Volume 32, Number 1

A Grand Bargain

Jonathan B. Ferrini

My “red eye” from Sioux Falls landed after midnight at JFK airport. I arrived at the CUNY dormitory to check into my new dorm only to find the manager retired for the night. I was beat, used my suit case for a pillow and slept in the hall until morning.

I had an 8:00 am appointment for my internship at the United Nations where I would put my international relations degree to good work while completing my Master’s.

I awoke early, finding the dorm manager hadn’t arrived, and hurriedly prepared for my internship. I raced to the bathroom, opened my suitcase, found my sport coat, tie, dress shirt, slacks, shaved, combed my hair and hailed a cab racing down east 34th street, then north, up 1st Street, to the iconic, UN headquarters.

I presented myself to the UN security personnel who escorted me to the cafeteria kitchen where I was met by Chef Geraldo, a rotund man with a Salvador Dali moustache. I could tell he was a veteran chef at the UN by his name embraided in gold on his Chef’s uniform.

“You’re just in time to begin preparations for lunch kid.”

He threw me an apron and ordered me to core and chop eight sweet apples, slice in half four cups of red, seedless grapes, thinly slice four cups of celery and thoroughly wash and dry a head of lettuce. As I was completing my tasks within the busy kitchen, I wondered about the posh internship within the National Security Council I expected. I was a hardworking kid growing up on a farm and learned to put my head down and do what I was told.

Chef Geraldo approached me angrily, grabbing the knife from me. “Lest you want to lose your fingers in the salad, you chop like this!”

I was amazed at how quickly he was able to chop, and his “tutorial” sped up my work.

The morning quickly turned to early afternoon when I heard the red phone on the wall ring. Chef Geraldo ran to pick up the call. “Yes, Sir. I’m shorthanded today due to the flu bug. No, my VIP waiter is out sick. Yes, Sir, I will have a suitable replacement ready. We’ll await your arrival.”

Chef Geraldo grabbed me by the arm and ushered me into the locker room. He unlocked a closet and removed a uniform. “Put this on, and let me see how you look!”

“Where’s the bathroom for me to change, Chef?”

“Right here and now. No time to waste!”

I stripped down to my boxers, white T, black socks and began to slip into a neatly pressed pair of black slacks with a gold stripe up each leg, a white tuxedo shirt, clip on black, bow tie, shiny, black, patent leather shoes and a white, tuxedo jacket with gold epaulets. I placed a white hat with gold braids resembling an Admiral’s hat on my head.

“Let me see you, kid. Stand in front of the mirror!”

I looked like a crew member from the “Love Boat” TV series.

“Ah, perfecto! Place these white gloves on. I noticed your right-handed. Serve with your right hand and keep your left arm tucked behind your back when serving, and always use the phrase, “Yes, Madame.”

Two brawny men dressed in business suits entered the kitchen. “United States Secret Service. You must be the replacement waiter. Show us your identification.”

I handed them my South Dakota driver’s license. They placed the information from my license into a smart phone which, I presume, quickly checked me for any criminal background.

“Chef, we’re good to go. The ladies are waiting for lunch. Is the cart ready with the salads?”

“Yes, gentlemen. I prepared a service for four, including our finest gold leaf china, silverware, glassware, condiments, and the salad plates have been chilled.”

The Secret Service covered the cart with a starched, white table cloth and began to wheel the cart toward a service elevator located within the kitchen, barking, “You’re not a trained waiter, but the ladies are in a hurry between meetings and will likely not notice. Don’t speak unless spoken to!”

We arrived at the top floor of the UN. It was plush, and I could tell it was reserved for top ranking UN officials and dignitaries. The Secret Service stopped just outside two, heavy walnut doors, which appeared to be a private meeting room.

“We’ll open the doors, wheel in the cart, present you as their waiter, leave, and you’ll take it from there. Before we begin, sign this non-disclosure statement. It has “teeth” kid and says you’re not to repeat anything you hear or see in the meeting. After you serve the lunch, gently close the doors and stand just outside. If they need you, you’ll hear a bell ring. We’ll be standing nearby”.

I signed the NDA; the agents opened the doors revealing four professionally dressed women seated around an oak table with a white table cloth. I immediately recognized the President of the United States, President Julia Farnsworth. I was scared stiff when the Secret Service rolled in the cart and excused themselves,

“Enjoy your lunch, ladies. Your waiter, Adam, will be attending to your needs.”

The heavy walnut doors closed behind them, and I attempted not to tremble. My intimidation was quelled by the welcoming voice of President Farnsworth.

