The Soda Jerk: Part 2


The worst soda fountain waiter we had in our little cadre was David. He was probably the youngest one too. Undoubtedly cursed with ADHD, David was nonchalantly slow in a business that demanded speed and rapid turnover. Stan used to say that if David were any more laid back he would probably be comatose.

Not only was David impervious to alacrity, he was also impervious to his surroundings. It never mattered how busy or how crowded, David always operated at his own pace: slow, slower or slowest and usually in inverse proportion to the number of customers. But because he was so naturally funny, the rest of us covered for him, took up his slack, and didn’t even begrudge him the tip split at shift’s end. Raymond was particularly good at getting the work done and not complaining about his fellow worker.

David drove Stan crazy because he could never correctly get abbreviations onto his order slips. No matter how many times he was told otherwise, an order for: Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato on Rye Toast with Mayonnaise, would always be written long hand and never simply as BLT/RT/Mayo.

Stan also once decreed that all unit orders should appear on a single slip. The slips were sequentially numbered because this was one way Stan was able to prevent food embezzlement. Therefore, because David then tried to get the entire hand written order entirely on one small slip, Stan would have to get out his bifocals in order to read the tiny scrawl, which then required David to be constantly called to the kitchen for order clarifications.

Taking an order for a table of six could sometimes take the greater part of an afternoon and was usually followed by David running back to the kitchen saying;

“Oh. Oh. I forgot…” after the order was placed. This does not make a short order cook happy nor is it good for a business requiring rapid turnover of clientele.

Because for David each creation was lovingly, tediously and perfectly prepared, making ice cream sundaes also posed the risk that the customer might get a dish of melted slush with nuts and chocolate sauce swimming under a raft of floating whipped cream which was then topped off with the mandatory Maraschino cherry. This made the concoction look more like a drowning swimmer than the summit of a snow white mountain peak. “Do-overs” were difficult to hide from Stan’s efficient oversight and did not sit well with the boss.

David also had a penchant for putting too much ice cream on the dish so that the final concoctions usually spilled over the sides, then all over the counter or the place setting. This would predictably be followed with a sloppy attempt on his part to wipe around the service which spread the mess even further, leaving the beautiful sundae as an island sitting in the middle of a sea of goop, and with the customer’s arms, hands or fingers sticking to the counter top as though they had been crazy glued to the area surrounding the desert.

Extra ice cream was also a business taboo that cut into profits and created unreasonable expectations for any new customer on any subsequent visit after David may have first spoiled him. The complaining customer, who might innocently believe he was being cheated, then ran the risk of being ejected permanently by Stan or Clyde.

No one knew what made David tick. He was lost in a little world of his own and aside from being scolded for apparent sloth it was not unusual for him to be scolded for making sundaes “off menu.” He liked his own creations, gave them absurd original names, but then could not understand why the customer would necessarily prefer something other than simply what he had ordered.

He had also discovered that he could get high on the nitrous oxide propellant in the whippet, and had a method for covering missing inventory by saying that the canisters had “leaked.” Excess nitrous undoubtedly contributed to, or if nothing else then, must have aggravated his apparent ADD.

Once when being told to thoroughly clean the counter before going home, he became distracted by not what was on the counter, but what was under it.

When we came to work the next day, he announced he had a surprise for us as he produced a newly invented ice cream sundae. Somehow in his great distraction he had managed to scrape all the old chewing gum wads off the underside of the counter,  melted it all down into a pasty grey goop that he poured on top of vanilla ice cream, added nuts and whipped cream, then proudly held it up and presented it as his “Counter Bottom Sauce Sundae Supreme.”

His ADD was so bad that when he announced one day that an uncle who lived in Sicily had died and left him an olive farm, he perseverated endlessly about the situation with the all-consuming thought of it paralyzing his ability to work. He would just gaze off into space muttering over and over again:

  • An olive farm. What am I going to do with an olive farm?

I suggested that he should sell it before he worked it himself to keep it from becoming the first olive grove on the planet to produce one solitary bottle of olive oil that would have been so tediously and lovingly produced that it would also be the first ever bottle deserving the designation ‘The Only Extra Virgin.’ 

On another occasion, Clyde sat down at the counter where it befell David to wait on him. Clyde was in an obviously hung over, funky, sour mood when he ordered a chocolate egg cream as a pick-me-up ersatz Alka-Seltzer.

David selected the proper glass, held it up to the light, started to clean it incessantly with a rag, then sat it down, picked up some milk, put some milk in a spoon and tasted it, held the glass up to look for spots again, slowly poured in the milk by measuring its importation with a spoon, agonizingly pumped in some chocolate sauce in tiny dribs and drabs letting it drizzle down the side of the glass, added the seltzer in small deliberate bubble deflating squirts, then stirred it around so slowly that the final product looked like weak chocolate milk. Worst of all, it resembled a non-effervescent draft beer without a decent head. The end result of the entire process resembled a Charlie Chaplin routine being done in ultra slow motion.  

A very impatient Clyde went ballistic, jumped over the counter where he then proceeded to make the entire staff watch him make a proper egg cream: quick, creamy, frothy and rising up over the glass top edge like a small volcanic lava gush.

Then he fired David on the spot.  

Some businesses operate not on the principle that employee skills should fit onto a broad bell shaped curve with the center being the average, but that the curve should be double humped and shifted to the right. The right hand curve being narrow and tall should be well to the right of “average,” while the left hand curve should be short, very narrow and lie somewhere on or slightly to the left of “average.”

This means that most of the people in the organization will and should operate at much higher levels than average, but that the overall health of the organization depends upon the fact that about five percent of the employees will be singled out as organizational scapegoats, dummies or clowns. These scapegoats then serve to continuously raise the moral of everyone else because the rest of the work force by default feels better about itself, if not superior.  

A wolf pack society in the wild cannot function unless it has both an alpha and an omega animal. Even the Royal Courts of yore had a dedicated jester. 

After the dust settled, we petitioned Stan to take David back, which he eventually did after even Clyde began to miss him too. 

We needed David not only because as an incompetent scapegoat he made the rest of us look good, but because he also helped to alleviate the stress, the rote and the boredom of the job. We were very depressed without his presence and sincerely missed our laughable loveable little jester: the omega waiter of the old Act IV ice cream parlor.




Gaussian curve demonstrating organizational efficiency. Average performance is represented by the large peak. Incompetence is the spike between the two curves.

Scapegoats are represented by the small spike to the left.



  • Do you know how they hire the waitresses to work at The Howard Johnson’s?
  • No David, how?
  • They give a ten-yard dash… then they pick the losers.

(A self fulfilling prophesy)



Gaussian curve © Computing Science at Simon Fraser University

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