The next time I agree to spend three figures on a birthday cake, someone douse me with ice water.
But that’s what happens when you combine a weird party theme, no time, and a bit of extra money.
Unable to find a professional falconer to give a talk, or a “bird guy” with a folding table and a few parakeets, or even a teenager in a bird costume, I decided to splurge on, well, the pastry. If we couldn’t have a live falcon we’d have the best fondant version you’d ever seen. On a custom made theme cake! From a highly-Yelp-rated bakery! Sure, their quote was astronomical, but they delivered! Plus, the local grocery store didn’t do raptors on their sheet cakes. No one did. I wasn’t in a position to haggle.
A huge price tag. A cake ordered sight unseen. Fifty people in a park. How could it go wrong?
“It’s a little small,” Mike told me on the phone when the cake arrived. It was the day before the party–I was at work, trying to sell yellow diamonds to people who really had money to burn.
“What do you mean, small?” I asked irritably, mouthing “just a minute” to my customers with a forced smile.
“I mean, it’s small. We may need a backup dessert.”
I felt my cortisone levels start to rise. “That makes no sense.”
I hadn’t told Mike how much I’d spent on the cake, and I didn’t intend to. I quickly changed tack. “Is it gorgeous, at least?”
I imagined something ornate and intricate. A skyscape, perhaps, with clouds, a vast mountain range. Stunning falcons soaring majestically over wide savannas. One diving, perhaps, towards a tiny rabbit on the buttercream “ground.” Multiple tiers, some scattered trees. A small village, stonework, haystacks–
I didn’t like his tone, inflected, as it was, with forced positivity.
“It should be amazing.”
There was a long pause. Mike cleared his throat. “Anyway. We might want to bake some cookies for the grownups.”
I took a deep breath. Stay calm. Mike tends to see the glass half empty. It’s probably fine. A work of art. And plenty big. Even if it’s not, kids don’t eat a lot of cake. They just rub their faces with frosting and then run amuck, like dogs with roadkill.
But that night, when I took the cake out of the fridge, I saw that Mike was right. It’s design, such as it was, was minimalist. Two falcons and a mountain. Period. Neither bird was flying—one was perched on a branch and the other was standing with his arms behind him, which is anatomically absurd. MJ had added a playmobile person and a toy hawk to the top to”dress it up” a bit. This irritated me unreasonably. For that much money additional set dressing shouldn’t have been necessary.
And it was tiny! I calculated the price of each slice in my head. Jesus. I may as well have just taken the kids to the Russian Tea Room. Including flights. We were looking at, like, thirty dollars a bite, here. I should trade a slice for a trip to Cabo.
I turned to Mike. “I’ve been had.”
He nodded kindly. “Looks tasty, though.”
“We’ll never know, will we?” I grumbled, stalking to the refrigerator to get butter out. I had cookies to bake.
It turned out the cake was good, and, thanks to the paper-thin slices Mike cut, there was even a tiny bit left for us to try. Everyone liked the decorations. MJ got a slice with mountain on it; it was her special treat.
I kept the cake’s cost to myself, of course, so no one laughed uncontrollably or yelled “suckah!” That was my special treat.
Still, next time I’m going to Vons and getting a plain sheet cake. It turns out MJ has a real talent for decorating, and God knows she has enough plastic birds and Playmobile people to populate an entire continent of pastries.
I’m hoping by next year, though, she’ll have moved on from falcons. They command too high a price tag, both materially and emotionally.
And clearly I can’t be trusted with a credit card when birthday time rolls around.