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An excerpt from
"They Ate My Cake"
Cliff Simon


For info on the book,


Madonna twice. Her cake, that is. The first time was in the early eighties. I didn't even know who Madonna was. I wasn't as hip then as I am now (For example, I'd always heard the phrase, Heavy Meddle, but I thought they were talking about an overweight yente). So when her people ordered the cake, I tried to have it evoke the essence of her name. Madonna. Madonna. And I'll tell you, even though I'm Jewish, I made for her the most tasteful, confirmation cake you ever saw.

A few years later, for her Madison Square Garden concert, I painted the famous Herb Ritts photograph of her on a chocolate cake. I was delivering it to her dressing room when a woman introduces herself as Madonna's assistant. As there are about a hundred and twenty eight other assistants milling about the room, I'm thinking, "Maybe this one washes Madonna's bustier. You know, it's possible!" Then she asks me if the cake is vegetarian. Now, I might be missing something here, but how many chocolate filet mignon cakes have you had lately? I said, "Well, it doesn't have any meat in it." That seemed to answer her question. She thanked me, I gave her my business card (network, network) and as I am arranging the cake on a table, this itsy-bitsy skinny little thing enters the room screaming like big momma. At once, everyone stands at attention. I've never seen that many people freeze except when I saw Jurrasic Park. It was her. Ma-ma-ma-ma-Madonna. She was having a fit about the air conditioning system, and I'm on my hands and knees with my arms wrapped around my cake protecting it, because she was like Godzilla in Tokyo, knocking down buildings because they were in the way. I thought any minute she might just haul off and punch my cake, masochistic as that might be, considering she'd be smashing her own face.

But she didn't even look at it. I mean, not a glance. Doesn't she know how hard I worked on that thing, and that I don't even have air conditioning in my kitchen where it's 120 degrees and I'm there painting her face and spritzing?

Nooooo. Madonna doesn't think about Cliff. Madonna just thinks about Madonna. I thought that cake was going to be a life altering experience for her, but I don't even know if she ever looked at it.

Then sometimes, I get the people who can't stop looking, like when I did a wedding cake for a couple who had each been married once before. They wanted something different. They thought it would be a dandy idea to have both of their portraits on top of their cake. Who was I to argue? I paint cakes, I am not an expressive aesthete. So I gave them what they wanted (It's my gift. I always give people what they want. Some see this as wimpy behavior. But last week my therapist told me it's a strength of mine. Then she asked for her check.).

The cake was very nice, such as it was. I myself was at the wedding (in disguise, not wearing an apron). The bride's ten year old, hyperactive, somewhat precocious and manic little girl attended. She reminded me of me as a kid, except for the dress. So I took her under my wing, and tried to calm her down. I escorted her to my cake, thinking a point of focus will help this urchinette. She stared at it, and suddenly, it was like this enormous light bulb went off in her head. She had found her purpose, and she repeated it over and over again. Wherever she went that night, she said it. Buddhists say ohm (or do I mean electricians?), but she kept saying "I want to eat mommy's eye. I want to eat mommy's eye." In between courses at dinner, we all heard it filtering through the wedding chatter. "I want to eat mommy's eye." And when finally it was time to cut the cake, there was no way on earth to refuse her her wish. And I can still see her, clear as day, holding that retinal piece of cake up to her mouth, with absolute relish and reckless abandon. But why? Why did it mean so much to her? Why did that kid want to do something like that?

Eye just don't know.


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For info on the book,
Cliff Simon