Supers and “Supering”



“Wear the old coat and buy the new book.” -Austin Phelps

There are those grasping souls who, no matter how much they have, want more. And will do whatever conniving and deceiving they must do to get it. To them, how they get it is unimportant. It’s all in the possessing. Well, also in the flaunting. But flaunting is a whole ‘nother story.

You know the type? Lots of stuff is good. Cheap is bad — but inexpensive, now that’s getting religion. Getting it free is like finding out that getting religion will also make you smart, beautiful, famous AND rich. And getting over on someone to get it for free, well, that’s nirvana wrapped in heaven inside of Shangri-la. We all know someone like this. There are some such souls in our fair city, sad to say. In the upper west side luxury condo where I live and work, they bought and moved into Apt. 8D many years before I was hired as the super.

Now, to me at least, there are degrees. If a very poor person is seen grabbing and grasping, motivated by need more than greed, by wanting to better his life and that of his family, well, that’s one thing. But to see a human – who already has everything – want still more, not even allowing him/herself to be on familiar terms with the fact that he already has more than he needs… that’s another story altogether. Here’s one such short story:

I was taking my afternoon coffee one day about a year ago, when my doorman called me to say there was an emergency in 8D. She was yelling into the phone all high-pitched and scared and nervous: “Tell the super to come up here right away, my diamond wedding ring fell down the drain and I want it back immediately.”

Well, this day was beginning to look like it just might have an upside. A five minute job AND a nice healthy tip was almost assured. AND, I might possibly be up for hero of the year for a change (supers don’t get that enough). I went up when my break was over, separated the plumbing under the bath vanity, and poured the water into a container.

No diamond ring in sight. Suddenly, the under-sink plumbing I was holding in my hand had DISASTER stamped all over each piece in big scary lettering.

She was too upset to stand there and watch, but Slippery Finger’s husband was keeping his evil, ah, make that eagle eye on the proceedings. We were both stunned about where the ring was not. Mr. Slippery called Mrs. into the bathroom, and we both queried her about running water AFTER the ring had slipped off her finger. Definitely not, she said. She had made sure that after the ring had slipped off, she shut the faucet immediately and called for help.

Momentarily I didn’t know what to do. I had heard rumors about these nice people, under whose grand hospitality I was now pinned, but being new to the building I had no actual experience to explain that hairy feeling forming in the pit of my stomach. They had been suspected of staging incidents before (at least one of which involved a former employee and expensive jewelry), and this was starting to take on the look and feel of one of those. I unholstered my flashlight and peered down the drain with concentration to summon the plumbing gods. There appeared to be something hanging there, on the stopper lever, but I couldn’t be sure, and from my angle I could NOT see a diamond.

I asked Mr. Slippery for a wire hanger, and sweated through opening it up, wondering what good could come of this incident (or was it accident), and was I really as screwed as I was starting to feel? As I started probing the drain with the wire, I heard the unmistakable plunk of metal against plastic, of a heavy diamond ring hitting the bottom of the green plastic bucket below. Oh yes, it WAS going to be a good day after all. Ms. Slippery Ring Finger chirped and gasped loudly in recognition, as if to say, “That’s it, that’s it! I’ve heard that sound before!”

It had been there all along, having somehow hung itself, waiting for light persuasion from my wire poke before giving itself up. I was concurrently wiping the sweat off my forehead and saying a prayer of thanks for not getting the blame for inadvertently disposing of (or worse, stealing) a very expensive diamond ring, and all the while plotting how I could get out of there as fast as possible, when the husband stuffed $50 in bills into my hand. Hey now. Not only was I the hero of the story for a change, but I got some nice change to boot.

Before escaping, I commented on how beautifully the bathroom had turned out – new vanity, new mirrors, new tiles on the floor and wall – it looked GORGEOUS, and expensive. They both thanked me and smiled, Yes, they were very happy; the work had been completed just days before.

“Money can’t buy friends, but it can get you a better class of enemy.”  — Spike Milligan

Three days later, the contractor who had just completed that tile work in 8D stopped by the building. He looked very irritated and frustrated, like he had just wakened with a sour stomach. “I thought you were finished here –what happened?” I asked him. “They told me yesterday that they don’t like the tile, that it’s uneven in color and installed poorly, and they want something done about it,” he said with a frustrated frown.

I was shocked. SHOCKED! Aside from the obvious (they HAD said, had they not, that they JUST LOVED the work – or had I dreamt it?), which caused my initial stunned astonishment, I couldn’t help but think: Why is it that anyone bids on, and accepts, a job in ANY building in this City without speaking to the super first? Who knows better than the super (and of course other staff who have prime contact with residents) whether or not the person or persons they will be spending lots of effort and time with – many thousands of dollars over many months in most cases, sometimes even millions of dollars and more than a year in others — is honest, a good business person, above board, and will pay the bill at the end?

There has been much drivel written in magazine articles and books – okay, some of it good — about finding a good contractor, much less about finding a good client. But a contractor could help himself and his sour stomach many times over by asking a few pointed questions of relatively disinterested parties (the super, the doormen, the handyman maybe?). In this case, if he had asked me, I would have told him to run — not walk — away from this particular potential client.

He never gave himself a running chance.

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