Appearances are only skin deep. Or in my case, as thin as the faded mark of an overused sharpie.
Ice cream is a fickle thing; without the constant support from a freezer it oozes into a shapeless puddle, rendering it revolting to any customer. With no character of its own, it conforms to whatever whims surround it: melting in the face of heat, hardening when it’s chilly, and freezing to a solid mass in the bitter cold. It is only truly delicious, however, at a certain point between hard-as-a-rock, and goey-but-not-melted. With thus as it is, ice cream parlors must rotate the ice cream between “deep freeze” and “regular freeze”, first placing the newly made cream in the much colder freezer to harden it more quickly, and from there to the more temperate freezer to let it thaw before it is served to customers. This “cream switch” occurs at the beginning of the evening shift to insure that there is plenty of serve-able ice cream during the busiest part of the day. Two people accomplish this task: one tossing buckets of frozen ice cream to the other who stands at the entrance of the regular freezer to place the hard buckets behind the recently thawed ones. This re-stocks the regular freezer, and gives the adamantine ice cream a chance to defrost.
We were late.
Already 6:04pm, we should have re-stocked the freezer 20 min ago, but already a flood of orders prevented Katie and I from performing our other duties. One of the managers snorted for us to hustle along and “Get that freezer stocked!”
Frazzled, I re-tucked my light blue collared shirt into my black slacks, and jerked my head for Katie to follow me. We bumbled through the freezer door and scrambled to our positions, she in deep freeze and me in the doorway of the regular cold storage.
Little did I know that that moment would change my life forever.
She snatched a bucket of vanilla ice cream from its perch and twisted around to toss it to me. I caught it and swung it into place, careful to move the previously thawed ice cream bucket to the front so it would be used first. The next flying bucket of solid cream landed smoothly between my hands and slid into position adjacent to the first one. Katie and I soon fell into rhythm, flinging and stocking in a graceful frozen dessert ballet. After several minutes the 3 gallon buckets became more and more heavy, weighing on our chilled muscles until our movements became sluggish. Instead of gracefully tossing a bucket directly to me, Katie began chucking them in my general direction. I had to leap from side to side to catch the falling dessert and throw them roughly into place. I felt like an amateur Jackie Chan trying to dodge a storm of flying objects whilst-and-at-the-same-time attempting not to break any of the surrounding decor. I am no Jackie Chan, however, and looked more like a dancing octopus with a stiff limb disorder. Instead of lining the buckets on their shelves, I dropped all of them on the floor.
All except one. I was determined to catch that one. So much so that I spurred far beyond the physical stretching capabilities of my black slacks. With a decisive leap, I bounded over the heap of frozen cylinders, caught the flying bucket in my hands, and landed in a frog-like position with my knees spread wide and my rear nearly touching the cold metal floor.
That sound could have stopped a ninja in its tracks.
I crouched there, frozen, my limbs shaking, but not from the harsh chill of the freezer. Already I could feel a cold breeze whistle through the thin layer of underwear, reminding me all the more that I sat motionless on the floor with a large gaping hole in my uniform.
A bucket came crashing towards my head, missing me by mere inches. Katie hadn’t seen my little episode, and carried on merrily chucking ice cream at me.
“Katie!” I hissed, ducking as more buckets flew at me.
She paused to glance behind her, another bucket gripped between her hands. She cocked her head, one eyebrow raised. “Are you okay?”
“There’s a hole in my pants!”
My face convinced her of my dilemma more than my words did. With my eyes opened to their fullest, and my mouth twisted in an expression of utter horror, I looked the perfect picture of a thief caught in the act.
“Oh,” she mouthed, placing the bucket on the floor.
I suggested that Katie have a look to see how bad the damage was. At this point my legs had stiffened, leaving me a hunched goblin with my arms straight out and my bum extended. I knew it was bad when she gasped.
“What what what?!” I chirped, suddenly full of enough vigor to straighten to a standing position.
