It was maybe the first job I'd ever had where people were happy to see me.
An odd feeling indeed, to wield this kind of power.
To be this kind of force.
As near to magical as any mortal should stride.
A technician of unspeakable joy.
Braving the neon mountains to return with blue raspberry concentrate.
Tearing out sundae cone fangs from the mouths of snow beasts.
And so on.
Cone dealer, sunshine stealer, alleyway counselor, lunch lady to the homeless, friend to the dead, maker of sandwiches. Metal wrangler. Stag among stags. And so it goesanother journey through time spent punched in. A life's work of working for a living. Blood, death, and violence. Dirty dishes, dead roaches, and sparkler-lit nights. Nights ahead and no real fate. So open your mouths because the forecast calls for sprinkles. Thirteen delights, scooped and served. Let it melt down your hand. Let the sun burn your face. It's the ice cream man, and other stories.
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Two cars raced by while I waited at the Milwaukee Avenue bus stop tonight.
One tried to pass the other but couldn't, compensating back and forth too much before swerving into some cars stopped at an intersection.
There was screeching, then a loud smashing sound.
When everything had settled, four or five people got out of one of the racing cars and ran.
I went up to the accident with another guy.
We went up to a car that'd been struck and helped remove two people: a man and a pregnant woman.
The pregnant woman walked a few feet, then fainted hard onto the pavement.
Another bystander came into the street and knelt by the pregnant woman, helping revive and calm her, speaking Spanish.
I stood a few feet away, directing traffic.
Urging some cars forward with one hand, halting some with my other hand.
Everyone did as I directed.
To them I was director and ruler.
Making eye contact and nodding in cases of trepidation. Yes, you may go.
A car to my left tried to pass but I put my hand up and shook my head.
No, you may not.
When the same car timidly tried to pass again, I did a shrug and made a face like, 'Is this how it's going to be?'
Eventually the ambulance and tow truck arrived.
EMTs loaded the pregnant woman onto a stretcher and put her in the ambulance.
I stood in the street for a second.
Not participating anymore, but still there.
And the traffic moved on its own again.
Glass on the street reflected colors from headlights and stoplights.
The road dark blue beneath.
If I had an 'off' switch, it'd be then that I'd use it.
No, I'd probably have already used it a thousand times.
On the sidewalk, I talked to the person who'd held the pregnant woman's hand in the street.
Basically exchanging the word 'shit' in different ways.
Like we wanted to talk more, to be around each other for a little bit.
But then I said, 'Okay have a nice night,' and decided to just walk home.
As I passed a currency exchange, I saw a paralyzed vet who was always out.
He was in his wheelchair, face covered with dirt and head bent to the side against a headrest thing.
Last time I saw him, he was parked there with a huge pastry of some kind taped to his hand — regular office tape wrapped around his hand and wrist a bunch of times.
'Hi, um, can I have some money to get something to eat?' he said tonight.
His voice was high-pitched, muffled, as though coming out of his sinuses.
'Yeah, what do you want?' I said.
He said, 'Well um, from where.'
'Somewhere around here.'
He motioned with his finger at a place across the street. 'Um, can I have a burrito please.'
'Um, steak I guess, please.'
As I waited to cross the street, he said, 'Without the uh, any hot stuff, please.'
'No hot stuff.'
At the restaurant I ordered, then stood by the register, staring at this bowl full of different-colored candy.
Well, here it is, I thought.
Here is the bowl of different-colored candy.
May you all remain who you are through your differences, never becoming your differences.
The girl who took my order said, 'You can sit down if you want.'
I sat at a table and stared at the TV without paying attention, to avoid having to make decisions about where to look.
A couple at the table by me laughed at something on the TV.
I turned to look at them, purely reacting to the sound.
Take cover, soldier!
But it was too late.
We'd all made eye contact and it seemed I'd entered into some kind of agreement where we had to interact.
Having looked at one another, we now had to navigate the TV show together — our personal beliefs, our ideas, our selves.
I'm going down, I thought.
I tried to establish a good floor stare.
But it was hard.
My face felt hot, neck tense.
Hold your ground, soldier!
I was about to surrender, get up, and run out the door.
But then my food was ready.
Nice determination, soldier!
I brought the food across the street.
