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Monday, July 18, 2005

Ice Cream Man

Howdy.

We attended The Queen's family reunion over the weekend. She has a large extended family, and they gather once a year at one home to gab and gambol and make googoo eyes at the newest babies. It's quite pleasant.

There is a stale Hollywood and literary formula about gatherings such as these, always highlighting internal tensions and conflicts. Everybody's always dysfunctional, and fight like scorpions. Well, it just ain't so. Everybody loves one another at the one I attended, anyway. They have an appetite for simple games that can be played in the yard, like horseshoes and badminton, and everyone jostles and chats amicably, all eased by the simple fun of the activities, and the cold can.

And because I married into it, I am slightly less involved than those born to it, I guess. They make me feel welcome, of course, but I get more of an outsider's perspective. And it occurs to me that the stale formula I mentioned might be spot on for the kind of people who write movie scripts, because they go through the motions of reuniting with their family, but it's a hollow and staid occasion, and there is no feeling of blood, and kin, and shared experience, and commonality that enlivens the gatherings of families who really do care for one another like my wife's family does.

The only really familial situations Hollywood finds any more are mob weddings and poolside gatherings at porn movie maker's homes. Meh. They never seem to find "family" where it actually is.

Because I was not part of the "war effort," the important business of seeing that everyone was fed, and covered in sunscreen, and so forth, I was able to wander away unnoticed for a time, and walked the street in cousin's central Connecticut neighborhood. It was a languid, hot, sunny day, more Alabama than New England, and the street has no traffic, so you could walk right down the middle of the hot pavement, watched out only for morning doves in the trees.

The street's lined with small ranches, built in the fifties and sixties, all cared for by their owners, who would wave as you passed before returning to their flower beds. I was struck by how little the houses had changes in the intervening fifty years. There was a satellite dish, next to the TV antenna it replaced on the roofs, and there were no Dodge Darts with push button transmissions on their dashboards in the drives anymore, but it was about the same as it ever was. It looked like the sort of place that people who got on with their lives, got on with their lives. No pretension, but nothing gone to seed either. There are rooms inside my house messier than the flower beds I saw. It looks essentially like where I grew up, preserved in amber.

Then I heard it. I hadn't heard it in so many years. I thought it was a joke, some hipster had it for a ringtone on their phone or something. The Ice Cream Man music.

It was real, alright, and I traced the progress of the music, and the unseen truck, through nearby streets like a bloodhound. Pavlov couldn't come up with anything that talked to me, that affected my very brain stem, like that sound. Every single hot, dusty summer day in the sixties came rushing back to me at the same time, our manifold noses lifted to the air like dogs to a scent, the whispered question: Did you hear that? And the shushing, and waving, and the faraway gaze with the head cocked to capture the sound, and use your inborn direction finder. And the crazy tune all those trucks played would come into range, and you'd all sprint for home, to ululate at your mother: The Ice Cream Man, The Ice Cream Man, Hurry up Mom,! I mean, can I have a quarter? Hurry, please please please.

And you'd gather in the scrum of kids at the window of the truck, and get a popsicle, and it was like water in the desert on Christmas Day for five minutes. And when you were done, you'd sharpen the popsicle stick to a point by dragging it back and forth on the curbstone, and show it to your friends; and that was all the danger you'd ever have in that little neighborhood.
I went back to the yard, and everyone of a certain age commented on the Ice Cream Man, and how long it had been since they'd heard it, and how wonderful it was to recall their childhood instantly from that little tuneless tune those trucks played.

Someone got a bright idea and said: "Hey kids, the Ice Cream Man is coming!" Let's go!

The kids turned, and looked at us like we had enrolled them in Latin classes at a Reform School.

They had ice cream in their refrigerator, every day, ten kinds, and watched DVD movies in their cars on the way to the party. They were swimming in a pool we would have coveted fiercely when we were young, and bounced on a trampoline we couldn't have even imagined having in someone's yard 40 years ago. They had whirligigs and cameras, (film, what's film?) and fifty delicacies laid out to try to tempt them to eat just one more.

And I realized that Ice Cream Man Music is just used in the soundtracks to bad horror movies these days, when someone's reaching for a carving knife, not a sharpened popsicle stick, and no kid in their right mind who's got a freezer full of Ben and Jerry's wants to haul ass out into the street to get a Creamsicle made by the low bidder, served to them by a moody loner who's registered at the police department, and has an GPS ankle bracelet.

Time marches on. I am glad for the easy prosperity I enjoy, and our children have. But I wonder what will be my boys' version of the Ice Cream Man music. The actual thing ain't cutting it.

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