Company men

| 12 Oct 2016 | 04:13

What began as a casual wave from an Upper East Side doorman to a passer-by in 1994 grew into a remarkable friendship that lasted more than two decades.

You see, the passer-by, Bernhardt Wichmann III, known as “Ben,” handed the doorman, Jorge Grisales, a note that read, in part, “I can’t talk, but can hear.”

From those simple words, Wichmann and Grisales, a doorman at the Mayfair on East 74th Street, would cultivate a deep relationship. For years after their initial meeting, Wichmann would bring Grisales Spanish-language newspapers and coffee, and a year later, also to Grisales’ colleague, Juan Arias, when he too became a doorman at the Mayfair. The doormen, both from Medellin, Colombia, would talk and Ben would write.

“We made such a good connection with him. Juan and I come from the same place and it’s normal for us to share, help, and do things for people,” Grisales says.

Soon enough, the doormen learned that Wichmann lived in a single room a few doors from the Mayfair. The “doing things” included giving him clothes, food, making and taking calls for doctors’ appointments and also simply keeping company, sometimes with glasses of wine, at other times without.

Wichmann was 83 when he passed away in July, but not before an astonishing occurrence. The previous August, he checked into a hospital for an MRI. When the test was completed, he spoke — for the first time since 1983. “To me, it was a miracle that he could speak for the last months of his life,” Arias recalls.

Wichmann had served during the Korean War and Grisales and Arias, with the help of donations from neighborhood residents, paid for a military funeral and interred his remains at Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island.

Even without the shared bond with Wichmann, the connection between Grisales and Arias, co-winners of the 32BJ’s “Helping Hands” award this year, are considerable. Both are 52 and live in Queens. They attended to the same high school in Medellin and though they shared some of the same friends, weren’t close at the time.

That changed a few years later when, after finishing college in Colombia, Grisales moved to Queens and wandered into a Jackson Heights hardware store, where Arias was the manager. They recognized each other, and Grisales began a four-year stint working there.

When Grisales left in 1994 for the Mayfair gig, the favor was returned about a year later when Arias got the next open doorman spot.

“Both guys are family guys and dedicated to the building,” says Spyro Papathanasiou, Mayfair’s resident manager for 18 years, about the doormen.

Papathanasiou calls Arias, who handles the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift, “My A-#1 doorman” but quickly adds that Grisales, often on the 4 p.m. to midnight shift, “is not too far behind.”

Arias was on duty about five years ago when a couple came out of the building carrying their two-year-old, who wasn’t breathing. “I know CPR so I started until the police came and took over,” he recalls. The baby turned out fine.

Arias, who has a wife and four children, says the Mayfair job is ideal for him. “I’m kind of social and like to talk to people and the people who live here treat me well,” he says.

Grisales, married with two children, was equally modest. “I wouldn’t have expected an award for just doing my job,” he says. “I think it’s for what we did for Ben.”