Bill Long 4/10/07
A Little Taste of Heaven
Those of you who have read my page for a while might recall that early in March 2006 I entered the law school chocolate cake-baking contest and, to my astonishment, placed second. No, there were more than two cakes in that contest; there were ten. Here is the essay. Well, this year the secretaries tried to get me to enter again, but I begged off for two reasons: first, I have officially left the law school (last class in December) and, even though they let me use my office until summer, I am officially "gone." And, second, I didn't think I could do any better than in 2006--and thus I didn't want to embarrass myself. Thus, the idea of the 2007 chocolate cake-baking contest quickly receded from my mind.
Well, I happened to be on campus tonight and went up to my old office to do some work. As I was working away, my mind began to wander. I said to myself, "Wasn't this the day of the law school chocolate cake contest?" I quickly put the thought out of my mind and got back to work. But the thought returned, and each time it returned it did so with a stronger and stronger "pull." Finally, I could stand it no longer. I went out of my office, walked down the darkened corridor (only one faculty member was here with me), and entered the dimly-lit faculty lounge. What I saw made me gasp.
What did I See?
No, I didn't see my colleagues huddled around talking to each other about some arcane legal issue. What I saw were the "remains" of the chocolate-cake contest. Strewn around the room, but "tidily" strewn (after all, these are law professors and secretaries) were paper plates, forks, and partially-eaten pieces of cake. But what really caught my attention was the brightly-lit serving table at the front of the room. On this table stood six partially eaten chocolate cakes. No one had "cleaned them up" from three hours previously. I couldn't believe my good fortune. I felt like Sutter must have felt when coming upon the gold at the Creek that bears his name in CA in 1849. I felt like Cortez' men when they saw the Pacific for the first time. I felt like Howard Carter when he entered the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922. It was as if I had found all the gold doubloons and pieces of eight that Long John Silver used to sing about.
Barely containing my excitement, I retreated to the kitchenette of the faculty lounge to get a fork, a knife and a plate. I decided that I was going to "play judge" for the six cakes that lay alluringly before me, and I had to have the necessary cutlery (what do you call plastic silverware?) to do that. I walked up to the first cake and took a long look at it. It was on a five-inch stand, one of those faux-expensive-glass stands that glitter when the light catches the ridges in the glass just right. Certainly, I thought, the woman who made this cake (and a man would never have put his cake on such a stand; when I got second place, I put my cake in a 9" X 13" pyrex dish) was really trying to catch the "eye" as well as the taste buds of the judge--the inimitable Gerry Frank.
Tasting the Cake
I then moved quickly to the other five cakes, looking them over, reading the brief description that one hopeful person had written, carving out an ample enough section of the cake so I would be able to "judge" it. I thus had six slices of cake on my plate. The slices almost toppled over onto each other and completely filled the plate I used. Then, I sat down to sample the wares. But before I took my first bite I contemplated the scene. Here I was, in the faculty lounge of a distinguished American law school, surrounded not by voices worrying about current issues in criminal law or the nature of Securities and Exchange Commission oversight of investors, but my chocolate cakes. I could imagine in the hushed and faintly lit room the voices of the cake-makers from hours before, but now all was quiet. I looked around at the cakes as I sat down, and I felt I was surrounded by a kingdom of chocolate, beckoning me to try the fare. So I did.
I sampled cake # 1, a simple layer cake, with moist layers and a thick and rich icing. With the presentation and the tastiness, I could easily imagine that this cake might win the blue ribbon. The second cake was a "pyrex-glass-dish" special. Very little of this cake had been sampled, as if the judges had been put off by the simplicity of its presentation and the thinly-applied icing. The cake was doughy; it would not receive my first-place vote. The third cake was like a big chocolate eclair, which I only discovered when I bit into it and managed to get all over me. But since no one was there to know about it, I avoided all embarrassment. I kept eating. One of the remaining three cakes was filled with a peanut-taste, with a little sign warning us of what to expect. The other two cakes were on stands, like cake # 1, and they tasted stunningly good. Since I didn't have any clear indication of which cake was the best, I felt I had to take a second sample from some of them, which I reluctantly did.
As I contemplated my situation, sitting in the lounge with ample pieces of chocolate cake around me, sipping an ice-cold Sierra Mist, trying sample after sample of the cakes that were left there, I began to feel as if life just couldn't get any better. I felt as if I was a king. Then I stood up and looked at myself in the mirror in the lounge, and indeed, I think I looked like a king--like Hans Holbein's portrait of Henry VIII, that is...