A Piece of Cake: A Memoir

A Piece of Cake: A Memoir

4.4 514
by Cupcake Brown, Bahni Turpin
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Patrice Gaines
A Piece of Cake doesn't serve up delectable metaphors or feature rhythmic prose. Instead, it dazzles you with the amazing change that is possible in one lifetime. We see a woman learn to build a family from strangers who help her because she is another human being trying to overcome horrendous circumstances. It is a story that is poetic in its simplicity, beautifully stripped to the basics.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Brown reads her own horrific memoir of childhood paradise lost, sexual degradation and drug-fueled bad times with a surprising twinkle in her eye. Having made it through to the other side and a stable life, Brown revisits the ugliest places in her past, her matter-of-fact voice refusing to shy away from any of the brutal details. Brown does not milk her story for sympathy (although that is implicit in its very telling); she merely chronicles its twists and turns, its tragic losses and terrible indignities, choosing to honor her past by exposing it in its entirety. Brown's voice is measured and wry, exposing the foibles of her own stunted good sense at the same time as she documents the heinous callousness of the adults who by turns mistreat and neglect her after the untimely death of her mother. Her reading lacks something in emotion and professionalism, but its no-nonsense quality is the mark of an unhurried, self-taught storyteller. Simultaneous release with the Crown hardcover (Reviews, Nov. 21, 2005). (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
From abused foster child to addicted prostitute to attorney-Brown has quite a story to tell. With a seven-city tour. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Harrowing, earnest autobiography takes readers on a tour from incomprehensible evil through unexpected kindness to eventual triumph. Brown's story begins in January 1976, when, at age 11, she discovered the body of her mother, dead from a seizure, on the bedroom floor of their home in a San Diego ghetto. Everything plunged downhill from there, as Brown relates in a narrative couched in street slang interspersed with interior monologues (literary devices that the author at times fails to pull off). On her second night in a foster home, Brown was raped on the bathroom floor. She was routinely abused by her sadistic foster mother, yet no matter how many times she escaped, the perversely ineffectual legal system insisted on returning her to her tormentor. She discovered a sense of family in the notorious Crips street gang, but after she was temporarily paralyzed at age 15 as the result of a drive-by shooting, Brown gave up "banging." That didn't much slow her descent into extreme drug abuse, serial abortions and domestic violence. At 25, Brown woke up behind a Dumpster and embarked on a period of detox and recovery. The chapters describing this metamorphosis are delivered in the hosanna-drenched, homily-sprinkled style common among 12-steppers, who never seem to hold God responsible for their travails but invariably credit Him with their salvation. Today the erstwhile child prostitute and crack addict is an attorney for a major national law firm. Brown's relentless litany of crimes and cruelties tests readers' endurance and at times makes it impossible to empathize with her younger self. Yet her life's amazing outcome goes a long way to justify her appealingly inspirational conclusion thatmaybe anything is possible.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781415926932
Publisher:
Books on Tape, Inc.
Publication date:
01/01/2006
Edition description:
Unabridged

Read an Excerpt

A Piece of Cake


By Cupcake Brown

Random House

Cupcake Brown
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1400052289


Chapter One

1

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?"

Tiredand 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:

"I yam."

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.

"Momma?"

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.

Continues...


Excerpted from A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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