Self-serve existentialism

Better left unsaid

Illustrated Mug of Lauren Harvey

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There is nothing quite as reflective of the human condition as self-serve frozen yogurt.

Growing up, Yogurtland wasn’t a place so much as an evasive feeling. The harsh fluorescent lights spotlit key moments of my adolescence, from musical theater cast parties to late-night procrastination efforts. Memories are eternally locked within the uniform pink and green color scheme. They carry from franchise to franchise, flowing like smooth vanilla from the silver machine. 

Grabbing the cup is like reaching for an empty canvas. The flavors are my paint, promising a rainbow of color and flavor. I have the option between the green sweetness of pistachio and the understated elegance of plain tart. I can mix and match, or maybe even combine flavors in an unexpected swirl — matcha and coconut, anyone? 

It seems as though Yogurtland has a flavor for every feeling, from the excitement of coffee to the comfort of chocolate. Hints of hope and fatigue exist in my cheesecake and key lime swirl. No matter what kind of day I’m having, I know the froyo chain will greet me with exactly what I need. 

After the yogurt comes the ever-unpredictable toppings. I excitedly reach for the clear, plastic scoopers as I add a tactile touch to my frozen creation. My bowl becomes like a post-impressionist painting, layered with the thick impasto of a cookie crumble. There is nothing quite as exhilarating as the chalky texture of rainbow sprinkles, enveloped in the smooth consistency of warm fudge. 

I truly believe that froyo is a form of artistic expression; I can tell a lot about a person by the content and form of their frozen creation. One friend emerges with a combination of mango, vanilla, cheesecake and mochi — an eclectic mix for an adventurous mind. Another possesses a certain fondness for popping boba, speaking to their spontaneous spirit. There is an undeniable air of poise that surrounds the person who returns with plain tart and fresh fruit. 

Each time I dig into my own sugary masterpiece, I can’t help but think about “The Good Place,” with its cobblestone streets and copious amounts of froyo. Though I admit there is little to envy about Eleanor Shellstrop in season one, I am quite jealous of the unique flavors made available to her. What I wouldn’t give to taste the feeling of having a full cellphone battery or taking off a pair of rollerblades! 

That’s what initially attracted me to “The Good Place” — the promise of an eternity marked by endless froyo swirls. Then, I slowly picked up on the Jean-Paul Sartre references. Finally, I was left in a philosophical tailspin, contemplating topics such as existentialism, deontology and contractualism. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider buying “What We Owe to Each Other” by T.M. Scanlon on multiple occasions. 

However, to accept the philosophy of “The Good Place” is to accept that froyo is mediocre — it’s good, but it will never be ice cream. We as viewers are invited to believe that froyo is just another aspect of existence that we’ve convinced ourselves is great, even if it’s just okay. Much like NBC’s version of a nondenominational afterlife, this frozen treat does little to satisfy the human soul. 

Part of me wants to dive headfirst into the philosophy of “The Good Place” and embrace this creative symbolism. However, one thing keeps holding me back: I forking love froyo. 

I’ve spent the past two years attempting to reconcile my two loves, and I like to think that I’ve finally arrived at a compromise. If one thing about existentialism has stuck with me, it is its emphasis on freedom: We as humans have the freedom to assign meanings to our own individual realities. 

Just as I get to choose between chocolate and vanilla, I have the freedom to determine how I interpret and relate to my hefty serving of froyo. Maybe the polychromatic swirl in my plastic cup is inherently meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Yet, under those fluorescent lights, it transforms into something otherworldly. 

So, as my friends and I sit at those small round tables, we engage in a sort of communion. I sit down with an externalized version of myself, and they greet me with the same. As I glance at everyone’s frozen creations, I can’t help but think that I’ve learned something valuable, even if it’s just in my head. At the end of the day, I believe eating froyo brings us closer together than words ever can. 

Rather than dwelling on the mediocrity of my short existence in an absurd universe, I choose to embrace the artistry of frozen yogurt. If the progression of time runs in a Jeremy Bearimy, I may as well enjoy the ride with a chocolate-vanilla swirl in hand. 

Lauren Harvey writes the Monday A&E column on the relationship between art and the unspoken. Contact her at [email protected].