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)