"Jesus was soft on crime. He'd never have been elected to anything." (183)
When I can hear a writer's speaking voice in their text, easy and authentic in tone and humanity, I more easily appreciate the point behind the writing. So many people can write, but so few can convey a conspiratorial wink or a bashful smile on paper merely through tone. Anne Lamott can do all of these things. Thus, I appreciate what she has to offer as a fellow creative spirit. I have loved her other books, partly because of their uniqueness and partly because I found Bird By Bird especially useful. I owe Lamott my return to writing regularly, because in that book she excused my cliches and my bad habits and my 'sh---y first drafts'. She told me that I absolutely was not alone in my exasperation or boredom as a writer. But we're not talking about Bird By Bird.
Let's get the elephant out of the room... George W. Bush is not eloquent, nor has he made stellar decisions in the last several years. He does not make me, a hard-core rightwing Californian, feel terribly safe. He bumbles and mumbles and laughs funny and undoubtedly finds poo-humor entertaining. But he is a good, kind man. And, best of all, he doesn't give a flying leap what Anne Lamott or any other crazy, leftist, hippy-elite, Marin resident thinks about him. Lamott is allowed her opinion, but talk about overkill. She should stick to truth and beauty, faith and humor. Criticism of anyone besides herself does not suit her.
That aside, I enjoyed Plan B. Lamott is wise in a cute way, but she can overstretch her limits, and she does too often in this book. Her inspiring moments were fewer and further between than in previous works, but each time a swell came my way I leapt for it. Her struggles as a liberal Christian, the single mother of an adolescent male, a former addict, an acclaimed writer under pressure to deliver a book that critics will feel is up to par... are honest. She takes unabashed digs at herself, even at her most flawed moments. Really brave authors strip themselves naked in front of their readers and then, rather than demurely covering themselves with the closest leaves or an awkwardly positioned arm and hand, they invite inspection. Lamott redeems herself in my eyes by admitting her own childishness:
'Others, of every race, came forward to support us, although they did not offer to help teach. I heard that people were talking behind our backs, and I wanted to call Veronica and tell on them'Pastor, Pastor, so-and-so was bearing false witness against us!' (74).
Not beautiful writing, to be sure. But that's part of Lamott's mastery. Her tone is reinforced by her style, and it changes periodically to really make a specific point. In this case she writes like a child, foregoing her usual flowery prose and mature rhythm in order to give the most accurate interpretation of her emotion at the time. Anne Lamott, a brilliant writer and an intelligent woman, will attend her own pity parties as the guest of honor, and she isn't afraid to admit it.
In between her admissions of childishness, egocentrism, confusion and envy, Lamott's material sweeps me away like a familiar river. Like me, she does not 'have the right personality for Good Friday, for the crucifixion: [she'd] like to skip ahead to the resurrection. In fact, [she'd] like to skip ahead to the resurrection vision of one of the kids in [her] Sunday school, who drew a picture of the Easter Bunny outside the tomb: everlasting life, and a basket full of chocolates. Now you're talking.' For just a moment 'Octopus Head' and I see eye to eye.
That's why I eat up her writing, because I want to understand her better, but I have to be careful not to let the current carry me too far from home. The woman is wild, crazy, not always my cup of tea. There are times when I merely tolerate what she has to say, as I would tolerate the views of any person to whom I must defer as my elder or my intellectual superior. While I loved the chapter about her time working with inmates at San Quentin, and while I was unsurprised by her protests at the prison's gates when a death row inmate's time had run out, I so violently disagree with her stand on the issue of capital punishment that I had to take time off from the reading in order to give the chapter its deserved equal consideration.
Educating convicts is important, even noble. I would love to admire her father's work with prisoners as she does. But the fact that he 'did not bog down in complex moral and ethical matters'victims' rights, recidivism' actually negates his usefulness in that capacity, at least in my own mind. That she thinks of that standpoint as positive diminishes her contribution for me, as well.
