Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Butler Diaries

photo credit
I know it's in vogue for women to strive for independence and self-reliance, but I'm not ashamed to confess I have recently been seduced by the general fabulousness of domestic help. Now you're probably assuming that I am referring to a house cleaner or a nanny, but guess again. I'm talking about a butler! Not the sort who opens your front door to invite in distinguished guests, or polishes your antique Bentley in the garage. Let me explain.

On our cruise, since there were so many of us, my parents reserved one of the three-bedroom villas at the top of the ship to share with my younger siblings and my sisters who were traveling alone. Those of us who came as a couple were relegated to the walk-in closet cabins in the bowels of the ship. But, each morning I popped out of bed, put on my swimming suit and flip flops, and rode the elevator upstairs to partake in the gloriousness of the private villa.

First and foremost, the villa offered a bird's eye view of the ship's pool deck. We could see them but the windows were mirrored, so they couldn't see us. Our capacity to people-watch from above might seem like an insignificant luxury, but with a little imagination it is possible that one might conceive of a game where five points are awarded each time a family member happens to spot an unusual sight down below. Such as a little old German woman stripping naked on the pool deck to put on her bathing suit. A frenchman in a see-through white speedo with a miniature french flag sewn to the hip. Dwarves, one-armed swimmers, cowgirl boot flip flops...the possibilities were endless. And as you can imagine, so was our mirth. I disembarked from the ship at the end of the week with nearly seventy points under my belt.

Photo credit
The other perks of life in a cruise ship villa included a private living and dining room (so we never had to eat in the main dining rooms with the commoners), a private hot tub, a sun deck at the top of the ship...and a butler. Our dear, sweet Arnie from the Phillipines knocked on the villa door a few minutes after we'd arrived. Presenting us with a trolley cart of cold beverages and appetizers, we stared dumbfounded as he went on to explain he would be our butler for the week, and would be happy to accomodate any and all of our family's cruise needs. 
It's amazing how quickly your needs pile up when there is a congenial butler in a white jacket ready to assist you. There were movies to rent, hot tub temperatures to raise, restaurant reservations to be made...and I can't say enough about the magical effect of Arnie's silver snack cart. Mid morning, mid-afternoon, and late in the evening he would knock on our door bearing chocolate dipped strawberries, miniature sandwiches, cold drinks, and fruit trays. By day three it felt normal for one of my sisters to nudge me awake on my lounge chair outside to say, "Arnie's here. Snack time." As if we were even hungry!

Now before you begin clucking your tongue at the unchecked indulgence of my week with Arnie, I should explain something. None of my siblings, not one of them, lives glamorously. To a person we work hard and live unextravagantly, a reality that made our week with a butler feel like suspended time, a sort of out-of-body experience. It was marvelous.

As the week wore on our delight and sense of humor about enjoying the attentions of a butler made it all the more fun. There are some devoted Pepsi drinkers in my family, and when Arnie would walk in with a special delivery of cold Pepsi the cheers could be heard down the hallway. Arnie caught on to our interest in the pool deck below and our "points system" and jumped right on the band wagon. He was never so unprofessional as to single out other guests on the ship, but he would tease us about it, asking about our point tallies.

I was personally concerned about the entertainment aspect of our cruise, and besides implementing the "points system" I took several other measures ahead of time to make it fun. For starters, I ordered a gold and black tiger-striped speedo for Jeremy. I felt the speedo idea was especially promising in light of Jeremy's conservative, non-speedo wearing personality. This is what it looks like, and I hope you'll agree it is a fine sample of contemporary swim fashion at its best:

This is not my husband. He would die if I posted the real photo. But as a loyal wife I must say he looked WAY better. Click here if you want to purchase a simliar swimming suit for your man!
 You can imagine my family's surprise on the first day when Jeremy came waltzing into their villa wearing this speedo. Our hilarity quickly snowballed into a dog-dare that he model his speedo down on the main pool deck. Slinging a towel over his shoulder Jeremy whistled his way down to the main deck and we watched from the window above as he swaggered his way around the pool. I'm sorry to report the spectacle was lost to the speedo-wearing Europeans. His attire appeared unremarkable and nary a head was turned, but dear Arnie walked into our villa while this was going on and discovered my entire family, nose pressed against the glass, laughing so hard we were crying. I'd like to think that was the moment when Arnie became truly devoted to us.

Another of my scheduled cruise entertainment activities involved administering a quiz on the countries of the Mediterranean seaboard. Now doesn't that sound like a blast? As my family warily watched me unpack study maps, blank maps, sharpened pencils and candy-bar prizes from a bag, I gently reminded them how embarrassing it would be for us to spend a week visiting countries that we couldn't later pick off a map. Let's not be geographically uninformed folks, I urged as I passed out the study maps. As a family we are nothing if not book worms and school nerds, and so laughter was quickly restored and most of them, teenagers excepted, took my challenge to task. They were allowed as much time as they needed to memorize the countries that rim the Mediterranan and then as exam proctor I made them re-locate to the mini bar stools to take the exam. That was just an easier location to ensure that there was no cheating! Most of them passed my exam with flying colors, except for my older brother David who filled his blank map with Oz, West Oz, and things like that. I let him claim his candy bar prize anyway, appreciating his creative impulse!

I think Arnie was slightly confused by the hand-written maps of the Mediterranean scattered across the table and bar area, but he already knew we were quirky. We don't drink (which is the whole point of cruising according to most of our fellow guests). And honestly, who has ten kids in their family? We were lively and loud, and I believe Arnie has never before and never again will serve a family as enthusiastic about his victual offerings as we were. His tip at the end of the week was what most people pay in rent each month, and we forked over our Euros with ease. It was worth it.

Let me conclude by saying that someday you might knock on my front door and discover toys scattered around the house and little girls running everywhere while I recline in the sun on my back deck as a white gloved butler prepares mini sandwiches in the kitchen. One can hope!


  1. I love it! Glad you had such fun.

  2. Your gifted writing enabled me to imagine life with an arnie. And I liked it. :) hope you're feeling better!
    Julie r.

  3. Sounds like heaven! I'm so glad you had a fun trip!

  4. Oh man, now I REALLY want an Arnie! I could totally imagine how fast my needs would pile up if there were a butler ready to assist me! Maybe that's my kids' problem -- they think I'm their butler! Little do they know my sneaky plan to turn slowly turn them into MY servants :) I think you and all of your readers are forever ruined to cruising like a commoner!

  5. Now what I am thinking is Graham can dress as the Butler, and Jeremy can take to the hot tub in his new speedos! Now what for John... hmmm maybe he can be be the guy with a flag sewn to his hip.


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