The Washington Post
A Piece of Cake: A Memoirby Cupcake Brown
Cupcake Brown survived all these things before she’d even turned twenty.
And that’s when things got interesting….
There are shelves of memoirs about overcoming the death of a parent, childhood abuse, rape, drug addiction, miscarriage, alcoholism, hustling, gangbanging, near-death injuries, drug dealing, prostitution, or homelessness.
Cupcake Brown survived all these things before she’d even turned twenty.
And that’s when things got interesting….
You have in your hands the strange, heart-wrenching, and exhilarating tale of a woman named Cupcake. It begins as the story of a girl orphaned twice over, once by the death of her mother and then again by a child welfare system that separated her from her stepfather and put her into the hands of an epically sadistic foster parent. But there comes a point in her preteen years—maybe it’s the night she first tries to run away and is exposed to drugs, alcohol, and sex all at once—when Cupcake’s story shifts from a tear-jerking tragedy to a dark comic blues opera. As Cupcake’s troubles grow, so do her voice and spirit. Her gut-punch sense of humor and eye for the absurd, along with her outsized will, carry her through a fateful series of events that could easily have left her dead.
Young Cupcake learned to survive by turning tricks, downing hard liquor, partying like a rock star, and ingesting every drug she could find while hitchhiking up and down the California coast. She stumbled into gangbanging, drug dealing, hustling, prostitution, theft, and, eventually, the best scam of all: a series of 9-to-5 jobs. But Cupcake’s unlikely tour through the cubicle world was paralleled by a quickening descent into the nightmare of crack cocaine use, till she eventually found herself living behind a Dumpster.
Astonishingly, she turned it around. With the help of a cobbled together family of eccentric fellow addicts and “angels”—a series of friends and strangers who came to her aid at pivotalmoments—she slowly transformed her life from the inside out.
A Piece of Cake is unlike any memoir you’ll ever read. Moving and almost transgressive in its frankness, it is a relentlessly gripping tale of a resilient spirit who took on the worst of contem-porary urban life and survived it with a furious wit and unyielding determination. Cupcake Brown is a dynamic and utterly original storyteller who will guide you on the most satisfying, startlingly funny, and genuinely affecting tour through hell you’ll ever take.
When it came time for me to talk, I wasn’t sure which parts of my past to tell, which to keep secret, and which to pretend never happened. Uncle Jr. had already seen the welts on my back, so he wasn’t too surprised when I told them about some of the physical abuse I endured at Diane’s. Everyone else hit the roof, except Daddy. He got really quiet and started balling and unballing his fists.
I continued my update. Experience had taught me that adults have trouble accepting the idea of children having sex. I decided that from then on, that part of my life never happened. I picked up the story by telling them about Fly, the Gangstas, and getting shot.
I was dying for a cigarette. So it seemed a good time to announce that I smoked cigarettes—and weed.
After a moment Sam looked at me, smiled, and handed me one of her Marlboros. I preferred menthols, but beggars can’t be choosers. I kicked back, took a long drag, and closed my eyes.
Daddy and Jr. were silent. They seemed a bit shocked and unsure about how to respond.
“Well, Cup,” Jr. said, “it’s a little too late to be trying to raise you now. But those cigarettes will kill you. And weed will only lead you to stronger drugs.”
He didn’t know how right he was. But for me, it was too late to be worrying about stronger drugs—the only worrying I did was whether I could find a connection to get some. So I just smiled, nodded, and took another hit off my cigarette.
The eerie quiet returned.
—from A Piece of Cake
Also available as a Random House AudioBook and eBook.
From the Hardcover edition.
The Washington Post
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.10(w) x 9.16(h) x 1.04(d)
- Age Range:
- 14 - 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
The booming music coming from Momma’s radio alarm clock suddenly woke me. I could hear Elton John singing about Philadelphia freedom.
I wonder why Momma didn’t wake me? I thought to myself.
It was January 1976. Wasn’t no school that day. But Momma still had to go to work. So, while Momma was at work, I was goin’ over to Daddy’s house to play with Kelly, the daughter of his lady friend.
I wonder why she didn’t wake me? I thought again to myself as I climbed out of bed.
When I passed the dresser I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Boy, was I ugly.