The chapter entitled 'Hard Rain' caught my imagination in a choke hold. First, it threw me. For some reason her rhythm got lost in the shuffle. I hate that, because I have no rhythm anyway. Finding a groove isn't easy for me. (Just ask Jon; I clap on the off beat. Whatever that means.) I read the chapter again. Little things like her references to being a 'crabby optimist' gave me hope, the incentive to find the value hidden in the text. For an entire paragraph she really talks herself up. I am not used to Lamott being excessively arrogant. Any published writer is allowed a little arrogance, but the paragraph that starts on 128 and continues, listing every anti-war move she made, crossed the line. I was rolling my eyes.
'God,' she said, 'has extremely low standards.'
Then the rains came. In the book the rain 'suggests that you should go inside, rest, try to stay dry. The scent of rain is fresh and earthy, clean and woolly, of leaves and dirt, wet dogs. We get whiffs of our animal smells, of feet, sweat, and the secret smells of the earth, which she often keeps to herself. Rain gives us back something that has been stolen, a dimension we've been missing'our body, and our soul' (129). That same rain washed away my irritation with Ms. Lamott and her super-sized, Demo-crap ego. And the bulbs she planted as a form of prayer blossomed. As it turns out, this chapter is not about rain at all. It is about remaining vigilant, not only regarding the political administration or whether your teenage son is doing his homework, but keeping a close eye on your own tendencies when it comes to people. Don't hide inside. 'Get out of the damn car already' (132). Be of service; serve the community; be kind.
There, like the creamy center in a Hostess Cupcake, was the value, the moral. Lamott walks away from Plan B succeeding in providing her readers with further thoughts on faith, but I walked away slightly bored. I'll read her again, and I'll recommend her other books first, and I'll even recommend this book to a very patient, optimistic friend. The fact that I compared Plan B to a Hostess Cupcake really ought to speak volumes, though. I do love a good cupcake.
Ginger Rogers. Jean Arthur. Maureen O'Hara. Ronald Reagan. I have read their life stories, and I have been dazzled by them all. Granted, these are figures of Hollywood and, with the exception of Reagan, none of them contributed anything to science or technology or even solid, meaningful history. Instead they entertained. I find that their recollections of time spent in Hollywood's golden age are extremely fun and romantic to read.
But there is no real purpose to their stories. Each autobiography is different, of course, and filled with exciting anecdotes and famous people. In the end, though, it is the title character who remains as the sun to the universe of the book, and I learn very little about history or its making.
Contrast that with the many memoirs I've read over the years by people like Rick Bragg and Fredrick Douglass and, most recently, Primo Levi. A memoir is a life story which is dedicated not to the man who lived it, but to the world that served as plot rather than backdrop to that story.
In All Over But The Shoutin', Bragg writes about his life as the poor white son of a single mother in the rural south during the civil rights crisis and beyond. He grew up to be a New York Times reporter who often wrote compelling articles about other people and their trials.
But his own story is fascinating in its everyday brutality. It is a dedication to his mother, a woman who "picked cotton in other people's fields and ironed other people's clothes and cleaned the mess in other people's houses, so that her children didn't have to live on welfare alone, so that one of them could climb up her backbone and escape the poverty and hopelessness that ringed them, free and clean".
Fredrick Douglass' essays can be found in a book called The Classic Slave Narratives. He suffered as a slave, to be sure. But there is nothing typical about his relating of events. The point of his writing is the writing. It is a song in praise of literacy and the innate freedom it gives. Douglass was able to communicate, to rally, to ask for help, to give advice, to organize, to give voices to the many, many slaves who were deprived of the language. If you give a man the words, there is nothing in this world that can stop him from achieving. No story proves that better than Douglass'.
This quarter I am taking a class that studies the genre of memoir. Already I am fascinated. To begin we have been assigned three holocaust memoirs by people in very different situations. Having completed Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz, I am almost speechless. BAM! Truth. The truth is not that the Holocaust was terrible; it IS terrible. No amount of time will quell the ache of our world lacking countless millions of men and women.
