Smiling, I watched as two kids around the age of seven happily grabbed pieces of the chocolate cake we were trying to unload. I worked in the free sample corner of a California grocery store. Usually my job involved cooking food for this purpose, but whenever we over-ordered a product, it conveniently became that day’s sample. The customers got to try something new and we got rid of our excess goods. Win-win.

The children had run away down an aisle toward the back of the store, presumably in the direction of their legal guardian. I was not yet a mother at the time, but the way people let their little ones run wild in public had always perplexed me. Weren’t they worried about the safety of their offspring? Weren’t they worried about the annoyance of others? Now that I’m a mother, I still don’t understand this lackadaisical approach to childcare, but if you disagree with me we can discuss…wait, what’s that? Oh, sorry. I can’t hear you over the chop-chop-chop of my helicopter parenting. Forgive me.

A woman walked up to my counter with an unpleasant sneer on her face. “What about the kids?” she barked at me. “That was chocolate cake! What about the kids?”

She was obviously angry that I’d given the children sugary food without asking their parents. She was not angry about the fact that the kids were completely without supervision–she was angry at me, the girl who was not allowed to deny anyone a sample, as per the boss’s orders.

If someone stood at the counter eating all of my samples, despite the fact that I got in trouble for an empty tray, I wasn’t allowed to say a thing. When the homeless lady came in daily to eat everything at once (and chug the entire carton of milk supposed to be used as coffee creamer), I had to watch in silence. What this abrasive, snarling soldier in the fight against sugar didn’t realize was that I was not allowed to join her military. I was sugar Switzerland.

But did I say any of this to her? No. Why not? Well, first of all, I needed the job. Arguing with a customer certainly wouldn’t garner me a raise come employee evaluation time. Secondly, I am non-confrontational to a flaw. I don’t like it. It makes my stomach hurt. And last of all, and most importantly, she was being rude. I didn’t deserve to be snapped at because somebody didn’t care enough to make sure their kids weren’t taking candy from strangers.

So what did I do? How did I handle the situation? I’m a bit embarrassed to say because it wasn’t very mature of me. In my defense, I had fifteen years of working customer service jobs with the public under my tired belt, and honestly, my patience with mean people was running on empty. I could still fake sincerity with the best of them, but my years of hoping that people are mostly good at heart were long behind me. My jaded inner Pollyanna was sitting firmly on the steps of her imaginary trailer, chain smoking and hollering ignorant invectives at the neighbors.

My temper in absentia, I did the first passive-aggressive thing that popped into my head. I pretended I didn’t understand her. She had a thick Spanish accent, and the way she was saying “the kids” made it sound like “da keys.” So I went with it.

“The keys? Have you lost your keys? The customer service desk is right over there. If someone has turned in your keys, that’s where they’ll be,” I told her kindly, with a beatific smile plastered pleasantly upon my lying jerk face.

“No! The kids! What about the kids?!” she yelled.

I continued to radiate sweetness and innocence, coupled with a not un-dog-like head turn to let her know that I was confused, yet patiently trying to understand her dilemma. I was here to help.

“Oh no. So…your keys? Did you lose your keys? Well, if you go to the customer service center they can help you find your keys, ma’am.” Still smiling. Apologetic nose crinkle. Blank eyes.

She turned beet red. I could practically see the cartoon steam coming from her ears. “No! The KIDS! The KIDS! The KIDS!” she spluttered at me in fury. Except that because of her accent it came out as: “Da KEYS! Da KEYS! Da KEYS!” So I continued to psychologically poke the crazed woman by acting like I thought she’d lost her keys. Nobody does passive-aggressive like a person working retail. Nobody.

She stormed over to the customer service desk I’d pointed out to her and grabbed a manager. It was Jamie, one of the cooler ones, thank goodness. Her anger really helped my cause, as by the time she dragged him over to my counter she looked completely insane. Meanwhile, I thought about unicorns, emanated rainbows, and adjusted my halo.

“She is so STUPID! She is an IDIOT!” she pointed at me accusingly as I widened my eyes in feigned surprise. I held my hands out at the manager and said, “I’m sorry, Jamie. I thought she lost her keys, but I guess I’m not really understanding what she wants. I was just trying to help.”

“That’s okay. How can I help you, ma’am?” he inquired, turning to her politely.

Behind my manager’s back, I gave her a very different smile from the friendly “eediot” smile I’d been giving as I pretended to not understand for what she was berating me. This smile knew she’d been saying “kids” and not “keys” all along. This smile was shotgun-married to the hardened gleam in my eyes and knew the score. This smile whispered “Fuck you” as it passed you in a crowd and kept walking. It was at that moment she knew I’d been messing with her the whole time, and when she realized she wasn’t going to get me in trouble, she became even more enraged.

Without attempting to further thwart my agenda for the corruption of angelic children via evil chocolate cake, she immediately demanded that he refund her money and take back the bag of groceries she’d purchased. Like some sort of sugar police officer noticing a violation while off-duty, she had actually been walking out of the store when the kids took my samples. Now she stormed over to a register with Jamie for the refund, and then flounced out of the building, loudly announcing that she’d never shop in our store again.

(It never fails to amaze me when irate customers say this, as if the employees will take it as an insult. What we’d really like is a promise. Maybe even a legally binding document stating that you will never, ever come back. Please. Do it for the kids.)

The Chocolate Cake Incident happened in Los Angeles, the land of the body-conscious and health-minded. A few years later, I met the man who would become my husband, and we had a baby. To give our child a backyard in which to play, we moved to Oklahoma, the home of the not-so-body-conscious and not-so-health-minded. Sugar flows freely here. Gravy abounds.

