Before I begin any cross-posting from The U.E.S. Journal I would like to share with The Nervous Breakdown the introduction to my first issue from a few years ago, as well as one of the first pieces I wrote for it.  Sure, The Upper East Side is just another neighborhood, but to me it also feels like a novel or soap opera, and I wouldn’t want you to jump in at a part that didn’t make sense or was boring.  Frankly, this also buys me some time to tweak (I hate that word, does anyone have a better expression, not including “flush out?”) my next few posts.

Introduction to the First Issue – Fall 2005

During high school, as I was becoming acquainted with the downtown music and art scenes, I was embarrassed to tell people I was from the Upper East Side- even more embarrassed to tell them I went to Dalton. However, after four years of living downtown near college I became sick of the redundant hipness everywhere and began to long for the quiet streets of Carnegie Hill at night and even the quilted jackets and loafers. Since I moved home I have been exploring the neighborhood as an untapped resource for ideas. I am hoping that kids like me will be less embarrassed of where they are from once there is an actual underground cultural exchange of ideas and art in which they can participate. The original format of this zine was meant to bring the d-i-y photocopy tradition of the Lower East Side uptown for those of us who, although living in an extremely wealthy neighborhood, don’t necessarily get giant allowances from our parents. This issue is still available in print for a little while longer, but I guess I just have to get with the times- d-i-y now necessitates using the internet. This first issue does poke some fun at the neighborhood but it’s all done “out of love”. Most of all I am trying to explore areas that are not generally covered by mainstream publications. I hope you, reader, find something interesting or surprising in here.

(Dropping off an unsolicited copy into the mailbox of Woody Allen’s new townhouse.  No, I didn’t write him a note.)


Interview with a Doorman – November 2004

This is an interview with a doorman in one of the wealthiest buildings in Carnegie Hill (multi-billionaires).  This doorman “X” is 22 and has only been working this job for 6 months- long enough to know the ins and outs but not so long as to feel enough loyalty to prevent him from divulging their secrets.

Me: Where are you from?

X: I’m from Jersey.

Me: And who do you live with right now?

X: I live with my parents.  I live in the basement apartment of our little house in the North Jersey suburb of Fairlawn.

Me: Is being a doorman full time for you?

X: It is full time and I also go to college.  I’m doing nursing in college and as soon as I start the real full time nursing program, that’s when I’ll quit the doorman job.

Me: What do you hope to be doing in five years?

X: In 5 years I hope to co-ordinate a nursing department, in the city probably.

Me: Where do you want to live?

X: I want to live on the Upper East Side.

Me: Really?

X: Yeah, I like it here.  You’re so close to the park over here, it’s really chill.  It’s calm.  Everything is around you- clubs, shopping, a roller skating rink, right here.  The museum is over here.   It’s so cultural here, you see tourists and they ask you questions. I like that.  It’s social.

Me:  How long have you been working in this particular building?

X: Since April (2004)

Me: A lot of my friends have been wondering how do doormen get their jobs?  How did you get yours?

X: Usually through connections.  I knew the super.  He’s a family friend.

Me: Are you friends with any of the other doormen?

X: I’m not because I’m 22 and the closest one in age is like 40 so I can’t really get along with them too much, you know, I try to though.

Me: The other doormen, are they full time doormen, as in that’s their career?  Or do they have other things that they do?

X: They’re just doormen and hallmen for 40 years.

Me: Do any of the doormen hang out together outside of the job?

X: On rare occasions they do but they try to keep it a secret, not to glorify it, because it’s not that cool, like doormen hanging out together, you know, it’s kind of…

Me: What are you’re duties as a doorman?

X: I’m mostly a hallman, actually.

Me: What’s that mean?

X: I take care of the hall, I take up deliveries, I sweep the hall, I take up food deliveries, I answer the phone sometimes, I show visitors where tenants live.

Me: What’s the most annoying thing a tenant does?

X: Fake smile, that’s the worst thing, yeah, fake smile.

Me: What makes you like a tenant?  Is there anybody in the building you think is pretty cool?

X: Oh yeah, plenty of tenants are real personable people that you can talk to like a real person.  They realize where you work, what you’re about.  Some tenants are just down to earth, really awesome people, and some people just see you as a slave and nothing else.  It sounds horrible but that’s the way it is. They treat you like utter dirt.

Me: When you hold the door open for somebody and they don’t say thank you, do you notice that?  Is that rude?