“Skinny, black, and ugly.” That’s what the kids at school called me. Or they’d yell out, “Vette, Vette, looks just like my pet!”
My name was La’Vette, but my first birth name was Cupcake. At least that’s what my momma told me. Seems Momma craved cupcakes when she was pregnant with me. She had three cupcakes a day, every day, without fail, for nine and a half months (I was two weeks overdue). Momma said that even if she didn’t eat anything else, she’d have her daily dose of cupcakes.
Anyway, seems that while “we” were in labor, the hospital gave Momma some pain drugs. Once Momma popped me out, the nurse said:
“Pat”—that was my momma’s name—“you have a little girl. Do you know what you want to name her?”
Tired and exhausted from eight hours of hard labor, Momma lifted her head, smiled sheepishly, and said, “Cupcake,” before she passed out.
So that’s what they put down on my birth certificate. I mean, that is what she said. (The nurses thought it was due to the excitement of motherhood, Momma said it was the drugs). A few hours later, however, when Daddy came to the hospital he decided he didn’t like “Cupcake.” Momma said Daddy wanted to name me La’Vette. So, just to make Daddy happy, Momma said she had the hospital change my name. I didn’t mind, really. I loved my daddy; so as far as I was concerned, he could change my name to whatever he wanted. But, Momma said that to her I would always be Cupcake. She never called me anything else, ’cept sometimes she called me “Cup” for short.
Anyway, the kids at school always told me that I was ugly. They teased me, saying I looked like “Aunt Esther,” that old lady from Sanford and Son, the one always calling Sanford a “fish-eyed fool.” She was the ugliest woman I’d ever seen. So if the other kids thought I looked like her, I knew I had to be ugly. Besides, everybody knew a black girl wasn’t considered pretty unless she was light-skinned with long straight hair. I was dark-skinned with short kinky hair. I hated my complexion. I hated my hair. I hated my skinny legs and arms.
But, my momma thought I was beautiful. She’d say:
“Cup, you’re only eleven years old. You will appreciate your beauty as you grow up.”
Shoot, I couldn’t wait to grow up!
Momma always said things to make me feel better. I loved my momma. She was my best friend and she was beautiful: she had cocoa-colored skin and her long black hair hung way past her shoulders. And, Momma had the biggest, prettiest smile you ever saw. People always told her that she looked like Diana Ross because of her long hair and wide beautiful smile—all teeth.
I passed the black ugly thing in the mirror and continued toward Momma’s room. The radio alarm continued to blast. I giggled to myself. Momma was like me. She hated getting up in the morning, so she put the clock way across the room and turned it all the way up so it would scare her awake in the morning. That way, she’d have to get out of bed and walk across the room to turn it off.
I wonder why she didn’t turn the alarm off? I thought as I made my way through the kitchen toward the large living room that led into Momma’s room. The floor was cold because wasn’t no carpet in our house. Still, I loved our old house. It was Victorian style, three bedrooms and one bathroom.
We lived in San Diego in the heart of the ghetto, though I never knew it until I got older. We had our share of dilapidated houses, and run-down apartment buildings, but most of the houses and apartments in the neighborhood were in decent order. I mean, we didn’t have any mansions, but most folks made sincere efforts to keep their houses decent-looking: they watered their tired brown lawns, trying to keep them up (as kept up as a lawn could be with kids runnin’ over it all the time), and tried to replace windows that had been broken from runaway fly balls that escaped the imaginary fields of street baseball games.
We had a great neighborhood store, Sawaya Brothers, that had everything you could need or want, including the most delicious pickled pig feet. We had a neighborhood park, Memorial Park, a boys’ club and a girls’ club.
I thought my family was rich because I was the only kid in the neighborhood who had her own bedroom, furnished with a white princess-style bedroom set complete with a canopy bed, matching nightstands, and dresser. There was a pink frilly comforter with matching frills for the canopy overhead. And, I had a closet full of clothes. Unlike other kids in my neighborhood, I never had to share clothes or wear hand-me-downs. Momma loved to sew and made most of my clothes.
The other kids thought we were rich too. Little did we know that we weren’t rich—it’s just that both my mom and dad worked while the other kids only had one parent trying to raise several kids either on one income or, more commonly, on welfare, though being on welfare wasn’t nothing to be ’shamed about. Most everybody was. In fact, I envied my friends on welfare because they got government food that you couldn’t get from the store, like this great government cheese. You ain’t had a grilled cheese sandwich till you’ve had one made with government cheese.