Levi survived. Technically he lived long past his release from the prison, and he wrote long and hard about his time there. But for his time in the death camp he was kicked into depravity, forced into the worst behaviors and humiliations of men.
And yet his story is not a whining tale. He does not preach. In simply beautiful language and painfully honest metphors Levi paints a picture of the world of Auschwitz, the hell of Auschwitz. He is in the picture, front and center, prone on the ground and naked. The guards are not demons; they are humans lacking humanity or compassion. And time is standing still. Because for Levi the nightmare never ended, and he took his own life years later because he could not dredge out the shrapnel of these memories embedded in his heart.
It is Levi's use of language in his memoir that strikes a sharp chord within me. His bare-bones style leaves nothing to the reader's imagination, but that is his point, because in the end we are still horrified by what we see, and more horrified by the reality of it all. Even his metaphors, likening the sun to a betrayer or the prisoners marching to a 'dance of dead men', are perfect.
In a book that describes and relates everything that was worst about the world, I find beauty in Levi's storytelling. The beauty shocks me. When, after his first winter, he and his comrades see and feel the sun for the first time, he explains that even the simple pleasure of warmth leads him to 'understand how men can worship the sun'. I love that. Levi admits that he loses faith, but there is always a solid quest to regain it. The sun is not Levi's sworn enemy; it could be God.
In the faces and stories of the few good, strong men he meets while in the camp, the author sees what form survival really takes. These men are generous even when they have had everything stripped from them. Levi tears himself down throughout the story, allowing that he is weak and selfish. But I doubt these descriptions would have even been relevant had he not seen first-hand the survival of the human spirit in some of his fellow inmates.
Early on he realizes that he no longer cares to keep himself clean, and he is reprimanded by an older gentleman whom he has great respect for. That man teaches Levi that even in Auschwitz one can survive. In order to succeed, though, 'one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness'. The men in the camp must force themselves 'to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization'.
I am greatly moved by that conviction and, though I am sure that Levi lost it from time to time over those harsh months, he certainly fulfills his purpose in the end. He bears severe witness in his memoir. And, as I have always believed that memoirs are autobiographies written with deep purpose, I have to say that Survival in Auschwitz is a defining work for the entire genre of memoir.
Meet the newest Mr. and Mrs. Pancoast! Yes, on January 14, 2006 my brother donned his dress blues and vowed to love and cherish his sweetheart, Heather Martin, forever.
The wedding day was hectic and rainy, but everything pulled together. Friends and family showed up in droves. And not even the January rain could hold back the love and joy! Ted didn't see Heather in her wedding gown until she came down the aisle. I got to see her before that, and she looked like an angel.
On the groom's side were his closest buddies, Ian, Donnie, Steve, Jake and, of course, Curtis. Ladies on the bride's side included her sister, Courtney, her mom Lisa and Heather's best friends. Pastor Herb Pedigo acted as officiant and Chet Hall dealt with all the music. Weddings bring out the absolute best in people, espcially in family. My Aunt Mary and Aunt Pam flew out for the occasion and handled the rehearsal dinner preparations, the clean up, set up and tear down practically on their own! It was a load off of my parents' minds during such a busy weekend.
At the rehearsal I was asked to coordinate the ceremony. Hmmmmm... handing the reigns over to Audrey? Naturally I dug the power, but mostly I was nervous. This was my little brother's big day! I didn't want anything to screw it up. How anyone is supposed to keep the show a-goin' without a headset is beyond me.
We managed. And, aside from a minor lighter mix-up during the lighting of the two candles, the ceremony went off without a hitch. I helped the bridal party line up, waited for the cues, timed their entrance... a very much understated version of J-Lo as "wedding planner". A complete exaggeration. Still, I felt useful. Jon took as many pictures as he could, intermitantly stopping to squeeze my hand and give me loving looks as if to say, "Wasn't it fun when we married each other?!"
I won't gush. But I will say that I couldn't have been more proud of Ted as he repeated the vows. Oh, he meant them. And the sweet sincerity in Heather's voice as she did the same was hard to miss.
