“Madness at Midnight” — Graveyard Shift Redemption at “The Abbott” — Part 2

Part 2 in a Series — Part 1 is here

by A Tortured Redemptionist

Monday, April 23, 2007 – Midnight

What a difference a week makes, weather-wise. Last weekend, 7.5 inches of rain drenched most of the Northeast. This week, moderating climes dried us out and temperatures rose in fits and starts and I can say that this weekend has been the best yet of 2007 from a “human comfortability” perspective. I can leave the inside Abbott lobby door open and let in the fresh air. This has the added advantage of letting me hear what’s going on outside, I can hear people coming down the block before I can see them, and I can determine by the timbre of their voices if they’re harmless or hurtful. For every advantage, disadvantages: I have to be extra vigilant that nobody gets silly notions of “storming” my stone lobby fortress and Bully Pulpit. It’s nice to chill in the stately Abbott lobby and bring some of the outdoor Midnight Madness into my passing hours.

Or is it? Just now, a sirens-blaring and lights-flashing fire truck came roaring onto 16th from Third, headed east down to Rutherford Place. In concordance, this fired up a car alarm from across the street, which wails even as the firetruck siren fades. Together the sirens cacophony echoes on the block and surely causes some waking moments behind a few of the many surrounding windows. Even as the car alarm blares then eventually shuts off, a massive garbage truck cranks up on the corner of Third & 16th, really booming away in the collection and compression efforts. Nice smell, too! So for a good five minutes, the block sounds like the hottest battlefield of a Noise War. I had to close the inner Abbott lobby door to shut out the noise and smell, and I’ll reopen it now I think peace in the valley reigns – for now, for now.
The mild weather brings out the nightlife, and in Manhattan that’s the young adult set. The PATH is a rolling eye-candy counter of fun-seeking dames in their “Saturday best” attire, some quite fetching. Union Square is a lively, casually indulgent scene. One couple sprawls on the 14th Street steps in a clothed karma-sutra embrace, while several nearby slacker/skateboarders vie for attention slamming around on their conveyances. They’re entitled pests who at any moment will disparage a pedestrian’s calm order by zipping too nearby. I’d bet even money I could exchange words with some of these louts if they interrupt my pre-work amble to the Abbott. Over here near the Abbott, a couple stopped in the 16th St. crosswalk to admire a lovely crescent moon, hanging West, centered above the 16th. Other couples gazed in passing, but this couple chose to memorialize their Moonstruck moment by passionately kissing in the crosswalk, in the middle of 16th just off Third. This kind of spontaneous affection can be heartwarming, but NOT in the middle of the street. Sure enough, a cab coming off Third onto 16th confronted the spontaneous Moonstruck swoons, and tooted slightly to remind them of their middle of the intersection station. The guy, of course, ruined any sympathy for his ardor by loudly berating the cabbie, who I wish in retrospect had foreswore his horn and plowed blithely over Moonstruck loverboy and his doubtless equally dopey dame. Skateboarders and who-cares-where-I-stand loverboys, Manhattan can be a troubling island, it’s never boring, never at Midnight, at 1 a.m., at 2 a.m. and so on through each hour of each day. Each day another chance to grasp the Redemption Ring, always just out of reach in plain sight (and sound). And speaking of sounds, our friendly firetruck just made another blazing pass down 16th, thankfully this run not setting off its junior car alarm partner. Night in the city, madness at midnight. Immersed in, sometimes inured to, the sights, sounds, smells and awesome life-affirming energy of the big city. You no like? There are a zillion other places just not like it.

Monday, April 16, 2007 – Midnight

Be careful what you….

