“I’ll have a banana split,” said the nondescript man in the Member’s Only jacket, placing his order.
A banana split?
For high school girls working the counter of Rimrock Mall’s Hipster Doogan ice cream and corn dog emporium, an order for a banana split was cause for excitement. Sure, we scooped a lot of single chocolate almond fudge cones. You bet, we dipped a lot of the store’s specialty item: the Doogan Bar (a rectangle of ice cream on a stick dunked into warm chocolate and rolled in crushed nuts). On the other side of the store, we ladled cheese for nachos; we popped bags of corn; we made taco salads, we fried chicken nuggets and corn dogs.
We fifteen-year-old mall workers were diverse in talent, high in energy, and well able to fulfill the store’s Mission Statement (with a liberal dash of personal interpretation overlaying corporate intention):
To ensure that each guest receives prompt (once we stopped comparing notes on curling irons), professional (dripping with lip gloss), friendly (if he was cute) and courteous (lowering our voices before observing, “She’s so stuck-up”) service. To maintain a clean (slopping bleach water on the tiles of the floor while singing “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This”), comfortable (go ahead: lean on the counter while we fill your Dr. Pepper) and well maintained (only minor chips in the industrial counter top laminate) premises for our guests (like YOU, Members Only Guy!) and staff (wait, who? OH!). To provide at a fair price (not like that wallet-gouging movie theater down by J.C. Penney’s) – nutritional (popcorn’s a whole grain, People, and there are many important mystery nutritions in a corn dog, not to mention positive fats–the kind that’ll make your hair shiny–in two scoops of Strawberry Cheesecake ice cream), well-prepared (we crushed the chips on your taco salad with our own hands) meals – using only quality ingredients (the ever-liquid nacho cheese that comes in a 96-ounce can). To ensure that all guests and staff are treated with the respect (hey, Sailor) and dignity (“A chocolate milkshake made with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup? I commend you on your sophisticated taste”) they deserve. To thank each guest (“You were rad. It was bitchin’ of you to stop by!”) for the opportunity to serve them (“The napkins are in the dispenser on the counter. Help yourself”). By maintaining these objectives we shall be assured of a fair profit (our boss Connie barely made it through 8th grade but could count out that till each night like someone who’d taken and nearly passed algebra) that will allow us to contribute to the community (Billings, Montana! And surrounding regions! Including Upper Wyoming!) we serve.
Mission Statement Fulfillment aside, we teenagers on the Hipster Doogan wait staff also spent countless hours standing around, wiping the same patch of counter repeatedly. We sprayed the mirrors. Wiped them. We stirred the Doogan Bar dipping chocolate. Restocked the butter pats. Compared notes on our various high schools. We counseled the older workers, women well into their twenties, when they came up pregnant or missed their bus. We joked around with our bosses so that they’d like us and give us lots of hours on the next week’s schedule. We punched in, scooped, wiped, chatted, took a break, punched out.
Thus, when a customer stepped up to the counter and ordered something unusual, something we had the chance to make maybe once every two months, something like a banana split, it was a thing–
especially when such an order was placed on a quiet weeknight during which my co-worker, Jamie, and I had already exhausted our troves of gossip. We’d already replaced the getting-low barrel of Fudge Ripple ice cream, and we’d wiped the grease off the doors of the popcorn machine. Stacks of cups were towering next to the pop machine; to add any more would have been madness. Possibly, we’d swept. For sure, we’d already decided Jamie should dump her boyfriend.
So what to do? Hmmm? What to–
A BANANA SPLIT, YOU SAY, SIR?
Why, yes, it would be our pleasure to get right on that.
Fortunately, we had a bunch of bananas right there on the slightly chipped counter top, just waiting to be sliced. I grabbed the best looking of the bunch (which is, incidentally, also how I scored my husband seventeen years later), peeled it like I was removing a pair of toe socks after a long night of dancing to Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” and ran a knife down its center. Huzzah! The fruit was split! And if this customer ate enough banana splits, so would his pants!
Jamie reached under the counter to retrieve a banana split boat while I peered into the lowboy, trying to spot the can of Redi-Whip. As we both bent down, I slipped on the banana peel that had fallen onto the tiles, and our heads clunked.
And with that, Member’s Only Guy found himself witness to a spontaneous bit by the Two Stooges. Jamie dramatically rubbed her noggin while I mock fell to the floor. Looking up at MOG, I managed to suggest, “While my colleague here restores her rattled brain, and while I hoist my polyester-smocked self off the floor, perhaps you’d like to peruse the flavors of Montana’s own Wilcoxsons ice cream? You get three scoops in your split, so what flavors would you like? Myself, I cannot recommend too strongly the combination of Bubble Gum with Licorice offset by a scoop of Mint Chocolate Chip. You will never regret a choice that bold.”
Looking dubious and entertained in equal measure, the man made his way up and down the line of flavors, putting his nose to the case. “I tend to be more classic in my tastes, so let’s go with vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.”
Hiding my exasperation at his lack of imagination, I dusted off my rear end and moved to the sink to wash my hands. “Okay, Jamie, are you good to scoop?”
