Lessons in Ice Cream

Andrea Geones

Copyright 2020 by Andrea Geones

Photo of an ice cream store sign.
              Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

I am an actor living in LA and, like almost every other actor in LA, I have a day job. Mine is working at an ice cream shop.

People are always asking me what its like to work in an ice cream shop. They ask how do you not eat ice cream all the time? My answer to that question is, I do eat ice cream all the time. They say it smells so good in here! Do you ever get sick of it? I answer, not really, just get used to it. But, the most frequent thing people say to me is, your customers must always be so happy. Do you just love working here?

This is a much more difficult question to answer.

I have worked many customer service jobs in my life in some very high-end, affluent areas such as Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, with customers so horrendous youd think that they only exist in the movies. Yes, our customers at the ice cream shop are generally in happier spirits, but customer service is still customer service.

The other factor that gives me pause is that my job at the ice cream shop more often than not takes on the role of therapist for the majority of my customers. What people dont think about when they ask me questions about how much I love my job is the reasons why people go out for ice cream. Sometimes its for celebratory purposes; for most others, its for consolation. I have, on countless occasions, been the shoulder on which customers literally cry, the one who bears the brunt of their anger, or the one who is chosen to calm anxiety. I am known among my coworkers as the one employee at the shop who gets all the cryers, the ones who are all having a bad day. Yes, I am cursed with a friendly face and the compulsive need to be there for everyone. 

These interactions can take a toll on my mental and emotional well-being, but I have had some truly life-changing interactions with some very special customers, due to how personal I often get with them. There is one man in particular who changed everything for me, and I will never forget him.

He walked into the shop, swathed in the bright backlighting of the sun, looking ethereal and angelic. At first, I wasnt quite sure who, or even what, I was looking at. He walked further into the relative darkness of the shop, and I was able to see his face. It was the face of a middle-aged man, gaunt, with shadows under his eyes and stubble on his chin, but none of it could dim the sparkle in his eye nor his enthusiasm of a child.

I happily offered him samples, and he took every, single one, savoring each individual ingredient, celebrating the apparent explosion of flavors in his mouth in each spoonful. Every sensation delighted him, with each taste his appreciation grew, even in the flavors he didnt like. It was some of the most fun Id ever had with any customer.

There was one thing that was distracting me, however, from which I could not tear my eyes. Dangling on the very tip of his nose was a little ball of mucus, threatening to fall right onto the counter. Every time he moved his head, this clear drop of snot prepared to make its departure onto a surface that I would most likely have to clean. I didnt know if I should say something or not; I had no desire to interrupt the great time he was having, nor did I want to embarrass him. Just as the situation was getting dire and I was opening my mouth to say something, I dont know what, but something, he seemed to sense what was amiss. With the slightest bit of embarrassment, he pulled a crumpled up tissue from inside his pocket, dabbed at the tip of his nose, and said Im sorry. Im going through chemotherapy right now, and my nose dripping is one of the side effects.

I felt my heart starting to break as he put his tissue back into his pocket and, forcing himself to reignite his excitement for the ice cream, he asked for another sample. I put on a happy face again, blinking back the memories of all of the friends and family that Ive had, as do so many other people, whove been subject to the aggressive beating of cancer. 

My curiosity getting the better of me, I gently inquired further as to his situation, and he told me that it was his second battle with cancer, and this time it was stage four.

I did my best not to go over in my head the categories of people Ive known who have survived, who have died, what kinds of cancer, whos been on chemotherapy and for whom surgery was enough, as I scooped him a split scoop of our almond flavor and lavender honey.

I brought him to the register, while he apologized for giving me the details of what he was going through.

I never tell people about my situation, so Im surprised that Ive told you as much as I have.

It happens all the time, I told him, with a smile.

As he reached into his pocket for money, I said this one is on me today. He stopped, and looked at me with genuine shock in his eyes. He then enveloped me in a giant bear hug, thanking me incessantly for the gift. I told him truthfully that it was the least I could do, and how grateful I was to him for confiding in me. Then he said the words that I will never forget.

I know that I shouldnt be happy at this time in my life, but, for some reason, Ive never been happier. I feel so free.

Its what catalyzed my mission in life to not have one wasted moment, to be grateful for everything I have, both good and bad. I felt my hands starting to shake as he turned around with his cup of ice cream and exited the shop, turning his face towards the sky, towards the warmth of the sun, and all I could think to myself was that if he could be having the best time of his life during a time of severe sickness, pain, and grief, then why cant I, a healthy woman in her 20s, be in the best time of my life?

I thought about him at least once a day from that point on, wondering if he was ever able to recover.

About two years later, I clocked in at work, and as I walked to the lobby of the shop, a man came through the front door, once again bathed in a halo of the sun. He walked quickly into the shop, and I could see that he was wearing a cuck fancer shirt. I did not recognize him by his face, nor did he recognize me by mine. But, as our eyes met, we saw past each other's exteriors, I into his very being and he into mine, and I knew exactly who he was and he knew me.

Is it you? He asked, just as I said, its you! Its you!

He was just as shocked that I remembered him as I was that he remembered me.

I dont want any ice cream today. I just wanted to come in and tell you how much it meant to me when you gave me my ice cream two years ago. Its those little things that make all the difference, more than anything else. Im cancer-free now, and participating in the fight against cancer.

I told him how much his words touched my life, and how Ive never forgotten him.

And, as he once again walked out through the doors, I was filled to bursting from this beautiful gift I was given. Even now, two years after that experience, I still make choices influenced by the lessons he taught me. Wherever he is, I hope that he is living a healthy and happy life, fighting the good fight, and changing more lives for the better.

Andrea is a native Los Angeleno. She started off with music, with the piano at age five, and then singing and acting when she turned 11. She has spent most of her professional life pursuing acting, while working at an ice cream shop on the side. Also, she makes the best baklava.

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