WHO: Mr and Mrs Dallas
WHERE: San Francisco
HOW MUCH: $10/hour + “tips”
The woman’s name was Dallas, and the post asked for a server to help with her holiday party. After a few email exchanges in which I extolled my holiday-party skills, Dallas gave me a ring. As expected, Dallas had a healthy southern accent and in a pinot-induced slur asked, “So you’ll definitely be here, right? I’m so scared you’ll get a hot date at the last minute and cancel!” I wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so I just said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be there.”
Dallas’ home was in Noe Valley, a good 30 minute walk from 24th Street BART Station. Missing the bus by a fraction of a second, I decided to trek it by foot. The walk began nicely, with the sun setting and people bustling about Mission Street with baby strollers and fruit carts. As I continued westward, the streets became less populated and the dusk turned dusty; soon, I was walking in a gray darkness and up hill after hill after hill. I wavered between allowing myself to look at the block numbers and telling myself that was stupid and to keep walking. About half way there, I was beginning to sweat, so I stopped for a breather and checked my phone. A text message from a close friend read, “Be careful, there’s a serial killer loose in San Francisco.” Whatever.
At last I arrived at the house and before entering, whipped open my backpack to find my bottle of Jameson (I was going to a party after). I took several small sips, straightened my button-up, and climbed the stairs to the front door. DING-DONG! Heavy footsteps followed, and the door swung open. A thick, defiantly blond woman appeared, haloed by an abundance of indoor Christmas lights. “Halllllooo!” Of course, this was Dallas.
Like a tipsy drill sargeant, Dallas marched me through her home, which was a mix of colonial-inspired armchairs, pointy Christmas objects, and colorful paintings—some purchased, many created by Dallas’ husband. I should mention that throughout this, I was terribly uncomfortable because the rigorous walk had given me sweaty shirt back (I know that’s gross, I know.) But I felt better when I met Dallas’ husband, who was one of those men that are constantly sweating in any and all conditions. Upon seeing me, he put down his half-opened bottle of wine and exclaimed, “Oh perfect!” I don’t know why, but I can only assume it’s because we were both sweaters.
In the kitchen, I met Janet, long, lean, maitre-d fighting machine. Janet was the antithesis of Dallas—she spoke swiftly and never above a whisper, and as head of the back end apron-wearers, looked perfectly Gosford Park. As I later found out, Janet used to work at the Berkeley Women’s Faculty Club, and eased me into my role for the night: operating the wine bar (equipped with an oxidizer), serving guests drinks, and searching the grounds for crumpled napkins and soiled plates. Luckily, a housekeeper would be joining us later, so I was not in charge of washing dishes. Yay.
After orientation, Dallas was shifting nervously from one hip to another and swinging a green goblet of wine, so I took the liberty of asking her more about herself. She was an exec at an accounting firm who currently “had no boss,” and had remarried and moved into her husband’s home a few years prior. The Christmas Party was for her underlings because she was, for all effective purposes, the woman with no boss. This shed light on why her emails ended with the quote: ”If you are not losing a game every once in a while, you are playing in the wrong league.”
Said underlings began to arrive, and Dallas gave each group a tour of the home. It always began with the household blueprints (bathrooms here, coats there, tv upstairs), followed by drink service by yours truly, and then a heavy-footed romp throughout the house. An uncanny sensation moved through me as I watched her use the same phrases, the same affectation, and the same self-deprecating jokes—over and over. The guests consisted of gray-haired farts, voluptuous South Asians, and an older Iranian man who’d accompanied his Filipino wife to the party. There was also a fortune teller who, by the end of the night, successfully rendered several of the women to tears. (They were also really drunk by that time.)
At the center of the party was the lavish food spread: Homemade crab dip, tri-tip sandwiches, and platters of chocolates and caramels. After pouring some wine and laughing at old white man jokes, I went back to the kitchen where Janet was checking on the tri-tip. A party of 20 could barely finish one and Dallas’ husband had made 15! I peered into the oven as Janet lifted the foil and poked at them—juicy, simmering, delicious. So she cut me a slice. And that’s when it started.
Janet continued to slip me morsels of cheese, chocolate, and other samplings from table of food glory. And then she gave me a slice of bread topped with caviar, and I fell instantly in love. If ever I desired to be rich, it was at that moment. I wanted to eat caviar on a scone, I wanted to take a cavier bath, I wanted to make cavier sandwiches and give them to the poor and needy. I wanted caviar in my life. Me and caviar, together forever.
Having had a taste, I became a fiend for the little black eggs, and soon it became all I could think about. I watched the guests move in and out of rooms, and at every opportune moment grabbed a spoonful of it and ran back to the kitchen where I would scarf it down guiltily in front of Maria, the housekeeper.
“MMMM, you have to try this!” Maria took a bite and shook her head. “Not that good,” she said with a sour expression. Oh well, more for me! As my caviar capers continued, I spent more time in the kitchen with Maria, putting away dishes and stuffing my face with the salty rich man’s food. I found out that Maria was a regular employee of the household and was basically paid to clean and listen to Dallas talk. (“She’s my best friend!” Dallas exclaimed.) We chit chatted about the food, the price of gas, and I told her how I walked 10 giant hills to get to the house. “You don’t have a car?” Nah, I don’t need one. Maria had a car because she had kids to bring to school, and the houses she cleaned were scattered throughout the city. Soon after, her sister showed up to help, and the three of us patted down wine glasses while picking at a plate of chocolate-dipped cookies. Much later, after the guests would leave, Maria and her sister would do a deep clean of the whole house. But my chariot was arriving much earlier, so when they began the white elephant, I bid farewell to my fellow apron-wearers, changed into tights and a pair of boots, and grabbed my cash from Dallas, Princess Warrior.
Outside, I walked down the frosty street to a corner where my friends whisked me away to another land, this one filled with short skirts and plaid shirts. On the dance floor, it was hard to tell who would be the future Dallases, and who would be eating nobbie leftovers and listening to real-life All My Children. But I guess you could just watch who was buying drinks, and who was packing Jameson in their bag.