Our ice cream man’s name was Mac. He was a stocky ex-marine with a spiky crew cut and aviator sunglasses that hid his eyes. His truck had a Nixon for President sticker on the back bumper and the music box played “Hail to the Chief.” Mac was surly and impatient and hated kids. But his ice cream selection was top notch. He had bomb pops, big sticks, fudgesicles, drumsticks and ice cream sandwiches.
I usually bought a Klondike Bar and a pack of Topps baseball cards. I also loved Wacky Packs, the goofy parodies of brand names such as Quacker Oats and Crust Toothpaste. (R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman were Wacky Packs artists.) My brother preferred Topps Presidential trading cards. He learned he could trade any Republican President to Mac for free ice cream. Eisenhower got him an orange-vanilla creamsicle while Nixon yielded an Eskimo Pie. I drew a crude image of a wheelchair and gave it to Mac telling him it was a portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt. This earned me two free packs of baseball cards.
Mac always stopped in front of our house. Kids gathered from surrounding neighborhoods crowding the truck and yelling for ice cream. Mac demanded the kids show their money before he handed over the goods. No doubt he’d been ripped off many times.
One summer, while playing baseball in the street, we heard the familiar patriotic jingle of Mac’s truck. We ran to my front lawn and waited. When the truck came into view, it was moving faster than usual and appeared to be weaving. It took a corner at high speed, spun out of control and slammed into a fire hydrant. A towering spout of water shot into the air.
We ran to the scene. The windshield was shattered and the front bumper smashed. Mac was sprawled on the floor, hand over his chest, his face contorted in a horrible grimace. Water flowed everywhere creating a river of ice cream, candy and gum. Kids grabbed treats as if they were at a pinata party. Mac watched in horror, his worst nightmare come to life. He mouthed the words, “Man down.”
By the time adults emerged from nearby houses, we’d scraped the innards of the truck clean like hyenas over a kill. Paramedics arrived and took Mac away. We later learned he’d suffered a heart attack and concussion. He would miss six weeks of prime summer ice cream sales. In his absence…