Operation Frozen Yogurt Shop: A Ben Keefe Report
Hard nosed investigative reporting of the frighteningly mundane and the beautifully banal, by everybody’s best friend, Ben!
by Ben Keefe
I’m sitting in a frozen yogurt shop, and I am afraid. Most customers of a shop like this don’t come to it with any anxiety or fear. If they do, my guess is that they’re always afraid of getting kidnapped, and came to grab some charge-by-the-ounce froyo to cool down their worries. If I ever run a frozen yogurt store, that would be our marketing angle.
I came close to running a froyo shop once, which is partly why I’m at this store today. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I was an assistant manager of a frozen yogurt store, who sometimes (if not often) worked alone. Those lonely days didn’t make me the de-facto owner, but I was the one who had to answer the phones, so who gives a shit? Due to circumstances I don’t fully understand (money) our store was sold. A competitor bought it, closed it down, renovated the space, and reopened it as their own. My coworkers and I were laid-off in the process. This is my first time returning since my store was closed, and it feels weird.
I won’t say the name of either store. Neither my old store, nor the one that bought us out, are nationally familiar names. I will describe the location though. Our store was firmly tucked in a “downtown center” of an affluent town. There was a CVS close by that sold t-shirts with elephants on them. The town would frequently hold parades to show off how alive their residents are, while cleverly avoiding any ironic parade disasters. It’s not the town a 24-year old should feel afraid in, but here I am.
I’m afraid of being found out. I’m sitting at a table I’ve cleaned hundreds of times, writing about my surroundings, and I have a lurking feeling that I shouldn’t be doing this. They’ll know who I am. They’ll wonder what I’m up to. Someone will yell at me and odds are that person will be the owner, because owners are allowed to yell. I met the owner of this new store, so he knows who I am. He has my phone number. The reason there’s a dim fear building in my stomach is because the two stores had a bit of a quarrel during the buy-out. Without getting into specifics (hello, former employers!) it…well…um. Put it this way, I don’t want anyone to know I’m here.
I should be fine though. I’m not a current employee, and I don’t wish to be hired here, so any owner would be uninterested in me. In fact, I’m convinced that if an owner has no use for a person, they can not see them. So if the owner of – let’s call it “Uncle Gummy’s Frozen Pile” – came in, he would just see an empty seat with my cellphone and a copy of GQ at the table. He would probably think something like “that’s a pretty cool cellphone if he’s reading GQ. We should figure out how to market to him.” So to calm myself down from that hypothetical encounter, I decide to take a look at what’s really around me.
(Also, the only reason I was reading GQ was because Louis CK was on the cover. For the love of God, please believe me.)
The obvious change to the store is the paint job. Mmm, nice, warm paint. Paint you can buy, then put on things. Paint is a good way of saying “Your old gift cards are accepted here, but only for the first month we’re open.” Paint reminds you that everything changes, that nothing is permanent, and that some things look bad. Green and orange are the chosen colors here to disguise the old franchise. As per most establishments, we’re not told who painted these walls fresh. Left to my own imagination, I’m guessing President Obama. He slid over from Washington, put on an old t-shirt and jeans, blasted some Country music and went to town. Obama makes most of his money from painting froyo shops. The President gig is just a front to get contacts and commissions for his painting company. His truck even has a sly slogan on it “Uh-oh, that must mean Biden’s in charge!” A middle-of-the-road, non-threatening catchphrase to appeal to everyone over 60.
I notice the kid working behind the counter. He’s the only staff on duty although the manager appears to be working beside him. My heart goes out to him. If his experience is similar to mine, he’ll have battles with not only screaming children, but loneliness and self-doubt, anxiety and panic. This room does that to people.
I remember being so caught in the mental nothingness of the job, that I began to wonder if I was gay.
When my manager asked me if I wanted to manage the store myself, I had a minor panic attack. On Halloween night I was tricked into covering for my coworker so they could go party. If you work here, the universe does not go in your favor.
On this weekday afternoon, the store is empty. I ask the kid how long they’ve been open, he says about seven weeks. I wonder if they held a party on their opening day. Maybe they locked the doors and had an “employee-only” bash. They would put on a Pandora station that would never fly with customers in the room, let their guard down and talk shit about my old froyo store. Secrets would be told and employees would feel excited, thinking about all the juicy gossip they’ve just discovered. This is just my imagination of course.
I also have a theory to how people are put in charge of froyo stores. Every so often a group of people, decked out in black cloaks and hoods, meet up at a beach to chose the “Selected One.” They don’t know one another, and they’re barred from revealing their true identity. The twelve or so men and women stand silently in a circle, with their heads down.
When the sun is at its peak, one of the dozen will step forward, pushed to the center of the circle by unseen forces. These forces are a combination of retail experience, drive, and a preferred bachelor’s degree.
At least that’s the impression I get.
As I sit alone, working on a delicious cup of half Cookies and Cream half Salted Pretzel, I am relieved. I have no obligation to this store. Nobody relies on me. I can go home. I decide to walk home, a 50-minute stroll through pleasant neighborhoods. I am neither attacked nor abducted, a fact that makes my walk slightly more enjoyable.
As of this writing my house remains intact, my family hasn’t gone missing, and all is good with the world. My fears of being snuffed out by the froyo establishment have subsided, if not vanished. Nobody cares. The sun will be setting here soon, and the summer days will be upon us. But if I had to describe my time in the froyo world, and the business altogether, it would be those two words: nobody cares.