Frosting fixes everything


The following essay was produced as part of my 2013 effort for the November National Novel Writing Month effort. As such, please understand that while I did give it a quick review, it has not gone through the same proofreading and editing I normally try to give all of the material posted on this site.

I always make some mistakes. There are errors to be found throughout this web site, and many exist despite dozens of attempts to correct problems. That said, ask that you approach this material in the spirit intended – a basic thought, slightly worked out and very informally researched, delivered in the hopes of writing more than 50,000 words by the end of November.

Thank you.

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Roughly twenty years ago, I wrote an essay called “Just open the door.”

The original piece was for a creative writing class, and by the time it was written I had learned that in the experimental setting of sharing pieces with other writers, often doing things that involved taking some risks was a good idea. Now, they didn’t need to be risky as in risqué, but it always helped to really spark conversation in the group in order to get the most (and often best) feedback.

At the heart of that piece was a visit from a friend pretty much right around the time it was written. A girl I knew from school was visiting, and as we walked to my car I went to open her door…

“Why did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Open my door?”


“You opened my door. Do you open doors for your male friends?”

This led to a discussion -- well, I suppose more of a lesson than a discussion -- about how I was putting a woman in her place by opening the door for her. Apparently, she was convinced and wanted me to know, in some Freudian corner of my sub-conscious mind opening that car door was my way of telling her that she was inferior to me.

You’d be absolutely correct if you believed that lesson was a surprise to me.

I spoke with many friends after that -- almost exclusively my female friends. I wanted to know if this girl was right. Was I putting a woman in her place by opening doors for her? Or, was she just crazy?

Everyone I asked said opening doors was a good thing. (That concept was unanimous.)

There were also additional thoughts shared with me. One friend told me she would break my arm if this encounter caused me to stop opening doors for women.

In fact, the women I asked pretty much also unanimously agreed that “she’s crazy”… the actual responses I’ll omit here since we want to maintain a polite atmosphere… and in a collective discussion that developed during a slow afternoon at work, they added that they felt she was giving women a bad name. Since my intent was a kind gesture, they believed the problem with opening the door was hers and not mine… and that effectively she in turn was guilty of exactly what she was accusing me of doing.

She was putting me in my place, so to speak.

I was told to keep opening doors. (And… for the most part… I still do.)

I ended up crafting an essay out of it that contained some basic rules that I never intended to break. I wasn’t looking for some sort of gender war… covering the opening of doors or who should be picking up the check on a date. And it wasn;t some exhaustive and meaningful list. Instead, this incident had led me to thinking about things I felt you should always do, if for no other reason than to be polite.

I was reading the list over recently and although the essay has stood up against time about as well as that friendship. I haven’t been in any contact with her at all since that visit more than twenty years ago. While containing some incredibly good concepts that got me to raise my eyebrows several times, it needs to be revisited, rewritten, and edited.

Still, it came to mind the other day, and I thought it might be kind of fun to return to the piece.

The original essay began with opening the door, and just kind of exploded into a few other areas. Because I liked the subject and its potential, but never liked the article produced, I ended up trying to write it several times even back then… starting and stopping and starting again, over and over. The final versions from those drafts varied tremendously by the time I wrapped them up.

Here, I haven’t even attempted to modify or and re-write the piece one more time. That will come later.

For now, I approached the rules contained in the essay original. And I have some thoughts about whether or not they still apply.

In a way, this essay is really what this In My Backpack site has always been about… works in progress, sharing thoughts, and trying to develop material as I move along.

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We were heading out to dinner, and as we approached my car I continued slightly ahead of her to the passenger side door.

I opened the door for her.

And… a conversation began. Something like this…

“Why did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Open my door?”


“You opened my door. Do you open doors for your male friends?”

What followed that conversation can best be described simply as the material that would spark many days and nights of debate with friends.

We pause for a moment… The Jerk and Steve Martin…

Navin: It was unbelievable. These guys jumped me. Tried to get these flowers. I got ‘em for you. It’s kind of a traditional date deal.
Marie: Yeah, I’ve heard of that.

That’s right…

“…kind of a traditional date deal…”

And now back to our story.

