Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wendy's Cakes

Every so often I stop in at Wendy's Cakes. It's a small shop that makes all sorts of fancy cakes for any occasion. Wendy Windbigler is the owner and cake decorator. There's a couple of guys who do the baking, but Wendy is always there to put the finishing touch on her creations. Sometimes I'll buy a small cake, but the real draw is Wendy. Her left leg is tattooed with cat-tracks that start at her ankle and go up to who-knows-where. And one of her ears has so many piercings, it looks like a pincushion. She's a former bike messenger, and as it happens, we have much in common: fondue, and our favorite part of a popsicle is the stick.

Wendy doesn't mind chatting while she works, and it's not uncommon for us to have long conversations while she decorates her cakes. One day, she was especially proud of her design and asked me to take a look. It was a stunning piece of work, with green leaves, stems, and vines wrapped in all their frosted glory around the cake. It was for the birthday of a woman who was an avid gardener. It honestly looked too good to eat, and while I was admiring it, I noticed something vaguely written in the design. Among the twisted vines, it seemed like one of the vines spelled "grow in peace." When I pointed this out to Wendy, she laughed and said, "Good for you, hardly anybody ever notices."

I felt so proud that, finally, my sensitive, appreciative side was revealing itself. "You do that with all your cakes?" I asked.
" Yep," she said while placing the cake on the rack with the other finished ones, "It's sort of a secret message to my customers."
"You mean like a subliminal thing."
"Yeah," she said, "I guess you could call it that."
"You mean that every cake that goes out of here has a secret message embedded in the frosting?" I was stunned, as I'd eaten plenty of Wendy's cakes and never noticed anything unusual in the decorations.
"Now don't go telling everybody." And she gave me one of those scornful, warning looks that spies receive before imparting on a top secret mission.

She let me see the cakes she decorated that day, and it took quite some time before any message revealed itself. One was for a fellow who liked to gamble, and among the frosted dice and playing cards was the small notation, "save your money." It almost looked like a trademark symbol. Another was for a woman who owned a dog, and embedded in the frosted doghouse were the words, "wag your tail." These messages were not easy to find among the swirls of frosting, and it was apparent that Wendy managed to extract clues for her writings from each of her customers.

I began to wonder if any of Wendy's customers unknowingly followed her advice. Did the gambler stop gambling, if only for a short while, and did the dog lady put some extra wiggle in her walk after eating the cake? I asked her about this and she said she tries to keep the messages positive, just in case. To test the theory, I asked her if she could make a small cake for my artist wife, and include a secret message that said, "sex with husband." She was more than a little apprehensive, but went ahead anyway, I think because, by accidentally stumbling onto her code, I'd become a member of her secret cake decorating society. "I'll let you know how this works out," I said while leaving the store with the cake box securely tied in string.

After dinner, upon presenting the cake, my wife gave me a big hug and exclaimed how pretty it looked. While admiring Wendy's work, I noticed that the secret message read "sleep with husband" instead of the requested "sex with husband." Around our house, "sleep" means just that, tired, pull the covers over your head and fade into dreamland. It was too late; there was nothing to do but wait. Very soon after eating the cake, we headed to the bedroom and changed into our pajamas. "That cake was beautiful. Thank Wendy for me," were the words she spoke while swiftly drifting off to sleep.

I returned to Wendy's the next day and told her how the secret message wasn't the secret message I requested, and instead of the intended aphrodisiac effect, it had a sleep-inducing effect, to which she replied that, for starters, she doesn't take requests. And secondly, I'd have to fill out a complaint form (of which there were none). To ease my disappointment, or perhaps to get rid of me, she decorated a free cupcake which I took home to examine, figuring there was a hidden message in there somewhere. It was her signature "cupcake grandeur," plenty big enough to house a secret or two. I looked at it from all angles and even squinted at it for a good half-hour, but could find nothing. I put it in the fridge and looked at it again the next day for about an hour, figuring a fresh approach would do the trick, then gave up and unwrapped the paper bottom and began to eat the cupcake. And there it was, written in pen on the bottom of the paper, "Some things are better left unsaid."

Artists, especially those who work in the ephemeral media of frosting, can be a little sensitive at times. By requesting the suggestive message on my wife's cake, I unknowingly intruded way too far into Wendy's secret cake decorating society. So I'm backing off, and the next time I need a cake, I'll act all nonchalant about it and pretend like the incident never happened. But to be sure, I'll be checking the cake for a sign that our friendship is on solid footing.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Opinionated Dog

In sympathy with the people of Japan who have suffered through a horrific tragedy, Opinionated Dog, a descendant of a loosely-knit group of idealistic dogs who, in the 1960's, lived in geodesic dog houses on a Colorado commune, expresses his feelings towards the nuclear power industry and all the potential harm it can bring to the planet.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Lesley Gore played a great show the other night. She not only sang up a storm, had a tremendous amount of energy, looked terrific, but, between songs, she chatted it up about her sexual orientation. That's how I found out she is a lesbian. It was a legitimate forum, not some tawdry whisper campaign or graffiti scrawled in a public restroom.

It was an effort to be mature and pretend like this little piece of information shouldn't matter to open-minded people like those who I call my friends, but honestly, I was bursting at the seams to tell someone. The first person I called was Maxine Fish, owner of Together Girl, a shop celebrating women and, what some would call, "thought-provoking intimate items." When I revealed my juicy piece of gossip about Lesley Gore being on her team, Maxine asked me where I'd been for the last forty years. "Ancient news, rivaling the discovery of the pyramids" is how she put it. How, I asked myself, could I have not known this?

