“You are a little fruitcake. You are a little fruitcake. I said you are a fruitcake.”
– Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark, D-Fremont, Calif.
I’ve had it with Pete Stark. He has made intemperate remarks before – on the floor of the House of Representatives and off it – but the fruitcake reference was just too much.
Stark, who happens to be my congressman, has not, to be sure, been the most obstreperous representative ever seen in the Capitol. He has a long, long way to go to match the aggression of Preston Brooks of South Carolina, who in 1856 paid a call on Charles Sumner in the Senate and beat him bloody with a cane.
And Sen. Sumner himself was no shrinking violet, having precipitated Brooks’ attack by calling Stephen Douglas of Illinois a “noisome, squat, and nameless animal … not a proper model for an American senator” and comparing Sen. Andrew Butler’s adherence to slavery to the patronage of women of ill fame.
But there is a line that should not be crossed, and while he did not go as far as others, Stark crossed it when he dared Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., to make him shut up and then compared his colleague to a fruitcake.
That was too much for me – and I don’t really care that the reference was a slur against homosexuals.
(Stark will pay no political price for that, as he is a Democrat with a safe seat in the heavily Democratic San Francisco Bay Area. Of course, if a Republican had made such a reference, he would be excoriated for “homophobia” evermore.)
No. What I find unendurable is the slur against fruitcake. This is something I have put up with every Christmas season, when comics start making jokes about this particular confection. At that time of year there are as many fruitcake jokes as mother-in-law jokes – which bother me, too, because I have a very fine mother-in-law.
Furthermore, Stark compared a fruitcake to a congressman. Given his behavior, the comparison is not favorable.
I happen to like fruitcake, and perhaps I’m particularly sensitive about it right now because my mother passed away last week, and her fruitcakes were anticipated with delight by scores of beneficiaries around the world.
The baking actually began in late October, because it took a couple of months to ship the things for Christmas to destinations as distant as New Zealand and Jerusalem. Cost of the annual postage was substantial.
Mom cut back on her production as the years progressed and the strength receded that had enabled her to stir the viscous batter and lift the cake pans in and out of the oven. But she always turned out a few, even when she had moved to a small apartment with an inadequate stove.
The cakes were of mystical character – dark, heavy and redolent of brandy. When you cut into one you could feel the glace’ fruit within cracking under the knife, and the aroma would waft upward and make you light-headed.
We always received one of Mom’s big, wreath-shaped cakes, and it is true you could have used it as a doorstop: It had that much weight.
With all that brandy in it, it would have kept for a year, but it never lasted very long. People would have seconds and thirds, and I used to sneak into the kitchen early in the morning and make a breakfast of it.
Nobody would dare this fruitcake to come over and make him shut up, because this fruitcake could do it, either with its delicious flavor or – if it came to that – a brick-like blow to the side of the head. The latter might not leave you bloody, like Charles Sumner, but it could render you unconscious.
So, Pete Stark, when you insult fruitcake, you insult my mother, and I’m not having any of that this week.