Every building on the island of Manhattan had rodents and insects and needed some level of pest control. No matter how expensive or luxurious the apartment vermin dwelled within their walls. Bugs navigated through the plumbing and ventilation. It was likely pigeons used their water tank as a toilet. Every job, whether it’s on a construction site or in an office setting there had to be at least one rat. One spiteful employee who would cut your legs out from underneath you at every opportunity for the prospect of personal gain.
Nelson Burgos was the snitch of 534 East 57th street. He would shadow Murphy, walking beside him dragging his bad leg like the undead in the Thriller video, hoping Murphy would listen to the dirt he had on his coworkers. Murphy would briefly entertain him and then dismiss him and ignore the complaint. In one ear out the other. The problem was when Nelson would pretend to offer up information in the guise of a joke to Sugar, depending who it was about and if she was feeling quarrelsome. It would cause Murphy grief which Nelson never realized. Nelson had jammed up quite a few people in his tenure at the building and never gained any ground, never rose above, when the time came to promote someone to superintendent when the last one retired, it went to Murphy. It was unanimous. Nelson was never in contention.
Nelson took umbrage when he showed up for his shift and found me at the building before him. He had suspicions. Nelson prided himself on being on site one hour, two hours, sometimes three hours before his shift began. He absolutely hated that he was not the first man to arrive, disregarding the overnight doorman. In his mind I was beating him to the job. Was I more dedicated to the building than him? Impossible. No one loved 534 more than Nelson. They would have to take him out kicking and screaming.
It was not by choice that I was there. It’s not like I was sleeping anyway but I was there cause I had nowhere else to go. I anticipated his arrival, knowing that I couldn’t let him see me staying there. He would use it to his advantage. I tucked my cot away. I’d shower in the moldy basement bathroom, next to the locker room. The shower had no curtain, the door did not close and the tiles were covered in century old grime that no cleaner could penetrate. I’d dress and position myself in front of the television, on the large round table we ate at. I listened to my iPod, drawing self portraits on a cheap pad.
“You’re here early,” said Nelson, hanging his jacket up which smelled like an old hockey skate.
“Excuse me, I’m sorry,” I paused the device, putting Scarlet’s underrated and aptly titled record Cult Classic on hold. The words Jon Spencer screamed still imprinted in my mind.
I don’t need your therapy.
I don’t want you telling me.
Everything will be alright.
“I said you’re here pretty early. Every day this week.”
“Yeah. The thing about the worm.”
“Early bird, eh. Did you stay over?” Nelson asked.
“Oh. Oh. Good morning.”
“Good morning, Nelson,” I said, lifting my coffee to him.
I felt he intentionally showed up even earlier that morning to try and catch me sleeping there. Murphy knew I was sleeping on the cot in the boiler room. It was Gerry’s cot. I would never say anything if I had gotten caught. Nelson felt threatened by people and if given the opportunity he would throw anyone under the bus for anything if in his mind it might make him look better, anything to secure his position. He was like a decrepit dinosaur, but on his last leg, which he would drag around, with his mouth ajar. His porter uniform, dark blue Dickies, stained and torn, were always disheveled. The remainder of his belt was never fastened into the loops, so it flapped around as he lurched. He was a child in mind, he lacked hygiene, and common sense. A fifth grade reading level. Poor or rich, manners should be preached. He felt slighted by the littlest trivial thing. He told the same jokes and stories over and over. He would pretend to hurt himself, a slap to a door then a hand to his head followed by phony cries of agony. It worked on the children. Aside from him trying to fuck up my job I felt more sorry for him than I had animosity. I mean I didn’t like him as a person, but I don’t like most people. He probably had someone in his life who thought he was aces. It just wasn’t me. Why would he care what I did? What did it matter to him where I slept? It’s not like he would offer me a place to stay, not that I would accept, you understand I had too much pride. He wasn’t the superintendent or a shareholder but yet there was a sense of entitlement, a concern over my actions. If only people just minded their own business. This wasn’t what I wanted out of life, Nelson. .
