Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Tom Carvel Revisited

On this sixth anniversary weekend of Len Speaks, I think about how I started this Sunday Memory Drawer about five years ago.  I wanted something nostalgic every Sunday, just as my grandmother would tell me stories on wintery Sunday afternoons.  I'd lay on her living room couch.  She'd sit in the rocking chair next to the big window and just start talking.  Flashing back years and decades.  To relatives and people I never met, but felt that I knew intimately from these tales.

Of course, as I have discovered doing this Sunday feature, my own stories are not springing forth from a bottomless pit.  Grandma only had a finite number of stories.  And frequently would repeat hers.  If you were a casual observer to those days, you could easily tell when the recitation was a repeat affair.  I'd look bored to tears.  Eventually, Grandma would notice.

"Oh, did I tell you this already?"

Er, yeah.

But sometimes the stories were worth repeating.  And offered a new kernel of deliciousness on the second go-round.

So, too, on this blog.  But, in my case, I usually know that I've told you the tale before.  A virtual record on the internet easily validates that.  Nonetheless, I'm telling you one here today that I know I related six years ago.  All about the first job I had after college.  As an advertising assistant for Carvel Ice Cream.  Owned by the renowned ice cream magnet Tom Carvel.

And, oh, did I say he was a dirty old man?

Frequently when I am back in Westchester, I have cause to motor past the old Carvel Inn on Tuckahoe Road in Yonkers. It looks like they are trying to put a fancy new spin on this dump, which is now called the Royal Regency Hotel. I am always mentally capsized by a flood of memories of my days at this fleabag building, whose available rooms were usually used more often by sex-starved employees of the Carvel Corporation as opposed to tourists looking for a neat roadstop on the New York State Thruway on their way to much better locales than Yonkers, New York.

And, yes, that was also the site of my first full time job after college.

I had gotten an entry level job as an all-purpose advertising assistant for the Carvel Ice Cream franchises. I was known as "send the kid." And that phrase was usually uttered by Tom Carvel himself, the founder of his little ice cream empire. 

The story of how he started his conglomerate is legend. His ice cream truck broke down on Central Avenue in Hartsdale sometime in the 1930s. Because his frozen treats were melting, he had to sell them on the spot. He realized people would come to a central spot to buy ice cream cones. The stuff is legend. As a matter of fact, out here in Hollywoodland, the chic thing for studios to now order for wrap parties, etc. are those goofy Carvel cakes. Hell, I was there when some of them were invented. Yes, I was present on the payroll for the birth of Fudgie the Whale---"a whale of a cake for a whale of a dad." Obviously, this was a Father's Day promotion. 

An interesting sidebar: these cake molds were very expensive for the Carvel dealers to buy. And, since the old fart kept churning out new characters for his cakes, they rebelled. So, Carvel had to figure out how to make future cake promotions by using the same mold. They would buy Fudgie but nothing else. So, they devised all these ways to make different creatures out of one mold. Indeed, the famous Cookie Puss is really the Fudgie mold simply cut differently. The man was a genius. 

Yeah, right.

To immerse myself into the custard business, I was forced by the old man to go into the dealer education program, which was more familiarly known as the "Carvel College of Ice Cream Knowledge." So, I got to learn how to prep machines to make soft ice cream, the correct amount of chips to sprinkle, etc.. 

And I learned how they made that secret cake crunch. Big freakin' secret. You take the Flying Saucer sandwich crumbs and mix it with some chocolate Magic Shell-like substance and then quick freeze it. Voila. Crunch. All the people who became franchisees were disgruntled former firemen or people who were tired of answering to some tyrannical boss. Little did they know.

You would think this merry old ice cream maker would be this larger-than-life storybook character. Wrong. The guy was an absolute pill.  He was a cheap old bastard, whose gates were guarded by this old maid villainess named Mildred, who took out her spinsterhood on the employees. She resembled Mrs. Danvers in "Rebecca" and I was praying for a similar fire that would burn her to a crisp like a sugar cone. She held the penny while Carvel pinched it. 

Ultimately, I was fired by Mildred for not putting the cheaper paper in the Xerox machine. Yet, they pervaded this myth that the place was a virtual Willy Wonka movie. Meanwhile, I worked with the sleaziest of the sleazy. Secretaries were sleeping with bosses. Bosses were sleeping with their bosses. 

And "T.C." was the biggest pervert of them all. 

If you were a young woman at the company, it was a matter of time before he tried to grope you in his lap. One of my regular duties was to drive the company car down into the bowels of Manhattan and pick up some specially selected skin flicks at a porno production house. Then, I would hand deliver them into a plain brown envelope to Mildred for messengering to Carvel's Dobbs Ferry palace.

