Today’s Wayback Wednesday has been pre-empted. Well sort of. I have the blog planned, and it is an 80’s clip preciously dug up from YouTube, but as I was searching around I came across a video clip, and it brought me back to summers while growing up. So inspiration grabbed me and I built on it.
I’m posting it first, but I would recommend reading the story first, then watching. It will be worth it, I promise ;).
When I was younger, I lived in a section of Brooklyn that was a complex of tall apartment buildings. It was large, more populated than some national cities, but there were common place, people and other fixtures of the community. One of those people was “Johnny the Ice Cream Man”. He drove a white pickup with the frayed, faded pictures of various ice creams scattered along the refrigerated truck. You’d hear the ‘jingle jingle jingle’ of the row of small bronze bells on the top of the windshield that he pulled as he parked down the loop I lived near. My mom gave my sister and I enough for an ice cream each when she knew we’d be out when he came around. I varied what I would get each time, but “Bubble-O Bill” was a favorite, as it was ice cream with a big gumball nose. That, or an ‘Italian ice’ in a yellow cardboard box; which you always let soften a bit so you could flip it over and scrape off the settled ‘flavor’ on the bottom.
That's about as close actual fruit will come to those ices.
He always knew, without looking, if he had what you asked for, and where it was. The only openings were two small latched doors, and he would duck his head in, sometimes up to his waist, looking for ice cream, and emerge with your treat.
Johnny was about average height, and skinny, always wearing brown pants and a blue shirt. He was balding with white/gray wisps of hair from a comb-over covering his scalp blowing in the breeze. His exposed skin (arms and face) was dark, the tone that older Italian men get when they spend all day in the sun for years. When you paid him, he’d give you your change ‘chink chink’ from the coin slot machine he had attached to his belt.
If you bought an Italian ice, and wanted one of those flat wood spoons, you’d go to the passenger seat of his car where an old man, undoubtedly his father, would give it to you, as well as these little pink candies wrapped in opaque plastic. They weren’t flavorful, had the consistency somewhere between gum and regular candy, and were always ice cold, but you took one anyway. It was free, and the old man liked doing something.
He had a good portion of the ice cream route in our community, and did rounds several times a day from late spring to early fall. I’m positive he was the first ‘owner’ of that route, as the community was built in the 70’s (I grew up in the 80’s), and I can imagine he made a good return on the investment. Even in his old age he wouldn’t quit it; he’d work until he went to his grave, probably just like his old man. I could see it on Johnny’s face already in his late 30’s early 40’s; that tired, non-smiling, but still friendly way in which he worked.
Some years later he got a new truck, a black pickup, but kept the refrigerated section, which now contrasted in color and age. I had stopped getting ice cream for a while by then, but one summer afternoon after I graduated high school, I saw him coming down the loop of the section I had been hanging out in with some friends. He was by himself this time, but physically, he looked the same, just maybe 10 years older. By this time he had sodas as well, so I bought a Clearly Canadian Black Cherry clear soda from him (Damn I still remember that like it just happened). He gave me a nod, I thought maybe I saw the recognition flicker in his eyes, but I didn’t pursue it.
So seeing that video brought me back. It looks like he went bald by that time, and went through yet another truck. You see how he greeted the person taking the video; just remembering names and such brought grown men back to their childhood again, with bragging rights on how long they knew him.
At 26 seconds you see it. When I did, it was like a time warp. Later you’ll see his hand go to his waist for the change dispenser. I’d bet that it was the same one.
I checked around, found out he died in July 2009.
Thanks Johnny, for all that ice cream and for the memories that won’t melt.