Ice Cream Man

Sometimes on Saturdays trucks playing tinny melodies from speakers atop their vehicles roll slowly through the neighborhoods of Amman, peddling their wares. You're forgiven if you're thinking it's the ice cream man. But you're not forgiven if you think it's the mobile butcher van puttering around town hacking up little lambs and chickens and selling them. C'mon, man. That's really gross.

It's actually a guy in a blue truck selling cannisters of propane. I don't know why they play the cute little tunes; maybe it's because they think it's funny when little American kids come running out smiling and waving money, then burst into tears when all they get for their two dollars is a mouthful of propane.

For me, the cute little music takes me back to my coolest job ever: selling ice cream.

Contrary to popular belief, being the ice cream man isn't easy. You don't just jump into a 3-wheeled scooter, putt around the side streets, and rake in the greenbacks. Maximizing one's profits as the ice cream man requires shrewd strategizing, careful planning, significant manual dexterity, and a high tolerance for the melody of "The Entertainer." Never one to keep my secrets of success to myself, I'll gladly share from my deep well of ice cream man experience. 

Strategy #1: Counteract Annoying Ice Cream Man Song. Perhaps the most oft-asked question I received was: "Doesn't that song drive you crazy?" The answer: Yes. To the tenth power. Although the speaker perched atop the cab, and the cab itself was insulated with gray egg-package-like foam, the lack of doors and the simple high volume of the music made it impossible to escape completely.

Less successful ice cream men simply endured the constant, repetitive cycle of -- take your pick -- "Pop Goes the Weasel," "Turkey in the Straw," or "The Entertainer." The tune slowly eats away their gray matter until they find transcendent meaning in Grateful Dead lyrics. Or, worse yet, in Mariah Carey lyrics. 

My remedy was a cheap, battery-powered radio. I tuned it to the local oldies station, tossed it in the cab, turned it up, and presto! I spent my days with the Dave Clark Five, Richie Valens, Aretha Franklin, Buffalo Springfield, Tommy James and the Shondells, and the Platters. Good times, great oldies. 

Strategy #2: Wear a shirt. Many ice cream men in Portland, Oregon were... oh, how shall I put it... unwashed and pierced more than that guy from Korn? Several rarely wore shirts when they drove the scooters, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out what kind of a parent would let their child buy anything from such unsavory bruthas. 

Look, I'm all for withholding judgement, but I'm also all for reading the writing on the wall. These guys had some serious writing -- in capital letters -- across their chests, and it said: "I could very possibly snap at any moment and perform the very acts the heavy alt-metal bands I listen to religiously scream in my ears during all available waking hours."

I found that wearing a shirt served two essential functions: 1) concealed my scrawny pectoral "muscles." 2) Sent the unspoken message to parents that I was unlikely to eat their children. As a result, I noticed that over the course of my "career," parents got to know me and trust me, and they'd send their kids out with steadily larger bills. And that's really what it's all about, people.

Strategy #3: Create a regular route with a healthy mix of rich neighborhoods full of young families and construction sites, and stick to it. You might not think that construction sites would be good places to sell ice cream. But you'd be wrong. And that's why I was making the big bucks when I was 17 and you were working at Domino's. Or maybe you're Miley Cyrus, and so you don't work at Domino's, but you still have a dad with a rattail, so you're still the target of my pity.  

Construction sites are full of guys listening to Journey who are really tired from being out in the sun all day. And they have wads of cash in their pockets, or lunchboxes, or both. And when they hear the ice cream man coming, they magically give you those wads of money.

At the beginning of every day, the boss would stock our scooters with ice cream ranging from the $0.50 Bubble Gum Swirls to the $4.00 Dove Chocolate Bars -- we called them "Yuppy Bars." Other ice cream men would stick to the apartments down on Burnside in southeast Portland, and they'd sell their Bubble Gum Swirls pretty briskly to kids who had dug change out of the couch. But they didn't sell many Yuppy Bars. Who can afford a 4 dollar stick of ice cream?

One stop at a construction site though would usually see me pass out two or three Yuppy Bars. I sold out of them daily, and the other drivers could never figure out how. And I never told them. Because they would've beat me up and thrown my unconscious body in a ditch to be eaten by beavers. 

My secret was that each day I worked Happy Valley. It's an actual municipality on the east side of the Portland area, tucked into the hills south of Gresham and northeast of Clackamas. And it's where rich people lived. And more rich people wanted to live there, so bulldozers and excavators and burly guys who desperately wanted Yuppy Bars toiled beneath the merciless sun building sprawling subdivisions of sprawling of homes. 

What the constructions dudes didn't buy, the wealthy families with 2.5 well-dressed kids did. They liked that I said "please" and "thank you." They liked that I wore a shirt and didn't swear. They liked that I always had Elvis Presley or CCR playing on the radio, as opposed to Snoop Dogg or Marilyn Manson. And as I made myself a regular, they felt comfortable sending their 7 year-old out with a 20 dollar bill and instructions to buy as much ice cream as he wanted. And I felt comfortable milking the little pipsqueak for every cent: "Is that all? Don't you want a Choco Taco? They're gooooood."

Strategy #4: Don't try to pick up on chicks. It's hard for a good-looking teenage girl to take a teenage guy seriously who's driving around in a scooter with pre-school music playing on the outside and the "Lollypop, lollypop, oh lolly, lolly, lolly, lollypop" song playing on the inside. And the phrase: "So, can I interest you in a Colonel Crunch or a Power Rangers bar today?" somehow typically failed to set women on fire. Sometimes 40-something mothers would tell me I was cute and wish aloud that their teenage step-daughter were around to meet me, but fortunately that potential scenario never came to fruition. It wouldn't have been pretty.

40-something stepmom: "Honey, this is the nice boy I was telling you about."
Cute step-daughter: "Mom. He's selling ice cream bars. And he's wearing a straw hat."
Me: "It keeps my head cool. Wanna try?"
Cute step-daughter: "No. You smell like car exhaust."
Me (smelling under my armpits): "Yeah. I guess so. Kinda." 
Cute step-daughter (Alicia Silverstone-esque -- this was 1995): "WHAT-ever."
40-something stepmom (breaking the tension): "Well. We'll have four Dove bars."
Me (still smelling under my armpits): "Huh? Oh, yeah. Sure. Here you go."

I've tried in vain to secure an equally cool job ever since, but, let's face it. Cooler jobs simply don't exist. So I "respectably" make my way, earning an honest wage, putting food on the table for the little tykes. But some days I could really go for a good Yuppy Bar, the smell of summer rising off the pavement, the gentle sway of the ice cream scooter rolling down a residential street in second gear, and the excited squeal of a little kid waving a green Andrew Jackson at me.