First of all, as anyone who has ever lived in Milwaukee knows: Kopp’s Frozen Custard is the most delicious dessert on the planet. It’s basically ice cream with twice the fat. So when Smilin’ Joe Biden showed up at Kopp’s in Glendale, Wisconsin, last week, you can only imagine his annoyance at being interrupted in the middle of his first taste — from the looks of things, Friday’s special flavor, chocolate chip cookie dough — by a store manager cracking that the cone was free, as long as the vice-president would agree to “lower our taxes.” Biden being Biden, he called the manager “a smartass.” And who was that smartass? None other than my nemesis of twenty years ago — the first boss I ever hated and feared.
His name is Scott Borkin, and he was a junior manager at that very same Kopp’s when I got my first after-school job at the age of 15. I worked the fountain, making shakes and sundaes. In between rushes, I sat in the walk-in freezer, filching pralines from the toppings storage and doing my best to avoid Scott Borkin.
Scott didn’t like me. There were plenty of good reasons — I was a really annoying 15-year-old, and was so slow making shakes that a co-worker called me “Yertle the Turtle” — but most of the other managers took pity on a kid who’d never had any responsibility before, and were encouraging and nice. Not Scott. He looked for reasons to yell at me, and was very good at finding them. Usually, those reasons were totally legitimate, but even when I was doing things right he could find a reason to get on me.
When a customer ordered a shake alongside something from the grill, I would make the shake and place it in a little rolling freezer so that it would still be cold when the customer’s burger was ready. I’d write the ticket order number on the plastic cup lid with a Sharpie so that it was easy to find.
Once, very late on a long, hot night of customers piling in and the custard machines jamming and the store’s owner, Carl Kopp, walking around in his apron and hat terrifying everyone, Scott Borkin came over to collect a shake for order number 87. “What the hell is this?” he asked me.
Inside, I panicked. What had I done wrong this time? But I had the ticket right in my hand — malt with chocolate — and was positive that’s what I had made. “It’s a chocolate malt.”
“No, this,” he said, pointing at my Sharpied “7” on the lid. I’d written it with a line through the center because once someone had mistaken my non-lined 7 for a 2.
“Uh, it’s a seven,” I replied.
“This is a seven,” he said, taking the ticket from my hand and drawing a non-lined numeral. “Do it right or you’re outta here.” He plucked the malt off the counter and stalked away. “This isn’t Germany!” he called over his shoulder.
When I go home for visits and order frozen custard — I usually average two cones a day over the course of a long weekend — Scott betrays no memory of me. I was one of thousands of zit-faced, lazy-ass teenagers to cycle through that restaurant over the past twenty years. But I remember Scott — his relentless sarcasm, his anger, and the annoyance he seemed to feel for his job even then.
So hey, if he wants to become the next Joe the Plumber, who could hold it against him? Although Scott the Custard Stand Manager doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, he’s already made an appearance on Fox & Friends!
But I can’t say it didn’t give me a little pleasure to see Scott Borkin get told off by Joe Biden. When Borkin snapped at me for writing my sevens wrong, I was left speechless — filled with the inarticulate rage that is a side effect of being 15. I would have felt a lot better then if I had known that twenty years later, the freaking vice-president of the United States would show up at Kopp’s and say to Scott Borkin exactly what I should have said: “Why don’t you say something nice instead of being a smartass all the time?”