Thursday, October 13, 2011

Private Railway Cars for the Rich!

Recently my employers purchased tickets for a journey on the world-famous "Orient Express" from Paris to Istanbul - and we're all thrilled of course to get rid of them for awhile. But did you know that some rich people have their own private railway cars?

If you have around a million dollars to spare you can purchase a private railway coach (also called a Private Varnish) that includes a sitting parlor, a full kitchen, a dining room, bedrooms (called Staterooms on a train or ship), an observation platform on the back of the train, and even bunk-beds for servants - someone like me.

The luxury of a Private Varnish is limited only by the imagination. You want a baby-grand piano in the sitting parlor? Tiffany stemware in the bar? Fine Italian Pratesi sheets in the staterooms? Whatever you wish.

In addition to the interior design and the purchase price of the car itself, it'll cost you another $15,000 - $20,000 a year for storage, insurance, and maintaining the car to Amtrak standards. And then, it costs anywhere from $500 to $1,500 to have it pulled from storage and added to the make-up of a scheduled train or locomotive.

As of this writing (2011) Amtrak charges about $2.10 per mile to pull a private coach. That would be roughly $6,000 just for mileage from New York to Los Angeles. But double that amount if you want to get back home, right? Then, there are other charges such as over-night parking on Amtrak property, septic services, coach washing and cleaning, crew charges, and so on.

While having your own private varnish is a huge status symbol of course, you don't actually have to own one to enjoy the luxury and leisure of  private-car travel. There are companies out there that will rent private cars for family reunions, business meetings, and for eager politicians going on the stump, trying to recreate Lincoln's and FDR's famous cross country "whistle stops", giving speeches from the observation platform at the back of the train. These rentals can cost you an easy ten-thousand a day, and up.

Having said all that about owning a private coach and attaching it to a scheduled train - there's always one step above in the world of the rich. Get this: there are some rich people in this world (a few at best) who own not only a private car but also their own Locomotive. Which just blows me away.

Mercifully, my employers do not have their own private coach, and thank God! I would HATE being trapped with them for days on end in such close quarters. I'm sure you understand.

Thanks for dropping by this evening,
Andrew

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Expensive Clothes Hangers for the Rich!

I feel rather sure none of us have ever recovered from actress Joan Crawford's emotional meltdown in the film Mommie Dearest when she screams at her terrified daughter No Wire Hangers! That disturbing memory has carried over into my job as the butler in a billionaire's home, and I've made sure there are no wire hangers to be found anywhere on this property.

In this house all garments are now hung on matching wooden hangers, all carefully turned in the same direction and evenly spaced in between. But what kind of hangers do rich people use and where do we get them?

Remember in nice department stores where everything is hung on wooden hangers with the store's name or emblem printed in gold or silver lettering on each hanger? Well, there are companies in this world that design exclusive custom-made hangers not only for department stores but also for famous clothes designers, fine hotels, and even for private homes.

These companies will imprint your initials, your family crest, your corporate emblem, whatever you wish onto high-quality polished wooden hangers - and it's going to cost you a small fortune. Just take a look at this link The Most Expensive Journal describing a hanger - one hanger that costs $460!

More down to earth, take a look at Henry Hanger Company of America, one of the oldest and most respected hanger companies in America, serving both commercial and private clientele. This is where we get our stuff. They do a great job with custom logos and our closets look spectacular. 

I know how extravagant this all must sound, but if your wardrobe is full of designer gowns. furs, and $20,000 haute couture cocktail dressers, thin wire hangers just won't do. You'll want the very best garment-specific hangers available to help keep their shape and to display them properly.

Thanks for dropping in this evening,
Andrew

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Social Season in a Billionaire's World!

The long summer months have finally passed, and now the Social Season is upon us once again. As the Butler in a billionaire’s home, this begins the time of year when we all gear up for the non-stop onslaught of parties, galas and other events, and put forth every ounce of energy we can muster to make it all a success.
I've been asked more than once what exactly is the social season, So I'll try to explain. During the summer months of June, July and August no one gives large parties simply because too many prospective guests are away on vacation. Any parties during these months are usually confined to small birthday, wedding, and anniversary gatherings.  

In North America the Social Season begins in mid September and usually ends shortly after New Year’s in January, when deep winter starts to set in. This time frame not only encompasses all the holidays - Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and New Years—but this is also the season for Charity Balls, huge frivolous galas and those never-ending, absolutely-dreary political fund raising events.
Different countries or regions within a country might define this differently, and actually some cities claim their own specific dates for the Social Season. Here’s an article you might find amusing from "The Reliable Sources" in the Washington Post  (September 27, 2010) about the parties in our nation's capitol entitled "Too Many Parties but Not Enough Fun!"      
I'd just like to mention that the parties during this season are deadly serious in the world of the rich. In fact, "Save the Date” cards are sent out a few weeks or a couple of months before formal invitations are sent out. And as mentioned in a previous post entitled RSVP and Regrets social manners seriously come into play here.
As you might imagine, this is an extremely busy and important time in the lives of the rich, and they go all out. No expense is spared. The preparations for all this is amazingly detailed and absolutely exhausting. But we, the house staff, are all professionals around here and know just what to do, and how and when to do it. 

I should also mention there's a brief spring social season, after the snow melts and before everyone goes away for summer vacations. But it's nothing like the fall season and all the holidays involved.

Thanks for reading stopping by this evening,
Andrew

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cleaning An Original Oil Painting!

If you have oil paintings in your home, whether they're historic and valuable or just a souvenir from a street painter in Paris, you'll want to keep them clean.

But if you're employed by the rich, as I happen to be, then taking care of their art work is part of the job - in fact your job is at stake! We have responsibilities both to our employers and to the art works as well. If you can bear with me, there's two categories I want to address tonight:

Restoration: As house staff, this is something we do not do! Any yellowing of the varnish, any flaking or tears in the canvas - these problems must be sent to a professional Conservator for resolution. Beware, there are many dangerous do-it-yourself websites for art restoration. But are you really willing as a novice to risk destroying a half-million dollar painting and losing your job? No! Simply tell your employer that it's beyond your expertise and take it straight out to a Conservator. 

