On having an all-purpose excuse
Try it. It is an existential balm.
There was a Viennese bakery called Schubert’s in the neighborhood where I grew up. On occasions of good behavior (rare) or scholastic accomplishment (less rare) I was allowed to select a treat from the Schubert’s display case. I gravitated toward the opera cakes and minarets of marzipan; the more implausibly edible an item, the more alluring.
The only flaw of the bakery was that every cake came with a stiff, chewy bottom layer— thin but impossible to ignore because the layer required minutes and minutes of ruminating before it could be swallowed. I assumed the chewy layer was a quirk of the Viennese palate—inexplicable in the way that ham and pineapple pizza might be to an Austrian.
Being a private child—adults used the word “sneaky”— I always ate my treats alone, all the better to focus on them. For this reason, six or seven years passed before my father happened to catch me biting into a Strawberry Romonoff. He leaned over and automatically peeled off the silicone-coated liner attached to the bottom, crumpled it, and threw it in the garbage.
This, of course, was the “chewy layer” I’d been gnawing for half my childhood. The moment passed without comment on either side; me being mute with horror and my father having assumed I’d forgotten to remove it this one time.
(He still doesn’t know.)
The silicone-coated paper has become the origin story for all self-inflicted stupidity in my life. Whenever I send an email with my own name misspelled in the signature, whenever I leave a cup of tea in the microwave for 7 days or neglect to add detergent to the wash cycle, an explanation arrives with autofill swiftness: Must be all that paper I ate as a child.
Explanation and absolution, here, are entirely concomitant. Why regret little lapses when there’s nothing to be done? Dwelling on innocent mistakes is a waste of time, a destructive analysis—time flows, after all, in one direction— the Viennese bakery paper cannot be un-eaten!