Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Doormen—Keepers of More Than Just the Door?

Doormen have long been associated with swanky addresses in New York City, so it's not surprising that news of a strike last week opened the door (no pun intended—okay, maybe just a small one) for ridicule of doorman-affiliated lifestyles. The New York Times asked:
Who will safeguard my apartment as I sleep? Greet my children when they come home from school? Accept deliveries? Clean the hallways? Sort the mail? Operate the elevator? And who, for goodness sake, will let the cleaning lady in?
The Times went further to create instructions for residents on how to open doors for themselves, drawing criticism and defensive remarks from doorman and non-doorman building residents alike. Fortunately, the strike was averted, and residents escaped having to assume the responsibilities of doormanship themselves. But if you aren't from New York City or another doorman friendly city, you may be wondering what the fuss is about: Why are they so integral to life in New York City? [Right: A doorman at his post on Wall Street.]

Doormen provide security. They screen visitors, hail cabs, collect dry cleaning, sort mail, take out the trash, and operate elevators. And yes, they open doors. For residents of approximately 3,200 co-ops, condominiums, and rental buildings in New York City, a strike would have meant having to assume these responsibilities themselves or making adjustments to their lifestyles until an agreement could be reached. None of these items by themselves represent something that an individual could not do—indeed, folks in non-doorman facilities, are quite used to doing these tasks for themselves. So what is it about doormen (there are few doorwomen) that makes them special?

Doormen are service providers. However, unlike the cleaning staff, who may complete their tasks during times when no one is present, doormen are highly visible all the time. And though their duties may not be obvious to non-residents of their buildings, their presence does impart a sense of authority and exclusiveness. After all, they primarily serve to prevent unauthorized access to the facilities. Sans doorman, who knows what mayhem could ensue, as Jerry Seinfeld learns in "The Doorman" episode of Seinfeld when he assumes the doorman post, grows bored and leaves the post, and finds that the sofa is stolen from the unguarded lobby. However, as Jerry and his friend Elaine strategize on how best to reduce Jerry's culpability shows, the public perception of doormen is not one that places them in high esteem: "So what? No-one's gonna believe a doorman!"

Video: Black and white cartoon depicting a clip from "The Doorman" episode of Seinfeld. Audio matches original transcript. Original footage is unavailable.

Elaine was wrong of course. People grow quite loyal to their doormen. And this is part of what keeps the industry alive. Doormen provide a sense of familiarity in an otherwise uncertain—and sometimes unfriendly—world. Doormen learn your routines, they often see children grow up, they know your preferences for takeout, and come to know your close associates. They are privvy to a fair amount of information about your life. Mark, a doorman for a residential building on Wall Street, described knowing that divorce was imminent for a young couple before the moving boxes lined the lobby:
I saw them every day. They were like any couple in love at first. They held hands, they laughed. And that changed. They would wait for the elevator in silence. They were shorter with each other. At first I thought it was a just a tough time—I've seen enough relationships to know they all go through a tough time. Even my own has been through a rough patch. But then their routines changed: she would take the kids to school when they used to do it together. And they were less comfortable with each other. I knew they were in trouble.
What's the current salary for life coaches?

Know a doorman or live in a doorman building? Share your stories and experiences below—how did the building prep for the potential strike, what kind of relationship do you have with your doorman, etc.?

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