Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My First Job

It was the case that did it - the double rows of pastel filled buckets under spotless glass. It was the shiny glop of hot fudge in its special warmer, the ten different toppings, including smashed Oreos and Reeses cups. I loved the aqua and hot pink neon flashing in the windows, the red vinyl stools at the counter and the black and white checkered floor. I had to work in an ice cream shop (spelled "shoppe", because the extra p and e made it sound old fashioned and therefore better).

It was August of 1989. I was fifteen and we had just moved to South Florida from the quaint Riverbank, New York where I had recently found my first love, believing him to be my soul mate, believing absolutely that we would get married and soon and live together forever listening to The Cure, decorating our house with quartz crystals and keeping as many kittens as we wanted. When my father came home, suddenly one afternoon and announced that we were moving - the next week - I was understandably a little devastated. But true love conquers all. Right? I think? So it would still be ok?

No stranger to moving by then, I didn't throw a fit or weep uncontrollably. I was sad and disappointed, but in some ways I knew a move would be good. For one thing, I'd just gotten expelled from a fancy private school that served its students brown rice and tofu burritos for lunch. I spent most of that summer stuck in a special summer program for kids with "issues" and that school was an hour and a half drive away in New Jersey. My parents were sending me there in the Fall. Had we never moved, I would have been classmates with Tara Reid. I didn't particularly want to go to this school. I liked the summer thing for screwed up kids ok, but I didn't want to wake up every day of eleventh grade at five in the morning to get to a school further away than the Paramus Mall, just to spend the day with kids who were more fucked up than I was. New York Public School wasn't an option. We'd already tried that and I'd come home in tears each day after getting slammed against the lockers by a burly girl named Stephanie whose family owned a pizza place known for its square Sicilian slices. I wasn't exactly popular in the Riverbank school system. At the end of my only year in public school there, the guidance counselor suggested to my parents that a smaller private school would probably work better for me. Except it hadn't.

But no one knew me in Florida. I hadn't screwed up everything there. Not a soul knew me in Florida. I could be anyone. I could transform my life, my image, my everything. No one would know I went to summer school or got expelled or had already been to four other high schools. I could make a change in Florida. Maybe I could be popular. Maybe, finally, I'd be able to keep my papers organized and remember to complete my homework, study for tests even. Moving would be a good thing. I wanted to go to a big public high school with pep rallies and bonfires before football games. Maybe I'd join a club. Maybe I'd be on Yearbook. There'd be homecomings and prom. I could do this. It was a new start, not just for my parents who'd just lost everything in an advance fee scam, but for me too. We all needed it.

We moved to a housing development in Coral Springs, where all the homes looked alike and were laid out in a large grid; squares on squares in squares all framed by one big square.

"Where's the town?" I asked, as we unpacked boxes.

"This is it," my mother said.

"No, I mean the down town, the Main street."

"There isn't one."

I've never been able to wrap my brain around this, even twenty years later. Coral Springs, my new home, and all of South Florida really, is just a big sprawl of seemingly arbitrarily named "towns" that overlap, oozing housing developments, strip malls, plazas, Publixes, big boxes and condo communities further and further south until you hit Key Largo and the nonsense finally ends. There are no Main Streets here. You can't tell where Coral Springs ends and Parkland, Margate or Coconut Creek begins. There are no places where you can just park your car and walk around town like there were in New York or in Millpond or everywhere else I'd ever lived. In South Florida you just drove from one strip mall to the next and all the houses hid behind high, concrete walls and gates, their barrel tiled roofs and screened-in pool covers peeking over, suggesting that inside there were people here, but not people who wanted to know you. It was so strange this place. So different, this South Florida.

But a couple miles from my house, in another strip mall next to a long gone pasture, where after a good rain hippies ran to harvest 'shrooms from cow patties, next to a warehouse grocery store called Xtra, there was a perfect ice cream shop (or shoppe rather) and my parents took me there on our second night in our new house.

"Help Wanted" hung on the glass front doors and then it occurred to me. Maybe here, in my new life, I could get a job. A real job.

"Am I old enough to work?" I asked my mother.

"Yes," she said.

"Can I work here?"

"Sure, ask if you can apply," she said, licking pineapple topping and whipped cream from her spoon, "And ask if I can have some more wet nuts on the side."

A job. Wow. All at once I felt extremely old and worldly. I could get a job. I was delirious imagining all the possibilities. I would have money and it would be my own and I could do whatever I wanted with it. I wouldn't have to beg my parents for cash to see a movie. I could buy as many tapes as I wanted. I could get clothes from the Limited Express, art supplies and blank notebooks to write stories in. I wanted colored pencils and the new Pixies. And think of how cool I would be in my new school when I could tell people to come see me at work. I could give my friends free scoops. I would be around ice cream all the time! But best of all, I could buy plane tickets back to New York to reunite with my true love. I could buy him tickets to come see me and we could make it work long distance. This had to happen. I had to get this job. I had to.

I asked the girl behind the counter if I could apply for a job. She handed me an application along with the side of wet nuts.

"It's 35 cents for the nuts. Fill that out and bring it back Wednesday after 6. That's when the owner's here."

To be continued...


The Meganekko said...

Ooh, good. This should be fun; stories about first jobs always are. I thought I wanted to be a doctor before I started mine...then I discovered that patients and I are fundamentally incompatible. (Not that I hate people or anything--I just hated working a job where people could be as rude to you as they wanted, and you couldn't even get mad because you knew they were in serious pain. Geh.)

So how did customer service treat you?

Jean_Phx said...

This is will be great - I can just feel it! :-)

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine worked in an ice cream shoppe in high school. Okay, so the owner used to park her car in some odd corner of the parking lot (in disguise!) and spy on her employees, but I got LOTS of free ice cream. Worked for me!

MtnMama said...

Oh, goodie; this should be another wonderful tale!
(what are Pixies?) In August of 89 I was getting divorced, so I look forward to hearing how YOUR summer went.

kerry said...

Ah, yes, you always remember your first, don't you? :) Mine was burgers. White Castle burgers. My favorite. I still get White Castles when I visit home. My mother thinks I'm insane.

Dayna said...

I can't get over the advance-fee scam.

E said...

"Wet nuts"? Seriously? They couldn't come up with a less disgusting term for an ice cream topping?

Am I the only one here who is grossed out by that term?

Shannon Culver said...

What are 'wet nuts'? Is that a southern thing? I've eaten a lot of ice cream, but have never heard that term. I understand why it didn't garner wide-spread use however .... 'wet nuts'? ... that's kinda gross.

Anonymous said...

What are wet nuts? I've never heard that before.

Anonymous said...

funny, I grew up in north nj and had many friends with issues, who were sent to barnstable as well.

Natalie said...

My first job was basically the same thing! It was called 'The Old Ice Cream Shoppe' and it was an old-fashioned ice cream counter and grill. I still make a mean husband loves them!

Melanie said...

One time when I was at a local ice cream shop, I noticed that the person who was ringing up my order had a lapel pin that said, "New Employee." I asked her if she liked working there. She said, Yes, for the most part. But there was one part of the job that she didn't like. THE CUSTOMERS. Um, honey, maybe you shouldn't be working retail if that's how you feel.

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