By Joshua Ryan
I thought maybe the workies in Grounds would resent me for going up the ladder like that, but all they said was stuff like “Wish I could go with you — not!” and “Enjoy all the fags up at the House, mofo!” The only resentment I saw was when I passed Benson coming out of the house servants’ barracks and heading for Grounds. We were both carrying our boxes of gear, but I was happy and he was mad. At me.
So now I guessed I’d be seeing Mike and Jerry every day — which was completely gross, right? I mean, it even made me sick to my stomach that I was looking forward to a thing like that. But how could I get back to real life if they didn’t help me? And why would they want to help me if they didn’t remember me? And how would they remember me if they never even saw me? And maybe they’d satisfied their sadism and wanted to get this shit over with, finally.
But first I had to get used to living in another barracks. The closer you get to working in the House, the more you see how workies are sorted by status. I saw that, just as soon as I walked in the door to my new barracks, which was supposed to be a really high-class one. The workies were in there, sittin around, just like you do in the barn when you’re waitin to eat, but they were all just staring at me, trying to decide which little status box I fitted into. You could see them doing that. It didn’t take them long to decide that I wasn’t the new Benson, I was lower than Benson, because I was newer and they could see I was “sort of an animal” that had come from the fields. So no big welcome. The group silently decided that this workie named Nip, who I was about to find out was part of the Cleaning Gang like me but was now the SECOND most junior, would show me my stall and tell me to take my gear out of the box and follow him back to the hang-out space.
That’s where I started learning how all that shit went. But the first thing I saw when I walked in was a poster on the wall! It was one of those travel posters that’s supposed to look like some great artist painted it but obviously they didn’t. To me it was amazing! I hadn’t seen a picture on a wall since I got my collar. And a picture in a barracks! Back in the field barns, that would be inconceivable.
This one showed the Eiffel Tower, painted in pink and green, and underneath it said PARIS. But that wasn’t the only sign of status. There was the usual old battered furniture, but this stuff had cushions! I mean, it was old worn-out stuff, but it wasn’t just old worn-out wood. There an old plumpy sofa and some old plumpy arm chairs, and a table in the center with a plastic tablecloth and settings all laid out — Dinner for Eight! There weren’t any knives, of course, because workies aren’t allowed to use knives, unless they’re Sacky the cook or the dude that helped him in the kitchen, but the sporks were laid out formally and so were the orange plastic plates.
Everyone except me had an armchair or a couch. I was the lowest workie on the scale, so I got to sit on an old wooden crate. Nobody asked me to talk, so I got to listen. They were all gay, that was obvious, and they had a lot of typical gay stuff to say, mainly about other people being wrong and them being right. The word is “bitchy.” To make it worse, I remembered being that way myself.
“So I SHOULD’VE told him, deliveries come to the SIDE door, but I didn’t want to get into that THING they have about where is the driveway? I mean, you’re a DELIVERY man and you can’t find the DRIVEWAY?”
“So what’s the deal about that new suit of Mr. Hamilton’s? When he came downstairs today he was lookin AWFUL. Of course, it isn’t MY place to say, but Mr. Thomasen has this very PECULIAR influence on him, doesn’t he?”
“If I have to keep getting down on my knees to scrub those steps, I don’t see how I’ll be fit to be seen if a guest happens to call! But now we have … What was your name again?”
“So from now on you can do the steps, Butch.”
I was getting a sense of who was who in the House Service. First there was Cicero, who I mentioned. He was an old guy in his 50s that had worked in a hotel somewhere and “knew how to serve a gentleman.” Mr. Hamilton paid a lot for him. Cicero took care of the bedrooms and Mr. Hamilton’s and Mr. Thomasen’s clothes and was known as “the valet.” He slept in the House. I didn’t meet him that first night, and I never saw much of him later, unless he was giving me orders. Which he did to everyone, whenever he felt like it.
There were two barracks of House servants and the boss of my barracks was a workie named Nob. Nob was also in charge of cleaning and maintenance. He was younger than Cicero but still what you’d call mature. He’d been “working maintenance for a long time” before he got in some kind of trouble and “they made me a workie.” Me and three other workies were on his gang. We were all young guys. We did all the heavy cleaning and scrubbing and waxing and fixing, and we were the ones that Cicero yelled at when we couldn’t fix something. We also did all the laundry for all the workies around the House, which meant every day we were washing and folding their dirty suits.
The higher class house servants lived in the other barracks, the head barracks. One of them was Sacky and another one was Marky, the chauffeur. Marky was always out “caring for” the cars, which according to the other workies meant “jerkin in the back seat of the Beemer.” Sacky was always in the kitchen. Mr. Meyers or maybe Cicero would tell him what Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Thomasen wanted and when they wanted it, and he would make it for them. He had a kitchen boy, Punt, that wasn’t a boy at all, because he was maybe 30 years old. He’d run a catering business but he’d “run into difficulties” and now he was a workie. Punt was the sou chef and the dishwasher and he also kept the kitchen and the dining room and the breakfast room clean, because Sacky didn’t want anybody else in his kingdom. Which was good because then my crew didn’t have to do it and get yelled by him like the kitchen boy did. Cicero and Sacky were both huge queens, and Punt would’ve liked to be, but Sacky kept him under his foot. The rest seemed did a lotta camping too, but it’s hard to be too queeny when you’re spending your life scrubbing floors and slopping workie suits from the washer to the dryer. But I’m gettin ahead of myself.