X:  Sometimes. I just get used to it.  With certain tenants, if you’re someone that always says hi, and one day you don’t say hi, I notice that something is wrong in your life.  It’s really weird- I can see if someone’s upset or if they had a horrible day at work.  They come in and they don’t say hi or they don’t look at you. So you can always tell that.

Me: Do you get a Christmas bonus?

X: Yeah, each tenant tips you anywhere from $40 to $600.  So we make out OK on Christmas.

Me: Before Christmas, are you ever consciously trying to be extra nice and helpful, thinking about your Christmas bonus?

X: I haven’t had a Christmas yet ‘cause I just started in April but I’m already considering acting nicer toward Christmas time.  I’m pretty sure everybody does it.  It’s pathetic.  But if that’s your only job and you have kids and a family, you gotta do it.

Me: Here’s something I’m really curious about because I experience this everyday.  How do you feel about people that live in the neighborhood that don’t live in your building, but they walk by everyday?

X: Well, some strangers always say hi, they always look at you, they expect you to say hi also.

Me: Is that good?

X: Is that good? You know, you have your off nights, you have your good nights.  If you’re happy and you see that he’s happy also, then yeah, hi’s OK.  But sometimes you don’t feel like saying hi and they just expect you to say hi because they’re used to it every day.  They come up by the door. It’s just like a routine for some people.  Do I like it?  I mean,  I don’t really care.

Me: What about the people that walk by everyday but don’t say hi to you.  Is it awkward when they pass because you both know that you know who each other are?

X: Sometimes I try to look into their face, trying for them to look back at me, but they won’t look.  It’s just such a weird relationship that we have. With someone that you don’t know at all but you see them every day, you don’t say hi, he knows that you’re looking at him, and you’re looking at him knowing that he knows. To me it’s a really sick relationship.

Me: I’ve been walking by the same doormen for more than ten years and I am kind of glad that we don’t say hi to each other because if we did I would literally have to say hi to them ten times a day.  I would be thinking, when do I say hi and when do I not say hi.

X: Sometimes too many hi’s is not a good thing, it’s always a difference, sometimes you say hi you’re like OK cool, sometimes you’re like stop saying hi to me already, I see you every time walking by, I know you’re there, you know I’m here standing, I’m like a lowlife doorman and you’re obviously richer because you live right here I just don’t want to deal with it, stop saying hi to me.

Me: I’ve noticed something on my walks.  Is this something doormen do?  My theory is that…

X: Probably yes, whatever you think, we do.

Me: When I walk by these people that I’ve seen for ten years they sort of look in my direction, but right when I’m close enough to say hi they look away, and I think they’re doing it to avoid the situation, so neither of us has to deal with it.

X: I’ve never seen that happen yet.  I do the opposite. I see a tenant all the way down the block, coming toward me.  I turn around not to see him, but at the last second as he’s coming closer, that’s when I turn around and look at him.  I don’t want to be staring at him for like ten minutes and then say hi again, that’s kind of freaky.

Me: Do you have more than a superficial relationship with any of the tenants in your building?
Like something more than just “Hello, how are you?”

X: If I were to work this job for let’s say two years, I probably would, but since I’m only here since April- I’m starting to have a closer relationship with several folks. It goes as far as saying “How was your day?  How was your weekend?”  And they actually talk to you and they tell you about their kids, or their houses in the country.  I love that one! Always the country.  Where were you?  The country.  What does that mean, the country?

Me: How do you feel the tenants treat you?

X: Tenants treat the new workers worse than they treat the old-timers because they don’t know you. They have history with the old-timers. I have not come across a real snob yet.  I’m sure it will happen though pretty soon.  Um, hmm, rich snobs, oh, here’s a good one.  I love when someone takes their child for a walk and they have their nanny push the cart, and she’s walking right next to the damn nanny. What’s that about?  It’s your child and you’re walking with the nanny. Can’t you roll your stupid stroller yourself?  Why even walk?  How easy can you be?  It’s your fucking kid.

Also, if someone goes out food shopping and they have two grocery bags but they’re really light, they’re like “Here!  Here you go, take them, take these away from me. It’s ridiculous.

What else?  Sometimes someone tips you with 2 dollars.  What is that?  Don’t tip me at all, you gave me two dollars.  It’s just a slap in the face..

Me: Wow.  What’s a tip that you feel good about?

X: 5 dollars.  That’s a tip at least.  That’s cool.

Me: Is there any feeling of resentment from the doormen to the tenants because they are these really rich people and you’re working for them?  Do you feel that at all?

