With the fading picture of Ronald Reagan still haunting my memory, I entered Basking & Robbin’ and found an unexpected line in front of the counter. I looked up at the menu board. This month’s flavor was Newt Gingrich. A cone was less than three dollars.
“Yes, but there’s not much left,” came the answer from behind the counter, “that will be $13.95.”
“Cain was 9.99 last week!” complained the customer.
From behind the counter: “He’s no longer the flavor of the month. We had a lot when he was flavor of the month. Right now we have several hundred gallons of Newt Gingrich we have to move.”
In front of them, on the inside of the glass, was a placard describing the flavor. Jon Huntsman had a long description on his placard, but only a one-gallon container. Michele Bachmann was in a regular sized container, but there was almost nothing in it, perhaps not two whole scoops.
“Why don’t you order some more Bachmann?” I asked.
“I think she’s being discontinued,” comes the reply, “we haven’t had a shipment in a long time. We did that early in the year with Trump Surprise. Big promotion, Flavor of the Month, and then next month discontinued. I see the wisdom, though, nobody misses it.”
“You have plenty of Romney, I see.”
“Oh, yes, always, much more than we can sell,” came the reply. But 23% of our customers always want it. It’s easy once you’ve swallowed Romney. Never more or less, even when we’re promoting it. “We stock a lot of Perry, too. We get a great price on those flavors because Romney is subsidized by our competitor, Fairy Queen, and most of the Perry comes in from Mexico. We sold a ton of Perry back in August and September. He was flavor of the month for a couple straight months til the Mexico thing became an issue. You ought to see my stock room!”
The counter person was like an open book on his company’s policy. He told me his name is Karl. But on a Saturday afternoon, he was very busy; so I decided to talk another time. Meanwhile I continued to look through the glass trying to decide what to buy. At the farthest end of the display was a container with a piece of paper taped right over the descriptive placard to keep me from reading it. It seems to have still sold a lot of scoops, especially for being way down at the end. When I got to the front of the line the customer that was in front of me was walking away with two scoops of that “mystery product” in his cone. So I asked Karl the clerk, “What’s that?”
“You don’t want that,” he said.
“Only nuts buy that,” he said, “that’s Ron Paul.”
“Ron Paul?” I asked, not really knowing what to say.
“Yes, Ron Paul fans are completely bonkers. They won’t buy anything else.”
“How come?” I asked, naively.
“Because it has almost no calories and supplies significant nutrition. It’s like they don’t understand what Ice Cream is supposed to be about. And they say it tastes delicious. They’re completely insane.”
“You’ve never tried it?” you ask.
“OF COURSE NOT!” exclaimed the clerk, raising his voice. He was offended by the question, “That’s Ron Paul! His fans are completely bonkers. They won’t buy anything else! They try to get everyone to taste it. They’re crazy!”
“How much is a cone?” I asked, slightly cowed.
“$45.95.” was the answer. I settled on a single scoop of Santorum for $10.99. It has a bright pumpkin color, but tastes a bit sour. I decided to return to question the clerk another time when things slowed down but on my way out, one of the Ron Paul “nuts” still in the store offered me a sample of his cone on one of those little flat wooden spoons.
I’d never tasted anything so good. All that afternoon I mulled over what I’d learned.
I returned in the evening when I knew the traffic would die down.
The bright lighted “Basking & Robbin’” sign stands out after sundown at that end of town. The only other thing open at this hour on a Saturday evening is the Fairy Queen. They have a big vinyl banner out front: “Hope – for a Buck and Change!” it says. “Great prices,” I note.
Karl, the clerk I talked to earlier, was still on duty at Basking and just as talkative with more free time. He’s more than happy to tell me how things “really work” in the Ice Cream business. That’s good, because I have a lot of questions. The industry leader, he says, is Fairy Queen. They subsidize the Romney flavor because it is closest to their own product and they think it is to their long-term business advantage to keep their competitors from having something different to offer the customer. “Everything is the Same!” is how their jingle goes. Catchy. And “Fairy Queen is more equal than our competitors” is their marketing slogan.
“Why do 25% of your customers buy Romney?” I ask Karl.
