Recently This American Life host, Ira Glass, paid a visit to Peter Roach and the Upper East Side building he's a super for. Peter has sole access to a large courtyard in this building, yet for complicated reasons - never, ever uses it. This is one of the many, many examples of the odd behavior of supers that Glass uncovers in three acts.
In Act One, Jack Hitt tells the story of getting an apartment in New York in the 80s. Apparently, bribing worked well back then, especially if your super's name was Bob. In this case, having to deal with Bob might not have been worth it.
"Bob's work habits were a thing of wonder. I remember one time, Bob showed up with his assistant, a generally talented guy named Smitty. My sink was backed up and Bob started pouring this heavy black liquid from a gallon jug, in to the standing water. Smitty started backing up, and I started backing up too.
"One cup!" Smitty yelled.
"Shut up," Bob exclaimed.
He emptied the entire jug in to the sink. There were nasty rumblings, hot chemical reactions were happening somewhere inside the walls...I was very scared, and suddenly the doors below the sink blew open with an explosion, and this unspeakable oily sludge poured out across the floor.
Bob was so much more than just a bad handyman."
It goes on to tell of Bob's eccentric stories, and the tenants skeptical reactions to such stories. But in the end, the situation was more ugly than amusing - as it turned out some of his tall tales were true. To force people out of the apartment, Bob would rewire the electrical outlets to high voltage lines, to fry all of the electrical appliances. And even that isn't as bad as where this story ends up. "Bob began to brag about how important he was in his native Brazil, how he could kill a person and be immune from prosecution. Only many years later did Jack find out how dangerous Bob really was."
So, how well do you know your super?
Listen to all three acts here.