Soundbites of the Here and Now

platonicWhen the earthquake hit, Keagan was  in another state a thousand miles away from the epicenter.  He learned about it through the muted news  program projected on the television screen above his desk, just below the blue  banner supporting his presidential candidate.   He had been on the phone with a potential campaign donor.  He hadn’t realized he had hung up until one  of his staff volunteers asked if they had reached the month’s projected quota.

“What?”  Keagan asked, searching through his desk’s cluttered drawers for the television  remote.  Quickly, he gave the television  a voice it hadn’t possessed since they first changed offices six months ago to  address the conservative voting element.

Keagan  and his five volunteers listened as a harried news anchor, a piece of her  auburn hair sticking straight up out of the top of her head like an apple stem,  told them that the earthquake was an 5.5 on the Richter Scale and centralized  around Long Beach.  The full extent of  damage had yet to be assessed.

“Do  you think He’ll call a press conference?” asked the only female worker in the  place. referring to their beloved boss and presidential nominee with a  reverence commonly found amongst their circle.

“It’s  not His home state,” spoke up another.
Keagan  grabbed his cell-phone and walked out of the office.

When  the earthquake hit, Claudia was in the middle of a break-up thirty-five miles  east of the epicenter.  She was on the  phone in her bedroom, both yelling into the receiver and absently rubbing her  down comforter between thumb and forefinger.   She needed a new color scheme, something not pink, and definitely not  floral.  Maybe she’d do all-whites, with  some light blue hues.  It was time for a  change.  One of the countless campaign  buttons Keagan had mailed over months ago reminded her of that.

“You  treat me like shit,” Claudia repeated, this time lowering her voice.  She knew the conversation was coming to an  end, the expected crying had ended fifteen minutes ago, and now she was no  longer yelling, she was decorating.  This  was calm acceptance; this was the end.   She’d do well with a terminal illness.
The  man on the other end said she was overreacting.   Then the bedroom began to shake.

He  didn’t know whom to call first.  His  parents, or Claudia.  He looked through  the office’s poster-strewn window and watched his workers return to their  desks.  This had been a good week.  No pep talks had been required; everyone on  his staff was jazzed to be part of this historical election.  He knew somewhere in his tired, addled brain  he was jazzed, too.  He reached into his  coat pocket for a cigarette.

A couple taking  their Pomeranian for a walk waved at Keagan and offered words of  encouragement.  They’d be voting for his  candidate!  He smiled, nodded once, and  put the cigarette away.  Then he dialed  his parents’ number.  Family before  friends.  He was met with the busy  signal, and then an operator’s recording.   All circuits were busy.

She  was scared and crouched under her bedroom doorframe.  Her elementary school earthquake preparedness  had kicked in once her phone line went dead.   Strewn about the floor were frames containing pictures of her in various  poses, always smiling, always with friends.   The bookshelf had toppled over and splintered.  A few of her paperbacks would be permanently  bent.  At one point, she had feared the  apartment building itself would collapse.   She had teared up even, as she clutched crown molding and felt the world  around her crumple.  She closed her  eyes.  She was going to die.  She wanted her mother.  She wanted Keagan.  Then the world was still, and she could hear  the car alarms blaring outside her building.

He  tried Claudia, then his parents again.   All circuits were busy.  The  volunteer with bad breath came outside to remind Keagan he had a conference  call with Washington in five minutes.  A  bird flew overhead.  He went back inside,  dimly aware of the chime of the bells hanging on the cheap office door.

Claudia  walked outside.  Though the world had  stopped shaking, she had just begun.  She  dimly recalled that being outside during an earthquake was not recommended, as  power lines or trees could fall over and kill you.  But it felt safer, somehow, to be in the open  space of her street rather than confined in the deathtrap of her bedroom, her  memories strewn about haphazardly.

Across  the street, a gardener stood dumbly staring off into the distance, his mower  turned off.  She remembered that when her  asshole ex-boyfriend had said she was jumping to conclusions at the beginning of  the call, she had had to ask him to repeat himself because she couldn’t hear  him over the racket outside.  Then she  had shut her dining room window and walked into her bedroom.  The breakup had continued, as had the  gardener’s muted mowing.

