It was my very first day at Kilwin’s Ice Cream Shoppe. My first day as a “contributing member of society”. I set my bag into the designated closet, tied my new beige apron around my waist, and looked around at the grandeur of the parlor. Walking through the swinging screen door tricked visitors into thinking that they had traveled back in time: flower-patterned wallpaper spanned one wall and wood-trimmed mantels held decorative mirrors and trinkets collected by the owner throughout the years. Glass block windows above the front entry sent fractured orange-tinted light across the ceiling and the floors were so richly brown that they reminded me of chocolate syrup. My predominantly female coworkers, upon first glance, perfectly juxtaposed the store’s pleasantly old-fashioned facade. Many of them had short hair and piercings and tattoos sprawling across their collarbones and forearms and calves. I, on the other hand, couldn’t decide that morning which shade of pink to wear.
I was somehow surprised to learn that they would be putting me to work right away. Suzi, an older woman with a bleached-blond pixie cut and massive biceps, led me to the front of the store to a narrow counter topped with waffle irons and fans. Lifting a paper-thin waffle from the iron, she instructed me on how to make waffle cones: “Fold over an edge and twist it around the middle of the fold, like this… see that? Now make sure the point is really tight; ya don’t want any ice cream dripping out!” Her hands moved with ease, forming the familiar cone shape in one swift motion. It looked easy enough; I nodded when she asked if I understood.
The first waffle cone was a disaster. The second was even worse. I dropped the third waffle on the floor. Coming straight from the iron, the freshly-cooked batter was flimsy and pliable... too flimsy and too pliable. The fold at the beginning never laid flush against the rest, and rolling resulted in a cone that was either too wide or too narrow. I couldn’t get the point as tight as Suzi’s demonstration and the waffle slowly unraveled as it cooled on the rack. Every so often another coworker would weave her way through the tables and ask how I was doing, but I was too embarrassed to even meet her eyes. How was I supposed to succeed in this job if I couldn’t even complete my first task? I was self-conscious about my näiveté and my age, undeniably years younger than all of my coworkers. To them, I must have radiated immaturity and clumsiness. As I stood in the front window of Kilwin’s attempting to make these cones, I forced myself to smile at passersby and explain my technique to young customers. But internally, I wondered if accepting the job was a mistake.
But just like many things, I slowly began to improve. The waffle cones began to look satisfyingly homogenous, and I developed a rhythm to using both irons simultaneously. Smiling at customers no longer felt insincere and I began to view this simple assignment in a positive light. I could watch dogs walk past the storefront, and although I probably wasn’t supposed to, I occasionally handed miniature cones to little kids as samples. Best of all, my clothes and hair were always saturated with the sweet, doughy aroma of the batter. My initial dismay towards making waffle cones has proven to me that many skills take practice, no matter how passionate I am towards them. My first waffle cones were ugly and unusable, partially burned around the edges, just as my first artistic creations were sloppy and aimless. Just as my first calculus tests were littered in red pen. But eventually, with dedication and practice, I know that intimidation can lead to confidence. That a completely unfamiliar task can quickly become second nature.