In Oklahoma, nobody screams at me for feeding children chocolate cake. In Oklahoma, I am treated like a hippie freak for eating mostly fruits and vegetables, and not really liking meat or processed foods. I am sometimes appalled on play dates with other kids when their mothers hand them unnatural junk foods, or as I recently witnessed, pull out a bag of marshmallows for them to eat with their Capri Sun high-fructose corn syrup waters.

Because it seems to be everywhere, we try to keep the sugar to a dull roar at home without being weird about it. We figure that if we don’t give our son too much daily sugar, it will be a nice treat when he receives it at school or from his grandparents. I recognize that it is my job as his parent to teach him to eat well so that he won’t become an adult with obesity and poor diet-related health issues. But I’d like to do this without making him feel so deprived he winds up overcompensating for all the desserts he missed once he’s grown up. You know. Moderation.

My husband took our son with him to run an errand at the DMV this weekend. As they waited in line, a kind stranger bought our boy a gumball from a nearby machine. My husband was perturbed by the presumption that it was okay to give someone’s child sugar without asking. When he told me about it, I was bothered more that they gave an unknown child gum, as it was only months ago we could finally start trusting him to not swallow it.

As we discussed this, it occurred to me that we had become the sugar police. We were now the concerned adults whining about giving too much sugar to children. I immediately remembered the time I was on the non-parent side in Los Angeles, and tried to put myself into the shoes of the woman who’d chewed me out for giving chocolate to children six years ago. Was she right? Should I have risked losing my job to take the cake away from the unsupervised kids? Had I unknowingly set the obesity and diabetes wheels in motion for them? Should I have explained that my job required me to give samples away to everyone? Had I been too cruel as I pretended I didn’t understand what she was saying to me?

Nah. That lady was a bitch.

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TAWNI FREELAND played guitar and sang for rock bands in Lawrence, Kansas and Los Angeles before settling down in Tulsa. She is working on her first novel. She has no exotic pets.

89 responses to “Let Them Eat Cake”

  1. danielle says:

    I will always eat cake. And now that I know there aren’t any limits to free samples, there’s no stopping me!

  2. Tanya says:

    This is awesome. Now, eat some awesome feel good cake, and I totally support Angel Food with a few fresh strawberries. Rock on Freebird.

  3. Matt says:

    That lady WAS a bitch, and obviously had an ax to grind completely unrelated to you. Fuck her and the diabetic horse she rode in on.

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      It’s so funny how you learn that as you get older, that when people are mean to you, it almost always has nothing to do with you. I’m a really nice happiness-enabler sort of person, and if she’d expressed her concerns in a kinder manner, she would have gotten nothing but genuine sweetness from me.

      • kristen says:

        Totally! (Re: “almost always has nothing to do with you.”) It’s a realization that’s both relieving and aggravating, in my mind. Can feel like you’re a pinball bouncing to and fro off of other people’s bumpers/issues…

        Re: sugar–such a complex issue. Calls to mind something from just yesterday: I listened as a very pregnant coworker explained how, sometimes, her babe will go relatively long periods w/o shifting noticeably in the womb, which tends to make her nervous. (Is he okay? Still alive?) She’s found, though, that if she chugs a bottle of juice (copious sugar, obviously), child’s movements pick back up immediately. I haven’t been through pregnancy myself, but knowing about sugar crashes and whatnot, I couldn’t help but picture a fetus alternating between periods of sugar-induced mania and post-sugar passed-out-ed-ness. I don’t know.

        p.s. Glad you’ve come to terms w/ your reaction to that meanie-lady from your past. She clearly had a ton of unaddressed, you-unrelated shit.

  4. Gloria says:

    Da keys.


    That’s horrible – and wonderful.

    Yes, the sugar war – it rages. We’ve had this discussion. I’m with you on the “hold back at home because they’ll get outside of the home whether you like it or not” philosophy.

    And, yeah. Gravy is the Oklahoma state beverage. *barfs*

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      I know. Isn’t it terrible? I’m a stinker. But man, I’m just not willing to be anyone’s psychological prison bitch anymore. My twenties are over. You get from me what you give, people.

      So true on the sugar thing. We don’t ever buy cookies or candy for the house because I have a vicious sweet tooth my ass doesn’t really need me to satiate, yet I am blown away by how much sugar the kid still gets at school. He is just barely five, but already complaining to me because the other children get “Lunchables” and cookies in their lunchboxes. (I’m mean because I pack strawberries and oranges instead of giving him potato chips with his sandwich, it turns out. Who knew?) The battle against crappy food starts so early.

      Ohhhhhh-klahoma. Constant gravy. Red meat at every meal. Cheese smothering everything. Fried everything. I don’t know how some of these folks are still walking around, G. I’ve seen people driving trucks with a cheeseburger in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. Seriously. (Also: Constant Gravy will be the name of my country band. Watch for it.)

  5. It’s shit-eating grin, Gloria, not cake-eating grin.

    By the way, ‘sugar Switzerland’?


  6. Nanea says:

    I think of you more as the Sugar Secret Service. Also, I can picture that smile perfectly and it makes me want to high-five you.

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      Sugar Secret Service. Heh. I want that job. Oh, how I DO. And passive-aggressive Scorpio high-five back, sister! (:

  7. Zara says:

    Sugar ain’t got nothing on your sweetness, Tawni! Even when you are being naughty! Lovely story!
    I don’t understand why some parents seem to think that their children are somehow everyone elses responsibilty.. Grrr.
    All I could think of with ‘da keys!’ was Fantasy Island and that little guy shouting: ‘Da plane! Boss! Da plane!”
    I love your stories xx

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      Oooooh! Fantasy Island! Tattoo! I used to LOVE that show when I was a kid. Why can’t Fantasy Island be real? I want to go to Fantasy Island right now. I have so many wishes. Plus, an adult drink in the sunshine sounds really good right now.

