How incompetent did one actually have to be to get hired somewhere? And, more specifically, at a fro-yo shop. Erin found her answer after giving a place called Mad About Yogurt a second chance. The first time around had been mildly adequate. The soft-serve could hardly be described as “soft” and the rainbow sprinkles hardly representative of a wide enough array to be called “rainbow.” Nonetheless, it was one of the few things within so-called walking distance from her apartment complex. One of those utterly depressing affairs made all the more depressing when they’re erected in the suburbs. Like some pathetic attempt to make the middle of nowhere appear “cosmopolitan,” and in so doing only making it come across as more absurd.
There was no hope for this place. Erin knew that. Try as it might to “emulate” what it viewed as “the big city”—itself nothing more than a slightly larger shitkicker town about forty minutes away. The greater the number of businesses it tried to add to mitigate the despair of this form of existence, the quicker the various strip malls seemed to empty out. It was a classic case of business cannibalism. The same endless stream of the same exact kinds of establishments: “fun centers” (if one should like to deem axe throwing as fun), clothing stores that reached a peak in the 00s, Starbucks, Best Buy. And then, the lone spot of brightness in the commercial real estate desert: a frozen yogurt shop. Erin hadn’t noticed it when she first moved in, but she got the sense that it had always been there, long before this Lyon Estates-esque town even sprung up. And that it would be there even after the apocalypse came.
Maybe that’s why the yogurt offered was so perpetually hard. Mad About Yogurt had been in existence for too long with too few customers to unload all of its inventory and replace it with new, fresh batches of yogurt. In fact, the one other time Erin had been in there, she seemed to be the only customer save for some errant, eerily quiet children. It was as though the children knew something sinister that she didn’t. That was the takeaway she got from their bizarre silence. As for the girl who worked there, whose name tag read: SLOAN, she didn’t exactly radiate positive vibes either. But looking back now, at least she could say Sloan had been capable, insomuch as she was able to get Erin’s order correct. Who knew such a phenomenon would come to be taken as a “luxury” in the present era? When Erin had asked Sloan for the vanilla soft-serve with rainbow sprinkles, she didn’t bat an eye, approaching the machine and yanking the handle like an expert. She then grabbed a cup and held the cone over it as she hand-sprinkled the topping on with at least something resembling care.
Erin couldn’t have known then just how grateful she should be for such a nominal display of dexterity. That it was not to be experienced at all during her second go-around at Mad About Yogurt. An outing that came months later, at the apex of summer known as July. Sloan was no longer there. Maybe she had gone off to college early, or used all her minimum wage savings on a trip somewhere exotic (for most Californians, that just meant Mexico). Whatever the case, she was gone—and in her place was a girl who looked even younger, practically preadolescent. Maybe that’s why the joint was so much more crowded. Filled with a suspicious number of dads who “just happened” to suggest going out for fro-yo with their spawns. She wore no name tag; apparently, she felt “beyond” one. So Erin decided to call her Sloan 2 in her mind, even though she turned out to be hardly worthy of the moniker. She couldn’t even hold a candle to the original Sloan. Erin found this out immediately as she approached the register and offered a polite, “Hello.”
Sloan 2 was ostensibly unmoved by the greeting and merely smacked her lips in return. After a few seconds, as though she were “rebooting,” she nudged, “Whaddya want?”
Erin bristled at the direction this interaction was already going in. Which is to say, south. She could understand, certainly, that no one wanted to work this kind of job, not really. But how hard was it to at least open with courtesy? And then Sloan 2 could devolve into being a total cunt a few sentences in if that was her preference. Gathering the strength not to react with violence, Erin replied, “Um, I’ll just take a vanilla soft-serve with rainbow sprinkles.” The request for the topping sent Sloan 2 into a kind of short-circuiting mode, as though this “extra” layer of work was somehow too much to bear. Erin could see it in her eyes—the panic, the uncertainty about how to proceed. So she tried to help by suggesting, “Last time I was here, the person working just grabbed a cup to pour the sprinkles over while she was doing it. Just a little ‘hack’ if you need it…”
Sloan 2 adhered to the suggestion, though she did so with bovine hesitancy. Her gestures were unseasoned, her maneuvers insecure. And instead of holding the cone over the cup steadily, she let it hang lopsided as she tilted it sideways for some inexplicable reason to garnish it with the rainbow sprinkles. Naturally, the result was that the soft-serve fell into the cup, now entirely awash in the runoff sprinkles that had landed in there.
Although Erin shuddered at what she saw happen, she tried to calm herself by assuring internally that, obviously, Sloan 2 would start over again so as to provide the order Erin had specifically asked for. Because, after all, she was a customer who was paying to receive what she actually wanted from this establishment. But no, to Erin’s great disbelief, Sloan 2 stared directly into her eyes, smiled and said (in the babyish tone that was probably kryptonite for the dads), “Oops. You’ll have to take it like this I guess.”
What? How was that the conclusion she could draw in any way? Worse still, how was Erin too stunned to reply, to absolutely refuse this unwanted “accident” order? Why was this incompetent twig unable to fulfill the simple request she had made without not only cocking it up entirely, but somehow trying to make Erin feel as though that was what she had really wanted all along? Erin could not answer any of these questions as she found herself outside Mad About Yogurt with the cup of hard, yet rapidly melting soft-serve in her hand. She realized too late that she forgot to grab a spoon to eat it with since it had essentially been “de-coned.” So she used the overturned, slightly broken cone to start scooping bites out with it like it was a spoon. She wasn’t about to go back into that twilight zone to get one.
On what felt like an even longer walk than usual back (served her right for trying to be environmentally conscientious by not driving) to her depressing apartment complex, the soft-serve had turned into a pool of sugar. It tasted like an artificial mound, and Erin could stomach only half of it before deciding to toss it into a trash near one of the few crosswalks. This was life in “cosmopolitan” suburbia, she supposed. Waste, subtle decay and dissatisfaction as a perpetual state.