The "Icecream Man" and Other Childhood Stories

10:47 AM Marcellino DAmbrosio 3 Comments

I am crazy. I mean that something is not right in my head, or maybe it is. That's sort of the problem. Anyway, I was about five years old when this became abundantly obvious to my parents. That's all the time it took, really. At the time we lived in a neighborhood in downtown Baltimore, just across the street from a community pool—which much to my chagrin required parental supervision to enter—and right across a fence from a low income housing apartment complex. One of the most wonderful discoveries of my youth took place in a small patch of wooded area by that fence. Anthony and I used to play make believe there all the time, running around hitting bushes with stick swords and shooting bad guys with cap guns. It was wonderful. One time we discovered some shiny metal bullet casings lodged in the tree trunk closer to the road. We immediately began to argue weather the gunmen had been GI Joes or someone fighting evil dinosaurs that got free from the zoo.
like this guy! 

 I don't remember if we ever completely resolved that conflict, but I do believe we came to a consensus that cowboys and Indians (I hadn't learned the term native american yet) may have played some role. What was absolutely certain to both of us, was that if the bad guys had been shooting at the good guys, the good guys hadn't been hit. If the good guys were shooting at the bad guys, then if they missed this time, somewhere down the road there must be dead bodies. After searching the massive forest that was the quarter acre of our back yard, we never found any dead bad guys. We did, however, dig out the shell casings. We brought them home and set them on the kitchen table like a trophy. As you might imagine, my mother was less than enthused. What strikes me about this incident though, is that already at the age of five, I the lens through which I viewed the world was clear, and it was simple. There was good, and there was bad. Good was anything that was heroic, strong, pretty, beautiful, and honest. Bad probably smelled greasy and eeewy, had facial hair, tried to kidnap pretty girls and hold them in tall castles or tie them up on train tracks.

^Bad Guy
My parents and I were clearly on the good guys side, and we were fighting against the bad guys. I have no idea where these ideas came from. But I believed in them very very strongly. To illustrate exactly how strongly they held sway over my five year old existence, I need to tell you about the ice cream man.  There were a lot of kids around my neighborhood at that time. I knew this not because I had any immediate contact with them, but because every summer, this curious phenomenon would occur. First you would hear a distant baring, a few notes would prick your ears, and your heart would beat a little bit faster. You didn't know exactly where it was coming from, but you knew the icecream man was closebye. It was absolutely necessary that you find him. You would be left out if you didn't. He would drive somewhere else and all the other children that found him and chased him would get to taste the explosion of sweetness and goodness that was icecream-the idol of every child's heart.

Tell me that girl isn't experiencing that exact thing right now
So every time the loud blaring carnival music started and the big white truck drove down the street, flocks of exuberant children poured out of apartments and down the streets after this man who held in his mobile freezer the promise of luscious creamy-sweet joy. I don't remember if my parents ever gave me the money I needed to take part in this liturgy of wild chase. I do know, however, that at some point, one of parents, probably my dad, told me that the ice-cream man was bad. Since my father was, it seemed to me,the bastion of all goodness and heroism in the world, if he said the icecream man was bad, than he knew what he was talking about. In hind sight, what he probably said was something along the lines of “you can't eat icecream all the time, it's bad for you.” What I heard was “the icecream man is a peddler of an evil product that corrupts all the good children and kills them.” So quite logically, the next time the ice cream man drove by I threw a rock at him.
 It was the first thing I ever confessed.
Seriously. It is the clearest memory of my childhood. It must have been fall because I was raking leaves in the back yard and no kids were chasing him anymore. Come to think of it, he probably wasn't having a very good day already. I saw his car come lethargically down Nottingham road (I remember that because “Nottingham” was where Robin Hood lived), and I began to get angry. My little five year old heart filled up with rage at the injustice of.... well.... some injustice must have been somewhere BECAUSE THE ICECREAM MAN IS BAD!! I knew something must be done, but it was so scary! This must be what Robin Hood must have felt like when he was going to fight the evil Sheriff of Nottingham! I labored over what I should do, and when the moment had all but passed, just before the ice cream truck turned the corner, I picked up a small rock and hurled it with all my might at this bad, bad man.
  I had never actually seen a bad guy before, mind you, so when the truck screeched to a halt, and a real guy stepped out of the door, I just about pooped my pants. I was so scared I couldn't move. BUT I HAD TO STAND MY GROUND BECAUSE GOOD GUYS DON'T RUN AWAY! The now, very real, middle age black man that was yelling at me was not what I had imagined a bad guy looking like at all. He just looked like a really really angry grown up. There is nothing more scary than an angry angry grown up to a child of five.