The reception was quite a party! Heather's dad opened his beautiful house in the hills up near Morgan Territory just for the occasion. And, of course, our home church, Cedar Grove, in Livermore was the only place for the wedding. For Jon and me it brought back lovely memories. At 10:00am Jon and I went to the church and wrapped the trees at the alter in white lights, put up the pearly unity candle and set up tables for the guest book and the gifts.
After good food, the guests got their groove on... including my parents and my aunts. And me. Jon hates to dance, especially not to the funky songs. Apprently in his family, "Josh got all the funky". Still, I sweet talked him into a couple of funky dances, and he twirled me 'round to a few more comfortable slow songs.
For the bride and groom, the choice was country music. Not my favorite, but it's nostalgic. And I have to say that, as they opened the night with their first dance as husband and wife to Brad Paisley's "Little Moments"... I got misty. I think it is their love that made the song so romantic. Really, when you boil down the lyrics, it's not a beautiful song. It's not genteel or passionate or classic. But it is real.
However, I didn't cry until the end of the night, when we were called out to the dance floor to watch my brother, my little brother, sing that same song to Heather. This wasn't any bashful, half-hearted, stumbling hum-along either. He belted out the words into the microphone, never taking his eyes off her. And she swayed to the beat, holding his hand and laughing.
Sweet. I've placed the lyrics here to give everyone who couldn't be present for all that we saw this weekend, so that you too can see what binds the newlyweds so entirely together.
Well I'll never forget the first time that I heard
That pretty mouth say that dirty word.
And I can't even remember now what she backed my truck into.
But she covered her mouth and her face got red,
And she just looked so darn cute
That I couldn't even act like I was mad.
Yeah, I live for little moments like that.
Well that's like just last year on my birthday,
She lost all track of time and burnt the cake,
And every smoke detector in the house was goin' off.
And she was just about the cry until I took her in my arms,
And I tried not to let her see me laugh.
Yeah, I live for little moments like that.
I know she's not perfect, but she tries so hard for me.
And I thank God that she isn't, 'cause how boring would that be?
It's the little imperfections, it's the sudden change in plans,
When she misreads the directions and we're lost but holdin' hands.
Yeah, I live for little moments like that.
When she's layin' on my shoulder on the sofa in the dark,
And about the time she falls asleep so does my right arm.
And I want so bad to move it 'cause it's tinglin' and it's numb,
But she looks so much like an angel that I don't wanna wake her up.
Yeah, I live for little moments
When she steals my heart again and doesn't even know it...
Yeah, I live for little moments like that.
Our Christmas tree is still delightfully filling the right side of our loft. Hah! No one is taking the holidays away from us that easy. Of course, the further we get into 2006, the dimmer the lights grow and the more the poor, dry branches sag. Still, we picked a wonderful tree and we trimmed it to perfection. And until the boy scouts come in and drag it down the stairs and out the door... we're keeping it.
Or until the house burns down. But let's not think about that.
I am reminded of a story...
When I lived in Newark the fire station had a four or five story practice building behind it, just walls, floors and stairs. They'd do drills and trial runs with the big ladder trucks using that building. After it started looking dingy, the city payed to repaint the outside. We citizens were the ones who had to look at it, after all, while driving down Cherry Street. With it's new creamy coat of paint, the firehouse practice building wasn't necessarily a landmark, but people didn't mind noticing it anymore.
That Christmas the fire chief had a brilliant idea. Each year hundreds of house fires are started when people are unsafe about their tree care. And if having your house burned down isn't bad enough... losing it to a holiday bonfire is really sobering. Anyway, feeling that the Newarkians weren't taking his warnings about keeping trees away from light sockets seriously, the Chief decided to have a demonstration. People tend to heed visual warnings more often, right?
On a blank winter afternoon, the Chief leaned a big Christmas tree up against the back wall of the fire practice building. People gathered around, but not too close. He wasn't taking any chances. He wanted to shock people, not singe them. At his command, the semi-dry tree was sparked and then engulfed immediately in jumping flames.
