By Marla Seidell
I must confess that I despise Valentine’s Day with all my heart. Like Christmas and Halloween—crack for children, and a major nuisance for adults. As a child I adored the giving and receiving of valentines. There was a balance between the sexes. Even though the cards from the cute boys contained no special messages, just their scrawl of a signature, they filled me with happiness. But come adulthood my feelings about this holiday have gone from dismay to jaded, owing to an extremely large pound cake I made for a guy in 1998.
I was living in Washington, DC at the time, fresh out of college and living in a group house with eight other housemates. I was dating a Polish fellow named Micha, or something like that. Short, sexy and dirty blond, Micha was straight from Poland, a graduate student at American University. We met at a party at my house, where due to my Puerto Rican roommate’s efforts we were all doing the merengue. We met on the dance floor and he whisked me off my feet. He wore a button-down shirt that exposed a bit of chest hair. Soon after the party he called me, and voila—we started dating, or something like it. I didn’t see him very often—mostly we went to parties in large groups, where in between mingling we met on the dance floor. After three weeks of this tentative tango he invited me over for Valentine’s Day dinner. I was as excited as the little girl receiving a card from the cute guy. He liked me!
In anticipation of the big night, I decided to bake. My roommate baked heart-shaped cookies for his date, and cooked her dinner. Being overly ambitious I decided on a pound cake. I even bought a new Bundt-cake pan. I used a Molly Katzen recipe that called for four sticks of butter. At some point between the butter and enormous pan I realized I was in over my head. Yet I was determined to see the outcome, which turned out to be a heavy and enormous cake. I had grown up eating the small rectangular Sara Lee version, so I had no idea the real deal was a bowling ball. I packed my small child of a cake into a plastic bag and heaved it in a cab to take over to Micha’s house.
When I arrived, Micha greeted me at the door with an oddly perfunctory kiss, and I handed him the monstrous cake, which he placed on the counter. When he moved I could see we weren’t alone—his roommate, a tall blond guy from Atlanta with a slow Southern drawl, was seated at the table set for dinner, smiling at me. “You midwestern girls, wow, baking a pound cake from scratch,” he said, while Micha didn’t say two words about it. Hopes for an intimate tête-à-tête dashed, I took my seat at the table. The meal was nothing special—fake pierogis made with tortillas and mashed potatoes and a salad. We skipped desert and prepared to go out on the town. While his roommate was getting spruced up in his room, Micha delivered the preview to a breakup. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he said. What had I done? The enormous cake was pressuring him, that was what! I should have made simple, heart-shaped cookies like everyone else!
I remember tears, and then the three of us going out to some club with Micha’s rich European friends. When the night was over Micha and I shared a bus ride home. I got out at Garfield Avenue and he stayed on, peering at me from the window of the bus. I stood on the corner, watching the bus lurch into the darkness. I never saw the guy or my cake plate again.