The temperature has topped out at 85. Your skin is slick from humidity, and the air tingles with the groans of lawn mowers and the squeals of neighborhood children, where you’re not quite sure if they’re playing or fighting. Perhaps you’re in a city playground, watching your child sift cigarette butts out of the sandbox like a little nicotine gold miner. You might be at your son’s peewee baseball game, watching him pitch 25 times because the ump doesn’t count balls or strikes. Or maybe you’re in your backyard, minding your own business and trying your best to teach your three year old the subtle nuances of corn hole.
No matter where you are, you hear it coming a mile away and are powerless to stop it.
The faint jangle of its music-box tune gets louder as it rounds the corner and slows to a crawl in front of wherever the masses are. Like a pied piper, the tune lifts children off swings, out of dugouts, away from Disney Jr. Entire playgrounds empty out; church mass tips over into an anticipatory frenzy; kids you didn’t even realize lived in your cul-de-sac spill into the street.
Your own kid abandons her bubbles and dashes over to the truck, dodging scooters and bicycles like Frogger crossing a four-lane highway. You run interference, but there are no rules when it comes to the ice cream truck.
A growing cluster forms around the truck window, and there it is: Good Humour, Mr. Softee, or Tastee Freez, (which all sound like rejected Batman villains). Your child is entranced by the pictures on the side of the truck: eclairs, glistening sno-cones, a Spongebob pop with gumballs for eyes- GUMBALLS! That is totally two treats in one! Never mind that the pop itself tastes like frozen chalk. You ponder trying something new, like a rainbow pushpop or a neopolitan ice cream sandwich…
“Are you gonna order, or what?” snaps a lady next to you, wrestling a writhing toddler. Then she proceeds to place her own order.
“Hey, no cutting!” yells a woman behind you, holding the hands of two children whose faces already appear to be smeared with chocolate. A shouting match ensues, flanked by opportunistic parents trying to sneak out a cone through the thick of it. Your daughter clings to you in terror.
There appear to be two lines leading to the truck, and another argument breaks out as to which is the real line. Elbows are raised, shoulders are dropped, a few stray kicks land. Jostling through the melee, you manage to order two soft serve cones with rainbow sprinkles, and negotiate holding both of them while removing correct change from your wallet buried deep in your back pocket. Then you become the jerk who pays for a $3 cone with a 50 dollar bill (coated with sprinkles).
The vendor mentions that he’s down to the last rocket pop and the angry murmur escalates, even though rocket pops taste like patriotic syrup-sludge. The last of the well-mannered children begin to lose their shit. Civility is abandoned, and all social trappings are set aside. Some older kids form primitive tools out of sporks and pretend to slash the truck’s tires. One woman picks up her kid and uses him as a battering ram. Two fathers grab the sides of the truck and try to overturn it in order to liberate the ice cream bars. An elderly lady pokes her head out the window of her house and threatens to turn the hose on everyone (which you hope she does, since the air is as close to water as it can get without turning into an apocalyptic downpour).
And then, as quickly as it starts, the dystopian chaos ends. A zen calm overtakes the group. Sated, everyone has their frozen treat, and plops down wherever they are to slurp it up before things get sloppy. Your daughter doggedly consumes her cone from both ends before it leaks all over her new Doc McStuffins shirt. As you pass her a wad of crumpled napkins, you smile and think: this is what it’s all about.
Sometime later that night, you think you hear the truck’s tune again. But you look out the window and see nothing but unfettered lawn, a few scattered chipwich wrappers, a lone popsicle stick nudged into the grass. And you return to your bed, knowing that today, cavities were created, dinners were spoiled, clothes were obliterated, and everyone went to sleep just a little bit happier.