Of course, I'm on board with the ever-popular lesbian train, and think if I were a woman, I, too, would be a lesbian. As a matter of fact, I have enough respect for their no-nonsense taste that I initially gauge the quality of a restaurant by the number of its lesbian patrons. Some people think the benchmark of a good restaurant is the amount of trucks parked outside, assuming truckers know the value of good cuisine, but not me; I take a peek to see how many lesbians are enjoying their food. If I see a couple of women holding hands in a booth, that's the place for me.

The thing that gets me about Lesley Gore is everybody says they knew, even my wife, and her knowledge of popular music is so very limited that, if asked, she would tell you The British Invasion involved a considerable amount of troops and happened sometime before the year 1776. In fact, she would be hard pressed to name any two members of the Rolling Stones, but Lesley Gore..... she knew all about that.

Everyone is oh so cavalier about this, but I feel altogether left out, like this has been a secret everyone has been keeping from me since 1963. That's a long time to keep a secret, especially when it involves a size-able amount of the human population. Talk about the last to find out. Now I know why all those people, through the years, stopped talking when I entered a room. I actually began to believe I possessed a certain presence. Now, it's clear they were talking about the "Lesley Gore Secret," and clammed up at my appearance.

It's disorienting to a certain extent. I've been humming "Judy's Turn to Cry" for over forty years, never realizing the true meaning of the song and can only guess what other "surprises" people have in store for me. I don't know who or what to believe anymore. Now, whenever I hear laughter, whether it's at the store or the lobby of a movie theatre, I'm sure it's about me, another little secret that's passed me by.

While walking through the park the other day, there was a small group of teenagers, laughing, and I think they were looking in my direction. The kids were not old enough to know who Lesley Gore was, and I began to wonder if it's possible that these secrets are passed down through generations, and the holders of the secrets are instructed exactly who not to tell. I'm almost certain there's a list somewhere, and I'm making it my duty to find the list and memorize every one of the delectable secrets. Until then, I'm going to laugh like an insider with everyone I meet, pretending that I'm in on the whole deal.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Five Hundred Dollar Bill

Bill Higley has been my good friend for twenty-five years and four months. He plays the zither and is my only friend with red hair, so you'll never see us at the beach together on a sunny day; he declares his fair complexion is not beach-worthy. He says funny stuff like that all the time. For the entire twenty-five years, Bill has owed me five hundred dollars. It's not always the same five hundred dollars. Sometimes he pays it back only to borrow another five hundred again at a later date. Over the years, we've both become comfortable with the five hundred dollar mark. Sometimes, he'll borrow a small sum and return later to borrow more in order to equal five hundred. Like last year, he borrowed two hundred and seventy-three dollars to purchase an unusual Celtic zither, then showed up at my door a week later to ask for two hundred and twenty-seven dollars to buy an authentic zitherist parade costume, which brought the total to the familiar five hundred.

Bill enjoys promising his repayments by a specified holiday. For instance, while taking the cash and stuffing it in his pocket, he'll proclaim that it'll be returned by Halloween, Easter, Squirrel Appreciation Day, or some other holiday that sounds vaguely cooked-up. He knows lots of back-up holidays when he fails to make good by the initial one. I've become accustomed to the five hundred dollar hole in my wallet, and really don't think too much about it. When he shows up with the repayment, it almost seems like a gift, and I go on a little celebratory spending spree. Last January 23rd, on National Pie Day (which was a back-up repayment holiday for Christmas), I splurged on an embroidered and tastefully framed set of lyrics to "Hang on Sloopy," crafted by the trend-setting Peggy Wamsley, whose needlepoint pillows were once featured on an episode of "Three's Company."

I was under the impression that Bill had an exclusive borrowing arrangement with me until a list of names popped out of his glove compartment while I was rummaging around for a piece of hippy candy. Each name had one or more dollar signs after it, and my name, followed by a single dollar sign, was among them. After giving the matter some thought, it appeared each dollar sign indicated five hundred dollars, and Bill is running a friend-based Ponzi scheme but manages to occasionally make good on his chummy debts. The accidental disclosure was disheartening, and in addition to feeling betrayed, I began to feel sorry for the poor guys who had two and three dollar signs after their names.

This revelation is very puzzling; the zither is a friendly instrument, and for a zitherist to act in such a nefarious manner, surely some sort of folkloric tradition must have been breached. From all accounts, Bernie Madoff doesn't play the zither, but I'm guessing if he did, his client's money would still be safe in paper bags under his bed. The thing is, I enjoy Bill's company; our relationship has become symbiotic, like the oxpecker and the rhino, though it's not entirely clear who's the bird and who's the beast. Perhaps, twenty-five years ago, I unknowingly purchased a friend, and when amortized over the years, it comes out to just twenty dollars per year, which is not a bad deal, considering Bill's often lighthearted outlook and uplifting jokes, not to mention his riveting zither playing. I have trouble saying "no" to a friend, so I'm reluctantly calling it a waggish arrangement and will continue with the friendship loan cycle and Bill's quirky repayment dates. It's the least a rhino could do for his nit-picking friend, the oxpecker oxpecker for his sturdy perch, the rhino.