The blasting radio brought me back to my immediate mission: finding out why Momma didn’t wake me.
I wished she’da woke me up, I thought as I followed the sound of the blasting radio. I was excited about going to my daddy’s.
My momma and daddy didn’t live together. Daddy lived around the way with my brother, Larry. I hated Larry. Larry was thin and lanky like me. And he was dark-skinned like me. Although he was two years older than me, he never acted like a big brother. He never protected me. In fact, HE was usually the one I had to be protected FROM. And, usually, it was ME jumping in a fight to protect HIM. I thought he was a wimp.
Larry hated me just as much as I hated him, but for different reasons. He was jealous of me. He’d never admit it, but I knew he was. I was the one who always got good grades and saved my weekly allowance so I could buy something nice and big, while Larry hated school (and was always on the verge of flunking out) and spent his money faster than he got it—and then had the nerve to get mad when he didn’t have anything left.
Our hate for each other resulted in fierce fights: cussin’ each other out (a skill I’d turned into an art from an early age) and throwing knives and hammers (or anything else lethal we could find) at each other. Our fights were no joke. We were trying to kill each other for real, or at least cause loss of body parts. In our house, before Larry went to live with Daddy, I could never slack up and always had to watch my back because we were always trying to sabotage each other.
Once I woke to Larry trying to smother me with a pillow. Bastard. He just woke up one day and decided he’d try to kill me. I had to fight, kick, scratch, punch, and scream to get him off me. I got him back, though: I tried to poi- son him.
Larry was always trying to boss me around. One day, after yet another unsuccessful attempt at killing me, he’d ordered me to get him some Kool-Aid. And I did—with a little rat poison in it. But watching my sudden obedience, he got suspicious. Talkin’ ’bout he smelled “somethin’ funny.” He ordered me to take a drink first. I took a sip, but I didn’t swallow. I just held it in my mouth, hoping he’d now be willing to drink. He was smarter than I thought. He fucked around and fucked around twirling the Kool-Aid in the glass with a sly grin on his face till I couldn’t hold what was in my mouth anymore without swallowing.
Oh shit! I thought, I can’t kill myself! That’d be right up his alley!
I ran for the bathroom, which confirmed Larry’s suspicions that something was up. He ran ahead of me and blocked the bathroom door with his body, laughing hysterically at the irony of the situation. My only other option was out the front door—halfway ’cross the house. I’d never make it.
“Swallow it, bitch!” he ordered, his body still blocking the doorway, hands up in the air like a soccer goalie. Damn, I hated him.
But, I would have the last word on this one. It took me a moment to think of a way out, but then it came to me. As I realized my way out, the look of terror on my face from envisioning what seemed to be my impending death slowly changed into a wide-ass grin: I spit the Kool-Aid in his face. And with that, it was on—we tumbled, kicked, bit, and scratched, until we tired ourselves out and retreated to opposite ends of the house to await the next battle.
So I was really glad when Momma sent Larry to go live with Daddy. Larry had started talking back to Momma, being smart-mouthed and sassin’ her. I remember the day Larry left. Momma told Larry to move a can of paint from off the back porch. Larry angrily stomped toward the paint can, but instead of moving it, he kicked it (as if punting a football), toward Momma. I don’t know if he meant for the can to hit her. But it did. The can flew into the air like a football toward a goalpost. It struck Momma on the shoulder as it made its way back down. The impact from the can hitting Momma’s shoulder caused the lid to topple off and paint flew everywhere.
Momma stood there for what seemed like forever, although it was really only a moment, paint dripping off her clothes and face like icicles off a tree. I swear I thought I saw smoke coming out of her ears. She balled her fist. I thought she was going to knock the shit out of Larry (actually, I was hoping she would; then maybe I could get in a kick or two), but instead she spun suddenly and quickly on her heels (her long black hair flying out behind her reminded me of Batman’s cape), stomped into the house and, over to the phone, and called my daddy.
“Come get this lil nigga fo I kill him!” she screamed.
