I’m the senior doorman in an apartment building and I work from seven o’clock, am, until four o’clock in the afternoon five days a week. When I open the door for the tenants to go to work, or wherever, and to let them come back in later, they smile and say, “Hi, Ken.” or, “Hello, Ken.” or, “Good evening, Ken.” or something similar.
Everyday I get greetings by the hundreds and I know every one of their surnames and I’ve mastered the art of not letting the slightest trace of obsequiousness get into my voice all through the year as I open the door for them but when Halloween is upon us – as it is now and Thanksgiving will be here soon and on its heels will come Christmas – from now on I and everyone on the staff will be extra attentive and extra willing to oblige and for me – with daily, direct contact with nearly all of the tenants – it will be difficult to not let expectancy show in my eyes and a little fawning appear in my demeanor.
As they approach the door whether going out or coming in I see the numbers on the checks that they’ll leave for me in little brown, or regular sized white, envelopes.
“Good morning, Mr. Haroldson.” ($200)
“Hello, Mrs. Kapstar.” ($150)
“Morning, Mr. Webster.” ($200)
“Hello again, Mrs. Chepstow.” ($100)
I’ll get a total of between fourteen and fifteen thousand dollars, mostly tax free, and that is the only reason that I, or any of us on the staff, continue to put up with working here.
Through the long year I take home around five hundred dollars a week – clearly we all have to get second jobs to keep hearth and home together – and so all luxuries, apart from cigarettes and six packs of beer, come from the Xmas bonuses.
New clothes and carpets and toasters and meals in restaurants and a week in Florida in April all come under the heading of luxuries in my house.
Standing around all day and having to go out repeatedly in all weathers to help with packages – or to find a taxi, or whatever – doesn’t bother us much because it comes with the job – as we well knew when we applied for it – as does the boredom but what is hard to take is the abuse, albeit mostly subtle, that comes at us.
The rawest of it comes from the tenant’s children who treat us like servants and they don’t know how to soften the contempt that they have for us when they realize that our menial jobs are what passes for careers in our lives and that it is what we do and always will be doing to earn a living while their parents go out to Wall Street, or wherever, and do battle everyday to hold on to their status and their huge salaries and unimaginably high bonuses.
Some of the abuse comes from people who live in the building and who ignore us until we do something that they don’t approve of – a little like their relationship with their refrigerators, or one of the elevators, if they stop working properly – and some of it comes from the Manager and the Super who know exactly how little we earn and why we put up with it all and how far they can push us and then they seem to experiment with pushing a little further.
In our building an amount of abuse that’s far out of proportion comes to us all from one tenant, Mrs. Trubshaw, who is widowed and lives in apartment 8-2B. She has her sister living with her, full time, and she is almost as crabby as Mrs. Trubshaw is but, thank the Lord, she defers to her sister whenever she’s present which is most of the time.
They both kind of inspect us everytime that they see us as if they’re looking for dirty fingernails or the like and they never use our names. It’s always, “you”, or, “that one” – and I’ve never heard a “please” or a “thank you” from either of them.
They both go out for a walk every morning and they think that it’s their responsibility to police the corridors and the lobby and the front of the entire building. If they spot so much as a candy wrapper on the sidewalk within twenty feet of the entrance they’ll retrace their steps and tell me about it and expect immediate action.
When that happens I daren’t call down for a porter and much less for a handyman – I’d never hear the last of it if I did – and I can’t go myself because dear Mrs. Trubshaw would probably report me for leaving my post so I pretend to call down and alert someone then I assure her that it will be dealt with shortly and when they’ve turned the corner I nip out and pick up the offending piece of trash. Their pet peeve is dog droppings and I’ve often seen the two women stick around and watch while a dog on a leash is straining to make a deposit and woe to the person who doesn’t do a good job of cleaning up after it.
As you might guess Mrs. Trubshaw gives out envelopes at Xmas only because the ‘house rules’ say that she has to give us all something – the amounts in the envelopes aren’t checked, of course, but the presence, or absence, of the envelopes is noted – and all of them, the ones for the Manager and for the Super and for the cleaners and for the handymen and for all of the rest of us, contain a check for the princely sum of fifteen dollars. I feel bad about it when I endorse mine but imagine how the Manager and the Super must feel.
And yet we stay! It’s definitely not for the pension like cops and firemen and city workers and for members of the armed services and it’s not for the huge paychecks and the generous benefits of tradesmen who have strong unions and it’s not for the year round tips like waiters and barkeeps and doormen at hotels (these last actually pay the management to be allowed to keep their jobs!) no, it’s only for the Xmas bonuses that are collectively too big a sum to think about giving up on.
I can’t see a way out of it.
My second job is unpacking boxes and stacking shelves in a supermarket and I work there on Saturdays and Sundays and two nights in the week.
We have recently had our elevators modernized and two features were added that drive us nuts. The worst one is the “Taxi” call button in each elevator – it is pushed very often ‘by mistake’ – and the other one is the security system that was installed that has it’s controls under the counter of our new Security Desk. It gives us control of the floor buttons in both of the passenger elevators, except the buttons for the lobby of course, and so we have to select the appropriate one for every tenant who comes in. When visitors show up we have to call up to the apartment for permission before we can send them there, which causes more delay, and you can imagine how irritating inter-floor travel must be for the tenants.
