Have you ever suddenly realized that there was something missing from your life? I don't mean a generalized sense of anxiety, but rather an awakening to the fact that your life lacks something specific. "Aha," you say to yourself, "with that everything [quoteright'/>would be complete!" This happened to me recently, so I hasten to share the experience.
In my case, the item missing from my life is a butler.
Now, I have virtually no silverware to polish; my wine cellar (actually, half of a coat closet) can be managed without professional help; and meal service for me usually consists of carrying pots from the stove to the table, a ritual to which no proper butler is likely to condescend. Nonetheless, there is a goodly list of household tasks I would rather not do, for which the services of an intelligent and discreet butler would be well suited. As I fantasize my butler (let us call him Sedgwick), the list grows longer and longer.
For example, Sedgwick could edit the commercials out of television programs. While I am quietly reading a good book, or out walking the dog, he is slaving away in the pantry (guess I'll have to build him a pantry), splicing videotape. Snip goes another "washday product." Zap goes what five New York doctors think about somebody's stomach pills. G'bye, credit furniture peddler! When I watch the tube, which will be at my command and in tune with my leisure, each program will sail forward in serene entirety, unstained by loudmouthed salesmen.
But that's only the beginning. Sedgwick will intercept my magazines on the way in and remove from them those damn postcards that cause them to flop open in your hands. Some of these are called "blow-in cards" from the way they're inserted during the printing process; others are stapled fiendishly into place. Out they go! Rip, slash, and into the trash!
And while he is working on my mail, Sedgwick will divert much of it into the Junk Mall Shredder (which I will need to buy for him). He will be particularly alert to items in brown window envelopes labeled "Official Notification Enclosed," which turn out to be subscription offers from simple-minded digest-type magazines; missives that appear to contain credit cards but are actually pitches for hospitalization insurance; and bearers of what look like checks that later reveal themselves to be nonnegotiable contest come-ons. Sedgwick's shredder will grind merrily through them all.
I will remove all the bells from my phones except the one in the pantry, which Sedgwick will answer. Never again will I squish my way out of the shower and into the bedroom, only to be informed that I am suddenly eligible to receive "The Insider's Report on Pork Belly Futures." I will mercifully unlearn the inane interchange of the WATS-line canvasser:
"Hello Mr. Towner my name is Mark Huckster; how are you this evening."
"I am fine what are you selling."
My telephone will once again become a civilized instrument of communication between people who are truly interested in talking to one another. Sedgwick will prepare my bills for payment. He will remove from the envelopes all four-color advertisements for clock radios and electric blankets; all chatty newsletters telling me how much the electric company is doing to improve my way of life; and all pitches for credit card insurance. Then he will cut away all extraneous flaps, pop-outs, and perforated doodads from the return envelopes, restoring them to their primal function of enclosing my checks. Finally, he will analyze the mysterious entries on my credit card bills--noting, for example, that the charge from "LRC Corp" in Portland, Oregon, actually originated in the chain restaurant down the street.
Finally, Sedgwick will perform the traditional butler's function of answering the door. He will deal kindly with rosy-cheeked kids who may or may not actually need to sell only one more newspaper subscription to win a trip to Great America. He will listen patiently as the bearers of tracts try to rescue his soul from the Eternal Flames. But I will instruct him to give short shrift to roofers and tree trimmers who just happen to have finished a job in the neighborhood and can give me a good deal on work they could see from the street is desperately needed. He will, of course, recognize my friends and admit them without hesitation.
As my butler's list of duties grows, I wonder how much it will all cost. The salary and extras, the uniform, the pantry, the Junk Mail Shredder. But sometimes one's needs must be satisfied regardless of expense. Life must go on.
"Hey, Sedgwick, answer the door. I think it's the sheriff again, trying to repossess the furniture. You handle it."
George Towner was born in Reno and grew up near Berkeley. As a teenager he began making gangster movies using an old 8mm camera, one of which featured a car being pushed over a cliff off State Highway 1. He has started and sold two successful technology firms, and currently works for Apple Computer, where he is the most senior in age. He lives with his wife in Sunnyvale. They have two daughters and a son.
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