      I think YOU are the sweet one, dear Zara. Thank you so much for reading. xoxoxoxoxo.

  8. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    People with too much time on their hands really should find their own problems about which to get their dander up.

    Very funny piece, Tawni, and this line is spot-on “Nobody does passive-aggressive like a person working retail.”

    At our house, we tossed the sugar moderation out of the window this past weekend because of Easter. My kids (not too mention Dad) somehow survived. Then there’s a birthday coming up where I’m not going to not have cake. After that it’s a friends’ birthday. Then, the grandparents visit. Then Halloween and Christmas.

    I think we celebrate moderation sometime in mid-August, though I can’t remember.

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      Oh my goodness…the holiday sugar fest. I never realized before having a child just how much every holiday seems to revolve around the accumulation of sugar. My son still has a full bucket of Halloween and Christmas candy (that I need to throw away because I’m sure it’s all past expiry) and he just got a basket full of Easter candy at school. It seems we can never escape it. Let me know when the moderation celebration happens if you figure it out! And thanks for reading. (:

  9. James D. Irwin says:

    There are many comments I wanted to make, but they’ve been drowned out by the one over-bearing thought in my mind: ‘man, we should get some cake on the way back from campus!’

    When I was a kid a lot of sample givers wouldn’t let kids try samples because they didn’t have disposable incomes. Which is stupid, because nothing shifts cake more than kids begging parents for cake.

    I was brought up fairly well with regards to junk food, although now I live away from home and I’m in charge of my own diet I have little to no self control. Also I’m quite poor and processed food is a lot cheaper than fresh vegetables. Consequently I’ve had fish finger sandwiches for dinner every night for the last week…

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      Wow. You had some mean sample givers where you grew up! Sheesh. I hope you at least got some cake on the way back from campus, as you hoped.

      Fish finger sandwiches for dinner every night? Oh, that breaks my heart. As soon as somebody figures out how to instantaneously, magically send things, I will send a big glass of my favorite freshly-made kale, spinach, carrot, and apple juice your way. xoxo.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        None of those food items sound like processed meat…

        I bought some chocolate instead of cake. I was nearly tempted by donuts. Lord how I love donuts…

        I really like fish finger sandwiches. It started because I was poor, it continues because they taste really good. Seriously, it’s like 20p a meal!

        • Tawni Freeland says:

          I will muller a box of donuts like they killed my father. I can’t be trusted with them. I share your donut lust. I let myself have them twice a year: on my birthday and Mother’s Day. I’d weigh 200 pounds if I consistently kept them around the house.

          Well at least you’re getting your Omega-3s with all the fish. Heart and brain food, right? (:

        • Donuts here come in paper bags of five. I can easily eat five in one go. I have to eat them all on the day or else the sugar melts into the dough and the texture isn’t as good…

          I really wish I had a donut now…

  10. Greg Olear says:

    Well played, Tawni.

    I worked at McDonald’s in high school — a great job, at the time, but that’s another story — and one of the best parts of working there was you could assume the idiot defense if you screwed up. People assume McDonald’s employees are morons, and although none of us were, we all took advantage of the fact.

    In France, we handed out mini peanut butter cups at the book fair. I not only made every kid ask his or her parents for permission, but I also had to make sure they didn’t have peanut allergies. Ah, how times have changed.

    As sugar goes, chocolate cake is pretty tame, no? Not worth getting all huffy about. I mean, they weren’t even her kids!

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      I was completely taken aback by the angry woman. I wasn’t yet in a parental frame of mind, plus, I never realized someone would blame me for the actions of unsupervised children. It really hadn’t even occurred to me to police the cake. It was such a bizarre moment, when I realized why she was yelling at me. Usually people were really happy to see me, the free food lady in the corner, so I was bewildered at first. It was probably entertaining for anyone watching, seeing my smile go stiff and my eyes freeze up when I realized she was pissed. Haha.

      McDonald’s is the king daddy of them all! I would love to hear that story if you’re ever telling it. I worked KFC and Subway, and have awful stories about them both that I will share here eventually too. Fast food is a whole other country. And not one I’d like to ever visit again. *shudders*

      Thanks for reading, Greg. xoxo.

  11. Yeah, they weren’t even her kids. At least you’re just the sugar police of your own child. Nothing annoys me more (well, actually, a lot of things DO annoy me more …) than someone intervening where they don’t really belong.

    Ahhh! I have a little more to say, but I have to log off. I’ll be back! I promise 😉

    • I’m BA-ack! Okay, now onto the most important thing. I do love the way you tell a story, Tawni. So entertaining. I can just see you employing the kindly eediot grin. In fact, I’d mastered that one too as a salesperson in Musicland (ha!). Except I’d also add the wide-eyed slow blink to up the idiot factor. “Nobody does passive-aggressive like a person working retail” — SO true.

      • Tawni Freeland says:

        “the wide-eyed slow blink”

        YES! Exactly. You know just what I’m talking about with my playing dumb/act. I have used this tactic in many situations, both working and social. Glorious thing. And I would love to hear about your days at Musicland. I bet you have some good stories to tell from that experience. (:

        Thank you so much for reading and commenting, dear lady. xoxo.

  12. Jessica Blau says:

    Love this piece! So interesting how in California you were feeling Oklahoma inside and in Oklahoma, you’re feeling very California.

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      Odd, isn’t it? Maybe I should have fried the chocolate cake and dipped it in some gravy for the full Oklahoma experience in California? Ha. Thanks so much for reading.