The door had been opened for a friend. And yes, a female friend. But I wasn’t seeking some sort of romantic return… had no thoughts of a relationship… and honestly wasn’t thinking of anything beyond opening the door.

It wasn’t opened as some kind of traditional date deal.

That said, during the later discussions I had with friends… and many of those were female friends… the subject did turn from opening doors into certain do and do-not-do items. (And traditional date deals.) And that got me thinking.

What are some of the things that I do… that I cherish… that I believe?

And I came up with a list.

Over the years, the list has taken a bit of a beating. I actually find the full essay a very intriguing piece of material for editing and a re-write down the road. I honestly believe we can revisit the very specific quoted exchange as well. (The above is the intent and not the word-for-word.)

The original intents of the list don’t seem quite as strong. But as I look it over, most of the ideas still make some sense. So here is that original list…

Chocolate Cake is important enough to justify the requirement of capitalizing it at all times.

Know when to speak.

Know when to be quiet.

Frosting fixes everything.

Whether giving or receiving, flowers for no reason at all are about as good as it gets.

If you’re guilty of doing it… apologize.

When they come to a theater, even if you have it on tape at home, never, never, NEVER miss an animated Disney movie.

Always open the door.

The original essay was completed when Disney was in the middle of a simply unprecedented run. The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast had been to theaters, with Aladdin and The Lion King on the way. It was a brilliant stretch and true revival to solidify their place on the animation throne.

And while other studios have come along to offer a challenge, Disney now owns Pixar (instead of their early-years-of-Pixar association with each other), and… The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Frozen… Disney in in the midst of some very special things.

The thing is, the true intent of that line was not to get you into theaters playing Disney movies. That was kind of an added bonus. Instead, it was to have some time for appreciating the world, slowing things down, and having some of the wide-eyed innocence of youth in each of your days.

Now… the frosting comment.

One of my old roommates… Hi Mark!… was dating a girl way back when. (She eventually became, and to this day still is, his lovely bride… Hi Karen!) Mark, along with my other roommate, Mike, really created an appreciation for cooking within me. And while they showed me the basis for what has become my legendary stir fry, along with a true understanding of all the emotions that go along with a simmering-all-day sauce, I brought to the table desserts. It should be noted, Karen LOVES chocolate.

In making several cakes back in those days, I would occasionally come across one of the evil truths of baking… not every cake comes out of the pan perfectly. They can break and crumble. And that’s where the frosting comes in. Because if you know how to apply frosting… and maybe know a few tricks for decorating… well, frosting can fix everything.

As I’ve moved along in years though, I’ve begun to appreciate how that could be misinterpreted. After all, the truth is that the cake is the foundation and the real substance. And I am most certainly not saying that a good and well done covering can hide a damaged structure.

So instead, consider this. Frosting is the finishing touch. And consider that since it was the intent.

Frosting is what you do to wrap up the presentation you want to make. It’s how you unveil your work and deliver the first impression.

When I write a column, there are absolutely going to be words that need to be changed, spelling errors, reorganizing thoughts, and a significant combination of other problems that need to be addressed. The essay and its central themes create the cake. The frosting of the project is that proofread and editing.

It’s that finishing touch that moves something from giving it three-quarters of an effort to really delivering all of your best. It’s the follow through that shows you not only care about the work you do, but also care about making it appealing for your audience.

And with that, for now, we return to where we started this essay and where the list finishes… the opening of a door.

When I wrote this article… well over two decades ago… I had my first car. It had four doors. And, it did not have any kind of automatic locks. You had to unlock a door with a key. (And as I recall, the key for the door and the key for the ignition were two different keys.)

What this young lady, full of conversation and questions and accusations and opinions and sound and fury, didn’t seem to appreciate was that I always unlocked the passenger door first if I was driving with someone. Female friends… male friends… if there were two or more people getting into my car, I would go to the passenger side, open the door, and then flip the lever inside that door to unlock my driver’s door. (Which also unlocked the rear doors.)

I wasn’t putting a woman in her place by opening the door… I was putting a passenger in place. I didn’t view it from the perspective of a chauvinist… I saw it as being a thoughtful driver.

And to that end, I do plan to try and be mindful of my surroundings, to be thoughtful, and to always open the door.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at