Most rich people would agree with this without hesitation. But I know of a situation where a famous lady stumbled and smashed her fragile martini glass into an original Alexander Calder, leaving a one-inch slash in the canvas. Hysterical at the time, and her equally-famous host, the owner of the painting, told his butler the next day to just put some Super Glue on the tear. Can you imagine? How rich and nonchalant can you be? (And so much for Calder, who I don't care for anyway.)  

Art Maintenance: Now this is something we can all do, whether your original oil is a paint-by-numbers gift from a life-long friend or an original Dutch Master. Here's the problem we facedust and contaminates (like finger prints) can cause damage, perhaps even a fungus on the canvas. And pollen in the air can cause yellowing. So all we really need to do is keep the art work dusted. It's that simple. But we have to use the proper tools and here are two of the best:

Female Ostrich Feather Dusters: Ostrich dusters are all over the place, but ones made with female feathers are very hard to find. They attract dust like a magnet and are very gentle on the artist's brush strokes in the painting. I found this one helpful website, and here's the link. It's from Parish-Supply.com. But you have to scroll down to "Pop-up Feather Duster" where it says "made with all natural mature soft grey-brown female ostrich feathers". As I said, really hard to find. But if you can't, then a regular ostrich duster (male feathers) is better than none.

Sable Brushes: The ultimate in soft brushes. Easy to find, available in any art store. Made from tail hairs of a sable marten.  Like female ostrich feathers, these are great for dusting deep into the artist's brush strokes, especially if it's an abstract piece done with a Palette knife. These brushes can clean deep into those globs of paint. 

BUT HERE'S A WARNING!  These feather dusters and brushes must be labeled and kept separate from all other dusters. Why? Well, what if there's a beautiful figurine on a coffee table that people pick up and look at? If you dust this with your sable brush, then you could contaminate the brush and transfer human skin oil from the figurine to an original oil canvas. Remember all those signs in the museums, "Do Not Touch"? There's the reason. Skin oil is full of destructive contaminates.

This has been way too long, but I hope it's been helpful.   

There are of course issues about keeping oil paintings in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment, about protecting them from sunlight, and about the proper ways to light a painting. But that would have to be another topic altogether in some future post. 

Before going, I would like to say that one of my favorite things in this job is to prance around with a feather duster and accidentally overhear conversations among the high and mighty, while pretending to dust a Rembrandt. You can't imagine how much fun that is!

Thanks for dropping in,

Andrew

Monday, July 11, 2011

Calligraphy for Rich People!

In the last few posts about social correspondence for the rich, I've annoyed you with RSVP invitations and Regrets, Thank You notes, and fine stationery for the rich. But now for the last part we have to talk about hand writing styles and Calligraphers.

If you’re blessed with an elegant writing style and can be of help to your employers in this area, this needs to be way up high on your resume. Unfortunately my handwriting is pitiful if not illegible, so I must rely upon the services of a good Calligrapher. And just to let you know, I made this clear in the original interview but my employers didn't seem to mind.

We have a wonderful Calligrapher nearby who will address an envelope or write a Thank You note for a reasonable price. In fact, she does so much work for us that she keeps a supply of our thank-you notes on hand at all times, so all I have to do is call her up with the needed address and inside message.  

When I first took this job and found out it was my prerogative to acquire all the stationery needed, I suggested Park Avenue Standard as a lettering style for this family. They seemed pleased, and we've used it ever sense - not only for stationery and cards but even on hand towels, cocktail napkins and matchbooks.

But there are many wonderful fonts out there besides Park Avenue: Venetian, Balmoral, and Florentine, to name a few. You just have to find one you like, and one that will serve you and your employers well. In fact, for a fee, many fonts can be downloaded and used anytime you wish on your own printer, with your own expensive paper. (But a word of warning; a discerning eye can certainly tell the difference between a downloaded font and one designed by hand.)

It’s not at all hard to find a good Calligrapher in your area. Just Google “Calligraphy in (your city)", wherever you might live. Most of them have websites so you can see their styles and fonts, as well as the embellishments that any good Calligrapher can provide.  

And thanks to Fed Ex and UPS overnight deliveries, you’re not confined to your area alone, not at all.  You want the best Calligrapher possible to suit your needs, no matter where they are.

I hope I've not bored you to death with all this, but social correspondence for the rich is a very serious business. One's social position is always on the line, and sometimes judged by the way one communicates.
    
Thanks for dropping by tonight, 
Andrew

Friday, July 8, 2011

Stationery for the Rich!

We've talked about RSVP to Invitations and Regrets, and just a few days ago I mentioned Thank You notes. But what kind of paper is needed for all this correspondence? There are some definite stationery requirements in this world of the rich, but first I want to get the correct spelling underway:

Stationery (with 'ery') is paper you write on. Stationary (with 'ary') means sitting on the sofa all afternoon, watching a football game. You'd be surprised how many people get this wrong, even by stationery sellers themselves. With that out of the way, now to the subject of what kind of stationery rich people buy and where it can be found. Here's some things you'll want to consider first:

- Paper Content:   Pulp, rag stock, 100% cotton, or blends.
- Paper Weight:    Heavier is generally considered of greater value.
- Paper Color:        White, colored or Ecru.  We choose ecru.
- Watermarks:       This translucent mark will identify a quality manufacturer.
- Printing Style:      Lithography, Thermography, Letterpress or Engraving.

This can become an intensely interesting topic, going all the way back to papyrus in ancient Egypt. And for those who want more in-depth information about paper quality and where to find it locally, I’m going to refer you to the Stationers Guild. Their motto is: “To help discerning buyers locate highly experienced stationers in their neighborhood, and assist them in crafting their personalized stationery.” Here’s the Stationers Guild link.

Now the truth is, as the Guild says, buying stationery is a very personal and tactile experience. You'll want to see, touch and feel the paper, and how it bends and folds. And you can’t do that online, can you? Which is why I’m recommending you start with the Stationers Guild first, to find local outlets. Once you decide upon what you like, then the online descriptions will be understandable and you can order from anywhere, even old-world stationers in Europe.   

But where do I buy stationery for my rich employers, you might ask? Because I already know the touch, feel and texture of what my employers want, I always go online to the renowned Crane & Company, an American paper manufacturer dating to the Revolutionary War.

