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When I was a child in Ward and Juneland, the significance of April first was not limited to putting a whoopee cushion under the teacher's seat. On April first, the ice cream trucks came out of hibernation, mesmerizing streets full of children to run after ringing white vehicles like a bunch of Pavlovian pooches. Though it would be years before we learned about Freudian Pleasure Principles in Psych 101, we knew that the Good Humor man provided satisfaction on a stick. The leather strap with the giant jingle bells was the neighborhood symphony par excellence.
First there was anticipation, then manipulation, and finally satisfaction. Those still in need of more oral stimulation could gnaw on the smooth wooden stick until every ounce of sweetness had been sucked away. (In our middle years, we find, unfortunately, that a lot of relationships are like that.) And, of course, there was the napkin. My neighbor, a practicing psychiatrist, refused to comment when asked how satisfying it might have been to insert the Good Humor stick right into the precut hole. She was more concerned with the ones who missed. I, on the other hand, see the seeds of the Sexual Revolution; all this and ice cream, too. Today, most people buy Good Humor at the grocery store. The trucks that still canvass city neighborhoods ring electric bells, and no person with living taste buds would trade a Dove Bar for a Strawberry Shortcake.
Ice cream, like life in the neighborhood, was simpler then. There were a few national brands, some country stands that made homemade flavors to use up the extra blueberries, and an occasional entrepreneurial gypsy like Mario the Italian Ice Man. If Mario's timing was good and he arrived before the Good Humor truck (that's "G'Jooma" if you're from New Jersey on south), starving urchins who hadn't eaten in at least an hour could scrape up some change for a lemon ice. The ices were okay, if you liked cold, wet, and sweet, but their container was a miracle of modern design. Like crenellated cupcake paper, the cylindrical holder opened into a flat circle as you licked the lemon out of pleat after pleat. Sugary grime stuck to our faces as we biked back home.
Though not ordinarily an empiricist, I conducted some research recently in a local emporium. I found frozen confections termed "lite" (not a real word as far as I'm concerned), fat-free, non-fat no sugar, and -- most egregious of all -- no sugar added. Tons of cream, globs of glutinous cookie dough, but no sugar added; it must be the diet brand. Those that were fattening and delicious did not state their attributes, though they were clear by omission. Other brands, with foreign sounding names like Rendezvous in Reykjavik are usually made in New Jersey, giving me new respect for the lumpen denizens of that much maligned state.
Fond memories tingle my taste buds. When I was young, the corner drugstore had a soda fountain which served mixed drinks (Cherry Coke, Vanilla Coke, milkshakes in tall silver tumblers) to the sophisticates and unadulterated ice cream cones to the purists. One scoop on a regular cone (an oddity still blended today from styrofoam and food coloring) cost three cents. A sugar cone, for the more evolved palate, brought the cost up to a nickel. These minuscule sums could often be found in junk drawers, old purses, sofa cushions, forgotten pockets, and other obscure household locations. The only detail that could make this story fantasy would be the incarnation of a kindly pharmacist interacting with his joyfully slurping customers on their padded vinyl stools. But we were all afraid of Mr. Nitkin, who was reputed to have no children of his own because he had scared them away.
It's not the ice cream that has changed, although the price has increased more than twenty-fold. It's the freedom to drip all over your shirt on a carefree walk home without needing the neighborhood watch. Can you imagine youth gangs who kill today for leather jackets or designer sneakers demanding, "Gimme that three cents or you'll never eat ice-cream again?"
All right, I'm salivating too. I think it's time to head downstairs for something politically correct, but satisfying. Ben and Jerry do a great "Chubby Hubby", but since they don't do "Bigger than Life Wife", I can't eat it. Sealtest keeps its old standard Neapolitan, but they ignore all other ethnicities. Besides, any Neapolitan who had ever tasted indigenous gelati would blanch at the comparison. And don't even get me started about spumoni.
I never realized how much I miss the Good Humor man.
Written by Marcia Brown Rubinstien
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