I lost my job, again, and maybe permanently this time. The only positive thought that this evokes is that I lasted 17 years at this job, an improvement on the 13 years I lasted in my previous job. Getting fired twice in 30 years isn’t too shabby.
Wednesday I went to work as usual, with my home made lunch of a potato and green bean salad that I’d made myself, and my Daily News. I started buying the News for work a few years ago when the Times went up to $2.50. Besides I like the funnies and doing the jumble.
I started at three, after changing into my doorman’s uniform. I took my post in the lobby and began the work of answering the phone, opening the door for people who needed help, accepting and delivering packages, petting dogs and playing with kids, and chatting with tenants- pretty easy stuff, right?
I stand at a desk, and the desk houses a phone and a video monitor. I am supposed to watch the monitor in addition to doing all the other stuff. Well, playing with kids and petting dogs is not part of that, but it is good will.
The video monitor.
So I watch; I watch people going up and down the elevator, people doing their laundry, my coworkers going up and down and fixing and maintaining. Nothing interesting ever happens. That was until Wednesday night around 7:30 PM.
There is a lull between 7 PM and 8:30 PM. Most of the people have come home from work, the early dinners have been delivered, and all the dogs have gone out for their pre-dinner walk. I have been on my feet for 4 hours straight.
Mind you, after 5 PM I am alone. The rest of the staff leaves at 5, and I have to wait till 11 PM to be relieved. If I need to go to the toilet I have a little hand written sign that says “back in 2 minutes,” I put the sign up on the glass door and lock it and go downstairs to the bathroom. I usually go twice, once right after 6 and again between 8 and 9.
The after 7 lull is when I get a chance to sit down for a few minutes; I get no lunch break, and I’m supposed to be in the same place on my feet for 8 hours. So when I get the opportunity to rest my legs I take it. I sat down on the arm of the easy chair in the lobby, and I read the Daily News.
At some point near 8 PM a tenant came in and I got up to stand behind the desk, my post. That’s when I noticed some men standing next to the service entrance outside on the monitor. One was a policeman in uniform, and two others were policemen in plainclothes.
I could tell they were policemen by the badges they had hanging from a chain around their necks.
They were going through the pockets of another man, a black man. One of the police officers looked up at the camera and pressed the intercom button. I knew at that moment that my life was about to change. I swallowed hard.
Going outside instead of answering the phone I approached the cop, a young white guy with very short reddish-blond hair and a shy smile and I asked, “did you just ring the intercom?”
“Yeah! Are you the doorman for this building?”
“Yes I am. What’s the problem?”
“Ah, well we just got this guy here, (indicating the black man who was being handcuffed) he was downstairs. We’ve been following him for a couple of hours.”
“He was downstairs?” I felt a sharp pain in my chest as I saw my world start to crumble around me. An intruder was in the building and I didn’t even know it. It would come down to how long he was down there.
“Yeah, we saw him go down and we followed him down- we didn’t want to give him a chance to kick somebody’s door down or anything… do you have access to the camera monitors?”
I took him inside as he introduced himself as Sergeant so-and so. My ears were ringing so badly I didn’t even catch his name. I led him to the monitor and he pointed to the basement hallway.
“That’s where we got him. We were in the locker room.”
They were in the locker room, and I didn’t even notice. The situation was getting worse by the second. This jovial, easygoing cop was happily nailing my coffin shut.
“Can we get copies of the video? I’ll give you my card and you can call us in the morning.” I would have loved to say sure and say nothing, but I knew what I had to do.
“Let me get the super.” I took the cop over to the super’s door and knocked. When he came to the door I said:
“Somebody broke in through the back door. These officers got him, and they want to see our video.” His face sort of blanched too, but I knew I was going to take the fall for this one. He took the cop down to his office.
A few minutes later two of the other cops came in, a uniformed one and the Sergeant’s plainclothes partner.
“Where’s the other officer?” I sent them to the super’s office. Twenty minutes later they came up and left. It was almost 9 by this time and I had to pee badly.
The super stayed downstairs, and I watched him on the monitor as he went to the backdoor to the basement, the second door the intruder had gone through; and test it, to make sure it was locked. It usually isn’t, since the staff is constantly going in and out of the courtyard, and outside workers have to enter the building.
At 9:30 I couldn’t hold it any longer and I put my little sign on the door, locked it and took the passenger elevator to the basement. I ran into the bathroom in the laundry room, peed as fast as I humanly could and went back to the lobby. The super finally came up to the lobby a little after ten.
“It doesn’t look good for you, my friend. This guy was sitting in the laundry room for 20 minutes, and you were sitting on the arm of the chair the whole time reading the paper. You were not doing your job.” I felt sick to my stomach.
The infamous laundry room and the chair the guy sat in.
I think I am a good doorman. I’ve never lost a package, I’m always courteous and helpful to the tenants, pass along messages and answer the phones efficiently. No intruder has ever gotten through the front door on my watch. I look at the monitor every time I hear the elevator move, especially if it goes to the basement, as that’s the only way up. There are no inner stairs from the basement, only the service stairs down from the service entrance on the street.
I don’t think anyone stands at the desk and stares at the monitor all day. When I come in my relief is often sitting on a stool way in the back of the lobby by the freight elevator; nowhere near the monitor. It could have happened to any of us, unfortunately it happened to me.
This was a random occurrence, it’s sort of like driving down the highway, you’re a good, safe driver, you follow all the rules and pay attention. Then one day a car from the opposite lane jumps the divider and collides into you head on. Who knows why this guy chose our building to break into? But he did and It’s just my bad luck.
The next day the super told me the guy had been sitting in the laundry room for 20 minutes, and that the security people had come and looked along with the building manager. No decision had been made as to my fate. They were “upset,” the super told me. “Doesn’t look good for you, but I’ll keep you posted. I worked Thursday night, without reading the paper or taking my eyes off the monitor. But it was too late; the horse had already fled the barn.
When I reported for work yesterday the axe fell, the super informed me that I was “suspended indefinitely,” whatever that means. I have to go to the union Monday to see if there is any hope of getting my job back.
It was a déjà vu all over again, to quote Yogi Berra. When the same thing happened last year, because the super thought I was a lousy handyman, I had visions of being homeless, broke and hungry. I’ve been there once, and I know what it feels like, and I don’t ever want to be there again.
But that didn’t happen; I was reassigned to the desk and took a cut in pay. I may not be so lucky this time; I might really be out of a job.
The fear seeps in despite the knowledge that I am a smart, capable man who knows how to do many things, and that I will find another job. But until all of this is resolved, the fear will be there, gnawing at my insides like some manic gopher, “what’s gonna happen, what’s gonna happen…”
I guess one day I’ll find out; I just have to be patient about it and not freak out.