Needless to say, Daddy quickly came and Larry quickly went. Larry had lived with Daddy ever since. Daddy saved Larry’s life that day.
After Larry left, we really didn’t see much of each other; which was fine with both of us. Daddy and Momma would switch me and Larry on the weekends so each parent could spend time with the child he or she didn’t live with. This meant that Larry and I had to see each other only in passing (and even that was too much for me).
I loved my weekends with my daddy. We’d dress up: Daddy would put on his one suit and I’d put on a nice dress and we’d go out on a date. We’d usually go somewhere for dinner and then to the movies. My daddy was the only person besides my momma who thought I was pretty. He’d hop me up on his knee and ask:
“Who’s the prettiest girl in the whole wide world?”
And, in between giggles, I’d say:
But I never believed it. He HAD to think I was pretty. He was my daddy. When we were out on our dates, he’d ask everyone:
“This is my daughter. Ain’t she pretty?”
What were they going to say?
“Actually sir, she looks like shit”?
No, they smiled and lied and told Daddy I sho was pretty. I didn’t care that they were lyin’. I loved my daddy and I loved our dates.
Didn’t bother me that Momma and Daddy didn’t live together either; they still loved each other. Daddy did have a lady friend, Lori—but to me, she was just that: his friend. Lori was a tall, thin white woman. She reminded me of Popeye’s girlfriend Olive Oyl, but I still liked her because she made the best chocolate cake (my favorite). I really liked her daughter, Kelly, a pudgy Mexican-looking girl with long black hair, only six months younger than me. Neither of us had a sister, so we decided we’d be each other’s sister. We played together and always had fun together. She didn’t mind being silly, and she was always willing to play my favorite game: Africans. I’d be “Unga-Bunga,” and she’d be “Oooga-Wooga.” We’d jump around with fake spears, acting a fool. I had no idea what it was like to be a real African so I imitated what I’d seen on TV. I didn’t know that TV was run by white folks. What do white folks know about being African? Nothing. But at the time I was too young (and really didn’t care) to know.
Anyway, I couldn’t wait to get to Daddy’s house so Kelly and I could play.
Why didn’t Momma wake me? I thought again as I continued walking toward her room, my head down in deep thought while I contemplated which outfit I would wear to daddy’s. I looked up and froze. I’ll never forget what I saw.
The radio was still blasting in the background. Momma was lying facedown on her stomach. She was hanging off the side of the bed from her waist up. Her long black hair was hanging down, covering her face. Her arms hung limp to the floor.
“Momma?” I asked, walking slowly toward her.
The radio continued to blare. As I got closer, it seemed to get louder.
I thought maybe she was kidding. Momma was always playing with me. Just the night before we were playing house and doing each other’s hair, dancing around and acting silly. I thought Momma was just playing another game, so I expected her to jump up like a jack-in-the-box and scream, “Boo!”
But she didn’t move.
I touched her arm. She was cool. I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew it wasn’t good.
“Momma?” I repeated as I tried to lift her up by her shoulders so I could see her face. I didn’t know death was so heavy. When I tried to lift her, her body slid off the bed and onto me, and we both hit the floor with a thud. As she landed on top of me I heard a gurgling noise in her throat. She was heavy.
Still I didn’t panic.
It took awhile but I managed to squeeze myself from up under her and turn her over. She was so beautiful—even dead.
I don’t know how I knew she was dead. I’d never seen death before. I just knew.
I got up and slowly walked over to the nightstand where the phone lay and called Lori.
“Hello,” Lori answered.
“Lori, this is Vette. My momma’s dead.”
I said it so casually, Lori thought she’d misunderstood what I’d said.
“What’d you say?” she asked.
“My momma’s dead.” I repeated in the same casual voice.
“Are you sure?”
“Stay right there! I’m gon’ call your father!”
I hung up and almost immediately the phone rang. I nonchalantly picked it up.
“Punkin, this is Daddy.” My daddy always called me Punkin. Never “Pumpkin” always “Punkin.” Once I asked him why, and he said because when I was a baby, I had big chubby cheeks that made my face look like a little roun’ pumpkin, and ever since, he’s called me Punkin. I never had no problem keeping up with all of my different names. Momma called me Cup. Daddy called me Punkin. Everybody else called me Vette.
“Punkin, what’s going on?!”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure!”
