The Barely Touched Tub of Vanilla Ice Cream at Baskin Robbins: A Humorous Account of Navigating The Dating World
Guest Writer: Kirk Loftin; Texas, United States
Sometimes, a thought gets stuck in my head, and won’t leave. It’ll just rattle around like an empty beer can in the back of a rusty pick-up truck. Sometimes, it’s just an innocuous little thought, something meaningless like the fact that Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was the voice of Shredder in the 80s/90s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. Or it’ll be like the time I came across the word ‘embouchure’ in a book and had to look it up, and then saw/heard the word (at least) twenty times in the next week. Other times, though, it can be a really negative thought, like hyper focusing on someone’s social media activity that makes me feel like they hate me, or the look on my ex-fiancé’s face the last time I saw them all those years ago. My brain, maybe because of my mental illness (and maybe not), just sometimes fixates on stupid little thoughts and can’t let go. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about ice cream.
Baskin Robbins is a chain of ice cream parlors. Their trademark is ’31 flavors,’ because you can go to any location and guaranteed you have 31 different flavors to choose from. I used trademark there as a synonym for signature, but am now realizing that of course, they probably also literally trademarked the phrase ’31 flavors’. Heck, in their abbreviated logo of ‘BR’, the right side of the B and the left side of the R are made to be a different color so you can see the ‘31’ right there in the logo.
As for flavors, there are the boring standards, like chocolate or strawberry, then there are the slightly complicated but now standard ones like rocky road or mint chocolate chip. Then, it gets much busier. Birthday Cake, white chocolate raspberry, Very Berry, Bubble Gum, all kinds of flavors, and then all the fixings you could want: gummi bears and M&Ms and sprinkles, etc. You can go to any location to see the tortured face of children burdened with too many choices. The pain that comes with the knowledge that no wonder what you choose (and no matter how good it is), you know you’re missing out on something else (nervous men supposedly feel this way right before their wedding, if movies aren’t lying to me).
But, without fail, there’s one standard that’s always present at every single Baskin Robbins: the (barely touched) tub of vanilla ice cream. It won’t be flat up top, since one or two people have ordered it. It’s easy to guess who this probably is, either a bored divorced dad who took his kid here because he doesn’t know what else to do with them and doesn’t like sweets, so just gets a small vanilla cone. Or maybe it’s the old grandma, too senile to understand her options, and her middle-aged daughter orders her a vanilla, telling her it’s her favorite, whether it really was or not. And that’s about it. Every other flavor with have heavy scoops taken out, sometimes so low you can see the white of the bottom of the tub shining through. But not boring old vanilla. So why am I stuck on this tub of vanilla ice cream? Because recently I figured out, I am that tub of vanilla.
Let me explain. Lately, I’ve had more and more of my friends come out in different ways. It’s inevitable, with our ever-expanding progressive society, that people feel more comfortable and safer to be and say who they really are (which is awesome!). I have friends that are poly, queer, drag stars, proud kinksters, etc. It’s reaching the point where trying to find a straight, monogamous person among my friends is like looking for a piece of hay in a needlestack. I love all my friends, and I support and cheer them on in their journeys of self-discovery.
A small part of me, unfortunately, is starting to worry. Am I the (barely touched) tub of vanilla ice cream at Baskins Robbins? The more this thought firmly planted in my head, the more sense it made.
For one, no one picks vanilla because you want vanilla. Vanilla is what you eat when you go to a friend’s house and they offer you a bowl of ice cream and you say ‘yes’ before realizing they only have vanilla and you try to not be disappointed. You may try to dress up vanilla with things you do like, chocolate syrup and sprinkles and caramel sauce, but in the end, you’re trying to mask the plain, old boring vanilla. And nobody picks vanilla when their options include mint chocolate chip, bubble gum, and Rootin’ Tootin’ Wildberry.
Looking at my dating history (and my history with women in general), this seems to make a lot of sense. I’ve never dated someone I wasn’t friends with first. No strange woman has ever thrown themselves at me excitedly, like people that squeal and exclaim “oh my god, they actually have rum raisin here!’. It’s always someone I’ve been around for a while. I never say this, because I don’t want to hear the denials, but there’s always a moment when a woman is looking at me and I can tell they’re thinking, “Hmm…I guess he’ll do,’ much like someone standing in their robe at 1AM with the freezer door open looking at a tub of Vanilla in the freezer. You’ll eat it because it’s there, and there aren’t better options. But standing in a Baskin Robbins? Vanilla is your last choice.
