Why ice cream scarred me for life

Lessons in summer job mishaps and the upside to embarrassment

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Pauline Povitsky is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. 

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

Driven by a desire to gain “valuable work experience” and the knowledge that concert tickets do not grow on trees, I decided to take part in the annual summer migration of young adults into local ice cream shops all over America. Full of naiveté, I was completely unaware of the humiliation I would experience.

The turmoil began at my first shift, when a customer asked me about the specialty, a Twister.

“It’s like a Blizzard at Dairy Queen,” I explained.

Intrigued, he order it. I marched over to the ice cream machine for the first time, which did not present itself as sweet or comforting, like the product it produced. It was a cold, metallic cage with a single claw confined in the center. Powered by a foot pedal, the claw would twist, faster or slower, with applied pressure. As an avid fan of the cooking show “Chopped,” I knew of the unspoken rule — don’t even attempt the ice cream machine, it never works. Needless to say, I was a bit terrified.

Cautiously, I placed a cup of ice cream into the machine, an inch below the claw. I lightly tapped the foot pedal with my shoe. Nothing. I tapped again, and suddenly, the machine sprang to life. The claw began to swirl, molding the ice cream and cookie bits together. Breathing a sigh of relief, I felt like that one “Chopped” competitor who defies the odds, the one who proves the skeptics wrong.

I leaned forward confidently, pushing my shoe into the pedal. And by the time I recognized my mistake, it was too late. A wave of vanilla ice cream and cookie bits went flying, splattering ice cream to the windows, to the walls and to my cleanly pressed employee shirt that screamed, “I’m new here!”

I was a chaotic jumble of shame and stickiness. For a couple of seconds, I was frozen in shock. I waited for my “Alice in Wonderland” moment, for the floor to open up beneath me so I could fall in and escape reality. There was no such moment.

Quickly, I salvaged the pitiful remains of my Twister creation and apologetically offered the customer his treat. Laughing, he thanked me and proceeded to steer our conversation towards the recent Cleveland Cavaliers win — I learned that even an embarrassing moment could evolve into bonding with a stranger.

My fellow employees would also grow closer by sharing not-so-bright moments. Like when one girl tried to make a smoothie without putting the cap on the blender, only to create a small strawberry explosion. Or when a fellow employee accidentally caused the milkshake machine to overflow with milk. Or the time there was an unfortunate mishap with an open jar of sprinkles. With one movement of the elbow, sprinkles spilled all over the tile floor. Kind of like modern art, there was a beautiful and tragic mess of colors beneath our feet.

On a deeper level, our embarrassing moments were meaningful because each one reflected the human experience, the commonality of making mistakes. After the first set of shifts, I contemplated never stepping into an ice cream shop again — only half-priced Walmart pints from now on. However, these mortifying incidents can happen to the best of us, and that’s okay. I learned that I could laugh at my mistakes and share my experiences with others to make them laugh as well.

Trying something new will always involve mistakes — some mistakes are casual, while some can be kind of mortifying. But it is important not to shy away from the possibility of failure, because slip-ups always come with benefits. By working at an ice cream shop for a summer, I gained valuable skills such as adaptability and responsibility — and an obsession for coffee ice cream. Reflect on that embarrassing experience. Cringe. Laugh about it. Maybe eat some ice cream to feel better. But eventually, and most importantly, move on.

Pauline Povitsky is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com

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