If there was one thing that reminded me most of the coming of warm weather, it was the distorted sound of the the ice cream man and his truck of despair. When you are a kid and the oppressive Ohio heat begins to beat upon your young brow, you look for ways to find relief. Some days it was playing with a garden hose. Other days we we were allowed to hook the hose up to a water source. We even made slip and slides out of long vinyl sheets my dad had acquired. We had to coat them with dish soap for them to work which also led to many cases of severe eye irritation. But while the bubbles filled the corners of our eyes, while the burns from the dry vinyl against skin were at their worst, every kid in the neighborhood would stop. They would hold their breath. There was a strange, familiar and haunting sound in the air — it was the ice cream man.
Once the call of the bearer of frozen treats was recognized, it was every kid for himself. Piggy banks were destroyed. Mom and dad’s change jar was raided. Desperate hands began plunging into the dark recesses of the sofa cushions. Fancy lads were bullied. Any thing you could do. Any way you could beg. Time was of the essence, for he was here. The ice cream man had come.
Once money had been attained, each shirtless, wet kid would wait patiently at the edge of his lawn trying to determine the whereabouts of the ice cream man. His eerie melody filled the air leaving each of us to wonder what new items he would have for us — would it be the crappy Mickey Mouse knock-off brand of popsicles? Would it be some new variety of bomb pops? We could hardly wait. And then, just as we were almost overcome by our lust for these icy temptations, he would round the turn at the end of our street. He moved in almost slow motion. He blared his tragic melody through the atmosphere — teasing us. He would slow his vehicle yards from where all the kids were gathered and then he would stop. That was the signal that he was ready to do some business — and by business I mean he was ready to start ripping off a bunch of unknowing, sweaty kids. We would race to his truck, jockeying for position along the way. Sometimes a kid fell — right on the pavement. Blood would be shed. We had to ignore his cries. We never stopped. You couldn’t stop. The ice cream man would not wait.
We would plow into the side of his vehicle panting like wild animals and clenching money in our grubby little hands. Our eyes would dart to and fro searching the fading menu that was riveted to the side of the ice cream man’s chariot. So many crappy choices. Crap, crap, crap…I would just settle on a bomb pop. This grizzled ice cream god seemed almost irritated at us for trying to give him business. The cost was $2. I would give him $5 and he would keep the change. I was then presented a hunk of ice that had to be shaken off before you could even get to the wrapper that had become fused to the bomb pop itself. I didn’t care. We didn’t care. This man had brought relief to our neighborhood.
As he and his truck of goodies would leave in a belch of black smoke, he would once again blare his melody as if saying, “Goodbye ladies! @$%!! you and I might come back next year if you are lucky!”
As we devoured our freezer-burned treasures, we would wave goodbye as the tears began to flow. Not from sadness mind you — but from the soap that was stinging our tender eyeballs.