This company has a world class reputation for fine stationery and engraving, and does in fact manufacturer the paper that is used for US currency(The fact that the American dollar is so devalued these days should have no reflection upon Crane.)

In this house we always choose (a) 100% cotton, (b) ecru in color, (c) weights ranging from 32 pounds for stationery to 92 pounds for fold-over notes, and (d) as for printing choice, it's always engraved. 

Each one of the above choices means the cost goes up and up and up. Here’s a link to something similar we get from Crane and Company. You'll have to type a number in the "Quantity" box to get an idea of price. The more you order, the lower the cost. But just start with 100. As you can see, it's not difficult to pay around $4.50 per letter or note card, or $450 for a box of one hundred.

So we’re looking at slightly over five dollars here (including stamp) to write one letter to one person by mail. Formal Invitations, of course, cost considerably more. So if you’re sending out a thousand invitations for a Christmas party, this can run into real money.

Thanks for stopping by tonight.
Andrew

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"Thank You" Notes and the Rich!

If you’re already among the ranks of High Society or perhaps on the way up, you’re aware of the absolute importance and necessity of hand-written social correspondence - and lots of it.  

I've already mentioned Invitations, RSVP and Regrets. But what about Thank You notes? For any gift you receive and the effort made on your behalf, hand-written Thank You notes are in order, if not mandatory. And there are some definite rules:

1)  The note should be short and not gushy.
2)  You’ll need to state the person’s name.
3)  You must definitely mention the gift by name.
4)  Then explain very briefly why you like or need it. (Lies are entirely acceptable among the rich, as long as they're timely.)
5)  And you'll want to send this note promptly, within a week after the horrible gift was received.

Once you or your personal assistant get the hang of it, this is not difficult at all. Here’s an example:

Dear Mrs. Huffenbitch,
     Thank you so much for the live skunk you gave us for our anniversary. The deer have been destroying our gardens this year, but I'm sure this dreadful odor will correct that in no time. Will see you again soon.

Andrea  and John Richascrap


See how easy that is? As the butler here, one of my seriously important responsibilities is to see to it that any gift that comes through the front door has a name attached, or else there’s hell to pay. I keep some post-it notes nearby just in case. However, most rich people are cognizant of this never-ending ritual and usually attach their own note cards, in full expectation of acknowledgement and reply. 

But still, there are always those scatter-brained guests who barely arrive on time and hand you a bottle of unwrapped brandy at the front door. So be ready for that!

Hope this has been helpful, and thanks for dropping in.

Andrew

Monday, June 27, 2011

On Hating the Rich: From My Point of View!

It’s fashionable these days to disparage or perhaps even hate the rich - the 1% as they're referred to in the press nowadays. This may not stem from jealousy or envy alone, but possibly from some real or imagined moral indignation at the inequality of the social classes. Some go as far as to say they feel enslaved by the rich. At the very least, there’s a great deal of interest in the subjectIf you Google the words “hating the rich” you’ll see about fifteen million entries pop up!

As the Butler here in a billionaire's house I have some thoughts I’d like to share, and I’m neither defending nor berating the rich - just pointing out some observations that might not readily come to mind. We often hear the argument that the rich create jobs. Who can argue with that? Of course they do, but not just the obvious jobs in the corporations they own, but what about all the jobs created by their needs and by their unlimited desires?   

If you have a moment, let me trace just one product in this house throughout its developmental stages. And since I've mentioned Beluga caviar more than once, let’s take a look at that:

-   Somewhere in the Caspian Sea at this very moment there’s a lonely fisherman sitting out in a boat, waiting for a sturgeon to swim by.
-   If he’s lucky enough to catch one, he’ll harvest the eggs and return the fish to the sea.
-   He then takes his catch to a small factory that will wash and process the roe, and then the market-ready product will be put into specially manufactured jars or cans.
-    Specific labels will have already been designed and printed, depending upon the age of the fish.
-    The finished product is delivered to a wholesaler, who will then  distribute it to retailers all around the world.
-    Transportation includes everything from a horse-drawn cart, to refrigerated trucks and overnight jets to get the product to market.
-    And finally the precious caviar arrives at some upscale retailer whose staff is eager to be of assistance.
-    However, you can skip the visit to the retailer if you wish and utilize the vast network of technology to order online, and have the product delivered by UPS or Fed Ex!

Well, that’s a lot of people involved, is it not? And a lot of jobs - just because these rich people I work for want to serve caviar at a cocktail party.  

Likewise, you can trace my employers' Cartier and Tiffany jewelry all the way from the retailer on Fifth Avenue in New York to the diamond mines, and the stone cutters and jewelry designers in between. Or the designs from our local florist all the way back to the greenhouses in Hawaii or California. In fact, for a large party here at the Residence, there could be literally tens of thousands of jobs behind the scenes supplying this house with wine and spirits, hors d’oeuvres, designer cocktail napkins, engraved invitations, flowers, candles, haute couture, furs, perfumes, shoe polish, silver polish - and on and on.

Not to mention all the musicians, waiters, bartenders, valet parkers and security personnel engaged for the evening. And lets not forget all the farmers and fishermen behind the scenes who's labors feed all of us, and who's products might be ultimately called hors d'oeuvres in some circles. A lot of jobs, indeed. And it can't be denied the desires of the rich spur endless innovation and artistic creativity - to compete for their dollars. 

I don’t really have a horse in this race, having no opinion one way or another. And this is not an assignation with trickle-down economics, but merely confronting reality. The rich have always been and will always be with us. Even during the decades-long experiment with communism, a rich and powerful class rose to the top, did it not? From my point of view I see both the good and bad sides. But it seems to me that hating the rich is an absurd waste of time, as Oscar Wilde might say. 

I’m fully aware how sophomoric this essay must appear to some. But to just hate the rich and blindly blame them for all our woes is somewhat sophomoric as well, don’t you think?  

I hope this wasn't a colossal waste of your time. Thanks for stopping by tonight,

Andrew


Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Father's Day Menu to Remember!

I didn't want to let the day go by without saying Happy Father's Day! Just got an email from my friend Greg down in Texas about their family gathering tomorrow, and wanted to share his Father's Day menu with you. It sounds absolutely awesome!   