The crowd gasped. Everyone made mental notes to keep their Christmas trees away from anything that utilized electicity or fire. Some applauded.
The Chief bowed, smugly.
But he hadn't bargained for what superb kindling that tree really was. In just a few seconds the raging flames had shot up the side of the building. Naturally there wasn't anything to burn way up there. Still, the Chief's face contorted in horror when he saw the dancing, bubbling and peeling of the month-old paint job reacting to the heat. Supposedly the paint used on buildings like that was flame-retardent. The Chief had underestimated the heat that one Christmas tree could fuel.
Thus, for Christmas the city got to pay for another repainting of the practice building, and the Chief was undoubtedly chewed out by the mayor or someone.
It's folk lore now. What fire chief would do anything that dumb? We've all forgotten his name. Many have forgotten the story. But I think it's worth while to record such an event for posterity. And now I think it's time to get this tree out of the house.
When nothing makes any sense at all, people go gray and hard like stone, but their hearts keep right on pounding. Isn't it interesting that all of the words we use to decribe the action of the heart, our life organ, are violent words? Pounding. Beating. Thumping. The pounding heart sends a painful rhythm to the dreary brain and exhausted body... a Morse code reminder... "You're still alive!"
I'm entirely aware that this entry is confusing to all. Including me. After a terribly long day, school, sad news, a riveting book about the prison camp at Auschwitz, I didn't feel bad. I was numb.
On the way home this evening I stopped by my parents' house while Jon was at his book club. The folks enticed me with a donut. But I would have gone over anyway, because I like them an awful lot. We get along. In fact, we more than get along. We thrive around each other. It's a happy, loud reunion every time. Curtis practiced his harmonica and Teather updated all of us on wedding plans. There was an overall warmth in the scene. Rockwellian, even.
And yet I wanted to go home. I can be as excited and animated as possible, and you've all seen me like that. It's my knee-jerk reaction to society: ENTERTAIN! But that's okay. If nothing else, it burns calories. Bottom line, the one place where I don't absolutely have to entertain is home. With Jon.
That is not to say that I don't do things to make Jon laugh. If he isn't chuckling because I'm a klutz, he's tickling me or making faces at me, or I'm telling him crazy stories or imitating our favorite comedians. And he totally gets my quippy sense of humor. Even my Bob Hope references usually get him going. Somehow, though, I don't ever have to work as hard. Maybe that's because he's my complement; he is on my same (sometimes humorous) plane, ready for what I'm about to say or do, and he starts laughing with me before I can even get there.
I started off this entry in a depressing way. Primo Levi's book about his time in Auschwitz is earth shattering. He wrenches his reader's gut by illustrating the true "banality of evil" exercised by the Nazi guards over their captives. His tale is told in the present tense to lend a sense of urgency to each story. Will he make it? Will he be one of the half a percent who survive?
That's what led me down a dark path first. But my folks are funny. And my brothers are funny. And Jon is funny. And, heck, I can be funny, too. So when there's a chance to laugh, why allow myself to wallow in the ugly, smelly mud for a second longer than I have to? There's no reason. As long as I can compartmentalize and give Levi's story the utter respect and honor that his memory deserves.
I'm not numb anymore. My heart is beating loud and clear, but it sounds and feels more like a happy pattering of rain or something. And there's more than one heart beat to make me smile. Jon's heart has always been a comfort to me. He's so healthy. What a weird thing to say, you might think. But really, because of his health, his breathing is deeper than mine, which is soothing when my head is on his chest, rising and falling with each swell of breath. And his heartbeat is low and steady, strong. Hmmmmm... the Entertainer is so easily entertained herself!
For the last couple of weeks Jon and I have been working our way through the first season of the show Alias, starring Jennifer Garner. I love it. When it debuted a few years ago I wasn't interested. Not only did I already devote my few hours of television to Friends and classic movies, but I couldn't understand the attraction of Garner. Or the contrived plot.