We were screaming at each other because the radio was still blasting. I’d never turned it off.
“Call the police, I’ll be right there!” he yelled before slamming down the phone.
I didn’t call the police. Somehow I knew that once they came they’d take Momma away and I’d never see her again. So instead, I went back to her, scooted my little body under hers so I could put her head in my lap, and began singing our favorite song: “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin. We used to play that song as we sang and danced around the house. In fact, we had just been dancing to it and singing it the night before. I hadn’t known then that that would be our good-bye party. It was then I began to cry.
And that’s how Daddy found me a half hour later: sitting on the floor with Momma’s head in my lap, stroking her hair and, through my tears, singing “Chain of Fools.”
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
Cupcake Brown practices law at one of the nation’s largest law firms and lives in San Francisco. Visit her website at cupcakebrown.com.
From the Hardcover edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
This is the first non-fiction book that I've ever read, and I must say, it's opened the doors for me to read more of these books. I can't speak for anyone else, and I don't know if anyone feels the same as myself, but, this was truely inspirational, and very well written. It was a little dry in the beginning, but it was a page turner. I love Cupcake for what's she's accomplished, and overcome not many people, let alone women come back from that point. This book really opened my eyes to a lot of things that occur daily in society, and we overlook. I'm only 24yrs. old, and as a child, my mom smoked crack, and I never knew why, or what is was, or effect it had on her mind, or her body, but I see now. I remember her staying up all night, and sleeping all day. Now, she never sold any of our 'my sister and I' things, but she did sell quite a bit of her own, and she would be so ashamed when we asked her about it. She smoked for about 10 yrs. which was much of my child-hood, and I felt so left out as a child. But, what I can say, we were never molested, or mistreated in any way, our family stood in while she was in her addiction, and we never needed, or wanted for anything. Every holiday, or occasion, we had it all. The one thing that still hurts her til this day, was when she stayed up one night getting high, and wasn't able to get me or herself up the next morning to attend my Kindergarten Graduation. She still cries when she thinks about it. As a child, I always wondered why she couldn't just stop, but I know now, that she was addicted, and she couldn't stop on her own. But, just like Cupcake, she prayed, and spoke to God, and has been clean for 15yrs. now. And I thank the Lord for bringing her through, as well as protecting us, as she went through those things. I thank God for Cupcake as well, reading this book, brought me and my mom even closer. And I'd like to thank Cupcake for letting me into her life, to view my own more clearly. God Bless.
I couldn't put this book down. It is AMAZING what Cupcake has accomplished. I do, however, find it a little hard to believe that she remembered so much, given how drugged up and drunk she was. Still though, it was an incredible book. Very inspirational and emotional.
I couldn't put this book down. It is truely amazing what this woman went through, and what a strong person she became.
I loved this Book. It is the best book I have ever read. I buy several copies as gifts every year for Christmas. No matter where you are in life this book will touch and inspire you. It reminds us that every day we are blessed with choices and possibilities to change our lives for the better or to help change the life of another human being for the better.
Cupcake was used as an instrument of Gods love and teachings. A hard life like no other, she lays it all out on the line and exposes her soul. You will be laughing crying and cheering her on.
Be careful, when you read this book you will get lost and not be able to stop until you finish reading it.
Like me, you will be proud and better off of having known a piece a Cupcake Brown.
I cant get over how emotinaly moving this book is. It made me cry. in the first night of reading it I read 74 pages and stayed up untill 4am reading and barly even noticed. this is by far one of the best book I have ever read! I must worn that is can be very disturbing and emotionaly provoking for some more sensitive readers. But over all it is a grate book and a big eye opener.
Recommend to ANYONE 16 and over a very long book but it would be a shame to rush a story like this
This book was a wonderful read but i must say i stopped reading it close to the middle. It starts getting boring and predictable. It stop leaving me on the edge of my seat. But up until then this is great read. Some say its unbelievable because she was high so much, but hey maybe some of them memorie came back. Ive know people not know what they did the past two days from a night of partying hard, but later on that month or next mouth they begin to remember and eventually remember everything. so i cant speak on that one i think maybe some of it might been made up but then again i don't think so.
