Pound Cake, Complaints And Coffee

Pound Cake, Complaints And Coffee


I heard this story recently, about a woman who went home for the holidays.

Don’t twitch with anxiety, this isn’t about family hijinks – it’s about worthiness.

While she was in Ohio, Illinois or Iowa, you know – the cradle of civilization for transplanted Californians – she met with friends who were also there serving their sentence – I mean visiting family.

Inside one of those knotty pine kitchens with the avocado appliances, we all know the ones, they haven’t been touched since 1970; they all sat around the table catching up. Life it seems, had been good to this cross-section of her friends. They had kids in college, long-standing careers, minimal health issues, at least one living parent, and all their teeth; yet, the entire first hour was a bitch session.

It was as if the Complaining Olympics had come to town. She got so caught up in it, hoping to at least medal, (she could picture herself atop the podium, National Anthem playing) that she embellished her story about a car insurance claim gone south.
In actuality she had a pretty good life, would they judge her for it if she just said so?

Meanwhile, the host made a pot of coffee in a percolator, and cut up a Sara Lee pound cake to give them just the right amount of caffeine and sugar to maintain their energy – in order to keep the complaints coming.

It was the house he’d lived in since he was four, a two-story colonial, which since his mom had passed was occupied solely by his dad, who by all accounts continued to be robust and health -– but apparently clumsy as shit.

“Sorry guys, I can’t find any cups that match” he said sounding embarrassed as he laid out the cake with a selection of several random cups.

There was a mug from the local University, a flowered porcelain teacup with a tiny chip on the rim, a green Pottery Barn ceramic mug that looked as if it had once been part of a set, a plain, clear, glass cup, a tall, white, fancy looking cup that was fluted and flared at the top, and a large styrofoam cup from a stack on top of the fridge.

He, being the gracious host he was, poured his coffee into the styrofoam cup, everyone else jockeyed around, silently sizing up the remaining cups.

The one friend, a mom with five kids, took the plain glass one, handing the nice white one to her friend the attorney. “Oh, that’s too nice” her friend said, putting it back on the table, taking the dainty teacup even after she noticed the chip.

One of the guys took the college mug, after picking up the green cup from the set, and putting it back. After the other two got their cake, deferring the cup choice until everyone else had picked, one grabbed the Pottery Barn mug and the other reached up and got a styrofoam cup off the pile on the fridge.

No one chose the nice, white cup.

She was sure no one else noticed, but she did.

It was so interesting for her to observe what cups people chose.
It was like a small social experiment. Everyone left the fanciest cup for the other guy, until it stood alone, un chosen.

One of the men would rather drink from styrofoam than a fancy white cup. One of the women put it back and chose one with a chip.

What was all that about?

Worthiness. Apparently no one felt they deserved the nice cup.

Now, I’m gonna level a HUGE generalization here – that is SO Midwest.

If this little kitchen scene had taken place in LA – people would have pushed each other down to get the nicest cup; the chipped teacup would have been thrown in the trash, “That’s just dangerous” –– and NO ONE would have dared drink a hot beverage from styrofoam! “Studies have shown styrofoam to be carcinogenic and bad for the environment,” I can hear the attorney saying, citing a current class action suit that’s pending.

So, two questions: do you find yourself competing in a bitchfest when you reconnect with old friends, not being able to admit that you’re actually…happy? AND which cup would you have picked and why?

Don’t say you don’t drink coffee, this story works for you tea drinkers as well.


  • Vincent Paz says:

    You’re such a keen observer.
    Yeah, there’s a different pace and focus in the MidWest than in Southern California. I’d venture to say that there are many places different from coastal Southern California.
    Although I’ve heard plenty of Complaining Olympics (evocative term!) around LA, they seem to be oriented differently. They’re about someone else – the plastics companies, Monsanto, styrofoam, and about something else – living forever, how to get more, or how to drive from point A to point B. I somehow doubt your MidWesterners would quite understand an everyday LA conversation with a string of numbers as if they words, spelling out the Goldilocks trail of freeway numbers which are “best” when traversing the LA spider web.
    Those LA conversations also sounds like discussions of worthiness to me, although the measurement of worth is often external and measured, such as how many sun salutations might have been completed in that last yoga session, or whether or not you or others have the latest Smartphone or Tesla.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the LA or Midwest styles. I’m agreeing with you, that worthiness is at the heart of our conversations. We simply have a different pace and emphasis in getting our approval needs met.
    The cup dance you described reminds me of a poem by Piet Hein:

    “When people always try to take
    the very smallest piece of cake
    how can it also always be
    that that’s the one that’s left for me?”

    Of course, in the MidWest version you described, the last item to be chosen was the finest one.

    Keep up the great writing please.


    • jbertolus says:

      Wow, Vincent, we are SO on the same page. We are all an amalgam of our influences, so our perspective is different, not wrong, not less than -just different.
      Love all of your observations and your generous comment – Thank you so much for reading, its greatly appreciated!

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