Last week, I was very nearly undone by cake. Seriously.
Part of my job is to buy a cake for the monthly all staff meeting, which is not a big deal. Only this month, my boss was like, “And we should pre-cut the cake to save time.” So, I set the meeting room up half an hour early, but just as I was going to get the cake so I could cut it, people started showing up to the meeting early. I suddenly realized that I needed to cut the cake super fast to have it ready for the meeting. But it’s just a bunch of straight lines, so no big deal.
And then I made a huge mess of it. As a teacher, I did a lot of problem solving and critical thinking while designing projects and writing rubrics. I made almost all of my own teaching materials, and they changed every year. I made thousands of decisions a day, so when my boyfriend asked where I wanted to eat dinner, I never had an opinion because I didn’t want to make any more choices that day. This new job involves a lot more tasks that are simple and straightforward.
Turns out? I am terrible at basic tasks. I can figure out how to teach 16 year olds about the economy or how property taxes impact a community, but cutting this cake is a bitch. The thick buttercream icing is sticking to the plastic knife I brought to do the job. There’s probably a real knife in the kitchen, but I’m in a hurry so I have no time to look for it. My lines are a little wobbly, meaning that some pieces of cake are too big, and that this ½ of a sheet cake is going to be, like, 10 pieces short of having enough for everyone.
Now, not everyone will want cake. I can abstain from a piece, we have one vegan who probably can’t eat the cake. Maybe some people are avoiding gluten, but how many? Will it be enough? I can’t risk it, so I start cutting the larger sections in half, but because the lines were wobbly to begin with, some of the pieces are stupid small when cut in half. So, then, I start not cutting whole section in half, but individual pieces. I hear one of my co-workers call out, “It’s time for the 3:00 staff meeting!”
Shit. Then, my plastic knife snaps in half. Double shit. I literally start to feel sweat trickle down one armpit—now I’m sweating over the cake. I stop what I’m doing immediately.
Not having enough cake is bad, but it’s always, always better than having sweat-y cake.
I cover the cake and carry it down to the conference room where we are having the meeting, slide it onto a counter and slink to the back of the room where my friend, Lindsey, is standing. When my boss is going over the agenda for the meeting, she mentions that there will be cake. “I think it’s already pre-cut,” she says.
I close my eyes and whisper to Lindsey, “It is very jankily pre-cut.” She laughs and I confess that the pieces are “of wildly differing sizes.”
“In my experience, people like different sizes of cake,” Lindsey bright sides for me.
When it comes time to serve cake, my boss passes out the pieces of cake, but I stupidly take on the job of dishing the slices onto the plates. Two ladies from the office help me out, but I’m actively doing my part to serve up cake. Let me be clear: I am THE WORST at cake. Pieces fall over, and the icing separates from the cake. Plates that aren’t held totally level result in pieces tumbling back on to the tray. Some pieces land on the plate icing side down. How am I so bad at this?!?!?! Then, I manage to catch a piece before it falls off the plate, but I get icing on my thumb, and without thinking, I lick it off. Then, I go to touch another piece of cake, and I literally think, “What if I had Ebola?” I could have made the whole room sick. Which is not so much a commentary on how likely I think it is that I have Ebola, as much as it is a reflection of the fact that I remember some of the safe food handling practices I picked up back in my restaurant days.
New jobs are always tricky because I am kind of a control freak-y perfectionist, and I like being good at what I do. I struggle with the fact that there are times when you’re new where you don’t know stuff and you mess up and you ask a million questions, and then you get better. But this task had seemed so simple, and yet it was so beyond me to do even a competent job that I felt defeated. I tangled with a sheet cake and lost. Which is stupid, of course, because no one was sitting around being mad at free cake, even if the icing was all smeared. No one came up to me, shoved a plate in my face and said, “Are you kidding me with this? What is wrong with you that you are an adult woman, and you don’t know how to cut a friggin’ cake?” I mean, I was saying it to myself, but nobody else was.
There are many things I do well at my job. I can order t-shirts, organize food for 80 people, I know where we keep the stamps, and I know how to fix the copy machine when it needs an attitude adjustment. So, maybe I will be forgiven for being terrible with cake.