  13. Amber says:

    I am something of a health nut. My step-son’s favorite dinners at home consist of things like quinoa, curried kale with chickpeas, and homemade tomato sauce over whole wheat pasta. He gets fruits for snacks and loves tea and water.

    You know what I made last night? Cadbury Cream Egg brownies. That’s right. Not a damned healthy thing up in those bad boys. (Except the whole wheat flour and organic eggs, so sue me.)

    We figure we lay the foundation of the healthy pyramid and the treats get to go on top. A healthy dinner is sometimes followed by a sugar bomb of catastrophic proportions. Barring dietary restrictions due to health reasons, I can’t think of a single reason to never, ever, under any circumstances allow a child a piece of cake. Because I really, really, really love cake.

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      Dinner at your house sounds right up my alley! I’m jealous of your curry. I have curry envy. My husband loathes curry, so I never get my beloved Indian food anymore (saag paneer!!!). We have also gotten into kale lately. Good calcium for ladies like me who are allergic to dairy.

      And then sometimes you just have to make Cadbury Cream Egg brownies and that’s all there is to it. I bet they ROCKED. Sounds like you keep the same balance between healthy/treat moderation that we try to apply. Mmmmmm…cake.

  14. amanda says:

    Great read, my dear. “My jaded inner Pollyanna was sitting firmly on the steps of her imaginary trailer, chain smoking…” i am this girl right now! i cannot tell you how many times this week i have thought or said, “i’ve had it!” with the whole of humanity. but then i get to read something that makes me grin, and reminds me that we’re all in it with lotsa other imperfect humans having bad days, and i muddle through. xoxo

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      That inner Pollyanna is pretty schizophrenic, isn’t she? Sometimes she’s in love with the rainbows the crystals make when you hold them up to the window light, and sometimes she just wants to choke a bitch. (:

      Thanks so much for reading, Amanda. xoxo.

  15. pixy says:

    i like this: “This smile whispered “Fuck you” as it passed you in a crowd and kept walking.” that’s a smile i can get on board with.

    i love this. because angry people are hilarious. but mainly because you rock my funny bone!

    can i play the cowbell and triangle in constant gravy?

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      Constant Gravy will ROCK. And yes, of course, you’ve got the triangle and cowbell. Can I please play the skin flute?

      Thank you so much for reading me, you delightful pixy girl. xoxo.

      • pixy says:

        i think we’ll all be playing the skin flute. it could be the hidden track on the album (how do you do those these days with the digital crap?).
        the all-band skin flute tribute.

        i imagine that would be pretty… moany? like dudes trying to sing enya, no?

        you make it easy to read you t-choice! ooox

  16. Amy says:

    Oh man, this made me LAUGH! And nod my head in many places, oh so many places. Mainly because, pre-parenthood, I was all: hey yo, watch your kids! And then post-parenthood, I’m all: hey yo, watch your kids! Helicopter parents, unite!

    Plus, I’ve worked retail. And you are correct: it’s a hell that only those who’ve worked it can appreciate. There should be therapy groups for current and ex-retail workers, and post traumatic retail psychological studies, and write ups in peer reviewed psychiatric journals.

    And I just don’t get people (and here, I’m thinking specifically of a particular kid I run into in the halls each day at school) who think they can out passive aggressive a seasoned passive aggressive. Don’t B.S. and B.S.er, man. I will beat you every time. I wish they’d let me teach a class in passive aggression. Most people simply don’t do it right.

    This one time, Melissa & I were waiting for my car to get oil changed and she wanted candy out of one of those (full of sugar and hideously unsanitary) Skittles machines–you know, you stick a quarter and get a handful of Type 2 diabetic sugar? So I told her I didn’t have any money. And this lady RAN out to her car to get a quarter so my kid could enjoy a grimy sugar rush. And she came back in and I had to tell her I’d lied so I wouldn’t have to buy the candy; I did have a quarter. And then she gave me a lecture on how I shouldn’t lie to my child. And then insisted I take the quarter and buy my child some candy. I bought the candy and then threw it in the trash can, moved to the other side of the waiting room, and refused to acknowledge her presence for the next (incredibly stressful and awkward 2 minutes until they told her her car was ready). I was spitting mad, but so non-confrontational and passive aggressive it was the only way I knew how to handle that situation. That lady was a bitch, too. What is it with bitches and other people’s kids??

    I wrote all that so you’d know: I totally get you, Tawni Freebird. Totally. Get. You. 🙂

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      Helicopter parents unite! *raises fist in solidarity*

      Oh em gee. I can’t believe that awful woman in the waiting room of the oil change place. That is crazy. I would have been furious too! I absolutely love that you spent her quarter, as she insisted, and then dumped the candy in the trash in front of her. Awesome, awesome, awesome. I also can’t believe she had the nerve to lecture you on lying to your kid after she was already being presumptuous and nosy. That’s ridiculous. And weird. I’ve totally used the “Mommy doesn’t have a quarter” lie too. Those candy machines are unsanitary and gross. Or sometimes I just don’t want to stand around while my kid rides a machine that rocks back and forth for sixty seconds. (“The candy has probably been rotting in that dusty machine for three years, we have frozen food in the cart that I need to get home quickly, and MOMMY DOESN’T HAVE A QUARTER. Now walk to the car with me, child!”)

      And yes, retail is a special kind of hell. Those types of jobs are so physically and emotionally draining. I think everyone should be required to work six months of retail or food services in high school as part of their education. One required semester of high school empathy training. Can you imagine how much nicer people would be to employees in stores and restaurants if they truly understood how hard those jobs can be? One of the things that made me know my husband was the man for me was that he always leaves at least a 20% tip for waiters and waitresses, just like I do. (He’s worked those jobs too.) I’m being totally serious. I judge people I’m with by how they treat service industry/retail employees. And I never understand why people are rude to employees with power over their food. People who are rude to fast food and restaurant workers should know that they have ingested a LOT of human saliva. It’s a fact. (:

      Thanks so much for reading, and for the great comment, Amy!! xoxo.

