Bill Morris in Building Operations on June 27, 2019
Growing up on the sun-shocked Mediterranean island of Gozo, a part of Malta, Julian Muscat became acquainted with work at an early age. When he was 12 he left school for a job delivering soft drinks aboard a Canada Dry truck. Four years later he was living with a brother in Toronto, hefting sides of beef in a slaughterhouse and working on the side to polish his rudimentary English. Five years after that, he moved in with another brother in the East Village in New York and went to work as a porter in a commercial building on 42nd Street.
“Really, I didn’t like New York at first,” says Muscat, now 70 and just a few days from retirement after nearly six decades of uninterrupted work. “I wasn’t making much money, and I wanted to go back to Canada.”
Instead, he returned home briefly to Gozo, where he married a local woman named Carmen Camillari. After the newlyweds got settled in New York, Muscat’s life took a fateful turn.
“I was working the night shift as a porter in a downtown office building,” he recalls, “but my wife didn’t like staying home by herself at night. So I quit my job and got a job as a porter at a building called Victoria House. It was a rental at the time. I worked four days as a porter and one day a week as a doorman.”
It was at the front door of that red-brick building at 200 East 27th Street that Muscat’s education began.
“You get to know the people, and you get to know what’s going on – all the secrets of the residents,” he says. “You had some nice people and you always have one or two you have a problem with. If a resident doesn’t follow the rules of the building and you call them on it, they’re not going to like you. It’s not a big deal. The building is your job, your job is the building.”
Muscat became a full-time doorman in 1989, five years after 278-unit Victoria House was converted to a co-op. In the ensuing three decades, he has watched successive generations come and go through the front doors. “Day by day,” he says “you see them grow up, have boyfriends, get married. I’ve watched kids grow up and have kids of their own. A couple of them still live in the building, and they become family. You see them more than you see your own family!”
Muscat had been manning the front door for two decades when Meleena Bowers moved into the building in 2009. “I was a little apprehensive about moving into my first doorman building,” says Bowers, who joined the co-op board a year after her arrival and is now vice president. “Doormen know your comings and goings, and I didn’t want to lose my anonymity. But I learned to love it. The doormen are sort of like family. Julian and I started chatting about Malta, and I went there in 2016 and visited his hometown, Nadur. I found the church he was married in. That shifted our relationship, and we’ve developed a sort of affection. When he announced his retirement, I was really sad.”
The sadness is mutual, but that job aboard the Canada Dry truck was a long, long time ago. Muscat, a solidly built man with gravel in his voice and a twinkle in his eye, is ready to slow down, work around his house in Floral Park, do a little gardening, a little fishing, look after his 3-year old granddaughter. “I always worked two jobs, sometimes three,” he says. “That’s how I sent my three kids to college. But I can’t complain. For a guy like me who never went to school, who started working at 12 and left home at 16, I think I did pretty good.”
The residents of the red-brick building at 200 East 27th Street agree that, yes, Julian Muscat did pretty good.
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