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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Back Door

I want to take a moment to examine the idea and conceptualization of the service entrance, the servant, and the segregating of social classes/places/people, etc.  In my recent work as a "delivery boy" for an upscale supermarket, I deliver food throughout Manhattan's midtown and upper east/west sides.  I spend my time going in and out of the buildings "service entrance", and entering apartments many times - especially in the older buildings - literally through the back door.  I have also been reading the People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, and the two of them have gotten me thinking about the history of segregating out "servants", and the way that America has both reinvigorated and fostered over hundreds of years a class based society where the rich or "better off" do not have to see or come in contact with those they either see or place as their "inferiors".

Yes, I use this word "inferior" because as per my observations, this is the design of the concept of service entrances.  There are generally as I see it three uses of the service entrance/elevators.  One is construction, the hauling of materials, dirty men, and tools up to a construction site.  Two is moving/shipping and receiving in which people need a larger elevator or don't want giant sofa sets or bed frames to scratch up the main elevators.  Third is the day to day use for deliveries.  Pizza, groceries, whatever. 

All of these buildings that I am delivering to above five floors have both main elevators and service elevators, and NYC and the area I'm delivering in specifically has hundreds of these buildings.  They most all have doormen and elaborate teams of workmen (yes, almost always men) that run these buildings.  Sometimes this means over one hundred workers for one building.  There is a front entrance where the residents and their guests enter, where the doormen cater and fawn over any request (lest they not receive their Christmas tip money).  There is then a person at the service entrance checking people in and sending them on their way - with much less fan fair or niceties I assure you.  Some buildings let you come in the main entrance now and again, after hours, etc, and show much more openness with it.  Others are down right contemptuous about it.  Not to mention some tenants.  I was told two days ago by a doorman that he doesn't like one tenant because the tenant said to him "what are you doing in this elevator? You can't be in here."  The guy works there, sorts his mail, delivers the food he eats.

This attitude is certainly prevalent in many of these buildings.   And when I say these buildings, some of these buildings - especially those overlooking Central Park are incredible.  I was told by one elevator operator (yes, one person who's job it is to sit in the elevator all day and make sure the servants get where they are supposed to get to without getting into mischief , that not one person in the building had a net worth of less than one hundred million dollars - 15 Central Park West.  Amazing.  

Anyway, the real point that I would love to examine here is the construction of and the concept of a servant, and thus the segregation of servants from their "masters".  Why is it that the wealthy do not see it fit to co-mingle with their "inferior" servants?  It takes me back to the people's history, of the slaves, indentured servants, woman, and "Indians", upon who's backs this country was founded and developed upon.  For time immemorial these groups - all historically inclusive within the lower classes - have been entering through the back door.

What does this do to a society and to people?  Now I understand that there was certainly a history of cleanliness and such going back centuries, but in current day sanitary conditions we are all human beings carrying no more disease than the next person.  Yet still there is a purposefully constructed barrier between the classes in their residences.  Why is it that the servants are not treated as equals?  Why are they not allowed to use the same entrances and same elevators and same doors as everyone else?  Would the lobby become over crowded?  Would the people in these buildings be forced to address and see the lives servants lead, the people doing their work for them?  

To many people in these buildings, their goods and groceries seem to just appear.  They go shop, and then get home later and there are their groceries in the kitchen.  They don't care to know about the low income delivery person that carried all eight bags of their stuff through the alley and down the steps in the basement at the back of the building, tried to open the double security doors while hold the groceries, using their head when necessary, then struggled throughout the maze of the basement to find which elevator is that person's - while being monitored the whole time.  Up the elevator, with a guy to watch even as you knock on the back door service entrance to an apartment that covers an entire floor of a building over looking Central park.  The maid, or nanny, or housekeeper, accepts the groceries (and servants never really give a tip).  Then the meager delivery servant is sent upon his or her way.  shoo shoo...  Poof!!!  Your groceries are in your kitchen!!  Rich people (most anyone that lives in this area of Manhattan it seems to me really, and by global measure as well), don't want to know or see these people.  

Yes, there are average people, with single apartments that accept their own groceries and do give you a couple dollars, but the process in the building is the same.  You are subservient, beneath the residents.  You will enter through the back, be monitored, leave the things and go.  My real question and interest with this though is what has this created in terms of the separations of people and classes in a society, and in the creation of class based frames of reference and the construction of a view of the self.  For rich people to never see their servants means that they will never understand or see their lives.  That these people are regular, normal and intelligent people simply struggling to make their way in a world that has not been as kind to them as their masters.  That these are a group of people that have been institutionally suppressed and been made to either feel or see themselves as inferior.

With every building built, and every policy put in place that requires this continued segregation of the classes and people, our society perpetuates the concept of an underclass and an upperclass; that some people are beneath others.  Rather than creating a society based on equality and human dignity, we structurally induce hierarchical social arrangements and ignorance of other people and their lifestyles.  Not sure what kind of a melting pot that is.  


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  2. I agree that the value our lives hold is not related to our net worth. The challenge is that we, as a species, instinctually fall into a social hierarchy.

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