It’s just humiliating.

I would prefer to keep this secret to myself for the remainder of my days, but no man can hide forever. The truth has a way of worming, bare and unadorned, into public view like a … well, like a worm, I guess.

My shame is great.

I can’t order ice cream for myself. Can’t do it at Dairy Joy, can’t do it at Gifford’s, can’t do it at any number of roadside ice cream shops with clever names like Sundae Funday or Lickety Split. When I go to order ice cream, my brain revolts, refusing to address the many, many questions fired at me from the gum-snapping girl behind the counter. It’s like being hit with a spot calculus exam for which I’m not prepared.

Sugar cone or regular? Hard or soft? Sprinkles or jimmies? Do I want a right-handed cone or left-handed? If a mint oreo blizzard treat leaves a train station at the same time as a caramel cookie crunch, how many tutti frutti fudge balls can fit into a 6-inch waffle cone?

I was once so overwhelmed by questions from an ice cream drill sergeant that I fainted right there in the parking lot and had to be revived by some 6-year-old with a snot bubble. It was terribly embarrassing and I never got any ice cream.

Every spring it’s the same horror and has been all my life. Whoever I happen to be traveling with will get to squealing like Ned Beatty in the woods, excited beyond sanity to find that the ice cream shops are open again.

“Ooooooh,” squeals Kim or Candy or Pamela or Yvonne or Randy. “The Dairy Rapture is open! Why, that means I can finally get a triple backwards licorice funky pooberry inverted quadra fun cone with sprinkles and nuts and tootsie pop shavings with tittercream syrup and skunkhole sauce!”

Half of those words are possibly made up. I just don’t know! Everything about ice cream seems like gibberish to me, like the language of the burrowing, nine-eyed creatures that populate the planet Grapenut in the outer reaches of the constellation mint julep major. There are more options available for an ice cream cone than there are for new cars or medical plans.

When I am dragged, sometimes forcibly, to an ice cream joint, the experience is invariably humiliating. I stand there at the end of the line, behind the pretty mom with her six children, the old couple holding hands and the young couple holding their smartphones. I shuffle my feet and look at the ground instead of the menu, my hands stuffed deep in my pockets. When my companion asks what I would like to order, I mumble a response and kick at the pebbles beneath my feet.

“Do you want a cone? Chocolate in a sugar cone, maybe?”

“Mumble, mumble, mumble.”

“How about an upside-down, inside out, mildly erotophobic banana split? You like those!”

“Mumble, mumble,” shuffle, pebble kick, shuffle.

“What’s that, honey? You want a parfait?”

A barely perceptible nod. Oh, yes, I want that parfait thing, the one where you dig into the ice cream only to find peanuts swimming in chocolate syrup!

“OK, then, my brave boy. I’ll get you a parfait. Do you want chocolate ice cream or vanilla? Whipped cream on top or none? Democrat or Republican? Automatic or manual? Big wheel or pogo stick?”

At which point I run in tears back to the car, diving into the back where I can weep helplessly into the cushions while the horrible people in the ice cream line cackle with malevolent glee. Four-year-old kids with fingers up their noses look polite and composed in comparison. By the time I have the damn parfait in my hands, it will taste like a shame sundae with sissy sauce.

It would be one thing if I could just avoid ice cream completely, getting my brain-freeze fix through simpler things, like slush puppies or flavored ice cubes. But no. Like all tyrants have their armies, ice cream too has its henchman; rolling tribes of ice cream pushers who roam the streets like armored tanks playing “Pop Goes the Weasel” or – God save us all – “The Entertainer.” Nobody, but nobody can hide from the Good Humor Man.

The great Wallace Stevens once wrote: “Let be be finale of seem. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.”

Which really makes no sense at all. But that’s just the way ice cream is.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. Email brain-freeze options to [email protected]

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