The Ice Cream Man

New York winters are just long enough to allow you to forget everything you've learned about New York summers. As soon as the first cafe chairs are hauled out of the basements and onto the sidewalks, the official sign of the end of winter, I huck myself into spring with a reckless, sunscreen-free abandon, forgetting that my pale shoulders have not seen the sun for months and that a Super Sundae Cone has 410 calories. I run straight for the first sidewalk ice cream vendor that I see. And even though I know full well that, at least for the first few weeks, the fruitsicles and ice cream sandwiches that they are selling have been in a deep, deep freeze since they were packed up last november, I cannot be stopped.

Which is why, exactly two years ago today at the southeast corner entrance of Central Park, TC had to carefully and patiently lick me free from the strawberry Froz-Fruit that had welded itself to the underside of both my upper and lower lip.To say that we drew a small crowd would be an understatement. When my tears had dried (mostly shed for the embarassment of having my picture taken at close range by a non-english speaking bystander during the frantic extraction) and the bleeding had stopped, TC demanded to know why I had not at the very least allowed it to melt a little before trying to eat it. "Couldn't you see the mist coming off it? It looked like a freaking fog machine!". I tried to explain. "I just couldn't wait." 

Ice cream trucks just bring something out in me, they have since the first time I saw one from across a crowded parking lot. I was a buxom (chubby) blonde of 19 and visiting friends over the summer in a sticky suburb of Boston. It was a simple truck, nothing fancy, with a small window and a big cardboard cut-out of a Klondike Bar mounted on its roof. I sprinted through the crowd towards it, mouth gaping open and eyes wide and crazed, like a pre-menstrual Ellie Clampett sans crude rope belt. Maybe not my proudest moment. As much as my friends teased me for being the only full grown woman running after the ice cream truck ( "It wasn't even moving", added my friend Angela), I still haven't figured out a way to control myself in like situations.

My sister has lived in a dreamy suburban permanently-summer California town for so many years now that she has forgotten the depravity of our childhood, and when the ice cream man drives through her neighborhood (TWICE a day sometimes!) she reaches for her purse calmly, as though there is no reason to hurry. Only her youngest and I are running for and then flailing against the screen door like crazed moths as soon as we hear The Music. Her older girls have never known a world without a truck that pulls up in front of your house and gives you perfectly cold treats, they know that if they don't feel like getting up or off the trampoline that they will have another chance later.  I find their apathy difficult to understand. "Your mother and I used to ride our bikes five miles down a mountain on dirt roads with bare feet for icky popsicles when WE were your age." I explain to blank stares. "Why?" was my niece Quinns response. The youngest is pretty cool about it too, actually. I think he's just afraid that if I get there first there won't be anything left. Once, with all of us in her minivan, my sister caught the eye of the driver of the car behind her and gave a wave into the rear view mirror. I turned to see who it was and was shocked to see an ice cream truck right behind us. The driver, who is actually a woman, exchanged smiles and waves with the kids. I was beside myself. Then, and I swear this is true, she actually mouthed my nieces name. I looked at Mattie and said, with my outside voice, "SHE KNOWS YOUR NAME????" Mattie, who has been rolling her eyes at me since she was about ten minutes old, looked at me with a level of sympathy that you would not expect from a tween. "You're sort of like Nell sometimes" said my sister absently, almost as though she wasn't aware that she was saying it out loud. This sort of thing happens to me all the time in suburbia, exposing myself for the rube that I am and always will be. Oddly enough, it happens less in the city. 

 

Melanie, my editor and dear friend, has in my opinion the best of both worlds. She lives in lovely Beacon NY, just within commuting distance of the city but in the heart of the Hudson River Valley, and squarely on the route of an ice cream man. Her house, which was where a lot of the photos for Weekend Sewing was shot, is a solid and gorgeous old thing that has that amazing quality of light that you only find in homes that were both built before the advent of electric lighting and for a socio-economic class that could afford to heat rooms with high ceilings. This is always the sort of old house that I develop serious and potentially marriage threatening crushes on. TC and I visited her last weekend and I was secretly hoping the whole time that the Ice Cream Man would cruise by while we happened to be on the front porch. Instead, on our way out of town, Melanie took us to a small and perfect and perhaps semi-permanent ice cream shop on Beacons Main Street called Zora Dora. Zora Doras owner, Steve, is to ice Cream what Alice Waters was to lettuce. If arugula seemed like an odd thing to put in your salad twenty years ago, then imagine ordering a popsicle made with cinnamon, rice, cream, and currants. TC's had mint and basil in it, which was delicious. The only odd combo was Chris's selection, which to be perfectly honest tasted a lot like what I imagine eating a frozen curry dish without first thawing or heating it. Still, we were hugely impressed. One of my favorite things about the shop is the windows, decorated with dozens of Popsicle portraits by one of Beacons artists, Erica Hauser, who also  hand-painted the lettering on some of the walls in Melanies house, including the Babe Ruth quote "Never let the fear of striking out get in your way" that appears above her sons bed in the Pajamas for Everyone photo on page 79 in Weekend Sewing.

I fell in love with the painting (at top) that hangs in side Zora Dora of a grown man holding a Popsicle. Steve told me that he bought it on Ebay. It made me think of Mexico, where I lived for a little while after college and where ice cream vendors are very, very common. As I stared at it when I was in Zora Dora, I realized something. I almost never saw children buying ice cream from street vendors in Mexico, at least in the town where I lived. Children there didn't often walk around with money in their pockets. Vendors set up their carts in bus stations in the afternoons, or near busy building sights, where they could intercept their customers on their long mid day breaks. Their patrons were almost always grown men, hardworking and with cash in the pockets of their worn work jeans, many of them older than anyone I have ever seen chase down an ice cream truck in suburban america. Not counting me. It never occurred to me then, when I would walk by them and think them to be very sweet with their grown-up bodies and their shirts off and stuffed into the backs of their trousers, proudly holding melting Popsicles with rough hands in the late afternoon sun, how lucky they were that The Ice Cream Man still came to find them.

More Ice Cream Inspiration here.