Author’s note: When you see: ________ in the story below, I have edited out a vulgarity. Please feel free to imagine the vulgarity of your choice in order to get the full effect of this tale.
I recently spent a weekend in Washington D.C. with my family. After a long and great day touring the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and some of the monuments at the National Mall we retired to Georgetown, where our hotel was located.
It was a beautiful evening so we went took a stroll down M Street looking for interesting shopping and a good place to eat. As we were walking my oldest daughter said, “I’d like to see the DC Cupcakes place.” When I said I had no idea what the DC Cupcakes place was, she told me about the wildly popular TLC television show of the same name.
“Sure, let’s check it out. I love cupcakes,” I said optimistically.
“Well, it will probably be crowded.”
As we approached the Georgetown Cupcake shop there was an enormous line down the street. If I had to guess, I’d say people were waiting more than an hour for a chance to buy gourmet cupcakes. We hadn’t eaten dinner yet, so waiting in that line was not an option.
“Let’s take a look in the window and see if Sophie or Katherine is working in there,” Emma suggested.
Why not? We walked over to the main window and I peered in. All I saw was a kid wolfing down a chocolate cupcake. I have to admit it, even though I have never seen the show, the cupcakes looked great and that kid inside licking scrumptious icing annoyed me; like she was mocking my lack of access to sugary pastries.
“Nope. They’re not in there,” Emma said cheerily.
“Well, let’s find someplace to eat dinner,” I suggested. We crossed the street with my son and me in the lead; my wife and daughters trailing behind.
Then I saw him.
Leaning against a street lamp was a man in his late thirties; perhaps a little overweight but in all ways just an average guy. He wore jeans and a black t-shirt. He was visibly and obviously very upset. He was not crying but his eyes were full of tears, about to flow in torrents at any minute. He was muttering bitterly and in a high-pitched, incredulous way, “What the ________? How the ________? That is ________ unreal! What the _______?!”
As he spoke his words were soggy from the tears in his throat. There were great gobs of spittle in his mouth forming heavy white webs in the corners of his lips. It was as if he were witnessing a great tragedy – a house fire; a murder; a suicide. But his eyes were fixed on only one thing: Georgetown Cupcake, home of the hit TLC show DC Cupcakes.
After I had passed the man, I turned to my son. “What was that?”
“I guess he really doesn’t like cupcakes,” Eli suggested.
We had a great dinner at the nearby Leopold Café. It’s a great and authentically Austrian/German restaurant in Georgetown. I highly recommend it. The food was excellent and we took our time with the schnitzel all the while pondering: what was the issue with the sobbing cupcake guy?
“He probably just thinks it’s ridiculous that people line up for cupcakes,” Eli suggested.
Then I floated this idea – “Maybe his wife was in line, and it was driving him nuts waiting?”
“No. He’s probably just strange.” “He wasn’t even looking at the cupcake place,” others said.
I let my mind drift – to tell myself a story (I do this way too often). As my family conversed, I travelled back in time to imagine that same cupcake storefront years earlier. There was our weeping cupcake guy; but in the good old days, he was happy and joyful. He was the owner of his own bakery in the very same building now occupied by television cupcake makers. He had quit his job, invested his life savings to start his own business – Arthur’s Bakery. It had been a constant struggle; hemorrhaging his life savings trying to keep the place afloat. He was a great baker – everyone knew that, but for some reason he couldn’t make a living at it. In the final year, before the foreclosure, Arthur had watched as Barbara had left town with the kids, unable to deal with the financial catastrophe any longer.
“Not a bad explanation,” I thought.
And now Arthur was standing with tears in his eyes remembering his bakery, incredulous that a cupcake reality show had the place booming – and most of all weeping over his broken life and lost family.
Not a bad story at all.
“Are we getting dessert?” My wife asked, bringing me back to reality.
“Yes let’s do that.”
After settling up the bill at Café Leopold, we started the walk back to our hotel. It was a beautiful evening and Georgetown was bustling. We all joked and moaned about how full we were from our gigantic dinner when it happened.
I saw him again.
The man who hated cupcakes had moved to a different corner. He was still inconsolable. He was still muttering.
“Hey Eli, that’s that same guy,” I said in a low voice.
Eli nodded as we were within 20 feet of him. He stood at a street corner, his arms folded defiantly oblivious to the pedestrians around him. He was still muttering. As we got closer I could hear him once again blathering in distress.
“What the _____? WHY?! What the _____ is that? How the _____?” He was once again staring, single-mindedly across the street.
I looked at the object of his disbelief, misery, and sorrow. There on the opposite side of M Street I saw exactly what was destroying this man’s psyche. He was looking directly at the bustling activity at a business called Sprinkles Cupcakes. Another cupcake bakery!
I was a bit unnerved by this turn of events. Suddenly the story I had woven in my imagination had taken a darker turn. How was this man tortured by cupcakes? Had been forced as a child to eat cupcakes by a sadistic parent? How would Stephen King handle this turn of events?
Before I could tell myself a new story, Eli interrupted me and simply said, “See Dad. I told you! That guy really hates cupcakes.”
I guess so.
Copyright © 2014 cjcheetham