After a number of delays, I arrived here at my hotel in Jamaica around 11:00pm. I was tired, wearing too many layers for the local weather, and looking forward to a hot shower and a nightcap. I got into my room just in time to answer the phone to a call from my friend Carol who was already in her room upstairs and wondering what the hell had happened to me. As I was relaying to her the saga of my trip I was interrupted by a knock at the door. I put the phone down on the bed and went down the hall to see who it was. I opened the door to find a formally dressed strapping young Jamaican man who announced “Good evening Ms. Surly, I am William, your butler. May I come in and help you get settled?” Once I picked my travel weary jaw up off the floor I thanked him, but declined his offer. I went back to the bed and picked up the phone and said “Carol you could have warned me about the butler.” To wit she responded “Oh yeah, I forgot about him. You should ask him to draw you a bath. It is fabulous. Is yours cute? Mine’s gorgeous.”
Now while I come from a family that has been, over the generations, fairly well off, we’ve never had more than a housekeeper or two at any given time. I was not raised with a nanny or a footman, let alone a butler. When my grandfather was at Oxford in the 1930’s he shared a valet with a few other students and it is this era of English history that I most readily associate butlers with. In my imagination they are all named James, Jeeves or Riff-Raff. And not a one of them can I imagine poolside oiling my back which I suspect may be one of the services offered as the hotel’s guide says “Your butler will be available to satisfy your every need both in your room and poolside.” Does a butler uniform even come in Lycra? Will he be oiling me down with those white cotton gloves on?
Traditionally butlers are house or estate managers who see to the needs of an entire family and oversee a number of household staff. They are well trained and today, even certified, and well versed in the arts of silver polishing, table setting, and the chastisement of young English schoolboys. On this particular trip, I’ve left all my silver cutlery at home what with all the TSA restrictions and excess baggage charges it seemed gauche to bring them with me, so I’m afraid that in the role of butler William will be particularly bored in my service. In actuality, he is, I suspect, not so much a butler as an uncomfortably dressed cabana boy but that for some reason the hotel management doesn’t find that title as seductive or high brow as I myself do.
Cabana boys I understand. Cabana boys I like. In some of the other tropical resorts I have worked at and visited we have been assigned an nicely tanned and hard bodied young man with a bright white smile, tight t-shirts and butt hugging swim trunks to attend to our needs be they fetching Diet Cokes, rubbing our shoulders, taking us out mountain biking, or giving us a little tongue after a long hard day at the office. In my recollection they have always been named Gio and all learned English at the Desi Arnaz Language Institute. William I suspect is Jamaican for Gio.
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