Here's what he told me, word for word:

"I've just finished two hours of preparing a brisket and pork butt for the smokers tomorrow - for fathers day dinner Sunday.

I made dry rubs for each, from scratch of course. Brushed each hunk of meat with yellow mustard and coated with their respective rubs. Massaging the pork rub into the meat, which feels mushy and weird, and just  shaking the brisket rub over the meat until it is totally covered with a very thick crusty layer on top of the mustard. Each then wrapped tight in Saran wrap and foil and placed back into the fridge for an overnight rendezvous.

All else is in place for tomorrow's grand smoke. Hickory for the brisket and a mix of pecan and apple woods for the pork. The pork will smoke in the vertical smoker above a water pan filled with apple cider, Mexican beer, water, yellow onion and a fresh jalapeƱo. And the brisket in the big smoker, plain ol' Texas style, just natural lump mesquite charcoal and hickory wood. 

When the smoking is under way I'll make my soon-to-be-patented chipotle-tomatillo salsa. Valerie, my sister, has desert covered with her amazing and sinful cast iron cobblers. One peach and one blueberry-- Peach and Blueberry pie filling topped with cinnamon, then yellow cake mix topped with brown sugar and sliced up sticks of butter covering the whole thing (in a cast iron skillet) A quick hot bake in the oven and voila! A thing of beauty. Add some homemade vanilla ice cream from our old big wooden-barrel old-fashion ice cream maker I found in our shop that we had when I was a kid -- and we've got a party!"

See what I mean?  Absolutely awesome! I think Greg and his sister need to start a web page, or a cooking school, don't you?

Happy Father's Day to all! 

Andrew

 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How To Clean a Chandelier!

As the Butler in a billionaire's household, something I'm often asked is "How do you clean your chandeliers?" And my answer is always "We don't. We get someone else to do it." 

Cleaning a chandelier is one of the most tedious time-consuming tasks known to mankind. So if there's any way you can avoid it, don't even think about doing it yourself. Among other chandeliers in this house, in the dining room we have an enormous Baccarat - three tiered with forty-six lamps. There's several dozen large crystals and literally hundreds of small ones, including the ones on beaded loops. Honestly, there's just no way can we clean this monster ourselves.

But here's what I know, and what we do around here:

1) First and most important, there's several products on the market that ask you to spread a drop-cloth below the chandelier, then spray all the crystals with their product. Supposedly all the dirt, grime and soot will just drip off. But nay, not so! None of them work very well, they all leave the crystals streaked and cloudy, so don't waste your time and money with this.

2) We keep our chandeliers looking fresh by dusting the cobwebs and hand-polishing the large crystals ourselves. (You need to use a rubber glove and a lent -free cloth sprayed with Windex, or some other glass cleaner of choice.) If the large crystals look sparkling clean to the casual observer, then that must mean the entire chandelier is clean, right? If a guest just stands there and rudely stares at your chandelier, he needs to be thrown out and never invited again.

3) The most effective way to clean a chandelier, of course, is to send it out to a professional cleaner, who will take apart each crystal, polish it, and reassemble the entire fixture. And there goes an easy $20,000 for the movers to take it down, for the experts to clean it, and the movers to re-install it. And your dining room will be out of service for at least a couple of months.

4) Our solution around here is to hire someone willing to sit on a ladder for hours on end and polish each and every crystal by hand. You'll probably find someone with minor OCDs, and you'll want to pay this person at least fifty dollars an hour. We have a wonderful young lady who can clean our dining room chandelier in about eighteen to twenty hours.  

So there you have it from a professional butler - for whatever it's worth. You know in your heart you'll never clean your own chandelier. So get rid of the guilt and get someone else to do it.

Thanks for stopping by tonight. I hope this was helpful.

Andrew

Friday, May 20, 2011

Planning a Party the Sally Quinn Way!

In the early part of June there's a fairly large cocktail party coming up. It's a fundraiser for the arts with a hundred and sixty invitations sent out. Considering two people per invitation, that's a potential of over three hundred high-society hobnobs, and even with the normal twenty-percent drop out, that's still a fairly large group.

As the butler in a billionaire's home this is all great fun for me with all the caterers, florists, valet parkers, and security personnel showing up - and I can already feel the pace picking up around here. (It gets really boring without some kind of special event going on.)

But honestly, I couldn't get through a moment of this if it weren't for the advice of Sally Quinn - the famous Washington DC hostess and columnist for the Washington Post. Together with her husband Ben Bradlee (the Executive Editor of the Post), these two could throw a party that's talked about for years to come.

In her book The Party Ms Quinn helps us laugh our way through even the most intense party preparations and unexpected disasters. And her delight in name dropping (from White House residents to opera legend Pavarotti) is amazingly fun to read. She even sites names of other Washington hostesses who's parties were complete flops, and why.

Anyhow, her philosophy is simply that a party is all about having fun.

At one of her events the caterer got the date wrong and she was suddenly without food for her guests! Not ruffled or deterred, she sent out her house staff to buy buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and mashed potatoes from Colonel Sanders - which she served on her finest china and silver platters. Her guests, she said, just rolled up their sleeves and had a great time. Lesson learned according to Ms Quinn"The food doesn't have to be fancy, it just has to be good!"

She also didn't consider her party a success unless at least one or two high-society matrons or political dignitaries fell over dead drunk in the floor! So I'm happy to report that in this house we're on the same page and living up to Ms Quinn's high standards. Rarely does an event here go by without someone needing to be carried out and driven home by our chauffeur!

Parties in this house are all about champagne, music, candles, food, flowers and fun - as all parties should be. If you're planning an important event anytime soon, do read Sally Quinn's book. You won't be disappointed!

Hope this was somewhat informative, and thanks for stopping by.

Andrew

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cheap Caviar is Wonderful!

I've written more than once about Beluga Caviar - its rarity, its expense and how it's served in high society. But honestly, to taste the difference between eggs from a twenty-year-old sturgeon and one that's over a hundred-years-old takes a cultivated palate that few of us have, right?   

I would go so far as to say the only way drunken guests at a party can decipher if caviar is expensive or not is if they see caviar spoons laid out, which no hostess would do unless it was the real deal. Most of these rich people take only a small taste from the already-small caviar spoons - fearing the salt might give them a heart attack in their salt-free diets. (Just how embarrassing would that be to drop over dead at a cocktail party?)

