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.