Food is important in my family. Not just food, but meals, huge meals that make a mockery of the words “world hunger.” Whether we’re celebrating a birthday, a holiday or a particularly important family achievement, such as the party we threw when I had the fluid drained from my ears at age seven, enormous meals always play an important role, to the point where when I hear stories of struggle from the Great Depression or from Detroit where people say, “We didn’t have enough money to put food on the table, but all we needed was each other’s love,” I can’t help but think that under similar circumstances our family would fall apart at the seams saying things like, “Yeah, I remember Grandma, she made a great lasagna . . . I wonder whatever happened to her?”
Because I never lived in the dorms at college, at the early age of 18 I went directly from “dinner on the table every night” to “I can probably make it if it comes in a can.” Trying to maintain the high quality of my meals was difficult. Men in my family were only required to barbecue and mix drinks. Everything else fell under the purview of the women. So, while the knowledge of mixing drinks came in handy, living in Brooklyn on the third floor of a brick building with no “yard” to be seem for miles didn’t lend itself outdoor grilling, thus negating my only other culinary skill set. I would call my mom every night with another cooking question, her giving vague answers like, “It’s done when it looks done,” or “Throw in some garlic,” with me on the other end holding a whole chicken in one hand, a perfectly mixed vodka tonic in the other and having a nervous breakdown screaming, “FUCKING MEASUREMENTS, MA! I NEED MEASUREMENTS!”
Over time I got the hang of it and was able to make myself meals that involved vegetables and ingredients. Before I knew it, I found myself actually enjoying cooking. Not because it was so much fun to come home exhausted at the end of the day and then stand over a stove, but because I could make whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it. Growing up I ate whatever my mom decided to cook that night. If I didn’t like it I could have a bowl of cereal or I could go fuck myself. That’s the way families work. But now I made what I wanted. Steak five nights in a row? – tell your mom you needed a new textbook, cash the $50 check and make it happen! Bacon, eggs and pancakes for dinner? What a brilliant idea! The better I became at cooking, the more control I felt I could exert over my life. It was nothing short of life altering.
Then came a particular day, I don’t remember exactly why or how it came about, when I was walking around the food store and came upon the aisle with the boxed cake mixes. It might be the closest I’ve come in my life to what religious people call an epiphany. I could buy this cake mix, bring it home and bake it for myself. Then I could eat the whole cake. This could happen, and no one would ever know that this happened. Second only to buying my first bottle of vodka instead of stealing it from my parents liquor closet, buying my first boxed cake mix ranks as one of my most prideful adult moments. Nothing says independence like a man who goes off to college and bakes himself a cake JUST BECAUSE HE WANTS ONE. (My A&E Biography would be riveting, I know.)
While I understand that I can do this any time I want to, I also understand that it’s a special event to be taken seriously and if I made myself a cake every single weekend it would no longer be special. So I keep it to a minimum, only indulging the craving every so often. Yesterday, in commemoration of the warm weather and first episode of “The Sopranos,” I decided to make myself a cake.
I went to the store and headed directly for the cake mix aisle. In my estimation there is only one cake mix combination worth buying: vanilla cake, chocolate frosting. Vanilla frosting is as worthless a commodity as fat free mayonnaise. Want chocolate cake? Have brownies instead. No amount of arguing will sway my opinion on this.
But then the brilliant minds at Pillsbury went one step further and came up with the Funfetti cake, a twist on the vanilla cake so ingenuous, so undeniably awesome that with this one creation they have won my brand loyalty for life. I could find a booger the size of dime in my next box of Funfetti cake and I would just shake my head and say, “Those Pillsbury guys are so overworked! They don’t even have time to properly dispose of their boogers!” (For those of you who have been deprived of a life of happiness and don’t know what Funfetti is, it is a vanilla cake mix combined with a package of sprinkles so that when the cake cooks the sprinkles bake into the cake creating colorful bursts of joy in every bite. It’s like falling in love with a woman because she’s beautiful and then finding out she’s rich too.)
My eyes immediately scan the shelf for Funfetti. I don’t see it. I start to panic. People are squeezing past me in the narrow aisle carrying whole wheat bread and organic fat free milk and I am frantically rifling through cake mixes looking for Funfetti. And then I see it: the label sticker on the shelf indicating where the Funfetti should be and above it a gap in the sea of boxes going all the way to the back of the shelf. No Funfetti whatsoever. I begin to sweat. I look around, debating whether or not to ask an employee of the store for help. To my right is a hulking black man with facial hair, to my left a 5’4 elderly woman. I opt for the woman.
Me: (pointing at the Funfetti sticker) “Excuse me, do you know if you have any more of these in stock?”
Old woman: (struggling to read the label over the top of her glasses) “What’s that, dear?”
Me: (whispering) “The, uh, Funfetti cake mix?”
Old woman: “I don’t know dear, let me check.” (to hulking black man) “Tyrone,” (I wish I was kidding) “Tyrone, can you check to see if we have any more Fun-fetti cake mix for this young man?”
The word “Funfetti” had never sounded so incriminating. You could easily substitute “Ultra-thin Tampax Tampons” in that sentence and it would have made no difference. I stood there sweating profusely while Tyrone checked the stock room for me. For a second I seriously considered leaving the store and moving to a different part of town, starting over somewhere where I would never again make the mistake of uttering the word “Funfetti” in public. It’s not like my apartment was rent stabilized. I could find a new home. And I swore to myself that, given the chance, next time I would keep my mouth shut – I would buy a regular vanilla cake and some sprinkles and I would mix them myself.
Before I could resolve myself to run, Tyrone came back, looked me in the eye and said, “No more.” Like a child confronting an abusive parent I showed no outward disappointment. I said thank you, picked up a yellow cake mix and walked away. I may have left my dignity on “Aisle Two, Baby Care and Baking Needs” but I’ll be damned if I was leaving cakeless. And while it wasn’t as good as a Funfetti cake, it was still a pretty fucking great cake and it absolutely made my night like a good boxed cake always does. In fact, The Girlfriend may make a comment on this post about some sort of “song” that was sung by me concerning the cake, wherein I took the lyrics to a popular tune from the 60’s and altered the words to include “cake.” Indeed, she may even make reference to a “dance” that went along with the song. Please let it be known that The Girlfriend makes things up from time to time. She does this because she craves attention and we are seeking professional help to help resolve the issues.