Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Cake, The Cake

I can’t tell you where it’s going, I can’t tell you whom it’s for. I’ll tell you this: It’s a cake, a three-tiered creation with beautifully crafted designs on each level. It’s for a special birthday, for an incredible person, but you’ll just have to take the call to find out. It wouldn’t be fun if I told you. Just have your cab radio on and be in the vicinity of 3rd Avenue and St. Mark’s Place around 7:30 for a pickup, OK? And don’t ask where it’s going, just take the call.

Thus spoke my friend Steve, who was currently baking healthy desserts each evening at the Ananda East Bakery a few blocks south off St. Mark’s Place in the East Village.

He knew I drove a cab at night and that the company I drove for had a two-way radio system, thus enabling a driver to pick up fares that were phoned in. “Just believe me, it will be a gas, a certain group of people will truly envy you,” Steve said to me that morning on the phone. He went on, “I know that the Ananda East Bakery has an account with your cab company and they’re going to call it in around 7:30, so just be near St. Mark’s Place, OK?”

I then asked Steve, “Why don’t I just come into the bakery and pick up the cake before you need to call it in?”

“Oh no, no, you can’t do that, it’s a secret. The whole thing is a secret and a surprise, so no one outside the bakery is allowed to know.”

On the evening of August 1, 1970, I made sure that my body and my cab were as one and at St. Mark’s Place and 2nd Avenue at 7:15. The call actually came early. “We need a cab to take a birthday cake from the Ananda East Bakery over to Ding Batz Bar in Brooklyn.” I hesitated as I reached for the receiver. Ding Batz was a biker bar all the way out in Bay Ridge. Unless I was willing to work the clubs (and it was still on the early side), I’d have to deadhead it back to the city. Recalling Steve’s excitement inspired me to pull down the hammer on the radio and take the call. The folks at the bakery were amazed that I was just around the corner. As fate would have it, it was my friend Steve who handed me the cake at the counter. The cake was all wrapped up in a box that was well over three feet high.

“Hi man,” I said to my friend, pretending I had never seen him before. “Hey, who’s the lucky person to receive this?”

Steve smiled and replied, “You’ll find out when you get to Ding Batz.” They gave me a twenty, which was generous as the fare was to be somewhere between ten and twelve dollars, and I was not intending to throw the clock with a cake sitting on the front seat. Steve gave me a wink when I picked up the cake.

As I was exiting the bakery a very tall man with a long gray beard escorted me to my cab. He was the head baker and the creator of tonight’s special dessert and wanted to make sure his masterpiece was as safe as possible for the journey across the water to Bay Ridge. He walked step by step with me until I reached the door of the cab. I opened the door, and we both carefully placed the cake between the front seat and the dash; it seemed very secure in that spot. As I was about to take off, the baker, who went by the name of Leon, leaned his tall and thin body though the passenger side window and gave me what could only be described as a short but somewhat spiritual “pep talk.”

“Remember, man, keep away from potholes, try not to turn too quickly, don’t run any red lights, and think positive thoughts about the cake and about everything, you dig what I’m saying to you?” He then nodded his head up and down until I nodded my head back and made eye contact. Making eye contact with Leon was easy as his were as wide as saucers. There was little doubt that Leon was (as they say in Ireland) “with the fairies.”

He took a breath and said, “Now brother, listen to me, man, you’re listening to me, right?”

I widened my eyes as best as I could and replied, “Yes Leon, I’m with you, man, I’m right here sitting in this cab listening to you.”

Leon continued, “When you’re stopped at a red light, take the time to, you know, look at the cake and send some good energy to it, love the cake, brother, love the cake, you dig? That cake is like my child; I worked two days on this beautiful confection and as I did I put as much love into it as possible, so please continue the love, OK? It’s got cardamom icing on it man what other cake ever created had cardamom icing on it? Oh, and another thing, don’t ‘beep, beep’ on your horn as it might send negative vibrations into the cake.

“Yes, Leon,” I replied. “I will love this cake right up to the moment I present it to this mystery birthday boy, I promise.”

Leon was now nodding my way in a very affirmative manner. “One last thing, brother, one last thing, then I let you start on your journey with my cake. What sign are you?”

“Aries with Leo rising,” I quickly replied.

Leon then smiled and said, “Yeah, me too, good thing you’re delivering the cake tonight because around midnight or so your Mars goes into retrograde and I’d never let anyone with an angry planet drive my cake to Brooklyn, you dig what I’m saying, man?” I nodded in the affirmative, and as I turned the key in the ignition, I thought it best not to tell Leon that I had a Gemini moon.

Leon reached into his breast pocket and handed me a joint. “Here’s for the ride, brother, happy trails, and keep that cake from moving around, OK?”

“I’m with you, Leon,” I replied as I gingerly placed the joint in my shirt pocket. I then rolled on through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel enjoying Leon’s gift as ships and the sea life of the East River floated gently above the cab, the cake, and me.

By the time my tires were rolling through Brooklyn, I was in a happy and elevated state. However, I soon became quite obsessed about the identity of this special birthday boy. As the cab and I rolled up 4th Avenue, I began to reflect—what kind of person would celebrate the day of his birth in a biker bar in Bay Ridge? A big important member of Hell’s Angels, perhaps Sonny Barger, who is the most hellish of the Hell’s Angels? No, no, a biker is not going to order a cake from the Ananda East Bakery, where they use all natural and organic ingredients and exotic spices like cardamom. No, this has to be some guy who is kind of a hippie and likes to hang out with bikers. Perhaps he’s a famous writer, Tom Wolfe or maybe Kurt Vonnegut. No, I bet he’s not a writer, maybe some off-beat hip movie star like Peter Fonda. Yes, he did Easy Rider and that was about motorcycles.

