The Dirty Work Maintenance Men Have to Do to Keep Your Building Clean
A weekend porter in the Bronx explains all the elbow grease and trash lifting he has to do.
For this installment of First-Person Shooter, we handed off two cameras to a porter, janitor, and apartment maintenance man named Ryan who works in the Bronx. Ryan currently cleans two co-op buildings, nicknamed Tower 1 and Tower 2, every weekend, and hopes to get assigned his own building to maintain in the future.
On top of snapping a few POV pics of mopping and sweeping the floors of both buildings, Ryan also captured a few exposures of him using the compactor, a mechanized pump that compacts the tenants' trash and deposits it into ten-foot-long trash bags that resemble body bags. Here's what else he told us about the day he spent shooting, as well as his biggest pet peeves about the tenants whose buildings he cleans.
VICE: As a porter, what are your main duties?
Ryan: My main duties as a porter are to maintain the appearance of the building inside and out, dispose of the trash properly, and report anything that needs to be repaired. My job is pretty straightforward: Keep the buildings looking good and smelling good, and the co-op will remain happy.
What happened during your day with the cameras? What did you get up to?
Being a weekend porter is pretty chill. You have to walk back and forth a lot, and lift quite a lot, but after a while your body and mind adjust so you can coast. Being a porter is pretty straightforward work, but it requires some elbow grease. I have a convenient gig because I happen to live and work in the same area.
I arrived at the office at 9 AM, checked the bulletin for any memo's addressed to the porters, clocked in using my thumb, and grabbed the keys to my buildings. My partner Noel and I have two buildings assigned to us. At my job, these buildings are referred to as "the Towers." They are infamous among the employees due the the volume of garbage that accumulates.
In the afternoon, Noel and I made our way to the cement receptacle to begin moving the trash to the street. This is what we dread. There's almost always rats scurrying around the trash. Some bags are torn open, so we have to re-bag them. Plus, the number of bags that have to be lifted over and over again is difficult. Our backs take one for the team every Sunday.
What's the strangest thing you've ever taken out to the trash?
There are a lot elderly people in my neighborhood, and there is definitely a number of hoarders. Im always coming across really old books, newspapers, old furniture, paintings, shit like that. All that is cool, especially the books. I'm always taking books home. Another man's trash is truly another man's treasure.
The strangest thing I've thrown out has got to be those beds made for those who are bedridden. I've had to do this on multiple occasions. Laying eyes on those beds and the machinery intertwined with the bedsprings gets my imagination going. It makes me confront death and realize that it's a part of life.
What's the number one thing someone can do to make your job easier?
The number-one thing someone can do to make my job easier is be a decent tenant. If the tenants follow the rules for when and where to dispose of their trash, keep their littering to a minimum, and don't treat the building as if it's a hotel, everything goes smoothly. Some will literally take the elevator to the basement and just fling their shit in the direction of the bins, or throw their trash in the wrong bins. I know it's my job to sort trash but that irks the hell outta me. I have to do double the work if they don't dispose of it correctly.
Looks like there is one huge trash bag, what are you doing with that?
When the trash gets thrown down the chute and is pushed out the mouth of the compactor, it's compressed and makes it way through these long, sausage-like bags. Its like, exactly how hotdogs are made. When my imagination gets rolling, its easy to think "body bag," when really it's just full of diapers and leftovers.