I feel like every time I get a chance to sit down for a chit chat with you these days, I have to open with an apology. Just when you start to build up an immunity to my coffee, I let the crickets chirp for a couple weeks.
It’s not you. You smell just fine, and even though your laugh does tend to edge towards shrill, I find it a fun quirk instead of an annoyance. Trust me. I haven’t been avoiding you and I wish I had more time for our chats. I have just been adjusting to working at the bakery, and I happened to choose a time to begin my employment when the bakery is grossly short-staffed.
Mama’s been a busy baker.
Or, I should say, decorator. I’m a decorator at the bakery of a grocery chain. I’m not going to share details on this public forum. I’ve read enough news stories to know that the most innocuously intended comments made on the internet can come back to bite one in the ass. This one does not want her ass bitten by social media warriors. I’m going to keep details vague.
So, what does a decorator do?
*sigh* Yes, smart ass. I decorate cakes. But, I also do things like cream pies, fancy cookies, uppity fruit tarts… There’s a lot more to it than just slapping on some froo froo borders and roses.
I make these things called “walking cakes”. They’re actually containers of deconstructed cakes in parfait form. Our most popular is a brownie cup. Freshly baked cubed brownies are placed in the bottom of the cup, followed by a layer of whipped cream, then chocolate pudding, then more whipped cream, and a crisscross of dark chocolate ganache with a sprinkling of walnuts on top. Mmmm.
While this isn’t the first job I’ve had where I deal with customers, it has been a lot of years since I last dealt with the public at large. And I mean, a LOT of years. Like the memories of childbirth, time and distance made me forget just how awful it can be. Some customers are nothing but pain.
This one lady ordered a cake with “flowers in shades of purple and shades of pink.” I made a cake. I made roses, in shades of purple and shades of pink. When she picked it up, she hated it. I mean, HATED it. She was older than me, but not Grandma-aged. She was not a baby, nor had she reached cantankerous old lady status, so her temper tantrum threw me off guard.
And yes, I mean, foot-stomping, cart-kicking, full on temper tantrum.
Apparently, she wanted one particular shade of purple, not multiples and how DARE I put PINK on the cake, too!? Gawd, I’m such a dumb twat.
I showed her the order she placed. I asked if she left a color swatch for us to match. She pointed to a pre-made cake we had just gotten in and said, “I told you to make it that color.” Never happened because we just got that new style of cake in that very morning, and the order was placed weeks ago. After the sitcom-style temper tantrum, I went to talk to my boss and tell her we may have a customer complaint come down the line. My boss said, “Screw her. You get people like that and you can only smile and nod and keep your cool until they walk away.” I’ll keep that in mind. Smile. Nod. Silently hope they see a squirrel and run after it…
Some of the cakes I make are signature cakes of my chain. They tend to be pretty fancy, and real eye-catchers for the fresh case. Yesterday, I did a neopolitan cake. The cake is four layers of both yellow and chocolate, with whipped icing, chocolate and vanilla pudding, and strawberry whipped icing in alternating configurations between the layers. Something for everyone in this cake! And at the low, low price of $19.99, it’s a steal. Come on down!
People argue over their baked good choices. Most of the single people that come through the bakery are pretty good. But I’ve started to develop a Pavlovian cringe when I see a couple, especially an older couple, wheel their squealing cart into my department. It is amazing how cutthroat these people will become when there is a choice between apple and cherry danish. The meekest looking woman will draw a dagger, brace her hand on her hip, and stand proud as Sif, ready to defend the honor of apple. The most whipped looking, downtrodden husband will sprout the backbone of Odin to fight for his right to have cherry grace his breakfast table.
We stay out of those fights. No good, and I mean NONE AT ALL, can possibly come from voicing an opinion. We whistle a little tune and concentrate very hard on our shell borders until the battlefield calms and the victor triumphantly places the hard-won golden pastry in their cart. It’s okay to make eye contact with the winner, but never, ever look at the loser. A person can’t handle that heart-wrenching pain and despair. It’ll suck you in. Sometimes, you have to let Artax go.
We do cannolis. Fresh, crunchy, cannolis. Because they are popular, we also do a cannoli cake. Chocolate layers, with ganache and cannoli filling in between. It’s iced in real whipped cream, with cannoli shells on the top that we fill when someone buys it. They don’t tend to stay in the case very long. Hey, could YOU resist a delicious cannoli?
We’re a 24 hour store. While we don’t get a lot of traffic in the night, it’s steady enough for us to remain a 24 hour store.
The other morning, way early in the morning, when the go-getters of the bird world are on the prowl for the worms that stayed up too late partying, a couple came through the department. Once again, they were arguing, but it wasn’t about something as mundane as danish flavors. The woman wanted some of our fancy buttercream iced cupcakes. Really, who could blame her? They are amazing. And I’m not just saying that because I make them. These puppies would tempt a supermodel.
The woman was no supermodel. I’m not picking on her, because I myself am a woman of girth. Her husband was significantly larger than her. And yet, when they came up to the case, he actually said, “Your ass doesn’t need anymore fucking buttercream.”
Have you ever watched someone get humiliated by a spouse in public? It’s like a black hole opens inside the person and you can see them shrinking in on themselves to hide. It is crushing, and I just wanted to boof him upside the head with one of our hand-made baguettes (fresh and hot from our brick ovens twice every day! Come by on Tuesdays and take advantage of our Bread of the Day special!) He scoffed and rolled his cart away, his belly literally supported by the push handle.
What a fucking pig waste of a human.
I sold her two cupcakes. I’m seriously hoping she smooshed one of them in his fat, drooling, warthog face.