For the rest of us, inexpensive caviar from Lump Fish, red or black, is available in any supermarket, usually next to the tuna and canned tamales. Maybe it costs eight-or-nine dollars for a two-ounce jar, but that's considerably less than $3,000 for a half-kilo, right? And the taste is not dissimilar to the expensive caviar from the Caspian Sea - just salty fish eggs, all said and done.

For two years I lived in Geneva, the French side of Switzerland, and a friend there would often make this wonderful very simple recipe for all his late night guests:

-Boil some fettuccine
-Stir in some sour cream
-Serve it with Lump Fish Caviar sprinkled over the top.

You won't believe how good this is, and you can chop some chives in there too if you wish, which adds color and an additional burst of flavor. But here's a tip: Don't stir the spaghetti after you sprinkle the caviar! If you do, the eggs will break and turn your beautiful dish black or gray - speaking from dumb-ass experience.


The bottom line is we don't have to be rich to enjoy the taste of caviar. I hope you'll give this fettuccine recipe a try, and let me know if you enjoy it. Thanks for stopping by,

Andrew

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

RSVP Invitations - and Regrets!

We've all received invitations with “RSVP” at the bottom. And we all know more or less what it means - which is simply “Let us know if you’re coming”. This helps the host or hostess know (food and drink wise) how many people to prepare for. Which trickles down to the Chef or caterer, and to people like me who must have enough fresh caviar on hand. 

It’s a French phrase, "Repondez, s’il vous plait”, and it’s hard to translate. Respond if you please is the general meaning, of course. But Respond if it pleases you or Respond if you it pleases is closer to the French – the infamous and eternally annoying French reflexive pronoun! But here’s a rough and generally reliable translation:

R. -  Respond
S.  -  If
V.You
P. -   Please

I  know how easy it is to blow off RSVP requests. We’re not all that thrilled about going to some high school or college graduation, or an inconsiderate wedding held right in the middle of our weekend, right? But in high society, one does not blow off an RSVP! It would be immediate cause for gossip, scandal and possibly grounds for ostracism. 

In addition, if you cannot attend an event you've been invited to, then you're expected to let that be known in what is called Regrets. I'm forever running to the post office to send off  Regrets - handwritten by the Missus on exquisite Crane & Company note cards to the constant flood of invitations that come into this house. But she's always respectful and timely in her response. 

There's a new trend that a telephone number or email address appears directly below the RSVP request, eliminating the need for a hand-written note. That's an optional response, of course, but proper manners in certain segments of high society would still require a personal note, sent in the mail. 

Has this been helpful? Thanks as always for reading,

Andrew

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Beluga Caviar!

The Missus told me on Thursday morning that we'll be having twenty-five people for cocktails on Friday evening at 6:30. The menu she requested was simple enough, a list of imported cheeses, deli crackers, red and white grapes, but when she asked for a half-kilo of Beluga Caviar my heart skipped a beat. (Thank God for over-night air!)

I can't seem to get it through her head that Beluga is banned as an endangered species. Instead, most everyone nowadays buys the next most highly prized substitute, Osetra caviar - which is simply a different Sturgeon species from the same Caspian Sea. (But seemingly in denial, it seems that rich people still refer to Osetra as Beluga.)

Anyhow, the price I paid Thursday afternoon online was $3,230 for a half kilo - a little over a pound - plus overnight delivery! Holy cow!

The expense of both Beluga and Osetra is simply the rarity, of course. The female has to be about twenty to twenty-five years old before she produces quality eggs. The older the Sturgeon, the better the eggs. And they don't kill the fish, you know, just harvest the eggs and put her gently back into the sea. (I've heard rumor about a hundred-year-old Sturgeon in the Caspian who's eggs are harvested only every two years, and bring a price of about $25,000 for a half-kilo!)

We've all seen cheap lump fish caviar that caterers sprinkle onto hors d'oeuvres, usually crackers with cream cheese and diced egg. But the real thing, Beluga and Osetra, is taken alone with a tiny caviar spoon - ours are made of mother-of-pearl. For a hostess to lay out caviar spoons is about the ultimate in luxury delicacies, and you know you've landed in the right place for the evening!

However, I once knew of a hostess in Manhattan (a truly kind, generous woman) who always wanted to give her guests the very best. But she also didn't want to appear pretentious or make cause for gratitude. So in her house you would never see caviar spoons laid out, but she had her chef sprinkle Beluga Caviar on top of crackers with cream cheese, as if it were nothing!

Can you imagine? Now that has to be the ultimate definition of class!

Hope this was interesting and fun, and thanks for stopping by.

Andrew

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Baby Diapers for Cleaning!

In my capacity as the butler for a billionaire family, one of our most important cleaning tools around here for polishing glass, mirrors and crystal stemware is old-fashioned baby diapers.

Why? Because they don't leave lent!

But golly are they hard to find - old fashioned flat-fold diapers. Earlier generations know about this of course, but when I told the Missus (who I dare say has never cleaned anything in her life), she thought I was nuts.

I finally found them at Babies R Us, made by Gerber. It even says on the outside of the package "For Diapering, Burping, Nursing, Car Washing & Waxing, and Household Dusting". Of course I showed the package to both the Missus and Nelda (our ancient Teutonic executive housekeeper) to justify my existence. The Missus gave me a polite smile, and Nelda loves them.

But here's a tip: You have to wash them separately from everything else or you'll contaminate them with lent from other articles in the washer and dryer, and destroy the whole purpose.

I hope this information is useful. Honestly I don't know what we'd do without them. As always, thanks for dropping by.

Andrew

Monday, April 18, 2011

FAQ: "Are There Female Butlers?"

As a male butler in an American billionaire's home I've often been asked this question as to whether or not there are female counterparts. The quick answer is yes, but let me explain.

I read a quirky article (in the Boston Globe, I think) that said about ten percent of butlers world-wide are female gendered. But in America, this percentage is much, much higher. However, instead of the title Butler it seems female-gendered candidates in this position are more often referred to as House Managers or Personal Assistants.