X: A lot of doormen hate all the tenants.  I would say they hate 80% of the tenants.  Any time they walk past, they say some stupid shit, like “I hate them.”  I’m like “Yo, you work here, you chose your job here, you know, don’t say stupid shit, you work for them, that’s your job, so do it well.”  First of all, if you work as a doorman then something isn’t right in your life.  I mean, it’s not really a chosen profession.

Me: So nobody really is happy being a full time doorman?

X: Oh God, no.  They are miserable.  Absolutely miserable.  You don’t understand.  They just always complain and whine.  I’ve gotta carry his bags, I gotta open the taxi door, blah blah blah, always complaining, just annoyed.  You know, I enjoy it.  It’s a new job for me so it’s kind of cool to experiencing the richness.  They just always are bitter and complain about everything.

Me: I guess after twenty years…

X: Some have worked here for 40 years, all their lives.  Ever since eighteen years old they worked here.  They know nothing else besides the walls inside the building. All they’re trained to do is open the door.  Also, here’s what I really hate.  If someone calls you downstairs and says “how’s the weather?” How’s the weather?  Look out the window!  Take a walk downstairs, look at the damn weather!  Every day somebody calls and asks how’s the weather.  Is it raining?  Check yourself.  Take a walk outside.  It’s just so ridiculous.

Me: That’s an interesting one.  Aren’t there any other doormen there that are, on the side, doing their real thing?  I know one of my doormen, I always assumed he was a full time doorman, but I found out he’s a Latin percussionist.

X: Our doormen are plumbers, part-time plumbers, part-time handymen.  That’s about it.

Me: What do you get paid?

X: The first year you get paid 14 an hour.  In 3 years you receive, I believe, 18 an hour.  And it tops out at 20 an hour.  And then you have a union and you have health benefits.

Me: Are you in a union?

X: I’m not because you have to work a year and I haven’t been here a year yet.

Me: That’s pretty good for doing things you didn’t have to study in school.

X: It’s really sad how we have the same salaries as, you know who?  A teacher. You know how sad that is?  Think about that one.

Me: Are there any kids your age in the building?

X: Yeah.  You know, I’ve tried to talk to them.  I’ve tried to say hi, I guess. It’s just that we are on such different levels.  I’ve seen these rich kids at college and I couldn’t really chill with them.  Here, I’ve tried to and I can’t really see myself doing anything with them.  I would want to just to see how they hang out with their rich friends and what they do.  It looks pretty cool because they have their penthouses, you know.


Photo by Antony Hands (This is not the guy I’m interviewing)

Me: Is there any weird tension knowing you’re the same age?

X: Yeah.  We had one kid in our place who graduated from the same college as I did.  He graduated a year after I did and I’m opening doors for him.  That’s pretty weird in itself.

Me:  What did you study in college?

X: Marketing.

Me: Are you going to do anything with that?

X: If I could combine it with nursing, yeah, sure.  But I’m not sure how I could even do that.

Me: Do you care about nursing?

X: I have to care about nursing.  If I do it, it should really be a good, stable, high-paying job.  There’s a good future in it.  I tried to get a job in marketing for over a year after college.  I graduated in June of 2003.  I tried a whole year of getting a job, I couldn’t.

Me: You have to stand a lot for your job?

X: I do.  Some tenants, if they see you sitting they complain to the super.  You gotta choose your times, like when to sit and not to sit.  And as soon as you see anyone, you gotta get up right away like a trained seal.  And anytime you hear a sound you gotta get up.  It’s so sad how we’re like trained people.  You hear someone walking down the hall, it’s like, up!  And you can’t really read also.  I try to read on the job sometimes but once again, if a tenant sees you reading they could complain and they do complain sometimes.

Me: And then do you get in trouble or get a warning?

X: If you have several warnings they could fire you because the super doesn’t want any trouble himself.

Me: So do you get tired of standing?  I mean are you ever standing for so long that you’re like, “Ugh, I’m so tired of standing!”?

X: I try to change positions.  I try to walk around outside, try to stand on one foot, then the other foot.  I try to do calf exercises while I’m at it.

Me: Really?

X: Yeah, sure.  Eight hours of standing, what else are you going to do?  I do try to sit.

Me: How do you feel about your uniform?

X: Well, we have a black one for winter and a gray one for summer.  I wish we had shorts though in the summertime.  We can’t take our jackets off even if it’s too hot, it’s really sad.

Me: Do you feel good in the uniform? Do you feel silly?  Do you like dressing up?