All of that extra work means that now a second person is needed in the Lobby all day long and when one of us is on a break the other one is kept very busy.
The new system makes me feel that I’m a guard in a prison and don’t ask me if we’ve been given a raise to cover all of the extra work.
Tradesmen who have never been here before often come in the front entrance and want to be allowed to go up to various floors and we have to tell them about having to use the rear Service Entrance. None of them like being told that and we can see the resentment in their faces so we quickly go on to say that the Super will want to check them out first anyway and that his office is just inside the door back there and, besides that, the service elevator is much handier for them, even though it plainly isn’t, really.
We now come to the part of this story that is going to make the rest of this year and some of next year nearly bearable for me and for everyone who works here.
Around an hour ago, I intercepted three workmen who had come into the Lobby and who were abut to head over to the
elevators and I told them about the Service Entrance rule and as I was saying it I saw that one of them – obviously the youngest one
but who, nevertheless, had a barrel chest and an impressive beer belly – had slipped off his jacket and underneath it he was wearing
a T-shirt that had writing across the front of it and the message, writ large, was:
“IF IT AINT HARD
IT AINT WORTH A FUCK.”
After grinning to convey to them all that I thought that it was very clever and very funny, and also to let them see that I was
a wage slave too and not a bit prudish, I was on the point of asking which one of them was in charge so as to tell him to get the guy to
at least turn the offensively worded T-shirt inside out when I suddenly remembered that Mrs. Trubshaw had told me the day before
that she was expecting a team of workers to do some tile work for her and that they would be showing up to-day.
I uttered a silent prayer and then I asked them if they were ‘tile-men’ and when they said yes I asked them if they were going
to work in Apt. 8-2 B.
I had to turn my head away because I felt anticipatory delight rising inside me and when I’d gotten it under control I turned
back and told them that, seeing that it was cold outside, they didn’t have to go out there and then walk all of the way around the
building to get to the Super’s office because I’d show them a better way.
I took them through a door in the corridor and then down the stairs to the basement and then I led them around and through
the maze of passageways and eventually into the Super’s office.
The one with the T-shirt, being the youngest and probably the helper, came in through the door last and he stayed behind the
My escorting them there was a highly irregular procedure but the Super only raised his eyebrows at me because he knew
that I must have had a good reason to desert my post at the front desk.
I told him that they were going up to work in 8-2B and at the mention of that apartment number he grimaced but he held his
tongue some more as he gave me time to surprise him. I could see puzzlement in his eyes and when he saw how mine were shining
with impossible to hide glee a hopeful smile began to show on his face .
I nodded at him, which encouraged the smile, and then I said, “They are tile-men and Mrs. Trubshaw told me yesterday that
they were coming this morning to do some work in her bathrooms and that she wouldn’t be going on her usual walk because she
would have to be in her apartment to let them in and then to supervise their work.”
While I was saying that I took my car keys out of my pocket and when I’d finished explaining I let them fall to the floor at my
side and I gave the Super another meaningful nod. To retrieve my keys I had to bend down and I made room for myself to do so by
kind of bustling aside the two guys who were behind me and by doing that it allowed the Super to read the message on the helper’s T-
The sight delighted him and he shot me a glance of approval that was, I think, quite likely the only one that he’d ever directed
at me, and, possibly, ever will.
He asked the three guys to wait a minute and then he called up to 8-2B to let Mrs. Trubshaw know that her workmen were in
the building and that the three of them would be coming up to her in a few minutes and then he told me to please take them over to the
service elevator and wait there with them and that he would re-join us soon.
When he did so he used his Fire Recall Key to bring the service elevator down at once, non-stop, and he ushered us all
in and he used the key again inside to give him full control but then he didn’t push the button to close the door and the reason for that
became evident to us when we saw the Manager come hurrying down the passageway to join us.
Somehow word had spread like wildfire through the building and when we got up to the eighth floor there were already a half
dozen guys hanging around trying to look as if they had a work assignment there and some carried brooms and some had paint cans
and brushes and one of them was pretending to take the cover off a connection box and another one was on his knees apparently
checking out the lay of the carpet.
We all hung back and out of direct sight as the Super walked up to the door of 8-2B and he waited there until the three
workmen had caught up to him and were standing behind him with, once again, the helper at the rear.
The Super pushed the doorbell and when he heard Mrs. Trubshaw call out and ask who was there he gestured to the nearest
guy that he was to identify himself.
He did so.
It was then the Super’s turn to be tricky because when he heard the locks being drawn inside the apartment he turned so as
to force the guy who was behind him to step back and over to the side and then he moved after him to both keep him
shepherded out of the way and to get out of sight himself. By doing all of that he’d craftily created a space which the helper
automatically stepped forward to fill.
The shriek that we all heard a moment or two later will, as I said earlier, keep all of us warm through this winter and the
memory of it will surely be a source of strength for us to draw on, in trying-times, for who knows how long?