Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Doorman vs Smoker

I had my first cigarette at the ripe age of thirteen. My parents had drilled into my head the dangers of getting addicted to smoking. When I was a kid, I watched my Dad go through hell to quit for our benefit. I'd held out as long as I could amongst the group of delinquents I ran with at that age, explaining my family's history of addiction and my not wanted to get hooked. They were less than understanding. My polite declines of drags of Newport 100's were usually greeted something along the lines of "then go home, you fat faggot", or "who the fuck invited you, anyway?"

In one of my more feeble attempts to fit in, I finally caved an took a drag of my buddy Carl's Parliament Light in the woods of the baseball field we hung out in. I awkwardly held it in my hand and stared at the flickering cherry, contemplating whether this were a road I wanted to go down. This led to a chorus of "just fucking do it already, you fat faggot" and "who the fuck invited this herb?" from the rest of the pack. Hoping that taking a drag of that Parliament Light would alleviate the harsh criticisms of being a sensitive, androgynous chubby kid with big, round glasses who never stuck up for himself, I caved.  

The harsh words never stopped. In fact, they would get much, much worse. But I did make a new friend that evening - Parliament Lights. For the next twelve years, not a day went by where I didn't have a pack of smokes in my pocket. As I got older and began to drink more, it became two. I smoked like a fiend, though I knew deep-down that I wasn't a smoker. I never felt like one. 

My smoking schedule was fairly rigid - once every hour when I wasn't at work, then, when I was at work - once in the morning, one in the late-morning, two on my lunch break, one mid-afternoon, and one immediately after work. When I drank, it was one after every two drinks when I'm inside a bar, and one after every drink when drinking outdoors. The more I drank, the gap between my next cigarette would shrink, and I would eventually abandon any limit I put on myself. On any given night of drinking, I would smoke anywhere between a pack and a half to two packs.  

Fortunately, a couple of months after I turned twenty-five, I broke one of my front teeth at a concert. It wasn't a cool injury, like a fight or a mosh-pit accident. No, I broke it eating a chicken sandwich. Only me. To be fair to the chicken sandwich - it was fresh and delicious. I had my two front teeth bonded (glued together) after one of my gruesome fat kid injuries (another hilarious story for another time). It was bound to fall out eventually, and carelessly sinking my teeth into this delicious chicken cutlet hero with lettuce, tomato, roasted peppers, and Thousand Island dressing was the kicker. 

I was broke to start, but having to spend $800 to have a crown put in had me in a compromising position - either eat and pay my rent, or smoke. I opted to continue nourishing myself and keep a roof over my head. My job at the time offered free patches to help employees quit. I'd ordered them in the mail a few months back, then let them sit on my dresser and collect dust while I continued to make excuses for not quitting:

Well, it's summer. Can't quit in the summer. Too much outdoor drinking. 

I have a huge audition next week. Can be all distracted with cigarette cravings while I prepare!

It's the holidays. Lots of Christmas party drinking. Can't quit now!

I'll quit on New Years. 

I'll quit on my birthday. 

I'll quit when the price of a pack gets into double digits.

I'll quit once the deli stops selling buy one, get one packs. 

I'll quit when my one of my buddies quit, so I'll have a support partner. 

I'll quit when I cut down on drinking. 

Finally, on September 28th, 2009, I sat on my porch with my buddy Mike, smoking a Parliament Light. When it got down to the end, I stared at the cherry, flickering and shooting ashes like a rapper making it rain at a concert. I turned to Mike: 

Doorman - "This is the last cigarette I'll ever smoke." 

Mike - "My ass. My ass that's your last cigarette." 

It was. I put on my first patch, and quit smoking for good that night. Next week will be five years since I quit smoking. I wish, I really wish I could say it was the last cigarette I ever smoked. I really do. But I'd be lying. A few months ago, I was at a masquerade party on the Lower East Side for my roommate's birthday. It was open bar, and since I was wearing a suit and mask that I'd picked up at a local Halloween store with an off-season discount, I decided to keep it classy - and drink about 13 dirty martinis. 

