In my mind as a child, the service people of the wealthy were held in very high regard. I fantasized about dressing like the butlers on TV and serving fancy cocktails at even fancier parties. Imagining a life filled with pristine white gloves, the ear of powerful people, and gigantic homes with marble bathrooms. I pantomimed buttoning up the pressed white shirts and pulling the contrasting black tailcoat over my shoulders. The luxurious butler life was a universe away from my working-class family.
The reality of service is much more humble. The reality of service is scooping the kitty litter boxes when I would much rather be in bed. The reality is not always in the public eye in a beautiful ballroom wearing a handsome uniform, but in the laundry room at 2 pm with gym shorts on. While traditionally a butler was the head of the service staff in a household, I do not have maids and house boys under me, so many of the inglorious jobs are mine.
In some ways, though, that feels genuine. If the butler only worked the nights of the ornate gala, would he know the ins and outs of the home? Where they store the seltzer when there’s a spill on the rug? Would he be familiar with the lives of the host who might need a reminder about a particular guest’s name? Would he feel the same awe when the common areas are transformed for celebration or the same pride when someone notices a small detail he put work into?
Occasionally, I am permitted the opportunity to wear my vintage tailcoat, and I have been honored with white gloves that I’m proud to report stayed white the entire evening. The moments when I have the opportunity to serve formally, everything else falls away. Somehow, the moments with the litter boxes are worth it.