  17. Joe Daly says:

    I enjoyed the hell out of this piece. For a number of reasons.

    First, I totally sympathize with your position, getting pinned deep by an irate customer who, consciously or subconsciously, expects that by virtue of your agreement to take on a customer service position, you are also required to be accountable for their character defects.

    I have also played dumb in such situations, knowingly offering to solve a quite different problem than the one distressing the customer. It never diffuses the situation, but it makes for great storytelling after the fact (see above).

    My girlfriend is fairly conscientious about how much sugar her kids get- usually one sugary treat a day. On one hand, I am in awe of how well this has worked- they love vegetables and fruits, which is a passion I have yet to acquire, well into my 40s.

    On the other hand, because sugar is such an exotic treat, they look forward to sugar with the anticipation most people reserve for major holidays. She’s able to use this enthusiasm as a way to encourage good behavior and penalize less civil incidents.

    I found your tale amusing, relevant, and with the added bonus of revenge and payback themes, I give this two snaps up.

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      Playing dumb is such a great way to deflect assholishness. It drives them crazy and you can’t get in trouble for being stupid. Yay!

      It sounds like your girlfriend handles the sugar thing exactly the way we do, and we have the same vegetable and fruit-loving kid. There must be something to it. People freak out because my son likes broccoli and will eat an avocado for breakfast. (My secret is really simple: never quit feeding them all of those awesome fruits and vegetables we start them off on as babies. Don’t stop giving them all the good real food and switch to processed chemical crud as they get older.)

      Like your girlfriend, we can also still use sugary treats to encourage good behavior or to get our little guy to finish his dinner, unlike parents who give it to their kids all of the time. If you don’t start off with the sugar knob cranked to eleven, it can be a really useful behavior modification tool, we’ve noticed.

      Thank you for my two snaps, Joe. (:

  18. Richard Cox says:

    Tawni Freeland, you’re my hero. You’re so choice.

    I love the quick-witted, fake-nice, “I can’t understand you” bit.

    But even more I love your description of Oklahoma. “Gravy abounds.”


    P.S. Sugar is poison. I saw it on the Internets. Poison, I tell you. If you eat too much of it, you’ll soon be doing the Unskinny Bop.

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      I’m choice? I’m CHOICE. Richard Cox said so. Woo-hoo! *high-fives self*

      Thanks for reading, my favorite Xanadude. But you really must stop mentioning horrible songs from 1990. Now busty animated neon cowgirls dancing to crap music are haunting my brain. Halp! (:

  19. What can I say? We live in a world where we are supposed to be excited by fried kale with sea salt. Yikes.

    I love this line: Oh, sorry. I can’t hear you over the chop-chop-chop of my helicopter parenting. Forgive me.

    You are so forgiven, Tawni. It’s a brave new non sugar, non peanut, non corn syrup world out there… and we have to live in it.

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      Thank you for my helicopter forgiveness, Robin. And for taking the time to read and comment. I really do appreciate it! (:

  20. Becky Palapala says:

    Your method of dealing with these kinds of people is absolutely delicious.

    Delicious like cake.

    I took the retail-bot approach.

    Like a stewardess.

    “I’m sorry, that’s not policy.”

    “I don’t care.”

    “Ma’am, I’d like to help you, but if you don’t calm down, I’m going to have you removed.”

    “I am calm.”

    “Ma’am, was that a threat?” *reach for phone*

    My niece and nephew were, like Joe’s girlfriend’s kids, severely restricted in their access to sugar, among other things. Not just in the form of known, obvious sugary treats like candy and soda, but in not-natural-enough juices, certain breads, and so on.

    SUPER restricted diet.

    I certainly want the best for my children, but there is nothing more pathetic than watching a child beg for cucumbers as if they were skittles and seeing him turned down because they’re “mostly water, not real vegetables.”

    I cannot do this my kids. I could not bear it.

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      Hahahaha. I would have loved to work with you in your retail-bot days. That sounds highly entertaining. “Thank you for flying with Becky Airlines! BUH-bye!” The closest I ever got to retail-bot was when someone would come through my register line to be rung up while ignoring me to yap away on their cellphone. I would remain silent until it was time to instruct them to sign the credit card machine, and then I’d use a flat, robotic voice. If they paid in cash, I’d use the robot voice to count back the change. I figured if they were going to treat me like a machine, I’d go ahead and act like one. Interestingly enough, not one customer ever noticed.

      Good lord. Turning down a child begging for cucumbers is quite possibly the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. Actually, a child begging for cucumbers might be the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. We’ll call it a tie. Poor kiddo! I couldn’t do that either.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        I really should point out, lest my sister march in and see me apparently talking smack in front of all of TNB, those kids would ask for anything to get out of eating a piece of broccoli. It was probably less about the cucumber and more about forcing the broccoli issue.

        However, at 12 and 15 now, these kids did NOT grow to love fruits and vegetables, that I’m aware of.

        I, on the other hand, had a much more sugar-liberal mother (though there were plenty of rules about it), and I loved fruit and–especially–vegetables right out of the gate. In fact, I ate so much broccoli as a kid, I developed an allergy.

        True story.

        To this day, you’ve never seen a person get so stoked about brussels sprouts.

        • Gloria says:

          I frickin’ LOVE brussels sprouts. Mmmm….

          Tolkien and Indigo have never tasted Kool Aid. May not, in fact, even know that such a product exists on the planet. I try really hard not to be too hard core about the sugar thing, though. When they’re in college, I don’t want them to be the kids who are mainlining Kool Aid and eating nothing but Ramen Noodles and Skittles.

