My middle son has been looking for a job this summer. After weeks of looking, nothing panned out. Like when I was job hunting my senior year in high school. I had applied to pizza places, clothing stores, ear piercing kiosks, and still, not a word back. But I finally got a call from the ice cream parlor in the strip mall a mile away from my house. They wanted me to come in for an interview -- I told the manager I could be there in half an hour and then ran to get back on the bus for the third time that day.
I'd be starting college in the fall and I needed this job. Please please please, I mumbled to myself on the ride there, please let them give me this job. As the bus lurched at each of its stops, I tried to remember what I had said my qualifications were. I must have filled out five or ten job applications that month, and as the weeks went on and the call backs never came, my desperation along with my embellishments on the applications, grew.
I wasn't in a panic, I just wanted to be ready with the answers that would match my stated qualifications. In case they would ask me how strong my German was (did I say I spoke German for the nanny job or for the ice cream job?), or if they needed instances of how many times I had changed a flat tire (did I say I did that for the Quiky Lube job or the Tires America job?). I couldn't remember if I said I had churned butter down on the farm, I had to get this job and pass this interview to do it. I was going to fake ice cream sundae making until I made it, which hopefully, I actually would be, and soon. Before I hung up, the woman on the phone from The Ice Cream Factory told me to walk past the front counter and go to the office in the back.
Growing up, I had the kind of life where I've never had the luxury of being picky about the jobs I took, otherwise, I would have turned on my heels and left as soon as I saw the counter girl's face look up at me, bewildered, when I walked in and asked, "Is there an office?"
"You want an office?" she stared at me. "We have a room, in the back, where we keep our coats and stuff. You mean there?"
"Yeah." I started to feel nervous. "Yeah. I'm here for a job interview."
"Job interview?" she tried not to laugh. "They're getting fancy." She pushed open the swinging door to the back for me. And there on the other side, just like she had said, was a room filled with coats, old cardboard boxes, a folding table against the wall, and a gray time clock next to a sink with a picture of dirty hands and big red X over them.
I was in "the office". The room was empty and on the wall was a schedule of hours taped above the time clock. There were only five employee names on the grid, and they were all getting a lot of hours. This could be really good for me.
After ten minutes alone, a short, red-haired woman came in. Breathless and wiping what looked like chocolate off of her mouth with her white apron, she walked toward me. "I'm Sue, the manager, when are you available to start?"
I heard angels sing. I answered, "Immediately. Right away. Soon as you need me!" I made a silent wish for all future job interviews to be just like this. I smiled, it was impossible to hide my relief.
"Good. Good. Put a hair net on from over there and you can start by helping Marcy close up tonight. I've been here since 7 this morning and have to get home. So, if you're staying, I can leave. "
Whoa. Tonight? I didn't plan on working at an ice cream parlor tonight. But as I said, I've always had to say yes to work, and so I did.
"Marcy's shift was up two hours ago but Matt didn't come in for his shift, so you can replace him. Go up front and she'll tell you what to do. Don't forget an apron from over there," Sue pointed to the corner. "And your hair: UP."
"Over there" was a rod with aprons hanging from a single hanger. I chose the least stained one and tied it around my neck. "You take your own apron home and wash it yourself. If I have to wash it for you, it's 5 bucks," she warned.
I stuffed my hair into the brown hair net and walked out front to relieve Marcy. She gave me a look of 'yeah, it's a job and no way you'll ever get fired from here' that made me feel I could handle whatever ice cream arrangement was requested.
"It's really not that hard here, " Marcy said as she began training me. "Just cover the ice cream when we close. Over there is the mixer," she pointed to an industrial sized gunmetal silver appliance in the corner that looked like something left over from a 1950's bomb shelter. "Make sure to wipe that down after you unplug it. It can't get wet. Wipe the counter, soak the scoops, sweep and mop the floor, gather the garbage, write down how much ice cream you went through, close out the drawer and then... wait, are you closing?"
Was I closing? Oh, hell no. Did I say I knew how to close on the application? "Umm, I don't remember if I do or not. Is it hard to close?"
"No, it's not hard, just a pain in the ass." Marcy acted like a preschooler could do it. "You have to take the money and put it in an envelope from the bank and make sure it gets to the bank at 9 the next day so you have all that money with you all night, so yeah that sucks if someone jumps you on your way home, you're SOL."
Dear God, I prayed. I hope I didn't say I knew how to close. I had to ride the bus home every night, I didn't want to do it with someone else's cash.
"So, that's it," she said. So far, things didn't sound too unmanageable. But then Marcy got serious. She said, "Oh. There's one thing. If someone comes in and asks for a shake. That's really bad."
"Why? Are they hard to make?"
Marcy pressed her lips tight before answering, "Not hard to make but -- I guess it's dangerous. You get, kind of like this shock. Not really a little one, either. I shouldn't say that. Put it this way, it's big enough so that you know you're getting a shock."
"Like, electrical?" This had to be wrong.
"Uh-huh. From electricity. Sue says there's a short in the mixer and they cost like hundreds to replace because they don't want to buy a new one so we just have to keep using it. It's really important your hands are never ever wet when you make a shake."
This couldn't be true. Marcy was just probably electricity sensitive, like Joey Volmer from 3rd grade who would cry out for his mama whenever we rubbed our feet along our carpeted classroom and then touched him with our fingertips.
I couldn't concentrate as Marcy started showing me how to take inventory. A shock, a shock, a shock, was all I kept thinking, my heart softening for Joey Volmer. Just then, two kids walked in and Marcy side-whispered to me, "Say your prayers. As soon as anyone comes in. Just start, Please God don't let them ask for a shake."
Marcy put on a bright smile and stood tall while she began, "Hi! Welcome to Ice Cream Factory! What can we get you tonight?"
My heart pounds, thumps, I sweat. Please God...
"We'll take two chocolate malts. Concrete thick."
Marcy turned around and stared at me, she mouthed, OH MY GOD SHAKES.
I wanted someone there if I was going to have smoke coming out of my orifices, so I decided to find out just how bad the shocks were while I had a co-worker with me. I breathed deep and said, "Marcy, let me make them."
Marcy looked down at her feet as if she had just sentenced me to death row. "All right, but, make sure your hands are dry."
I heard taps playing with each step I took toward the silver mixer in the corner. Somehow, it had grown to twice the size than it was when I first looked at it. I wiped my hands on my apron, so wet with sweat, but I wanted to be extra extra extra sure they were bone dry. I stood in front of the mixer and looked up at the shake and malt recipes taped to the wall. First, I put two scoops of ice cream into the silver tumbler, then, I poured in the milk, finally, the malt powder. The time had come for the last step. I had to flip the switch.
I held the silver cup while I clicked the silver knob down. Nothing. For half a second. Then, a zap I felt clear to my fillings. This did not feel right and was so much more than just a small zing. I popped my finger away from the knob and let the mixer run on its own, the contents flying sideways with no hand to steady it.
I apologized to Marcy and told her I had to leave, and I meant it.
Tossing my hair net and apron on to the other side of the swinging door, I walked out, shaking my head, amazed. It wasn't the shock (pun intended) from almost being electrocuted that had me in disbelief, I mean, the size of the electric current that just ran through me could have doubled as a defibrillator. It wasn't that at all.
The true shock was in meeting someone that needed a job more than I did.
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