The vet in the wheelchair took it with shaky hands.
I squatted with him, my back against a brick wall.
'You want napkins?' I said.
'Um, yes, please. That would be great.'
I gave him napkins.
We ate together on the sidewalk.
Neither of us talked.
I could see him out of the corner of my eye as I stared at the street.
I kept wiping my hand on the inside of the brown paper bag because
I didn't have a napkin.
It worked, but it didn't work.
Eventually, I said, 'It's nice out.'
'Oh, just beautiful,' he said.
Too beautiful for my stupid ass.
After a long silence, he said, 'Hey, there wouldn't by any chance be a fork or spoon in that bag, huh?'
I gave him a fork.
He ate the scraps that'd fallen out of his burrito, scraping the Styrofoam with the fork, arm shaking.
I finished my tacos, wiping my hands on the brown paper bag, then wiping my mouth and face off with my sweaty arm.
'All right, I'm going, man,' I said.
'Okay bye. Thank you. God bless you.'
I took his garbage and my garbage and put it in the bag.
I threw out the garbage in a dumpster around the corner. I pissed next to the dumpster.
The bubbles forming in the dirt looked like the many eyes of something waiting to take me under.
But not tonight.
No, not yet.
The dishwasher fucking hates you.
Whoever and wherever you are, the dishwasher fucking hates you.
It's afternoon at a bar/restaurant in Lincoln Park, and he's standing in front of an industrial-sized sink full of dirty dishes.
There are pieces of every kind of food all over, with a thick under-layer of condiment scum — a colorless foam smelling like the same fucking thing always.
Always, every fucking night.
The dishwasher is frowning, staring at the dishes, holding a sprayer attached to the sink.
It's his job to spray off the dishes before putting them through a machine dishwasher.
When there aren't dishes for a little while, it's his job to stare off, frowning, thinking about how much he hates you.
You and everyone else.
Even theoretical yous.
You could be performing surgery on his beloved pet and he'd knock on the operating room door and mouth, 'I hate you.'
You could be performing the same surgery on him and he'd wake up from the anesthetic, take off the mask, and say, 'I hate you.'
Because these are your dishes.
A busboy drops off a huge bin of dishes and napkins and silverware and ramekins.
A ramekin is an oversized thimble-looking thing that people use to eat condiments and feel less like idiots.
The dishwasher hadn't even known what a ramekin was for a while.
Someone would refer to one and he'd be like, 'Yeah, definitely,' and just stare at the dishes thinking, 'Which one of you is it ...' while narrowing his eyes.
Someone would ask for more ramekins and he'd bring them a stack of most possible kinds of dishes/things.
Someone would say, 'We always run out of ramekins,' and the dishwasher would shake his head and say, 'Fuck, I know.'
Then he learned what they were and now he hates ramekins for sure.
He knew he probably did before, but now, for sure.
Just like he hates everything else.
Just like he hates you.
Only maybe not as much.
Because ramekins are made one way and can't change.
Wait, he thinks, then laughs, spraying honey mustard out of a ramekin.
The honey mustard splashes out on a wave of hot water and mixes with all the other bullshit on the sink — disappearing but somehow never really disappearing — becoming part of the mess.
The mess, thinks the dishwasher. We all become part of the mess.
'Fuck, I'm gonna kill someone, Homer,' he says to the cook.
The cook is on the other side of the room, behind a cooking station and heat lamp.
'Yo, kill they asses, Big Sexy.' The cook snaps his tongs. There is sweat covering his balding head. 'Kill all them muffuckers, Big Sexy.'
'Oh-mare!' yells the dishwasher.
'Que paso, guey?'
'Shut the fuck up.'
The cook laughs.
The dishwasher and the cook had first met when the dishwasher was downstairs wrapping cellophane around a block of provolone and the cook yelled, 'Whatchoo doin bwah!' coming down the stairs, and the dishwasher smiled and said, 'I'm wrappin up that loney, motherfucker,' and the cook laughed, turned around, and walked right back up the stairs, saying, 'I heard it all now.'
The dishwasher sprays out another ramekin.
Each and every fucking ramekin.
Still filled at least halfway with whatever bullshit the assholes needed.
The ever-needing assholes.