“Hello, Adam. May I present Madame Secretary General of the United Nations, Changling Liu, Director General Mindi Agarwal of the World Health Organization, and Angelique Mendoza, President of the World Bank.”

Remembering to keep my left hand tucked behind my back and serve only with my right hand, I began to place the salads, first to President Farnsworth, then the Secretary General, followed by Madame Agarwal, then Madame Mendoza. I also completed the bread and butter service, finishing with requests for iced tea, coffee and making certain the crystal water glasses were filled. I excused myself and exited.

The Secret Service guys were grinning. One of them tossed me a handkerchief, saying, “Wipe your forehead, Adam. You’re doing fine.”

I stood just outside awaiting the ring of a bell and could hear the conversation inside the room. It was a surreal moment for me. Just hours before, I was sleeping in the hallway of a dormitory, and now, I had just served lunch to the most powerful women in the world.

“I adore Waldorf Salad!”

“So, do I, President Farnsworth. We have a similar version in China made with raisins.”

“I wish we had such a wonderful chef at the World Bank!”

“It’s ironic that our chef at the WHO prepares highly caloric, rich entrees. We should be leading by example.”

The women were jovial, and I could tell they were enjoying their lunch. I heard a phone ring inside the dining room.

“Excuse me, ladies, I told “The First Husband” he could reach me here in an emergency. Yes, George, I understand how important the Presidential cufflinks are to you, but you’ll just have to retrace your tracks to find them. I’m in a lunch meeting and can’t help you. Ask the White House valet to assist you!” President Farnsworth slammed the phone down. “I’m President of the United States and have a fifty-year-old son as a husband!”

I heard laughter.

“I prefer to leave my husband at home in China. All he wants to do in New York is shop, and I don’t have time to pick his clothes out for him!”

“I’m so damn tired of my husband leaving the toilet seat up, I’m thinking about placing it around his neck to train him to put it down after urinating. I suppose the Director General of the WHO shouldn’t talk of such things, but he makes me so upset with his thoughtlessness.”

“I feel your pain, ladies. I divorced shortly after assuming the Presidency of the World Bank. I raised three successful sons but couldn’t live with a fourth son doubling as a husband!”

“I had an interesting dream last night.”

“Please tell us about it, Changling.”

“I dreamed the UN met and devised a a ‘Grand Bargain.’ I dreamed the women of the world united, making a a grand bargain with the men of the world to hand over all authority, cede all corporate, government and other supervisory responsibility to the women of the world.”

“You’re saying women would rule the world?”

“Yes, Angelique.”

“Surely, the men would resist unless there was an incentive?”

“Precisely, Mindi. We’d pay men to get out of our way! In return for ceding control, the men of the world would receive a monthly stipend, calculated on a sliding scale according to their professional station in life, providing them the opportunity to live a life of leisure, but with the mandate they stay in private life or assume employment as low level administrators, laborers and serve in the armed forces with the understanding they would never ascend above their female supervisors.”

“What a fascinating dream, Changling. The World Bank is capable of preparing a study of the economic feasibility of your ‘grand bargain.’ But what about those women desiring families and a husband? With all play and no responsibilities, there may be no incentive for men to marry and procreate.”

“That’s a great question, Angelique. If the supply of eligible husbands was to dwindle, I believe an added stipend could be offered to attract men to marry, become fathers, assume responsibility for taking care of the children and the home while their wives are working.”

Man, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Was it just “girl talk” or a plan to upend the male-female role models accepted since the dawn of time?

A chime was heard denoting the meeting of the UN assembly was resuming, and I could hear the women begin to leave the table, gather their effects and head for the door. I immediately opened both doors and resumed my “post.”

As each woman left the dining room, they politely nodded their pleasure with my service, and lastly, President Farnsworth exited and stood before me. “Thank you for the wonderful lunch service, Adam. You performed admirably given the last-minute circumstances. Here is a card with the contact information for my Chief of Staff. I’ll inform him you’ll be inquiring about an internship at the White House.”

“Thank you, President Farnsworth.”

One of the Secret Service agents escorted the ladies to the private elevator but the second Agent approached me, asking, “You’re white as a ghost! What the hell did you hear inside?”

“I’m under a strict Non-Disclosure Agreement, Sir.”

He smiled and ran to join his partner.

I began to bus the table, and it occurred to me the twelve hours I spent in New York passed like a minute, a New York minute. I reflected on what the days, months, and years might bring, knowing that anything was possible. I whispered the lyrics to the Don Henley song my father enjoyed,

In a New York minute
Everything can change
In a New York minute
You can get out of the way
In a New York minute
Everything can change
In a New York minute