        • Tawni Freeland says:

          What you describe is exactly what I’m afraid of doing to my kid. I worry that if I obsess about sugar, I’ll give him food issues. I try to keep the focus on eating healthfully “because our bodies need vitamins and minerals to grow.” I tell him that it’s okay to have occasional treats as long as we eat the healthy foods our bodies need first. Even Cookie Monster sings a song about how “cookies are a sometimes food.” Haha. My parents really handled diet and nutrition perfectly. I was complimenting my mom on this recently. (Hi Mom!) We always had a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and healthy foods around, but we got treats in moderation as well. I never felt deprived. I got to try different vegetables that many of the people I’d later meet had never even eaten. It helped that she is an amazing cook. (Hi again, Mom! Hi from your favorite daughter!)

          Mmmmmmm…brussels sprouts are awesome. Artichokes are my number one vegetable though, always and forever. My mom used to make me artichokes on my birthday every year. Because she’s awesome. (FAVORITE. DAUGHTER.)

          Annnnnd now I’m hungry. Crap.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Brussels sprouts, asparagus (I am blessed with the no-stinky-pee gene), and spinach. God, I love spinach.

          Let’s all get together and eat spinach and brussels sprouts, guys. It’ll be awesome.

        • Gloria says:

          And artichokes – with garlic butter, not mayonnaise (barf).

          I’m for it!

        • Tawni Freeland says:

          I love all of those things. Count me IN!

          You sure know how to party, Becky Palapala. (:

        • Tawni Freeland says:

          Mayonnaise = barf. Agreed. My artichokes must come with LEMON butter. Like half lemon juice. Super lemony lemon goodness.

          I’m going to say lemon one more time now. Lemon.

        • Gloria says:

          She want LEMON!

          Okay, but can we still have all the garlicky goodness, too. Lemon and garlic play well together.

        • pixy says:

          ditto on the mayo, it’s so gross.

          but… for the artichoke thing, escpecially lemony artichoke things… i make this lemon artichoke garlic chicken thighs thing that is AMAZING (with your tj’s frozed artichokes). i love lemony artichokes because they have a delayed sweetness reaction in my mouth.
          that’s a lot of aimless rambling about artichokes.

          in other news, i too love brussels sprouts and asparagus. and i kind of like the asparagus stinky pee; it’s like vegetable gratification.

          tawni, i think we need to have a lemon party. because that would be the most delicious party ever.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Okay, well I only like artichokes in my spinach dip, so you guys can have whatever you want.

        • Gloria says:

          @Pixy – apropos to nothing – when I was breastfeeding (twins), I had to take an herbal supplement called Fenugreek, which increased my milk production. The side effect was that it smelled like maple syrup. Which, I’ll admit, was not unpleasant at all.

        • Gloria says:

          Sorry – it smelled like maple syrup when I peed, which is really the most important part of the story.

          MAPLE SYRUP PEE!!

        • pixy says:

          fenugreek?! i’m going to have to bring that with me when i go on backpacking trips where i might starve or dehydrate. or smuggle some in my girl hole when i make my highly-anticipated debut on “survivor 45 – antartica!” i probably wouldn’t mind drinking my own pee to survive (eating a pee icicle?) if it smelled like maple syrup!

          how DO you breastfeed twins? do they take turns or do you have them attached to a different boob at the same time? talk about isometric arm strengthening exercise!

          babies scare me.

        • Maple syrup pee! Lemon-garlic with artichokes! Breastfeeding twins! This comment thread has it ALL.

          Babies still scare me, pixy. I have a five-year-old son now and I’m so relieved he is no longer a baby. I thought that having one would turn me into one of those people who confidently holds other people’s babies, but so far, I’m still terrified of them. I was so relieved that mine came out weighing 9.5 pounds because he seemed so much less breakable.

          Also: I think Gloria deserves a medal for breastfeeding twins. (Good old “football hold.”) I only lasted six months with a single baby to feed. A single very hungry baby who wanted to eat every single hour and never slept. Oy.

        • pixy says:

          oh tawni, they even scare me as grow’n’ up things. the fact that they’re around for, like, 18 plus years is what scares me.
          i be skeered of commitment. and kids, like dreadlocks, require a hefty commitment.

        • Gloria says:

          Can I have a chest to pin it on, too?

        • pixy says:

          i think medals of that sort come with an automatic boob lift, right? if not, i’m getting the baby making machine tied up and cauterized NOW. 🙂

  21. Yvonne says:

    Oh, Tawni, Tawni, Tawni, how I heart thee!! You and your passive/aggressive retail behavior, haha!! And world-weary Pollyanna, lmao! And you know what I love almost as much as your wonderful stories? Your hi-freakin’-larious friends and their comments! Amy (I’m assuming the Amy I’ve come to know and love from our previous on-line life) always has me in stitches. Stinky pee?? Tears from laughing. OMG, I’m dying over here (in Kentucky, where if it ain’t fried and smothered in extra butter, honey, it ain’t worth eatin’!!) I constantly mumble (often out loud) to myself as I wheel my grocery cart past the cookie/chip/soft drink aisles, “If I don’t buy it, we won’t eat it. If I don’t buy it, we won’t eat it. If I don’t buy it …” People look at me funny. But that’s really nothing new.

    I’ve tried to raise my Cupcake with good food sense. Not that she doesn’t get her fair share of junk, but our motto was “you don’t have to eat it if you really don’t like it, but you can’t say you don’t like it until you give it an honest try” Consequently, she has grown up liking an assortment of fruits and vegetables that most kids will never touch. She would eat asparagus every day. And, in one of my prouder mommy moments, asked for peas (or was it corn?) one morning for breakfast as a wee little thing.

    Let me know when everyone gathers for the artichoke/brussel sprout/asparagus fest. I’m in.

    Oh, and when Constant Gravy convenes … I’m totally playing spoons! Yee-haw, y’all, and pass the buttah!

    • Funny bunch here, yes? I love the comment culture on TNB as much as the writing sometimes. My only complaint is that it really makes me want to head out to cool restaurant/bar for dinner and drinks with everybody, and we all live so darned far away from each other. I will be sure to let you know if the artichoke/asparagus/brussels sprouts/fenugreek party ever happens, though. Sounds like a pretty good time!

      We have the “you have to at least give it a fair try” rule with new foods too. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much. I’ve read that kids have to try new foods many times before they learn to like them, but I don’t want to make him eat things he doesn’t like. I mostly try to lead by example. No fair eating junk food in front of them and then expecting them to want the healthy stuff.

      YOU should be the singer for Constant Gravy who does spoons solos during the bridges of songs. Whaddya say? Will you do it? (:

      • Yvonne says:

        Oh, you are far too kind! I will be honored to sing lead in Gravy and smoke the peeps with my face-melting spoon solos!

  22. Reno Romero says:


    Fucking, Tawni. That is SOOOOOO heeelarious. Screw that asshole! The kids…piss on the kids. Tell the parents to keep a goddamn eye on those little shits. I love what you did. It’s high art. And you nailed it: people in retail can dish it out. You have to. Dealing with the public? Please. Those jerk-offs with their stinkin’ wants and needs? Blech! And blech again! You have to fire back. HAVE TO! Some of the most sickest human moments I ever encountered was some customer (retail, restaurant) who didn’t get their way and bitched and screamed because of it.

    “Your keys?”


    In all the years that I worked in the restaurant biz I got one complaint. ONE. Real quick: some fat redneck was eating ribs and running me like a pig. This asshole needed every fucking thing in the restaurant. I did what he wanted. But then I had enough when he wanted more napkins and more knives. He already had a stack of napkins. What were the knives for? One for every cut? Fine. I gave his ass a stack of napkins a foot thick and fifteen knives even though there was only five people sitting at the table. He looked at me like: “You prick.”

    I smiled a fuck-you-you’re-a-pig smile and flirted with the two-top next to him. My boss just shook his head and smiled.

    “Your keys?”

    YOU, my friend, are awesome. Had I been working with you I would have bowed at your feet and kissed your toes. That’s good eats right there. Chocolate or not.

    • Oh, Reno. You sweet man. I love this comment from you so much that if I could pull it out of my computer I would give it a big squeezy hug and a sloppy kiss.

      “Some of the most sickest human moments I ever encountered was some customer (retail, restaurant) who didn’t get their way and bitched and screamed because of it.”

      I wholeheartedly agree. It can be so disappointing to see adults throwing whiny toddler fits over things that won’t even matter to them in thirty minutes. It’s the pettiness that always does my head in–the complete lack of perspective. There are people dying in wars and starving in the world, but now some fat redneck guy is screaming at me because he got the wrong piece of chicken in his KFC 3-piece meal? Really? (True story. I was seventeen. He made me cry. Over a piece of chicken.)

      When I got a horrendously picky customer, I so badly wanted to remind them that it was one of the thousands of meals they would have in their lives–and that they were picking out food, not a new fucking house. You put it in your mouth, it keeps you alive, you crap it out. Done. Means, meet end. IT’S JUST FOOD. Now stop acting like a spoiled five-year-old child. Another thing I never understand is fully grown people who can’t seem to grasp that you get what you pay for in this world. You can’t get a gourmet meal for fast food prices. If there’s one thing I can’t stand (in any arena), it’s a something-for-nothing-motherfucker. Ugh.

      That story about the guy running you ragged made me mad. I’m so glad your boss had a good sense of humor. That makes everything better, doesn’t it?

      YOU are the awesome one. Thanks so much for reading, and for the great comment, my friend.


  23. Michelle says:

    Apologetic Nose Crinkle = Icing on the Cake

    Love ♥

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Michelle. I am so glad you’re feeling well enough to be reading things again! I hope you continue to feel stronger and better until you are once again in excellent health. xoxoxoxo.

  24. Shelley Hall says:

    Tawni, this was another great story! I could totally picture your sweet smiling face, disguising your real thoughts. The “not un-dog-like head turn” was an excellent touch. What a way to handle that situation…perfect! bwahahahaha

    I never had the “opportunity” to work in any type of food service, but I did work retail for several years. People can be really awful. I also had a boss who was awful. He made me cry on more than one occasion. Because, you know retail isn’t stressful enough. You gotta have a boss who scares you to death too.

    I do NOT miss that!

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      Do you hear the confused dog noise I was making inside my head, too? (:

      Retail and food services are different versions of the same hell. The human impulse to dehumanize other humans is really disturbing. And good lord, save us all from the insecure, condescending “lifers” in positions of management at these jobs who abuse their “power.” Gross.

      Here’s to not working retail! A toast!

  25. angela says:

    i agree: that lady was a total bitch. i HATE it when people don’t talk responsibility for their out-of-control children.

    i also agree about “everything in moderation.” i grew up eating pretty healthy, but we were allowed occasional bad snacks and junk food, and now i still have healthy eating habits. i’ve been reading about folks on the “paleolithic diet” (absolutely NO sugar and carbs) trying to get their kids eat that way too. i dunno. seems extreme.

    anyway, i really enjoyed this Tawni. so many awesome and funny lines!

