[Warning: I drop an F-bomb once]
“Oh my God; Carvel! Carvel! Carvel is here!”
Chris raised an eyebrow at me, barely taking his eyes off the road. “Okay…”
“No, you don’t understand – Carvel! Cookie Puss! Fudgie the Whale! Flying Saucers! It’s here.” As much as I loved living in the southwest, I occasionally missed being around the objects and places from my childhood. At times it’s lonely being around people who don’t share those memories with you. When I first moved to Arizona, I’d mention Carvel Ice Cream to people, and get nothing but a blank stare in return. Unless, of course, I mentioned Cookie Puss, then those sick bastards would snicker and deface my memory of his innocent ice creamy goodness. But now, Carvel had come to town, and I was finally vindicated.
I looked out the window of the car, hands pressed firmly against the glass, elated by the beauty of the Carvel sign. To be sure, the logo had changed since I had last seen it; but a flood of memories from childhood still found their way to the surface.
If you lived in the Tri-State area in the 1970s and 1980s, you are more than familiar with the gravelly, 3-pack-a-day voice of Tom Carvel, the 943 year-old owner of the Carvel franchise, God rest his soul. Their low-budget commercials are a thing of legend – the best description I have ever read for them came from this You Tube posting, which likens their production style to 80s pornography.
Dubbed over this soft-serve sexytime, is Tom Carvel’s unappetizing, rake-over-asphalt voice, telling you about Cookie Puss, Fudgie the Whale, or the St. Patty’s day leprechaun that looked remarkably like Cookie Puss.
To date, no one can recreate Tom Carvel’s voice better than my friend Dave. For the record, Dave looks nothing like Tom Carvel. At least, not how Tom Carvel looks in my head. What does Tom Carvel look like in my head, you ask? Well, I have always pictured him in all white wearing a chef’s hat. He has salt-and-pepper hair once darkened by Grecian Formula, and spidery thick eyebrows. He’s a little portly, has a bulbous nose, and greets every customer with a friendly smile that brightens a round face hardened by a lifetime of hard work traveling across the countryside promoting frozen custards. In short, he looks kind of like a cross between Walter Mattheau, Tom Bosley, and Beau Bridges. While typing this description, Chris tried to force me to see a picture of Tom Carvel and I refused. Don’t taint my memory of Tom! Especially if the picture you show me doesn’t have him wearing a chef’s hat.
Anyway, back to the story: Tom Carvel was an ice cream Jesus; he had but three molds for his ice cream cakes, but turned them into 2,562 magical creations, convincing you that each one was so unique and so perfect for your special occasion. Is it Christmas? You want the Snow Man Cookie Puss. Is it Thanksgiving? Tom the Turkey is your friend. Halloween? Dumpy the Pumpkin – isn’t he somethin’? Got a graduating senior? Hoot the Owl will congratulate him. And what better way to celebrate your whale of a dad on Father’s Day than to give him a Fudgie the Whale. Recently, Fudgie made national headlines when he got into a Twitter war with Lindsay Lohan’s mother. I’m not kidding. Oh, and he won. That’s right, Lindsay Lohan’s mother got pwned by a cartoon. Don’t fuck with Fudgie. I think that needs to be written on a cake, and sent to Dina Lohan.
Chris wasn’t sharing in on my excitement; he’s a Southern California guy – he gets excited over things like crusty Winchell’s donuts, or I don’t know… Knott’s Berry Farms Boysenberry Jelly? At any rate, his lack of enthusiasm was unacceptable, so I had to pump him up for the Carvel experience. “It’s like… the best ice cream cake ever! Their icing is really creamy, and they have these crunchy chocolaty things they put in them. We have to go there! We have to support Carvel!”
I got him to one notch above apathy, and he agreed to go in the store with me and buy an ice cream cake. We walked in, and it was a lot more sanitized than I remember the Carvels of my childhood. I figured that was probably a good thing. I gleefully grabbed a package of Flying Saucers (to which Chris said, “Ooo; Ice Cream Sandwiches!” and I snapped back, “Flying Saucers! And they’re sooo much better!”), and grabbed a small, simple chocolate ice cream cake. It had the crunchies in it.