X: You know, I’ve never had authority.  This kind of gives you a little bit of authority.  Like if somebody asks you if they can see someone.  You call up first, otherwise you don’t let them in.  If I was here for twenty years I would probably hate the uniform.  But since I’m here for what, six, seven months, I’m cool with it.

Me: Do you get to keep your uniform when you leave?

X: You know, I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure you just take it and run.  Cause we have 4 uniforms and I’m sure you could just take one and leave.  I think I will do that too.

Sometimes on Saturdays, because I work ‘til 12, I wear my pants out.  It’s pretty cool.  You get attention sometimes.

Me: You could be a doorman for Halloween.

X: Yeah, I know, I know. (Not really amused)  Sometimes good attention, sometimes not as good.  Sometimes laughs with you, sometimes laughs against you.

Me: There was a time, at least in girl’s fashion when I was a teenager where it was really hip to have that doorman stripe down your pants.

X: If you want I’ll give you a pair of mine.

Me: Oh it’s OK.  Do you enjoy watching the people walk by?

X: Let me just tell you that all doormen are such sexist pigs.  They look at every single girl.  They make all the comments in the world, you can’t imagine the things they say.  Not even just girls.  Anyone who walks by, it’s always a judgment, always looking at what they’re wearing, at who they’re with, what they’re saying.  It’s a world inside a world.

Me: Even those nice old foreign guys?

X: Even the nicest oldest grandpa doorman.  Every one at our place is just ridiculous.

Me: You too?

X: I’m not, I’m really not.

Me: C’mon you gotta check out people walking by.

X: I do check out but I don’t say anything.  These people they just say everything.  It’s also really odd how when you know a tenant, you also know what they say about other tenants.  Like tenants say how someone’s kids are too loud or someone is kind of weird.

Me: Like that guy in 10B is weird?

X: Yeah, they trust us with their feelings, and it’s weird because it’s kind of sacred almost.  You know every family and you see them everyday and you know if they have a good day or a bad day.  This one family’s dog just died and they loved him so much.  They would walk him like ten times a day and now we don’t see them outside at all.  You’re a part of every tenant’s life individually and you can’t really have that with any other job.  I just wish they were nicer I guess.  Then you would have a lot of good friends.  I wish I could get to know all of them closer but you really can’t because you just see them, you just say hi, bye, and that’s it.  And sometimes I want to ask them, what do you do?  Where do you work?  How did you get your status that you live in this building?  I can’t really ask someone but I really want to sometimes.  It’s interesting to me.

Me: I’ve always wondered, do they tell you you’re not allowed to pry into people?

X: No, no, not at all.  But they say if you see a celebrity or somebody don’t try to take a picture, but I did though.  I saw Natalie Portman.

Me: She went in the building?

X: Yeah, she did and I took a picture with her.  It was awesome.

Me: Was she nice about it?

X: Yeah, she was.  She was really down to earth, really nice girl.  I asked her for a cigarette and she gave me one.  I said “Where are you from?”

Me: Did she say Israel or Long Island?

X: Long Island.

Me: She was born in Israel, I hear.

X: Yeah, she was.

Me: What else?

X: Well. There’s a weird relationship between us and the nannies and the dog-walkers. Everybody talks.  Nannies, they tell us everything and then we tell them what we know.  It’s almost like an underground culture.  They tell us how they treat them- if they’re cheap, where they’re traveling to- pretty much everything.

Me: That’s funny.  I bet the families don’t know.

X: Oh yeah, they have no clue.  Everyone talks, man.  All we talk about is our tenants, it’s really sad.  It’s always the same stories, too.  A lot of doormen- they talk about other doormen in the same place.  It’s always how somebody screwed up.  If someone’s not doing their job or if someone is stealing our tips- cause we’ve got to share tips, supposedly, but some people don’t share them.  They just take them for themselves.  So, we talk about everybody.  The limo drivers tell different stories.  They know where they take the tenants, to which events, and they tell us everything also.  We are so much a part of their lives, they have no idea.

Me: I forgot about the limo drivers.

X: Yeah, and they’re talkers, let me tell you. They look at every girl too, even worse I think.

REBECCA SCHIFFMAN is a jewelry designer, musician, painter and writer from New York. She attended The Cooper Union School of Art. Her jewelry line IMK is carried in stores throughout the United States. As a singer-songwriter she released her first solo-album on Some Records in 2003 and self-released her second album "To Be Good for a Day" in 2009 which was named "Best Album of the Month" by Vice Magazine, Feb 2009. She lives with her parents on the Upper East Side and maintains a jewelry studio behind the bike room.

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