Park Avenue

The helpless rich were just holes to me,
slots in the shaft of the service elevator,
where I’d deliver maids and florists,
testing my bad Spanish as we floated
even with the landings. I emptied
morning trash, looking for shoes, mopped
the stairwells, then stalled my elevator
on the 13th floor where nobody could
find me, sat on a milk crate and read
Moby Dick, ruminating with Ishmael
in the crow’s nest. That was the back;
when you worked the front you had to stand
for hours, touch your cap and talk to them.
Several times a day you got to see
the tall blond nurse step through the lobby
to and from the plastic surgeon’s office,
and when she smiled at you her blue eyes
seemed like wealth itself. The tenants
gazed right past us, into mirrors
or down at the rugs, three whale-sized
Orientals laid end to end, inspecting them
as we trailed behind to press the button
for their floor and ride with them in silence
in the walnut paneled elevator, wondering
why they wanted our company—didn’t
they know how much we knew about them
just by when they came and left, their visitors,
their trash, packages—magazines in brown
paper wrappers to Mr. Harriman 12A,
wrinkle cream and Valium to Mrs. Decker 7D,
a quart of Johnny Walker Black daily
to Dr. Niedermeyer Penthouse West?
Did they know how plainly their voices
echoed down elevator shafts when they
spoke on the phone and scolded their maids?
Or were we included in their privacy
because they thought they owned us
the way you’d own a parrot, knowing
it sees everything, repeats little, outlives
marriages, standing for decades, sun
down, Christmas morning, in the lobby,
bow tie, stripe down the pants, whistling?
Did it comfort them to know their addresses
were lodged in our heads when we went home
to our sweaty lives across the East River
where people got shot and married hairdressers?
The others, I mean. I’d come to New York
for graduate school, and in September,
having relieved each in turn, for the two
weeks vacation afforded him by the union,
I said goodbye to Martin Casey, Pat O’Rourke,
Vic Dumbrowski, Mickey Noonan,
Joe Lotto and the real Tony Curtis—
the doormen of 1150 Park
who drank too much and played the horses,
had thick-as-worms varicose veins
from standing, waiting, waiting, sprinting—
old men in heavy shoes hailing cabs in the rain.

:: Douglas Goetsch, in Third Coast (spring 2003)

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