She tapped her front tooth with her finger and hunched her shoulders forward. “Ummmm…”
Twisting to see the chaos for myself, I saw to my horror, that the rip extended from the bottom of my crotch allllllllll the way up to the band that cinched around my waist. Perhaps if I had worn darker underwear the tear wouldn’t have been quite so visible. But alas. That day, of all days, I had chosen to don a bright pink flowered pair of undies. The sharp contrast between the black of my pants and the flaming pink underwear couldn’t have been more obvious if I strapped a bugle horn to my butt and had it play the royal anthem.
“Oh NO!” clasping both hands upon my rear I stared wildly around for something to cover it with. The freezer offered no suggestions of relief except for maybe a few lettuce leaves. I entertained the notion that perhaps I could convince everyone that I was testing out the medieval era where great artists sculpted manly figures with fig leaves as covering, but hardly assumed parading through the restaurant with salad taped to my backside would grant me much conspiculation.
Neither Katie nor I knew what to do, so we stood there for a moment, staring at each other, our expressions thoughtless. We both startled when one of the freezer doors burst open and the manager stepped in. We must have looked a spectacle, what with buckets scattered every which way, both of us frozen stiff, and me with my hands gripped over my bum. He stopped, blinked rapidly, shook his head and left again.
We breathed a sigh of relief and glanced again at the large problem singing from my backside.
Looking for possible solutions
“I might have a sewing kit with me,” Katie suggested, rushing towards the back door that lead to the dry storage room. Beyond that point was the office, then break room, and from there the one and only employee restroom. That meant that in order for me to get to the bathroom to fix the issue, I had to cross through the throng of employees clocking in for the evening shift.
I don’t remember an evening so crowded. The break room was crammed with people, each clad in light blue polos and black slacks. I eyed their pants with sour jealousy, my rear plastered against the wall. Normally I would bounce from person to person doling out hugs and greetings, but since doing so would flash my bright pink behind to the entire workforce, I remained with my butt pressed to the walls. I felt like a secret agent trying to sneak through a throng of guests in order to save the world from some imminent doom. Unlike a secret agent, however, everyone noticed. Several pairs of eyes followed my trail as I booty-scooted to the bathroom.
“Sarah, what are you doing?” One boy asked, staring at me with one eyebrow cocked.
“I’m practicing my secret agent moves,” I lied, winking. “I’m on a top secret mission, so I can’t tell you more than that.”
He didn’t know what to think of my response or odd behavior, and didn’t have the words to reply, so he merely shrugged.
Grateful the conversation didn’t extend beyond that, I finally sidled into the cramped bathroom and locked the door. A quick glance at the mirror confirmed my horror. The hole was indeed ginormous. I looked like a skunk with a pink flowered stripe running up my rear. There was no way I could work with such a flamboyant flag flashing through my slacks. Katie knocked a few minutes later with the depressing news that she didn’t have a sewing kit. We ruminated the other possibilities, tossing each idea out the moment it came in. Tape, we thought, might hold the fabric together as long as I refrained from too much movement, but unfortunately working at a fast-paced restaurant made that notion impossible. Paperclips were a dud because that just wouldn’t work, and safety pins weren’t an option due to the fact that we didn’t have any.
The perfect solution?
“What am I going to do?!” I whispered. “My underwear is so bright!”
Suddenly, a burst of wisdom flashed across my vision.
“Katie!” I called. “I need you to run into the office and steal a black sharpie!”
I heard the wheels clicking in her brain as she whispered, “Good idea!” and dashed off. A few moments passed and she returned with the blessed writing utensil.
Marker in hand, I surveyed the situation. I contemplated removing my undies to color them, but then again, if I missed any area that the hole revealed, I would still be left to ridicule. To save both time and energy, I lifted one leg onto the ledge of the sink, my face towards the door and my bum facing the mirror. Then, with much twisting and grunting I managed to contort my body so that I could maneuver the marker into position above that massive tear. I’ve never been very good at yoga. I think I’ve discovered a new technique, and would name it after myself, but I wouldn’t want to tag my name to this situation. Then the coloring began. It was an odd feeling to say the least, and one that I am in no mood to repeat. The deed was much harder than I expected, both for the enormity of the hole, and that fact that the marker was quickly running out of ink.
I’ve never given doors the credit they deserve. Several employees knocked and demanded to know when I would be out, and to each I replied, “Just a minute!” Only due to my strange position my voice came out strained and distant, making me sound as though I were constipated.