The  three cars parked on the curb in front of the gardener continued to blare their  warnings.  As if the earthquake wasn’t  traumatic enough.  Nobody appreciated an  unanswered car alarm.  She followed the  gardener’s blank gaze, and gasped when she too saw the collapsed apartment  complex.  Vaguely, she thought of Keagan.

While  his boss talked on speakerphone, Keagan had the volunteer with bad breath turn  on the television’s closed captioning.   So far, there were one hundred reported deaths, and countless injuries.  The death toll rose along with the projected  voters… one hundred, one hundred and fifty, two hundred.

His  cell-phone rang.  Caller ID identified  his parents.  Quickly, he told his boss  he had to call him back.  Without waiting  for a reply, he hung up one phone and picked up the smaller.

His  mother reported that they were fine, the Labradors had barked a great deal but  from their location in the suburbs they had barely felt the quake.  Luckily, that day his father had worked his  stock equations from his home office so he wasn’t in one of the downtown  high-risk office buildings.  God was  looking out for their family.  They’d for  sure be going to church on Sunday to say thanks and pray for the quake’s  countless victims.  Keagan’s mother was  worried about Claudia, who was so much closer to the epicenter.  Had he heard from her?  Her mother, their neighbor, couldn’t reach  her.

When  Claudia was little, her father would play a game with her called  Earthquake.  In the game, he would take  his clunky old video camera out to the backyard and film his grinning  daughter.  She would shout “Earthquake!”  at the top of her young lungs and jerk her body back and forth horizontally  while her dad shook the camera vertically.

The game always ended with a dramatic fall where Claudia would reach up  towards the camera and give one, final gasp, “Earthquake.”  Sometimes, she’d pull tufts of grass out by  the fistfuls and throw them up, letting the natural green confetti fall about  her in what she believed to be a beautiful image.  Once, they had tried to stage their game  inside the house with the theme music from a Sean Connery James Bond film  booming from a cassette player.  Her  mother had complained about the noise and the shoot was cancelled.  Claudia never saw the finished product of her  father’s filmic attempts, and the one time she suggested the game to Keagan, he  shook his head and told her he hated earthquakes.

Walking  towards the wreckage, the sound of police sirens approaching, Claudia decided  she hated earthquakes, too.  Next to her,  the gardener coughed.  She stumbled over  a crack in the sidewalk, and she grabbed his calloused hand to keep from  falling.

Keagan  checked his email.  The last email  received from Claudia had been from the day before, a quick scribble about an  unsurprising and impending breakup with some guy, he couldn’t honestly remember  if this was the waiter or the filmmaker, and of course her halfhearted  declaration of unending love and support for Keagan’s cause.  He knew that love and support was much more  for him than for the political message he swore to promote.

Absently  dialing with one hand his boss’ number to finish their meeting, he scrounged up  Claudia’s online photo album with his other.   While his boss read statistics and poll numbers off a sheet, Keagan  studied year-old photos of the two of them taking Claudia’s young cousin  trick-or-treating, Claudia dressed as Minnie Mouse, himself as Mickey, the  young cousin as some sort of vampire.   How Claudia had enjoyed pouring fake blood all over that kid.  There was an album full of random “tourist’  photos she had shot throughout his last visit to Los Angeles.  The one taken at the park, by a particularly  beautiful and blooming yellow rose bush, she had wryly labeled their engagement  photo.  He tried to zoom in on her face  while repeating numbers back to his boss.   Even pixilated, she looked happy.   For that matter, so did he.  He  remembered later they split a Churros recipe and then she had cried when she saw the  terrible conditions at which the animals at the local petting zoo were  housed.  She named a goat Buster and  talked about him the entire car ride home.   Keagan decided he did not mind the photo being labeled an engagement photo,  even though some part of him probably should.

He  closed the online photo album and went to work on the spreadsheet that would  determine what volunteers canvassed what particular areas.

Eight  hours after the earthquake and two hours after he distributed his spreadsheet  to the necessary parties, Keagan finally reached Claudia on her  cell-phone.  She was at her parents’  house, picking apart a store-bought rotisserie chicken wing, her mother on the  home phone line explaining to another woman in her book group about the  disaster her brave daughter had experienced.   Apparently surviving was all that was needed to be brave.