One very icy day, I got the call from Mildred's bat cave. The old man's tape machine was busted. I had to bring his office VCR up to the house. He obviously had some new releases and a new box of Kleenex he was dying to crack. Okay, these were the days of the clunky tape players. When I got to Carvel's frozen lair, the cheap bastard hadn't bothered to clean the hilly walkway to his front door. As I mounted the icy tundra carrying a fifty pound tape player, I remember thinking to myself. If there ever was a time in my life that I would endure a broken leg, let this be the moment so I could sue the guy for all the hot fudge in the world.

I had to edit those stupid radio commercials he did with new dealers. The copy he voiced was always the same gravely nonsense.

"Where's your store located?"

"You gonna sell Thinny Thin?"

"You gonna carry Lo-Yo?"

It was a marketing ploy developed by Moses. Plus he would never expand his radio campaign beyond the stations he listened to. That's why he was wasting his money looking for new young dealers on WOR-AM, which was the flagship radio station of Woodlawn Cemetery.

For a first job, the experience was not rewarding, but certainly fruitful when it came to comical anecdotes. Once, there was some family of tourists looking to save a few bucks by staying at the hotel. There was always one room with clean sheets just in case this ever happened. Well, anyway, one of the family's younger members was carrying a tray of coffee through the lobby. I watched him trip and spill the hot java onto the floor. As luck would have it, TC was doing a walkthrough at the time. He promptly told the young boy to clean out his desk because he was fired. Probably the first time ever, a hotel guest was fired from the premises. 

There was another time where Carvel had found a cigarette stub on the floor and he promptly carried on a three day investigation to find who the sloppy employee was. I saw him literally going through office ash trays trying to match up the mysterious butt.

Tom Carvel viewed himself as some great philantrophist, despite being the biggest miser since Scrooge. He did have one charity he bend over backsward for. Dobbs Ferry Children's Hospital. Because he allegedly had this wonderful lifelong friendship with Bob Hope, Carvel decided to stage this benefit performance. He engaged Hope to preside over the evening. For the several weeks prior, no one in the company did a blasted thing that involved ice cream. Our complete focus was this stupid show. 

And Carvel had this dream that Bob Hope would spend the night of the event by sleeping at his beloved rat's nest, the Carvel Inn. All we heard for weeks was the sound of hammering in the hotel. Carvel was knocking out the walls of five hotel rooms to make a Bob Hope suite. Then, he moved furniture in from his home for Bob. I guess you have an idea where this is going. After the huge and costly renovation, Bob Hope did indeed stop at the Carvel Inn on the night of the show. 

To pee.

If you lived in the New York City area back then, you might remember the TV commercials that Carvel did.  For years after I left, they were still using footage that was shot when I was on the sidelines.

How's this for a Sunday Memory on St. Patrick's Day.

Once again, the cheap bastard didn't use real cameramen and production people when he needed to tape new commercials. Instead, he made arrangements to use the AV studios of a nearby Catholic seminary. The old man got tons of free studio time and a bunch of kids got four credits. The place was run by a couple of nuns, who got all sorts of giddy because they were in the presence of this ice cream prince. Of course, the porno tapes he had in the back seat of his car were not made available to them.

There was one shoot where he had some baseball promotion. For that, TC invited his "good" friend Mickey Mantle to film the commercial with him. The good news was that Mickey showed up sober for the day. The bad news was he brought his buddy Billy Martin with him. 

Thinking that Martin was going to be a distraction during production, they elected me to sit with him in a classroom and essentially babysit the guy. After about five minutes of small talk, Billy and I had little more to share with each other. He excused himself for the men's room and I promptly lost him for an hour. I know he didn't find the men's room, because, when I found him, he was peeing in the snow outside.

Meanwhile, Mickey was in the studio giving a pretty lady his hotel key. What he didn't realize was that the lady in question was one of the nuns who ran the place.

I was only there for about a year and a half.  On some days, it seemed like ten years.  Meanwhile, Tom Carvel died "suddenly" in 1990 and a Japanese conglomerate bought the company.  Several years later, one of his distant relatives alleged that the old man was murdered in an aborted company takeover engineered by some employees led by the sinister Mildred, the old spinster who's now rotting in a grave herself.  

It all seems like a fitting end for this chapter in my life.  A short one,  but action-packed nonetheless.  

And that's coming from somebody who was not a "participating Carvel dealer."

Dinner last night:  Hamburger at Monsieur Marcel.


Anonymous said...

T.C. lives. If there isn't a movie in this, I'm Cookie Puss.

Anonymous said...

I worked one day at the carvel college of...whatever, One winter I worked at the company owned store in Tuckahoe and was assigned a shift in the flagship store. Worked with the students who were an interesting and energetic bunch. Don't remember much else.

Anonymous said...

What was the flagship store?

Anonymous said...

When Sarah Jessica Parker got her part in Annie on Broadway, she and her family resided in that hotel.

Anonymous said...

I live directly across the street where Carvel Ice Cream store once stood. It is now a Sal's Pizza.