As her eyes uncrossed, Jamie noted, “There’s more than one scooper here for a reason. I’ll get the vanilla and the chocolate while you round up the outlier that is strawberry.”
As it turned out, having one of us hold the banana split boat while the other lobbed ice cream in its general direction was infinitely more fun that an easy division of scooping labor. Jamie hucked frozen balls my way, and I–only missing the first two (more to mop up after closing while humming Annie Lennox)–eventually caught three balls with the boat.
Smashing the scoops gently into some sense of order, and cradling the two halves of the banana around them, I then turned to Members Only Guy and ushered him to his next decision: “All right, Sir. Now: you can have two flavors of syrup on your ice cream. We have hot fudge, butterscotch, pineapple, and strawberry.” Lowering my voice, I whispered, “To be honest, if you have a strong feeling about all of them, I believe something can be arranged. I can be very bad at counting, if you feel you need the synergy of four.”
“Naw, I’m good with two. Let’s go with hot fudge and strawberry.”
What’s awesome about hot fudge versus strawberry, as sauces, is the difference in their consistencies. Hot fudge is all “I’m late for the office” runny, whereas strawberry is more “What’s your hurry, Mr. Type A?” in attitude. Jamie and I proved this, systematically, by having a sauce race wherein she held a ladle of fudge three feet above the split, and I held a ladle of strawberry at an equal height. On the count of three, we began to drizzle, and it would’ve made Albert Einstein sit up in his grave to see the hot fudge hitting the scoops first because SCIENCE.
Comfortable enough to comment, Member’s Only Guy noted, “That little experiment there was kind of messy, wasn’t it? I hope you don’t have to stay late tonight, cleaning up.”
“Never fear,” Jamie assured him, “for we’re experienced cleaners. A little strawberry sauce in the cracks is nothing to us. Now, butterscotch in your bangs is another story, of course.”
Watching the ice cream begin to wilt, I jumped in, “We’re almost done with your masterpiece. Next, I’d like to offer you the option of a cloud of whipped cream atop your sauces. Would you like a cloud? Are you a Cloud Man?”
“Why, yes, I’m very cloudy,” he affirmed.
Those words were all the permission Jamie and I needed to use up the rest of the can of Redi-Whip. First, we built a foundation of cream; then, handing the can back and forth between us, we tacked on a scaffolding, after which we sculpted a three-tiered tower of cloud.
“Wow,” we all breathed together in wonder. “That’s just…beautiful.”
“It makes me believe in God,” Member’s Only Guy confessed, his eyes lifting to the top of the banana split and, therefore, the heavens.
He was ready to convert, but we weren’t completely done proselytizing there at the Cathedral of Banana Split. An eyebrow cocked, almost as a challenge, Jamie offered up the crowning glories: “It may be beautiful, and you may see God in that rapidly melting whipped air, but there’s more. Might I interest you in a scattering of peanuts and a spoonful of sprinkles? We also have maraschino cherries. Think of them as the angels.”
“Oh, yes,” he confirmed, still rapt. “Whatever you’ve got, put it on there.”
As I stood a few feet away and lobbed peanuts onto the cloud, Jamie added three tablespoons of jimmies and a handful of cherries to the white peaks.
Then, slowly, carefully, each of us taking an end of the boat, we moved our creation from the back counter to the front. Setting it next to Member’s Only Guy, we stepped back with a flourish, grabbed hands, and took a bow.
“Here’s a spoon. You might need about fifty napkins out of the dispenser on the counter there, too. Oh, and there are bathrooms down the hall and to the right, in case you need to stick your head under a faucet after you’re done,” I told him.
“Thanks for the fun,” Jamie said, wrapping up the transaction. “That’ll be $3.50.”
Taking a ten-dollar bill out of his wallet and sliding it across the counter, our satisfied customer smiled. “Watching you two make that banana split is the best time I’ve had in ages. Keep the change. You deserve it.”
With that, he slurped at the whipped cream, picked up his boat, and, like a banana, split.
Jamie and I couldn’t believe it. We generally didn’t get tips at the Hipster Doogan, and if we did, it was the odd nickel or dime. But this man had just gifted each of us with $3.25 of our own, simply because we’d been goofy, and he’d been good-natured. For Jamie and me, in a year when the federal minimum wage was $3.35 per hour, his tip was huge.
Indeed, the tip he gave us was a tremendous gift. It was like Christmas, only it wasn’t December, and no one had declared it was Mandatory Gift-Giving Day. No one had announced, “At this pre-ordained time, everyone should feel happy and full of togetherness.”
Rather, the delight, the happiness, the togetherness, the zest, the generosity
all just happened.
By virtue of being unplanned and unexpected, those ten minutes of making a huge mess at the Hipster Doogan were my idea of a perfect holiday.
And that’s my wish for you, dear readers:
May all your best holidays come out of nowhere,
requiring no orchestration or planning.
May they be free of expectation
and full of surprise.
May your heart overflow with freedom and whimsy,
and may you marvel that life is grand–
simply because it’s a Wednesday night
or a Thursday afternoon
or a Saturday morning…
no day in particular–
simply because people are good,
and the fun of it all puts you in the mood to see Possibility in whipped cream.