Georgina is the first St. Stephen’s staffer I meet. Father Tom takes me through the kitchen. "We are going to renovate starting next week. You arrived just in time, Ben." Pots and pans are stacked high under a homemade wooden table, many grimy from non-use. Old industrial stove from 1955. The kitchen would be reworked. New everything.
Georgina storms into the kitchen with her lunch dishes. She washes at the sink. Father Tom introduces. "Georgina, this is Ben, our new chef. He will be cooking dinners for us from now on, every night, Monday through Friday."
“So glad to meet you.” She pauses her aggressive washing. "Did you tell him, Father, I worked in a deli. I cook very good!"
Father winks at me and whispers, “She helps out with sandwiches. She doesn't cook.” At normal voice, he says, “No, Georgina, I did not tell him. He is in charge of meals at night. This makes him the new kitchen boss.”
"Wellllll… how nice to meet you." She looks at me like it is not so nice. "Your name is Ben?"
“Si, me llamo Ben. As in Benhamin. Yo hablo español, pero poquito poquito. Yo trabajo con muchos cocineros latinos. So, I speak a little kitchen Spanish.”
“Ahaaaa, okay, Benhamin. Father, do you want that white tuxedo shirt for tomorrow night?" Georgina is an all-around housekeeper for the resident priests. She cleans the living quarters and common areas; she does laundry and irons, a housekeeping Gal Friday. Father answers yes, and she leaves to iron.
It sounds like a lot of work. It isn’t, not for her. Four priests live at the priory. Most do their own laundry, and clean their own rooms.
Georgina spends most of her time just hanging out. She parks in the laundry room with her cell phone. When someone comes in, she pretends to be ironing or doing another load of laundry.
We bond a little in the beginning. We entertained a lot, dinner parties, and cocktail gatherings. She becomes my expert in setting up the bar. All the liquor is in a closet in the main dining room. It has many shelves, and aside from the two reserved for scotches, vodkas, and sodas, the others are packed with chafing dishes. Instead of clothes on hangers, the closet is full of tablecloths. Another shelf holds the cloth napkins. Various table décor is also found in there, candlesticks and the like.
They also keep the big collection baskets in there, Sunday nights into Monday morning. They no longer use the rectory safe. The former Choir Master had mastered the art of taking money from it. Instead, they move the baskets upstairs into the liquor closet. Seven older ladies volunteer to count every Monday. They count at the big dining table, service for 12. It is easier for these ladies this way. There is an elevator that takes them from the street to the money.
They count a lot of money at St. Stephen’s. Masses are packed. At the children's Mass, kids file down to the basement for religious instruction; this takes a full 5 minutes. So many kids, so many parents. All the other masses are pretty full of students from colleges and universities surrounding the church. Most masses in New York have twenty people, forty if you are lucky. Father Tom has brought this church back from the brink; the congregation is now in the hundreds, Sunday attendance, maybe a thousand. Even in Rome, it isn't easy to get more than forty people to Mass on a Sunday. Unless of course, you are the Vatican.
Ben Umayam moved to NYC to write the Great American Filipino Gay Short Story. He worked for political pollsters, then became a fancy hotel chef and then retired. He is working that short story again. He was recently published by Querencia Anthology Autumn 2022, The Phare, BULL, Down in the Dirt, Metaworker, Ligeia, EthelZine, Lotus-eaters, 34th Parallel, Digging Through The Fat, Anak Sastra, Corvus Review, and others. Ben recommends the Mighty Mehal Foundation.