Ever-needing assholes of the mess, thinks the dishwasher — and it seems to him that someone is screaming it in his ear.
Holding the sprayer over the ramekin and spraying the scalding stream.
Right into the ramekin.
Water sprays back on him.
He's covered in a thin layer of sweat and scum.
Feet slowly gliding out beneath him on the greasy floor.
Tired and sore, hands raw from hot water.
And oh, how he fucking hates you.
Plate after plate after fucking plate.
Small plates with shit on them.
Medium plates with shit on them.
Big plates with shit on them.
Shit from the ever-needing assholes.
They say there is an asshole that needs more shit than it gives, the dishwasher thinks in a voice he doesn't recognize, then laughs.
The dishwasher sprays more dishes.
Carving away food with brilliant sprays.
Side to side.
Up and down.
Different techniques and tactics.
Spraying the dishes and then putting them on blue pallets to be slid underneath the doors of the machine dishwasher.
Clamping down the door and hearing the engine activate, the water pour, the shaking of the dishes.
'Homer, the dishes are singing to me, man. They sing.'
'Quit smoking that paste then, nigga,' says the cook, wiping his head off on his shirt and throwing chicken wings into batter. The dishwasher stares at the machine dishwasher.
The machine dishwasher doesn't really do much, just finishes off what the dishwasher starts.
That made the dishwasher think they should sell the machine dishwasher and give him the money.
Because the dishwasher hates everyone.
The hate slowly pours out of his face all day and night.
A metal ball inside his skull, growing slowly.
Staring at the container of dirty ramekins.
Backed-up ramekins were kept in a small plastic bin off the side, full of water and detergent to prevent congealing.
He reaches into the cold, filthy water.
A clinking mess.
Bullshit all over his fingers.
He places the ramekins facedown on the pallet, then covers them with plates, to keep them from flying all over.
And oh, how he loves the sound of the ramekins hitting against the plates.
Like dull chimes.
It's so beautiful to him.
Sometimes executing perfect rhythms.
Which the dishwasher repeats in his head.
Or adds to with his teeth, hands, and feet.
Or drums to with knives on an overturned mixing bowl.
Okay okay ramekins, he thinks. Okay you're not that bad. I'm sorry. Okay okay.
Because it calms him down.
Relaxes the muscles.
One long slow unraveling.
To the dull chimes.
And his heart would beat a little faster because he'd probably been holding his breath and finally let go.
He opens the dishwashing machine door and slides out a steaming pallet, slides a pallet of plastic cups in.
The cups are different.
He does not hate the cups.
All you do with the cups is dump them out and stack them on a pallet and put them in the machine dishwasher.
In this way, the dishwasher is okay with them. For they mean no harm.
A server and a sandwich maker come through the door.
The sandwich maker punches in on the computer.
The server screams and makes noises in a baby voice.
'Look how many review cards I got,' she screams, holding them out like a hand of cards.
'Yo, fuck that shit,' yells the cook.
'Fuck that shit,' yells the sandwich maker, checking tickets and opening the sandwich station.
The server bunny-hops over to the dishwasher and holds the cards in his face and yells, 'Looooook.'
The dishwasher has no reaction and continues to spray the dishes.
The server puts her finger in the ramekin-soaking container and swishes it around a little, making a face at the dishwasher.
'Go get more dishes,' he says.
'YOU'RE A DISH!' she says, and skips away.
And the dishwasher unlatches the machine dishwasher and takes out the pallet and steam comes out and he stacks the cups and brings them over to the kitchen.
'Thanks, Big Sexy!' the cook says. 'Yo why you gotta hide my buffalo sauce though, nigga? Can't find that shit anywhere.'
'I shit in it,' the dishwasher says.
He returns to washing dishes, picking through a bus tub, throwing the cloth napkins into a nearby laundry bin, stacking the plates on the filthy sink and hating everyone in the world, dead/ born/not yet born/never-to-be-born.
Especially the never-to-be-born.
A different server walks back into the kitchen.
He looks around like a kid lost at the store.
'Oh god oh god, Homer, did you get my aioli or no? I need two sides NOW! This person is gonna freak!'
'What aioli, nigga?' says the cook, narrowing his eyes.
'Yeah what aioli,' says the dishwasher, smiling.
