I am sometimes a rather paranoid being. It is just a quirk. So, earlier in the week when a dear friend of mine sent around a picture of her new puppy that had the file name of the name I secretly reserved for my first born daughter, I freaked out. Like George Costanza on Seinfeld who rightfully claimed the name “Seven” as exclusively his, I feared that my chosen name was now tainted and ruined. It turned out that I was wrong. That wasn’t the name that my friend was giving the dog. It was the name that the breeder had given the puppy and my friend was giving the puppy a different name. However, this moment and the ensuing freak-out led me to realize that I have been having lots of freak-out related identity issues lately, as some of the things that I have loved for a long time have become increasingly popular.
Take cupcakes for instance. I have loved cupcakes ever since I was in second grade and every friend’s birthday party at the Dreamland Skate Center involved rainbow airbrushed cupcakes from Winn Dixie. Since then, I have had a full on buttercream fixation. So, when the cupcake craze of the early 2000s ensued, I was one of the early people to jump on board, although I will credit the beginning of that craze to the Magnolia Bakery episode of Sex in the City. I think it began with Magnolia Bakery. Some people in LA will argue that it began with Sprinkles, but I think that is highly unlikely, since it is my personal belief that no positive trend or fad ever originates in Southern California. In my time in New York, I found myself scurrying between cupcake bakery destinations all over the city, trying to find the best spot. Because of the wide variety of cupcake offerings, I lamented my visits to other cities that lacked cupcake offerings. But that was back in the day when Magnolia Bakery only had one location. And now, it turns out, cupcakes are ubiquitous in every city in America. I don’t disparage this. Who doesn’t love a cupcake? In fact, I promoted it. I will never forget the day when I decided that I needed to one up everyone in a librarianship class at UW; when it was my turn to bring a “snack” I forked out $100 bucks to bring everyone cupcakes from Trophy Cupcakes. Everyone loved me and that day, many more people became part of the cupcake mania that has swept the nation. But at some time, I felt like my buttercream addiction was part of my identity.
This isn’t the first time that I have claimed a bizarre identity associated with a dessert. I do it all the time. First it was bread pudding. I was all about bread pudding; tasting different varieties, claiming authoritative judgments about texture and sauce choices. Then I was all about creme brulee. I was one of the first of my circle to purchase a mini -blow torch for the sole purpose of having creme brulee when ever I so desired. Now, everyone I know owns one of those things. People are using mini-torches nearly as often as they are consuming cupcakes. Lately, I have moved on to Souffles. These are the most challenging to make and serve and ordering one in a restaurant means that you will have to wait twenty extra minutes to consume your dessert, but the texture is refreshing. Secretly, I am hoping that the difficulty associated with a decent souffle will preclude it from ever becoming too popular.
This is clearly ridiculous. I didn’t invent any of these desserts. I cannot claim ownership of them. And part of the fun of making something sweet and delicious is knowing that other people will enjoy those things. But we all want to stake out parts of our identity that seem unique. And my dessert obsession was one of these things, but by no means the only one of these things.
I am possessive of the name “Milo” since the book “The Phantom Tollbooth” means so much to me because of my childhood, my family, and in particular my mother. In the animated version of the book, there is a song, “What’s to become of Milo?” and I just always pictured singing that song to my future son when he was naughty. I spread the love of The Phantom Tollbooth whenever I can, but yet, if anyone I knew ever named their child that, I would feel huffy, because I put so much thought into this – cue George Constanza. I cannot understand nor explain this since of propriety over things that really do not belong to me. But it happens. And when these things become popular, what can one do?
The fact is, I have got to return to this whole Erich Fromm idea that I have forgotten that we are not the things that we own (the mini-torches, the trips to cupcake bakeries across America, the children that we proudly name), but rather that we are defined by what we are, what we think, what we believe. Modern American ownership culture reduces us to all paranoid freaks, because we feel like these things define us. And so every now and again, we get plunged into these identity crises because suddenly everyone else now owns the thing that we thought only we did. But that isn’t what makes us unique.
But for the record, my firstborn daughter’s name will be “Eloise Magnolia”. So I am documenting that here. And if you subsequently name your daughter’s name that, I will consider you a thief.
One cannot root George Costanza out entirely in one day.