Layer Cake Rashomon
(I don't remember what's in here)
In my line-up of cocktail chatter, tucked in between the categories “I’m charming you with my embarrassing stories of adolescence” and “quirky folks I’ve met” is a dusty gem that gets pulled out on special occasions. The “I might be 'touched'” story. “Touched” as in, “My granny could determine the exact time and date of anyone’s death by squeezing their earlobe. She was touched.” That kind of touched.
The story is as follows. I was a kid. We’d been to Germany for the summer. Mom thought it would be a lovely idea to stay in London for a few days before we went back to the States. We’d never been. So we set up digs in a hotel at Victoria Station. On our first day, Mom suggests we head straight to Buckingham Palace. And I piped up, “I know how to get there.” And I proceeded to lead my mother and sister straight to Buckingham Palace without a map and never having set foot in London before. See. I’m touched.
If you tell a cocktail story enough, you begin to wonder how many bells and whistles you’ve added over the years or even if it’s true. So I did a quick fact check with my sister. “Do you remember that time we were in England and I took us straight to Buckingham Palace?”
She did remember. But that wasn’t her predominant memory of me on that trip.
“Yeah, but then you spent the rest of the trip keeping your eyes peeled for Adam Ant. Even at the grocery store.”
Oh. That’s right. Forgot about that. I had an awful crush on a marginal English pop star who wore eyeliner and lip-gloss. I suspect that I was hoping he’d be trolling the biscuit aisle dressed as an effeminate highwayman and see my charming brace filled grin and acknowledge me as his soul mate.
I liked my story better. But it’s proof that we’re all revisionists when it comes to personal history. And our perceptions differ astronomically when asked to recall the exact same moment. Or even pastry for that matter.
Knowing this, I am always careful when I get a call for a cake order and the conversation starts like this, “I was at Mary B.’s baby shower and you made the most phenomenal cake! I want the same one for my birthday.”
I’ll ask, “What did it look like.”
And she’ll answer, “Well, it was big. And it was carved to look like a pregnant belly.”
Hmmm. As strange as this may seem, I do a lot of pregnant belly cakes. And they can come in all combinations of flavors.
“What did it look like inside, what were the flavors?”
“Well, it was chocolaty and vanillay and fruity. And dense AND fluffy.” Sometimes the caller will yell at someone else in the room, “Hey Kerry! Do you remember that cake at the bridal shower? Oh. Kerry says it was creamy and had something coffee flavored inside.”
Oy. So I go through a list of possible cakes she may be describing. And I have to be sure to cover all of my bases because there’s no telling what she focused on and left out entirely. She may be one of those frosting eaters. Or she could be a frosting peeler, eating a little hole into the middle of the cake and focusing on that confluence of flavors at the epicenter of the slice and never venturing outside a 4-inch radius. Or perhaps she’s not very handy with adjectives, confusing fluffy for dense. Flaky for creamy. But I get it; I understand everyone’s going to focus on that flavor or memory that they like best. And it’s my job to ferret out all the details you left out. That way, I can make a complete cake. But once you’ve got it in your hot little hands, feel free to ignore those parts that don’t interest you and go straight for the frosting. Or the innards. Just like I’ll tell my childhood stories just as I please, leaving out those pesky details I’d rather forget.