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      I grew up the same way as you: healthy, but with occasional fun foods. I have thanked my mother for this, actually. My parents did such a good job with our diets and nutrition. I tend to eat very healthfully without really thinking about it–I was raised on mostly real food, so I now crave mostly real food.

      Because we never had potato chips or soda pop around growing up, I never grew to love these foods. My husband, however, grew up with potato chips and Pepsi around the house, and craves these things as an adult. I can honestly say that when I married him, I bought Pepsi and potato chips during grocery shopping for the first time in my entire life. It was a pretty weird realization when I noticed this. What kind of a freak has never bought a bag of potato chips? Haha.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Angela. (:

  26. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    I have no clue what I would have done in your place, but your sudden epiphany of how to navigate it was clever beyond any ability I have. What a scene! I grew up in a house where my mom cooked regularly, fruits and vegetables in their original state were not mysteries (I loved artichokes!), and we had sugar on occasion. As an adult, I’m very grateful to her for the habits she encouraged. I don’t have children, but I do make a point to ask parents first before I announce I have homemade cookies around.

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      You are so kind to call my decision to mess with the customer “clever” rather than just mean. (:

      I grew up in a very similar way. We always had the best variety of vegetables. In addition to the usual suspects, like baked potatoes, broccoli, and carrots, we also got sweet potatoes, spaghetti , butternut and acorn squash, okra, rhubarb, zucchini, and of course, the aforementioned artichokes. Now that I’m a parent, I am absolutely blown away by my mom’s ability to constantly think up new and exciting things to make for dinner. I don’t know how she did it, especially when she was getting her degree (complete with 4.0 semesters) at the same time. Wow. What have I done lately? Ha.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Ronlyn. I really appreciate it.

  27. Tawni, I wish we had worked together somewhere along the line. We would have been the perfect good cop/bad cop duo. The good cop is, of course, the much better role. But based on this essay, you totally deserve it. Your ability to smile guilelessly while twisting the knife while I stood there glowering with a staple gun in my hand would have made so many unbearable shifts glide by. Also, free cake.

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      Oh, Sean. The fun we would have had. I love a good psychological game of good cop/bad cop. Delicious, delicious, delicious.

      Speaking of delicious: Yes… free cake! I saved a lot on groceries working in the free sample/cooking corner of that Trader Joe’s. Fortunately, I was car-less during my first few years in Los Angeles and had to walk 3.5 miles to work every day, and then 3.5 miles home (I just Google mapped it). I might have gained weight if I hadn’t been too poor to afford a car. Heh.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. (:

  28. D.R. Haney says:

    I’ve had a number of service-industry jobs in which I exacted revenge on customers. As a waiter, I once (but only once, as I remember it) spat in food. When I was answering phones, I would place people on hold unnecessarily. That’s generally out of character for me, though. I tend to want to make things right and to give an objection the benefit of the doubt.

    But there are people who go out of their way to make life difficult for those who, for one reason or another, are unable to fight back. Bullies, I mean. I would say, “Fuck them,” except that fucking is in fact a really great thing. No, psychologically at least, they deserve the kind of execution seen in movies directed by Mel Gibson. The bastards. Or bitches, as the case may be.

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      Please forgive me for taking so long to reply, Duke. I just noticed this comment (while cleaning out my email inbox), scatterbrained thing that I am. Ummm… better late than never? Yes?

      I have had enough service-industry jobs that I am 100% confident the person whose food you spat in absolutely had it coming. I haven’t ever spat in anything, mostly because I could never master the fine art of spitting neatly, and usually end up making a mess on myself when I try, but I’ve done the “lick the finger, stick it in the rude customer’s drink” move once or twice. I also passive-aggressively squeezed the holy fuck out of some Subway sandwiches as I put them into to-go bags for rude customers. Once the sandwich is hidden in the bag, one’s hand can really work out some suppressed anger on it. (Enjoy your flattened, mushy sub when you get home, asshole.)

      Phone sales is one of Dante’s Hell levels, of this I am certain. I lasted about a month as a telemarketer. I couldn’t handle people being mean to me all day, and I couldn’t blame them for being mean. And oh, the managers breathing down my neck all day about making my call quota. I get really pissed off by managers who think that because they make fifteen cents more than me an hour, they get to treat me like a mentally deficient eight-year-old. Boost up your flagging ego on someone else, please.

      I think you are totally right about people who are mean (to people who are not allowed to fight back) being bullies. Bullies suck. And yes, no fucking for them. Just the ingestion of saliva. Lots and lots of saliva. (:

  29. Wendy says:

    Love this. I find myself reading your posts and taking notes of things you said that are so witty and clever and by the end, I’ve completely lost count. I really wanted to commiserate about that ridiculous lady at the store, but you turned it around at the end and made me think. And it’s wierd b/c I was just thinking today about how, back when I was childless and would find out that a new baby was going to be arriving into our extended family, the first thing I would think was “Oh crap – one more Christmas present to buy and a new screaming-crying soundtrack for every family event”… and now that I’m about to have a baby, I’m assuming everyone’s thrilled about the introduction of our new little angel into the family. Funny how perspectives change.

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      Wendy! Sorry to take so long to respond to your comment. I let my email box get out of control and missed a few. Anyhow… thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I really appreciate it.

      It is funny how having a kid changes our perspectives. One example for me is children on airplanes. It’s really popular now to bash people with kids or babies on airplanes, and I don’t think it’s cool at all. How in the heck are people with kids supposed to travel, then? I have flown with a child, and it was so stressful, but mostly because I was worried about the other people on the plane hating me, my kid actually did great. I now have the perspective to feel only sympathy for parents traveling with kids, rather than annoyance because of the noise the kids are making.

      Speaking of babies… have you had that little sweet girl yet? Any day now, right? I’m so excited for you! xoxo.

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