There are few things more intimate.

Few things are as revealing.

You can play tennis with a virtual stranger.

You can have dinner with an acquaintance.

Many’s the relationship launched over coffee.

Convening for drinks spans a social spectrum from first dates to business meetings.

We recognize these conventions.

We understand these things.

But, if you were a social scientist – and, in a way, aren’t we all? – and you were looking to assay human relationships, you’d want to get yourself and your clipboard to the ice cream parlour.  

That’s where the data is.

That’s social science paydirt.

Ice cream.

There are no casual relationships at the ice cream parlour.

There are no casual relationships at the ice cream parlour.

Ice cream is personal.

Ice cream is intimate.

Ice cream changes everything.

If someone floats the idea of going for ice cream cones, you know you’ve taken the relationship to the next level. It has all the hallmarks of, say, going to a baseball game but condensed into, well, condensed into as long as it takes for an ice cream cone to melt.

The idea of going for a cone is tantamount to announcing, “I approve of you; I enjoy your company”.

Photo by Courtney Cook

But that’s just the beginning.

“Ohhhh … you’re a Vanilla Burnt Almond man, I see!”

“Ohhhh … so the lady favours Pralines and Cream, I see!”

One scoop?

Conservative and conventional.

Two scoops?

Spontaneous and easy-going.

Three scoops?!

Three scoops?!

A risk taker with a wild side.

Sugar cone?

A hedonist.

Regular cone?

Someone with the common touch. Low maintenance.

No cone? Instead, a dish and a spoon?

Cautious with introverted tendencies.

Yep. All this is on display at the ice cream parlour.

In primary school there was one teacher who’d take her entire class for ice cream on the last day of school. I figured this was a mistake. If you wanted to curry favour with your wee charges, take ‘em for cones on the first day. Doing it on the first day is kind of like tipping the maître d’: incentive!  I can still remember what I ordered. I can still remember who ordered Tiger Tail, a swirling orange and licorice concoction that made me ashamed of my plain chocolate cone.

… Tiger Tail, a swirling orange and licorice concoction …

Tiger Tail seemed a bohemian choice. My imagination ran riot. Here was an adventurer!  Here was a bon vivant!  Clearly, he was a man of the world. The teacher ordered strawberry. I adored her and wished I could change my cone in order to evidence my devotion to her. But I was torn: exotic Tiger Tail and all that it implied, or garden variety strawberry?  All of this had to be considered and sorted out. 

In third grade.

Photo by GG LeMere

In my adult life I’ve made ice cream a few times.  Each and every time it was always the same flavour: rhubarb.  When you grow rhubarb, you’re always on the lookout for ways to deploy rhubarb. Rhubarb is spring’s equivalent to summer’s zucchini.  Hmmmm … zucchini ice cream?

Hmmmm … zucchini ice cream?

Nah. Maybe not. (But check out my recipe for a tomato mascarpone ice cream recipe!)

National Ice Cream Day falls on this Sunday. I called up Baskin-Robbins – with over 8,000 locations, they’re the world’s largest ice cream chain – and asked for some gift certificates. They obliged. Baskin-Robbins also gave me a certificate for a year’s worth of ice cream to give away! If this whets your palate, sign up for my newsletter for more details. And if you try their Grilled Peaches and Cream, let me know if I should deviate from my life-long chocolate norm.

Register for The Plain Jane newsletter for more instructions on the ice cream contest.

Good luck!!

This week’s question for readers:


Submissions to last week’s question:

What occasions in your life when good intentions went wide off the mark? Do yid you ever get it oh-so wrong when trying to get it oh-so right?

My mother used to tell this story:

Back in the days when, as Dylan Thomas wrote, I was so high and much nicer, I was watching my mum vacuum the living room carpet. Prior to doing so, she sprinkled a white powder over it, (I guess it was some kind of freshener.) and then she proceeded to vacuum. Perhaps it was the phone or some other distraction that took her away from her work awhile, but when she returned she found that I had somehow gotten hold of a large box of cornstarch and was liberally applying it to the entire carpet. When she stopped dead in her tracks, apparently I gave her a big smile and said, “I’n (sic) helping you! I’n helping you!”

Some help.

Philip Tingey

I was an assistant manager at a large hotel in London, UK and our New Year’s Eve gala dinner and dance was fully sold out. Unbeknownst to me, the hotel engineer had wired up the loudspeaker system to broadcast the midnight chimes of Big Ben to countdown the arrival of 1972. During the dinner the band played all the popular songs related to the celebration but were overshadowed by the paging system from the hotel’s front desk looking for guests. I went into the office to turn down the volume but found the volume knob had been removed to avoid tampering. Not realizing this, I scrounged a screwdriver and turned it down. At the appropriate hour, the band stopped and the radio was turned on. Silence ensued.  Everyone on the stage shuffled, embarrassed, until a minute or so after midnight, the band leader announced, with a red face, Happy New Year everyone! The engineer was called and given a right telling off but announced that some idiot had turned off the speakers! I slunk away and never, ever admitted that I was that idiot.

Alan Gray

Your story reminded me about an incident back in the early 70’s, when I had just got my drivers license and all I wanted to do is drive. Anywhere, anytime. I had a job delivering groceries for IGA in North Vancouver. Much like Harry Chapin’s song “Taxi” I used my green Ford Econoline Van as a weedy, hazy, escape vehicle, just waiting for Edgar Winters “Frankenstein” to come on the tinny AM radio so I could crank it up full and share it with all our customers. 

One day I got the idea to wash the van and show Ken, the manager, how industrious I was. I got the hose out and proceeded to scrub down the sides of the van with brand new SOS pads. I took my time going around the van. I could see the dirt coming off in all the foam from the pads and the wet van shone brightly in the sun. As I worked my way towards where I had started, the van had dried and, to my horror, all I could see were millions of “wax on, wax off” circular, scratches all over the van. I quickly hosed down the van and headed to the closest dirtiest back alley and covered it back up. 

A couple of weeks later I overheard Ken talking to another employee and wondering how all the damage had happened. I quit shortly after that and went logging in Haida Gwaii . 

Rod Coleman

I remember years ago visiting friends who had moved to Calgary. In the morning they rose early and went off to work, and I slept in. When I finally arose and went to their kitchen to have my morning coffee, I noticed that some of their mugs were so stained and soiled with a fuzzy brown coating inside, that I would never have considered using them for my morning beverage.  I selected a cleaner mug, and  then spent many hours scrubbing and cleaning the  inside of the soiled mugs. When my pals came home from their work day, we  sat down for afternoon tea. They went to use their mugs, which  now had sparkling clean interiors. I will never forget the totally shocked/surprised/outraged looks on their faces. They told me that those were their prized tea mugs. Apparently, they had allowed  (and encouraged) a layer of tea  to build up inside the mugs, over the span of years, as this supposedly enhances the tea drinking experience. I had never heard of such a thing! I honestly do not recall if I was ever invited back to stay at their home again….

Michele Libling

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