But to be such you must have not only Personal Assistant skills for secretarial work, such as book keeping, organizing, personal shopping and so forth - but you must also know how to run a house filled with museum-quality furniture, plus entertainment skills for all the parties and events. Things such as the following:

-Keeping a household budget and paying bills.
-Setting a formal dining room table.
-International protocol for dealing with guests.
-Hiring and training staff, from making luxury beds to sterilizing telephones.
-Fabric care - not only for clothes but also for furniture fabrics and carpets.
-Deal with vendors and contractors and negotiate the best rate.
-Trouble-shoot anything from a dying orchid to a water heater or swimming pool pump going out.

To those who have shown interest, these are acquirable skills from any butler or house staffing school in the country, and there are several good ones on Google.

So if you're curious about going into this profession, as far as I can see gender is not really an issue, certainly not here in America. But knowledge certainly is!

Hope this was helpful, and thanks for stopping by,

Andrew

Friday, April 15, 2011

FAQ: Do You Wear Uniforms?

A reader by the name of Becca in Ruidosa, New Mexico asked, "Do you wear uniforms at the mansion?" 

As the butler in a billionaire's home, that's a good question and it does figure into the scenes and scenarios I'm always trying to describe to you. The answer is yes, Becca, and no - entirely depending on the day and what social engagements are scheduled for the evening.

If it's a formal occasion:  At a sit-down dinner, large party or fund-raising event, Nelda and Ester will be wearing a gray dress with a white collar and white apron. I'll be wearing a Brooks Brothers tux or a dark pin-striped suit, according to the formality of the occasion. (Brooks carries the most conservative men's wear in America, perfect for this situation. Here's a link.)

If it's a simple cocktail party: Nelda and Ester will still wear the gray dress and apron, but I'll probably just wear slacks and a black polo shirt (again from Brooks).

And last, casual daily wear: Now here's the fun part; when I first started working here I showed up every day in Brooks Brothers slacks and various-colored polo shirts - and my relationship with the family was rather stiff during those first few months. Then one day I was called in on a day off for an air conditioning problem. I was unshaven, in jeans and T-shirt, and both the Mister and Missus warmed up to me that day, as if I were a real human being. After all, they run around the house and gardens in shorts and jeans themselves.

So the end result of that (for all of us) is that our fun and comfortable daily wear around the house is jeans and T-shirts with little black aprons to distinguish ourselves as house staff, in case unexpected guests drop by during the day.

This kind of attire would never do in a British household, I know. But after all, this is America and right or wrong, we are decidedly a little more relaxed.

Hope this gives a better idea of how things are around here.

Andrew

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fun With Furs!

This morning the Missus came downstairs carrying three fur coats, all tangled up in a heavy bundle. I knew of course she wanted them put into cold storage for the upcoming summer, so I took them from her and off I went to our local furrier.

Compared to finicky matrons who handle their furs with such delicate care, I've always admired the casual way the Missus treats her coats - as rough and tumble as the minks and leopards themselves in the wilds of nature. The jumble of furs piled next to me there on the car seat consisted of two sables and a lynx - easily approaching a half-million bucks in value, if not more.

While repetition and boredom can be a big part of my job, on this particular errand I was looking forward to the trivial and entirely unnecessary scandal I was about to create. Sure enough when I walked into the exclusive women's salon and headed toward the fur department, heads turned and eyebrows lifted. You see, I was looking a little rugged this morning with a miserable hangover, unshaven, tangled hair, and ratty old Levis to boot. With the irreverent bundle of furs I was carrying, I knew very well I gave the appearance of some strung-out hoodlum trying to hock some goods from a house I'd just knocked off. No proper fur hangers, no "breathable" cloth bags. Just a half mil of exquisite furs, all plopped down there on the counter.

I'm almost afraid to tell you there was a drizzle this morning, and the coats were slightly damp. But so what? You think a mink or a leopard, or a glamorous lady hailing a cab on Park Avenue never got caught out in the rain?

So anyhow, the patrons in the store and the newer clerks looked dismayed as I had expected. But the manager, a wise old dear who knows that furs need not be pampered, was as pleasant as always. I handed her my card and said, "We glazed them last year, so just cleaning and storage." (The Missus doesn't believe in glazing too often - nor do I, for that matter. I can use the ancient technique of cleaning furs with corncobs as good as anybody else. But when given the option, it's always better to let a professional do it, right?

With this unnecessary drama being accomplished, on my way out I paused to thoroughly examine a $20,000 lady's leather jacket, just to aggravate the clerk who had given me such a scowl when I first walked in. I don't know why I'm like this - just a mean streak I guess. But unjustified arrogance always grates on the nerves.

Then having thoroughly annoyed the clerk and my task complete, off I went just in time to catch McDonald's breakfast special - the Sausage Biscuit for $1.00 - back to reality.

Thanks for stopping by tonight.

Andrew

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Do Rich People Pee Outside?

Whoa! What a crazy question. But I'll jump in and go along.

As best I can determine, the fun of peeing outside seemingly crosses both socio and economic boundaries. When the Mister and Missus come home late at night, she dashes for the house but the Mister goes directly to his favorite tree.

I was outside one night with the Great Danes and accidentally interrupted him. But he went about his business and mentioned "What an amazing moon we have tonight". Never mind he was drunk and no moon in sight - except maybe his.

Miss Helen and I worked in a five-star hotel once where the general manager would take his young son out to the balcony of his penthouse apartment and teach him how to pee into the bushes below.

But I honestly don't think this is a gender issue at all. In fact, I have some female-gender friends in Colorado, the out-doors type, who can go behind a tree as good as any guy!

As an experienced traveler on four continents, I think America is the only country on earth that forbids peeing outside, with fines and jail at stake. What's that all about? Something to do with our Puritan background, I guess.

In any case, to those asking this hysterical question, I hope the answer's been fun and somewhat informative. I certainly had fun writing it!

Thanks for reading and stopping by tonight,

Andrew

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Miss Helen Might Be Coming!

I don't mean to disturb you tonight with personal issues, but I have this huge problem in my otherwise ridiculous life - my dear friend Miss Helen might be coming for a visit.

We once worked in a five-star hotel together, the Mansion On Turtle Creek, when I was exploring and working my way across the country, and she was undecided about what to do after graduating SMU in Dallas - a school for rich little brats and an absolute hotbed of social rest.

