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Attack of the ice cream
It was the most important decision I had to make all day. The only decision I had to make all day. But my options were limited. It was between a plain cone, a dipped cone, and a waffle cone sundae. There were also Dipping Dots—there will always be Dipping Dots—but we don’t talk about Dipping Dots. Okay fine. Dipping Dots are satisfying in the way snow falling on your tongue is satisfying: fun for a moment before it melts away and you go back inside. Not ice cream. Dipping Dots should be abolished. Sorry—“Dippin’ Dots”—I just googled it and learned that there is no g, because people who eat them don’t read, have never read, have forgotten how to read halfway through their first bite. The tiny, unsatisfying morsels will never compare to the full-body utensil-free experience of an ice cream cone. Hands and tongue. The roof of your mouth. The primal experience that can’t be freeze-dried and pixelated, separating each so-called flavor into its separate tiny atoms so each bite is exactly the same pile of synonymous pebbles.
I chose the waffle cone sundae. We were on the Santa Cruz boardwalk. Rollercoaster screams came from all around. Dozens of teenage girls with four sets of eyelashes took selfies in the long line to the Dippin’ Dots. A single lonely child wailed in the distance as I placed my order at the abandoned ice cream cart one shop over.
The ice cream woman grabbed a waffle cone and poured hot fudge… into the bottom.
The first sign that something terrible was happening.
Then came the soft serve—but wait—as soon as it hit the lip of the cone, it stopped. She switched to whipped cream. Whipped cream! And pumped up until it was the height of a normal ice cream cone. Sprinkled a few peanuts on top, and a Maraschino cherry, of course, and that was that.
She handed it to me. I’m guessing I looked baffled. This cost $4 more than a regular cone, yet it had half as much ice cream, maybe a third. “The fudge is on the bottom,” she said, handing me a spoon.
“I know,” staring at the spoon.
So here’s how this happened. First, there was an era of whipped cream and peanuts. It took a long time. Ice cream was melting. Occasionally I licked up the melt but couldn’t get further into the ice cream under this ocean of whip.
Then, for two glorious minutes, there was ice cream and it was good. The different shape ice cream can make in a cone, the many different ways you must attack it, this makes for a good ice cream experience. You lick the top down, press it into the cone. Take a small crunchy bite and expose a new ice cream wall. Maintain the drips. Divide and conquer. Conversations are futile. It’s a full-body experience, the only way ice cream should happen, all barely managed within one brave waffle cone.
And then, chaos.
The fudge melted through the bottom of the cone. All at once, the ice cream melted too. It was dripping over the side, dripping into my lap, onto the table. Still I battled on. I am a valiant knight. A fearless marine. A child-hungry shark. I finished the ice cream. Ripped off the paper that had stuck to the cone. Ripped off more paper. How was there this much paper? Then the ice cream was gone and I was left with a soup of fudge in a cone. What could I do but tilt it into my mouth and drink?
The experience ended with a pile of napkins and a fudge mustache. But I stand by my decision. While this was happening, Seth and his mom delicately nibbled their Dippin’ Dots like sparrows pecking at berries. Like sandpipers finding airholes in the shore. Like children nervously poking their father’s gut to see if they can get away with it. Cautiously contained. We were a hundred feet from an ocean too cold for swimming. I wore my swimsuit, but all I wanted was to dip in my toes. The ocean had different ideas. Calm bay waves under unfiltered winds hid larger swells that came out of nowhere and scooped up my skirt. Legs now fish food. Seaweed-captured knees. Water has no reservations. It’s cold until you are too. Until you become a frozen morsel that falls into the sea. You either consume or you are consumed. Eat the ice cream before it eats you.