“23%,” Karl corrects me. “Because it’s closest to the Fairy Queen stuff.”
“Why don’t they just go to Fairy Queen?” I query.
“The prices are too low,” says Karl. “They’re rich people and want quality. They like our upscale signage and higher prices. They used to like that McCain flavor we sold when you were younger.” I remembered. It always tasted lousy, but Karl pointed out that it came in a bright red, white and blue color swirl. “Didn’t all three colors taste the same?” I asked. Karl just laughed.
“What’s wrong with Ron Paul?” I finally got the courage to ask. Karl grimaced. Every time I mention the name his face registers somewhere between embarrassment and “I’m about to vomit.”
“The fans are completely bonkers,” he started out. “They won’t buy anything else! They’re crazy! They…”
“WAIT!” I stopped him. “Don’t tell me about the fans. I want to know about the product itself. What is wrong with the product? Why do you cover it up? Why does it cost so much?”
“Okay, I’ll tell you,” said Karl. “We hate Ron Paul. We don’t really want to sell it. Ron Paul will NEVER be Flavor of the Month.”
“Does it taste bad?”
“Well, no, they tell me it tastes great. I won’t touch it though. I hate it.”
“Does it cost you more?” I ask.
“No, it costs less than anything else we buy. That’s part of the problem. It is not made by a company. No big corporation profits. It is made at home in ordinary kitchens by people who believe in it because of the nutritious quality, and they sell it to us at their cost. Their COST. Can you believe it? I hate them.”
“And you sell it for $45 a cone?” I ask. “You should be getting rich! Why isn’t it your top promotion?”
“Forty-five NINETY FIVE,” Karl corrected, “and we do make money, but the cost is not the problem, it’s the product itself.”
“But that’s what I keep asking you, Karl! What is wrong with the product? Don’t keep telling me about the people who buy it. What is wrong with the product???”
“If you must know,” said Karl, “It has no sugar.”
“What?” I exclaim, dumbfounded.
“No SUGAR,” says Karl. “There’s no excuse for it. It has almost no calories. It’s full of protein and other nutrients. It is a disgrace to Ice Cream.”
“But you’ve had low sugar products before,” I say. “That Huntsman, yogurt-based product you like is advertised as low sugar, right now. You had Johnson Berry Natural up until a few weeks ago. And what about Fairy Queen? Their whole successful “Balack Vanilla” campaign that dominated last season promised to ELIMINATE sugar. It was part of the whole “Hope for a Buck and Change” campaign! It worked for them.”
“’Balack Vanilla’ has more sugar than our last successful product launch, Georgia Buzz,” replies Karl,” and that had a ton of sugar! Everyone knows you can’t eliminate sugar, even Balack Vanilla. Sugar is the essence of the product!! 40 percent of our national economy depends on sugar. The whole thing would collapse without it. Ron Paul is nutty!”
I don’t know what to say. Karl might be right for all I know. I don’t have the numbers. Suppose the economy IS sugar-based? But, wait, why would it have to stay that way? Couldn’t people involved in the sugar industry do something else if we found something better than sugar? We replaced blacksmiths and buggy whips, didn’t we? And why was I being told that they wanted to keep their product close to Fairy Queen in order to sell it, but rejected a product that actually delivered on their competitor’s most successful claim? I resolve to confront Karl with my new questions when he opens next day and I think I might actually try a Paul cone, despite the cost and the shame that would be heaped upon me. Basking & Robbin’ are open seven days.
The next morning was Sunday and I wanted to be standing at the door when Basking opened. But something amazing happened. I drove down Madison Avenue where all the Churches are. You know how churches are more and more getting reader boards out front, like advertising? Well, I’m not usually driving down Madison Avenue Sunday morning, but I was surprised to find it crowded. Stupid me, of course, everyone was going to church. But I started reading the reader boards. “Support our sugar!” said one. “God Bless our sugar” said another. It was really amazing. It wasn’t all of them, of course, but I think it was most. The last one I noted said, “If you ate this morning thank the cook, if it tasted good thank sugar!”