I enjoyed working the porter shifts. There was way less scrutiny. Some workers hate having to be in the lobby. One major task for the porter was putting the garbage out on tuesdays and fridays. Recycling also goes out on friday. Buildings produce a ton of trash. Fridays are a heavy day for the porter, even more strenuous if you’re Nelson Burgos. I liked it. I looked at it as a work out, set a timer, and fuck it up. The rule is you’re supposed to carry the building’s trash out through the service entrance. Which meant lugging all the trash through the gate in the basement, out the fire door which didn’t work, the alarm was deactivated, and then up a long steep flight of stairs and out onto the sidewalk.
He was incapable of carrying anything with substantial weight up those treacherous steps. So he loaded an old lobby cart and rolled the stacked rodent resistant bags of garbage, a most foul smelling rubbish, through the lobby as fast as possible, which wasn’t very fast, while trying desperately not to be seen but he always was. Nine out of ten times no one complained. Sometimes a bag would rip and he would drip a long nauseating trail of viscous garbage juice through the lobby which I would clean. I wouldn’t want to wait for him to mop it up.
If a tenant asked me if you could recycle clams, and not him. He took offense, turning beet red, and then once they left would argue that they had asked him and not me and I was not to interfere. I had unintentionally stolen his thunder. He took offense if any tenant spoke to you instead of him about anything at all. It could be about anything, the weather, sports, literature, anything and he would throw a tantrum.
He wouldn’t talk to me normally, maybe just a grunt in acknowledgement, but now he had asked If I stayed over. He would bring me random lone socks he found in the dryers and ask me if they were mine. No, Nelson, they are not mine. He had an idea something was afoot. He was determined to find proof but I wasn’t giving in either. Let him think whatever the fuck he wanted. My situation was temporary, I hoped.
One day Gerry had left the lobby to go on a beer run. I put the elevator on automatic and manned the door. It was a friday. There was birdsong and a shining sun. The service elevator clanked to a halt from behind a stairwell door. That door soon opened, Nelson kicking a rubber triangle between the bottom of the door and the floor to keep it open. He tussled with the luggage cart that was stock piled with garbage. Large compactor bags laid across the cart and many 50 gallon garbage bags stacked up on top. Sometimes they would fall and he would snort and hiss and pick it up and shove it back into place on the cart. When he pushed the cart it looked as if he was trying to move a mountain. It was difficult for him. If I worked on a Friday I always thought the same thing, he should retire.
I opened the front door, and locked it in place so Nelson could go freely amongst his business. He did one run, the second one was his last. I heard a slap against the marble wall. Nelson had one hand on the wall, his other clutched at the top buttons of his shirt. He groaned loudly. This was a man who thought it brought great humor to feign being injured. Here he was again, pretending to bang his head off shit. I was not amused. The moaning increased and he looked to be in a proper panic.
“You alright?” I asked. “Are you fucking around?” Painful gurgles emerged from his throat as his color grew more pale, and his blood pressure plummeted.
“Nelson, sit on the couch,” I said, “I’ll get you some help, man.” As a rule I disliked physical contact with the man, but he was in need of assistance. If mouth to mouth was required Nelson was a fucking goner. It did cross my mind that I could easily let this man die. I went to the lobby phone, first I called Murphy and told him to come up to the lobby immediately. Then I called 911.
“What’s your emergency?”
“Hi, my coworker needs an ambulance. He’s having a heart attack.”
“534 East 57th street.”
“And your name?”
“You want mine or his?”
“Your name, sir.”
I said, Rainer Manning.
The aorta is located in the chest, the largest artery in the body, starting from the left ventricle of the heart down to the stomach where it divides into two smaller arteries. Nelson’s aorta ruptured, and like a submarine volcano the blood erupted from the tear. Thoracic aortic aneurysm. If help hadn’t come in time he would have bled to death in the lobby, although I think for him, dying in the lobby of the building would’ve been heaven.