By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Whenever my wife asks me to tidy up the bathroom, I feel like throwing in the towel because I could never get it to look as nice as the porcelain convenience at a place like the Waldorf Astoria.
So imagine my surprise and delight when I met a guy whose job is to throw in the towel in the porcelain convenience at — you guessed it — the Waldorf Astoria.
I recently attended a dinner at the famed New York City hotel, which is ritzy enough to rival the Ritz but does not, to my knowledge, serve Ritz crackers, at least not in the bathroom, where I went to answer the call of nature, which called collect.
As I was washing up (according to some people, I have been washed up for years), I was handed a towel by a gentleman dressed to the tens, which is even better than the nines. He was nattily attired (if we were in the ladies’ room, he would have been Natalie Attired) in a white, pleated, wing-collar shirt; a black, crisply tied bow tie; a neat black vest; sharply creased black pants, and shiny black shoes.
I, dressed to the sevens in a wrinkled gray suit, took the perfectly folded paper towel, which was embossed with the Waldorf logo, and dried my hands, though not before dripping water all over my dull black shoes.
“Would you like another towel, sir?” washroom attendant Alex Giannikouris asked politely.
“Thank you,” I replied as he handed me one. “Now I can shine my shoes.”
I also took a shine to Alex, who has worked at the Waldorf for 32 years and, judging from the many visitors who stopped in to get tidied up themselves, is even more popular than the celebrities who frequent the premises.
“Alex!” exclaimed one gentleman (we were, after all, in a room marked “Gentlemen,” which made me wonder what I was doing there). “Como esta?”
“Muy bien,” responded Alex, a native of Greece who speaks about half a dozen languages.
The two men carried on a brief conversation in Spanish, at the end of which Alex said, “Adios!”
Another man, tall, handsome and bedecked in a tuxedo, greeted Alex with a handshake — after, of course, drying his hands on the towel Alex gave to him.
“Are you a regular?” I asked the visitor.
“What?” he replied indignantly.
“A regular,” I explained. “Not irregular.”
“Yes,” said the man, who seemed relieved. “I’ve known Alex for years. He’s a great guy.”
That was the consensus among the other visitors, one of whom spoke with Alex in French and another in Greek.
“I even know a little Korean,” Alex said, in perfect English.
Then he regaled me with stories of the celebrities who have stopped in to admire themselves in the mirror.
“The best,” Alex said, “was Frank Sinatra.”
“Did he do it his way?” I asked.
Alex smiled and said, “Yes. He was very nice and very generous. A big tipper.”
“How much money did he give you?” I wondered.
“I can’t say,” Alex replied. “The IRS might find out.”
At least Alex won’t get in trouble with the Social Security Administration. That’s because Bill Clinton, when he was president, signed Alex’s Social Security card. Alex pulled it out of his wallet and showed me the inscription: “To Alex: Thanks, Bill Clinton.”
“Are you going to vote for his wife?” I asked.
“I don’t talk politics in here,” said Alex, who was happy to talk about George Burns (“a funny guy”), Al Pacino (“he washed his face in the sink”) and Ingrid Bergman.
“Ingrid Bergman was in the men’s room?” I spluttered.
“No,” said Alex. “I saw her upstairs. She was very beautiful. One other time, I saw Pope John Paul II upstairs. As he walked past, he gave me a blessing.”
But Alex said he feels especially blessed to be married to Maria, his wife of 39 years.
“One woman for all that time? Why not?” Alex said with a broad smile.
“Do you show your appreciation by tidying up the bathroom at home?” I wondered.
“No, she does it,” admitted Alex, who leaves the tidying up at the Waldorf to a cleaning crew.
He and Maria have three grown children and two young grandchildren.
“I’m a grandpa, too,” I said. “My granddaughter calls me Poppie.”
“I’m called Papou, which is Greek for grandfather,” said Alex, who is 63 and plans to retire soon.
“I’ve had a good career at the Waldorf,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of nice people. But one of these days it will be time to go. And then,” he added, “I’ll really throw in the towel.”
Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima