The perfect soft-serve cone Learning the technique was a religious experience during a Wildwood summer.

Posted: August 21, 2003

The perfect soft-serve ice cream cone has four rings and a little hat. I learned that during a summer job in 1993, and I will never forget it. Three rings makes it look too small and five rings will mess up the foundation; before the customer takes the first lick the ice cream tower will topple to the floor.

On June 23, 1993, I graduated from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, and I did what I believed was my birthright and destiny for a rowhouse girl living in Port Richmond. I took my graduation party money and rented a house in Wildwood for the summer with my best friends.

What we thought was our first taste of independence and ultimate coolness was an overpriced sweatbox seven blocks from the beach and, this being Wildwood, 15 blocks from the ocean.

The graduation party money only lasted so long and it was time to get a job. Wildwood's boardwalk was, and still is, the mecca for Philly teens to get summer employment. My best friend, Danny, and I took jobs at the OceanWave Ice Cream Shop on the boardwalk. Our first night to work was the Fourth of July.

The first thing we were taught was the four rings and a little hat method of creating a soft-serve ice cream cone. The second thing we learned was that the staff was allowed to eat the mistakes. The third thing I learned? That gaining 50 pounds that summer did nothing for my self-confidence or cholesterol.

So four rings and a little hat. It was simple. I was a diploma-carrying product of the School District of Philadelphia, and I could count. Four rings and a little hat. No problem. Four rings and a little hat.

When the fireworks display ended that night, thousands of people all had the same idea - to get their soft-serve ice cream from me. That four rings and a little hat method went to hell. If it was the human form of the perfect ice cream cone, I totally failed. I was Dr. Frankenstein that night and the soft-serve machine handles were my generator switches. I was not only making ice cream that resembled the Frankenstein monster, but also his pregnant sister with twins, his cousin who suffered from elephantiasis and his three-headed dwarf uncle who never got invited to family parties.

With rainbow jimmies in crevices I never knew I had, whipped cream in my eyes, and mint chocolate chip embedded in my earlobe, I was pulled aside by Danny. This product of 12 years of Catholic school saw me floundering in my attempt to create the four rings and a little hat.

"When I make my ice cream I always say to myself, in the name of The Father (ring one), Son (ring two) and the Holy (ring three) Ghost (ring four) and the Amen is the little hat," he said.

Now, I was not a heathen. I spent eight years in Catholic school. I knew the sign of the cross and knew the importance of the Sunday collection plate. I strutted over to the soft-serve ice cream machine and grabbed a cone. I yanked the handle like I was pulling a slot machine arm in Atlantic City or like I was pouring a draft beer (both experiences I had, by the way, thanks to the pre-Sept. 11 fake I.D. I obtained from the Pennsauken Mart!).

The heavens opened up, the Red Sea parted, and Lazarus rose from the dead. Four rings and a little hat sat on my sugar cone!

Patty-Pat Kozlowski lives and writes in Philadelphia's Port Richmond section.

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