Tuesday, September 14, 2010

new toys

thanks to a few very kind family members, i recently had some graduation money to indulge some of my hobbies.  and thanks to a slight delay between finishing the phd and starting a "real" job, i have also had time to indulge them.

NY Cakes acquired a respectable portion of my bounty.  i don't even like cake (maybe it's the frosting - the massive amount of sugar tastes like diabetes in a bite ... but then again, sweet things aren't my own personal vice - i've got others).  but i do like attempting to turn cakes into a pretty creation.  or a strange one.

i have never had so much ambivalence about a store before.  on one hand, the place is stocked well beyond even the best of the basics.  it has gadgets for baking and decorating that i never knew existed.  so at first, it was quite exciting to take in the impressive collection of tools and to pick out which new toys i couldn't live without - paints to color my own fondant, new pans, glorified modeling tools, etc.

but then, as i realized the vast amount of available shortcuts, some of the magic of decorating disappeared.  you see, i went from doing everything the hard way (e.g., using very basic cake shapes and carefully carving them into the shapes i needed and assembling the shapes into 3D objects, always covering cakes by rather painfully squeezing out little drops of buttercream icing at a time, etc.) to obtaining tools to do much of it the easy way (e.g., collecting a variety of usefully shaped pans, stocking up on fondant, etc.).  so now i feel like i'm cheating - that some of the challenge is gone.  and then when i think about how many more shortcuts would be available if i were willing to drop a few hundred dollars or more into this little side hobby (and buy things like machines that would do the heavy labor of rolling out the fondant for me), i admit i get a little bit jealous of bakeries.  suddenly the cake shows that champion their crazy confections are less impressive - yes, practice and skill are still very important, but it is so much easier for them.  dear santa claus, i would like a bakery for Christmas so that i can make birthday cakes as needed.  thanks.

so in any case, i have begun to sell out and am playing with my new toys.  this past weekend, the project was a volcano birthday cake for my geology major sister.  p.s. here's a tip for all you pyromaniacs out there - putting a bunch of birthday candles in very close proximity makes for a delightfully large flame.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

self checkout

when J and i were deciding what to do and where to go when we finally finished school, our choices boiled down to NYC and LA.  on one hand, the thought of becoming a california girl had been very enticing - a perpetual tan, the southern california coastline, eternal sunshine, and some really great friends in the area were exceedingly difficult to turn down.  but deep down, i kind of always knew that as much as i might really, really like the idea of being laidback and carefree (and as much as i like to tell myself that if the world weren't so demanding, i would be), the reality is that NYC does serve my personality better (not that this was the reason for the move - the decision was primarily job- and family-related).  but personality-wise, i need efficiency almost as much as i need air.  here, most everything i could possibly need (and just about anything that i could never imagine needing) is a short walk away.  and service is generally quite efficient.

take this morning, for example.  i ran a couple errands in preparation for yet another trip (because no, J and i cannot seem to stay in the same place for more than a week or two at a time this whole summer ... hence, i hardly feel like i live in NY at all).  first, i walked to Bagel Bob's to carry on what has quickly become a tradition for us: exporting fresh, yummy NY bagels to our hosts when we leave the city.  despite a rush hour line from the door to the counter, i was in and out in a matter of minutes.  so i proceeded to CVS to get J some gatorade for the trip (personally, i'm deciding between ginger ale and sangria (for prevention of motion sickness)).

CVS is where my morning got really interesting.  i was second in a line of 3 people (with one person checking out at the counter), and i was even managing to be patient while waiting my turn (because, let's face it, the Bagel Bob efficiency was unfortunately lacking).  i was thinking about the bagels - they were so warm and fresh and i wished i could have given them to our hosts while they were still right out of the oven.  the fifty-something woman in front of me started behaving a little erratically (we'll call her Erratica).  Erratica began mumbling a few words here and there and making partial movements as though she were going to reach for something or walk somewhere, but suddenly changed her mind and stopped mid-movement.  she then left the line twice - once to wander off and grab some nutritional shakes and once to put them back.  and okay, i admit i may have gotten slightly annoyed when Erratica left the line because i didn't want to have to wait any longer if the cashier became free while she was gone ... but the annoyance was fleeting because i decided i would go ahead of her if she didn't make it back in time.

as it turned out, Erratica did manage to make it back in time AND i went ahead of her.  the cashier dealing with the customer at the counter must have been having some trouble.  so another cashier, standing by the self checkout counter, stepped up and said "next."  silly me, i thought Erratica would proceed with her purchases, and i would wait for the next available cashier.  but Erratica responded as though she feared for her life.  she quickly and loudly protested, "no!"  she paused for effect, and only continued when the cashiers exchanged startled expressions.  "i do not wish to go there! i do not wish to use those machines! i am waiting in line - " i didn't quite make out the rest of the tirade (something about a human?) because although i was amused by the event, i had other errands on my list.  so my ears were primed to pick up cashier #2's response: "okay, that's fine.  who is next in line?" and i proceeded to the self checkout (that incidentally, wasn't self checkout - the cashier scanned the gatorade, took my money, and handed me my receipt ... so i can only conclude there must be something ominous about the machines themselves).  i completed my purchase.  as i took my receipt and cashier #2 uttered, "next," it was deja vu.

Erratica protested again, "no!   i do NOT wish to use those machines!" she was oblivious to the cashiers' assurances that they were talking to the person behind her.  Erratica continued, "i do NOT wish to use those machines!  i wish to wait in this line (for a human being?)! where is the manager?  is there a manager? i want to talk to a manager!"

i don't know what happened next because my Type A triumphed over my curiosity this time and i walked out the door.  i can only hope those evil cashiers didn't drag that woman, flailing and screaming, to the self checkout machines, scan her retinas instead of the bar codes, gag her with a receipt, and stuff her into a plastic bag.

(side note: many people erroneously believe Type A personality is associated with cardiovascular problems.  but Type A is actually a big collection of traits that includes not only preference for efficiency, being driven, perfectionistic, etc. (the traits that perhaps are typically thought to make up Type A personality) but also things like hostility and cynicism.  we've known since the 70s that it is only hostility/cynicism portion of type A that is associated with cardiovascular problems (okay, well, someone has known since the 70s - i didn't exactly exist then, but the data have been around that long).  so no worries, NYC will not be giving me a heart attack anytime soon.)