Tuesday 27 Sep 2016

An Urgent Birthday Cake
AJ Robinson

So often, especially for a kid's birthday, the birthday cake is very important. So, when my brother's little girl (Aja) was turning eight, and she was a big fan of "Popeye the Sailor Man", it was natural that we'd get a Popeye birthday cake.

My brother and his wife were going to be busy with a dozen little kids, so my Dad and I volunteered to pick up the birthday cake. It would be no big deal, just down to the bakery, get it, and drive back. Why, we'd be back before the first game was done or the first drink poured.

It didn't turn out that way.

We got downtown and got to the bakery, and asked for the cake. It wasn't ready; they'd lost the order! Oh, this was not good. My Dad tore into them something fierce, and made them check again. That's when they found it; it'd gotten swept aside at some point, and was buried under a stack of donuts. They told us they'd have it tomorrow. Oh, my Dad went thermal. His granddaughter was expecting a Popeye birthday cake, and she was going to get it. He could be quite firm, when he wanted to be.

So, the staff snapped to attention, and pulled out another birthday cake; I think it was a Donald Duck one. The chief icer, is that the right term? Maybe it's decorator. Anyway, they scrapped off the icing, loaded up their tubes, and got to work. What's funny is that a few years later, Aja would shift her affections to Donald, and leave dear old Popeye behind, but I digress. We sat in the waiting area, and I kept an eye on the time. Oh, that minute hand seemed to be flying! As this was back in the days before cellphones, we had no way of calling my brother and letting him know what was going on. They were due to cut the birthday cake at two o'clock; it was one.

Dad started to pace the area, and I kept checking my watch about every minute. The staff put two decorators on the cake, and let Dad use the phone. He called the house and updated my brother on the situation. Meanwhile, the birthday cake was about half done. I again looked at my watch and the clock. For some reason, I thought that if they didn't agree, it meant we had more time. It didn't work out that way.

Finally, right at the half hour, the birthday cake was ready. They boxed it up, we paid for it, I grabbed it, and we were out of there. I pointed out to Dad that there was no need to speed. After all, if they didn't cut the birthday cake right at two, what was the big deal? For my Dad, it was a big deal; being on time had never been his best virtue. In fact, I can scarcely recall a boat, plane or movie that we didn't arrive at out of breath! But, this was his granddaughter's birthday, and it meant everything in the world to him to not disappoint her. So, needless to say, I sat there with white knuckles and my heart in my throat as my Dad broke about two dozen traffic laws.

Looking in the backseat, I could see the cake slipping and sliding all over the place. I begged him to slow down - or at least take it below the speed of sound; I really wanted to be able to hear myself scream! As this was back in the 80's, the laws about seatbelts were pretty lax. So, I turned around in my seat, reached into the back, and grabbed the box. It wasn't easy, but I managed to wiggle it into the front seat with me. Holding it tight, I bowed my head, closed my eyes, and hoped that he didn't wrap us around a power pole or a tree.

The house that my brother and sister-in-law lived in had a narrow little access road running behind it; that's where most of the guests had parked - so the place was wall-to-wall cars. This was one instance where my Dad agreed to slow down; he figured that some of the little kids at the party might be darting about. So, he slowed, watched, and parked about half a dozen houses away. With the cake in my arms, I couldn't open the door. Dad popped it open, I hopped out, and we hustled up to the house.

But, we made it in time. I felt like I'd gotten about a dozen gray hairs - my first, but the smile on my niece's face, when she saw that birthday cake, made it all worthwhile.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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