“Let your actions always speak for you, but be forever on guard against
the terrible traps of false pride and conceit that can halt your
progress.” – OG MANDINO
I’ve learned the harsh truth of this saying.
As I recall, it was around mid-October and we had just opened a new restaurant. Along the front we had lined up some 20 pumpkins that the young cooking staff had transformed into witches. I was strutting through the restaurant, feeling rather proud, when a peculiar new client invited me to sit down so he could tell me about an amazing cake from his home country that would impress even the most hard-to-please. Sachertorte is a work of art, asserted the stranger, after giving me the gist of how to make the soft chocolate layer cake filled with apricot jam and covered in a decadent chocolate glaze. I offered him a slice of our pineapple upside-down cake for dessert, somewhat abashed.
I resolved that I would try to reproduce the cake later that evening at home. A good hour’s search through cookbooks produced a recipe for this legendary Viennese dessert. My curiosity was piqued and I was ready to boldly venture into the unknown. With all the ingredients on hand, I put a new cassette by Andrea Bocelli in the player, set the oven to 350°F and started to mix the different ingredients together. I followed the recipe to the letter and whipped up the glaze just so. The result excited me; I could hear the employees’ and clients’ exclamations when they learned that this masterpiece was produced by my very own hands.
And they would be even more effusive when I presented it in the beautiful cake dome I would use to transport it to the restaurant the next morning.
I woke up late after staying up to clean the kitchen and left the house in a rush with the cake sitting pretty inside the dome. I had to place it on the roof of my Honda so I could go back and get my keys that I had left in the house. Where had I put those damned keys? I seemed to misplace them every other day, even on normal days. Ten minutes later I found them under a pile of cookbooks. I hurried back to the car, started the ignition and took off for the restaurant, where several customers were already waiting outside, stomping their feet to ward off the cold. I unlocked the door, offering a thousand apologies, and dashed over to the coffee maker to turn it on. I knew the hot beverage had the power to pardon any failing.
It’s when I entered the kitchen, my arms empty, that I suddenly remembered my magnificent Sachertorte! Foolishly I ran back to the car to see if the cake dome was still on the roof of the car.
I spent the next few weeks wondering at what point, at what exact spot, on which incline my glorious cake had been unceremoniously thrown off? Not one day passed while I was at that restaurant when I did not think about that cake on my way to work. I pictured the beautiful cake, splitting in half despite its solid glazed casing. I saw the stunned dome, sliding toward the precipice. I heard the shatter of the glass hitting the pavement, the splatter of the apricot jam and the twitter of the bemused birds as they surveyed the curious pile of dark clumps.
That’s how, in the earlier days, the crows rooted out my boastful spirit. And each time afterwards, when self-satisfaction started to get the better of me, a bird of ill omen would tap me on the nose. The universe has always moved in ways to ensure my desire to please others remains pure, free and selfless.
PS: Almost every day I have a few writerly “contractions” – a sentence, a paragraph, a memory, a complete story that pushes impatiently to come out of me. That’s the case today and this anecdote of my Sachertorte that met a messy ending before it could be admired. A great life lesson!