Arne Torneck

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July 16, 2005

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My daughter had a birthday on July 13. Buying Erin a gift is always a challenge (so tasteful and wel considered is her own gift giving), so I usually begin thinking about possibilities well in advance. This year though, with but a week to go, I hadn’t come up with any ideas. “What would you like for your birthday?” I said. Her wry reply: “Something expensive.”

At the eleventh hour it struck me. Erin had completed a few years of chef’s training at George Brown College some years back, when she changed direction and began working in the film industry. Work there eventually dried up and she resumed her chef’s training, specializing in baking this time around. During the past year, she often stopped by on her way home from her Sunday class to drop off some cakes or cookies, tortes or breads, whatever sweet smelling delight had risen in the George Brown ovens that day. So many calories and carbs in fact, I had to share the stuff with my neighbours – her goodies acquired a reputation up and down the block. Often she’d ask me to take a picture of something she brought me, and I’d put it on an old ceramic cake stand I inherited from my mother and snap off a shot. So, when the idea for a cake stand as a birthday present occurred to me, it seemed a natural choice.

With scant time remaining, I set out to buy a cake stand, not an easy task as it turned out unless I wanted to go to Ashley’s or some such place and spend a lot of money (the most basic new ones start at a hundred dollars and rise abruptly from there). So I decided to try the flea markets and second hand shops. After a hot and lengthy hunt (the temperature was nudging 40 degrees), the only possibilities were a few kitschy glass ones, the kind you win at Bingo or in the games at the fairs. There remained one place I hadn’t tried, a huge emporium where I’d had some success in the past tracking down things I was specifically looking for. I motored to it, thinking that if I had no luck there I’d abandon the search and go to …choke! … Ashley’s. “Got any cake stands?” I said to the man inside.

“Well, actually I have got one,” he said, and he took me to it. “But you can’t have it today.” He explained that a set decorator from a production company had rented a number of props for a film shoot and would gather them up later in the day. The cake stand was among the selected items. “You can pick it up in a week,” he said. “I’ll call you when it gets back.” It was a beautiful piece: a footed white ceramic plate with a raised fluted rim, hand-painted in over glazeand gold lustre. The pottery mark revealed it to have been crafted in France. I grew quickly fond of it. It possessed a compelling charm (the history of its usage through the years seemed palpable) and my affection for it grew as I anticipated Erin’s reaction to receiving it, belatedly though it would be.

The owner of the second hand shop phoned me on the day I was to pick up the cake stand, saying that he had some bad news for me: the film shoot had not gone off as scheduled and the production company had decided to purchase the cake stand outright. I don’t want to make this entry a diatribe, venting the bad feelings I experienced when the man went back on his word, that kind of writing serves no purpose. But, I will say this:I believe that his excuse was disingenuous (a number of signs, not relevant to the essence of what I am moving towards in this piece, anticipated the disappointing result).

And what is it that I am moving towards by writing this? My anger was not insubstantial, and it grew as the minutes after the phone call passed. I’d refrained from telling the man what I thought of what he had done. What purpose would that have served? The cake stand was gone. And yet my anger mounted. Inordinately so! I knew that I was in for a good long internal fight, and I braced myself for it. This was an opportunity to dig deep and acknowledge the mounting rage, experience it, and bear its effect; find out what this tad of an event really symbolized. I had enough experience with my anger to know that it had little to do with the man in the second hand store. What was its source, then? It was to plumb that depth that I came hastily to write this.