The meal was good that first night. It was usually good — better than it was in my last barracks, even, because Sacky respected our higher status. Sometimes he actually sent something to us before it got to be leftovers scraped off of Mike and Jerry’s plates. Or some leftovers that weren’t rubbery yet, like, face it, the escargot still was, even when we warmed it up on the little hot plate we were allowed in our “kitchen.” The sauce made it OK.
But right from the start I was creeped out by the way the barracks was set up. Besides the furniture and the Paris poster — the stalls weren’t stalls anymore. They didn’t even call them stalls. They called them rooms and talked about “going to my room and going to bed.” Not goin to your stall and hittin the rack! Back in my last barracks, the upper walls were just bars. Also the door, although they never locked us into a stall unless we made trouble, and nobody ever did. But in this one, the walls went all the way up, and the door was just a normal old wooden door, except there was a little hatch in the top where there were bars. When the hatch was closed, you might not even notice them. Walking down the hallway between the “rooms” was like walking down the hallway in your parents’ house. A lot dingier, but the same basic look. But the more they tried to make it look like you’re not just a bunch of workies that are locked up in this place every night, the more they made everybody think about it all the time. OK, maybe the other workies didn’t. But I did. It was like the food — if you just swallowed it, sure it was a lot better than those workie bars they gave you in the warehouse. But it was still food for workies, and when you remembered that, it just pounded it deeper into your skull, what YOU were.
So, first day on the job, I trooped over to the House with the rest of the crew, and Nob put me to work scrubbin the terrace. Which was sort of interesting, because it was marble and I’d never washed anything that was marble before. And I was supposed to make it “shine.” Then I went back to the barracks for chow and another discussion of what was wrong with everybody up at the House, according to the most experienced faggots, and then back to the House, where I needed to vacuum a bunch of the first-floor rooms. Which sounds easy, but it isn’t, especially when there are books and papers lying on the floor of the library, which Nob told me to pick up and vacuum underneath and return IMMEDIATELY to EXACTLY THE SAME PLACES where I found them.
Yeah. So I looked through all that stuff, like maybe I could find some clue to what Jerry was like and whether he would ever want to release me. It took some time. But the books were just random art shit that he’d been too lazy to put back on the shelf, and the papers were just printouts of some political junk from the internet—all gay rights and rainbows and “coalitions for change” and so on. And fuck! I was really sweating by the time I got through putting everything back in EXACTLY the same place. I was afraid that Jerry or Mike would walk in on me and see me reading that shit and know what I’d been doing, which would totally destroy my only hope of getting out of my barracks and my collar and my uniform and getting to be Carson again instead of “Butch.” So that made me sweat a lot more—and it was another example of me being STUPID whenever I could.
But they didn’t catch me. I actually didn’t see them more than once a day or so, and when I did I couldn’t tell whether they were checking me out or just passing me by, because I’d been told that whenever they showed up, the servants—at least the servants like me — had to jump right up and put our faces against the nearest wall, till Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Thomasen went by, or they decided to say something. Which they never did to me. So it took a while for me to get a good look at them.
The main stairway had to be washed down every morning, and that was my job. So on my third or fourth day I was on my hands and knees with my wash rags, cleaning the marble, when Jerry and Mike came down early. The stairs were wide, but not wide enough for three. I jerked to my feet and tried to flattened myself onto the wall. I felt them walking by, an inch or so from my back. Nothing was said. I wasn’t there.
A few days later, Jerry and Mike were out someplace, and it rained. When they came home, Marky the driver let them out under the little porch at the side door. There was an entrance room there, with steps leading down to the basement and up to the main floor. I was coming up from the basement, toting my bucket and rags, and there they were, stomping their muddy shoes on the tiles that I’d just cleaned. They looked at me with no sign of recognition. No sign of avoiding it either. “Shoes,” Jerry said in an automatic voice, and I knew what he meant. I grabbed one of my rags and bent down and wiped the mud and water off of his shoes. Then off of Mike’s shoes. I did it quickly but carefully. They were beautiful shoes. Then Mike and Jerry walked upstairs and shut the door behind them.
So I was nothing. Close to nothing. A couple days later I was on my knees again, washing the floor in the main hallway. I saw Jerry’s feet walking out of his office, next to Mr. Meyers’ feet. I heard Jerry asking, “How’s the new unit workin out?” and Mr. Meyers saying, “It’s doing OK, Mr. Hamilton.” “OK. Good,” Mr. Hamilton replied. Then Mr. Hamilton’s feet approached and I jerked up and put my face to the wall, hoping he would stop and say something to me, something that might carry any hint that in any way my OK performance would help get me out of this horrible life. The feet walked past me and climbed the stairs. Nothing had happened.
To be continued …