I’m 56 years old. I haven’t bought ice cream off an ice cream truck since I was a kid. In fact, I haven’t even heard the tinkle heralding the approach of the “ice cream man” in 40 years. I’m sure it’s a tough way to make a living. And then there’s that incessant tune you have to listen to all day. No wonder they’ve all but disappeared from our culture.
Yesterday was a strange summer day. The sky was heavily overcast with that odd sensation of pressure in the air, as if a thunderstorm would appear later. I sat at the computer, paying bills.
Into my consciousness wriggled a little tune, slowly getting louder. It was in a minor key, a bit sad, a bit child-like and, well, mystical. I listened for the neighbor’s kids who are always playing loudly in their yard. Did they have a game, a boom-box, or what? The tune was so compelling that I had to get up and see what it was. I walked out into the front yard and stood there, listening to it getting louder and more insistent; that strange, chiming, melody, drawing me in. I felt transfixed, as if I couldn’t move and had to wait there. It was an ice cream truck, no doubt about it, and it was stopping for my neighbor’s kids. Little beads of perspiration on my brow, I feverishly searched my pockets for a dollar. Really? I was really going to buy an ice cream cone from a truck in the street? At last the truck pulled away from my neighbor’s house and toward mine. My throat swelled, and a little memory bubble opened up in my mind. I was suddenly was 7 years old; I was standing in the middle of the street, clutching my quarters and listening to the receding sound of the ice cream truck. I had missed it. My world was crumbling in the way it only crumbles for deeply disappointed children. My mother took pity on me and loaded me into the car and tried to chase down the truck, rolling down the windows and sticking our heads out trying to hear the melody of bells, but to no avail. The truck was gone and only the distant tinkling of the bells on some far away street remained. She offered me a Popsicle from the freezer, but I was inconsolable.
The memory bubble burst. Here came the ice cream man, headed straight for my house, but this time I was ready with a sweaty dollar bill in my hand. The sad melody tinkled loudly now. I stood, staring, as the truck slowed down to a crawl in front of me. Driving it was a very small dark woman, perhaps 45 years old, blonde shoulder-length hair with very dark roots. Her hair stood not straight up, but straight back as though she were moving very fast in a high wind. She wore a black leather jacket with long leather strings hanging off it at intervals, like lonely fringe. She wore lots of make-up with heavy dark eyeliner and…wait for it…..a pink tutu. All business from the waist up, and all ballerina from the waist down, even to the toe-shoes. She drove the truck not by sitting (there was no driver’s seat), but by standing up, bent over at the hips, arms on the steering wheel, en-pointe with one leg raised behind her in a ballet pose. She cocked her head and never took her eyes off me as she drove slowly by, a sly smile on her face and her hair straight out behind her. I was riveted. And slightly creeped out. I fingered the dollar in my pocket and wondered if I should run after her. And just what was she selling, anyway? I snapped out of it, realizing that I had let the moment pass, and was, once again, too late for the ice cream man/woman/fairy. The familiar childhood panic crept in, as the truck continued it’s strange melody and trundled on down the street. I didn’t really want any ice cream. Still…
I jumped into the car and took off after her. When I turned the corner, I could see the ragged bumper of the truck turning onto another street, the little cut-outs of childrens’ silhouettes dancing across the back of the truck. I goosed the engine to roar down the street, and turned where she had. My eyes searched both sides of the street, and there, at the very end, was the truck pulled over with a crowd of kids around it. I pulled up about 10 yards behind the her, got out and walked up, trying to blend in with the other moms and grandmas. Slowly, I stepped closer and closer to the window, seeing an arm jut out now and then with an ice cream cone, and disappear back in with cash. I smiled at the children and sidled up to the front and peered in the window. The brown, tanned face of a teenaged boy looked back at me. From the driver’s seat. “Can I help you?”, he asked, pulling his white earbuds out, and anxious to get moving. Wide-eyed and soundless, my mouth made a little “o”. Finally, ”Uh, no, nothing, thanks” and I backed away confused. I looked at the rear of the truck. There were the same silhouettes of children playing, and the same ding on the right rear fender. The boy put his ear buds back in and pulled out, turned on the music that now played “The Entertainer”, and drove off down the street.