From mild-mannered, to super

New Yorkers are not adept at fixing things; at least this one isn't.

We depend on building superintendents to rescue us.

As a lifelong apartment-dweller, I call upon the super for anything and everything. To fix radiators that incessantly clank - "the hiccups of our central heating," to quote Proust. To reignite pilot lights on the stove. To open and close stubborn windows. To install the living-room air conditioner in the late spring and remove it in the early fall. To attend to flooding from the apartment above.

Even more extensive services are provided in New York City office buildings. Maintenance staffs meet your every need, except for opening and closing windows, since in many buildings this no longer is possible.

But my small office in the heart of SoHo, where five of us work, is introducing me to new tasks, for we are without a superintendent or maintenance staff.

Thus, in addition to performing the executive duties required by my position, I climb a ladder to change light bulbs.

This is no ordinary ladder, for the ceiling in our 1870 cast-iron building is 16 feet high. When I reach the top and am face to face with the original stamped-tin ceiling, I try not to look down. A colleague hands me the new bulb, which I install.

I change the water-cooler bottle in the supply room, always a perilous juggling act to prevent spillage.

On Tuesday afternoons, after 4 p.m., I collect recyclable paper from the wastebaskets and place it in see-through plastic bags. I drag them through the hallway to the elevator, and then to the street for pickup in the evening. It is a constant wonder to me how a small office can generate so much paper.

When I am the first to arrive in the morning, I unlock the elevator to gain access to our floor and turn on the lights and office equipment. During the day I make bank deposits - a pleasant duty - and at night take letters to the corner mailbox.

My new responsibilities are not without their mysteries. Why does the elevator not work on certain days? I believe it dislikes very cold weather. Why does the office doorbell ring when no one is there? I believe it is activated by passersby on the street who use cell phones.

Being on the second floor, I like to have the office relate to the street below. This means my hanging a Christmas wreath in one of the large windows during the holidays, and in the spring, placing flower boxes on the window ledge.

In the course of my activities, I converse with the window cleaner, contractor, computer expert, electrician, locksmith, telephone company representative, and mail carrier.

Variety in life is appealing. I enjoy these tasks and encounters, a contrast to my usual life as a lawyer sitting at a desk.

But enough of writing. I must lay my pen aside. The radiators are clanking ominously, and there is a steady dripping from upstairs. The need is for action, not words!

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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