It seemed a little strange to me for these churches to be promoting a commodity. They seemed to think that there was something sacred, or close to it, in sugar. I had to get to the bottom of it. So I found a congregation that was just coming out and went up to talk to the pastor.
I was right. He told me that he felt that he would not be true to his faith if he did not support the production and use of sugar in all our food. “We sacrifice to put sugar in everything we eat,” he said. I had to find out why. “Do you know how it is made?” he said. I didn’t. “It is a derivative of Muslims,” he said. “What?” I asked, taken up short. “Yes,” he said, “I’m surprised you don’t know about it. Our brave men and women harvest Muslims and all our sugar is processed from the carcasses. “You mean we kill them…” I posited. “Yes, of course,” he responded. “That’s the whole point. Killing Muslims. Don’t you know what they did to us on 9/11?”
“Of course, I know,” I said, “but they didn’t all do it and we already killed or imprisoned and tortured the ones who did.”
“Yes, but they all WOULD HAVE killed us. And that is why we hate them and want to kill them. We have to do it first.”
“You hate them and want to kill them…” I trailed off.
“Yes!” he responded boldly, “hate them and want to kill them.”
“Because…” I waited for him to fill in the blank…
“Because they hate us and want to kill us.”
I was amazed and astonished. This conversation was making me re-think religion. Perhaps that’s why I asked, “What do you think of Ron Paul?”
“Are you one of those nuts?” he asked, but without waiting for an answer went on: “I hate Ron Paul as much as I hate Muslims,” he said, “It is dangerous. It is a threat to sugar. It is as bad as the Muslims. I will work to eliminate any flavor that interferes with our God-ordained right to sugar. Sugar is precious. Every pound, every bite or sip of food with sugar is eating and drinking the blood of Muslims. We must drive them into the sea, wipe Muslims off the face of the earth. Never forget! It is the final solution.”
You probably won’t believe me if I tell you my next few minutes verged on the supernatural. It was Sunday morning. I was talking to a pastor in his robes in front of a church. And as he finished his remarks it was as if I partially saw a dream while I was awake, like a “vision” you might say. As this pastor railed out his determination to spill the blood of Muslims across the globe, in his war on terror before there is terror, I saw his teeth grow to fangs and blood drip from the corners of his mouth.
It was ghastly, but it vanished almost immediately and I was not frightened. After all it was not any worse than the words he was saying. And I knew it wasn’t real. It was just a picture of what the pastor had become inside.
Well, I tell you all this because I have a confession. I bought my first Ron Paul that day and it WAS delicious and I have become a Ron Paul nut. I can’t help it. I make my own now, at home. I know, I’m crazy. And I’ve lost 15 pounds. I’m insane. And I have more energy and get more done in a day. Completely bonkers. And I don’t care if all the pastors with “support our sugar” reader boards hate me.
Because a week after this happened, I went back to Basking and Robbin’. And I talked to that helpful clerk, Karl. I knew, for all his knowledge he was just the local clerk, so I asked him, “Karl, who is the management of Basking and Robbin’?
It’s funny you should ask,” said Karl. They’re in town this week for a conference and they’re all in the back office right now talking. I’ll introduce you to them.
I was a bit excited. I had never met the operations management of a major corporation before, but we just walked in to Karl’s little office in back and there they were.
Karl acted like nothing was amiss, but I couldn’t have been more shocked. There were three of them, dressed alike. They wore a kind of long company jump suit of white wool, very fluffy and kind of incongruous. It made them look like three sheep. But they had the head and feet of wolves.
I don’t mean they looked like wolves, they were wolves. They grinned and their gaping jaws exposed long lupine fangs. And as they looked at me the three establishment wolves literally salivated as if they could tell I was a Ron Paul fan. I was in too much awe to run or to fear. And this was not a vision as with the pastor, this was real. This is what they had become, inside and outside. And from the horrible rows of incisors and canines that above and below lined their mouths dripped long sticky liquid strands of human blood. And in their hands that were the hands of wolves, and on the desk around which they sat were silver goblets and they were full of the blood of men. And they spoke to me in friendly tones,
“Welcome to the Party.”