Rain is always the doorman’s friend (see April 15 entry). It reduces pedestrian traffic and cleans the sidewalk. Plus we’re mostly working indoors: what do we care if it’s raining. Oh, it’s spoiling your fun? Well find different fun, son (or hon’). Doormen like sidewalks empty of people and things. We’re not anti-sociable, we’re just practical. People and their dogs do stuff and leave things on the sidewalk. We don’t mind them doing it, just not on our sidewalk on our shift.
So today is a very “doorman-friendly” day, because we’re having a record-breaking monsoon rain-wise. The radio mentioned at about 3 p.m. Sunday that the 4.5 inches of rain that had fallen up to that point broke a Central Park record for any April day. That was at 3 p.m. At 10:15 p.m. or so, just as I alighted my abode to make my weary way here to the Abbott, the rain by that time has likely significantly increased that measure, for it was pouring hellaciously. But the doorman’s friend becomes the “commuter’s enemy” when you need to wade through ponds and puddles to make your appointed door shift. Street gutters running in torrents like Grand Canyon rapids. Where’s my canoo? Usually when there’s this much rain, the PATH has some flooding issues, I’m pleased to report, not the case. In the sheety, drenching downpour, an umbrella keeps perhaps the top-quarter of you dry. The rest gets drenched, as I did. Not exaggerating, fishies could’ve made like birds and air-swum among the raindrops with nary a gasp or gulp.

Springtime Party

Last evening, before the rain started, had some first feels of “Springtime release” on both the PATH coming over, and on the several blocks I traverse on my way to the Abbott. Lot of couples, love is in the air. Or is it lust? Several attractive couples boarding the PATH at Hoboken, and lots more on 14th Street. Union Square at 11:30 p.m. was vibrant with nightlife buzz, the Manhattan Menagerie. It’s not an exaggeration to think I could walk soberly amidst this revelry and enjoy just the pent-up city forces, the Saturday-Night’s-All-Right-for-Fighting energies, not menacing, just that vaunted relentless urge to “get out and get down.” Love or hate New York, you can’t walk around many parts of it and be bored. If you get bored with the people, you got the magnificent buildings, and vice-versa.

There were knots of celebrants at the Belmont, and the bar next door, I don’t know its name. It has a red neon “119” in the window. I surmise, (oh I do, do I?) that the place is called, “119?” It gets a scruffy/loungy crowd. There was a show at Irving Plaza, the crowd skewed a little “metal” looking, some nice-looking broads in short skirts and aggressive accessories and killer eye makeup. I pass unnoticed through the throngs, sensory-absorbent and perhaps somewhat longing. These crowds are a quarter-century time-capsule glimpse into my own days of mindless and sometimes uncouth youth.

The building directly west of the Abbott has no doorman, but it has a “party space” that gets rented out, so there’s a lot of comings and goings. Last night, I see coming around the corner onto 16th from Third Ave. a gaggle of robed people. My first thought was that it was religious event, sort of like last week’s Easter candle mini-procession. No, these bed-robed and evidently boozed up celebrants made their way to the Abbott neighbor and preceded upstairs to party. I asked a fella resplendent in bathrobe and pork-pie hat and having a smoke what the gig was. Just a silly party theme, he explained as if that explained it. Hey, it’s New York. It’s Springtime in the Big City. Doormen need to know these things.

Theme or no theme, even Tortured Redemptionists need a little party once in a while?

There was a party in the Abbott, too, nothing atrocious, a little revelry. I saw the departing guests, some very attractive. One couple that left, she was wearing short, cuffed dressy shorts and pumps, no stockings. Thick, lustrous hair and an elegantly beautiful countenance, she seemed a little buzzed. He was a dark, polished, well-dressed guy, very smooth with perhaps some type of Euro-accent. He was in relaxed, in noticeably good spirits, evidently pleased to be heading for private points unknown with his catchy companion. She descended the Abbott’s 4-step porch first, his arm lightly guiding her as he admired her legs taking careful steps. I stood behind him, admiring the notion of noticing such private admirations, unnoticed.

