One of the fondest childhood memories is the simple euphoric joy of hearing that chimy jingle rumble down your suburban block. The ice cream man.
His glorious white truck of milky vanilla goodness glints in the early evening sunlight. His bell echoes across the land like the mystical cries of a thousand yawning church bells. Yes, in the land of barefoot nine year old peasants, the ice cream truck man reigns as king. But who is the ice cream man really?
Looking back you remember the quiet rumble as he idles and waits for you to uncrumple that crinkled dollar bill that you earned folding laundry. You remember it wasn’t enough and you were forced to fork over the fifty-five cents in pennies and nickels you found after spending countless hours exploring the streets on a quest for abandoned change. But do you remember the ice cream man’s thick, greasy moustache, the way he spent an exceptional amount of time talking to your mother on the sidewalk, the way he served you your vanilla cone with no gloves on?
Yeah, I don’t remember either. It’s a repressed memory. I want so badly for the ice cream man to forever remain that idealistic secondary father figure, but one sunny afternoon I find myself on a nostalgia trip, walking through my old neighborhood, standing creepily in my old front yard gazing at my house, and it all comes flooding back. That’s when I hear the jingle.
Dee-doot, dee-doot, dee-doo-doo-doo-doot. Dee-doot, dee-doo-doo-doo-doo.
“Ice cream man!” I scream. “Da ice cream man!”
Mothers quickly herd their children inside at the sight of a crazy man fist pumping on the sidewalk and screaming ecstatically about ice cream. The irresponsible ones let their children run down their street, and anxiously await that familiar plastic ice cream cone to come over the horizon.
I see them congregate on the corner and I sprint into the crowd, shoving bodies left and right and elbowing my way to the front of the line.
“Is this the line? Is this the line? Me first, me first!”
A chubby Neanderthal with squinty eyes isn’t used to being pushed around. He attempts to barrel his way to the front but I’m having none of it.
“You wait your turn, troll! Back,” I bark, “back, you!”
The jingle grows closer and the lethargic truck amiably rolls down the hill. He pulls off to the side and moms congregate on the sidewalk, as moms do, and dads quit watering the grass and mowing to mill about the truck, as dads do.
I make a spontaneous decision. I immediately back off and sacrifice my place in line. This is my chance. This is my chance to find out if the ice cream man really is the legendary Dilly bar nomad salesman of my youth.
“Alright, kids! Step up and get your ice cream herrah!”
I’m giddy with delight and want to clap and yell or at least salute him. I remember the legends. Some say a golden unicorn made love to the stars and the lovechild they created was the ice cream man. Others speculate the ice cream man was once a beautiful Greek Siren. She became tired of destroying sailors so the other Sirens cast her out. From there she was forever cursed to travel the earth in a truck as a lonely man luring in customers with his haunting melody of the megaphone.
Deep from the darkest depths of the chambers of the ancient, mystical truck, I catch the first glimpse. Kinda bald, prison tats, a shrubbery of chest hair protruding from the garden of his chest. Oh my God. The ice cream man is an ex-con.
“Hey Cindy!” I see him wave to a voluptuously fine mother standing on the curb, hands on her hips. “That P-90 workout is doing crazy things to your body, woman! You still separated from Steve?”
She waves and gives him a thumbs up.
“Alright, well I’ll come by later and give you some free ice cream; I’ve got plenty of vanilla.”
I don’t remember the ice cream man hitting on mothers. Or being a pervert. No, he’s not a pervert. He was just being nice, offering that vulnerable single mother some free ice cream. Vanilla.
“Alright, who’s up next?”
It’s me. It’s my turn. I pull a dollar fifty-five from my pocket and lay it on the counter.
“One vanilla cone, please.”
“Sorry kid, ice cream cone is four dollars now.”
Four dollars feels completely inappropriate but I’ll do it. I’ll do it for you, Ice cream man.
He makes me my cone while he smokes a cigarette. I don’t ever remember the ice cream man ashing on my ice cream as he served me my treats. It looks like, as I peek my head in the window, is that a bed? That’s a bed. With no sheets, and a bedpan. The ice cream man sleeps and shits in his ice cream truck.
“Say man, how often do you wash your hands?”
“Oh, every day.”
“Like, every ten minutes, or like, once in the day?”
“When I need to. Ahhh chew!”
He sneezes and I see the fine mist settle over the ice cream machine, like a spray of Febreze.
“God bless you, ice cream man.”
“Alright, here you go, kid.”
I take the cone and…well this is just not what I was expecting.
“I don’t mean to nag you, because I’m holding up the line and I think you’re legendary, but I didn’t ask for vanilla mixed with chocolate.”
“That is vanilla, buddy.”
The cone is clearly grey, with specks of black.
“It looks like mint chocolate chip.”
“Well, I keep the ice cream in a cooler against the back of the truck, and I have an exhaust leak, so sometimes the exhaust clings on to the ice cream.”
“Oh. Well that’s good I know now that this is still vanilla.”
“Anything else, man? I got a line here.”
The only kid left behind me is the bulldozer kid with squinty eyes. This may be my last time ever in front of the ice cream man. He can wait.
“You know what? Actually, I’ll take an ice cream sandwich.”
He slides open a cooler, I hand him some money and he slides the sandwich across the counter. I reach for it and a fly lands on it.
“Hold up, son, I got it.”
His industrial width fly swatter, big enough to make a jumbo spatula jealous, falls upon its prey with no remorse. He scrapes the mangled insect off my wrapper and into a mason jar.
“First one of the season. I keep all the corpses in a jar for a reminder to its friends what happens around here.”
“Well, I’m ready to eat now. Here, bulldozer kid.” I turn to squinty eyes. “You can have this.”
I mingle with the crowd momentarily and the ice cream jingle starts, taking me back to those wistful innocent memories. I watch as he glides off down the street, a god of the streets floating on an asphalt cloud, a graceful, eloquent nomad of the suburban jungle making a humble living. Wait, what am I talking about? The ice cream man is completely disgusting.