Pastry and cosmic balance

Tales from the Lardbutt Peloton, May 25, 2006

Tonight, a crabby old lady in Alexandria is eating a fancy pastry that looks like it was hurled from a catapult, wondering where it all went wrong.

One of the nice things about our regular Sunday group ride is pulling up to the pastry shoppe and getting a sweet and a cup of coffee. If it is a nice day, a table on the sidewalk is the preferred place to linger over a muffin and conversation or to just sit back and watch people come and go.

We’ve been showing up regularly at the pastry shoppe for several years now, and the young ladies behind the counter treat us well. A friendly greeting, a refill on the coffee, and the occasional free treat lets us know that our patronage is appreciated. In fact, the service is usually so friendly and so well-meaning that you’d feel like a total heel if you ever complained about anything.

I got out for a quick solo ride this Sunday and, naturally, I ended my jaunt with a stop at the pastry shoppe. After purchasing a muffin and a large decaf, I installed myself at a sidewalk table, sipped my coffee and watched the people come and go. The shoppe was very busy this particular Sunday: a dad with a young girl, two older couples just back from church, a well-dressed woman picking up a cake.

I was about half way through my muffin when an older luxury automobile – a light blue four-door Lincoln Continental, a vehicle about the size of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz – careened into the shopping center parking lot and lurched to a stop in the handicap parking spot located just across the sidewalk from my table. The car door swung open and out stepped a rather formidable-looking older woman. Probably somewhere in her early 80s, Miss Daisy sported a sour expression on her face that suggested a lifetime of chronic constipation. She marched past my table and through the door of the Pastry Shoppe, taking time to shoot me and my bike a scowl as she walked by.

Watching through the window from my sidewalk table, it was plain to see that Miss Daisy was not enjoying the experience of having to take her place in line and wait to be helped. As we all know from years of experience, the process of purchasing a treat or some coffee at the pastry shoppe can often be a complicated affair, especially where children are involved. Some customers experience dessert overload and have difficulty sorting through the many permutations of sweets that are available. Is it better to go with the plain raspberry versus the raspberry-cheese or the raspberry-chocolate croissant? The muffins are nice…what kind of bagels do you have? Are the sticky buns fresh?

By the time that her turn finally came up, Miss Daisy was seemingly bent on releasing her pent-up impatience at having to wait in line by giving the young lady behind the counter a very hard time. Miss Daisy frog-walked the young miss up and down the counter as she selected a large number of fancy pastries – tortes, mousses, and fruit confections – all the time snapping at the poor girl. Given the treatment that she was receiving at the hands of Miss Daisy, the young lady would have been fully justified either bursting into tears or hurling a chocolate-dipped macaroon at the old woman’s head. The young lady, to her infinite credit, retained her composure.

After what seemed like an eternity, Miss Daisy filled two bulky cake boxes full of fragile treats. Money was exchanged and the young woman behind the counter extended one final courtesy to Miss Daisy.

“Would you like some help carrying that out to your car?”

“No,” snarled Miss Daisy, “you’ve been much too helpful already.”

Purchases in hand, Miss Daisy steamed out the door, past my table, and out to her behemoth Lincoln. She set the two boxes on the trunk of the car and fiddled through her purse looking for the keys. Miss Daisy always puts her groceries in the trunk of her Lincoln, never on the seats: it keeps the interior nice. Unable to immediately find the key to open the trunk, Miss Daisy opened the driver’s side door, perhaps smugly remembering that her Lincoln is equipped with virtually every convenience feature known to Detroit, including an electric trunk latch that unlocks and lifts the trunk lid.

Miss Daisy hit the button, unlocking the trunk - it popped open like a jack-in-the-box, catapulting the two boxes of fragile pastries onto the asphalt. Miss Daisy then uttered a very, very bad word to no one in particular. Picking up the boxes, she dumped them unceremoniously into the trunk, got behind the wheel of the Lincoln, and screeched out of the parking lot.

I can truly say that the best part of the morning ride was heading inside to get a refill of coffee and to tell the young ladies behind the counter what had just happened to Miss Daisy out in the parking lot. They were nice enough (and perhaps wise enough) to express a polite amount of concern, but you could tell from the barely suppressed grins behind the counter that their only regret was that they hadn’t actually seen the éclairs and petit-fours go soaring through the air.

I got back on my bike, free refill of coffee in my hand, and headed for home. Rolling through the neighbourhood, I had a little time to think about what had just happened. Yes, you could go round and round trying to some up with some sort of an explanation for what had just occurred. Was it merely a random event, a happy-yet-arbitrary incident from which we shouldn’t draw any deep conclusions about the way in which the heavens are ordered, or does the Universe really care enough to issue harsh correctives to bad-tempered old ladies?

And if one’s thinking tends toward the conclusion that there was a direct cause and effect relationship between Miss Daisy’s petulance and the demise of her pastries, then you certainly had to stand in awe of the swiftness and the sureness with which the Universe had dispensed its Extreme Crabbiness Smackdown. Plenty of irritable people go about their lives spewing nastiness at all and sundry without any visible evidence of being on the receiving end of a well-deserved cosmic comeuppance. Yet on this day the Fates chose to flick Miss Daisy like a booger, an obvious warning to other grumpy or nasty souls to please take their complaints somewhere else.

I glided into the driveway of my house, sipping my free refill of coffee as I opened the shed and put away my bike. People have been struggling to sort out those sorts of questions for thousands of years; the answers that we come up with shape the fundamental way in which we assess and react to events around us. World religions have risen and fallen on questions of lesser gravity. I certainly wasn’t about to find the answer in the rather short mile between the pastry shoppe and my house.

However, there is one sure thing that I was able to come up with during that mile on my bike. It is this: I don’t think that I’ll be complaining about the service at the pastry shoppe any time soon.

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