The Birthday Cake

My considered view is: Leave the tough stuff to the experts.  That’s why I don’t want neanderthals opining about creationism and evolution or amateur surgeons cutting me open.  No.  There’s a time and place for expertise.

Which is exactly why I was trying to guide my husband about what kind of birthday cake he wanted this year.  He can be the big-deal expert about vegetables and red meat and psychology.  Fine.  Go ahead.  But when it comes to sweets, I am the family expert and my guidance should be slavishly followed.  Nobody around here eats more sugar than I do.

“You don’t want that awful German chocolate cake again this year, do you?” I asked helpfully.  I felt comfortable making this remark.  After all, I’d already let him drag me to a weekend lunch at that abysmal Soup or Salad dump where limp salads and watery soups glisten under the fluorescent lights and the ambiance reminds me of nothing so much as a quack’s emergency waiting room or a bus station in a Third World country.  God knows, I’d already suffered enough.

“I don’t know why anyone likes that kind of cake,” I added.  “It’s not even sweet.”

If this were a perfect world, I’d be buying all the birthday cakes, since this is something I am very opinionated and always correct about.  Nothing depresses me more, for example, than a cake with the kind of cheap, gaudy icing that’s the consistency of shaving cream.  When I see a cake like that, I automatically hang back and glower and don’t even ask for a corner piece.

My husband was still eating his lunch silently (he was toying with me, I could tell), so I went on to tell him the exciting news about the new cupcake emporium in the south part of the city.  My friend Paula, who shares my exacting standards when it comes to icing and ice cream, had told me it was very good.

“God,” he said.  “I hate cupcakes.  I’ve always hated cupcakes.”

You know, I hate this kind of marital surprise.  You think everything’s going along just fine and the next thing you know, a bowling ball’s hit you in the solar plexus.  Only last week, I’d learned my husband doesn’t believe in free will and now I was hearing he didn’t like cupcakes.  What next?  I didn’t want to know.

“At the cupcake place,” I said, “they probably make some shitty little German chocolate cupcakes.”  He could get some of those, I reasoned to myself, and I could get something decent with a lot of butter-cream icing on top.  It could be a win-win situation.

“I hate any kind of cupcake,” he said.

Well, fine.  It was his birthday and I’m as self-sacrificing as the next doormat.  So I drove him to Whole Foods, where I remembered I’d once bought another birthday German chocolate cake that  hadn’t tasted as much like cardboard as the usual one.  We wandered around the aisles and finally ended up in the bakery section.

“They’re not under the glass,” I told my husband.  “They’re packaged and made in advance.  You know, since it really doesn’t matter — with a German chocolate cake — whether it’s fresh or not.”

Unfortunately, it seemed that Whole Foods had recently raised its standards and no longer made German chocolate cakes.  I looked longingly at the cases of other sumptuous cakes laden with thick icing, hoping one of them would catch my husband’s eye as a reasonable substitute.  Fat chance.

We left the store.  “Who cares?” my husband said when I apologized profusely.  “You know I don’t like cake, anyway.”

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

9 comments… add one
  • I don’t like cakes either.  But you’re right.  The shaving cream icing is gross.  Buttercream every day.

  • Between you and the Duchess there has been a lot of funny writing on the subject of birthday cakes in the last couple of days.  I have enjoyed it a lot.

  • “Only last week, I’d learned my husband doesn’t believe in free will and now I was hearing he didn’t like cupcakes.  What next?  I didn’t want to know.”
    This cracked me up!  So funny. 

    Also, I’m glad to find someone else who embraces sugar for the holy thing it most definitely is.  In this world of health fanatics, we are a select few! 

    Thanks for the laughs.

  • Oh, this was a FUNNY post, Ruth! I need to treat myself to reading you in the morning, like I’m doing now, so that I can start my day right.

    I am now making the birthday cakes around here. Well…I’ve made one. The last one! But, I’m determined to keep it up. After the cake before last tasted like worn out sugar plastered on sponge.

  • Steve

    As is often the case, I’m on Jamie’s side.  Give me a pie (preferably a fruit pie), any day.  PARTICULARLY birthdays.  I am a long time rebel against the birthday CAKE tradition.  Why is CAKE the tradition?  I can eat bread, with or without added sugar, any day.  I want a birthday PIE.

  • ruthpennebaker

    Typical.  You guys always stick together.

  • Mei

    Ha ha ha. This article is funny. I know what you mean about learning something new about your partner whom you’ve been with for a long time. It cracks me up and annoys me at the same time. My partner is a big fan of sugar, cakes and chocolates and I am the complete opposite.

  • Winston

    Ruth, this was this first blog entry of yours I ever clicked on and read.
    It’s still just as FUN to read as ever.
    I left no comment the first time but I will now.
    I adore cake, abhor “shaving-cream” frosting and hate cupcakes.
    There is no way an adult can eat a cupcake and maintain any dignity.  And so much cake is trapped on that pleated cup.  One just can’t lick it off, nor can it be scrapped off with a fork.  That results in a mouthful of wallpapered crumbs.  The only way I could ever manage a cupcake is to peel it like an orange, roll it on its side and have at it with a fork– not advisable in public.  People will stare at you, thinking. “Hrumph! Who is he?  Does he think he’s better than we are?” Add to the scenario  a mustache and full beard and  the whole endeavor becomes absurd.  Cupcakes are for children with low esteem who have parties in the backyard.  I’ll take my cake sliced, thank you.

  • Fantastic

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