Some of the best things we make in my neck of the department are the fruit tarts. Most people hate making the fruit tarts, but I don’t mind. They are butter tart shells filled with a cream cheese type tart filling. A bit of chocolate is brushed over the top, then various fresh fruits are sliced and placed in bursts or swirls or patterned layers over that. After they’re assembled, all of the fruit is brushed with a glaze to make the tarts glisten like jewels under the case lights.
They must be very tasty, too, because we often get special orders for them. Or maybe people like them because the fruit allows them to pretend it’s health food. All I know is that I make a lot of fruit tarts. Twinkly, shining little works of edible art.
I know I’m bitching about them, but the majority of customers aren’t raving maniacs.
…er, maniacs raving at ME, I should say. Some of the customers we get are legitimately off. This one guy shuffled up to the counter and asked me, very politely, if I, by any chance, had found his pajama bottoms.
I work behind a counter that’s fairly tall. I could not see any nethers, but I did notice he was, indeed, wearing a pajama TOP. I said, “I’m sorry, sir, but no, we haven’t seen your pajama bottoms. Have you checked the food court?” He shuffled off in that direction, which is good. My view is obstructed that way by a bank of cake freezers. Had he wandered off toward deli, I would have gotten an eyeful.
Now, I’m not sayin’ I wouldn’t have sent him deli-ways if he’d been of a certain physique. But he wasn’t, and I didn’t have any eye bleach available. Best to let the food court jesters deal with his floppy old ass.
I like making the special order cakes. Right now, it’s graduation season. Last weekend, I had 13 cakes to do in one 4 1/2 hour shift. I laughed and punched out after 7 1/2 hours. It just takes some time to make a cake. I’m getting faster, but three of those were full sheet cakes. That’s a LOT of real estate to cover in icing, even if you use a speed icer (which isn’t really as cool as it sound, and the teeth will cut you every time you have to pry that thing out of the piping bag to wash it). The next day, I only had four cakes to do. However, I wasn’t even supposed to work that next day. I went in because there was no one else to make these peoples’ special days a bit better with a pretty cake.
By the end of the weekend, I had gone through almost two entire 35 lb. tubs of buttercream. Nearly 70 pounds of buttercream!!
We get odd requests for the cakes sometimes. I made a joke cake. A woman was pranking her best friend with a Justin Bieber cake. That was fun to do! Her instructions were “make it as pink as you can and go way over the top.” Airbrushed neon pink hearts? Check! Photo of Bieber we had kicking around from an old deco kit? Absolutely! Heart shell border? You know it! She. LOVED. It. I hope I get more joke cakes.
I feel like I’m giving you a bad impression of our customers. The vast majority of the customers we get are actually quite nice. I genuinely like chatting it up with the bulk of our clientele. One older lady with huge, wonderfully gaudy jewelry and rhinestone crusted glasses wanted to know if I had a fresher lemon pie. She came up to me and whispered as if we were partners in a conspiracy. Of course I got her one from the cooler that had just been made. How could I not? RHINESTONE GLASSES. The tag printed with the regular price, not the sale price. The sale price is applied at the register. She seemed a little leery, but I said, “If they give you any lip about it, send them to me.” She pumped her fist in the air, yelled “We’ll get ’em!”, hooted, then wheeled off with a salute.
I love that woman. I don’t even know her name, and yet, she has taken a part my heart.
A man asked me to ice “Happy Birthday” on one of the pre-made frozen cakes we get. Those are ridiculously popular. They come frozen, already decorated at some nebulous cake factory somewhere. They are very quick and easy, with no special orders needed. People roll their carts up, grab a b-day cake, and move on with their lives.
We ice personal messages on them if people want. It takes only a second, but it can make a customer for life. Many local grocery stores don’t do this anymore, and I’ve heard from several customers how much it means to them that we’ll do that for no extra charge. Whatever corporate specialist came up with that one gets a tip of my bakery hat. Well done, sir. Well done.
Anyway, this man came up with one of these pre-fabs and asked me to customize it. I did, and the man was in awe.
Now, keep in mind, this is something I do every day. It’s not hard or impressive. Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday Mom. Happy 7th Andy. I did one that was Happy 39 1/2th, and no, that’s not a typo. I write a lot of Happy Birthdays. It’s the most basic skill a cake decorator has.
So, the man going on and on about how amazing it was could have been annoying if he wasn’t so damn sincere. He was honestly just giddy that I could and would ice a message on the cake for him right there and then, and he was blown away by the result. Again, nothing special. Not tooting my horn here AT ALL. This is a story of him, not me. It was simply Happy Birthday. And yet, his thrill was infectious. As silly and over the top as it was, it DID put a boost in my day and a pep in my step.
I guess that’s the thing. I like my job, stress of a short-handed department and all. I like being in a bakery again. I missed it. I like my coworkers, even though I’m fairly certain one of the older ladies is in a biker gang. I get on with her just fine, and plan to avoid pissing her off at all costs. I like making cakes…I’ve always liked that. The happiness hasn’t dulled with the years between school and now. I like the look on the face of someone who knows their party will at least have an awesome cake. And I don’t even mind the difficult customers so much, because at the end of the day, I got a story out of it. I like gathering stories. I like being part of and witness to all kinds of happenings, good and bad. I like my job.
But, I’m damn glad I’ve got today off!
Thus concludes a Musing for Tuesday, June 7, 2016. I’ve got to spend the day fighting with the dryer again. A very astute niece of mine said I keep having problems because I replaced Washy and left Dry-y all by his lonesome. If that’s what Dry-y wants, he can sit on the back deck rusting alongside his other half…and that’s exactly what I’m going to say while shaking a wrench at him and kicking his case for good measure. Sometimes you have to threaten appliances to get them to behave.