End of the Line

Cake Talk

A few high-minded thoughts on the noble fruitcake

illustration: Barry Blitt

This fancy high-tech conference, MiND (Musing in New Dimensions), invited me to give its keynote holiday-
season lecture, on fruitcake. Well, when MiND calls, you don’t stop to think. I said sure. And to myself: Hot diggety, I’m gonna be the guy who put the IT in fruitcake.

And the topics started popping:

Postmodern fruitcake. Virtual fruitcake. Fruitcake for our time, with Bluetooth and GPS—no, “our time” is too retro. We need to see the future of fruitcake. Something involving kale is the easy stroke. Kale is certainly the Thing among nutritious-food fanatics. At present. How long can kale remain top of the heap? I smelled Tipping Point a month ago, when I saw out front of a roadside produce stand a sign that said, simply, “We have kale, etc.” On the other hand, I was not ready to go out on a limb with “Fruitcake! The new kale?” In any event, kale isn’t strictly speaking a fruit.

Maybe I could do the whole lecture in verse:

The fruitcake said
To the date-nut bread,
“Just…dates and nuts?”
“That’s right,” that bread
To the fruitcake said,
“Nor ifs nor ands nor buts.”

But that goes less to the character of fruitcake than to that of date-nut bread.

Okay, how about turkey fruitcake: You feed the turkey all the candied fruits and things and then bake the turkey? No, we need to go more meta than that. Fruitcake that eats itself, or reminisces about itself—or a stand-up fruitcake that makes jokes about itself. Yeah, go the humor route:

A fruitcake and a meat loaf sit down at a bar. Bartender says to the fruitcake, “Sorry, you can’t bring your cat in here.”


Watermelon says to a fruitcake: “I can reproduce myself. Because I have seeds. Whatcha got to say to that, pal?”


Afire? People sometimes might set fire to a fruitcake, mightn’t they? When they’ve soaked it in hooch? But it wouldn’t stay burning long enough to qualify as a fire.

Alit? But there’s no such thing as a lit. Could it be—whoa—that there are no new fruitcake jokes? Can something in fruitcake render all further jokes about fruitcake unfunny? Maybe that’s my topic: “Fruitcake Cuts the Comedy.” But what part of fruitcake would be the joke killer? Those little hard lemon-tasting things? Certainly there is nothing funny about those little things, themselves; I hate those little things. But could I sell to ultra-high-tech people the notion that those little things somehow emanate some kind of…I don’t even know what you call those little things.

Okay. Forget jokes. MiND wants to hear theories. What is the classic theory about fruitcake? That there is only one fruitcake, which gets passed around, and around, by the magic of regifting. Fortunately, the theorist in question was a friend of mine, Calvin “Bud” Trillin, the writer. But when I Googled “fruitcake theory,” the Internet tended to ascribe the theory to Johnny Carson. I Googled harder. According to deeper in the Internet, the theory was popularized by Carson, who often repeated it around holiday time. But the original proposer of that theory on that show was Trillin; but Trillin has denied that he came up with the theory, asserting instead that he heard it from someone in Denver.

Denver? Why Denver? And if the original theorist was someone in Denver, why had he or she not come forward? Perhaps that person heard it while watching Carson. Who may have been quoting Trillin. The person in Denver may even have been repeating to Trillin a theory that he heard Trillin put forward on The Tonight Show.

There was my topic for MiND. “Resolved, That Fruitcake Is the Only Thing About Which There Is Only One Theory, Which Gets Passed Around and Around.

Unfortunately, I e-mailed Trillin for clarification. He replied that in fact the theory was something that he heard from someone in Denver, but he did claim authorship of a second theory about fruitcake. (That no one ever bought a fruitcake for himself.)

There went that topic.

It was the day before the lecture date, and I had nothing. Nada. Oh, I guess I could have disproved both theories about fruitcake with one stroke, by going out and buying two of them for myself. But I don’t really like fruitcake.

So I lectured about meat loaf instead.

And nobody noticed.