She  fingered the semi-translucent chicken skin and wondered why the unhealthiest  part of the bird always smelled the best.   She peered through the chicken skin stretched between her fingers–  everything was hazy.  “I’m sorry,” she  replied.  “The phone systems have been  crazy.”

She  heard him mutter something at someone in the background.  Suddenly, she was surfing an unexpected wave  of anger.  “At least you were able to  still get work done,” she quipped, cradling the cell phone on her shoulder  while she rose to throw out her dinner, chicken skin and all.
“Your  mom told my mom that one of your neighboring buildings collapsed.”

She  watched her plastic plate and picked-apart chicken fall to the bottom of the  garbage can.  In the void of her mother’s  garbage she saw the gardener crying, the paramedics screaming at her to get out  of the way, the tiny arm reaching out towards her, palm up, from under piles  and piles of wood and concrete.  The hand  was pale, with a butterfly temporary tattoo half-smudged on its wrist. Claudia  had spent most of her own youth decorated with temporary tattoos, though she  had preferred mammals to insects.  Her  favorite tattoo had been a gift from her father, a cat with large, glassy  eyes.  She managed to make that one last  for over the recommended week.  When they  finally dug the body out, she met the staring eyes of the little girl who had  sold her Thin Mints outside the local dry cleaners.  That was when she threw up, stumbled back to  her own apartment, and called her mother.   She noticed and ignored Keagan’s six missed calls.

“So,  you’re okay?” Keagan’s voice was small and insignificant.  She could make out his typing in the  background.

“As  okay as I’m going to be,” she retorted, irritated.  “I have to go.”

“I  miss you,” Keagan said.  That was usually  her line.

She  hung up, and wondered if what he said was true.

Sitting  alone in his office, he studied his screensaver.  Fish swam peacefully in a black ocean.  The computer at the other side of the room  bragged scenes of peaceful paradise retreats.   Keagan wondered if the screensaver-designers ever got to visit the  locations themselves, or if that was someone else’s job.  He wanted to know how much a  screensaver-designer was paid.

He  went about locking doors, safes, tightening the lids of the candy jars.  Tomorrow he’d have to make up for today’s  poor performance.  If he woke up early  enough, maybe he’d bring in donuts as a sort of apology for being so distant  today with his volunteers.  The ones with  sprinkles were always popular.  He felt  bad for Claudia; obviously the earthquake had affected her more than she was  willing to admit.

Switching  off the office lights, walking the one-block to his campaign-provided apartment  (which consisted of a cot on the floor, a mini-fridge, a water leak and a fan),  Keagan recalled Claudia’s odd love of that game, Earthquake.  How she had begged and begged during the drive  back to his parents’ house from a Christmas party that they reenact her  childhood shenanigans.  Sitting in his  parents’ cold den, drinking leftover eggnog and wine coolers, he had finally  given in, more in an attempt to keep her quiet than anything else.  Though they were both adults, he still lived  in fear of waking his parents and getting caught misbehaving.  He could practically feel their disapproval  as he had popped open another beer.

He  shook his new camera up and down as directed, while she quietly flailed herself  about the leather couch.  She knocked one  of his mother’s new pillows onto the ground.   “Earthquake!” she shriek-whispered, and laughed.  “Earthquake!”   Then she pulled him down on top of her.   “Earthquake!”

She  had been drunk, he knew that, there was an eggnog stain prominently displayed  on her blouse.  Yet he couldn’t help but  feel she had unfairly and premeditatively planned the whole evening, especially  when, still whispering “earthquake” over and over, Claudia leaned forward and kissed  him squarely on the lips.  She pulled  back; they both listened to the overheard clock tick off five seconds.  She studied his eyes.  He stared back, unsure what to say.  Her eyes were red and not very  attractive.  Then she shook her head,  stood up, and said she had to be heading home.

He  left two days later to get back to work on the campaign.  Now that he was working for the party’s  officially chosen Presidential Nominee, his personal time had been cut in half,  and then sliced again.  Their phone calls,  when they managed them, were short and to the point.  She bitched about her latest boyfriend, he  updated her on the election.  Usually it  was information she could learn from the newspapers and drama he could piece  together from her late-night frantic emails.   They both knew they received more meaningful conversations from complete  strangers.  They both knew admitting this  would be painful, especially to Claudia.

