I scream, you scream . . .

March 25, 1994|By Kevin Cowherd

On the first warm evening of spring, my wife and I suffered some sort of mental breakdown and decided to take the kids out for ice cream.

Going out for ice cream used to be a fairly uncomplicated affair, at least back when cars had fins and Khrushchev was banging his shoe on a desk at the United Nations.

Basically, the only flavors to choose from were chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.

So when you pulled up to the ice cream stand, you didn't have to stand there glassy-eyed for 10 minutes studying a menu board.

All you did was walk up to the kid with the goofy paper hat behind the counter, bark out "chocolate" or "vanilla" or whatever, and that was that.

Now the act of choosing a flavor triggers sweaty palms and buckets of epinephrine coursing through one's system as he or she nervously decides between chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, butter pecan, chocolate mint, watermelon sherbet, coffee, Rocky Road, cookies n' cream, peanut butter fudge, pistachio walnut, toasted almond fudge and God knows what else.

The whole ordeal puts entirely too much pressure on the customer, who needs the memory of an IBM mainframe just to make a selection.

This reminds me of an idea I once had to open an ice cream stand called "Just Chocolate."

The thinking was that it would take a lot of the stress out of ordering ice cream, both for the customer and the person working the counter, namely me.

As soon as I saw your car roll up, I'd dig a scoop of chocolate onto a cone and hand it out the window with a big smile.

On the other hand, if anyone walked up and said: "Um, do you have peach melba?" I'd reach out with a rolled-up newspaper and whack that person over the head.

Then I'd calmly point to the store's sign: "What does that say? Does it say Just Peach Melba? Huh?! No, it says Just Chocolate, doesn't it?

"Now let's try that again, pal."

I'll tell you, I might not be the brightest guy in the world.

But if I had to deal with customers like that on a regular basis, I'd close the place up every night feeling like Jonas Salk.

Anyway, it took us forever just to order five cones the other night -- this after I had worked out all the various combinations on a small Toshiba laptop as to who wanted sugar cones, sprinkles, Reese's Pieces toppings, etc.

Once we got our cones, we grabbed our usual gross of paper napkins and moved to a nearby bench.

The key to effective eating of an ice cream cone is to practice a symmetrical licking system whereby you never allow one side to melt more than another.

But my kids practice a different method, where you just sort of lick it whenever you feel like it and let the whole thing dribble all over your hands.

They also like to do that routine where you bite off the bottom tip of the cone and attempt to suck out the ice cream, ensuring that it smears all over your face in addition to your hands.

Very few children can suck the ice cream from the bottom of a cone gracefully; it's a maneuver that really should not be practiced until the child is old enough to apply for a driver's license.

Sure enough, within five minutes or so, all three kids had dark stains all over their hands and face, as if they'd spent the past hour changing a tire.

As if all this wasn't disturbing enough, my wife and I got in a big fight after she asked for a "taste" of my chocolate marshmallow cone.

Here is my understanding of the protocol behind this: When one person asks for a "taste" of another person's ice cream, the taster enters into an unwritten covenant whereby he or she agrees to merely lick the other person's cone, but not take a bite.

This is the way I was brought up. In fact, this is the way all right-thinking people were brought up.

So when my wife asked for a "taste," I said "Sure, knock yourself out" and handed her the cone.

Then I turned around for a moment, which proved to be a huge mistake.

Because when I turned back, she had bitten off a huge chunk of the cone. And I . . . well, I just freaked out, is what happened.

I started quivering like a tuning fork. Then I started sobbing and accusing her of ripping me off. Then I lunged at her cone, which conveniently was nearly gone by now.

She accused me of "over-reacting" and the two of us rode home in silence.

The kids had a good time, though.

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