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tales of drunken aides, illicit affairs and windsor knot lessons

by lydie raschka

carlos cruz doesn't go anywhere, but he doesn't need to-the world passes through his doorway.

tenants in the 455-unit buildingat 61-15 97th st. rego park where he works as a doorman come from africa, argentina, india, pakistan, russia, israel and other far-flung places.

cruz, 48, came to new york city from puerto rico at age three. it was his first and only plane ride, a journey he cannot remember. "i am afraid to fly," he said.

he and one sister, currently battling cancer, are the only survivors from his childhood family of six. he has a niece and nephew who live in pennsylvania.

in his 22 years as a doorman, familial-type bonds have grown between cruz and some of the building tenants. he has been deeply affected by the deaths of old-timers, one elderly woman in particular, and was present for the death of one man right in his lobby.

"he was a married man," cruz recalled animatedly, "having an affair. he was nervous. it was terrible."

there have been other sensitive situations to manage, like the aide who abandoned her wheelchair-bound charge when she got drunk and fell in front of the building.

"most of the people here are absolutely wonderful," he laughed, "but some of them are just too much."

"carlos is exceptional," said fragida diaz, a tenant for 26 years. "he dresses impeccably. he takes his job very seriously." tenant and single mom michelle gilliam cited the time her 9-year-old son had to wear a tie to his private school, instead of his usual clip-on bow tie.

"carlos showed him how to make a perfect windsor knot," right in the lobby before school.

he often fields complaints from tenants. he keeps in touch with the super on a two-way radio and is praised for his responsiveness. one time he helped diaz get into the storage room to get her luggage for a trip. she'd forgotten to retrieve it during the posted hours. "you'd usually get, 'i'm sorry, it's a skeleton crew,' you know?" she said. but cruz managed to track someone down. "thank god for carlos! he goes the extra mile to help you."

he is an avid stamp collector. he took to collecting at age five, when he was introduced to it by a neighbor. today, his collection fills 13 books. the stamps come from friends, family, mail-order services and those tenants from all around the world.

in addition to stamp collecting, cruz enjoys reading, pbs shows and tending an elderly neighbor's garden.

"he's very attuned to women's needs, to people with disabilities," said gilliam. "he just treats everyone with the same respect."

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