Tiny hands slam basketballs into tile floor. Whump-whump-whump-whump. The metallic beat reverberates against hallway walls, mingling with spectator voices and the pop-pop-pop of a popcorn machine. Sweat gathers in the armpits of my t-shirt and the knees of my jeans. Clusters of ponytails, flushed faces and ruby red uniforms rally around coaches with khakis and clipboards. It’s 10 in the morning, the games will start soon. This schoolgirls’ basketball tournaments is all players and coaches and referees and parents and grandparents and siblings. But I am none of these things.
“Medium.” A round grandpa interrupts my people-watching.
My eyes roll into the back of my head.
“You would like a medium snow cone?” I correct him. He nods.
He gives me four dollars; I notice the $50 bills in the folds of his wallet. He ignores my tip jar, which reads “COLLEGE FUND!! THANK YOU!” in black sharpie.
The ice shaver collar stings the tiny scratches into my fingers as I fill a blue paper cup with shaved ice. The man floods the snow cone with strawberry syrup, making white ice turn blood red.
My dad’s words roll around in my head. “Don’t let customers get the best of you. Show them how to treat people.”
A boy in Nike slides shuffles by. He sizes up my blue cart of ice, my six-flavor syrup dispenser, and me, my face caked with makeup (prettier people make more tips). He buys a medium snow cone for four dollars.
I check my watch; it’s 10:03. That’s eight dollars in revenue, in three minutes. In 57 more minutes, I’ll earn the same. Eight an hour is the going rate.
Customers rotate through, a chorus of gimmealarge and lemmegetasmall and doyouhavenapkins? May I, and Please, and Thank You, are phrases they’ve forgotten the melody to.
I am the background noise to their tunes, collecting cash into a red zipper bag, scooping ice into the machine, filling cups with crunchy ice, wiping down syrupy surfaces, mopping up snow cone spills. I let my movements become mechanical, mindless. Customers’ inability to acknowledge my personhood— irritated foot taps and icy stares while they wait two minutes for me to use the toilet, maybe five minutes to gulp down a packed lunch— divorce me from my humanity.
By the end of the day, I am thoroughly detached, more machine than woman.
I count profits, making neat stacks of $1s, $5s $10s and $20s. $1,024 in revenue. About $938.50 in profits, taking into account my $48 pay.
I am freshly annoyed that I will take home $48 and my boss will earn $938.50. He did not smile at mannerless parents, appease sticky-handed children, drip with sweat in a too-hot hallway. His ears do not ring, his fingers do not bleed!