Monstrous Femme

On my first day at the ice cream shop, I was brought into a dimly-lit back closet referred to as the “locker room.” Inside were nearly 100 identical button-down shirts and a heap of aprons, all impossibly white. We were instructed to take one of each and meet behind the counter. The final touch was a disposable paper hat, which expanded sideways to create a canoe shape reminiscent of the Revolutionary War era.

I had worn these hats before—as a toddler, on family trips to the donut shop. I was familiar with these hats. I had not, up until this point, considered the fact that I might find myself wearing one past the age of ten. They felt different now. The feeling was not accompanied by any bouts of nostalgia, no warmth or good humor. As I lifted the hat to my head with shaky hands, I sensed the last scraps of dignity and freewill melt off my body and splatter to the floor. This was it. This was work. This was my paper hat.




It was not my first time working food service in a rich neighborhood, but it was my first time working in SoHo. SoHo was different. In SoHo, entire buildings were devoted to selling three designer handbags. In SoHo, people waited in line for hours to enter unmarked spaces full of clothing they couldn’t afford. In Soho, restaurants served steak tartare as a $37 appetizer. The opulence of the indoors seemed to leak from the windows, young professionals eating loin flambé with toasted Amaretto pecans and basil-radish reduction on patios lined with bags of garbage and rat feces. They didn’t seem to notice. There was nothing that couldn’t be outshined by their glamour, and nothing existed outside of it.

The only thing worse than the air in SoHo were the people. There were tourists and college students, sure, but the locals were distinct in their gait and odor: a mix between Chanel No. 5 and whole milk spilled on the seat of a brand-new Mercedes. The children shrieked with an abandon that indicated they had never been denied anything in their lives. Men with million-dollar apartments squabbled with me over the redemption of their loyalty points. And the women couldn’t possibly finish a full scoop of ice cream. They were the worst, and I looked upon them with the type of horrified pity one feels when watching a cockroach writhe in pain as it draws its last breath. “I’ll take the smallest one you have,” they said. “The tiniest little scoop. The itty-bitty dainty little mini cup for children. That is, if you don’t have anything smaller?” I assumed they might prefer miniature spoons as well, so that they could form bites small enough for their tiny mouths and teeny stomachs. I wanted to peel apart their jaws and shove it all in, cookies n’ cream and hot fudge straight down the gullet. I wanted to slice the flesh off my thighs and weld it to theirs. I wanted to tell them the devastating amount of dairy I had consumed in the past 48 hours, all motivated by sheer fight-or-flight. This is what happens, I’d say. This is what happens when you order a medium.




Every time I put on that paper hat—which was four times total, because I quit within a week—I felt my self-worth erode. The issue wasn’t necessarily with the hat, or the ice cream scooping, or the fact that I was being paid ten dollars an hour. But the combination of the three made it one of the most demoralizing environments I had ever experienced.

After explaining my problem with the uniform to a friend, she argued in favor of it. “When I see you in the hat, it brings me joy,” she explained. “It’s part of the experience.”

So it was the objective, then, to relish in my suffering. My humiliation was just as indulgent as the ice cream itself. It wasn’t enough to live in a country where the customer’s daily whim determined my living wage—we also needed physical demarcations, tangible evidence of my subhuman status. It wasn’t enough that I was serving these people a scoop of ice cream worth more than my hourly pay—I needed to be wearing a cute little outfit while doing it.




Like many SoHo establishments with cult followings, this ice cream shop was known to have a constant line around the corner and a wait time of at least thirty minutes. It was notorious for picturesque triple-scoops that landed on social media pages across the country. At the end of the day, like many things in New York, it wasn’t about the ice cream: it was about how it looked. When I got behind the counter, I realized that I was now the person responsible for those scoops. The dexterity of my wrist—the strain in my forearm—was the pure determinant of their online success. Unfortunately I failed to rise to the occasion. Scooper in hand, I doled out some of the most horrific cones the establishment had ever seen. My scoops traumatized toddlers and visibly irritated teenage girls. They stacked like deflated beach balls and threatened to topple at any moment. What was ultimately inadequacy felt to me like rebellion, and I relished in my ability to single-handedly sabotage the company brand, which was taken too seriously for my liking. On my first day, I was informed of the managerial motto: “If you can lean, you can clean.” Counters were to be kept pristine at all times. Freezer locations for all 57 flavors were to be memorized. Cones were to be scooped with utmost precision. The air behind the counter was that of imminent danger, as though we were frantically defending a city-state against constant military threat. My fellow troops whizzed by me rabidly, sweating into their polyester as they ground their knuckles elbow-deep into the tubs of ice cream. I floated around, useless and constantly in the way, intermittently sneaking to the side to sip a leftover alcoholic milkshake. For this reason, I was quickly designated to the register, where I was left to rot for hours at a time.

Taking orders evidently also involved having full conversations with each customer about their personal flavor preferences and current emotional palate. How could they have not, in their hour-long wait, decided what flavor they might order? Why did everyone want to know my favorite? I soon realized that I could say whatever I wanted, and the most absurd part was that they usually listened. I did my best to guess what they’d hate. It became a sick and pointless game, egged on constantly by the grinding shackles of the paper hat. The outlandish flavors like ketchup n’ mustard were too obvious—but giving an unsuspecting Rachel a marshmallow ice cream swirled with Nerds candy, deceptively named “rainbow crunch,” gave me a high I could ride for hours.

Jobs are much easier once you’ve decided to quit them, and considering I had done this within my first fifteen minutes there, I was determined to remove myself from the pressure of the situation. As customers poured through the door, I entered a meditative and dissociative lull, my fat, lifeless fingers leaving smears of grease across the tablet screen. Five hours passed without a break in the line, which stretched out the door and down the block. I could not scream at these people or tell them to go home—the only thing I could do was prolong their suffering. So as it grew, I started viewing the line as a practice in mindfulness. I moved like I was underwater. I counted change with the deliberate scrutiny of a coin collector, described each ice cream with the detail you might use when teaching someone how to fix a carburetor. I started letting conversations drag on, peeking with quiet glee as the customers next in line shifted impatiently. I really wanted them to feel it. I was grasping for what little power I had—if I had to be “part of the experience,” I wanted to be the worst part. The daytime was my favorite, watching the families outside bake under the August sun as they checked the time and hopefully reconsidered the life path that had brought them to this moment. I was doing the same.




About six hours into my shift, two completely indistinguishable 30-year-old men sidled up to the counter.

“I like your little hat,” one said with a smirk. My throat sank to my stomach.

“Thank you,” I murmured, in a small, powerless voice laced with defeat.

My little hat. It perched atop my head, so light and useless that I could sometimes, for a few brief and lustrous moments, forget that it was there. But as he said it, the hat bore down on me like a lead brick. I wanted it to cut into my scalp, send streams of blood gushing from my hairline and all over the antiseptic white countertop. I would remove it from my head with a grunt, hold it out in front of me as I coughed up thick clots of crimson. Gasping for air, I would offer it to him. Do you want to take it home with you? Do you like my little hat?

He swipes his credit card and forgets I exist, if he ever noticed in the first place. I feel his words carving themselves into my forearm.

It was in this moment that I decided not only to quit, but to quit immediately. I had to ask myself, what had led me to this place? Why did I always end up in work environments that felt physically and emotionally like an episode of Survivor? It would have taken fifteen professional wrestlers to get me back behind that counter. I picked up my paycheck, stole a couple of uniform shirts (fashionable if styled well), and never went back.