I'm not exactly sure what goes into a dirty martini. I don't fully understand why it's "dirty." What I do understand... well, I don't understand much of anything that night. Because I don't remember. The one, hazy memory I have of anything after 9pm that evening is standing in front of my building, smoking a cigarette. I don't know why or how this happened, but it did. I wouldn't believe it otherwise, but my friend presented me with the evidence: 


Look at that red-eyed, disheveled mess. Anyway, even though I got about halfway through the cigarette and had to chuck it, hating every drag I took, I spent the next couple of weeks jonesing for a smoke. Every time I drank, especially. I felt the nicotine coercing though my blood, fighting and biting under my skin like a swarm of ticks, screaming for me to pick up a pack of Parliament Lights and start all over again. The punch in the back of my throat, the fill of my lungs, the oral fixation, the prolonged exhale after the first drag following a big meal - I couldn't stop thinking about it. All it took was a half a cigarette - one that I barely, if at all, remember having - and my body had to go through the withdrawals of quitting that I experienced the first time around. 

So, believe me, smokers, I get it. I really do. I understand what it's like to be a smoker, to not have anyone tread on you while you're trying to enjoy your cigarette. I know what it's like to be somewhere you can't smoke, and that awful panic that sets in when you know it's going to be awhile. I understand the willingness to risk a hefty fine to smoke in a place where you're not supposed to, and the polluted thoughts that race through your head to justify such an action. 

Which is why I try to have patience with smokers at work. 

It's part of my doorman duties to prevent smokers from lighting up in front of the building. We have a designated smoking area on the side entrance, which closes at 8pm every night. Still, even when the smoking area is locked, I'm supposed to tell people that they have to move down the block and around the corner to enjoy their cigarette. Even in a thunderstorm or sub-zero temperature, it's my job to tell people that they can't smoke in front of the main entrance. Sounds like a job for security, right? Telling people where they can and can't be on the property? No. Apparently, it's the doorman's job. 

We have two signs in front of the exit, none of which feature the universal "no-smoking" symbol, which is a burning cigarette in the middle of a circle with a line through it. Instead, they both simply say "this is a non-smoking area". For a hotel that caters to foreign tourists who don't tip or speak english, it would be logical to have that sign as an indicator that they can't be smoking there. I've said this repeatedly to the higher-ups, to which I'm usually told that I'm not holding the door open and greeting people properly. 

While I understand the plight of the smoker, I'm also a tipped employee, making me a "yes" man. So, what I usually do, is figure out which way the wind is blowing. Whatever direction blows towards the door, I make sure no one is smoking there. That keeps people from blowing smoke in my face (which they do, often), and blowing smoke in the faces of people coming inside. And instead of having them move down the block, or all the way around the corner to the other, "smoking" entrance, I simply ask them to move to the other side of the sidewalk, towards the street. 

99 out of 100 people are understanding. Some will give me an attitude. Some will scoff and take one step to the side, as if those three and a half inches will somehow make a difference as they obsessively thumb through Facebook and Instagram. It rarely, if ever, escalates. Here's one of those times: 

A black van pulls up, and a Brazilian-American man hops out. A lot of these Brazilian-Americans have illegal side-business where they shuttle tourists back and forth from the shopping outlets. These guys are mostly pretty cool with the doormen, because their unlicensed operation is something that could have massive consequences if caught by the Taxi and Limousine Commission. In return for us keeping our mouths shut, they will tell their people to make sure they tip the doormen and bellmen who help them with their hoards of luggage or shopping bags.  

He removed several suitcases and shopping bags for a middle-aged Brazilian woman. I begin helping accordingly, to which I'm stopped:

Brazilian Woman - "Ah! AH! I SMOKE FIRST? Then..."

Her voice sounded like she was speaking through the bottom of a sandbox.

She gestures towards the door. Fine. 

Doorman - "Okay, I'll bring the bags to the front, where you check in." 

I turn with the bags. She grabs my arm.

Brazilian Woman - "AH! NO! I. AM. ROOM."

She has a room. 

Doorman - "Okay, you want me to bring the bags up?" 

Brazilian Woman - "AH! NO! I TAKE!"

Fine by me. It was a lousy night, and I had no interested in over-exerting myself for nothing. 

