By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Eventually I came to think of everyone who visits my parents’ building as a bit of a silent movie star. That’s because, day and night, just to the right of a cylindrical green-and-cream polished-marble concierge post, is a bank of small-screen monitors that stealthily catch almost everything. Occasionally I’ll be digging through my purse in the elevator or swimming laps back and forth for an hour and into my mind will pop the queasy thought that someone is studying the flickering footage of me. Yet several years ago, when I could have used some hard evidence, there was no surveillance film to be found. I’d been noticing that my parents’ neighbors glared at me when I passed them in the hallway, and that my friendly hellos were returned only begrudgingly by the employees. What had I done to deserve ostracization As it turned out, a front-desk worker had convicted me of a high crime against the people: The remote control for the television that hung in the gym had gone missing, and the staffer was naming me to every tenant who complained. I was shocked. What possible use would I have for the gym channel changer But when I confronted my accuser, he merely folded his arms across his chest, narrowed his eyes and stared at me stonily. Of course, the day came when the remote reappeared, along with the sheepish admission from one of my parents’ neighbors that it was he who had accidentally taken it upstairs. Though I never received an apology, I learned two valuable life lessons: 1. A high-rise apartment building is just a neighborhood gone upright, and 2. Gossip travels vertically as fast as it travels horizontally.
Crazy snap assumptions weren’t this (long-since-fired) front-desk staffer’s only specialty. He also thought of himself as something of an amateur behavioral therapist. Often, when guests would request that their cars be brought up from the subterranean garage, he’d let them linger in the lobby for a quarter of an hour or so before dispatching the valet. In the interim, he once told me, he’d study their expressions, measuring their worth as human beings by how they waited: patiently or with looks of instant indignation.
The (saner) bottom-floor building personnel preferred less self-serving forms of observation. I often think about this whenever my father comes to mind. Did anyone else bear closer witness to my family’s emotional trajectory when, in 1999, my father was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia It was the concierge, doormen and valets who became sympathetic onlookers to my family’s bouts of optimism and despair, saw my energetic dad bounce out the front doors for a walk during his stronger phases and shuffle in exhausted during his period of gradual weakening. Then, three years ago, it was these employees’ job to open doors and park cars for mourners who were gathering in the building’s community room just after my dad’s funeral. For days after when I entered the lobby, a thick, awkward quiet would fall. No one knew what to say to me and, to be honest, words weren’t coming to me too easily, either.
Finally, one afternoon when I pulled up in my car to the front door, a valet rushed over to me and blurted out, “Your father was such a good man.” To my surprise, I put my head on his shoulder and started sobbing.