There are not a lot of memories I can call dear. I’ve been around the Sun four dozen or so times now and I admit that it hasn’t all been unicorns and rainbows, though I did live in Hawaii for several years. As it happens, most memories are mired in a struggle against existential grief, apparently satiated only by worldly pleasures such as candy and ice cream. As a child, these items were not as plentifully provided by my parental units as I or any other child would have liked. Instead this task fell to the local ice cream man who, simply by virtue of his wares, was a saint.
His name was Mario if I recall correctly, which I found odd because he was Italian and coming from an Italian family I’d never heard of an Italian with that name. (Only later did I learn I was in fact Sicilian, which may have contributed the confusion.) Mario was probably mid-forties and, despite a gravelly voice, as kind and gentle a man could be without being effeminate. And although he drove the standard boxy white truck which blared tired carnival music, there was no hint of him being the serial killer we all – as adults – imagine ice cream men to be. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.)
Mario had everything – ice cream cones, ice cream sandwiches, fudge pops, popsicles, icees, shakes, candy, trading cards, even small fireworks like sparklers, poppers, caps, and smoke bombs. This in sharp contrast to the hated Mr. Softy ice cream man who always drove through the neighborhood so fast you thought he was a retiree from the Indy 500 circuit. Perhaps he knew the territory belonged to Mario, that Mario offered more than Mr. Softy’s pathetic line-up of four soft ice cream flavors, and/or that he hated kids so why did he even come around? Undoubtedly, his wife had nagged him to get a job, any job.
Mario typically came around the block anywhere between two and five o’clock Monday through Saturday. Though you could never be sure exactly when he’d come around, he would come around. He was as reliable as Mr. Softy driving through the neighborhood at 60mph. In contrast, Mario drove never more than a cool 20mph, so you usually had time to go fetch some money once you heard his music.
Funny, our sensitivity to sound was as heightened as a dogs when it came to the ice cream man. As my friends and I usually played baseball in my yard in the afternoon one of us would inevitably perk our heads up and speak in haste, “Did you hear that?” Then everyone would stop and listen. Was it just the wind? No, no. Wait to be sure…then, “ICE CREAM MAN!” My friends and I would scramble like roaches to go find spare change anywhere; in the junk drawer, between the couch cushions, behind the washer, in mom’s purse. Back then you only needed a dime and you would score something, maybe only a stick of gum; it didn’t really matter what. The only question was once we heard the ice cream man did we have enough time to scavenge any coin? It was more than once that my friends and I, too into our own little world or perhaps it was atmospheric conditions, that we didn’t hear Mario in time, in which we’d politely wave as he passed. In time, whenever we heard Mario coming we instinctively knew how far away he was and how much time we had. By that point, though, Mario’s round were becoming less frequent.
I don’t know what the average career life-expectancy is for ice cream men (or women) but certainly though their numerous transactions they come to know their customers too well, meaning, they know when children have come too far along and have discovered their libido. Can candy and ice cream really via for a youngster’s attention any longer? Not savvy to this possibility, my friends and I often speculated why Mario didn’t come around much anymore. We ultimately concluded, based on no more evidence than greying hair, that Mario was having health problems. We could understand and accept that. For what other reason could this mainstay in our lives abandon us? We certainly couldn’t ask him forthwith; our balls hadn’t dropped yet. Besides, it seemed it would have been impolite. Eventually he stopped coming around altogether. Or perhaps we all moved away. Nothing good lasts forever, but at least there was goodness to be had at all. The symbiotic relationship was good while it lasted. It’s better to reflect on that than the inevitable conclusion least such dwellings drive you mad.
I’m thankful for Mario’s venture into capitalism. He was always kind and always patient as my friends and I aggressively crowded his window, clawing at each other to be the first to order before something ran out. His persona, that corny carny music, that unmistakably box on wheels plastered with vibrant advertisements – for so long it was something certain in a world we hadn’t yet learned was completely bonkers. It was a simpler time, for sure, with no need to analyze the meaning of life, no deeper meaning needed to make sense of it all. Looking back I think we forget how much beauty there is in simplicity. A child needs little more than a shot of dopamine once the sugar hits their bloodstream. A loving family perhaps? A child can have both as long as there’s an ice cream man around.
All Rights Reserved (c) April 2020 John J Vinacci