We drove home, and I smiled and stared at the cake as it rested on my lap. I tried remembering the times I actually had a Carvel ice cream cake, and could only recall one vague instance. I’m pretty sure it was a Fudgie, and we had company over. I think they brought it with them.
Once we got home, I placed it on our counter. “We’ll have this now!” I declared. I opened the sides of the cake box, and grabbed a butter knife. I ceremoniously placed the butter knife over the top of the cake, ready to make the first cut into my Carvel chocolate cake with crunchies. I pressed down on the knife.
I pressed down very hard.
The knife made a 1/16 of an inch indentation into the cake.
This can’t be!
I tried again. No luck.
I turned the knife upright as if it were a spike, and pushed all of my body weight onto it.
Chris looked amused. He raised his eyebrows. “Yeah. I don’t think that’s going to work.”
He’s mocking me! Damn it, Carvel, don’t fail me!
The butter knife bent. I cursed.
Chris grabbed our butcher’s cleaver. As anyone is wont to do with a cleaver, he held it up and smiled maniacally. He threw it down full force onto the cake, as if his entire life was leading up to this display of cleaver-enhanced man-force.
It embedded itself about a half inch into the cake. Chris looked astonished. “Damn!”
I stared silently at the cake, cleaver poking out of it like Excalibur. Chris shook his head. “We’re going to have to let it sit out.”
“But… but, the chocolate will melt around the edges…”
“We can’t cut it. It has to sit.”
“But it won’t be the same…” As a side note, I hate melted ice cream. It tastes like missed opportunities and disappointment. The thought of eating a half-melted Carvel ice cream cake with soggy crunchies was too much to bear. “No…”
“Hon, that’s a cleaver. It’s not cutting through it.”
I grabbed a fork, desperate. “I can make this work…” I pathetically worked a tiny corner of the ice cream cake with my fork, leaving a sad little rabbit-gnaw on the edge. I lifted the tiny bite up to my mouth. “See? It works…”
He wasn’t buying it. He shook his head and walked out of the room. I took a look at the cake and sighed. He was right. It had to melt a bit.
We let it sit out for about 20 minutes. Upon returning, the once-majestic cake was now partially melted and looked gross. Regardless, I worked up my enthusiasm to enjoy this chocolaty piece of my childhood, and cut a small slice of ice cream cake. It still took a little work to cut through the middle, but finally, a slice was cut. I cut Chris a slice and handed it to him. Analyzing the pieces of cake, the crunchies seemed a little few and far between in my opinion. I also thought I remembered something more cake-ish in the ice cream cake, but I was also wrong on that. Was I thinking of Vienetta? Hmm. This ice cream cake didn’t look like much of a cake at all; it looked more like a solid, dense block of chocolate ice cream with a few crunchies on it. I took a bite, pausing to savor the moment.
It tasted like a solid, dense block of mediocre chocolate ice cream.
I frowned and looked at Chris. The expression on his face was somewhere between “meh,” and “seriously??” I sheepishly shrugged at him. “I think they changed the recipe.”
It’s funny how nostalgia works; in our present, things don’t ever seem to match up to what we had in the good ol’ days. At some point, the present becomes the past, and the things that seemed dull at the time suddenly develop a new polish on them. Biting into that morsel of ice cream not-cake, I wondered: do we not appreciate what we have until it is out of our reach, or do we enhance our memory of what was in the attempt to make our experiences more meaningful? Are my memories merely a sea of Fudgie the Whales: dense blocks of mediocrity and melted disappointments forgotten because they came with a few crunchies and a catchy jingle? If so, can I do better?
We begrudgingly ate our slabs, and I put the rest of the cake in the freezer. We were two people; what the hell were we going to do with an ice cream cake – even a small one? Sure enough, it sat in the freezer for a month, the little not-cake with the density of lead wasn’t worth the time or the calories to be taken out to be mawed upon again. It accumulated a crystalline layer of freezer burn, and I secretly tossed it in the garbage when Chris wasn’t home, too proud to admit defeat. It rolled off the plate and into the trash can, making a thud like a cinderblock being dropped to the ground. Oh, little not-cake, you brought back a moment of nostalgia, but I think I prefer the present world of ice cream/cake segregation. Thank you for reminding me to appreciate the now.