Dear Bintel Brief,
I live a doorman apartment building. One of the night doormen, while a nice, friendly person, often seems bored by his job. The other night, I arrived home expecting an important package, but the doorman was nowhere to be found. Several other residents, and a few visitors, were standing in the lobby as well, waiting for him. There was a hastily scrawled note on his desk saying he would be back in five minutes. I waited for what must have been 10 minutes, and he never showed. During this period of time, the doors to the building were wide open, and anyone could have strolled inside.
The next morning, on my way to work, a different doorman told me I had a package. When he asked me why I hadn’t picked up the package the day before, I simply said the night doorman hadn’t been at his desk. The morning doorman immediately exchanged a meaningful look with the building’s superintendent, who happened to be standing nearby. They told me that this wasn’t the first time this night doorman had “disappeared” on the job, and that I should file a formal complaint with the management company.
I decided not to file a complaint, because I didn’t want to get the doorman in trouble. But when I arrived home that evening, the night doorman was back, and he had clearly heard about the exchange that morning. He said to me, in a defensive and less-than-friendly tone, that he’d been using the bathroom the night before. He added that I should have “waited” for him, and when I explained that I had, I didn’t get much of a response. It was clear that he thought I’d ratted him out to his colleague and boss, when in fact I hadn’t done so intentionally.
Did I do the right thing in not reporting him? What should I do moving forward?
Dear Doorman Dilemma, I hate these kinds of dilemmas, because they bring up all manner of uncomfortable feelings about class and privilege. They force you to scrutinize your life and ask: Was it really so important for me to get that package that night? Is that legal brief or pair of sandals or book from my mom or whatever in that package so important that it’s worth this guy possibly losing his job? But there is really only one correct response. Forget the class and privilege. Set it aside. If you respond with that load of guilt on your head, you’ll never get it right. You’ll sound patronizing, or angry, or entitled. The only thing to do is to treat the doorman like any other colleague who is shirking his duties. Don’t talk to management first, talk to the doorman. Tell him the building residents depend on him, and he has to be back when he says he will. Think of some joke that will put him at ease. Help him understand why it matters if he disappears all the time. If that doesn’t work, then by all means talk to his boss, just as you would with any colleague you depend on who is not making the grade. Give a fair and accurate report of what happened, and why you’re concerned. This is a fair and respectful way to treat anyone who works for you, whether he’s your lawyer or your secretary or your doorman.
Hanna Rosin is a writer for the Atlantic and Double X, and the author of “God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007). The Israeli-born, Queens-reared Rosin lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and their three children.
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