NYC Steambath

A few weeks back, the Con Ed guys were doing some work on the valve out in front of the Abbott, futzing around in the manholes, I suppose due to “steam emanating.” All evening tonight there are large billowing clouds of white steam emanating from the manholes. As I sit in the doorman pulpit in the lobby Abbott, I can see a faint reflection of myself in the large glass door panel. Earlier, I caught this reflection of me with the billowing smoke and I was startled at this apparition of myself. Now there’s a Con Ed SUV with a flashing yellow light in front of the Abbott. The lone worker pulls up the manhole with a grappling stick, I ask him, what’s up? Rainwater, and have I mentioned we’ve had some of that today? It sloshes alongside the steam pipes, boils, and itself becomes steam. Not an issue evidently until that happens in confined spaces. But Con Ed recognizes that some people don’t appreciate the aesthetics of billowing NYC street steam, a not-uncommon NYC street site. So my fellow graveyard guy, in this instance a Con Ed worker, guards his lonely open manhole in the middle of midtown Manhattan, mindful of his duties, awaiting instructions on, “what to do.” Prior to the manhole lift, the smoke was billowing but moderate. With the manhole open, it now copiously flumes forth from the unseen depths, with enough vigor to obscure a large swatch of 16th Street, and pushed mostly eastwards by the prevailing from-Third Ave. winds.

Epilogue: The Con Ed guy sat patiently in his SUV. A Con Ed equipment truck arrived, and a guy ran an extension outlet to a utility pole and hooked up a portable pump. They ran a thin canvas hose into the gutter and lowered the pump down the manhole. Steaming hot water gushed forth from the hose, into the gutter, and off down the street. The hose wriggled a little in reaction and gave the Abbott sidewalk some gushing hot water – a good cleansing wash. The expanding steam from the open manhole, ancillary steam from a nearby unopened manhole, and then the gushing steamy water from the hose created a nourish, “Planet Lava” effect from the front of the Abbott all the way east down 16th Street. The wet asphalt looked like a Hawaiian lava field, encased in billowing steam of a non-threatening if impressive character.

IRS Day – Sunday, April 15, 2007 – Midnight

Just as it looked like winter’s overstayed welcome might abate, the first drizzle of what is supposed to be at least one day of a howling chilly rain Nor’easter is falling outside the Abbott. Since pedestrian traffic requires vigilance from the doorman/lobby attendant, anything that discourages foot traffic – and a good pelting and belting rain does that nicely – is the “doorman’s friend.” Like I care it’s raining when I’m sitting in a pulpit at 4 a.m.? I’d love a monsoon right about now, ending conveniently about 7:45 a.m. for my 8 a.m. shift-end, thank you.

The colder-than-normal winter, with days on end of sub-freezing temperatures, sometimes brutal but always teens and 20’s – was another “doorman’s friend.” Rain always – “doorman’s friend.” Some big TV event that keeps people at home – “doorman’s friend.” Something stupid: a taxi/subway strike – “doorman’s friend.” A friggin temperance movement that closes bars on weekends – big “doorman’s friend!” Late Sunday evenings, early Monday mornings – generally a “doorman’s friend.” Only the deranged diehards are prowling the party planks then, and they do prowl I’ve seen them. But early Monday morning generally discourages late night out-and-about-ness. Stuff like that, we all need and like friends, doormen are no different. The “doorman’s friends” are anything that discourages people (and people includes you) from being outdoors. Stay home, talk to your kids. Play a board game, or stare like a zombie at the boob-toob. We’re working: like we care whether you people are whooping it up? We know you are, we just want you away from our door. Preferably not even on the block, or even down the block, or across an Avenue. Just stay the hell away from around here, thank you very much. Is that you I see in the distance, oh, say, five or six blocks away, walking away? Yes? Good. Keep going, thank you. We’ll catch up some other time in front of some other door.

