Death of a Doorman

Last night, one of the doormen in our building was apparently killed by a drunk driver. We’re still not clear on the details, and I’m not even sure if the linked article refers to our doorman (after all, this was late at night and a long way from New York City, and he was scheduled to be on duty at 7:00 this morning), but the name is the same and he did die in a car accident last night. My wife woke me with the news this morning, weeping when she returned from walking Olive around 7:00, having heard about it as the other staff coming on and going off duty at that hour did.

It’s sad in all of the ways that someone in your life dying is sad, and in all of the ways that someone dying so senselessly is sad. But it’s also sad in the personal ways that José (or Antonio as we knew him, for reasons that are too complicated to explain) was unique. For us, he was the patriarch of the staff. He always would greet Olive with a “dinnertime, niñita” or “bedtime, niñita” when we returned from walks (which is a little uncanny given that the name of the town in which this happened is Olive). And he somewhat reminded my wife of her late father and the milieu in which he lived, so this was especially hard for her.

My wife and I hold the staff of our building in a sort of awe, not so much for what they do, but for what they mean to us. Gawker recently had an interesting discussion of what doormen mean to New Yorkers. People seem to have a range of attitudes toward doormen, and we’ve witnessed a pretty good sampling of that range among our neighbors. Some see them as employees, some as friends and confidants, and some as servants or even appurtenances of the building. For my wife and me, who had never known such a luxury before moving into this building five years ago, they’re people we see and chat with several times a day who take care of us in countless small ways. It wouldn’t be accurate to call them friends or family (though there are people who’ve been in this building for decades for whom that would be accurate), but it doesn’t feel accurate to call them employees or servants either. I imagine that this isn’t such big deal for people who are more socially at ease, but for me I’m always a little unsure of how to interact with them.

This morning, I dreaded going out to do my Saturday errands, because I wouldn’t know what to say to the doormen and porters when I saw them (though not nearly as much as I dread being in the elevator for the inevitable asinine comments from some of our more callously patrician neighbors when they hear the news, likely after returning from their summer away). And then I realized that there wasn’t anything for me to do or say beyond simply being present and aware, and offering whatever seems appropriate in the moment. There is nothing I can accomplish beyond that, and there’s nothing I can do to improve the situation for those affected. And my discomfort is entirely beside the point.

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