To this day, I have fond memories of my English class senior year of high school.
Even though it was (ahem) a little while ago, I remember it acutely. Our teacher was a gentleman named Mr. Willems, who remains to this day one of the best instructors I’ve ever had. He was fond of cardigans and sweater vests, spoke French, and would occasionally make us popcorn or bring in cream puffs and show us film adaptations of whatever we were reading at the time.
He’d ask questions of the class, and when no hands would pop up, he’d say (often en français), “If there are not volunteers, there will be victims.”
A few years ago, when I learned of his death, I put my head down on my desk and cried.
He taught us many, many things, but above all, he taught us how to read.
I should clarify: most of us had been reading for a solid decade or so, but Mr. Willems taught us how to really read and enjoy books. How to scrutinize chapters, how to analyze characters, how to follow the arc of a story, and how to find the themes and symbolism therein.
Even now, I find themes and patterns everywhere. I search for them well beyond the pages of a book, in the every day happenings of my life.
If you read the blog regularly, the themes will pop out to you: Mortality. Travel. Romance. And the recurring motif of cupcakes.
Recently, I realized that I had one more thing to add to that list. I’m not sure what to make of it. It happens time and again, both during my travels, and at home:
No, I mean, a lot.
To the point where I have almost started finding it funny. Almost.
Usually, I am yelled at by women. They tend to be middle-aged, or slightly younger. Often, they yell at me out of the blue, when a dozen or so other people have committed the same imaginary infraction they are accusing me of, or when I am simply trying to be nice.
There have been several this week.
One happened at a baseball game with friends. I’d gotten up to use the bathroom, and was returning to my seat. My friends politely stood to let me by.
“HEY LADY,” came a voice behind me. “SIT DOWN.”
I turned, my mouth half open in shock, at the drunk women seated behind me.
“Stand in between at bats,” she snapped.
She yelled at me for standing. At a baseball game. AT AN EFFING BASEBALL GAME WHERE NOTHING HAPPENED AT ALL UNTIL THE VERY END WHEN WE LOST.
Keep in mind, everyone in our row was standing. EVERYONE. But she yelled at me, and only me. Because that is how this theme plays out.
Two nights ago, I walked into a restaurant bathroom and opened the door to a stall. The woman inside had neglected to lock the door.
She screamed. Which was totally understandable.
She quickly slammed the door. On the other side of it, I frantically and repeatedly apologized.
“Ugh. IT’S FINE,” she replied, clearly annoyed. “I guess I didn’t lock it.”
“If it’s any consolation,” I said, “that happens to me all the time.”
“I said IT WAS FINE. WHY ARE YOU STILL TALKING TO ME?”
Honestly, you’d think after the intimate moment we’d just shared, she’d have been a little more gracious. Lady, you cannot get mad at EVERYONE who sees your vagina. I bet you must be pissed off at half the western seaboard by now.
See? There I go getting nasty about it.
The thing is, these interactions upset me, and the pithy little comebacks that occur to me, much much later are some of the few things that make me feel better. I wish I could just ignore it when strangers yell at me. I really, really do. But instead I often find myself feeling terrible, and am occasionally inclined to cry.
But I think I’ve found a solution. It involves cupcakes. Obviously.
I discovered this when Rand and I were wandering down Portobello Road, through its eponymous market, on a particularly rainy Saturday in London.
It was miserable, but that didn’t seem to stop the crowds. We wove through scores of people, getting slowly drenched, when we came across Hummingbird Bakery. I’d had dozens of people recommend the chain to me (it has several locations throughout London), so we popped inside.
The bakery was magenta, and all kinds of adorable:
We stared at the cakes, asking a few questions. Red velvet and vanilla were their most popular flavors, and I opted for the latter (I almost always go for a simple vanilla cake, since I think it best represents what a bakery has to offer).
We walked back out into the bustling street, as content as two people in love and wielding cupcakes can be (i.e., very).
I pulled out my camera, and asked Rand to stop a moment, so I could a photo of him eating the confection. I took two photos – taking a total of 5 or so seconds – before the screaming began.
“EXCUSE ME. EXCUSE ME!”
I turned and found a woman so close to my face that my eyes had trouble focusing on her. Her voice was shrill and proper, and rang in my ear. I took a step back so I could see her better. She wore an enormous fur coat and looked like a current-day Debbie Harry. (I later learned that she was the owner of the fur shop that sits adjacent to bakery.)
“YOU CAN’T EAT HERE,” she screeched. I paused, looking around. I was standing in the middle of a street that was closed to traffic. There were people milling about everywhere. Many of them had cupcakes.
“YOU CAN’T EAT HERE,” she yelled, again, inches from my face (interestingly, I realize now, I wasn’t even the one eating the cupcake. Rand was). “That’s a restaurant,” she said, pointing back to the bakery, “THIS IS A SHOP!”
I wanted to point out that it was actually the middle of the road, but instead I just shrugged and said, “Okay,” and wandered off, taking a bite of my cupcake. This seemed to catch her off guard, as she huffed for a moment and then walked back into her shop.
Later, the absurdity of our exchange hit me full force. The woman in the fur coat had come running out of her shop, into crowds of people milling about, and stopped to yell at me, and no one else, for pausing a moment in front of her establishment. She yelled that I couldn’t eat in the middle of the street (an absurd request) and I wasn’t even eating.
But when it happened, it barely rattled me. And then I realized why: I was about to eat a cupcake. The cake turned out to be only decent (Rand’s was far better), moist but a little bland, and in desperate need of some salt to give the flavor height.
Still, even this mediocre dessert brought me solace. Perhaps that’s why I’m so fond of them. With all the crazy, with all the yelling and anger in the world, it’s nice to encounter a bit of sweetness.
I don’t get why strangers yell at me. I’ve tried analyzing it without much success (and dear Mr. Willems is no longer around to offer ideas). I doubt I’ll ever figure it out. It just seems to be one of the common recurrences of my life.
Fortunately, so are cupcakes.