I then thought what a dumb move it was for Leon to give me that joint. I’m all alone in the cab, I’m high, I’m getting the munchies, and there are three feet of sweets gently rocking back in the passenger seat.

Perhaps, just perhaps, I’ll pull over and check this out and maybe, just maybe, put a little of that cardamom cream icing on my finger. How would anyone out at Ding Batz even notice a wee bit of missing icing? But then again they might, and a little bit of sweet is surely not worth a broken nose. However, I could see that the box was easy to open, so why didn’t I just pull over, I thought, and take a quick gander at this prized dessert?

Three blocks later I ever so gently pull into a gas station. I locked the cab and went to the men’s room and washed my hands until they were really clean, as I didn't want to leave any dirt on the box, especially on the inside.

I then returned to my cab, opened the passenger side door, and carefully unfolded the top of the box. I was parked under a bright light, and I could easily see the two top layers. It was absolutely stunning, and on each level were beautifully crafted roses, skulls, and teddy bears, and on the top it read “Happy Birthday Jerry.”

I had an instant satori moment right there in a gas station on 4th Avenue and 76th Street in Brooklyn. Steve was right, this was a major deal, and I was to deliver Jerry Garcia’s birthday cake to the man himself.

At this moment in time there were over 8 million people in the Big Apple, and on this tropical August night I was the chosen. Sensing my immense responsibility, I neatly closed the box and drove to Ding Batz.

There were Angels and Harleys everywhere as the cake and I gently traversed our way through the smoky sea of leather and chrome. I entered Ding Batz and announced that I had to deliver this directly to the birthday boy. I was led through more large men wearing leather until I was placed in front of Jerry’s table. They were all smoking joints and throwing back whiskey, and they all smiled when they saw the cake bearer arrive.

“Take it out and put it on the table, my man.” And I (with a little help from two large tattooed individuals) did just that. It was a one of a kind. Multicolored, multidimensional, and in three crafted levels. Leon was truly an artist.

Jerry and his friends were so loaded that they gave me the credit for creating the cake and they all just kept saying, “Out of sight, oh man, it looks too good to eat. Wow, out of sight, man, you know, oh man...”

I took it in and replied, “Oh well, you know, I’m just doing what I can for the universe, you know, wow, I’m so glad you like it. Wow, OK, out of sight, yes.”

It was quite dark and noisy in the back of the bar, and faces seemed to appear and disappear within all the smoke. I was so high and excited that I really couldn’t tell exactly which woolly-headed, bearded individual was Jerry Garcia, but I soon realized he was the one directly in front of me, the one with only four fingers on his right hand wearing a ratty black T-shirt with a pocket.

I soon caught the vibe that it was time for me to make an exit, but before I did Jerry smiled and said, “Hey, man, if we ever run into each other again, just say ‘The cake, the cake,’ OK, you know what I mean? Remember man, ‘The cake, the cake.’”

I nodded and I kept nodding as they stuffed a twenty and a few joints in my breast pocket and said, “See you later,” and off I went driving back into heart of Gotham, with “The cake, the cake” echoing in every ounce of my being.

Two years later I was in attendance at the first Rainbow Gathering in Granby, Colorado, where it snowed on the Fourth of July. We were eating granola, chanting, smoking, flipping out, flipping in, and flipping every which way we could. We all ate together, pooped together, swam together, and all got sick together. Seeing as how we had the runs and were throwing up a lot (although we all knew deep down inside we were healing) my friends and I decided to make an early exit.

We got up at 5:00 am on the last morning and hiked down the mountain to my little blue Volkswagen. Two miles outside of Granby, Colorado, we ran out of gas. It was 6:00 am, and four very dilapidated hippies were stranded in a blue 1963 Volkswagen on a very deserted stretch of road. We lifted up the hood to let any possible passing cars know we needed help. I had a gas can to point at as well, to let our hoped-for rescuer know just what type of aid we needed.

Fifteen frozen minutes later we saw a big white VW van ambling its way down the road. VW vans did very poorly in high altitudes, and this old clunker was going very, very slow. As it approached, we all started jumping up and down and yelling, “Gas, hey man, we’re out of gas.” And just to make sure the driver knew, we all pointed to the gas can. The van drew closer and we all became silent. Driving the van was a young girl who looked like she’d just stepped out of an R. Crumb comic. She must have been sixteen, with big woven braids, freckles, and a mouth full of braces, and sitting next to her, smoking a number was, yes, Jerry Garcia. I told all my friends to be quiet as I had this one in the bag.

As the van drew closer, Jerry rolled down the window, but the car didn’t slow down. “Don’t worry,” I told my friends. “I know just what to say.” I waited until the van was just about passing us and I yelled in a most audible fashion, “Jerry...the cake...the cake...the cake...the cake.” He smiled and flashed a peace sign and rolled on down the road.

A few cars later we were given enough gas to make it to Granby. We pulled into the parking lot and sure enough, I once again ran into Jerry Garcia. I made eye contact and said, “Jerry, didn’t you see us stranded by the side of the road a few miles back?”

“Yeah,” Jerry replied, “you guys were shouting something about a cake. I thought you might be a little dangerous or just too stoned to stop for.”

“Oh, no,” I replied, “I was the guy who brought your birthday cake to Ding Batz Bar in Brooklyn three years ago. Remember, man, ‘the cake, the cake’?”

After a few seconds of silence he replied, “I don’t think I’ve ever been to any place called Ding Batz. Hey man, I got to split, stay loose.”

As rock icon Jerry Garcia disappeared into a throng of devotees, I envisioned myself back in that gas station in Bay Ridge slowly eating all the skull rosettes and teddy bears off Jerry’s cake and enjoying every minute of it. “Someday,” I thought, “he’ll remember, and if not, I can always remember for him.”