Professional Detachment

It’s funny when you enter a new profession, you get a little versed in the trade. Being a doorman – especially a part-time guy – is not difficult, obviously. Case in point I’m sitting here composing this nonsense. The very worst thing that may happen is some physical altercation with a rowdy pedestrian who insists on congregating on your stretch of sidewalk or entry zone. Or maybe a resident has a bug in the arse and you end up in a tiff someway (the resident always wins by the way). Day doormen have to do little tasks, accept packages, keep the door station tidy, and interact with the residents. The residents might range from the insincerely polite to the sincerely grumpy. Some are genuinely friendly. Graveyard doormen like me generally see the residents in good moods heading out for fun, and then coming home after the fun in various states, usually relief at being home. I’ve gone hours at a stretch without seeing anyone coming or going. The Abbott is not a humongous building. Thirty-one apartments, twenty-five occupied. So there’s not a lot of night traffic, and the people I mostly see are the young’uns out fer fun and fancy. That’s cool. But come to think of it, like pedestrians, the less I see of the residents, the better. Except for a couple of the nice-looking lady residents, I never mind observing their comings and goings, with friends or not. Their night styles range from goth to high-fashion, and they trail classy scents in their wakes. It’s all good.

Night doormen for the most part watch our building, and maybe some do it better than others. I get outside on the Abbott porch a few times an hour. Keeps me alert, and visible. I don’t want drunks pissing on the building. I don’t want dog owners slinking their prissy mutts around tinkling near the stoop. You come to appreciate a clean, un-piss-stained sidewalk. You come to resent dogs in this business. No, not the doggies, the owners. Dragging animals around and letting them shit and piss on the sidewalk. It’s gross. At least cat owners keep the entire animal shit/piss conundrum in their own abode.

Knob & Hinge Society

And as I make my varied way into work, taking a route here, or down that block, I glimpse into lobbies and notice my “knob & hinge” colleagues and their “state of door” situation, if you’d call it that. I’m still breaking in but I take a casual professional interest in my part-time profession. Where’s the doorman station? Not all lobbies accommodate a central door station. Does the doorman have a clear view out to the front of the building, the entry zone? In other words, when I look into the building, do I see the doorman? That’s a desirable situation: you want pedestrians to see the doorman for the deterrent factor. Some stations are self-contained squared-off counters with monitors and fun stuff, like a star-ship bridge. Others are just a free-standing, skimpy podium big enough maybe to allow a tabloid paper to be opened.

I always glance in empathy at my fellow doormen, usually guys in ill-fitting, daffish uniforms, tired looking. Need a shave. That’s the night/graveyard guys I see, guys like me. The night/graveyard door gig might be a moonlight gig, so they’re a little raggedy from the two-job hustle. Some are out front drawing smokes, wistfully watching people not working out and about, living and larking. The door guys wonder how the circumstances of their life carried them into a daffish uniform watching the front of someone else’s building. Like me, they’re always looking to really kill time: go clock go. Some you can tell pay attention to passersby, others don’t bother. There’s a large residence just east of the 9th Street PATH station entrance. That’s a high-traffic sidewalk if ever there is one. The doorman never looks up, I don’t know if he’s watching monitors and therefore need not gaze out the front door, or if he figures, “fuck it, I can’t watch all these people, let the good times roll (and kindly let them roll FAST).”

Another door situation on 9th is a very small entry vestibule with a free-standing podium. It’s kinda cramped. I saw an oversized door guy on a stool at the podium, hunched over with some reading material. The whole set-up looked confining, I bet that’s a slow-time station. Then again, the building front isn’t too large, it was the middle of the block, and so the doorman probably didn’t have many “out-door” issues. There’s a commercial building on Fifth Avenue, with dual, locked revolving doors. Large glass windows give a great view of the lobby and door console. The very visible doorman is often sleeping at the station, during the past cold spell with a cozy coat swaddling him. The scenario there is: no lobby traffic, and locked doors. Guy is just there in the unlikely event a commercial tenant needs to visit their space. In which case, they rap on the window and wake him up. No one, I wouldn’t think even his boss, minds him catching some zzz’s on that gig. Does it look a little slack? Perhaps. But if me as a doorman is good with it, non-doorman civilians must give Mr. Z’s a pass too. Frankly I’d kill for a sleeping gig, wouldn’t I and who wouldn’t? It’s a trade-off in the knob & hinge trade.