She  claimed to blame the election and their busy work schedules, but he knew they  both knew the truth.  Something had  changed the night of Claudia’s Earthquake game; something had shifted with her  metaphorical plate tectonics.  They were  no longer on the same ground.

The  night of the earthquake, Claudia lay awake on her parents’ hard and uncomfortable  guestroom bed.  She hadn’t wanted to be  alone in her apartment building, with the yellow caution tape still strung  about like Christmas lights in geometric shapes up and down her block, and her  mother had relished the chance to baby her daughter, going so far as to make  tea and cookies to help calm the poor dear’s nerves.  After all, she had barely touched her  chicken.

She  thought of the earthquake game, and of Keagan.   Even in her drunken state that night, she knew the game was supposed to  have had a much different outcome.
“Earthquake!”  she meant to whisper as she kissed him.   And he would feel her kiss, and he would realize, finally realize, that  they clicked, they were not the earthquake but rather the safe place.  The world around them could and would shake  and quake and fall apart, but as long as they were locked together all would be  still and quiet and beautiful.  He would  kiss her back.  He would kiss her back  and there would be no more trembling.

Instead, she  caused a slow-yielding tremor, a quake whose damage took days, months to fully  comprehend.  Her man-made quake was  months old, and the aftershocks were still coming.

As Claudia turned  over in bed and considered the mistake of her mother’s striped wallpaper, she  wondered if any shake-up, of any kind, could move enough platelets around for  Keagan and her to be in the same place ever again, if any seismic activity that  powerful could occur without any victims, specifically ones with upturned,  pleading hands, waiting for an adulthood that would never come.

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This is the story of how I began my love affair with airbrushing for cakes.
I am a professional pastry chef (when I’m not writing on my blog :) ) and had learned about the different cake decorating techniques back in college. I started my own bakery and soon fell into the comfort zone of mainly decorating my cakes using fondant and sugar paste. I had learned all about airbrushing for cakes back in college and had even done it practically. However, since I never got the chance to try it out when I established my bakery, my skills got a bit rusty.

Things changed a few years back when one day my mom’s best friend asked me whether I knew about airbrushing for cakes. I was surprised considering that few regular people know about the different cake decorating techniques. My curiosity got the better of me and I asked her where she had learned about airbrushing. She told me that she had been watching a baking competition on TV and had fallen in love with the airbrushing techniques the winner of the contest had used on her cake.

She then asked me if I would make a cake for her that employed the airbrushing technique. I replied in the affirmative never wanting to disappoint neither my mom nor her best friend. The cake was supposed to be for her granddaughter’s fourth birthday. She informed me that her granddaughter was a real big fan of Disney’s Frozen. She asked whether I knew of the movie and I answered in the affirmative.

I then got started on coming up with potential ideas for the cake. I settled on making a two-tier round cake with Princess Elsa and Princess Anna figurines on top. I then decided to include the inscription ‘Happy Birthday’ on the side and got started.

I started out by preparing two cakes with red velvet filling. I made the top-tier cake smaller than the bottom one. I then covered each of the cakes with white fondant separately before stacking them the smaller one on top of the larger one. I then modelled the two Princess figurines which took me over three hours each due to the level of detail required.
I then took out the airbrushing machine and started spraying some sky blue coloring from the center of the side of the cake to the top side. Once I finished this, I took a darker shade of blue and sprayed it on to create a fading effect. Once I was done, I placed the two Princess figurines on the top of the cake. Even though I don’t like blowing my own trumpet, the results were simply amazing.

I loved it, my mom loved it, and so did my mom’s friend along with her granddaughter. Soon after the party, I started to receive orders for airbrushed cakes from all over our area code.

Today, I use airbrushing on all the cakes whose theme will allow for its use. I can truly admit that airbrushing has taken my cake decorating skills to the next level. I get my tools and paints mostly from Amazon. I recently got this kit for my business, thanks to the surprisingly unbiased reviews at Verycozyhome.com

Enjoy your airbrushing! Here’s a video to take you up to speed:

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