Queens native Keith J. Lewis says he has "lived here just about my whole life." He graduated from Hillcrest High in Queens, then decided to forgo college in favor of working full time. His last job before arriving at Juilliard was as a line cook at IHOP—primarily in Brooklyn, where his responsibilities also included doing inventory, overseeing and training new cooks … and once even taking orders before a waitress showed up. "Hey! I made $22 in tips that day," he says.
How long have you worked at Juilliard, and what do you remember about your first day? Or what is one of your favorite memories from your years here?
I am now in my 14th year at Juilliard, and my first day really wasn’t that eventful—but at the end of my first week we were hit with the “Blizzard of ’96,” which crippled the entire city and forced the cancellation of classes. I had been geared up for my first Saturday of Pre-College, and there was nothing! But the following Saturday lived up to its billing of sheer madness.
What job at Juilliard would you like to try out for a day and why?
That’s easy: I’d try Joe Mastrangelo’s job, as building manager, because then I’d have Vinny [the electrician] at my mercy for once.
What is the strangest or most memorable job you’ve ever had and what made it so?
Before IHOP, I worked sparingly with an uncle at the Long Island Railroad’s Jamaica station in Queens. He paid me out of his own pocket according to what I did. On Mondays, I had to fill bags of ice and pack this huge icebox with them. The door was held open with a large weight that would fall each time I got halfway through filling the freezer, and I’d get locked in until someone would open the door from the outside. This happened to me twice. Try standing in a freezer full of ice for 10 minutes and see how you like it.
If out of the blue your boss said to take the day off, what would you do with your free time?
Hopefully that day would be a Friday, so I could pack some luggage, get the kids, throw them all in the S.U.V. and have a nice three-day weekend out of town somewhere—maybe the Poconos or Florida, since I have family in those places. My kids would have a ball (and no, I didn’t forget the wife)!
Many Juilliard staff members are also artists. Did you ever consider pursuing an art?
I did play third trombone in high school, but that was because I couldn’t take any more gym classes. Anyway, a few years back, I asked Aaron Flagg, who was director of the MAP program at the time, if I could try out a trombone in a practice room for old time’s sake. Let’s just say that the years have left their mark!
What other pursuits are you passionate about?
Though I’m not as active anymore, I still like to consider myself the athletic type and I am a sports fanatic: a little bit of basketball, baseball, football, handball, paddleball, and, uh … anyone for tennis?
What was the best vacation you’ve had and what made that trip so special?
My wife and I went on a Poconos vacation when my daughter Jayda was just 2 years old. Villa Roma was the name of the resort, and it seemed like the resort staff and other guests catered to Jayda so much that it brought us good luck. We won $500 by completing a full board in bingo. That paid for almost half of our vacation stay!
What is your favorite thing about New York City?
Living here for most of my life, I’d say it’s kind of hard to pinpoint one thing and call it my favorite. But I was pretty impressed with the twin towers on my first visit there. I drive to work every day across the 59th Street Bridge and remember always admiring them from the bridge, in awe of their majesty as they almost seemed to look down on the rest of Manhattan. But truthfully, I think tourists appreciate the city more than most people who live here.
What CD are you listening to?
Right now, I’m in the process of going through the entire Body and Soul collection by Time Life. I want to put my favorite ballads on one disc to make the ultimate love-song CD.
What might people be surprised to know about you?
It seems that people are still finding out that Kevin [also a security guard] is indeed my twin brother.