Today I am the first to admit that I judged too soon and without enough information.
I am enthralled by the storyline(s), the intricacy and the adventure. And Garner is fabulous! She's strong and independent, athletic, driven and gorgeous. Nothing is as it seems for her double-agent character.
One of the reasons that this blog entry is so short is simply that I am in the midst of an episode. Between the exciting destinations and dangerous top secret missions, her very cool disguises and ability to speak fifty different languages... I have a new favorite TV character. But I can't get too happy about this. Between school and work and Jon (not in that order, necessarily) I don't have a lot of time to spend mesmerized by a fictional woman and her riveting lifestyle.
However, tonight I am going to dream of exotic locales, top secret missions, how nice it would be to have dimples and, of course, Michael Vartan (it's okay... he looks like Jon).
My Shakespeare professor has passed away. Yes, the same man with whom I was so unbelievably upset after my final on Dec. 17. It seems that less than a week after that, just before Christmas, Dr. Steve Cassal of UC Davis suffered a major heart attack. And just like that he was gone.
I received the notification today by email from the head of the English department. Most of us English majors have taken a class from Dr. Cassal (pronounced like "castle"). As much as I didn't enjoy the late works of Shakespeare, Dr. Cassal was a good teacher. He had an evident speech impediment, but never acknowledged that as any sort of disability. He did not apologize. I admired that. After all, what he lacked in eloquence, he made up in clarity of thought and the wisdom of his experience.
It is interesting that, as we studied Shakespeare's late works, he spoke to our class a lot about retirement and death. Both were major themes in Shakespeare's closing masterpieces. That's not surprising. Writers produce by the sweat of their brow, their most profound experiences. All the times that Dr. Cassal mentioned the struggle of reaching the end of a career or even a life... it takes on a deeper meaning now that I realize he was at his end.
Though I'm sure Dr. Cassal would have chosen to teach more if given the chance, his life was well spent because he passionately shared the subject he found to be the most interesting... Shakespeare. His lectures vibrated with the energy of his own mind cartwheeling through the themes and motifs and characters and models developed by one of the most original literary figures of all time. Some of us did not respond as well to those vibrations. But I admired his teaching nonetheless.
And rather than remembering the negatives in our last conversation, I choose to read the positives over and over again. Whether or not he thought I was right about The Winter's Tale, Dr. Cassal thought I was a good writer. I appreciate that. Most of all though, I appreciate him. I just wish I had been able to tell him that.
Yesterday we had our little party (and the cake turned out fine). We ate pizza, played games, learned that husbands and wives have a certain advantage when playing Apples to Apples, and opened presents.
Yaya Christmas + Cindy's 22nd birthday = Lots of fun.
While I'm preparing myself to end this all-too-short season of vacation in order to go back to work and then to school, I wanted to end on a positive note. So, in honor of my time with the Ya-Yas yesterday, I give you... the relationship of sisters defined by people much more clever than me.
