Monday, February 2, 2009

Doormen of 260

When I was ready to leave the PR agency life and look for another job—something that would keep me in writing and out of client meetings (which seemed the inverse of what to expect if I looked for advancement in public relations)—the first thing I did, after updating my résumé and putting out word of a search, was to start scouring the Chicago Tribune classifieds. I was a home-delivery subscriber at the time, and the paper would thud at my door every morning, with particular oomph on Sundays. Except one Sunday. At the time, I was living in the Streeterville section of Chicago, near downtown. My one-bedroom apartment was on the eighth floor of a tall white building that was modern and unfussy; it was staffed by a 24-hour rotation of doormen. It was the first time that I lived in a doorman building on my own (younger and living with my parents, there were a few buildings with such attendants, but I had no sense that they were there to serve me personally). I mention this because there were plenty of times that this fact of having doormen made me uncomfortable—kind of like the idea of "domestic help," which is something I have never been able to cope with; I just cannot pay someone to do things that most people have no choice but to do for themselves: open a door while struggling with groceries, wash my dirty clothes, scrub stains from the shower and toilet. I prefer to inconvenience myself or to let the laundry pile up to the ceiling if I haven't got the time. I have pretty much always been a socioeconomic snob-in-reverse; at a swanky cocktail party (were I to attend them), I'd be the person in the corner conversing with the hired help. Maybe race had something to do with it as well; the doormen of Streeterville's 260 building at that time were all African American. Anyway, I preferred to see them as friends who happened to be in uniform, and I always talked to them that way, with a smile. There were three doormen in particular: Larry, who was an older man, short, with graying hair, a shuffling gait, and always a joke at the ready; André, the youngest, sweet and self-effacing, somewhat portly with big baby-fat cheeks; and finally Darryl, who was tall and elegant, with fluid movements and a genuine, kilowatt smile. These were "the guys," and I remember them as though it was yesterday and not fifteen years ago when I first knew them. But to come back around to that Sunday, the job-searching Sunday. I don't know if I'd gone out the night before. Maybe. I do remember that I'd slept in late, and that when I opened the door to my apartment, there was no Tribune. I had a suspicion about what had happened—I'd had the Sunday paper stolen before—and the thing that made it all the more annoying was that in the basement level of the building was a small grocery store that sold newspapers, so a building resident who wasn't a subscriber didn't even have to put on a coat or street shoes to purchase one. It wasn't to avoid inconvenience that someone must have swept the halls, perhaps going floor to floor until finding their prize. But before jumping to conclusions, I figured I go down and see if the papers had all been delivered. Darryl was working that morning, and yes, he told me, the papers had all come up. We commiserated about what must've happened, and he offered my his copy of the Sunday Sun-Times. Here maybe I should confess: while not an elitist when it comes to people, I have always harbored a prejudice for broadsheet news rather than the tabloid competition. The New York Times, not the Post; the Tribune, not the Sun-Times. I told Darryl that it didn't matter so much, except for the classifieds. "What're you looking for?" he asked. I told him. At which point, he opened his Sun-Times to the masthead, pointed to a name up toward the top, and said, "He lives in the building." At the time, it so happened that the Sun-Times was looking for a presentations writer in the marketing department. It wasn't editorial, but it was a good transitional job where my former positions in marketing/PR came in handy. Darryl facilitated my contact with Mr. Publishing Executive, and it wasn't long before I was interviewing with a fabulous woman who then became my boss (and with whom I have now have a friendship that far outlasted our tenures at the paper). In my slight career shift, I stayed true to my earlier lessons in employment and looked for a boss—I found one with the (perhaps) unlikely help of my doorman. I don't know how many stories there are like this, but I do know why I cherish my memory of how I got my job at the Sun-Times (and how I came to soften my attitude toward the tabloid underdogs). I cherish it because it reminds me of three fabulous men whom I didn't really know, but who for years were part of my daily life. And more, because the memory makes me acknowledge regularly that you never really know in life who the angels are or where they might come from—it's good to treat everyone as the life-saving (or job-giving) friend they may turn out to be.


  1. my ironing has already reahed the ceiling, but i don't find it an inconvenience (even though my husband does)

  2. Nice story. I hope that Darryl is out there reading it.