Tales from the
“It’s too bad that
the only people who know how to run a country are busy driving cabs and
cutting hair.” - George Burns
mind the country, sometimes that’s how I feel about my job. To paraphrase
Mr. Burns: Too bad the only people who know how to run a building are busy
lawyering and brokering stocks and dealing art.
super knows at least this one thing by experience, and knows it very well:
New York City apartment dwellers don’t know squat about what supers do, nor
how they do it. But the residents in my building think they know what supers
do, and what they’re absolutely, positively sure of is that their super is
available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And that the best time to call to
set up an appointment to get a window blind fixed is after work is finished
for the day and I’m taking a nap, because I was up late the night before
taking care of yet another problem. Or that a toilet running on is an
emergency that should be fixed right away, even if “right away” is somewhere
between 9 pm and midnight.
it funny that they all seem to be smart enough to know that IF I’m stupid
enough to answer my phone after hours, their excuse for calling at a late
hour will be that they thought my voicemail would pick up? Did someone learn
their lessons too well in law school, or what?
tenants, condo and co-op owners absotively, posolutely do not know about the
super life would fill many encyclopedic volumes. Still, sometimes it’s our
between a smart man and a wise man is that a smart man knows what to say,
a wise man knows whether or not to say it."
- Frank M. Garafola
it is our fault because often we fail to find that teachable moment, and
take advantage of it. A teachable moment? Let’s define a teachable moment,
for our purposes here, as that period between the time a question is asked
by a resident (usually in the form of a demand, i.e., why can’t someone --
read: the super -- DO something about yadda yadda yadda?) and that time when
we either come up with a viable answer, or a quick answer intended to take
the edge off a tough conversation -- or we lose patience and walk away --
it’s our fault because we don’t take advantage of the opportunities that
present themselves to educate our residents about what we do. Yes, we’re
very busy. There’s too much to do in one day’s time, and that to-do list
ain’t getting any shorter, is it?
sometimes we need to just stop and take some time to ‘splain what needs ‘splainin’.
the time, residents are not clueless about what we do and why we do it
because they want to be. In many instances it’s a matter of no one ever
before having taken the time to teach them the facts. No one previously has
taken the time to instruct, when that teachable moment has come along.
Consequently, the ignorance is at best perpetuated -- often inaccuracies and
fallacies are added to a person’s brain databank -- and at worst, built upon
when can a super, many of us with little formal education, teach a lawyer
ANYTHING? Since there are “teachable moments” – that’s when. I know we’re
not teachers -- we’re building maintenance workers. We’re supers first, and
teaching isn’t even a close third, and I’m not advocating being a fulltime
teacher. For most of us that’s not an alternative. I’m simply suggesting
that we look for those small moments when we can pass along something
helpful – helpful to them and to us.
us, whether we realized it at the time or not, have had those moments
presented to us in gift wrap and a nice bow. All we had to do was seize the
moment that was presented to us. If we look patiently – and don’t overreact,
or underreact -- we can find these moments.
Case in point: I live and
work in a property of a whole bunch of million dollar condos on the upper
west side, on a great old tree-lined block in a beautiful and semi-quiet
neighborhood. Most of the owners in my building work in high pressure jobs
downtown, and spend too little time at home. But when they are at home they
don’t want to be bothered by the peculiar quirks of the building, or little
things like a toilet getting stopped up. So the babysitter – sorry, I mean
the super -- gets called, even if it’s late.
We know that it doesn’t
take a super to unclog a toilet. Last time I looked in the mirror, I did not
even remotely resemble a plunger, not even when I was wearing my rattiest
it is to believe, a few of these people never learned how to properly use a
plunger. Possibly more accurately and to the point, they were never TAUGHT
how to use a plunger. And let’s face it, most of these people are NOT
self-taught ANYTHING – they spent a lot of time in ivy league classrooms in
the past, no?
sure, it’s only a few who, although they own their home, know exactly zilch
about taking care of it, (one woman once told me that she had no time to do
anything in her home and no time to learn it, after all, the reason she
lives in a condo is because she can hire someone to take care of everything
– pretty much a word for word quote) but in my building they are exactly the
type who would not think twice to call me after hours and expect me to show
up on their doorstep, with a plunger and a smile, in under a minute flat.
evidently, no one ever took the time to demonstrate the basics to, and
enlighten, some people.
kid was in kindergarten, she often had to bring something to “show and
tell”. Bring a found object or possession of yours to school the next day,
show it to the class and talk about what it means to you, or what you can
learn to do with it.
after about a year of unclogging toilets and flipping breakers because of
overloaded circuits, many if not all at immensely inopportune times, I
realized that I was missing something. You might say I had entered a
teachable moment myself.
to sink into my thick cranium that I needed to take matters into my own
hands and take the time - next time, to show and tell. Unstop the toilet,
yes, in a timely manner, yes. But also manage the little visit. Maneuver to
have them watch, and show them how it’s done. Oh, and work into the
conversation that a plunger can be picked up at the hardware store for just
a few dollars and kept nearby for just such an “emergency”.
Manipulation? A little manipulation of the situation can go a long way. I
did just that a few weeks later, and I haven’t been back to unclog a toilet
there since - now many months. Hmmm, come to think of it, I haven’t been
back to the apartment to do anything in many months. Yet the owners are
friendlier and seem to have more respect for me than ever before.
teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary."
actually done something right for a change? Yes, I think I have, finally. I
did what I woulda shoulda coulda done a long time ago. I found that
teachable moment, and -- instead of overreacting or, just as bad,
underreacting -- I taught.
insignificant and exceedingly small, yet so important, I finally learned
what my kid learned in kindergarten lo these many years ago.
an object I’m familiar with, and I went off to show and tell.
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