Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The one about the worms

My first job was at deli / ice cream shop that was part of a small locally-owned chain. We did most of our business in ice cream, though the food there is actually pretty decent. One afternoon when I was working, a woman came in with her 2-year-old granddaughter to pick up a sandwich order she had called in. The granddaughter reminded me of me as a kid. She was cute, bossy, brassy, curly-haired, and basically a major pain in the ass. The whole the time her grandmother was asking for, paying for, and waiting for her order, the kid was running around the dining room SHRIEKING at the top of her lungs. It wasn't even proper yelling, just that brain-melting high pitched REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! noise that kids make when no one has told them not to ever do it again.

The grandmother was employing that all-too-common and completely ineffectual method seen all too often out in the world (especially when you work retail, gah) where the kid acts like a shit and the parent stands there and says in a quiet, passive voice, "Stop that. Stop that. Honey, please. Stop that. Stop that" and does nothing to actually encourage the child to stop.

In addition to scooped ice cream and food, the shop also sold ice cream cakes out of a glass-fronted case. They were ice cream on the bottom and cake on top, iced with white and then decorated by methods that ranged from cute to godawful. One of my favorite cake "designs" was the one where the decorator would place gummy worms around the top and bottom edge. On one of her passes back and forth with the shrieking -- the grandmother keeping up a steady mantra of "Sarah. Sarah. Stop that, please. Sarah. Sarah" -- the kid noticed the cakes in the case. She stopped dead in her tracks and said, almost reverently, "Worm cake."

Grandma said, "No, Sarah. We have cookies for dessert. We're not getting any ice cream today."

"Worm cake," Sarah said, less reverently.

"No, Sarah."

"Worm cake!" Sarah bellowed.

Her grandmother, finally in possession of her food order, took Sarah by the hand and started to pull her away from the cake case.

"Worm cake!" Sarah shrieked. "WORM CAKE!" And she took one of those deep, pre-Apocalyptic toddler breaths. You know the one. The one before they shout the walls down and burn the ruins with the force of their rage. The one before their heads spin around full circle. The one before they turn the volume up to eleven and scream "WORM CAKE!!!"

I don't know how it happened. I guess it was my one flash of genius -- I suddenly knew what to do. I ran to the bucket where we kept the gummy worms for putting on kids' cones and grabbed one. Approaching the counter with the worm held out in front of me like a shield, I said, "Hey, Sarah! Here you go!"

The screaming stopped. Her eyes grew wide. She reached out with chubby fingers to take the worm. And Grandma, bless her heart, hustled the kid out the door before she could figure out that she'd been fooled. Saved by a lowly gummy worm.

Reading:  The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

Playing:  my Collective Soul station on Pandora


  1. Ah,man, I'm right in the midst of this kind of stuff right now. They're sooooo determined and can just wear you right down. Wait for it...

  2. Seeing that kid was like simultaneously looking into my past and my future. It was eerie!