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Scoop above the rest

Published: September 12, 2008
Section: Opinions


Marci had this chirping voice, this high-pitched squeak that would get on your nerves. She was my boss at Coldstone, where, unfortunately, being vocal was a big part of the job. When a grateful customer threw some coins into the cup, she would cheer, “Hey guys, we got a tip!” And we’d have to break out into song. That was bad enough, but she would accompany it with this bump and grind motion that was more appropriate for the dance floor than behind the counter.

To make matters worse, she was 19 years old, younger than me, and making more than my paltry $7.15 an hour. Maybe it was just my irritability about being there- I needed a second job, which left me slinging ice cream for 4 year olds. Having to serve jappy former classmates you’d rather forget was hard. Add to that the Oreo shmear on your forehead, the Coldstone visor, and frizzy hair from doing dishes for 2 hours made it socially painful. It seemed like a shift didn’t go by without looks of pity being thrown my way, by friends and acquaintances alike. The gist was clear- this kind of labor was supposed to be beneath me.

Education was supposed to be my passport out of this world. The question “paper or plastic?” was never supposed to pass through my lips. I was destined for a cushier job. If my parents had their way, one of the doctor-lawyer-business person variety with a six figure job, benefits, and yearly vacations. I was not meant for menial labor, they told me. Oh, no one said that explicitly, but it was understood. That was for them. The Mexican tending our neighbor’s yard, the Czech secretary filing away at the doctor’s office. Your hands should remain a soft milky white, with the brain being the only muscle you flex.

Notwithstanding the stereotype (or dare I say truism?) of pale, pasty white, cerebral Jews, I knew where I was headed. Why? Because of my zip code? Because of the color of my skin? Perhaps it had to do simply with the passage of time, the quick turnover associated with the immigrant experience. My grandfather was a Polish immigrant who drove a taxicab for the entirety of his professional life. And he did a damn good job. He schmoozed like no other, entertaining his passengers in 7 languages. He sang songs from the old country, making the trek across the Triboro a trip down memory lane instead. He knew the city like the back of his hand, and was an honest businessman. One day sheer chance brought Donald Sutherland into his taxicab. When the famous actor bid his humorous driver farewell, he left his wallet behind. My grandfather made sure to return it, and was written up in the newspaper for his honesty.

The financial situation and educational limits that created my grandfather’s reality do not create mine. Ice cream scooping and dishwashing that summer were a means to an end, not the end in and of itself. I was looking for some petty cash, not next month’s rent. I am not looking at a future as a maid, window washer, or convenience store clerk. Yet I appreciate and hold their contribution to society in high esteem. We should value people for the work they do and the capacity in which they are able to do it. A good friend of mine chose to leave her potentially high-earning career in its infancy to care for her newborn son, born with disabilities. If someone dismissed her as “just a housewife,” I’d be tempted to literally slap some sense into him. Yes, I am fortunate to have career choices. But I hope that if I did not have that privilege in the future, I would scoop with my head held high (albeit with ice cream staining my forehead).