Friday, December 24, 2010


Yesterday was Duane's last at the bookstore.  Good for him, bad for me.  He came back to Ye Olde Bookshoppe last December - to help out during the holidays.  Much to my pleasure, he stayed.  And stayed.  Working odd hours, bringing his strong presence through the doors marked 1344.  But, yes, all good things must come to end, and Duane's tenure here is one of those.

It's hectic in the Shoppe this week - not as hectic as it could be, but beggars can't choose - when we chose to do the little going-away thing for Duane.  The card, the cake, the stirring testimonials.

Well, I strove for stirring.

Do you like cake?  I do.  I mean, I prefer pie, but for going-away things?  Gotta go cake.  Cakes can be delicious, or dry.  They can be beautiful, and sometimes - not so much.  For the not-so-much, you should visit here, and you'll also be saying Oh, the wrecks!.  Cakewrecks, that glorious site, also does a calendar, and this time of year we sell lots of calendars, so I've been looking at Cakewrecks a lot, so for Duane's cake, I basically ripped off Cakewrecks.  I got Duane a cake, indeed I did, but it was so hard to know what to have written atop the chocolate sheet.  In the end, I told the baker that I wanted nothing on top of the cake.

She obliged, as you can see below.

So we ate the cake, stirringly testified, and did all this at the front of the store, not in back where we usually stir.  Too busy yesterday to get everyone off the floor, and I figured it'd be fun to sing Duane's praises in front of customers who have enjoyed working with him.

Quickly, though, we got back to selling and wrapping.  Quickly, the cake had been nibbled enough that it was time to get it into the back room.  It was just me and Samm at the cashwrap, everyone else was off delivering the Autobiography of Mark Twain into happy hands.

Do you know Samm?  You should stop on by and talk to her before she heads back to New York.  Samm, like everyone here at the store, is terrific.  Just don't call her Samantha.  I think she kneecapped the last guy who did that.  But besides that?  Terrific.

So Samm's selling Cleopatra:  A life - Stacy Schiff's amazing biography - to this hipster in a cloth cap, and I pick up the sheet cake to take it into the back.  The baker packed the cake kind of strange - it lay on top of a plastic tray, and then the plastic in turn lay atop a plastic base.  But the two weren't connected, you know?  Just laying there, one on the other.  And um, well, when polymer meets polymer, things can slip and slide.

Are you paying attention?  Do you see where I'm going?

I pick up the cake, the one with nothing on it, and I turn, I turn towards Samm, Samm innocently helping the hipster buy Cleopatra.  Instantly, I feel the cake continue going right, when I've made a sharp left.  I'm going left, cake's going right.  I correct, turn my wheels into the slide, and I, for a moment, think I've averted a crisis, I can feel the slick plastic of the cake tray sliding back onto the plastic platter, but I over correct, and the plastic slides forward, forward - I'm pushing the cake on the tray, the tray I hold in my hand, I push everything forward and tilt the tray up, trying to catch the cake as it slides, trying to flip it with a twist of my wrist, trying to flip it back to safety--

And Samm and her hipster stand unaware of the drama taking place, Samm blocking the hipster's view of my contortions, my not-so-dexterous attempts at derring-do...

It keeps sliding, sliding, gaining momentum, how could it slide faster?  I'm trying to ease the slide but it keeps going faster, the chocolate a blur, the hipster saying something about Cleopatra, me saying Oh, Samm hearing my exclamation but trying to do the customer-service thing, not about to move out of the way.  Why would she do that?  The cashwrap is cramped, there's no place for her to go, and why would she go anywhere since she has no idea the cake is sliding, sliding, slipping up and over, over, I'm going this way, it's going that, this way, that...

With one last lunge I push the cake forward, fast, where it glances off Samm's elbow, smears across the back of her shirt, down, slicing down over her belt, the seat of her jeans, brown frosting in a chocolate blur over her clothes.

The hipster now jumping back, grabbing Cleopatra, dusting the crumbs off her beautiful face, Samm turning, looking down, assessing the wreckage, gasping when she sees the rest of the cake, the uneaten rest, tumbled into our recycling bin, pulling it out, freeing it from the paper and cans nestled inside.

It's still good, Samm says.  It's still good.

I'm apologizing while the hipster backs away with Cleo clutched under his arm, while our coworkers now - now - flit close like bats to a streetlight, to see what fresh hell I've wreaked.

Through it all, through the jibes and laughter, Samm maintains her equanimity.  Grace under pressure and all that.

So that's how I spent yesterday trying to say goodbye to Duane.

Goodbye Duane.


  1. Merry Christmas Dear (What's the plural of Petrulakis? Petrulaki? )Family!

    I know that this isn't on point vis'-a-vis' your blog, but I wanted to say hello and tell you that we received Karen's Christmas card. I say "Karen", as you're clearly preoccupied with brown liquor and typing. Not that I'm knocking it! Scientists believe that given enough time you might inadvertently write the complete works of Shakespeare.

    Me? Well, when you're born fat and cynical you don't even notice the mid-life crisis.

    Let's get together after the holidays. My kids are 17 and 12, we'll have you over so you can see what you're in for; oh, there's not enough peat smoked single malt to get you through it my friend...

    Drop me a line when you get a chance:

    510 525 3531



  2. Wow - thanks for getting in touch! Expect a call from me in the New Year. My best to you and yours!

  3. Sean,

    Fancy meeting you here! Love to hear from you.


  4. OK, I must confess I look at cake wrecks all the time. Some people like watching the kitty that plays the piano. I like seeing pictures of cakes that should never have happened. Best line on a cake to date, "Come home dad, Mom is off the Juice" Happy new Year, see you across the street

  5. I'm fond of "Celebiation of Learnin." But "Mom is off the Juice"? Pretty fabulous, indeed.


  6. Its Cake very lovely and tested .my favorite recipe of cake . i loved cake and very nice idea for cake details shared in the post . really very nice

  7. Romatic Dinner Bruges - thank you for reading!