Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
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Friday, January 14, 2005
Her Job--Part II
Well, if there was a Part I, you knew there had to be a Part II!
One of the things she came home with last night was the task of getting a birthday cake for one of the residents. For some reason I am still not quite clear on, the lady’s birthday had escaped someone’s notice, or she didn’t have anyone to bring her one, or it was too late to order one, or something--in any event, she was going to be awfully disappointed if she didn’t have a cake. Now, cake-getting isn’t really on Reba’s job description. It should probably be over in the recreation director’s hands, or dietary, or someone else. But, she was handy, and she said she’d do it.
I got home yesterday and no one was home. I didn’t know what happened to everyone, but it was like one of those Bermuda Triangle things where everything is left, but all the people are gone. I had forgotten, though, that Ashley had a basketball game the band was supposed to play at, and Reba had loaded everyone up for a jaunt to the high school. She called on the way back and related the story of needing to get the birthday cake, and asked if she should go ahead and stop and get it on the way home.
Remembering as I did the turmoil of the LAST time she went to the store with the kids, I volunteered to go back and get one after she got home. Home with her and the kids, started some supper (baked tilapia, steamed vegetables au gratin) and then decided to make a quick run down to the grocery store at the foot of the hill before the bakery folks left. “What kind do I need to get?” “Just a sheet cake of some kind--maybe white with flowers or something. Like for a little old lady.” Well, that certainly leaves a lot for the imagination. “Not SpongeBob, huh?”
I got the lady’s name to be squirted onto the cake and hopped in the car and was on my way.
Now then, given what is about to be said, I suppose it would be best to not use the actual name of the store to avoid potential embarrassment to the staff. Let’s just call it “Victuals Planet.”
I was in a hurry, because I had left the fish baking and the veggies simmering, so I more or less ran in and over to the refrigerator case by the deli. Yep, they got cakes. Now then, to make sure they had someone who could actually WRITE on it. Sometimes they are very cautious about who the let loose with the icing bag.
I asked the nearest lady to the counter, who at the time was scraping some sort of muck off of a broiling pan. “Ma’am? Do you have anyone here tonight who can write a name on a birthday cake?”
She looked at me as if I was the biggest idiot she’d ever seen, and replied proudly, “Sure--I can do that. What you got?”
“Well, I wanted to make sure you could do it before I picked out a cake, and, uhmm, let me--hold on a minute.” I halfway trotted back over to the case and found a nice one--white icing, white piping, and some white flowers in the corners. One already had “Happy Birthday” written on it, but it wasn’t quite as nice looking. I picked out my prize and sat it on top of the case.
“What you want on there?”
I gave her the lady’s name, one that is actually very close to my last name. Let’s call her “Mrs. Oglebaum.” “It needs to say ‘Happy Birthday Mrs. Oglebaum.’” Pretty simple, I thought--to the point, yet still expressive. The cake decorator/broiler-pan-mucker turned around and put the cake on the table, and fidgeted about for a minute before turning back around with a piece of paper, “Okay, you write that down on here.”
In my mind I debated for several seconds whether or not it was really necessary to put down Mrs., since it’s pretty easy to spell, but I did--never can be too safe, you know. “Mrs. Oglebaum.” I handed her the paper, and she turned around and went to work.
I stood there.
The manager was putzing about over by the bread table; neatening, straightening. I looked at some of the other stuff in the cases. Single cupcake in a little plastic one-cupcake-sized container. Why bother with that? I looked at the cake decorating book.
The standup display was entitled “The Magic of CAKE!”
I kept assembling a monologue in my mind, just in case I am ever suddenly called upon to perform an emergency standup comedy routine. None of the jokes really worked, though, because I suppose on some level, the nice feeling when someone gives you a cake could be equivalent to the nice feeling you get when you see someone saw a lady in half and then put her back together. Who could be so crass as to deny the happy magic feeling of CAKE?! Not me.
I flipped through the catalog--John Deere cake, Ryan Newman NASCAR cake, Over the Hill cake, Sexy Sue cake.
Finally, after what seemed like an inordinate amount of time spent in my silly reverie, the lady popped the plastic lid back down over the tray and placed it on the counter. The first thing that hit me, aside from the shaky execution in lurid green icing, was the text--
“It should say ‘Mrs.’ Oglebaum.”
She looked at me, with that far-away, bugeyed sort of look of Floyd the Barber on the Andy Griffith Show, when he was thinking about someone’s hair.
“It’s supposed to say ‘Mrs. Oglebaum,’ but you left off ‘Mrs.’”
“You didn’t write in ‘MRS. Oglebaum’--it just says ‘Oglebaum’!”
She picked it up and studied it.
She picked up the paper where I had written it carefully down, sure that no one in their right mind would want MRS. Oglebaum on a cake--who would ever do such a dang fool thing?! BUT, there it was, in blue ink on a crumpled piece of paper, big as day, “Mrs. Oglebaum.”
“Well, my goodness, I left that off, didn’t I?”
She studied and thought very hard thoughts for a minute, and then said, “Well, let me see, I might be able to take that off and do it over again the right way.”
Were this a movie, there would be a jarring piano chord here, to indicate an impending sense of terror and dread.
