Essays: “I Was Told There’d Be Cake” by Sloane Crosley

After the interminable time-suck that was Great Expectations, I needed something short, sweet, easy-to-understand, and above all, funny to read next. And since this year I have made myself promise that I am only reading books I own and not a) buying any more or b) borrowing them from the library because I have so many books [note: I have broken that Promise A twice in the past 48 hours], I found this title hiding underneath a bunch of Bad Romance Novels and Dick Francis titles in my little bookcase.

I can’t remember how I heard of Sloane Crosley. I think I was reading one of the many Entertainment Weeklys that Johnny used to give me and they had reviewed her second book, How Did You Get This Number, and I, being both the Masochist and the Completist that readers over on Movies Alaina’s Never Seen have come to know and both love to hate and hate to love, decided to find her first title and read that before reading the second, because obviously, essays have sequels?

So anyway, like so many other books I own (I swear, one of these days I’m going to post pictures of the two bookcases in my room, plus the three tubs of books I’ve got scattered throughout the house so y’all understand), I bought it and then promptly forgot about it. Until three days ago, when I picked it up and then promptly blazed through it in good ol’ Alaina fashion.

Three days! I finished this book in three days! Huzzah! (and there was much rejoicing.)

I Was Told There’d Be Cake is fifteen essays by a twenty-something New Yorker about random things, ranging in topics from moving into a new apartment (and getting locked out of said apartment), being a pescetarian, and her tenure volunteering for the buttefly exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. There are also stories from her childhood, including summer camp and when she found out her mother had a first husband.

But the three essays that really hit home with me are, in no particular order: “Bring-Your-Machete-To-Work-Day,” “You On a Stick,” and “Bastard Out of Winchester.”

“Bring-Your-Machete-To-Work-Day” is, in essence, an ode to the Oregon Trail. Yes, the Oregon Trail — the game we all grew up with in grade school. Ms. Crosley discusses the game’s ability to suck us in on a long journey when we’re really not going anywhere. She enjoyed the game thoroughly as a young teen; not because it taught her about the hardships our settlers experienced on their journey to the Pacific coast, but because she used the game to work out some of her rage issues.

I would load up the wagon with people I loathed, like my math teacher. Then I would intentionally lose the game, starving her or fording a river when I knew she was weak. The program would attempt an intervention, informing me that I had enough buffalo carcass for one day. One more lifeless caribou would make the wagon too heavy, endangering the lives of those inside. Really now? Then how about three more? How about four? Nothing could stop this huntress of the diminutive plains. It was time to level the playing field between me and the woman who called my differential equations “nonsensical” in front of fifteen other teenagers. Eventually a message would pop up in the middle of the screen, framed in a neat box: MRS. ROSS HAS DIED OF DYSENTERY. This filled me with glee. [55-56]

WHY DIDN’T I EVER THINK OF THAT?! Think how many times I could have killed Tiffany Smith from sixth grade…

“You On a Stick” is the tale of when she accidentally got roped into being her old high school friend’s Maid of Honor. I have been in a couple of weddings, and I have to say that none of them were as bad as her experience. Essentially, she goes through the first eight months or so of the year-long process not realizing that she was named as the bride’s maid of honor. Essentially, this essay is gives oblique advice to brides: namely, let your friends know if they are a maid of honor or a bridesmaid. The distinction is important. And just because you’re not screaming at the top of your lungs and cursing doesn’t mean you’re not a Bridezilla. Actually, what this essay reminded me of was when my sister was a bridesmaid for one of her friends. It sounds exactly like when my sister was a bridesmaid.

Finally, “Bastard out of Westchester” talks about her name and her identity growing up. WIth the first name of “Sloane,” she was teased a lot about Ferris Bueller and the Sloane Ranger. With a first name of Alaina, I didn’t have a lot of pop culture references, but I did have a lot of mispronunciations. Alana, Elena, Eleanor one time — I’ve heard ’em all. One day, Sloane asked her mother where the name came from, and she learned it was from an old black-and-white movie called Diamond Rock. She eventually watched it and was sad that the character “Sloane” wasn’t as awesome as she had made it out to be.

The story of my name (abridged):
One night, years and years ago (I think I was about … twelve? fifteen?) and I was helping my dad pack up a bookcase — we were about to do a remodel in the living room. And in the bookcase were a lot of my mother’s old romance novels. At that time, I had an … interesting relationship with romance novels. At that age, they weren’t really something I was allowed to read, so I ended up sneaking them to read the “good parts.” (Which is probably why I’m so messed up romantically right now.) But I was also jaded enough at that young age to recognize that love never actually happened like it did in romance novels (thanks, stupid Junior High and High School Valentine’s Day carnation sales, for making me feel completely unliked throughout February every year), so I also didn’t really like reading them.

So as Dad and I were packing up the books, I was reading the backs of them, trying to figure out why these plots were so intriguing to women. And then, on the back of one of those books, I read my name.

I dropped the book. “Dad? Is this where Mom got my name?”

He wasn’t paying attention. “Go ask your mother.”

I immediately ran downstairs to the basement, where Mom was working on her stained glass. “Mom! Was I named out of a romance novel?”

“Huh?”

“MOOOOOMMM!”

Turns out she was reading the book while pregnant with me, and she liked the name, and hence, Alaina was born. Literally. In both senses of the word.

I am not naming this book here, because — I can’t remember how we got onto the subject, but one of my former coworkers and I were talking about names and I mentioned that I was named after a character in a romance novel, and he wanted to know what book, and I said, “You’re gonna have to figure it out!” and he replied, “Challenge accepted!” And interestingly enough, it was not Brad. I don’t think he even knows that I was named after a romance character. So, to aid in your search, Former Coworker: written 1982 or prior; romance novel with a character named Alaina. GO.

Also, ever since, whenever I find a copy of that book, I buy it. I don’t know why, because I’m not planning on reading it any time soon. I imagine two things: I want to have a copy of every edition it was ever published, and see the progression of different covers they’ve put on there; and two, that that book will be my version of Desmond Hume’s Our Mutual Friend: it will be the last book I read before I die. Because I’m not sure I feel comfortable reading about a Yankee Alaina who cross-dressed as a soldier in the Civil War having sex.

Oh: Civil War cross-dressing. GO.

Grade for I Was Told There’d Be Cake: 4 stars

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