“Technically they are my boss, but I like to look at them as my neighbors”

Sometimes they knock on his door at three o’clock in the morning. This usually happens on Friday nights when his neighbors go out to party and forget their keys. Milton Freitas has keys, lots of them. For the past 14 years he has been the super of a Sunnyside co-op building with 51 apartments. While theoretically his work hours are from nine to five, he is on call 24 hours a day. Milton unlocks apartments, accepts packages and fixes leaky garden hoses. Most importantly, he frequently repairs the boiler and keeps the building clean.

Milton is  good-natured, humorous and patient. “Technically they are my boss, but I like to look at them as my neighbors. I am very lucky,” he says. His neighbors who come from Japan, Brazil, Germany, China, Belgium, the Philippines, Thailand, Indian…—the list goes on—bring him home-cooked meals and souvenirs from their travels abroad. This is good, because Milton loves to eat and to have a good chat.

After having worked in his native Brazil and in Mozambique, he came to New York almost by accident. He just meant to pass a few months before starting a job in Peru, but fell in love with the city. At first he worked as a carpenter and when his friend offered him this job, he jumped at the chance.

A Mormon, Milton has befriended an international community at his church in Woodside, where he spends his Sundays. Born and raised Catholic, he converted to Mormonism because the Catholic Church was never able to answer his most pressing question: “[In afterlife,] is the relationship with my mother the same I have to some Chinese guy I have never met?” The Mormon belief of his family staying close together in the afterlife appealed to him. Milton still diligently visits his family in Brazil every summer. “They hunt me down if I don’t visit my whole family,” he says, chuckling. To be close to his family, he plans to retire in Brazil.

A fiend for history and mathematics who can often be seen with a book under his arm, Milton sometimes regrets not having gone to college. He always told himself “tomorrow.” “But tomorrow never came,” he says. “Here I am in the same place. If I want to move up, I have to buy the building. I have a job, but I don’t have a career.”

In the podcast Milton talks about his most shocking discovery in the building on 39th Street.

Listen to Milton’s interview