I knew her late mother and father, a Senator in Mississippi, and for many years we've shared all the joys, successes, loss and pain that life has to offer. She's currently a consultant at the World Bank in Washington. But consulting in what is the question - my best guess is teaching developing countries how to safely uncork a bottle of champagne. She shows up at all the yacht races in Newport and Sydney. And postcards from a climb up Machu Picchu,  Bali, or a tossed-off weekend at The Phoenician in Scottsdale are not uncommon.

When we first met and were comparing travels, I mentioned a very remote isolated beach in Greece called Pelekas, on the western island of Corfu. Few travelers (except for weary, broke students from northern Europe) know about this unique spot. But Miss Helen instantly replied, "I've been there!"

I was shocked, a little annoyed, but enamored at the same time - an explorer and traveler after my own heart. And we've been friends ever since. I listed her as a reference when first applying for this current job with a billionaire family. The Mister and Missus (on speaker phone) actually spoke to her, and the Missus said to me later, "I wouldn't mind meeting her someday."

And therein lies the problem. If Miss Helen visits here, she is every bit my employers' social peer! In their presence, protocol and professional ethics demand that I never mix my personal life with their own. I never sit down in their presence and certainly I could never sit with them at a table for dining. It just can't happen in my world.

So what am I to do? Serve drinks to Miss Helen and my employers while I stand there like a butler? This is not an embarrassment for me, don't get me wrong. Miss Helen and I would laugh about it later. It's just confusion among the socioeconomic classes.

Crossing boundaries is very tricky in this job. I'm the butler and servant after all. I'm absolutely sure I can handle this, but can my employers, and things remain the same? That's the question - the consternation.

Thanks for letting me share this tonight, and will keep you updated as to how it goes. Meanwhile, if you have any advice, please let me know.

Good night,
Andrew

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Personal Shopper for a Billionaire!

One of the most fun things about this job is shopping for the house and the family I work for. The fact that they're billionaires is icing on the cake with a seemingly unlimited budget. I was issued a corporate credit card when first hired, and no matter what I spend, the corporation replenishes the account immediately - like having a magic purse.

Normally I can go through several thousand a month just for food, wine, floral arrangements, and household items to keep the place running smoothly. But if there's a major holiday or important cocktail parties in the works, my credit card balance can shoot up into the tens of thousands. 

Like if I need to order a kilogram of Beluga caviar for a large cocktail party, there goes $6,000 or $7,000 right there. (My heart always skips a beat when I hit the "Add to Cart" button - especially if I need two kilograms, in which case I'm near sweating.)

Imagine what it's like to go shopping for this family and buy whatever you wish - the most expensive array of imported cheeses, the choicest cuts of meats, the freshest shrimp and wild Atlantic salmon, fruits, berries, nuts, expensive deli crackers and chocolates - all without so much as glancing at the price.

The Mister is always grumbling about household expenses. One month when my account topped fifty thousand (it was December and there were several cocktail events in the house) he mentioned that "We need to cut back". When I reported this to the Missus who runs the house, she simply replied, "Things are as they are - don't worry about him, I'll take care of it."

I should also mention that if there's a major event involving the events planner, musicians, tents and canopies, caterers, waiters, bartenders, security and valet parkers - that doesn't go through my budget. This kind of party can hit a hundred thousand or more in nothing flat, and is paid for by the corporation.

When I first started working here all this extravagance took my breath away. But I'm way over it now and just hope that after each party there'll be a little left-over Beluga and champagne.

As always, thanks for dropping in this evening,
Andrew

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tips on Silver Care!

I'm sure you've seen those ads on TV where you dip a piece of jewelry or a silver fork into a liquid and it comes out sparkly clean and shiny, right? Very nice. But honest to God, don't ever do that! Seriously!

Any time you polish silver you're removing a micro-amount of the precious metal itself. When dealing with sterling, you're ok. But when polishing silver plate it's only a matter of time until you polish all the way through the thin layer of silver to the base metal underneath. (We have some silver-plated serving platters here that have been polished so often that the copper metal underneath shines through.) So rule number one, polish as infrequently as you can get away with.

Second, these liquid dips not only remove more silver than regular polish, they can easily destroy the patina (the unique appearance) of the silver object. In our modern culture, old things (except for people) are considered valuable. All the tarnish down in the fine filigree work of a silver object or the handle of a sterling spoon or fork is highly desired and ostensibly (not always) adds to its value. With regular routine polishing you're safe because you cannot remove this deep tarnish or destroy the patina with a simple cream polish.

However, the dips we see on TV can remove all the desired tarnish and leave your employer's precious, prized possessions looking like something shiny and new from Walmart. And you can easily lose your job for this transgression!

With over three hundred silver ornaments, platters, vases, picture frames and objet d'arts in this house (not to mention hundreds of pieces of flatware), the first thing I did when I started working here was to get everything polished and brought up to maximum peak appearance. You can use Wright's Silver Cream, it's good. I prefer Goddard's (not that it's any better than Wright's) but simply because it's a British company and I've heard through the grapevine that Regina uses Goddard's in both Buckingham and Windsor Palaces.

So now I can maintain this peak appearance simply with old-fashioned silversmith gloves. Around here we use Goddard's "Silver Polishing Mits". With these I can walk all around the house, pick up any silver object and handle it gently with these gloves (on a regular basis) and not have to go through the long, laborious process of polishing each and every piece, month after month.

Unfortunately these gloves are very rough on the skin and nails, so you'll need to wear some thin medical-type rubber gloves before putting on the silversmith gloves. Make sense?

That's all I've got tonight. Just wanted to advise you not to ever destroy your prized possessions by dipping them in some unknown destructive chemical you see on TV. I'm not getting kickbacks for product endorsement here - just sharing what knowledge I've got. Silver care is a real challenge in both time and labor. And there's definitely ways to minimize the effort.

As always, thanks for stopping by,
Andrew

Monday, February 14, 2011

St. Valentine's Day for a Billionaire!

Normally my relationship with the new Missus I work for is icy cold and professional, and rightfully so. But now and again there's a moment of genuine affection. Today, Valentine's Day, was one of those moments.

This morning, with the house full of  guests all over the place, the Mister came down to breakfast promptly at 10:00am.  