But, you’ll just have to make do with what you have at hand.
I stood there as she got a giant spatula and began the delicate process of removing the tendrils of shaky scriptwork from the cake. Let’s just say we should be glad she’s not a bomb defuzer. I watched in pain as the green smeared across the white as she gamely attempted the removal. Perplexed, she paused momentarily to go over to the hand sink and wash the spatula off. Back again, she got the remaining trail of goo onto the blade, and then spent a few cursory seconds attempting to blend the green with the white of the background.
She stopped, and you could see she was thinking, ‘Not bad.’
She got the bag of icing back and began again; carefully, meanderingly, scrawlingly setting down Mrs. Oglebaum’s name. She popped the cover on and slid it across the counter again, brightly saying “thank-you,” proud of how she’d managed to cover the mistake.
I looked at it, noticing for the first time just how scribbly the writing was--thin then thick, wavy, parts of it not even touching the surface. Noticed the two big dollops of green that had dripped out of the nozzle onto the snowy background--one beside the H, the other to the side of the y. And then, the offending name, even more offensive than before--mushed-together letters, light streaky smear of bilous green underneath, plastered down into the white icing.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
What am I gonna do with this crap? I walked on around to the other side of the floral stand, and just stood there. Looking at my cake, looking over at the manager, hoping he would see my look of sheer consternation and come over and ask if he could help. No such luck. He picked up a loaf of something then wandered way over to the produce to bother a lettuce. I started over there. Then stopped. I started to the cash register, and stopped, too. ::sigh::
I could be one of those people. Full of loudly-pitched haughty disdain for people who can’t do their jobs right. Actually, I am like that, but not when it’s someone’s grandmama. Poor old woman was doing the best she could. Even if the best she could do was crap.
Why, I oughta... No.
Maybe if I-- No.
If I walk over to the manager, and, and-- Naw, dangitall.
::sigh:: I didn’t want to embarrass her, and didn’t want the manager to fuss at her. I didn’t want to see tears well up in her big, glassy, Floyd Lawson eyes.
Maybe, I could just leave it right here, right on this counter--no one would know.
But, that would be wrong. Not that anyone would know. Or even care. Except me. I stood there for close to five minutes, trying to figure out what to do.
I figured I’d try my luck with one of the kids. The cute little brunette girl with freckles was working the customer service counter, and she’s always been pretty good to help. I walked over and waited for her to finish with another guy, and I showed her the cake, and explained the ordeal, and my problem of what to do about it. What I was really looking for was a way to get the manager to say, “Oh, sorry, sir--just don’t worry about it and leave it here with me.”
“Which lady was it?” I told her, and she sorta sadly pouted a bit, “Oh, well...” Her voice trailed off, indicating that the cake-writer seems to have already made a reputation for herself. “Would you like me to get the manager for you, and maybe he could go write it on there for you?” Oh good heavens no, kid! “Oh, no, sugar--I don’t want to make her feel bad or anything, and I REALLY doubt the manager would be able to do any better anyway. Tell you what--just go ahead and ring it up and I’ll take it home with me. It won’t go to waste; the kids’ll eat it.” I assured her it would be okay, so she rang it up, and I walked out with my sugary wasteland.
I sat down in the car, and decided to use my Only In Extreme Emergency cellphone and call home and get some input on what to do. I had just about decided to go to another grocery store and get someone else to do one for me. I related my tale of misspent money to Miss Reba, who told me just to get a plain cake and not worry about it, because supper was ready and it was getting cold. She did ask if they had any that just said “Happy Birthday.” Say, they DID have one! Right there in the case with the other, but it wasn’t quite as pretty. As pretty as the one in the passenger seat had BEEN. Much prettier than it was now, though.
I signed off and wheeled back into a parking space and ran in, hoping to avoid making any sort of eye contact with the lady behind the counter. No need to worry. She was off in the back doing something, so I quickly skulked up to the counter, and snagged the Happy Birthday cake and made my way over to the cash register. Little Freckled Brunette Girl was standing there talking with the other cashier, and to explain myself, I told her my wife had told me to just go ahead and get another one. Not that she really cared. The girl running the register asked what had happened, so I had to launch into an abbreviated version of the tale. “Which one was it!?” She seemed perplexed by the ordeal, so I told her. “Ohhh...” Same sort of knowing grimace. “I thought it was odd, because we have a girl who works back there who has some kind of a decorating degree of some sort and she just does great work. But, well...”
::sigh:: Sorry I missed her.
On to the house, where the kitchen smelled very wonderful, and showed Reba the messy cake, and the one I got to replace it.
It was at that moment, as I looked closer, that I saw underneath the Happy and the Birthday, that there was an area of frosting that had a distinctly different pattern. Yep. Apparently it had been named once, too. But the removal was a bit cleaner and didn’t leave any of the color. Just a scrape pattern, one that having now been discovered, seemed to take on the size and appearance of having been done with a strip mine dragline. It wasn’t really THAT noticeable, I don’t suppose.
I said, “Let’s put some candles there where the name was, and call it done.”
“Fair enough,” said Miss Reba.
Maybe poor Mrs. Oglebaum won't notice.
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