'I need some garlic aioli,' says the server. 'I asked for more aioli. You told me you had more aioli. I need it. Where is it? The guy needs more aioli and he's gonna freak if I don't get this aioli for him.'
The cook says, 'Yo, I don't have your aioli, nigga.'
'Who has it then? It's somewhere. Why, probably in this very room exists my aioli. And I need it now.'
The cook yells to the dishwasher, 'Yo Big Sexy, why you taking everybody's aioli, nigga? Haha you gotta stop hiding the aioli.'
'Yo, Homer, fuck your aioli,' the dishwasher says, smiling.
He picks up two knives and drum-rolls them on an overturned mixing bowl, yelling, 'Ohhhhhh-mare!'
The server has both hands on his face. 'Oh god you guysssss.' He runs back out.
'La verga, guey,' the cook yells. Then he sings, 'She only think I'm sexy when I'm paiiiiiid.'
The dishwasher grabs a plate and sprays it.
Plate after plate.
Carving away the mess.
With tireless, heroic precision.
Feet and legs and back aching.
Mindset of an abused dog and ignorance of a weed.
Plate after plate.
His entire night perfectly described through a list.
A list of dishes.
To be inscribed on his tombstone in very small letters.
Spray hitting his shirt and face.
Smelling like weak deodorant and strong body odor.
'Yo, Oh-mare!' he yells.
'What it do, Big Sexy?'
'Fuck your aioli. I'll kill you.'
The sandwich maker laughs.
The cook — visible only as a pair of eyes below a heat lamp — points some tongs at the dishwasher and says, 'That's from the heart, Big Sexy. I like how you thinkin.'
Then he grabs a ticket off the ticket machine and yells, 'Turkey pesto!' handing the ticket to the sandwich maker.
Another server comes back and sits on the counter.
She opens a plastic container and starts forking through it.
'This fucking guy out there,' she says, eating a grape, 'he orders all these wings, but he wants two of these, one of those, three of this kind. I literally almost lost my mind.'
She has one hand at the side of her head, in clawing formation, eyes closed.
Nobody says anything for a second.
Then the dishwasher says, 'Yeah but it doesn't matter because you're gonna die.'
'I know, right?' she says. 'You guys want some of this fruit salad?'
'Yeah I'll get a littla that,' says the dishwasher.
He wipes his hands off on his pants and walks over and goes to bite the strawberry she's holding.
He makes clacking sounds, biting his teeth down hard.
'Don't eat me,' yells the server.
'Yo, eat that bitch, Big Sexy!'' the cook yells, snapping his tongs. 'Eat that bitch!'
The server pumps her hand in the air, wobbling her head and yelling, 'Eat that bitch, what? Eat that bitch, yeah!'
The cook snaps his tongs along to the rhythm.
The dishwasher finds himself staring at the cook.
Oh my little crab, thinks the dishwasher.
He feels something touching his head.
The server is bumping another strawberry against his face, kicking her legs and staring at his mouth.
'You need to fucking shave, you're gross,' she says, making a face of genuine disgust. 'It's like curling into your mouth.'
'Are you eating gum and food at the same time?' the dishwasher says.
He leans over and touches his toes and groans.
The server kicks him on the shoulder. 'Move move! Work!' And the dishwasher walks back to the spraying station.
He grabs the sprayer and sprays it directly into his eyes until his eyes shred apart and get pushed into his face and his whole face tunnels through his head and his brain slops out the back and slaps against the floor.
Then he puts the sprayer over his heart and grips the lever and it sprays through his chest and his heart shreds apart and goes out the hole in his back and sprays against the wall, the slop slowly slipping down to the floor.
He sprays downward and rockets through the building high into the air before coming down and smashing against the floor directly where he was standing, bleeding out into the drain.
Totally fucking dead.
Then someone brings in more dishes, and the dishwasher stands up and continues working.
He sprays more dishes.
A hundred more.
And hundreds more after that.
Food and filth accumulating around the sink.
Shreds of lettuce.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Ice Cream Man & Other Stories"
Copyright © 2020 Sam Pink.
Excerpted by permission of Counterpoint.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Sandwich Maker,
Keeps You Sharp,
The Ice Cream Man,