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The place was jammed with shoppers,the bakery department no less crowded than the rest of the store.
Ahead of me in line at the bakery was a middle-aged couple who apparently had just ordered a cake that was being put together on the spot by the bakery employee behind the counter.
The couple were explaining to the baker as the baker patiently slapped on the icing that they were on their way to an out-of-town birthday party for which they needed to bring the cake.
It was clear that this walk-in custom decorating job was going to take some time, so I decided to do some shopping and come back later to place my cake order. I meandered around the store for a bit then circled back to the bakery, but the couple was still there waiting on their cake and chatting with - or at - the baker.
On my second round back to the bakery department the custom cake couple was gone, but now there was another customer at the counter. I decided to hang out in produce from where I'd have a straight-shot view of the bakery department. While picking out my fruits and veggies I kept one eye on the bakery, and as soon as the last customer stepped away I made a swift bee-line with my grocery cart, hoping to beat out any other customers who, like myself, might have been scoping out an all-clear at the bakery counter.
I made it to the counter, breathless and jubilant, before anyone else could beat me to it. But the baker, who was looking down at something on their side of the counter, seemed oblivious to my presence. I thought they were probably checking over the order placed by the previous customer, so I waited, figuring they'd be bound to look up and notice me eventually.
And they did eventually notice me, though they didn't look up.
"Whataya need?" they semi-barked, still looking down at whatever they were looking at.
"Would it be possible," I asked in the deferential, semi-penitential tone I unconsciously take on whenever someone barks at me, "to order a birthday cake for tomorrow afternoon?"
Now the baker looked up at me with an expression of disbelief. "No," they said. Then they added, "Not unless you want it for this time or later tomorrow."
"Sure," I said, noting that the current time was 2:50 pm. "Tomorrow at 3 o'clock would be fine.
The baker grabbed a sheet of paper and a pen and commenced to barking the usual questions: "Name; Phone number; What kind of cake?"
"White," I replied to the last question.
"We only have yellow," they snapped.
"Yellow's fine," I said.
"How do you want it decorated?" they said.
"Well," I replied, "We like lots of icing."
The baker didn't look up but repeated, this time speaking louder and more slowly, as if I were both deaf and dumb (as in stupid), "HOW...DO...YOU...WANT...IT...DECORATED?"
"Um, white buttercream icing and pink roses?" I meekly replied, feeling just a weence rattled.
This response caused the baker to look up at me again. "There isn't enough time to make roses."
"Oh, uh, no problem," said I. "Something else would be fine. Balloons, rainbows, whatever."
"What about little flowers?" they said.
"Sure, sure, little flowers are fine," I said. "Oh but wait," I said, suddenly realizing what it was that, in a moment of flusteration, I'd just ordered. "Did I say pink flowers? No, not pink! My daughter hates pink! Could you make it yellow flowers instead?"
The baker let out what I took for a long-suffering sigh. Then they said, "What size?"
"Like this one in the display case," I said. "The one that says $23.99."
"Hold it up so I can see it," said the baker.
I then removed the cake from the case and held it up for them to see.
"Quarter sheet," said the baker. Then they added, "Why don't you just take that one you're holding?"
To which I replied: . I said nothing because I was afraid to tell the baker that I would like a fresh cake.
By now one thing was very clear to me: this baker was so over taking cake orders on this day. I'd wager that the last place in the world they wanted to be was behind that bakery counter and the last thing they wanted to be doing was taking a cake order from me. In any case, though the person was going through the motions of their job, at this moment they were exhibiting a decidedly bad attitude about it.
Still, the baker took down my order, which I clarified before departing: A yellow cake. White buttercream icing. Yellow flowers.
The following afternoon, as I was busy getting ready for the birthday dinner, I sent my mate Tom to Kroger's to pick up the cake.
When Tom got back he set the cake on the counter. "Is this what you ordered for Theresa?" he asked.
And that's pretty much the end of the story, except for the lesson, which hit me as soon as I saw that cake, because it's a lesson that I've learned over and over again in the seven decades I've been kicking around the planet. The lesson is this: Whenever someone is coerced into, pressured into, talked into, or otherwise made to do something that they absolutely do not want to do or have a bad, angry, or negative attitude about doing, the outcome will seldom be as desired. Whether on purpose or by accident, consciously or unconsciously, you can count on an unfavorable frame of mind producing an unfavorable result.
Did the pink cake taste good? Sure. It tasted fine. But it would have tasted better if it would have had white icing with yellow flowers.