“Nothing is easy,” could have been my boss Elsbeth’s mantra this entire week where one tile snafu followed another. She repeated that phrase so many times, I suggested we translate it into Latin and put it over our entrance. In addition, she beaned herself royally when she smacked her head into an elevator door. She misjudged this door she had previously managed to walk through without incident for at least a dozen years, but apparently her successful-door-entering karma took a holiday. When she handed out our weekly paychecks, my sidekick, Greg, looked at his baffled. An exclamation mark popped up over his head, prompting Elsbeth to flash an expression best described as “now what’s wrong?”
Greg: How come I was only paid for 39 hours?
Elsbeth: Don’t you get paid the same salary every week?
Greg (in a tone reeking of feeling screwed): Not this week.
I took a long drag on my Sherlock Holmes pipe and concluded that our payroll processor orchestrated this miscalculation straight out of left field. Elsbeth shifted gears away from the tile challenges to plead Greg’s case for his missing fortieth hour of weekly pay. With the going getting dumber by the day, The Boss confided to me that we needed emergency cupcakes.
Elsbeth: Get me one with chocolate cake and chocolate icing.
Me: That’s serious chocolate, Boss.
Elsbeth: This is serious.
Ling and I sprang into action. Our destination was Billy’s Bakery, a short walk up Franklin Street in Tribeca. Ling ordered the troops to give her their first and second choice flavors. Greg and Under Ling complied. The Quiet Man announced:
The Quiet Man: I want coconut or nothing.
Ling: Last week, when we got cookies, they didn’t have your triple chocolate.
The Quiet Man: I want coconut or nothing.
Ling: You’re setting yourself up for disappointment. What’s your second choice?
The Quiet Man: I live on the razor’s edge.
I give Ling my screaming let it go glance which looks very similar to my forehead smacking you realize that this is a completely hopeless situation so why are you wasting your breath? glance. We head out the door and trek like two mush dogs through lower Manhattan’s icy tundra.
As soon as we enter Billy’s, a homey palace of dessert, we trample each other en route to the cupcake case and scope it out wild-eyed.
Ling: I don’t see coconut. Do you?
Ling asks a clerk for coconut and is told that it’s a special order flavor that is sold in quantities of a dozen. Ling is dismayed.
Ling: I feel bad for him. You’re good with impossible situations.
Me: Am I? I’m two thirds of the way to the crematorium and I’ve yet to turn my dead end life around.
Ling: Yeah, I know that, but are we really going to go back to the office with nothing for The Quiet Man? Think of something!
Feeling pressured, I approach a second clerk, Kim the Magnificent.
Me: We’re in a situation. Our boss wants us to get cupcakes, but our colleague who refuses to come up with second choices, only wants coconut. Last week, he wanted a triple chocolate cookie when we got cookies, but his cookie wasn’t available. We hate denying him. Is there a compromise solution we can work out here?
Kim the Magnificent: We have coconut cake.
Me: How much is a slice?
Kim the Magnificent: Five dollars.
Ling and I wince.
Me: I bet that’s a huge slice. He doesn’t want a huge slice. Yet, I suppose if you did a half-slice that would screw up the cake’s slicing system, right?
Kim the Magnificent processes this idea. She consults her colleague, who had previously offered the gloomy coconut cupcake forecast.
Kim the Magnificent: Do we still do those small slices?
Gloomy Coconut Cupcake Forecast Colleague: We do.
Me: How much is a small slice?
Kim the Magnificent: Two fifty.
Ling: We’ll take one!
When we return to the office, The Quiet Man is not at his desk, so we leave him a subtle message:
Ling gives everyone his or her chosen cupcake that we all inhale in seconds flat.
I get my favorite, the yellow daisy with chocolate icing. It’s a classic yellow butter cake with a generous swirl of sweet, but not gag-inducing sweet, soft chocolate buttercream icing. On a freshness level of week old fish 1 to piping-hot-out-of-the-oven-pizza 10, this cupcake brings out the Spinal Tap grade of level 11. Elsbeth, Ling, Greg and Under Ling, award their tasty treats with the same sky-high honor. Until her phone rings again, The Boss celebrates 47 solid seconds of pure Billy’s Bakery comfort food bliss.
The Quiet Man returns to his desk under the false impression that his request only rated a plastic fork. Ling explains the impossibility of getting a coconut cupcake. The sound effect here is a downbeat. We then hand him his cake box that weighs comparable to a kitten.
The Quiet Man: What’s this? [hopeful] A coconut cupcake?
Me: No, it’s your second choice.
The Quiet Man: But I don’t make second choices.
Me: We did for you.
The Quiet Man opens the box and sees his small slice of coconut cake that looks enormous to our amateur cake-cutting eyes.
The Quiet Man (excited): Is this coconut?
Me: And they call it a small slice.
Greg: That thing’s huge! I want one of those!
Under Ling: Me, too!
The Quiet Man escapes the salivating vultures and hightails to his lair in the back of the office. Afterward, completely sated, he informs Ling and I:
The Quiet Man: That was the best coconut cupcake I ever had!
Thanks to Billy’s that “cupcake” was about the only thing that went right in our department all week.