There was only one true friend in my life, Gus. Without Gus in my life, I never would’ve invented Rocket Science Cake for Dad. At least, that’s what Gus called my foray into sponge cake science during the summer of 69, when NASA put Americans on the moon to work on their short game. I developed rocket fuel for Space Shuttles earlier in my career after serving time in the war as a medic. Dear Gus, a Holocaust Survivor who managed to remain squeal free after an SS officer stabbed a pitchfork through his leg while hiding out in a farm in Germany within a haystack also called me the boy who raised himself. Gus would always boast to his friends in the Garment district about me going to City College at 16 and how I sang Hebrew more beautifully than our rock star Cantor in the Bronx who gave Dion a good run for his money. But mainly Gus called me the boy who raised himself because my father had the misfortune of having no trade to fall back on after immigrating to New York from Germany. Horse Collar Makers in the Bronx like my father weren’t putting me through MIT or John Hopkins University, even if the Budweiser horses are appearing in more print ads throughout Esquire these days.
I never contemplated tweaking my wife’s Sponge Cake recipe by using my rocket science background until her last batch drove away all the pigeons my dad used to feed in the park. Dad calls and says, “Son, I don’t know what your wife put in her Sponge Cake but all the Pigeons I used to feed in the park have gone AWOL since I fed them some leftover crumbs. Granted, your mom can’t bake either, baking is just not in our DNA, your wife included. I know that you have a kid on the way and enough to worry about Murray and that I was never the provider you and your sister Marian hoped for. I still thought the Candy Shop was a good idea. Who knew, I needed to pay protection money to the Genovese family on a monthly basis versus paying annual Synagogue dues if I didn’t want my store cleaned out every year on Easter Day. It’s just that those Pigeons kept me company Murray. They made feel less miserable than normal, until your mom moaned about how all the modern Orthodox woman in 1969 aren’t interested in upholding the Jewish tradition of sporting the shaved head look post Holocaust Victims enough to buy her wigs anymore. So, without those pigeons in my life Murray, my life is an endless slog like a plain Hebrew National dog with no sauerkraut or spicy brown mustard to relish on top.”
Soon after, dear Gus was over for Shabbat, before we went for Chinese with our wives, our usual routine on a Friday night in the Bronx. I say, “Gus, my dad thinks Ethel’s Sponge Cake scared away the pigeons he feeds at the park and he’s more miserable than normal without them. I wish I knew how I can help him out.” Gus says, “Why don’t you use your chemical engineering background and tweak Ethel’s Spone Cake recipe? You can call it Rocket Science Cake. Nothing’s better than great Sponge Cake. Tweak the sponge cake science Murray. Whatever Betty Crocker can do, you can do better.” “Fine, I’ll tweak the recipe. Who knows, if it’s a big hit, maybe, my dad can open a bakery business with it. 8 million New Yorkers can never get enough of great Sponge Cake.”
I tweaked and tweaked and finally made the perfect Sponge Cake. Man can’t live on his wife’s Sponge Cake alone. I think Maimonides said that once. Anyway, Dad never opened a bakery to sell them. Still, the recipe did become a source of urban legend. I never shared the recipe with anyone but my dad, who took to it his grave. On his death bed at the hospital, he said, “Son, I know you wanted to be an architect and design bridges and I was too much of a useless putz to make enough money to send you to Cornell to study it. But even the Brooklyn Bridge can’t compare to the godly grandeur of your Sponge Cake. Word must have gotten around town, because before I knew it, I was being hailed by the chess players in the park as the Pigeon Godfather. God really knew what he was doing when he made you kid. Nurse, come over and leap for my Murray Crocker. His Sponge Cake recipe is so good, Hitler would’ve called off the Holocaust for it.”