By Mary Catherine Burton
At 7:30 AM I punch my time card. My due diligence in disassembling and assembling an ice cream machine in less than an hour has earned me the special privilege of soft serve ice cream machine-cleaning bitch. Without fail, on evenings when the machine must be taken apart and sanitized and on days when those freshly sanitized little parts have to be reassembled, I’m assigned to the Arcade & Snack Barn at Golf Park Plus. I throw my bag under the counter and begin turning on the barn lights. I switch on the three overhead industrial fans and the methodical mechanical hum slowly builds to a consistent drone. An old dairy barn houses the kitchen, dining area, and arcade. The ceiling isn’t closed in, which allows for oppressive heat and an occasional bird or two to fly through the barn leaving runny, white piles of shit on the arcade games, picnic tables, and countertops. How would The Bureau of Food Safety and Laboratory Services feel about a meticulously sanitized ice cream machine that’s covered in pigeon poop? No matter, they never drive out here anyway. I sneak a peek outside the only window in the kitchen and see the other employees laughing with one another as they check the bumper boats, refill ball machines, and pick up trash. Must be nice. I find myself nostalgic for my days as a housekeeper at the Comfort Inn. Surely wiping down copious amounts of pubic hair from the shower, mopping up puddles of urine from around the toilet, and changing cum-stained comforters is better than being banished to the Snack Barn. I glance at the ice cream machine parts. Maybe I can set a new record for assembly today?
In less than four hours a busload of kids from Camp Moshava, a co-ed Jewish Orthodox Zionist resident camp, will burst through the doors, demanding snow cones, milkshakes, change for fives, and the reassurance that every activity they take part in and every morsel they place in their mouths is, in fact, Kosher. I hate summer camps, and not just the Jewish ones.
Why do I even waste my time at staff meetings asking employees to save the original shipment boxes? They don’t care. Hello, people, the Kosher symbol is stamped on the box, not the bag. It will be my ass on the line, not theirs, when a tiny tot is standing before me, crumpled dollars in hand, wanting not just any Nutty Buddy, but a Kosher Nutty Buddy. I’m going to Hell for the number of times I’ve certified that a food product is Kosher without actual proof of it being so. I’m fairly certain that the kids are on to my sketchy Kosher-falsifying self.
Today they are redefining Kosher. Not only do they want verification for food, but they are looking for reassurance that the arcade games they play meet the guidelines. Last time I checked, no Rabbi had passed through these parts to certify a Pac Man Machine, but what do I know?
My day improves when a family orders four chicken fingers and fries meal deals. They are blissfully unaware that they won’t be eating lunch together today. See, at Golf Park, meals aren’t made in a traditional grease fryer. In an effort to provide healthier alternatives, we cook meals in the Quick and Crispy greaseless fryer, a contraption that is only one step up from an Easy Bake Oven but without the miniature plastic utensils and gender appropriate colors. The Quick and Crispy’s limited cooking space and a poor heating element afford me the opportunity to complete a family of four’s order in a little less than an hour.
For the next forty-five minutes, I prepare sub-par hand-crafted snow cones for the campers who are lining up for milk shakes and snow cones, which are all made in a single blender that has to be cleaned in between each use. By the time the chicken fingers are ready, I could probably make nine frozen beverages. However, the patriarch of the chicken finger family slows me down with his incessant whining about his daughter’s whining because she’s “hungry and can smell the fries,” and his son launched the air hockey puck into the balcony, and his wife’s face is likely losing Botox as we speak. Can I “get on that?” I glare, wooden spatula in one hand and pitcher of dripping milkshake in the other. The boys are getting rowdy now, because one camper is convinced that the milk I used in his milkshake isn’t Kosher, because it resembles the carton his friend’s mother had at her house, which “most definitely isn’t Kosher!”
I look around the barn. The campers are turning on me. The father is halfway over the counter, pleading with his eyes that I get him either the chicken fingers, the air hockey puck, or a new wife. The little girl is inconsolable; she is hanging on her mother, and her brother is lying across the air hockey table relentlessly banging the mallet.
And then it happens. The little girl’s eyes begin to bulge ever so slightly out of her head as she stares directly at one of the oversized industrial fans. A pigeon’s head, no longer attached to its body, spins wildly and sprays blood as it plummets to the barn floor. The warm mist of blood spatters the ice cream bar, the cash register, the snow cone syrup bottles, the arcade games, the Jewish camper and his milkshake, and my wooden spoon. With a light thwap only mere inches from the little girl’s feet, the head hits the floor, rolls three times, and discharges its remaining blood. The body lands with greater force about a foot away from me in the kitchen. The little girl’s screaming has turned to wailing, and I can hear the snot gushing out of her nose. Her brother grips the mallet tightly and slowly climbs off the table, moving towards his parents, whose heads bounce back and forth between the pigeon’s corpse and me.
A faint coo draws our attention toward the arcade area. A maimed pigeon gimps toward the head of its fallen comrade. The horrendous carnage produces tears and heavy sobbing from the Botoxed mother’s eyes, though her frozen face shows little emotion. The little girl buries her head deep into her father’s hip and her brother stares slack-jawed at the gimper. The campers make a few jokes about the injured pigeon and its friend. At the suggestion of one of their friends, they exit the barn in pursuit of go-karts.
A smile comes over my face as I slowly return my gaze to the traumatized family. I respond to the situation in the only manner that seems suitable at that very moment. “Sir, your chicken meals are ready.”
Mary Catherine Burton is a graduate student in American studies. She teaches literature at Greenwood High School. In her spare time, she enjoys Netflixin’ with her cat, Avery Jane.