The Abbott pulpit door station is accommodating but not overly so. The cushion on the pulpit seat is uncomfortable, and the distance between the pulpit seat and the pulpit/platform itself makes it awkward to use the pulpit/platform comfortably. I’m typing this with the keyboard on my knees, my feet propped on a step-stool. But at least we have the seat. In addition to the fairly generous pulpit platform, on which can be rested a broadsheet newspaper, we have a little side shelf where the computer I’m writing on sits. We also have a backroom, a “doorman’s locker room,” where resident packages are kept, with a bathroom, microwave, and uniform closet. It would be a great spot to get a quick knob, if you didn’t need to out front all the time for all intents and purposes. The Graveyard doorman’s prime work offerings are “eyes” and “presence.” Be near the door, be visible, and keep an eye out. Offer smiles to the residents and dirty “get that fucking mutt away” killing stares at dog-walkers.

Passersby tend to look into buildings, sometimes just idly or sometimes being nosy. The Abbott lobby is brightly lit and the cut-stone ecclesiastical touches are lovely enough to inspire glances. The large, hanging, cut-glass principle lobby light is eye-catching from outside. A separate halogen beam illuminates the pulpit (and my non-existent hairline), the better to make the doorman visible. So even casual passersby are looking in on me. Maybe they “like” the doorman – who knows? Many likely think it’s still the religious building it was. It still is to me, in my state of redemption.

Here at the Abbott, we keep an outer door swung open, usually. This naturally draws people to notice why it’s open. Both doors are largely glass. The interior door is locked, I can see outside pedestrians from about the chest up. Depending on how a pedestrian looks in, I either ignore them walking by, or I sense they’re looking not just to be curious, or to admire the lobby, but they’re looking to see what the Doorman is Doing. This means they may be heading down to the end of the Abbot property to take a leak in a building corner. Or they want to sit on the unused stoop at the other end of the Abbott and chat on their cell. Either way, if I sense pedestrian chicanery, I’m out of my pulpit like a gun-nudged sprinter and out onto to the porch: Joe Presence. I make sure people see me and see me watching them. A dopey guy in high-water pants and gold-brocaded-sleeve jacket, the Doorman, on Duty. It’s trite stuff, but the bread-n-butter of the door trade.

Some buildings have cameras trained on the building exteriors, those doormen watch the pedestrians on monitors at their stations. They don’t have to pop out based on their judgment of pedestrian intent, they can just watch remotely until the peds do something untoward and then pop outside. We don’t have external cameras, so we Abbott door guys need to be a little more vigilant. It’s fine, it’s an excuse to get some air. It wasn’t so much fun during the recent sub-freezing temps, but they had their pedestrian-discouraging advantages mentioned above. Just in writing this piece, I’ll be up and out and back 5-6 times easy. It’s raining harder now, not pouring but an annoying type rain where there are lots of drops coming down fast and they’re close together. I love it at 4am doing diddly here. The correct word isn’t “love,” but “love” carries many meanings. I’m alone with my thoughts and a keyboard. I watch the world, it continues apace.

Easter Sunday, April 7, 2007 – Midnight

He is Risen! And so Christians believe in the ultimate divinity of Jesus Christ through his Resurrection. And in the Redemptive powers of this belief: that each of us can transcend our mortal humanity, our souls restless in competition with our desires and imperfections. He is Risen, I believe that and I believe in Redemption. But not so much, mind you, to heed the worthy challenge. My humanity is way human, my spirituality maybe – a big maybe – a state of becoming. I am not fighting spirituality, I’m fighting humanity.