I chose this book based on the mostly positive reviews...unfortunately, it did not meet my expections at all. The beginning of the book was compelling - her recount of losing her family to a broken child welfare system. However, everything falls apart very quickly. My main criticism is that I thought this was a story about recovery and redemption, but instead the author glorified her life as a gang banger, prostitute, criminal, child abuser, and wanton drug addict. On and on it went about her ghetto existence, it got so repetitious: same drug using, but different John or different scam. I kept wondering at what point was she going to discuss sobering up and dealing with the bad life choices she made? So, I skipped ahead, and I was disappointed to see that would not happen until almost the end of the book. Frustrated and disgusted by what I felt was a self-indulgent tale defending a terrible lifestyle, I ditched the book. I also questioned the authenticity of her story. If, as she stated, she spent her entire youth, from as early as she could recall, in a drug induced stupor, how could she recall the events of her childhood and early adult years in such vivid detail? In sum, I thought this was a wasted opportunity for the author inspire, or at the very least caution young people to stay away from engaging in the same activities that created her own downward spiral in her earlier days.
at first the story seemed too hard to believe, I guess alot of us just dont want to believe this happens everyday to so many. because she beat the odds and lived to tell it is probably what is the hardest to believe. This book will give others hope when they think there is none, and will open up doors they thought they could never get through. When I first started reading this book I kept thinking this girl is gonna die before its over. It is like rooting for a fighter when he gets knocked down, you scream get up, get up! Every paragraph got you more involved. I would like to recommend other books of inspiration but I cannot think of a one that could equal hers except maybe Helen Keller. In Cupcakes case it was the blindness of others that beat her down.
I love reading memoirs, and assumed this would be great based on the reviews, but I was really disappointed. First of all, it is way too long, she repeats the same scenarios over and over. She may have gone through some horrific things in life, but that does not make her a writer. And like mentioned before, for someone in pretty much a drug-induced coma her entire life, she seems to remember a lot. Not worth the time or money!
I don't believe quite a bit of this memoir - I have attorneys in my family and there is no way in the world any of them would hire someone showing cleavage and wearing miniskirts. It just wouldn't happen. Anyway, I finished the book. I couldn't relate to massive amounts 'or any' drug use or abuse etc. Maybe that is part of it, I don't know. I definitely don't recommend this book.
Sometimes tragic and sometimes funny, Cupcake Brown takes us through her incredible life story.
Loved this book. I could not put it down. This book goes to show that you can make it through anything life throws at you.
This book was phenomenal! A truly motivating and inspirational read. After learning of the hardships of this woman and her ultimate triumph was amazing. I have never been more inspired in my life. When those days that I feel that I cannot go on begin to manifest, I recall what obstacles this author had to overcome, and am reminded that it is not that bad. I love it and would definitely recommend it!
Cupcake's memoir was hard to put down at first. Once I got into the middle of the book I could no longer read anymore! It became EXTREMELY repetitive and predicable! It is also hard to believe that she was able to remember somethings that she wrote about CONSIDERING her extreme drug use and drinking! It was a good read until the middle, after that I just got bored and did not want to finish.
the book was okay, but one thing that got on my nerves is that she repeats herself way to much... Also the same things kept on happening to her.
I purchased this book to read over the holidays and found it be diappointing. The book seemed to only talk about her dealing with drugs and alcohol. After awhile, I got tired of reading about her getting high or drunk and just stop reading it. I feel that she could have written the book in another way to serve as an inspiration or motivation to others that may have the same past or currently are facing the same life challenges as she did.
This book had me thinking about life very hard , im am currently in dention and this book book makes me want to change my life around just becauc this author went through hell in this book and not trying to be rude but im pretty sure she wrote this book to let other children in th world to not put themselves in the situtions she been in!!!! This book really touched me ,im not even a fan if reading but after this book makes me want to learn more things so i can change myself around , I thought hanging in the streets was fun untill i was introduced to cupcake brown !
When I first saw this book, I honestly thought it was about food until I read the back cover. Cupcake's story is very intense and interesting from start to finish. She is an amazing woman who has overcome so much in her life. While I have experienced a lot in my life, Cupcake has been through much more and she has shown me that I can overcome anything that life throws at me. I highly recommend this book to anyone but especially to women who struggle in with addiction or sexual abuse.
At least they didn't name her brownie