Think Living In A Doorman Building Is Easy?

Photo: peeterv/Getty Images

I decided to move out of the fifth-floor walk-up I shared with two college friends when the cockroaches no longer scattered in my presence. I found a studio in a building on the Upper West Side that my mother called “fancy schmancy.” It had eight doormen, five handymen, washers and dryers on each of the 37 floors, and a roof-deck overlooking Central Park. Was I worthy?

Truth be told, it wasn’t just the cockroaches that prompted my move, though my girlfriend had taken to tiptoeing across the floor as if it were a minefield. (I found her aversion to this basic survival technique of homo apartmentus as strange as she found my reaction to her aversion.) An equally important reason was that after graduating from NYU with an electrical and computer engineering degree, I’d accepted a job at an investment bank which shall remain nameless except to say a journalist once described it as a vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.

Though my move did solve my cockroach problem, I now faced a new predicament. Never having lived in a luxury building, I was clueless as to how to deal with the doormen. I tried making small talk, but they barely responded to my feeble efforts. They also wielded a powerful instrument of control: a revolving door which they swiveled for residents entering and exiting the lobby. Although the most fragile octogenarian could rotate the door, the doormen rushed to it the moment they spotted someone approaching. No matter how fast I increased my pace, I could never get to that damned door before they did. While swiveling, they would smile as if to say, “Who do you think you are, don’t even think of fucking with us.”

When I occasionally arrived by taxi, one of the doormen would hustle to open the door and grab my packages to ease the oh-so-difficult task of getting out of a cab. I started telling the cabbies to drop me off 10 yards away, in front of the underground garage to the building. I supposed I could come and go through the basement entrance where there’s no doorman, just a video buzz-in system. But why should I be consigned to the bowels of hell, like some subterranean creature?

I contemplated moving out, then decided that perhaps deeper conversations were in order to forge a real connection. One evening, I came home carrying a box from an artisanal pizza place, and Jerry the doorman said, “So, Michael, you like pizza.”

This was my chance. “Yup, for junk it’s the best — 80% of it is good for you.”

He looked at me blankly. “I just know it tastes good.”

I tried harder. “Don’t you think, Jerry, that the proliferation of places selling 99-cents-a-slice pizza is signaling the end of civilization as we know it?”

“Eh, pizza’s all the same. That’s the way I see it.”

“Hmm, that’s an interesting reductionist perspective.” My feet felt stuck in cement but, eventually, one foot moved and then the other. I made a beeline for the elevators.

Neither avoiding nor engaging the doormen seemed to be working. So I tried a new tactic.

There are two doormen at all times — except midnight to 8 a.m., when only the night doorman is on duty. He is a refreshingly surly guy who barely mutters hello. He doesn’t need me. I don’t need him. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I tried staying out late to avoid his chattier daytime counterparts, but coming home after midnight left me exhausted the next day. At work, my manager noticed the circles under my eyes and my sluggishness in completing certain tasks I normally whiz through. I also tried sleeping over at my girlfriend’s more often. But when she figured out why, she kicked my ass to the curb commanding me to “man up and deal with the doormen.”

Neither avoiding nor engaging the doormen seemed to be working. So I tried a new tactic. On a yellow pad, I scribbled all my doorman-related needs: that they would stand aside when I come and go, like the Red Sea parted for Moses; make no eye contact; refrain from calling me “sir” or “Mr. Sands” (or calling me anything at all, for that matter); and cease the infernal chitchat.

Over several days, I presented my (somewhat edited) list to each doorman, promising them an unusually large Christmas tip if they would comply. They responded with their usual affability, agreeing to whatever I wanted. It was impossible to ruffle these guys — there could be an outbreak of bubonic plague and they would just go about their business.

Now I breeze in and out of the lobby, exuding a Zen-like presence as the doormen avert their gaze. Perhaps they’re relishing the unique bond that we share. Maybe they’re thinking I’m just that weird guy in the building. Maybe they feel sorry for me. Maybe there’s a tacit acknowledgment that we’re engaged in ongoing class warfare.

Maybe it’s all of those things, but I don’t care. I’m killing it again at work. I’ve regained the respect of my girlfriend. Best of all, I now look forward to coming home, humbly grateful that my Amazon deliveries are safe in the package room, there are washers and dryers on my floor, and the doormen are silent as sphinxes as I zip in and out.

Challenger of assumptions. People worker. Recovering nihilist.

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