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Life Lessons

Consider The Mystery Delivery Cake Dilemma

A slice of cake on a plate with a fork.
Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

I’ve always thought myself a firm believer in the slogan, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” at least metaphorically. But what about literally? What about a free piece of walnut butter cake? Or two?

These are the questions puzzling me since Wednesday night, when my wife walked out on our porch and found a bag by the front door. She took it inside and we saw that it was an Uber Eats delivery from Matchbox, a restaurant in Silver Spring, Md., a bit more than four miles from us. 

We hadn’t made any such order. Nobody had knocked or called before making the delivery. 

The receipt had the name “Robb K.” on it, and showed somebody had paid $22.00 for two slices of walnut butter cake. Neither my wife or I knew of anybody in our neighborhood or anywhere else named Robb K. I’d also never heard of walnut butter cake, or eaten at Matchbox. I didn’t open the stapled bag to check out the item, but instead went to the eatery’s website, and, man, this stuff looks good in pictures. The only description given for this dessert on the menu is: “just trust us ... this dessert will make your day much better!!”

I looked again at the menu photo, and, well, say no more! I trusted! In walnut butter cake I trusted!

My birthday’s a couple weeks away, and my workplace has a glorious habit of surprising us around our birthdays with deliveries of stuff we’ll love. But those gifts are always clever and self-explanatory. And, again, I'd never heard of walnut butter cake, let alone let my coworkers know of I craved this specific dish. (I have, however, made them hear a whole lot about the time Naomi Wolf, back when she was merely a pop feminist and not a world-famous oddball, snatched the last piece of angel food cake at a party I was at and, well, wolfed it down right in front of me. Damn you, Dr. Wolf! But this wasn’t angel food cake.) And others who might know me professionally ain’t gifting food to me unless the recipe’s got death cap mushrooms.

So, much as I wanted this walnut butter cake to be mine, rightfully, I concluded pretty quickly it ain’t. My wife also came up empty. She put the bag in the freezer, and put the food’s future in my hands. And maybe in my gut.

As ethics and good dudeitude go, nobody’s ever confused me and Gandhi. Especially when it comes to edible goods. I’d kill for free vittles. And I’m completely allergic to throwing away food. My kids still remind me often of the time years ago when they saw me take a whole package of kimchi out of the trash can at a party after my buddy had just tossed every leftover foodstuff into the garbage to hasten cleanup. (My defenses of the kimchi retrieval—“It wasn’t even opened!” and “It was delicious!”—have not stopped the mockery.) 

But whatever the moral shortcomings of my stomach, I’ve got enough of a heart, and enough of a belief in karma, that I couldn’t just eat somebody else’s cake, at least not without trying to find the rightful eater. Who needs ill-gotten weight gains?

So try I did. I’ve never used Uber Eats or any other food delivery app, but I called the phone number on the receipt. After jumping through all the hoops the AI operator asked of me, I reached the extension for "customers," and immediately heard, "Thank you! Goodbye!" and was cut off. I cussed out loud, and tried again. Same damn thing: I did as told, and got cut off. So I called the restaurant, and got an actual human on the line, but he was at least as unmotivated as the Uber Eats call center to solve this dilemma. 

“I can't help you,” he said. I started reading every number and word on the receipt hoping it would trigger him into helping. Nah. “Call Uber Eats,” he said, and hung up before I could even cuss. I cussed anyway. 

And that’s where we still stand, five days later. I’ve got somebody else’s walnut butter cake in my freezer, and on my mind. 

We at Defector Media have tackled matters of food ethics before, though relative to takeout orders. Does having the dish dropped off at your doorstep change the equation? 

I’m putting it out to you, commenters: To eat or not to eat? Let me eat cake? Not to sway the feedback, but, again, my birthday is coming up.

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