A gateway between worlds

I'm grateful to my roommate Ellen for allowing me to browse through her New Yorker magazines once she has finished with them. This piece in Talk of the Town, Doctor Doorman, actually made me want to read the book, something reviews don't always do. It called into question the doorman's purpose in the grand scheme of things but also identified him as an observer with unparalleled access and a social agent in a unique position.
Why, precisely, do we have doormen anymore? The article offers this observation, "ninety per cent of doormen say that their main job is security, though just about the same percentage say that they have never had any kind of security-threatening incident." The presence of a doorman might deter the crimes which otherwise would have occurred. His existence obviating his necessity, a chicken-and-egg problem I can never quite wrap my head around. Then there is the observable fact that in areas where doormen are most needed (my neighborhood, say), they are used the least. Doormen are attached to swanky apartment buildings in posh neighborhoods whose circumstances simultaneously decrease the possibility of crime and increase the number of people equipped to deal with it. Which suggests that doormen serve some other social purpose, perhaps to enhance the aforementioned reputation of swank.
Doorman are paid an income clearly not equal to that of the building's residents, a socicoeconomic gap which must be smoothed over with civility. The book's author puts it this way, "Doormen and tenant interactions in the lobby, and the distinct ecology of the residential building, are shaped within the narrow shoals of too much closeness in a context of too much distance."
Indeed, aren't doormen intimately familiar with the lives of their charges? I live in a townhouse, but the security officers at the government agency where I work are something akin to doormen, at least sociologically. [Aside: if that's true, are we creating a hierarchy of agencies, parallel to the apartment building pyramid, based on the level of security they require?] My security officers know me. They see me arrive, unkempt or fresh-faced and smiling; leave, all dolled up for a hot date (ha!) or in frisbee rags; go on a run, and know how long I'm gone and whether I come back red-faced. Their cameras show when I eat, the days when I need the afternoon coffee break, and when I am still toiling away. If it's past 10, it draws out the patrolling officer, who grunts into the walkie-talkie, "[MK] in 1254, [MK] in 1254." Is it condescending to engage them in banter? Worse not to?
We have a case of the upstairs/downstairs problem exacerbated because doormen are the people resposible for mediating the problems of the street, to paraphrase our author. Do they ever feel traitors to themselves? On my bike ride last week, I passed by a scene outside of a nice hotel on New Hampshire Avenue. An Ethiopian cabbie was pulling a U-wie while yelling something out of his window to the tuxedoed doorman of the same nationality across the street. The doorman steped in front of the nicely dressed, somewhat harried-looking group of guests and cried, "I love America! I love America! I'm an American, man!" The cabbie threw up his left hand and drove off in disgust.

(You thought I was going to write about Narnia, didn't you).


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