Anarchist Emma Goldman was co-owner of an ice cream parlor in Worcester, Mass.
New England Historical Society
Goldman: “Make up your mind, I haven’t got all day. Vanilla, chocolate, or world-wide workers revolt?”
I have come to Worcester, the Industrial Abrasives Capital of the World, to meet the woman whose modest goal is to ignite the class rebellion that will topple the Titans of Greed and usher in a New Worker’s Paradise; Emma Goldman, anarchist agitator, fiery public speaker, birth control advocate, anti-capitalist, anti-militarist, anti-whatever-you-got-on-sale-today, but first and foremost, Purveyor of Fine Ice Cream Specialties to satisfy the sweet teeth of the Masses.
“I need two scoops of rum raisin–STAT!”
As a subterfuge to conceal her revolutionary aim to overthrow the Fascist Forces of Nutrition, I consider her Anarchist Ice Cream Parlor a stroke of genius. Given a choice between eating a healthy snack–raisins, carrots, celery sticks–and something sweeter and bad for you, who can resist a scoop of peppermint with a handful of “jimmies” (known in the rest of this benighted land by the humdrum term “chocolate sprinkles”) on top? No one I know. Get those kids hooked on butter brickle, chocolate swirl, Neapolitan, even pistachio while they’re young, and they’ll be dedicated revolutionaries by the time they’re big enough to toss a brick through a factory window.
Smuggled into Worcester in violation of Woodrow Wilson’s Anti-Jimmies Act of 1917.
The shop is located at 82-88 Winter Street, so I pick 85–splitting the difference–and peer within. Even though the joint is supposed to open at 3 every afternoon, it’s closer to 3:30 and still no signs of life. Wait–I can dimly see at a back table Emma and . . . is that Alexander Berkman? Yes it is. Must be plotting to bump off a robber baron like Henry Clay Frick. I’m not going to spoil their party, but with the benefit of hindsight I could tell them that far from triggering a worker’s revolt, Frick’s employees will come to his defense and beat Berkman senseless for trying to kill their boss. As I like to say, those who will not learn from the future are doomed to repeat it.
I rap on the window–I love ice cream but mom always told me not to spoil my dinner, so I’d like to get a few scoops of mocha java in me before it gets too late.
Site of Emma Goldman’s ice cream shop.
Goldman hears me and gets up, clearly irritated. It must be tough, wanting to start a revolution and being interrupted by petit bourgeois customers all the time, but hey–I didn’t tell her to become a common victualler. She opens the door with that trademark scowl on her face and snaps “Well–what do you want?”
“Hi, I . . . uh . . . was hoping to get an ice cream cone.”
She exhales in disgust, and I suppose I can’t blame her. “I have much more important things to do, but I suppose I can exchange my humble confections for your filthy lucre,” she says. She puts on her apron and takes her place behind the counter. I notice there is no signboard overhead to tell patrons what flavors are available–it’s sheer anarchy–so I look down to see if I can guess the flavors from their colors.
“You should smile more!”
There are only three; white, pink, and brown. Like so many of her social revolutionary peers, Emma apparently believes the customer is always wrong. You want Creamsicle–fine, here’s a scoop of vanilla. If you don’t like it, go to a right wing ice cream joint, the kind of snobbish place that spells “shop” “shoppe.”
“The brown ice cream–is that mocha java?” I ask, hoping against hope that there’s some consumer choice here, and I’m not consigned to eat the ice cream equivalent of the Trabant, the classic East German vehicle so beloved by people who view a car as an appliance on wheels.
Trabant: Available in grey and gray.
“Is only chocolate.”
“O-kay,” I say. “I guess I’ll have the strawberry then.”
“Is not ‘strawberry’–is the Diluted Blood Stains of Workers Crushed in the Snow.”
I’m shocked–apparently Miss Anarchy of 1889 does have a marketing bone in her body. While I generally resist cutesy-pie names for foods–I refused on principle for many years to order a “Fish-a-Ma-Jig” sandwich and a “Fribble” frappe at Friendly’s restaurants, I decide to play along.
“Were the workers crushed in Czarist Russia, or by Captains of New England’s Textile Industry?” I ask.
“All of our ingredients are fresh, sourced locally at abandoned factories where the carcasses of dreams of greed lay rotting in . . .”
I need to cut her off. Once she starts speaking, she’s been known to go on for hours, and even incite riots. “Great–two scoops,” I say, looking at my watch to let her know I don’t have all day.
She rolls up her sleeve and starts scooping out of one of those cardboard bulk tubs like a steam shovel digging for coal, and in two shakes of a lamb’s tail–all right, maybe three–she’s built a nice pile for me atop a sugar cone.
While others might blanch at that price, the thing I love about Worcester is that it’s a great low-cost alternative to Boston. The same cone would cost me five, maybe six dollars once you get into the 617 area code, so no complaints from me.
“So, how’s business?” I ask Emma, hoping to gain some insight into her mind. What is it, exactly, that makes her tick? Is it memories of her abusive father, the corporal punishment she suffered at the hands of a teacher in Konigsberg, her years toiling away in a sweatshop?
“It’s tough. I must be here all the time, which means I can’t be out fomenting a worker’s revolt, which is my mission in life.”
“Huh. So–it’s hard to get good help?”
“You got it.”
I rub my chin in a thoughtful manner. “I’m not an M.B.A., but I think I see the problem.”
“And what would you suggest?” she says with a sneer.
“You might try paying people a little more.”