She grabs her shopping bags and suitcases, then dumps them right in the foyer, blocking my phone and collapsable wheelchair ramp for handicapped guests. I don't have much to take pride in, but my doorman phone and wheelchair ramp is about as close as I'll ever have to an office. I don't like clutter in my office. 

She takes one on step outside the door and lights up her cigarette. I usually give people a few moments to light up, then see if they have the common decency to move away from the entrance.

She doesn't, of course. She puffs away, blowing smoke in the faces of guests trying to enter. She doesn't give a fuck.

I step outside and intervene.

Doorman - "Excuse me, ma'am. You can't smoke in front of the door."

She looks at me as if I'd just asked her to engulf herself in flames for my amusement.

Brazilian Woman - "WHY?!?"

I point to the "this is a non-smoking area sign", which, again, does not feature the universal "no-smoking" symbol.

Doorman - "This is a non-smoking area."

She looks at the sign, then, like the belligerent hag I expected her to be, takes one small step to the left and continues puffing away. As if the three inches she too to step away were to change anything. I could see her body tense up. She wanted to hear nothing more from me. I persisted.

Doorman - "No, ma'am. Away from the door."

I point to the other side of the side walk, towards the street.

Doorman - "Over there."

She glances at where I'm pointing, then back at me with a look of disgust that even the muggiest of amateur actors couldn't muster. And, like a 4-year-old, she stomps her feet.

Brazilian Woman - "NO! I SMOKE! RIGHT HERE!"

Fuck this. Seriously, it's 75 degrees out, not raining, and all I'm asking of this fucker is to walk ten feet. I already agreed to help her with her bags, so what's the problem?!?

Doorman - "MA'AM! I'm not asking you for a lot! PLEASE, move to the other side of the curb!"

She flails her arms and gestures towards the sky repeatedly. Up and down and up and down, almost like a rain dance. I don't know what this means. I let it go on for a second or two longer than it should, out of sheer amusement.

Doorman - "What the hell are you doing?"

Brazilian Woman - "I... OUTSIDE!"

Doorman - "I... aware!"

This is why I'm reluctant to have children. Because I know I'll be signing up for 18 years of interactions like this one.

Brazilian Woman - "IN BRAZIL. WE SMOKE. INSIDE!"

Now, I don't get too many opportunities to scream what I'm about to scream with conviction. No one really does. Though I can tell you, it's a wondrous treat. As a proud patriot of my free country, I boastfully took the next sentence from the deepest bowels of my diaphragm:  

Doorman - "WELL, THIS IS AMERICA!!!"

My heightened tone throws her off guard.

Doorman - "Now, you can play nice and go to the other side of the curb, or I can get security to throw you out of the hotel. What's it gonna be?!?"

Her shoulders slump, her back curves, and she quickly stomps over to the other side of the curb with a long, exaggerated scoff, like a teenager being sent to her room. She continues her phlegm-gargling on the other side of the curb, cursing me in Portuguese as she wolfs down the remainder of her cancer stick.

At the end of her infantirade (that's infantile + tirade, a word I just made up. See what a fucking innovator I am?), she stomps out her cigarette and sourly makes her way back to the door. I open it accordingly. She begins to collect her things. In a feeble attempt to carry everything in one shot, she drops a few bags containing shoeboxes.

So, what did I do? Did I want to just watch her struggle, internally laughing like Ray Liotta in Goodfellas?


I helped her. I took all of the stuff, loaded a bell cart, and brought it all up to her room. She refused to part ways with her possessions, eyeballing me the whole way. I could tell she thought that if she left me alone in the elevator, I would steal or intentionally damage something.

We get to her room, a king-sized suite that she seemingly had all to herself. I unload everything off the cart. She kicks her shoes off and watches me bring in every single piece, scanning the bags to make sure I hadn't ninja-lifted something in the elevator while she wasn't looking. Once the last shopping bag is inside, she slams the door without thanking or tipping me.

I didn't see her after that. And while I knew that helping her up to the room would prove to be a fruitless activity, it felt better to be the bigger person and help her out. Too bad she wasn't big enough to reciprocate.

1 comment:

  1. I got my first electronic cigarette kit off of VaporFi, and I love it very much.