in my left. The metal hangers are biting into my hand and it takes all of my willpower not to drop the clothes until after 10A gets out of the elevator. As soon as I close the door behind her, I lay the clothes neatly on the floor. When I get back to the lobby I pick up the dry cleaning before I open the door because I know there are people waiting for me. This goes on for about twenty minutes before I finally get a chance to put the clothes away. I’m hanging the clothes in the package room when the elevator rings again. I hurry back to answer the call. Mrs. 14E and her friend Mindy are waiting in the elevator. 14E is carrying her infant daughter. “Watch this,” she says to Mindy. She holds her left hand in front of the baby’s face. The child is mesmerized by the reflected light shining off two obscenely large diamond rings her mother is wearing. “She could stare at them all day.”

     “Like mother, like daughter,” says Mindy. “Can you even bend your finger with those things on?”

     “Nope,” 14E proudly replies, demonstrating her inability to move her ring finger.

     Like the Indian guy with the long fingernails, this woman is determined to cripple herself with conspicuous consumption.

     A few minutes later, Mr. 14E and 7A arrive home from work. Now, here is an interesting study in contrasts. On the one hand, you’ve got 14E, the husband of the woman with half of South Africa’s Gross National Product on her left hand. He is a securities trader, a paragon of predatory, high-pressure, Darwinian capitalism. The man is buying and selling with tens of millions of other people’s money at stake every day. Not surprisingly, he is a wreck. When I see him returning from work (which isn’t often, since he usually doesn’t get home until after I’ve left) he looks like a shell-shocked veteran home from the front. He stands outside the building trying to get every last bit of nicotine from his cigarette because he knows he has to get all the way through the lobby, up fourteen flights in the elevator, and down the hall to his apartment before he can get another hit of nicotine.

     On the other hand, you’ve got 7A, an accountant for an insurance company. True to the image of his profession, he appears to be a quiet, even timid man. He is not the bundle of nerves that his fellow passenger is, but his discontent is just as obvious. It can be seen in the blankness of his expression, in the slow, mechanical, marching-to-the-grave rhythm of his gait. Despite his resemblance to one of the living dead, 7A is, in fact, quite the wild man. He rides a Harley, has climbed all the major peaks in North America and Europe, and is an avid skydiver. So, which of these two men would be a better role model for me: the man with a job so stressful that he will probably be dead of a heart attack within a year, or the man with a job so soul-suckingly stultifying that he is doing everything possible to get himself killed?


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