Tuesday, September 15, 2015

In Which Dad Observes a Cake Walk and Becomes Disillusioned with Humanity

Dad and I wanted to get tenderloins for dinner, and since there was a festival nearby featuring our favorite food truck, we decided to go. The problem was, the food truck had never heard of Square, so we had to bring cash. That is a problem because we don't carry cash, or if we do, it's a few dollars and not enough to buy food for four people.

We visited the single ATM in the tiny town where the festival was taking place. It took me almost ten minutes to convince Dad that purchasing things in a business meant that parking in their lot was okay, as long as we were speedy getting our food. He felt we should leave the lot INSTANTLY after buying breakfast food and using the ATM. "Dad," I said, "It is no big deal. There are no parking police. If we left the car here all night, there would be a problem, but we are going in, getting food, and going home. That is QUICK. Under ten minutes, including wait time."

"Not if I see someone I know," he hedged.

"Smile, say hello, keep walking," I said. "When people greet you, they usually don't want a twenty-minute chat. They're here for a festival, remember?"

"Okay..." Dad clearly did not believe me. I would call this rampant narcissism, but he is a pastor and is usually in demand at all times. But this time, I would ditch him and walk home if he decided to do a counseling session next to the tractor pull, I resolved.*

Dad had gotten money from the ATM and promptly used it to buy groceries. This made me concerned because we hadn't bought the tenderloins yet. I envisioned myself walking all the way back to the ATM to take more money out because we'd bought groceries. Who knew how psychic I would turn out to be?

From the first step into the festival, Dad saw someone he knew. From prior experience, I knew that standing there was of no help to me or anyone, because I would only be ignored and the conversation would be longer because I was there, so I kept walking. I got to the food truck and thought, "Yep."

Then I saw someone I knew, so we both said hello and moved on with our lives like normal people do, not like Dad does, because we were not pastors. I kept waiting. Soon I saw Dad, wandering toward me, looking both confused and horrified. I thought either someone had thrown up in front of him (that was how weird he looked) or he had just learned a Startling Truth. Eventually he saw me. Then I went back to the ATM because OF COURSE.

At this point, I had reached the Hangry stage, called The Brother, and nearly broke down into tears on the sidewalk because he'd not been at work all day and I had, yet I still ended up dragging myself to the festival for food because no one gave me any other option. Why did I have to go? I hadn't wanted to go. I resented going. Also I had already forgotten Dad's pin number, and it had only been two minutes. The Brother told me we were even, but this was a lie (and remains so), because he never goes to the festival for food, and I go every year. Clearly The Brother wants me to suffer. I hung up.

Then I called Dad four times trying to get him to tell me his PIN number. When he did, I pulled out more money. $5.00 in ATM fees later, we had enough money for food. We bought it and went home.

During dinner, Dad was abnormally quiet. I figured this was because he knew how close to the edge I was. But I ate and felt better, except for the exhaustion.

"What is it?" Mum asked. Dad just sat there.

"Seriously Dad," The Brother said. "You look weird."

"I was at the festival," Dad began. "And there was this man. He had a microphone. He had very bushy hair and a beard and a mustache that he curled up at the ends. He was wearing shorts and flesh-colored socks."

"Oh yeah," I said. "I saw him."

"He was doing the cake walk," Dad said. "He was talking into the microphone and saying over and over again, "Find your number, I need more dollars! I need more walkers here!" Over and over again. Then he would put on music."

I nodded because this is what cake walks are like. You buy a ticket, stand on a number in a big circle, and walk around to music, like musical chairs. When the music stops, you stop, and if you end up on a number that matches the number of a cake, you win the cake. This has been going on for longer than there have been grocery store bakeries. Longer than bakeries. It has been going on since back when white sugar was too expensive for normal people to buy, so instead you cooked with molasses and whatever bug-infested flour you could scrape out of the bottom of the barrel you kept in your kitchen in between bouts of Typhus and Yellow Fever. You were lucky if you survived to the end of the cake walk without dropping dead of something, because there was no doctor for over 100 miles, and all that doctor had in his kit was a bottle of castor oil and a hacksaw. Also everyone wore petticoats to hand-milk the cows, except the men who were busy killing bears with clubs and hunting knives. **

"These people were walking in a circle," Dad continued. "They kept walking and walking."

Clearly this was bothering Dad for some reason. I did not know why.

"They weren't even smiling!" He exclaimed. "They just wanted cake!"

This was when we all started laughing.

"Nobody was smiling! Not even the children!" Dad said. "I thought, "Have I walked into MORDOR?'"

"Yes," I said.

"I mean, why are you even doing this if it isn't fun?!"

"Because cake," I said. That is my motivation for a lot of things.

Dad just shook his head, because he had Seen Things at the festival and nothing would ever be okay again. In fact, the world had been broken all along and he'd never realized it. For some reason, he'd just walked past all the other cake walks of his life, never noticing the horror.

This is from my new favorite Tumblr, Nihilisa Frank

"You realize this is a metaphor for the human condition," I said. "We all keep walking and walking, hoping we'll get cake, knowing we probably won't, but we keep walking anyway because the chance of getting cake is better than giving up and never having cake at all."

Dad nodded sadly. We collected our plates and took them into the kitchen to load into the dishwasher. There was nothing more to be said.



* Tractor pulls are things that happen. I don't even know why. From an outsider's perspective, it seems to be a method of finding out how manly you are but using a tractor and a BIG measuring tape instead of the other way.

** I actually had a great-great-great grandfather somewhere down the line that killed a bear with nothing but a club and a hunting knife. He also once hurled a hatchet through the air and killed a wolf, which was asleep. That only proved he could throw a hatchet, not that he was a good hunter, because killing a sleeping wolf is not sporting at all, and is a sucky move. Also he was so afraid of his wife finding out that he bought a new rifle that he hid it in the barn from her because they were pacifists and pacifists don't buy guns, even in the 1800's. Even though they kill sleeping wolves for no reason.

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