Fitzmas Past

by

12/22/2006

E 86th St & 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10028

Neighborhood: Upper East Side

Last year, after the indictment of Dick Cheney’s chief-of-staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Maureen Dowd wrote a column praising the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald. “It was bracing to see the son of a New York doorman open the door on the mendacious Washington lair of the Lord of the Underground.” At first, I was gratified to see Ms. Dowd recognize the achievements of the son of one of my brother doormen—even if it was with some truly feeble wordplay. But the more I thought about it, the more it sounded like an insult. Why should she be so surprised that someone as accomplished as Patrick Fitzgerald could have sprung from the loins of a humble doorman? Does she think us incapable of siring anything but another generation of illiterate drones?

The New York Times columnist has lived most of her life in Washington and what she knows of our profession has been gleaned less from personal experience than from popular culture, a subject to which she devotes far too many inches of her column. The NYC doorman is a much maligned character in film, television, and contemporary literature, and I wonder which specific works have shaped her low opinion of us. With so many possible sources, it is difficult to know for sure (with one big exception), but I would like to suggest a few possibilities.

In the offending column, Ms. Dowd refers to Mr. Fitzgerald as “This Irish priest of the law” and glories in his victory over Mr. Libby, the protestant banker’s son. This embarrassing display of ethnic cheerleading, in tandem with her libelous views on doormen, leads me to believe that she has read Peter Quinn’s historical thriller “The Hour of the Cat.” Mr. Quinn’s Irish Catholic private detective, Fintan Dunne, pursues an evil Nazi doctor and his henchmen in pre-war Manhattan while battling the prejudices of the WASP Establishment. But the real villain, the character whom Quinn seems to detest most passionately, is a doorman who is just doing his job: “The doorman at the building’s main entrance gave him the once-over that every doorknob polisher in the swank districts kept on ice for strangers, a look more of snobbery than suspicion, as if serving the rich made him one of them.”

Ouch.

Maybe Mr. Quinn is right about our inflated sense of self-regard, but I must object to the epithet “doorknob polisher.” I defy him to inspect the doorknob on the front door of my building and tell me it’s been polished in this millennium.

If Ms. Dowd has somehow overlooked “The Hour of the Cat,” perhaps it is “Wake Up, Sir!” by Jonathan Ames that has poisoned her mind against us. In a passage describing how his main character came into his small fortune, Ames demonstrates his contempt for the working man: “How this check came into my possession was that two years before I had slipped on some ice in front of a Park Avenue building and broken both of my elbows…I had been awarded $250,000 by the owner because the doorman should have salted the area where I fell.”

We are accustomed to criticism and ridicule, but inciting the masses to make us the target of phony lawsuits is a new low in the history of doorman-baiting. What is so insidious about Ames’s character assassination of the members of our profession is that it appears in a book that was purportedly written in homage to P.G. Wodehouse, the creator of Jeeves, the literary hero and role model for all of us “in service.” I will need an entire essay to properly express my hatred for this book. So, in my next piece, “Bring Me the Elbows of Jonathan Ames,” I will be analyzing the author’s crimes in greater detail and suggesting possible reprisals.

One can only hope that Ms. Dowd—and the rest of the world—has avoided this hateful book. And if we can’t blame Ames, the doorman’s Goebbels, for her condescending attitude towards us, then Colin Harrison, author of the novel “Afterburn,” has to become a prime suspect. There are two building staff members featured in his book who could have been the basis for Ms. Dowd’s image of Fitzgerald the Elder: Lionel, a sullen, illiterate elevator operator; and Kelly, a doorman who is servility incarnate—his every move calculated to increase his Christmas tip. These are the usual offensive stereotypes, and Ms. Dowd could just as easily have picked them up from watching reruns of “The Jeffersons,” but what makes “Afterburn” useful to our discussion is that it so clearly betrays the source of its bias. Mr. Harrison’s hero, a tenant in the building where Lionel and Kelly work named Charlie Ravitch, thinks, “If the police came by and wanted to know if you were in or out, they [the doormen] could give an answer. ‘Mr. Ravitch—he left a few minutes after eleven, sir.’ ”

Mr. Ravitch, along with Mr. Harrison and all these other writers, has been watching too much “Law & Order”. In countless episodes of this otherwise fine show, the detectives go to the doorman to get the dirt on the tenants. Typically, he is reluctant to snitch, but by threatening or cajoling, the cops get the information they want. Oftentimes, the doorman has to endure the cops’ wisecracks, the insinuations that the doorman has been less than vigilant (see: girl-gets-killed-in-laundry-room-during-teenage-lesbian-lovers’-spat episode.)

Being constantly portrayed as stupid, lazy, self-important, and greedy is insulting enough, but what bothers me even more is that the doormen on L & O don’t seem to have lives of their own. My all time favorite fictional doorman is in the movie “The First Deadly Sin.” In it, Frank Sinatra plays a detective who bribes a doorman to let him search the apartment of a tenant whom he suspects of being a serial killer. The doorman is the sleaziest and most realistic doorman ever seen on film or television. He sucks up to the tenants, he bitches about picking up dog shit, he takes a bribe that will get one of his tenants killed. I don’t know the actor’s name—he played Willie Cheech, the mob rat in “Godfather 2”—but he should be made an honorary member of our union, 32BJ. As vile as the character is, he at least has some personality, unlike the nonentities who are routinely interrogated by Detective Green and Detective Fontana.

Just once I would like to see the doorman on “Law & Order” do something besides rat out a tenant. Why can’t the doorman be the killer, or at least an accomplice? Maybe the victim? I know the producers of “L & O” pride themselves on the “ripped from the headlines” topicality of their show. Why not write an episode using the Patrick Fitzgerald story? A doorman is killed as an act of vengeance directed at the doorman’s son, a U.S. attorney, for prosecuting a corrupt politician.

Unfortunately, the American TV-watching public—including Maureen Dowd and Messrs. Quinn, Ames, and Harrison—has been brainwashed by years of the show’s virulent anti-doorman propaganda and would find a story revolving around a complex doorman with loves, hates, family, friends, and enemies of his own simply too far-fetched.

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