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Essays


The Pound Cake Cure for Road Rage and Other Vengeful Impulses

It was so hot that day the machines were sweating indoors. Perspiration trickled along the body of the stainless steel frozen yogurt machine and rolled off its sides. I swallowed as Ricky filled my order for a large chocolate and vanilla swirl with colored shots and imagined how good it was going to taste. I was stressed from my job, stressed from the heat, and stressed from walking along disgusting Lexington Avenue, where the sun broils you from above while the subway bakes you from below. I wanted my sugar-laden carbohydrate fix masquerading as a fat-free health kick and I wanted it now.

Ricky manned the cash register at the Sherwood Forest Deli. Privately, I called him Ricky Roundglasses for obvious reasons. To his face, however, I didn't dare call him anything except Ricky. He looked like all the other boroughs of New York rolled into one, a man who'd been born a five o'clock shadow as opposed to a child and gradually accumulated human characteristics as he matured into a full-fledged beard.

"You gotta get me out of here," Ricky said. "I'll take mail room. I'll take anything. You just gotta get me out of here."

A teenager holding a knapsack stepped up to the counter. I slid over to let him peruse the stacks of pastries wrapped in cellophane.

"I hear you, Ricky," I said. "I wish I could help, man. But I work for a start-up with three other people. We don't have a mailroom. In fact, we barely have a room. And no one knows we exist, so we don't even get any mail. Except for requests for donations. From the police."

The teenager disappeared towards the exit. Ricky muttered under his breath and fixed a cover to my medicine. After he turned, his eyes took in the scene at the counter and beyond.

He froze. His lips tightened.

I glanced at the counter and realized the stack of marble pound cake slices was gone. I turned to the exit. The teenager stood wedged in the doorway, feet pointed towards the sidewalk. He cracked a broad grin and locked eyes with Ricky.

It was an incredible sleight of hand. I stood right next to him and didn't see a thing.

"Ain't no Robin Hood here," Ricky said. "You gonna pay for that pound cake or you gonna make me come make you pay?"

The boy broadened his grin, raised his arm to his chin, and dragged his forearm across his nose. It was as though he'd been given a charade to act out and the word was "sneer."

Ricky's expression tightened further. I stepped back to make sure he had room to run but all the anxiety drained from his face. Ricky nodded at me as though he'd had an epiphany he couldn't wait to share, and looked back at the teenager with a huge smile.

"Go on. Take off. Get out of here. Enjoy your cake." Ricky turned back to me. "Don't worry. He'll get his. A guy like that. One thing you can count on. It's just a matter of time. A guy like that is gonna get his."

Now, whenever an irrational impulse seizes me, I think of pound cake. If a car comes within an inch of my bumper on a fifty mile per hour road, I think of pound cake. If a person cuts in front of me to board a bus, I think of pound cake. Neighbor cranking his stereo a bit too loud? Pound cake. Even if a man insults my wife, I think of pound cake, although I do so only after making sure he understands the magnitude of his shortcomings.

After all, as Dirty Harry's more prudent brother might have said, a man's got to know the limitations of his pound cake.


© Orest Stelmach


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