Finally the deed was done. Appraising my efforts I noted with much pleasure that the colored portion of my undies blended in perfectly with the black backdrop of my slacks. And I discovered that if I walked with my hips slightly forward the ripped seams closed together slightly.
“Perfect,” I mused.
Only thing to do now was walk calmly out into the audience of workers and customers and pretend like nothing happened. True there was a giant hole gaping from my backside, and my odd hip-forward walk made me look like a prima donna, but if the ruse could fool the mirror then it would fool the crowd.
Katie gave me a thumbs up as I passed.
Hiding in “the corner”
I hoped my only task for this evening was to scoop ice cream, that way I could stay silent and unseen behind the counter. But as luck has it, I was consigned to “The Corner.” The corner is the portion of the ice cream parlor that deals with take-out customers, the register, and phone orders. It is the busiest corner of the entire restaurant, demands the most movement, and is the one place where most people see you. The deep sigh that rumbled from my chest turned to a bitter moan when I noticed the other two corner workers were both men.
My odd hip-forward stance immediately caught the attention of the skinnier of the two men.
“What are you doing?” he asked, cocking his head to the side.
“It’s an ab exercise girls use to widen their hips,” I lied, thrusting my pelvis forward for more emphasis.
He nodded, muttered a soft “Ahh,” and turned to help a customer.
Thank goodness men are ignorant to all feminine concerns.
Then the night began in earnest. Floods of waiter’s tickets lapped over each other, each nearly black with detailed orders. The employees looked something like a swarm of bees buzzing hurriedly around the counter. Under normal circumstances I would have dashed about like the others, spinning, dipping and dodging to get all the orders complete, but unlike normal days I had a giant hole grinning from my backside. Hips forward, I tiptoed behind the counters, leaning sideways to grab things off high shelves, and bending backwards to snatch anything on low shelves. My awkward bent-knee-back-bend caught the attention of one of my fellow workers.
“What are you doing?” She sneered. One of her nostrils was lifted higher than the other, as though she smelled something rotten.
“I’m practicing my ballerina moves,” I told her, swinging one arm above my head in a graceful arch.
She stared at me incredulously when I offered no further explanation. “Why?”
“Didn’t you know?” I laced my voice with hurt and lifted my brows together in sorrow. “It’s my fondest dream to run away to New York and perform on Broadway! And how else can I achieve my goals if I don’t practice at all times?!”
Her eyes widened and her jaw gaped. Words started from her mouth, then stopped when she closed it again. I enjoyed the look of consternation on her face.
I should fib to her more often.
In short, trying to work normally was impossible given the circumstances. I felt like a skunk in a dog show trying to fit in. Despite my best efforts to the contrary everyone seemed to notice something was different. I deflected their questions with farse ease, but felt like a spectacle in a spotlight. At long last our manager approached us three corner workers and asked who would like to go on break first. Not wanting to appear too eager, I waited a few seconds for the other two to speak. If one of them had offered to go first I would have punched them right in the nose, but I wasn’t about to let them see that. When neither of them spoke I nonchalantly rose my hand and let out a sigh.
“I guess I’ll go first.”
I sprinted to my car. I needed to get home to change pants now. When I burst through the door I caught the attention of my mother and younger siblings who were seated around the dinner table. They glanced up as I raced to my room and waited in silence until I emerged with the faulty pants dangling from my hands.
No sympathy whatsoever…
“Are you off early?” Mom asked, staring at me.
I shook my head and quickly explained what happened.
She plummeted to the floor in peals of laughter. Tears of mirth cascaded down her cheeks like a waterfall pouring from a cliff’s edge. Her cries of glee echoed around the kitchen so loudly that several other family members ran to see what happened. I hoped she would have had more sympathy, but I suppose I would have reacted in a similar manner had I not been the one suffering the embarrassment.
It was only after I returned to work that I considered the many other solutions I could have come up with in that circumstance, such as calling home to have someone bring some new pants, or trading pants with one of the other workers leaving for the evening. But no. In my moment of panic I decided that coloring the exposed layer of pink underwear with a sharpie was the best course of action. A fact that still sends my mother into hysterical roars of laughter whenever she thinks about it.