Having a sister is like having a best friend you can't get rid of. You know whatever you do, they'll still be there. - Amy Li
A sister is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost. - Marion C. Garretty
Is solace anywhere more comforting than in the arms of a sister. - Alice Walker
You can kid the world. But not your sister. - Charlotte Gray
A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves... a special kind of double. - Toni Morrison
What's the good of news if you haven't a sister to share it? - Jenny DeVries
Sisters is probably the most competitive relationship within the family, but once the sisters are grown, it becomes the strongest relationship. - Margaret Mead
Bless you, my darling, and remember you are always in the heart - oh tucked so close there is no chance of escape - of your sister. - Katherine Mansfield
More than Santa Claus, your sister knows when you've been bad and good. - Linda Sunshine
How do people make it through life without a sister? - Sara Corpening
If your sister is in a tearing hurry to go out and cannot catch your eye, she's wearing your best sweater. - Pam Brown
When sisters stand shoulder to shoulder, who stands a chance against us? - Pam Brown
The mildest, drowsiest sister has been known to turn tiger if her sibling is in trouble. - Clara Ortega
I know some sisters who only see each other on Mother's Day and some who will never speak again. But most are like my sister and me... linked by volatile love, best friends who make other best friends ever so slightly less best. - Patricia Volk
Sisters function as safety nets in a chaotic world simply by being there for each other. - Carol Saline
Sweet is the voice of a sister in the season of sorrow. - Benjamin Disraeli
A sister is a gift to the heart, a friend to the spirit, a golden thread to the meaning of life. - Isadora James
A sibling may be the keeper of one's identity, the only person with the keys to one's unfettered, more fundamental self. - Marian Sandmai
Sibling relationships... outlast marriages, survive the death of parents, resurface after quarrels that would sink any friendship. They flourish in a thousand incarnations of closeness and distance, warmth, loyalty and distrust. - Erica E. Goode
You keep your past by having sisters. As you get older, they're the only ones who don't get bored if you talk about your memories. - Deborah Moggach
She is your mirror, shining back at you with a world of possibilities. She is your witness, who sees you at your worst and best, and loves you anyway. She is your partner in crime, your midnight companion, someone who knows when you are smiling, even in the dark. She is your teacher, your defense attorney, your personal press agent, even your shrink. Some days, she's the reason you wish you were an only child. - Barbara Alpert
My frosting expired a year ago today. Yes, I know that today was, technically, the birthday of 2006... but the bottom line is that, had Jon not noticed the little expiration notice on the bottom of the frosting container, someone could have died! Or, at least become very, very ill. And that's not good.
New Year's Day is traditionally a day of resolutions. Everyone resolves to lose weight or go skydiving or pilot a commercial jet. ("That's a great resolution, Pheebs. Now you just have to find a plane-ful of people whose resolution is to plummet to their deaths.") My first resolution involved the idea of exercising regularly. Already I've ruined that one by foregoing the exercise on the very first day of my clean slate. Oh well.
But resolutions aren't always proactive. Sometimes one must simply resign herself to the cold hard facts.
Case in point: As of today I have resolved that I am clinically unable to make a cake without a mistake. (Though my ability to randomly rhyme is right on target.)
You see, my friend Cindy is turning 22. And I thought it would be nice to make a cake for us to have after her birthday lunch tomorrow. Last year the cake fell apart. Literally. I pulled it from the oven and attempted to frost it. Instead I pulverized it. But that was last year! I've learned so much. I've come so far. Now I read directions.
And when I chose the cake mix today at the store, I did it deftly, like pro. I sized up the aisle, considered the many scenarios, moved between other shoppers, breathed deep and, at the critical moment, snatched the milk chocolate Betty Crocker cake mix from its place on the shelf. With remarkable accuracy I simultaneously selected the creamy white frosting (to be dyed pink) and placed it in the basket. How hard could this possibly be?
Let's start off with my New Year's Day miracle. Always the professional, I remembered to preheat the oven. Kudos are much appreciated. Then I consulted the directions on the back of the box. So far so good.
Eggs? Eggs are required for a box-mix cake?
I fell to my knees, clapped my hand on my forehead and yelled "Steeeeeeeeeelllllllllaaaa!" at the ceiling.
You believed me for a second, didn't you? Actually, I remained calm, resolving to go to the market and fetch myself the necessary eggs without whining about the extra trip out in the wind and rain. It is at the times when we are at peace with ourselves that God sometimes find it in his heart to issue a blessing.
A half-full carton of eggs was sitting on a shelf in my refrigerator. That may not sound like much of a miracle to the rest of you, but please recall that I don't eat eggs. Neither does Jon (mostly because they aren't in the house). Recounting why the eggs were there is unnecessary.
So, with the eggs, I followed the instructions to the letter. I mixed at the right speeds for the right amounts of time, never once allowing myself to think of shortcuts. The pans were greased, the oven primed. All turned out well. And as the beautiful twin layers cooled on the rack outside the oven in their chocolaty glory, I sighed.
"Audrey," I said to myself, "There is no possible way you can ruin this now."