There are things you can dress up vanilla with, like chocolate syrup or candy. Unfortunately, the things about me that are interesting or unique aren’t attractive qualities to look for in a potential mate. For instance, let’s say a guy works on cars. Maybe you like the idea that the guy works with his hands, that he has a physical job, that he comes home from drenched in sweat and motor oil, reeking of animal sexuality like Stanley Kowalski (plus the added benefit of fixing your car for free when you run into troubles). That’s sprinkles. If a guy is boring and plain and uninteresting, but works on cars, that may be vanilla with sprinkles. Something that makes it more appetizing. The problem is that the things I have aren’t delicious add-ons. They’re raisins (mental illness), or mentholated cough drops (poverty), or butter squash (my Woody Allen collection). Maybe things that could zest up an already exciting quiche-inspired salad, sure, but adding them to a boring old bowl of vanilla ice cream? Gross.
Thanks to Twitter and the feminist/progressive collective that is my social circle, I’m seeing that more and more of the things that made me feel like me, are becoming negatives. Some of my favorite things of the past ten years: Woody Allen movies, Lena Dunham, The Simpsons, and writers like Jonathan Tropper, David Foster Wallace, and Hunter S. Thompson (all white male writers) are all things that are problematic now. Things to be ashamed of. I saw a tweet recently where a woman stated before she agreed to meet a guy, she asked if he owned a copy of “Infinite Jest,” and if he said yes, she refused to talk with him further. I get that’s an extreme example, but I have a copy of Infinite Jest on my bookshelf. In fact, I’m looking at it right now, sitting there repelling beautiful, progressive women.
This is not to say women are wrong for hating these problematic things, far from it. Honestly, I’m starting to hate a lot of my favorite things (like Lena Dunham), which may explain my retreat into more and more childhood favorites lately (like Scooby-Doo cartoons and Sega Genesis games). The kind of women I’m interested in hate the things I like, but the women that aren’t progressive enough to care about problematic things I’m not attracted to. At the very least, this spells conundrum. I spent all day Friday with my brother driving around, hunting for deals on old video games. I spent all day today in bed reading books. I drink my coffee black. My favorite movie is Manhattan (ugh, I know). I still love The Beatles. I have two Green Day tattoos. All boring or unlikable things that, regardless of what Tinder profiles tell you, no one is looking for.
“But Kirk!” the imaginary voices of my protesting friends in my mind call out, “you’re pansexual! You’re queer! That’s super interesting and not vanilla at all!” Sigh. Let me explain some things. When I was younger, I started realizing things, and before I knew it, I was a queer artist. It seemed so daring. So
crazy. This would be 2005-2008ish, so I’m by no means calling myself any kind of trailblazer (that trail was blazed LONG before I came along), but it was still interesting. It made me different. That’s not why I’m queer or an artist, it just kind of came with the territory. But, as I get older, and the world more progressive, it’s not interesting anymore. At a party one time, a woman pointed at me and said, “straight white men like you,” and I gently corrected with “I’m actually pansexual,” and got a rolling of eyes. “Who cares?” she shot back, “everyone is some kind of queer. That doesn’t make you special.” Although this hurt to hear, I understood the feeling behind it to an extent. As I get older, it really isn’t unique to be queer anymore. As I said earlier, it’s rare among my friends to be straight or monogamous. Not to mention, although I am queer, I don’t really have any interest in pursuing men. It’s just too much, it feels like it’s too late, whatever. “Oh, but you should get out there!” Stop. Stop it. I don’t care. I really don’t. My sexuality relates to my ability to be attracted, not my interest in forming long-term relationships. I’ve struggled with years about this, and only recently am becoming okay with preferring women and still feeling secure in my identity as a queer person. I’m not into feet, or bondage, and I absolutely cannot choke or hit someone in a sexual context. So sure, maybe I have a little something, but even if you don’t think “well you aren’t really queer” or something, at BEST this makes me one of those tubs of vanilla bean, with ground-up flecks up vanilla (bean? I guess?) in the ice cream. It’s doesn’t really add much flavor, but somehow just accents and amplifies that you’re eating a boring vanilla.
And, now that I’m nearing thirty, I’m starting to see a difference in reactions. If two seemingly identical tubs of vanilla are in a freezer, you pick the one that expires in a month, not the one that expires in a week. So, as I get older, it’s only going to get less and less likely I’ll be picked up and put in a grocery cart.
You probably think I’m being too hard on myself, and I probably am. But, a few years ago, I had Tinder on my phone for a few months. After six months of swiping right on countless women, I didn’t get a single match. Six months. That hurt like hell when it happened, but looking back, I understand. Tinder is just the ice cream counter, and no one picks the (barely touched) tub of vanilla ice cream at Baskin Robbins.
About Kirk Loftin:
Kirk Loftin is 30 years old and lives in Houston, TX. He studied writing at University of Houston (until he ran out of money for tuition). He has previously been published by Spectrum South. He currently works as the Lead Writer & Marketing Strategist for a local creative video studio. He runs a Patreon where he regularly posts writing, has written an (unproduced) film, "Headshrunk", and is working on his first novel, "An Unlovely Creature".