Andrew Zhu

Thirty Minutes of Ice Cream



I self-assigned a writing challenge to myself: to produce a semi-coherent (at the least) piece of writing in a half-hour’s time.

Thirty Minutes of Ice Cream

Last weekend, I went out for a stroll with a few friends up to the upper part of Upper East Side (for some reason, though I live in the 60s and York area of New York City, people think that that area is too far South to be the Upper East Side, but rather belongs more properly within the Murray Hill neighborhood, but I digress…) to grab some ice cream at an up-and-coming place called Anita’s. I say that it is up-and-coming because as far as I know, hearing from friends who are much more food-literate than I am, the place only opened last summer after the first wave washed over New York City. Anyways, given that most in the company, including me, are in the midst of transitioning between clinical rotations, we thought that ice cream made for a reasonable celebratory event: not too expensive, not too time-consuming, and delicious to put the cherry on top!

When we arrived at the store, we saw that there congregated a large number of people inside and outside. The store was located at corner intersection of 81st street and Lexington, and there were two doors, one facing the street and one facing the avenue, but only one of them was propped open. I found this surprising from a queueing standpoint, as given this current configuration, customers would have to zig zag back and forth, and with the cashier station towards the inside of the store, this meant for considerable cross-traffic and line disruption. I’m no store organizer or expert on design layouts for optimizing foot traffic, but I still think that a simple fix would be to properly use both doors such that there is a clear flow of traffic from entering to ordering to paying to leaving. Someone else in the company suggested an explanation that maybe the ice cream storeowners wanted passersby to see the large numbers of people within the store as popularity of a restaurant is a decent barometer as to its quality. I hold the counteropinion that too many people would rather make passersby less likely to stop and wait for an order. 

Most ice cream stores have little plastic spoons to allow customers to try and sample various types of ice cream flavors and select the ones that they prefer. Anita’s was no different, and I saw that most of the people in the line ahead of us tried out a least a few flavors before settling on the ones that they (presumably) liked the most. I don’t know why, perhaps this is but an oddity of my behavior, but I have never liked to try out free samples, from here at Anita’s with their small plastic spoons to Costco with their samples of the latest and greatest food and drink products in bulk. I can’t explain my hesitation, maybe deep down I have within me a streak of Mithridates, but that would not explain why I am perfectly happy to consume the product after I purchase it. Maybe that’s the real reason. Maybe I just don’t like handouts? But that’s not true as well, as I greatly enjoy receiving free shirts at school events or blood donations or whatever. Hmm, I don’t have time to self-analyze my peculiarities.

Now, store layout or ice cream sampling was not the main thought I had during this ice cream visit. When the group of us obtained our ice cream, which effectively were two or three large scoops within (a term used generously) a tiny little cardboard cup, we had to quickly and efficiently consume the contents before heat transfer inevitably melted the ice creams into sticky streams dripping down over our fingers and onto the pavement below. I noticed that one of my friends carefully worked his way around the circumference of the ice cream with his spoon, effectively creating a smooth-curved contour like the dome of the Hagia Sophia. Compared to my own ice cream – which in silhouette resembled the Matterhorn in its jagged irregularities, I was reminded of a mini-shower thought I had regarding lipstick or chap stick.

So, I asked him, “J——, are you the type of person that when using chap stick, you trick to maintain the contours?”

While such a random question was not unusual coming from me, he had to clarify what I meant. 

“What I mean to say is – you know how sometimes lipstick or chap stick comes in a tube with the end tapered? When you use chap stick, do you try to maintain that taper or do you just go for it and it ends up all flattened and such? I’m the latter type.”

The second time around, he understood my question. Surprisingly, he affirmed that he didn’t really bother to carefully use the chap stick to maintain that taper. I thought that this was an interesting finding, as given the way he delicately scooped around the perimeter of the cup of his ice cream, he for sure would keep the habit with other activities such as keeping the angle on the chap stick or keeping a uniform shape to a pencil eraser. 

I will have to do some more experimentation on whether or not one’s predilections for clean ice-cream eating or tapered chap stick use or uniform pencil erasing are consistent, but I am just about out of time in this post!



Postscript: When I was looking up the address of this ice cream place, time ticking down all the while, I noted that the store actually sells gelato, and not ice cream. Well, I guess this confirms that I am not an ice cream connoisseur!

This was really a fun little exercise in essentially free writing and stream of consciousness. Looking back at the work, which is difficult as I’m writing right now with 12 minutes to go and still having to flesh out the main body of text, I can see that I rely heavy on side-comments and parenthetical phrases as I go along, which only further reinforces the stream of thoughts style that invariably arises from such a tight time constraint for creativity. I’ll end with a six-word story/phrase:

Ice cream: a flavor for everyone!