I was in my bathroom post-shower when I heard the music. Doo-doo-doo-doo Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo Doodle-oo-doo-doo-doo-doo. I froze. I know that music. It introduces clowns. It’s played in the funhouse on Morey’s Pier in Wildwood where I split my pants in front of a crowded boardwalk when I was a teen. It’s the soundtrack for predatory perverts everywhere, the tentacles of circumstance that reach out to young children from the guts of ice cream trucks. It’s the modern-day Pied Piper’s flute, coming to take your children, and your childhood. Why was there only one obscure film made about an ice cream man, starring Clint Howard, in 1995? It never reached the cult status of The Candy Man, but is the candy man really more scary than a dude who drives a truck into your neighborhood, projecting Calliope music through the streets, peddling Good Humor?
Rachel, you’re asking me right now, what the hell did the ice cream man do to you? Other than contribute to my weight problems, addiction to cold creamy goodness and a dwindling petty cash supply, nothing life-altering. But I was traumatized by one of his fellow purveyors of happiness-on-wheels when I was just three years old and the memory has been with me forever, so much so that I am incapacitated whenever that music breaks the stillness of my neighborhood streets.
In my old neighborhood, the first one I ever lived in, there were a lot of kids. It was a row home neighborhood, the 1960’s Northeast Philly promised land for Kensington couples who wanted better for their families. The kind of neighborhood the ice cream man frequented. And portable amusement ride man. My favorite ride was The Whip. How appropriate for what happened to me.
I was a cute little thing at three. Tiny with white blonde hair and clapping hands. My mom was the unhappy stay-at-home kind, a beautiful bleached Monroe cotton candy white blonde in her late twenties with long legs and short shorts. My excitement was her excitement and when the Whip truck came around and somehow knew enough to park in front of my house (I was always home, always ready for a ride, sometimes the only kid in the truck), she’d hand me the money and I’d skip out the door, ponytail bouncing, and race down to the truck. Mom would take a seat on the concrete steps we shared with the neighbor attached to our right and smoke a ciggie and most likely daydream about a better life. When my ride was over I’d run back to her, face flushed and full of giggles, having filled my excitement quotient for the day. Then one of the days I was the sole rider something changed. I climbed into the truck, handed over my money, sat in a purple car and waited for the fun to begin. The ride would whip my car around one turn, then another and then–something hard hit my head. It was the turn right by the door. It happened again. It happened every time my car whipped around that turn. I would sit in my car, dreading that turn. Was something sticking out? I couldn’t see anything. I held my tears until I got back safely to mom. “What’s the matter?” she asked me. I told her I didn’t know. Something on the ride was hitting me in the head.
The next time the Whip came I guess I forgot about the trauma, because I wanted to go on. Mom gave me the money, sent me out to the street and sat on her step. There were other kids and the first couple of times around were uneventful but then–ouch! It happened a few more times, then stopped. There were tears in my eyes and when I got off, mom was waiting outside the truck for me. “It happened again!” I cried to her. She carried me back to the house. Now when the Whip truck came I didn’t want to get on it. Eventually it stopped coming to our neighborhood. Later, when I was about six or seven, Mom told me what happened to me when I rode. That last day she sat on the steps, and when the Whip guy looked away from her, she got up and positioned herself between two parallel parked cars where she could see me though the door. That’s when she saw the Whip guy grab my ponytail and yank it hard when I swung past. Horrified, she approached the door where he could see her. He didn’t touch me again.
She thought about telling my dad and maybe would have if the guy came around again when dad was home, but the guy stopped coming and dad was rarely home during the day, even on weekends. He had his own business and we all know that story, now, don’t we? That has its own music, usually played on the world’s smallest violin, on a frequency heard only by children of divorce. Still, I’ll take that tune any day over that creepy ass xylophone music every perv in the world hopes makes the kiddies come a’ runnin’.