Sounds like a Perry Mason title.
A few weeks ago, I got a call from one of my father’s school friends. The family stays in Mumbai, and we have known them for years. However, while there used to be considerable social interaction between the families once upon a time, differing personalities and the lack of an ethical meeting ground has eroded the relationship considerably.
In addition, our financial circumstances have yo-yoed a lot over the years, and our current home [my grandparents’ old and crumbling flat] is hardly conducive to keeping up with the Joneses. It doesn’t bother us that people are shallow enough to decide to maintain a relationship on the basis of such circumstances, but there you go.
Last important factor to know: they are super-miserly. I mean, on a truly, unprecedented, epic level. The man asks for discounts for EVERYTHING. In restaurants, for clothes; you name it, he has asked. To be around in those situations, like I have in the past, causes quite the cringiest experiences of my life.
That’s just the background, and it serves to set up the family for the story I am about to share.
So, the dad [KT] calls me up one fine day, asking whether I would be interested in baking cupcakes for his granddaughter’s birthday. The cupcakes are meant for her class at school, and therefore there needs to be 70 of them.
Now, I have a reputation as a amateur baker. I make the odd cake and pie, and they are very well-received by whoever eats them. KT has “advised” me on many occasions [unsolicited and browbeating advice] that I should get into baked goods supply for smallish functions, etc. Since I bake purely for fun, and I have a home setup that is less than conducive to commercial cooking, and finally I am not trained AT ALL in food production? I have ignored this “advice” for many years.
But then again, I figured it might be a fun, one-off project to bake kiddie cupcakes, and try my hand at decoration. The directive was, at the time, fairly simple: 70 chocolate cupcakes, medium-sized, decorated for kids. I had to cost out the total, and let me know.
Then, he calls back again. He wants 5-6 samples of different flavours, so they can decide on which one they want. And I’m meant to have the samples ready by the next day.
This sent me into a tailspin. Because I had already agreed to the project, I lost my tongue entirely when it came to turning down the sample request. My mind was whirling, as I contemplated flavour combinations and ingredients and logistics and packaging for 6 differently-flavoured cupcakes.
I turned to my mother is abject horror, and she promptly blew up.
She told me to calm down, and to perish any thought of doing the project. Samples be damned, she said. Find a list of bakeries in their area, and send me their numbers. And then, she sent them off to him via Whatsapp. End of story.
There were several considerations that needed to be considered. I can only bake 12 cupcakes at a time. I cannot premake batter, because it gets flat. I can streamline the process, but only if I have a fixed recipe. Making 6 different flavours would entail a lot of tweaking and changing of recipes to suit younger children. Plus, they wouldn’t pick up the cakes; I would have to deliver them. And finally, were they going to pay for the samples? A chest-thumping hell no.
All this went down on a Saturday, midday if I am not mistaken. Sunday was sample delivery day. My mother’s messages had been read, but not acknowledged. So when the phone rang on Monday morning, I knew what was coming.
“You were supposed to get back to me by yesterday!” was the plaintive cry I heard, as I answered the call. “I did,” I replied, very calmly. “I asked mom to Whatsapp you, because I didn’t have that number.” “Oh. Um. We were very busy,” he harrumphed.
Anyway, I proceeded to tell him that he would get a better rate from a professional bakery, since they would be able to pass on economy of scale to him. Additionally, I would be buying ingredients at retail prices, and those would amp up the cost considerably. I deliberately picked these reasons to give him, knowing that the cost factor is dearest to his miserly little soul. And they were.
He couldn’t quite let go of the opportunity to put me in my place quite that easily though. He did agree with my logic, but admitting to it cost him a pang. So he said: “Oh. Ok. I thought you might like to do it.”
Right. Slog for hours over 70 cupcakes that you would expect to be exceptional AND cheap. If I had charged for the samples, would he have ponyed up? Hell no. I would have had to build that into my price of the cupcakes. All in all, it was a reprieve, and I will take the passive aggressive attitude if that is the least I have to endure to escape the work.
But. This situation had ramifications. More on that shortly.