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Short Story: The Doorman

Batsheva Morgenstern

We knew him simply as Leonid. It was always just Leonid — none of us had ever thought to ask his last name. Unlike the other doormen on West 72nd St. who were, for the most part, African American fellows, Leonid stood out like a mink coat at a vegetarians’ convention. How this uneducated Muscovite septuagenarian landed such a prestigious position (relatively speaking) was anyone’s guess. Yet with his navy officer getup and white gloves, he exuded a quiet pride.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

He knew our Sunday routine like the layout of the building he devotedly guarded. Every week at 2:00 p.m. sharp, he’d be ready for our invasion. Buzzing us in, he’d rush to park Dad’s Caddie, and bring in Lili’s stroller, while kidding around with Benny and nodding politely at Mom. Grown-ups thought him to be taciturn, if not eccentric, but to us kids, Leonid was the benevolent uncle we never had.

            Each Sunday, we’d drive in from Cedarhurst to visit Grandpa Max and Grandma Beth. (They were not our real grandparents, but had adopted Mom when she was a child.) After hanging around their ritzy apartment and savoring Grandma’s sumptuous pastries for about ten minutes, we were ready for action. While the adults sat with steaming mugs of coffee, swapping stories, we either slid down the gold banisters or monopolized the elevator. Destination: Leonid.

Though his features were nondescript — his eyes were neither blue, nor green, and his nose was rather bulbous — we were enamored with him. He did not possess a degree in childhood development or psychology, but he did have an intuitive, magical charm that drew kids to him like bees to nectar. Whether it was making faces at Lili until she laughed uproariously, showing a wide-eyed Benny how the closed-circuit camera worked, or fixing my charm bracelet, he knew just how to warm our young hearts.

            Initially, Mom had frowned upon Leonid giving us candies, but she relented when Grandma Beth explained his background one day. Sweet soul that she was, Grandma Beth had gently gleaned Leonid’s sad CV. He’d been interred in the frozen tundra of Siberia throughout his prime years. His heinous crime? Having associated with observant Jews in some clandestine study group. Languishing among the lowest elements of society, Leonid kept his distance and endured ridicule and derision. After years of this senseless exile, the Communists decided he was “reformed,” and released him on probation. Leonid returned home, a broken vessel. He applied for a visa to the States, in vain. The alarmed authorities were trying to halt the swelling number of emigrants. Leonid remained a refusenik for six long years before receiving his ticket to freedom.

 

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