Being a doorman in Manhattan is a position of prestige and pride, the front line of defense and friendship for the residents who pass by them every day, part of their duties is to make life a bit easier in a very difficult city. They are unionized. Being jostled through a subway commute, maybe even a nasty weather walk from your stop, then seeing a smartly uniformed man open the door with a smile while saying your name made a very tall building seem like home.
I was lucky in the place I happened to have chosen when I first shopped for a landing spot on a frenzied one-day apartment search for my relocation from LA.
I hadn’t lived in a doorman building since the mid-90s when Billy and I moved to the city for a few years, and even then, we became friends with the guys downstairs. This latest move, back in March of 2015, gave me an even better sense of community because the men at the door and desk were warm, kind, and I was alone, so they were really the only people I saw outside of work.
When the lockdown came, I feared for their safety. They had to greet every delivery man, guest, or random person who came through the doors. They didn’t wear masks for the first week or two, those naïve days in mid-March, but quickly the building adapted to a very sad new reality and I only saw them three times a day when I walked Jim or went to the store.
Early on, when I first moved in, every time I would go shopping, I’d ask whoever was on duty what they wanted. Something to drink? Snack? Name it. I didn’t know if that was protocol, but it was my way of thanking them, and from that, I got to know them a bit better.
Sure, I had my favorites. Every single morning, most times before the sun came up, I’d see Chris when the elevator reached the lobby. Chris was young-dad-handsome, a small gap between his front teeth that gave way to a sparkly smile, dark curly hair with just enough product, glasses, and built for rugby. He worked the graveyard shift so he could spend more time with his kids, the oldest just entering high school.
“Hey Chris, you break up any parties last night?” and he’d smile at my daily greeting and shake his head, because we were in a relatively sedate neighborhood for Manhattan.
Carlos was nothing but sunshine smiles and flawless skin. The youngest on the staff, he started out as a maintenance man for the building and when one of the doormen retired, I was one of many who wrote to the management company to champion him as a replacement. With the build of a football player, he was the building’s teddy bear who I plied with popcorn or yogurt, his favorite snacks. I gave him a nice Samsung TV when I bought a new one.
I also gave Oscar one later on. Oscar was wiry with a slight Puerto Rican accent and he liked Gatorade. I never even bothered to ask what he wanted when I’d head out. He was consistent. He was also best friends with Carlos. There were always two on duty, except on Chris’s shift, one at the door and one behind the desk. When Carlos and Oscar were paired, you could see their camaraderie as they navigated everything thrown at them from sorting packages to fielding food delivery to greeting the guests of the residents.
There was Terrence, an elegant Jamaican with a wife and kids at home in Queens. When I first moved in, I’d jokingly called him “Terry,” but he wasn’t having it. He would barely look up to acknowledge me and I soon adjusted to his proper name. After that, we were golden. He was a healthy man who exceptional posture who favored juices.
Luis was the chief, the one who brought Carlos into the fold, and from day one, he helped me adjust from the whiplash of moving from my crazy old house in LA to my new reality on the 25th floor that had a killer view of the new World Trade Center. Luis liked soft drinks or beef jerky.
All of these men did me special favors, brought things up to my apartment when I wasn’t home, fielded installations or repairs with the maintenance staff, took care of my dogs when they came home from school every day. They were always there for me and they became my family in my new strange city, offering advice or direction. All of these men were my friends and I miss them very much.
And all of these men knew my secrets, the visitors I had over those five-plus years or my wobbly drunkenness after walking home from a neighborhood bar on a Friday night or in Chris’s case, one of my greatest shames when he saw me on a security cam outside the backdoor yelling at poor Jim when she wouldn’t pee during a cold driving rain when I was trying to rush to the gym before dawn.
“Are you okay, Terry?” he asked, his eyes dark with surprise and judgment. I nodded and rushed into the elevator with the dogs. We never spoke of it. I never knew how to explain as there was no explanation to be had other than my violent selfishness.
When the countdown to my relocation back to LA started, I felt an urgency to let them know how much I cared for them as individuals. I long forgot to see them as <i>my</i> doormen. And after three months of the lockdown, it was time for me to leave. I wanted to hug each one, get a silly selfie with them that I’d treasure, but that was no longer possible. So I meekly asked each if I could take their picture. I only got four of them just because of timing. When lockdown happened, they spread out their shifts so only one was on call rather than the pair.
I’m now in another high rise in downtown LA, but the doorman game here is so very different. They are more security, batting away dealers and prostitutes. They may look up to greet me when I pass by, maybe not. But I think back on my Battery Park building and the uniformed friends I made there, and I only wish I could continue to thank them as I will always remember their kindness.