One of these things is not like the other

Apparently I wasn't the only kid who threw  rocks at his truck. Kids had been throwing “Ga'ddam” rocks at his “Ga'ddam” truck and his “Ga'ddam” tail light had been broke just last “Ga'ddam” week. He told me to go get my mom. I really didn't want to because I now knew that I had done something really bad and I'd be in trouble. Adults only yelled at you when you did bad things. I stood there. I didn't say anything, I didn't move, I just stood there. And so with a “Ga'ddamit” he walked down my sidewalk and knocked furiously on my door. When my mom came out, I ran as fast I could to the trees in the back and hid. I didn't know what else to do! I cried a little bit. I was just trying to fight the bad guy, but for some reason that was wrong and I just really didn't know how Robin Hood would act if this happened to him! I thought maybe since he lived in Sherwood Forest, he might run back there too. But really, I just felt really guilty and really scared because I knew I was in huge big trouble. I was going to get spanked. I knew for sure I would be spanked.
  I don't remember getting spanked, but it was the first time I ever felt shame. It was my "first unfairness," as Peter Pan says. It was the first time the world didn't go the way I thought it should. That is a subject I'll get into more later. What strikes me about this story the most is how early I learned that good was good and bad was bad. I mean, I was only five years old and I already viewed the entire world like it was some game field. Good and evil were the two teams battling for the win, and I knew exactly which side I was cheering for. I was so convinced of this that when my Dad said: “Icecream is bad,” I didn't hear: “icecream has poor nutritional value,” I heard: “Icecream is evil.”

Skulls have lots of calcium, but they are really hard to chew.

At that point, Christianity had very little to do with this core belief. I didn't know much about God, he was an old guy with a beard that owned the “Good Team.” All I really knew was that there was absolutely nothing more important to me than playing for the good team. Some people might say that this was because of the way I was raised, and yes, I believe that contributed to this oddity. But I can say this. I found the story of King Arthur and his Round Table far more compelling at five years old than the book “Are You My Mother.” I knew this because after My Uncle Cary told me about this mythical hero, the only thing I wanted to do all day long the next day was draw pictures of King Arthur, make believe I was King Arthur, eat majestically huge turkey bones I imagined King Arthur must have eaten.

not even kidding.
I never once walked around the yard asking inanimate objects if I was their progeny.  Back then, this was the norm for every young boy in the neighborhood. If other kids hadn't heard of King Arthur, Anthony and I would gladly tell our wide eyed audience the story; of course letting them know that we he was our great great great grandfather. We would then commence to make swords from card-bord boxes and battle each other for hours on end. The point my friends, is that regardless of whatever faith you may profess, good is good and evil is evil. The heart of man begins knowing the appropriate response to evil, it is only later that he gets it educated out of him. That response is not a “meh,” along with a casual shoulder shrug.


The only appropriate response to evil, as demonstrated by five year old me, is to throw rocks at it.

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  1. I laughed so hard at "it was the first thing I ever confessed" I woke my ferret up.

  2. "the promise of luscious creamy-sweet joy" that is an epic turn of a phrase. Well done my man.

  3. "He just looked like a really really angry grown up." I agree - angry grown ups were the absolute worst.