Jonathan Vatner in COVID-19 on December 11, 2020 For Habitat Magazine
With New Year’s Day just three weeks away, it’s safe to say that never before in recorded history has a year passed so quickly. The days last about 20 minutes; the weeks are over in half that. It’s possible we accidentally skipped May. Which is the only explanation for the pandemic year of 2020 coming to a close almost before it began.
Yes, it’s already time once again to tip the building staff, to thank them for working tirelessly to ensure that our home lives during the pandemic remain frictionless and safe. But this year money hardly seems adequate. In March, when the entire tristate area went into lockdown, the staff at our Westchester County co-op became heroes. My husband and I spent the second half of the month in a daze, worried and fearful, but the staffers donned their personal protective equipment and kept the co-op running. I’m in awe of their selflessness and courage in the face of a mysterious, deadly disease.
Their courage got personal. In April, my husband and I came down with COVID-19 and its unnerving symptoms. While we recuperated in isolation, our super came up multiple times a day to deliver our packages and take out our trash.
The staff’s fortitude during the pandemic was cause for peak gratitude, but in truth, we’ve been relying on the staff for favors, small and large, almost every day – most commonly, signing for and guarding our deliveries. In this year marked by worry, fear and anger, online shopping has become my avocation and solace, and it’s not unusual for us to receive three or four packages in one day: books I lack the concentration to read, clothes I might never wear, and so much flavored seltzer, the doormen probably think we bathe in the stuff. Our cats have more toys than most children, and we have finally achieved the American dream of owning a TV large enough for our neighbors to watch from their apartments.
Our friendly and skilled handyman and super have cleared bathroom clogs (plural!), sealed up a window draft and carted away an old couch. Late one night, I called the front desk to complain that a screeching sound from the building’s ventilation system was keeping us awake; the super immediately got out of bed to fix it.
I’m grateful to the staff for all those kindnesses, but in tipping this year, I’ll also be hoping to expunge my guilt over one favor in particular. A few weeks into the pandemic, we decided to replace our bed frame. Not only was our existing metal frame very prison-chic, it also squeaked at the slightest provocation. So we splurged on a new frame and a gorgeous handmade headboard crafted from solid oak.
We were promised white-glove delivery into our bedroom. But the day before the bed was to arrive, I received a call explaining that because of COVID-19, the shipping company would leave headboard outside the building. The caller also mentioned that it weighed 1,800 pounds.
I panicked. I can barely lift myself out of bed in the morning; I couldn’t imagine lugging nearly a ton of oak in from the sidewalk. I asked our handyman what to do. He promised to help, as long as the delivery came before his shift ended at 4 pm.
The truck arrived at 4:30. When I stepped into the lobby, I saw the driver unloading the shipment across the street. “Wait!” I shouted, running toward him as the electric loading ramp descended. Could he at least drive the shipment up to the door closest to the elevator? As he pressed the button to lift the ramp back up, the headboard tipped toward me, and my death flashed before my eyes. But he managed to control the monster and steer it to the correct entrance with his electric dolly.
As it turned out, the headboard did not weigh 1,800 pounds – maybe a third of that, which still didn’t put it in the featherweight class. And the dolly did not fit inside the door to the building. The porter on duty offered us a smaller dolly, and with all my strength, I helped the driver lift one end of the box onto the dolly. My pelvis hurt for a week.
He pushed the box while I guided the dolly inside, and together we maneuvered it into the basement maintenance room. Then the handyman explained with a pained smile that the headboard was too long to fit in the elevator. And there was no way that behemoth was going up the stairs. Over the next 30 seconds, I passed through the five stages of grief and agreed that we had to return it.
Here’s the rub: We can’t find a delivery company willing to move something so heavy; the shipper that brought it refused to take it back. For the foreseeable future, the monster bed must remain in the maintenance room. At least I’m sure no one will steal it. I dare anyone to try.
I feel profoundly guilty for leaving it there, making it harder for the staff to work, but as a testament to their patience and good nature, all have tolerated the blockade. The whole ordeal has put a fine point on what I knew already – that we are lucky to be cared for by this unparalleled team of professionals, deserving of our deepest gratitude. And, of course, generous tips.
Jonathan Vatner is the author of “Carnegie Hill,” a novel about the members of an Upper East Side co-op board. “The Bridesmaids Union,” his new novel about an online support group for bridesmaids, will be published in 2022.