This friend of mine used to work in an ice cream store. The pay sucked and there were no benefits but he loved working there because he was allowed to eat as much ice cream as he wanted. New hires always thought this was a pretty cool rule at first, and for a while they would always come into work and just keep eating ice cream, nonstop, no limits, right? I always thought it would make more sense from a corporate perspective to have maybe a “one cup per day” policy, but my friend told me that he thought management had an ulterior motive, that they highlighted the unlimited aspect of the ice cream policy to encourage new hires to overeat. By that logic, they’d keep it up for a day or two, maybe three, but no more than three, because the debilitating stomach ache that comes with too much ice cream is an inevitability, and most likely the new hire would get physically sick sometime during his or her first week. After that, going by the “once you throw it up, you don’t like it any more” rule, they wouldn’t have to worry about employees eating all of the merchandise. “One cup per day” might not ever elicit such a physical reaction. Or, at the very least, it would take a lot longer for the employee to get tired of eating ice cream at the much slower pace of one cup per day. Maybe this plan might even backfire, by restraining the employee’s natural ice cream consumption, it would force them to truly savor each cup, noticing the subtle changes in flavor and texture with each bite. Maybe they would grow to love ice cream even more than they had before. After a while their ice cream immunity would grow, less likely to cause a stomachache, or an ice cream headache. Eventually one cup wouldn’t satisfy the hunger, and they’d start sneaking little spoonfuls, right out of the container when the management wasn’t looking. If they ever got caught, they could just say that they were handing out a free sample to a customer, or, in the event that there aren’t any customers in the store, they could claim that there was some cross contamination, a little piece of cookies-n-cream in the mint chip, and that they were just cleaning it up. It would be really hard to catch employees in the act of eating extra ice cream and, what if management does catch them, what are they going to do, fire somebody over a couple of extra bites of ice cream? It would be an unfortunate situation, nobody really wanting to take any action, all while profits slide and the ice cream store sinks into mismanagement and lost revenue.
So all-you-can-eat ice cream was the rule, and it worked, mostly. Most people got sick after a couple of days. But my friend wasn’t most people. This guy, given ideal circumstances, could probably eat ice cream, one bite after another, without pause, for the rest of his life. Obviously there would have to be some sort of a system involved for bathroom breaks, but I’m not trying to get into the logistics of a challenge, I’m really just trying to drive home the point that this guy can eat a lot of ice cream. And he loved it. He never got tired of it. People would stare at him with these looks of disgust as he polished off his third banana split in less than an hour. They’d say stuff like, “What’s wrong with you?” And he’d say, “What are you talking about?” And they’d ask, “How can you eat so much ice cream? Doesn’t your stomach hurt? Don’t you have a terrible taste in the sides of your mouth? Aren’t you incredibly thirsty? How are you so thin?” And he would just wipe his mouth and say something like, “It’s ice cream! All-you-can-eat ice cream! Who doesn’t love ice cream?” And you could tell that he wasn’t just saying it. Everything about him, the tone of his voice, the earnest expression on his face, you could tell he really meant it, that he really, truly loved eating ice cream.
But the years passed and finally there came a day when my friend took stock of his life and decided that he needed to be doing something else. He hadn’t lost his taste for ice cream, not by any stretch of the imagination, but he felt that maybe it was holding him back, maybe he needed to get out there and see if there wasn’t more to life than free ice cream. So he gave his two-week’s notice. Management was more than happy to see him go. He was a good enough worker, always showing up on time, rarely calling out sick. They could never really say anything to him about his ice cream eating, because it was all perfectly in line with corporate policy. But he was clearly putting a dent into every monthly projection. After a couple of business cycles, accounting had to start actually accounting for his regularly negative impact on inventory.
All of his coworkers told him that on his last day, they should all go out to a bar and celebrate, have a couple of drinks, and then have a couple of shots. They planned on taking him out and getting everybody nice and wrecked. But they warned my friend, they said, “We know you think you have a pretty tough stomach, but seriously, don’t eat any ice cream before we all go out to the bar. It’ll be a terrible mistake.” And my friend wasn’t a huge drinker, but he understood what they were talking about, and he figured he could go a day without ice cream. The day before his last day, he totally cut loose, eating tons and tons of ice cream. But it wasn’t really cutting loose, because he did that everyday anyway, and so even though he tried to eat to his upward limit, he just couldn’t find it, and so it wound up being just like any other work day. But on his last day, for the first time in his career at the ice cream store, he didn’t eat so much as a bite of ice cream. The day was torture. He was sweating, shaking. Now he was tasting that terrible taste in the sides of his mouth. Somehow he got through the day, but it was the worst day of his life, conscious of every painful second. More than a couple of times he looked at his watch, positive that it had to be time to leave, only to find that quitting time was hours away.
After the last customer left, he wiped down the freezers one last time and punched out. He walked across the street to the bar where everybody told him they’d be waiting. When he went inside, it was almost totally empty. He sat down and ordered a beer. He sent a text to one of the coworkers, asking where everybody was. He got a text back, “Hey man, I’m actually pretty beat. Let’s reschedule.” And over the course of the next hour or so, every other coworker got in touch with him. Everybody was tired. Nobody felt like going out any more.
My friend didn’t get upset. He wasn’t one to take stuff like that personally. But while he was waiting at the bar, he just kept drinking. He didn’t know what else to do. It’s a bar, after all. And the bartender must have seen this guy all alone, texting a group of friends that wasn’t planning on showing up, so he started giving my friend some shots, on the house. And my friend accepted. Normally alcohol had a pretty minimal affect on my friend, but that’s because normally my friend had a belly at least seventy-five percent filled with ice cream. And my friend got drunk, like really drunk. And he stood up to go to the bathroom and when he stood up he realized he was even drunker than he thought, like it all hit him at once, this wave of intoxication coursing upward through him, like a current, like a lighting bolt, hitting him directly in the head, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to keep it all inside. He was standing exactly in between the bathroom and the exit, so precisely in the middle that he hesitated for a second trying to calculate which path was shortest. And that delay was just too much. He went running for the exit, and he almost made it, but he didn’t. And just as he got close to the door, it opened, and it was all of his coworkers, they all felt terrible when they texted each other, each coworker thinking that he or she would be the only no-show, and when they all realized that nobody was going to my friend’s farewell, they all got up and brushed their teeth and put on their coats and headed over to the bar. And they all arrived at the same time, and they opened the door and my friend was just running, charging towards them, and by this point it was too late to do anything, eye contact was made for a second, my friend brought his hands to his mouth in a futile attempt to at least demonstrate that he didn’t want what was about to happen to happen, but all this covering did was cause everything to spray not in a straight line, but outward, radial, like a fan, like a spray, like putting your thumb over a garden hose.