He:  "Williams, would you mind picking up a couple-of-dozen red roses for me?"
Me:  "Of course."

Obviously the old buzzard had forgotten until the last minute that today is St. Valentine's annual resurrection. And just where the heck am I going to find some decent red roses at this late stage of the game? Three flower shops later with no success, I went to our regular market. And to my relief there were still dozens of reds, wrapped and ready to go, although I'd have to arrange them myself. I swung by the candy counter and grabbed a nicely-wrapped box of Belgian Walnut Fudge, zoomed back to the Residence, and threw the roses into a cut-crystal vase.

Much to my relief  the Missus had not yet descended for breakfast.

He:  (upon seeing the hasty floral arrangement) "Those are nice."
Me:  "Yes, and you also bought her a box of Belgian fudge."
He:  (with a grin), "That was nice of me, wasn't it?"
Me:  "I thought so."

When the Mrs finally did come down for breakfast at 11:30, I pointed out the roses and candy on the kitchen island.

She:  "Who are those from?"
Me:  "Your husband."

And then, in a very rare moment indeed -

She:  (with a smile and affectionate touch on the arm), "So you saved my husband's butt again, didn't you?"
Me:  "I'm sure I don't know what you mean". (And then I smiled back at her.)  

And off she went to the breakfast room. An hour later it was, "Williams can you do this, Williams can you do that"- business as usual. But just for one brief moment this morning this household celebrated St. Valentine's Day in our own peculiar way.

Thanks for reading tonight, and Happy St. Valentine's to you.

Goodnight,
Andrew

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Five Thousand Dollar Sheets!

As the butler in this billionaire's home, I just wanted to tell you there's a scandal in this house that I'm not quite sure how to divulge. However, and as hard as this might be for me, I'm just going to blurt it out right now - my employers buy cheap sheets! There, I've said it out loud.

You're probably already aware you can pay three, four even five-thousand dollars for one set of luxury sheets. For example there's an Italian company in Tuscany called Pratesi. Five thousand dollars sheets with them is not unusual - exquisitely made in every detail. Take a look at their website  http://www.pratesi.com/ if you don't believe me.  

A butler buddy told me about a family he works for in Manhattan with a four-floor townhouse - which includes a Master Bedroom and five Guest Rooms. Six beds altogether with two sets of Pratesi linens for each bed, at roughly five grand per set. Do the math and that comes out to $60,000  just for sheets. (You'll want to iron these very carefully, by the way.)

However, in the house where I work I'm mortified to report the bed linens here are only in the $800-$900 range. It's been my observation that rich people can get very cheap in the strangest, most unexpected ways. But I just don't understand it. Everything else in the residence is so out-of-the-ball-park exquisite. Why cheap out here? I can hardly look at guests in the mornings, wondering if they're blaming me as house manager for their misery and discomfort the long night through.

My only saving grace is that my employers don't require turn-down service at night, not for themselves nor their guests. So I'm hoping the guests just pull down the sheets, turn off the lights, and jump right into bed without even noticing the cheap linens. (And considering the amount of alcohol consumed around here, that's a very real possibility.)

Sorry to stress you with this silliness, but this unhappy situation with cheap sheets is totally disturbing, bordering upon scandal.   

Thanks for stopping by,
Andrew

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Ideal Employer!

The house-staffing agency that placed me in this new butler job asked me during the very first interview to describe the 'ideal employer' I would want to work for.

Well, okay, I wasn't exactly prepared for that. I was totally nervous about first-time employment for rich people and I couldn't just stand there and tell them the truth, now could I?  But I can certainly tell you. Does anyone remember Miss Havisham? Compared to my new highly-needy and deranged employers, she would be absolutely wonderful to work for as a first-time employer.

First, she had driven herself insane over a lost love and a cancelled wedding - but I get along well with the mentally ill considering how easy they are to relate to. And then, she became a total recluse. Which means she'll not be having any parties and few if any over-night guests.

She rattled around the house in the same old tattered wedding dress, day after day, year after year. Which means no laundry, no ironing and very few dry-cleaning bills, right? And she liked her house in total disarray, meaning little-to-no dusting, vacuuming, or moping.

In addition to all that, her dining room table with two candelabras and a petrified wedding cake was covered with dust and cobwebs. Which means to me no formal sit-down dinners or cocktail buffets in the near future, wouldn't you think?

And finally, the drapes throughout the house had been pulled closed for years - therefore no indoor plants to speak of, and no UV rays destroying the original oil paintings or fading the Persians.

As you can readily see, the advantages of working on such an estate and for such a dear lady are obvious. If anyone hears of a position like this opening up, I do hope you'll keep me in mind. Of course I'd need to give a couple of weeks notice here, with somewhat questionable references. But we can work that out.  

Thanks for stopping by this evening.
Andrew

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Butler's Tale: Locked Behind the Gates of "Richistan"!

Editor's Note:  This is the first post in a Weblog entitled "The Billionaire's Butler" begun in January 2011 by Andrew Arthur Williams.


Although the super rich have a tendency to gather in tight private enclaves, we do get caricatured glimpses of them in television, films and magazines. And there's the occasional Rolls or Bentley that pulls up next to us at a stop light, right? But what are their lives really like - on a daily, hourly basis?
 
With all their free time and money, what do they do all day long? What do they talk about? Where do they go? What do they look like when they come down to breakfast?

As head of the household staff for a super rich family, I actually live in a separate apartment here on the estate and have a first-hand perspective into the inner workings of their daily lives. I don't mind telling you I feel quite isolated at times, locked behind double gates to get into this place. Which brings me to you, and these late-night postings.

There's so many interesting, curious, and mind-boggling things about the rich I want to share. Amazing things - some stupefying, some funny. Things that inspire awe and admiration, and others that trigger disbelief, even anger.

Honestly, it's as though the super rich and the rest of us live on two different planets. In fact, in a book entitled Richistan by Robert Frank (a Wall Street Journal reporter), the author suggests the "absurdly rich'' (as he calls them) live in an entirely separate country-within-a-country, which he calls  Richistan.

So I guess I'm reporting to you tonight from within the well-guarded boundaries of Robert Frank's Richistan - embedded, as it were.

I hope you'll find this interesting. 

And thanks for dropping in.

Andrew