Paula was having a bad day yesterday. Over the years, I’ve learned two remedies for this: a good meal and/or a bottle of wine. I decided to cook dinner, but we had nothing in, so a trip to the grocery store was in order.
On my way back, I heard a wistful, gentle chiming amid the bustling chaos of the beer distributorship on Seneca Avenue. I turned to find the source of the sound and I saw…. an ice cream truck?
Then I remembered Paula saying something about a really sad ice cream man playing a tune she said was familiar– this had to be him. And the tune was “Send In The Clowns”, by Stephen Sondheim and performed, melodramatically, by Barbra Streisand among others.
It was surreal. Every ice cream man whose work I am familiar with prefers the uptempo and attention-getting, if not downright manic. Think sped-up Scott Joplin, or a crazy lady screaming “HelLOOOOOO!!!!”, certainly not serene, sad chirping. I pulled out my phone to record the sound. And as the bus pulled up and the truck rolled away, I realized that I not only had I not taken a picture, I’d missed the opportunity to ask the ice cream man about his song!
So I went home, and made dinner. While simmering the gravy, I heard the sound again. He was on our block! I could ask him about the song and take a photo!
I ran outside. When I got up to the window, there was a young kid– maybe 20– serving and I asked him “Hey man, how’d you get this song?” After struggling with a language barrier for a minute or two, he just shrugged and said “I don’t know.” What a disappointing answer. I was sure this was not the default song the truck came with.
I thought about getting a frozen Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle or a Sponge Bob, but I ended up ordering the sundae you see below. When he put the sundae in my hand, I had a flashback to being a kid in Rockaway, getting ice cream on 119th St. And I had the same feeling of excitement, that this was a special day. And I don’t know if it was the music or not, but I felt a little bit sad as my mind snapped back to 2013. I paid the kid.
And as the truck pulled away, I saw an old man sitting in the back staring wistfully in the distance, and I knew that he had picked the song. He was the Saddest Ice Cream Man in Queens.