To a Super, with Love
Excerpts from an interview with Minireh K. on August 3rd, 2022
By Leila Behjat and Sam Bennett
Minireh K. has been taking care of a 56-unit building in NYC’s Washington Heights for the past 18 years. Without doubt, Minireh knows what is happening in the building with the tenants and the building itself at all times. As we roamed the building with her, she was quick to point out dust or something that needed to be cleaned. She noticed a new knick in the wall, most likely from a recent move-in. The building, constructed in the 1920’s, is generally spotless, inside and out. The entry way is classic art-deco with original tile and ornate trim/plaster work. The building feels maze-like with triangular staircases and long hallways. Windows illuminate the hallways and bring a freshness to the space. The basement is pristine, with freshly painted concrete floors and walls and trash cans neat with comprehensive sorting instructions, clearly monitored around the clock. Minireh must pay close attention to them.
While we were outside, the trash was piled high, waiting for its collection. There was no loose garbage though – crumpled napkins, plastic bottles, cigarette butts. This really stood out. Much of the rest of the neighborhood sidewalks are filled with this detritus. As we chatted, residents said “hi” to Minireh and she was able to give us little details about everyone’s life or how they were as residents. It is clear that she knows more than she shares. There is a serene power there that goes unnoticed. Her work (or a super’s work) typically goes unseen.
It’s like she is the heart of the building. Just pumping — moving old blood and refreshing it with new blood. She is the filter. As humans, we don’t notice our heart constantly. It’s only when it is triggered by something — a spark (shoveled sidewalks before everyone wakes), a danger (a broken pipe needing attention), a loss (a tenant moving out), or even a life-threatening pain (a fire in the building). She keeps beating, and the building does too.
The pristine, well-managed surroundings, highly appreciated by those in and around the building, comes at a high price for Minireh. Getting the place from where it was 18 years ago (Washington Heights in the early 2000s) took clarity and persistence. Minireh says that once they took over, they created a routine and rules that they didn’t let slide. And it took courage. For instance, tenants would leave their bags of trash outside their door, instead of taking it to the basement. Minireh’s husband would knock on their door and give them their trash back and tell them to take it to the basement.
The rhythm is set by quick turnarounds between tenants moving in and out, the daily early morning to late in the evening routines. She does a lot herself, learning by doing and setting high standards to the orderliness and level of work. When they moved in, management had started renovating the apartments and Minireh became friendly with the contractors. So they would let her watch them or even teach how to do certain things. Minireh now can fix faucets, locks, lights, paint, plaster, some electrical, and also tilework. Plaster is the hardest to master, she says and she therefore needs to take her time for it. The tiles on the lobby floor are original, she won’t want to change them as they are better quality, made out of real stone. New ones crack and are harder to clean. They get spots.
One cannot do this work forever. It is hard, demanding, never-ending. Maybe even to keep going, one sets a goal to someday buy a house – one’s own single family house and live there, with only oneself to care for.
Majesty and Maid all in one, a super shapes the tenants’ lives. Their coming home or going out, everytime they pass through the building’s entrance, is influenced by how much effort the super put into managing the traces of use, of neglect, of life. May gratitude be theirs.
For your consideration:
Community: A super’s stewardship of a building inevitably shapes the surrounding. It is at the building’s threshold, where the community and the super pass the responsibility of care to each other.
Dedication: A super’s job is hard, repetitive work; with people, for people and at times despite them. It is unerring commitment and sacrifice for beauty.