The Price is Right

“…After we pull the pin, Mr. Grenade is NOT our friend!”

I had to fire my doorman Derek last week. To be perfectly honest, I’ve wanted to do so for a long time. He’s an inveterate suckup and he makes all of us in New York City multi-family building support look bad. To put it very succinctly, Derek allows the almighty dollar to dictate how he treats people.

Those who tip him big at holiday time, and even more so for those who “remember him” sufficiently throughout the year, these people he treats royally. Those who tip small or not at all, to him these are a royal pain in the asterisk. He ignores them, speaking to them only when spoken to, helping out only when formally asked.

Derek’s been in the building for many years, predating most of the present owners here by several years; me by many. He knew the lives of most residents intimately. Even grew close to a few.

Adored by those he treated well, this case was especially hard for all of those involved because of an interesting phenomenon. Funny (in a strange, bizarre, odd kind of way) how money, thrown around in the right amounts, patterns and dimensions sometimes makes the relationship of one person to another resistant to a lot of truth.

There’s a weird kind of “one hand washes the other” going on in these relationships: A resident tips well. The tippee treats the tipper extra well in return, going that extra mile frequently and with gusto. The high-tipping resident will come to deem this individual, over time, a great person. He’s so kind and obliging, so knowledgeable, so on the ball, so right on time with his helpfulness. He must be a very nice, and good, person.

I’ve seen it with celebrities and other very well-to-do people also. The money they have is often used strategically to get what they want – as time goes on it happens without so much as a second thought by them. Consequently, much is hidden from them. They’re blinded to much of what is going on around them, because the money they put out serves to insulate them. Is that the way they want it? I’m certain that for many the answer is “yes” .

“No one does anything from a single motive.” –Samuel Taylor Coleridge

But what the tipper often cannot see and understand, if the tipped one is not simply doing his job because it’s his job to do, but instead lavishing extra consideration and attention only on those people who treat HIM very well, is a very self-evident fact: that this person isn’t a good person because he’s a good person in his own right, but he becomes a good person for monetary reasons. In other words: If the price is right.

Well, isn’t that enough? You may say it is; it doesn’t matter WHY you do the right thing. It’s enough that you DO the right thing.

I respectfully disagree. This isn’t true in any field, but especially not in the service field. Why? For me, there are two reasons, probably both selfish in part. One reason has a lot to do with the field of work in which we see ourselves, the other has much more to do with the class of humanity in which we think of ourselves as being.

Number one: it makes me look bad. If a person in our field does the right thing only because of what HE gets out of it, how does that make us all look? Do we devalue ourselves to the simple level of doing our jobs only for the loot, instead of doing the right thing for the sake of — well, doing the right thing?

I don’t like getting painted with the same broad strokes as the individual who does the right thing only when someone is watching — or doling out the greenbacks. I’d like to think I’m going beyond that. To me, that’s not a good enough reason to do something. But, quite broadly, it is how we in this field are quite often seen. It’s our fault. We allow people to think that we will not do what we should do until we are slipped paper in sufficient amperage or voltage to persuade us to do what is our job to do all along! Or because we irrationally think we can or should intimidate or shame or coerce people into giving us the off-the-books income we somehow “so richly deserve”.

“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Folks, I’ll get off my soapbox in a minute, but first this: we shouldn’t be like that, collectively or individually. If we do a great job and the recipient wants to reward with a tip, we can and should graciously accept it in the spirit of “a job well done”, especially when we go ‘way beyond the call of duty. For many of us, “going beyond” is part and parcel of every day. But we should not require or demand a tip in order to do what is already our job to do, and for which we already receive fair compensation.

Years ago a handyman who worked for me would gripe throughout the year about this horrible tenant and that bad resident. “They’re cheap. I don’t like working for them. They don’t tip well.” He would hide from any or all of them if he saw them coming. But at holiday time he was hanging out in the lobby, literally his big bad rotund self would hold down a chair in the lobby, hour after hour waiting for the envelopes to be handed to him – WHILE HE WAS BEING PAID TO WORK! What is wrong with THAT picture?

I wondered at times just how many people thought I was that kind of person also, since I was his boss, and I ordered some changes in his behavior.

Number two: He looks untrustworthy when he doesn’t treat a person well. Maybe some people don’t think of this in dealing with people – maybe more should: If you can’t trust a person’s motives, what is it about that person that you CAN trust?

Now, I did NOT manufacture anything against Derek, nor was I looking for something. He DID bring this on himself. Still, it looked possible for a day or two that I might have to eat the whole episode and bring him back. I didn’t know if my building manager would agree with what I did, nor did I know if my manager’s boss would agree. And certainly, working in a condo at the pleasure of the owners who are also in many ways the “bosses”, I didn’t know if any — or enough of them — would agree with what I did. Especially those on the Board who have the final say.

Some residents were indeed prompted to come to me and spill their guts on what I did, even before asking for and digesting all the facts. And I understood that there was a vast affection for Derek by some, and some of their children were deeply attached to him, having grown up with him coming in and out of the building all their lives.

Even further, there was the union to contend with. Dealing with individuals at the union is generally okay, but dealing with “the bureaucracy” can be tricky at best, a death wish at worst.

Still and all, firing Derek had to happen. Not because he was found sleeping on the job time after time, and given warning after warning (which he was). Not because he had a habit of coming to work late and blaming the trains (which he did, over and over). Certainly not because he would often stand outside smoking a cigarette with his back to the door, completely oblivious to who was coming in and going out, unable to hear the ringing phone (which he also did).

“I’ve always felt it was not up to anyone else to make me give my best.” — Akeem Olajuwon

And certainly not because he was a nonstop suckup, doing his duty exclusively (and so obviously) for the money, treating people differently solely on his perception of whether or not they treated him well first. Yes, it was egregious and it was disappointing and it was shameful to see, day after day, month after month, treating people differently based on how much they put out.

But all of that was, in the end, a moot point.

What finally did him in was his lack of self control in general, and specifically his temper. He and a coworker got into an argument, which led to a fight. Derek got angry, lost control, and took the coworker out. He forced my hand; I took him out. I’ve never regretted it for a millisecond.

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