Teenage Jobs and Cake Disasters


Thinking about my work career, in the area before I got into technology, it looked like this:

  1. Randall’s: Stocker (fall 94- spring 95)

  2. Randall’s: Deli Guy (summer 1995)

  3. Kumon: Grader / Instructor (summer 1996)

  4. Informal Classes: (fall 1996-spring 1997)

  5. Started an a small IT consultancy…

I would like to talk about my tenure as a Deli Guy, #2, above.

As far as your teenage jobs that make you wear a stupid get-up and use cleaning and bleach nightly, it wasn’t actually too bad. Working in the deli meant that you had basically 3 primary roles:

  1. Serve food from the deli ( it had usually been fried up hours before, and even then, dumping chicken out a bag and into a fryer wasn’t too hard )

  2. Slice meats and cheeses

  3. Serve cookies to little kids

In short, it was a pretty easy gig provided you could handle working with those slicers ( maybe I’ll write about my one-and-only accident with that one on another occasion ).

Now, after a certain hour at night, the bakery was empty which was conjoined with the deli area. So one night, nearing close I was standing there waiting to slice up some pastrami or Boar’s Head black forest ham when a panicked lady came up to me. Now panic is not usually a state associated with buying fine imported meat, so I was a bit on edge.

“I need you to make me a cake”

As a matter of fact, under my nametag it said “MEATOLOGIST” to let the world know that my skills were in the cured meats part of the universe.

“You need a cake,” I asked, hesitantly.

“Yes, and as quickly as possible, and I need it to say ‘Congratulations Billy.’ [ or somesuch ]”.

I was unprepared for the idea that I should have something to do with this sought item.

“Hold on just a moment,” I stated, to her obvious chagrin.

“Manager red-line to the deli,” I summoned out over the PA.
“Hey Steven, what’s going on?”.
“Uh, do we make cakes?”
“Sure there’s a big bakery right next to you, right?”
“No, I mean, do I bake cakes”
“Do you know how?”
“Then, no.”
“Well I have a lady asking me for a cake”
“Well then give her one in the cooler”
“But she wants a message iced on it”
“…” “I, uh, don’t know how to ice a cursive-y message on a cake, do you”
“Uh, no. Well, do your best and let me know if there are any issues.”

I have come to realize answers such as this are typical of managers, but I was unprepared for the answer at the time. I think the crestfallen look of my face gave away to the lady what the game was.

“Ma’am,” I started, “I cut meat here. I serve chicken over there,” I gestured leftward.

“I can give you one of those big blank cakes in the cooler and you can have cake. But I have no idea how to put a message on it. But I will try, but I’m not sure how well I can do. If you need a cake that badly, then I will try for you. Is this OK?” I tried to say this with the gravity that a doctor might say to an anxious parent whose child could only be saved by a daring cutting-edge technique.

She solemnly nodded.

I said: “Pick out the cake and I’ll get some icing”.

So I went to the baker’s table. Big waxy paper. Check. Funny thimble thing with a hole in it. Check. I went to the baker’s cooler and found a paint can of BLUE. I asked her if blue was OK. She assented and gave me the big white sheet-cake she had found. I guess she figured by giving me a cake shaped like a large “Hello, My Name Is” tag I might not screw it up too bad.

I fashioned a crude cone out of the wax paper and applied the tip. I believe I also took some scotch tape to make sure the tip stayed on. Given the lack of other backup cakes I didn’t want to ruin my only canvas.

I took a large frosting knife and smeared a dollop in the wax paper. I twisted up the top and the misshapen frosting cone was ready to go. I took a test sheet of wax paper and wrote my name. It came out badly. I pulled another sheet, slowed down and tried again. It looked serviceable.

I went around the table and started. Not having written in cursive for many years I was a bit hesitant but was able to write out that message in that diagonal y=.33x+4 upward line that says “Hey, this cake is fun”.

I looked at my handiwork and then at her. Her eyes were doe-like and seeking. I put down my sugary tube-ball of icing and walked the cake over to her. My eyes met hers and then she looked at the cake. She looked back up and me and said: “Not bad!”.

I gathered the plastic protector and sold her the cake. I turned around to the baking table which had smears of blue everywhere.

I put the tools of the trade away and cleaned up, dousing the table with disinfectant bleach before turning off the lights.

I headed back to my post to count out the remaining few minutes, praying that no one else had a cake emergency.