Nagging questions: MacArthur Park

Someone left the cake out in the rain.
I don’t think that I can take it, ’cause it took so long to bake it,
and I’ll never have that recipe again. Oh, no!
from the 1968 hit song MacArthur Park

macarthur-parkThere are many questions in life, some big, some not so big. Big questions: Does God exist and does life have meaning and purpose? I think my Christian faith provides satisfying answers, but not everyone agrees. Small questions: What is the woman in Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa smiling about? Why are drive-up ATM machines labeled in braille?

Then there are those nagging questions posed by popular music. Where have all the flowers gone? What kind of fool am I? And a particularly big one in my life right now, Who let the dogs out?

For over forty years, Richard Harris’ voice has been playing in my head as I have desperately tried to figure out who left that cake out in the rain, and why?

A cake standing alone in a rain-swept, urban park has all the hallmarks of an alien abduction. Since cows are unique to the planet earth, it stands to reason that aliens from any other planet in the universe would be lactose intolerant. It makes perfect sense, from an alien perspective, to snatch a group of birthday celebrants and leave a delicious cake behind. Picnic baskets, paper plates, even party favors would have all been beamed up for careful analysis by alien anthropologists. Everything but dessert. To alien digestive systems, a double-fudge cake could mean instant death.

While alien abduction offers a plausible explanation, snatching a whole family from a Los Angeles park in broad daylight would be an uncharacteristically risky move for aliens. What if this cake was knowingly and deliberately left out in the rain by the very hands that took so long to bake it? What would that tell us?

As the song-writer reminds us, baking a cake is no quick and simple task. It’s a labor of love. No self-respecting cake baker would leave a truly great cake out in the rain. It just isn’t done. Which may give us a clue. Perhaps a tried and true cake recipe somehow turned into an inedible disaster. Maybe salt was accidentally substituted for sugar. Perhaps those awful carob chips were substituted for chocolate. Whatever the cause, like so many things in life, this may have been a cake that looked delicious to the eyes, but was bitter on the tongue.

If the cake was a bust and was abandoned to whatever unsuspecting stranger happened along, the singer’s agonizing decision not to eat a recipe he would never have again turns out to be a blessing in disguise, though for all the wrong reasons. The balladeer may have dodged a bullet on this one.

But if this cake was as delicious (and, no doubt moist) as the singer believes, if this cake was expertly baked and lovingly decorated, we have to wonder at the stunning carelessness with which it was handled.

Back in the sixties, everyone had Tupperware Cake Takers. Even if you weren’t hip enough to be invited to a Tupperware party, you could pick one up for a song at any yard sale. It is the height of irresponsibility to put so much love and effort into baking a fine cake, only to fail to protect it from inclement weather. It’s rather shocking, frankly, to consider such callous indifference towards baked goods, not to mention such a reckless disregard for the power of Mother Nature. That famous Tupperware burp seals freshness in, torrential downpours out.

How could a caring chef create such a beautiful thing as a cake, only to abandon it to the cold rains of November? It’s simply unthinkable.

Was this a fiberglass cake, just a movie prop left behind by some struggling, Los Angeles filmmaker shooting a documentary on obesity in America? Was it a lure, cleverly planted by the police to nab a juvenile cake-stealing ring? Was there really no cake at all, but a trick of the mind that fooled a hungry stranger hurrying through the downpour?

There are a great many questions in life, and so few answers. The mystery of MacArthur Park continues. I feel as if I have been pressed in love’s hot, fevered iron like a striped pair of pants. Oh, no!

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  1. “pressed in love’s hot, fevered iron like a striped pair of pants…” ?? Wow.

    Another unsolved mystery for you is found in this song:

    “I am,” I said

    To no one there

    And no one heard at all

    Not even the chair.

    Does Neil Diamond normally talk to his chair? And how would he even know whether or not the chair was listening?

    Thanks, Charlie, for the good work on the MacArthur Park mystery.

  2. Yes, “not even the chair” is a classic lame pop music rhyme. Diamond needed to spend a little more time with his thesaurus. With just a little more work, his lament could have floated into the air, instead of bouncing off the chair. 🙂

    Does the image of love pressing me like a hot iron on a striped pair of pants make me more likely to fall in love, or to run off and join a monastic order?

    Maybe there should be a law against using metaphors and rhymes without a license?

  3. You can’t learn to ride a bike unless you actually have a bike. Similarly, you can’t make a point without examples. Most people online are looking for “show me” rather than some out of the blue, unbacked information (or claim). I consider blog entries such as this one a souvenir, something you can take home and use it in a real conversation or small talk even.

    In this particular case I would like to think that all food is a piece of art and cakes, well, a type of neoclassicism.