When Amy and I went into the kitchen an hour later to frost the cake, I was on a roll. We dyed the frosting and stacked the layers. Naturally we were laughing and joking, having a good time. So when the pink frosting ran out, I was caught off guard.
"There's no more frosting?"
No. Indeed, we had exhausted the tin. I snatched it up to read the instructions. It claimed to contain enough frosting to cover two 9-inch layers. Boy oh boy, do I hate being lied to! Amy read the same instructions, in utter disbelief! Even Jon came downstairs to verify that the container was vacant and the cake was barely half frosted.
I know what you're thinking. "You spread it to thick, Audrey, you ninny!" But you'd be wrong. Because I had spread it so thin, I could still see the chocolate through the pink.
Jon suggested that we may have another container somewhere. We did! Hidden away in some remote corner of our cabinets was a container of chocolate frosting. Amy and I, in unison, decided to ignore the fact that this frosting was both different in flavor and in color. Instead we decided to go for a "marble-ly" effect. I poured it into the bowl to mix, and Amy swiped a bit with her finger... because that's what grown-ups do when they bake cakes... eat the frosting.
I spread a little bit on a blank part of my cake canvas when Amy grabbed my arm. We're very close, Amy and I, and can communicate through touch, ESP and even blinked Morse Code messages. Something was very wrong! Silently, careful not to make any sudden movements, I backed away from the cake. Jon held his breath.
"It tastes..." Amy inhaled and searched for the right word. "Weird."
Not that I didn't trust her, but I have a finely attuned sense of taste myself. So I gave it a go. And I regretted that decision for the next hour as I drank and ate anything I could in order to get the taste of that frosting out of my mouth! Jon told us we were crazy, but checked the container anyway. Expired January 2005.
News flash... It's January of 2006. What were the odds that I would smear expired frosting on my best friend's birthday cake after exhausting a supply of completely-good frosting purchased that day?! The odds, as I came to accept, didn't matter. Because the unthinkable had happened.
Discreetly I removed the offending frosting from the square inch of cake it had defiled, and threw the rest away. Then Ames and I were on a mission. Someone, somewhere had to sell frosting. The caveat? We didn't want to go more than two minutes from my house. In case anyone faces a crisis similar to this one, I'd like to save you some time. The 7-11 and Rite Aid do not have frosting in any flavor or color. Oh, and PW Market keeps weird hours and will most likely not be available when you need them most desperately.
We came home empty handed.
"You know, we could make frosting." Oh Amy, always such an optimist. Naive Amy. Nobody makes frosting! People buy frosting. And apparently they only buy it at major grocery store chains during normal business hours on days that aren't holidays! You learn something new every day.
Still, she checked all of my cupboards for powdered sugar which, we were sure we'd heard somewhere, is a common ingredient in homemade frosting. Though none of us could figure out what else would be included. Amy suggested water; Jon suggested egg whites. But that all became irrelevent when we realized that Jon and I don't own powdered sugar.
I felt defeated. Amy patted me on the back, assured me everything would be all right. In fact, she said that really, Cindy's birthday wouldn't be complete without a cake that slightly resembled Quasimodo. Okay, that might not have been exactly what she said. Amy isn't that mean.
Twenty minutes later we had ourselves a cake. By using my precision spreading skills and rock steady composure under pressure, somehow I managed to cover every bit of that cake with fresh, pink icing. And then we took turns covering it with pastel sprinkles. In fact, if you were to walk into my kitchen, having not read this yet, you would never know that the dessert was the product of struggle and humiliation.
It's a cake. But that's a miracle, too. Probably the real New Year's Day miracle. Like Jesus' use of a handful of loaves and fish to feed thousands of hungry people, my caring hands and Amy's optimism perpetuated our frosting supply so that our gift to Cindy would be perfect. (Or, if you consider that comparison to be a bit blasphemous... pretend I likened the endless supply of icing to the Hannakuh oil miracle instead.) Either way, we have ourselves a cake. And I have resolved that, to future birthdays, I'll just bring chips and dip.