I hate the ice cream truck. As a parent in a family of four, it’s one of the things I know for sure in my life. You’d think the ice cream truck is an innocent feature of summer, but you’d be wrong. It’s pure evil and the embodiment of everything wrong with the culture of summer.
When the ice cream truck approaches, my kids hear it before I do. They can pick up on the lilting tune of Frank Mills’ “Music Box Dancer” when it is still far away and so very soft. When the truck nears, the sweet melody starts to sound fuzzed around the edges with ugly distortion. Soon the sound is paired with the deep gurgle of a diesel engine barely above idle. I can’t see the damn thing, but I know the deep-blue modified Ford van is stalking slowly down my street, its sides plastered with Day-Glo pictures of frozen abominations.
Both of my boys leap to their feet. “Ice cream!” they yell with their eyes wide. It’s not a question. It’s not even a plea. No. The pleas come later. This is a declaration. It’s a call to action.
It doesn’t matter what my kids were doing before they heard the truck approach, it is now the sum total of their existence. They may have been building Legos or fighting in the family room. Whatever they were doing stops the second they here the ice cream truck. Recently, I was stunned when, after trying and failing to get one of my kids’ attention away from his tablet, he somehow managed to hear the ice cream truck. Despite wearing headphones, he heard it. Despite being engrossed in some insane mobile game, he heard it. And he flung his device aside.
And this is the first reason I loathe the ice cream truck: It has more power over my children than I do.
The second reason? Kids, as a rule, don’t have money. They don’t have jobs. They don’t have wall safes full of Benjamins. Ice cream truck drivers understand this. That’s why they play their music so loud. It gives children time to beg dollars from their parents.
But I don’t have dollars. We increasingly live in a cashless society and the ice cream truck is, at least in my neighborhood, a cash-only affair. Even if I wanted to treat my kids, it’s highly unlikely I would have physical money to hand over. My kids know this. But still, they beg. They plead. And their refrain of “Ice cream!” becomes less a declaration than a keening wail. The kindergartner has literally dropped to his knees in the grass, arms outstretched, looking like Willem Dafoe on the poster for Platoon.
So I’m the bad guy, here.
And that’s when the ice cream man twists the knife. My kids are whimpering at the edge of the driveway, reaching out as the ice cream truck approaches and … slows. Yep. He slows to a crawl. Not because they are waving greasy fists full of money but because they are crying.
The ice cream man, with his five o’clock shadow and wavy hair, looks down at their tear-stained faces and then he looks back up at me.
He smiles. The bastard actually smiles at me with a corner of his mouth cocked up in a wry grin. He gives me a little wave as he creeps by with such exquisitely sadistic slowness its all I can do not to charge him like an enraged bull. I want to give him the finger but the kids are watching.
This happens. Every. Day.
I can hear you saying, “So why not just buy them some damned ice cream, you cheap bastard?”
Because it doesn’t make anything better. The kids will get their orange push-pop or their dumb Spiderman-branded treat and for one brief moment, they will be happy. But the second their treats hit the warm Ohio air they begin to melt rapidly. My kids’ hands get coated with sticky muck. The sticky muck gets coated in grass and dirt. The edges of their mouths turn psychedelic colors which are nearly indelible and impervious to soap. One child swallows one of Spiderman’s gumball eyes because it’s impossible to chew gum and lick ice cream at the same time; the other loses a chunk of a popsicle to the driveway and starts to cry.
It is messy, ugly chaos.
And by this point the ice cream man is long gone. Whether my kids are customers or not he leaves me with them, a mess of disappointment or sugar. He’s just fine. There are more kids like mine in this neighborhood. There are more parents who are maybe more flush with cash and conflict-averse. He creeps away to find them. That sonofabitch.
The strains of “Music Box Dancer” fade into the neighborhood, but the wails of my children continue. This is the sound of summer.
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