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Cake-cutter's kooky conundrum causes confusion

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DEAR MISS MANNERS: I work in a fire station amongst people who, 99 percent of the time, could care less about any form of etiquette. Due to the public's appreciation of our services and lots of birthdays and social events, the station is a dumping ground for cake. We get at least two a week.

I know that for some reason, everyone else on the planet cuts cake working from the outside toward the inside or center. Where is the rule that states, "Thou shalt begin to consume cake from the outside edge and progressively whittle closer to the interior"?

Every time that we receive a new cake, I always try to be the first person to take a sample. I never cut out squares or pie shapes; I always carve out an oblong shape and always in the MIDDLE of the cake, thus leaving the outer perimeter intact. Whenever I do this, my co-workers always seem perturbed and act as if the cake is ruined. Without fail, these whining hypocrites will wind up completely consuming the cake.

What's wrong with them, or what am I missing here?! Mind you, I'm not talking about a thousand-dollar multi-tiered wedding cake. To the contrary, I'm talking about a $15 cheapo from the local grocery store, or something homemade from a person who dropped it off and will not be sharing it with us.

I can't think of any other food dish where an item is expected to be cut out in a certain way. What makes cake so special? I'm retiring in a year and would love to set this conflict to rest before I go.

GENTLE READER: How on earth do you cut a piece from the middle while keeping the rest intact? And why would you want to? Is it really worth the effort this must take — not to mention the resulting frosting on your sleeves — just to prove a weirdly specific and irksome point to your co-workers? Or more likely, to play a hoax on Miss Manners?

Your co-workers are likely challenging your technique because it is leaving them with a thoroughly touched and mangled cake in your wake. In hopes of your properly enjoying your retirement, however, Miss Manners suggests that you cut a large piece of cake for yourself, big enough for you to create whatever fun shapes you want in it afterwards. Then, please, just leave the rest of it alone.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am wondering if it is considered polite to leave a spray can of air freshener in the guest bathroom to be used at the guest's discretion. If so, where should the can be placed? I've tried placing it on the floor near the toilet, but guests don't seem to take the hint. What does Miss Manners suggest?

GENTLE READER: That you get better-smelling guests. Leaving air freshener in an attractive container in plain sight is all that you can reasonably do. If the results are not to your satisfaction, Miss Manners suggests that you discreetly follow up after your guests have left.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, dearmissmanners@gmail.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

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