So here I sit early on Easter Sunday in a former Episcopalian religious residence. As I stood outside the Abbott a few minutes ago, I noticed groups of people holding candles coming south down Third Avenue. Earlier, as I passed St. Nicholas Catholic Church in the JC Heights on my way down to Journal Square, I saw large numbers of people leaving that house of worship. It was about 10:30pm, so I gathered they were exiting a pre-Easter rite. It was an encouraging sign on a chilly Spring evening, it’s been a chilly Spring. Some say our society becomes increasingly secularized, spirituality often an after-thought in the hurly-burly of early 21st Century life. Maybe so, I could myself, I suppose, add one member to the ranks of the spiritual, mightn’t I?
Ever curious, I watched as two candle-holders crossed Third Avenue and were making their way to the large apartment building across 16th Street from the Abbott. I had a feeling I knew where they were coming from. Up Third Avenue, and west down 17th, on the north side is a charming little church tucked between some ordinary buildings. “St John the Baptist” reads the blue entrance awning, with some additional signage in Greek.

I find this little church a charming counterpart to the mighty Catholic St. John the Baptist Church in Jersey City. Jersey City’s St. John the Baptist is an immensely tall and massive granite expression of Faith. I politely asked the young man and older woman who were about to enter the building across from the Abbott, doubtless a mother and son, where they were coming from. The woman, in her Greek accent, said, “the ‘Grik’ church.” I thanked her, smilingly mentioned I was familiar with a Catholic counterpart to their house of worship, and wished them a Happy Easter, even though Greeks celebrate Easter’s timing a little differently than Catholics.

Not much happening at the Abbott. Last week a sleek limousine pulled up and one the tenants, an elegant woman in her mid-thirties or so, emerged. There’s a fireplug just right of the Abbott’s entrance, so there’s always an open spot directly upfront. Sometimes cars pull into this spot and the occupants talk on their cells. Sometimes it’s a carload of goofballs who may be looking to relieve themselves in a building corner. So us doormen are watchful of cars in front. This limo was first-rate, late model, and had blue running lights between the windows, a subtle yet “ritzy” effect. I was at the door, holding it open for the tenant’s entrance. She ascended the few steps of the Abbott porch, presenting the faintest friendly smile in greeting as I held the door. Her light hair, not quite blond, was pulled tightly back, emphasizing her classically sharp, beautiful features. She wore a black, cape-type wrap of rich material, very stylish. She swept by me in an understated breeze of a nice scent and off into her abode. Quite an entrance, bet she makes these all the time in all the places.
Last week the Goths came storming through the lobby at an early morning hour, buzzed up, nothing untoward. The Goth Girl the previous Sunday morning, regular morning, not late night morning, had left the building in non-Goth mufti. And sans the dramatic makeup she usually wears, especially the eye-makeup that makes her already pretty features so appealing. I hadn’t expected to see her in mufti, yet I wasn’t surprised she was pretty darn attractive in her fresh-faced turn out.

The Washington Irving High School is up the block from the Abbott.
The difference between her late night buzzed and brooding Gothic-ness and her early morning “plain” appearance underscores how we can wear many faces, of varying comportments and effects.
He is Risen. Jesus Christ died on the Cross to redeem humanity’s sins. It’s not like He or anyone else wants to be crucified. His message was straightforward, and therefore dangerous: He preached Peace & Love, with a side-order of Forgiveness and Redemption. I write an awful lot about that topic, Redemption. It’s a perfectly understandable concept, you acknowledge your sins and cleanse them. You try to avoid sinning by not sinning. “Just say no,” to borrow a slogan from another redemptive effort. SPC was closed this weekend, I am well-rested and look forward to those weekends beginning in late May when I can do just the Abbott, a “piece of cake” baby, a Daily Double, not a Trifecta. Thank you, Jesus.

Part 2 in a Series — Part 3 is here

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