Jim Mullen | The Village Idiot: It's Downton Shabby or us
We're having trouble with one of our downstairs servants. We cannot get her to stop saying, "Do you want fries with that?" when we order dinner.
Of course, like on "Downton Abbey," we have hundreds of cooks and scullery maids. They just work at McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and Applebee's. We also have a staff to wait on our every need at Wal-Mart, Kmart, Costco, Staples, Office Depot, UPS, Best Buy, Bed Bath and Beyond, the local mini-mart and lots of other places. Sure, we have to share them with thousands of other people, but it's more or less the same thing. They work for us and we pay them. And just like on "Downton Abbey," we pay them next to nothing and treat them as if they're lucky to cater to our every whim.
Actually, we treat them worse. At Downton Abbey, they get room and board. We're much too enlightened and modern for that.
Today's servants are freelance and they don't wear formalwear. They do, however, still wear gloves. Latex ones. If you're lucky enough to work for a service company today, instead of a white tie and tails, you get a T-shirt with the company logo on it and a one-size-fits-most baseball cap. That's progress. Instead of working for the same family for life, it's expected that you'll stay with the same company for about six months. If you last two years, they call you a "lifer."
Sometimes when I see an "Employee of the Month" plaque, I think the person got it because they were the only one who'd been working there for a whole month.
But we still have elegance. We still have libraries and drawing rooms and sitting rooms; they're just not in our houses. You want to sit in a library? Then go to a library. You want a sitting room? Drive to Starbucks or a thousand other coffee shops where they will be happy to make you a mocha-chocha half-caff latte — something no lord or lady ever got to drink in their life.
"Downton Abbey" fans seem to share a fantasy that life was so much better when people lived in Great Houses and had footmen and chauffeurs. They forget that we still have them: We have bus drivers, cab drivers, Uber, Lyft and limo drivers; we have waiters and waitresses. We still have groundskeepers, we just call them "the lawn service guy" and "the pool boy." They just don't work exclusively for Lord Grantham.
But I suspect Lord Grantham would trade it all for an iPad on the beach, and Lady Mary would give it all up to be on Match.com. Besides, getting breakfast in bed nowadays doesn't mean you're part of the landed gentry; it means you're in a hospital. You don't need to live in a 70-room castle with one bathroom to have a romantic, candlelight dinner with guests. You can just buy some candles and turn out your lights.
How to entertain
But it is true that we don't entertain the way we used to. Tonight, Sue and I are having friends over for dinner, and they'll have to dress for it. The men will be required to wear shirts and shoes. For women, it's optional.
We'll be going whole-hog. Our staff down at the pizza parlor has been working all day on the hors d'oeuvres Sue put on the menu: garlic knots and boneless wings. The downstairs maid — or as I like to call her, Mom — has been cleaning all day getting the living/drawing/library/sitting/TV/rec room ready for tonight's guests. The plastic sporks and paper napkins have all been set out in baskets with the words "Compliments of Gas & Go Away" on them.
No doubt, some will think we're putting on airs, but hey — if you've got it, flaunt it. No one's complained yet.
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