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The light switch stopped working in my bathroom, right before Thanksgiving. Luis, my super, was off to visit family for the holiday so I rigged up some ad hoc lighting and asked if he could come by the next week to see what the problem was.
Turns out, the problem was my previous super, Carlos, who had “repaired” the same switch about 20 years ago with equal parts electrical tape and hope, both of which had now melted into a molten rubbery substance that had fused all the ancient, shorted-out wiring in my wall together.
“Don’t get me wrong,” I said to my father later, when I told him about the electrical meltdown, “Carlos was a good guy and a really hard worker. I just don’t think his technical skills were anywhere near ‘Super Luis’ standards.”
He laughed. “Super Luis?”
“Yeah. A few years ago, he happened to sign his Christmas card ’Super Luis’, rather than ‘Luis, the Super’ and he does such a great job around here that I wrote a note back to him with his Christmas tip that said, “You are Super Luis!” But of course, he already was my hero, before he ever became my super. I told you that story, remember?
My dad remembered. It’s the reason he thinks fondly of my super, even remembers the guy in his prayers, though they’ve never met. And for all the lovely encounters I’ve had with Luis since, it still is and always will be my fondest memory of the man.
It was the summer of 1998 and I’d been in this apartment for just over 2 years. I had a day job in midtown that paid enough to support my acting habit and was close enough to walk to. Nearly every morning, as I passed the Episcopal Church a few doors down from me, a guy whom I assumed (by his work boots and a giant ring of keys) was a sexton or custodian there would greet me with a smile and call out a cheery “G’morning!” I never had time for proper introductions, as I was always rushing to work but it was a nice start to my day. I looked forward to seeing him.
I missed him, though, when I set out hours earlier than usual, on a June day I’ll never forget. I’d booked a day’s work on a soap opera and had an early call. After a long shoot, I finally returned home sometime after 5pm and checked my messages for the first time that day. I can still hear my friend Chrystyna’s voice, choking back sobs as she told me the terrible news, that a beloved teacher and mentor of ours at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts had been in an accident and would likely be taken off life support soon. I tried calling Chrystyna back but got no answer. I think I called the school after that. I don’t remember. The next thing I do remember was grabbing my great-grandmother’s rosary off the dresser and running back out of my apartment. I needed to get to a church. Because I felt helpless, and there was nothing I could do for this beautiful lady I loved but pray.
When I reached the street, I suddenly realized that I didn’t even know where the nearest Catholic church was. I still attended mass near my old apartment, way downtown, because I’d never gotten around to finding a new parish after I moved. But I didn’t want to go all the way down there; I didn’t want to be the crazy lady, sobbing on a city bus, clutching her rosary. And what if they weren’t open when I got there? What then? Blinded by tears of sorrow and confusion now, I started toward the subway and then I heard a familiar voice call out, “Hello!” and looked up to see my friendly morning greeter.
One look at me and his smile quickly gave way to concern. “What happened?”
I looked past him to the church then managed to choke out, “Is it open?”
Without a word, he took my arm, took me up the steps, unlocked the doors, ushered me in, then whispered, “You take all the time you want,” and slipped quietly back outside. I gave him a hug when I emerged, a while later and finally asked his name. “Luis.”
Turned out, all the supers/custodians on my block knew each other and over the next few years, Luis would sometimes come in to help out Carlos on big jobs. When Carlos eventually decided to move back home to Ecuador, Luis made a lateral move over from the church and has been here ever since.
I adore the man. I love his spirit, his cheerfulness, his work ethic and attention to detail. I love how over the top he goes to decorate this place for Christmas every year and how he always forgives me for locking myself out again.
But I loved the guy before I knew any of that, indeed, before I even knew his name. Because with one simple act of kindness on one terrible summer day, he ensured that one of my very worst memories was immediately followed by one of my very best.Published in