As a woman living in New York City, I tend to keep my guard up in public. I don’t respond to solicitations on the street. I rarely make eye contact on the subway and I never acknowledge hecklers.
It's not until I'm home that I feel completely at ease. Well, except for the time my doorman asked me out:
“So when are we going to the movies?” he asked me, as I waited downstairs in the lobby for a friend one afternoon several years back.
Now, to give you some background on my doorman (let’s call him George): He had always been a helpful worker. But he also had a slow, mysterious way about him that made him pretty creepy at times. I remember the first day I moved in: I was waiting for the elevator in my lobby, and he suddenly appeared behind me sweeping the hallway floor.
“Moving in today?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I smiled.
We exchanged names.
“Are you a student or working?” he continued.
“I just started working at NY1 News as a producer,” I replied.
“Ohhh,” he said, with his eyebrows raised.
I was relieved when the elevator doors flung open, but I could also feel his calculating eyes following me as I headed inside.
Months passed and my interaction with George was limited to the usual doorman/resident small talk while asking for a spare key, accepting packages, etc.
Until the day he asked me out.
All I remember is smiling nervously…and feeling my chest tighten. I don’t recall if I even replied, but the deer-in-headlights look on my face was probably what made him switch the topic.
Some might have laughed it off. “Oh, George, you’re so funny!” Others might have even said, “How about Friday night?”
Me? I said nothing. I was paralyzed because I knew he wanted me to flirt back. I could tell he was serious.
In the weeks following, I tried my very best to dodge George. I wouldn’t check my mail if I knew he was downstairs. I would even delay entering the building after work; I’d circle the neighborhood or grab a bite to eat somewhere on the Upper West Side if I saw him hanging outside the front entrance.
Your doorman is supposed to protect you, not make you feel uncomfortable, right? Perhaps I should have spoken up and told him he was being inappropriate, but the young single-female-living-in-the-big-city-watching-too-many-crime-shows inside me kept dwelling on the fact that he had access to my keys.
This went on for a few weeks. The thought of reporting his actions to our building manager did cross my mind, but, I wasn't sure if he'd actually done anything technically wrong. I decided that if he continued to pretend we lived in a night club, I would definitely say something to the Board. I owned my apartment, so it wasn't like I could have easily moved.
I did, however, confess the story to a co-worker --along with the fact that I hadn’t checked my mail in a few days for fear of running into George.
“Okay, this needs to stop,” she told me. “You can’t be a hostage in your own apartment. It's time for you to become a snob.”
“A snob?” I asked.
“You just need to go about your business in your apartment, and if he’s there, lurking and being creepy, you need to ignore him,” she said. “He needs to see that you are capable of ignoring him…and if he brings up going out again, just say, ‘You’re joking, right?’ and leave it at that.”
Thusly instructed, I resumed my old routine of entering and exiting my apartment whenever I wanted, checking my mail whenever I wanted and even asking George for the spare key from time to time. I stopped smiling and making small talk, but was never rude or impolite. I always said please and thank you and never skimped on his bonus around the holidays because I still believed in being fair - even though he was my least favorite. Plus, doormen talk...I didn't want to get on his bad side.
From then on, George was the same old George - minus the creepy stares and inappropriate gestures. Maybe I'd unfairly turned him into a monster and realized he wasn't so bad...or maybe he'd just gotten the hint. Either way, it's become one of my old New York moments that makes living here so unique.
Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance author. She is a former Upper West Sider who now resides in Brooklyn, happily in a doorman building.