It’s not that he’s sexist or chauvinistic; Willee simply avoids hiring young men to work in his ice cream shoppe. The Tastee Treat is more than a job—he rescued this family business and, therefore, it’s his responsibility. After his father’s death—now nearly seven years ago—Willee decided it was time to make changes. He relocated from the dying strip mall to an abandoned Kentucky Fried Chicken because people wanted a drive-thru window, not lopsided stools and a fountain that was just for show. Customers wanted frozen yogurt (though caloric savings were negligible); they wanted specialty sundaes, Hawaiian ice, soft serve mixed with cookies and candies—especially Oreo—and given weather-related names: Twister, Blizzard, Cyclone. And people wanted cute young girls in short khakis and lime-checked aprons tied tight to take their orders and twist their cones. Nobody wanted a sloppy, pimply boy asking, “Whipped and nuts on that sundae?”
To Willee’s delight, his female staff not only pulls in customers (cramming the tiny lobby and stretching the line of cars onto Route 28) but his lack of male employees has stirred a small controversy. The gossip alone brings in new business—curiosity seekers flocking from places as far away as southeastern Indiana and northern Kentucky. He’s begun printing postcards, The Ladies of Tastee Treat, Milford, Ohio, to be sold in the lobby, a dollar a pop. Some of the mothers don’t care for this kind of “exploitation,” as they call it, but that’s not Willee’s concern. As his father always said, good business is good business.
And it’s not just young men that Willee refuses. Ugly girls he simply can’t hire. Older gals. Smokers. Girls who wear too much eye makeup. There is an image to maintain: wholesome, sweet-cheeked, vulnerable. These are the supple arms people want reaching out to them, the lithe faces they want smiling over their strawberry parfaits. Though Willee’s on the hefty side himself (he’s an ice-cream man, after all), he’s found that hiring heavier girls is bad for business, makes people rethink their choices, go for small when they might have otherwise chosen large. Perhaps his expectations [End Page 133] are too high, his hiring practices too discriminatory, but his staff is small, the applications many, and the job requirements few.
So when Elaine asks for an application, the other girls snicker, for she is plump and soft, blanched and withdrawn. Atop her shoulders sits a wobbly, round face housing black-ringed eyes. Her platinum hair is cropped boy short, bristled like an upturned broom. She’s in her twenties—ancient by Tastee Treat standards—and closely resembles a snowman with two lumps of coal punched in for the eyes. But when she approaches the counter to hand Willee the completed form, he’s not thinking of how wrong she is. He’s not thinking much at all. Just this: Gina. This girl looks exactly like Gina.
Elaine looks nothing like Gina.
Willee says, “When can you start?”
Willee has always loved the idea of being a hero. He’s proud of the work he’s done to revive the Tastee Treat, the fact that he’s given his girls a decent place to work—not to mention a boss who really cares about them. He’s saved them from being cogs in some corporate machine. Gina, too, once needed him. His saving.
Willee met Gina three years before while doing community outreach in the extended-stay cancer ward of Bethesda Hospital. After his father’s death, Willee sought comfort in the sharp metallic smell of sterility, the chalky pills and iv drips, the mechanisms of recovery. It might not have actually been heroic—he wasn’t actually saving anyone—but for a long time Willee was satisfied with bringing ice cream to the patients. Then he found Gina; she was in partial remission, stretched so thin across her bed he could barely trace the woman beneath the sheets. When he handed her the wax-wrapped Big Wheelee Ice Cream Sandwich, she handed it back.
“No thanks,” she said. Her...