Dondrie Burnham

Writer. Creator. Shapeshifter.

An actor who works.

 

I am technically, not a working actor, I am an actor who works.  I babysit.  I bartend.  I plan events. I wait tables. I administrate.  I work.  On Monday, I took a trip to the Upper East Side to ‘assist’ a dinner party for eight.  When I say Upper East Side, I mean Park Avenue.  That real shit.  That, whole different life experience shit. Class shift shit.  My first trip was to Fairway to pick up Romaine.  Real Produce, check. Efficiency, check.  Quality and Convenience, check.  This is how the ‘other half’ lives.  One day when I’m a “working” actor, I’ll have people I can send to get the Romaine.  I will send those people to Fairway.

 

I arrive at the corner of 82nd and Park and immediately start having a mini panic attack.  There’s the doorman in the little hat.  This is some Tower Heist shit and I’m ‘the help’.  The doorman throws me a little joke and a chuckle to let me know we’re in this together. I was told to look ‘Professional’, which has come to mean different things to me. I’ve worked in a lab, a bakery and a park slope brownstone.  I’m wearing all black and heeled boots.  I’ve wrangled the boobs as best I can.  The key is to show just enough to inspire, but not enough to incite. The cardigan is key.  I own two cardigans specifically for ‘professional’.

 

Irene is expecting me.  She answers the door in a smart blue cocktail dress.  She’s a tiny little Jewish spinner.  Adorable and Neurotic.  She shows me the all-white sitting room where they will ‘take their cocktails and hors d’oeuvres’.  I should offer a selection of Champagne, White Wine, Gin and Tonics or Scotch. Mistaking me for a blind idiot, she makes a point to inform me that the room is all white and to reiterate the importance of keeping it that way. As I’m shown into the large, ultramodern kitchen, I note that they have the entire floor.  I meet Peter, the chef and Maria, the housekeeper. I am also shown ‘my bathroom’ and the guest bedroom, where we can keep our things. Shit. I AM the help.

 

Peter and I go over the menu and my responsibilities.  Cocktail Hour will be followed by a salad course, a buffet and dessert and coffee.  For dinner, I should offer sparkling or still and white or red wine.  Should we run out of red wine, I should offer the cheap stuff.  I note that the ‘cheap stuff’ is fancy as fuck. 

 

As the guests start to arrive, I realize I’ve made a huge mistake. My heeled boots clink-clank back and forth from the sitting room to the kitchen.  The help is not supposed to be seen or heard. I came in like a wrecking ball. My steps are haughty and loud.  I’m black and I’m proud!  But really, I’m a mess. I mistake Bradford, the man of the house, for just a man. I attempt to open the Macallan 18 and the cork breaks.  Peter’s attempt to help results in corking the scotch completely. The platters are pure crystal, so the tuna wontons and salmon gravlax are slipping all over the thing. The women are pretending to be too cute to take more than one and the men too busy talking about nothing.  Meanwhile, I’m trying to get with this Veuve Cliquot. 

 

I announce dinner and quickly clear the glasses from the sitting room.  I set the salad course, fancy Caesar Salad with truffle oil and toast points.  At this point I start to hyperventilate.  Its time to serve this red ass wine, to these white ass people, over this white ass tablecloth. At this point, I have to point out that contrary to the weight listed on my resume, I am ample of ass and only 5’2, so pours can be tricky.  .  I steel my nerves.  I summon the ancestors and I grab my white napkin.

 

I serve Irene first. Perfect pour.  I got this.  I make my way clockwise around the table.  Home stretch.  I get to the working class Long Island cousins.  The ones who feel so weird about being served they ask my name.  Splat.  There it is. The little red evidence of my imperfection.  Right there in the middle of these white folks’ white ass tablecloth.  What do you do? What did I do?  I took a deep breath, pushed those shoulders back and threw a little extra tit at the cousin.   I found my light and showed him my best side.  Irene’s eyes widened infinitesimally, but she kept it cute. 

 

I get a reprieve during the buffet, only lingering in the corner to rotate between sparkling and still water refills.  During the dessert course, I learn that the coffee I’m about to serve is $451b.  I contemplate life.  The guests retreat to the living room and Peter, Maria and I erase all evidence of the party having taken place.  We’re forensic with that shit.   Every dish and surface is clean and dry. All leftovers, of which there are plenty, since no one visited the buffet more than once, put away and labeled.  I collect my $200 and go.   I am an actor who works.  Are you not entertained?

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