In the summer of 2003, I got a job driving an ice cream truck. Mr. Floppy was the only ice cream brand that proudly advertised its need for Viagra.
Mr. Globus owned the franchise. He was a recent immigrant from the Middle East. He was stocky with black hair, bushy eyebrows and a mustache, all tinged with gray. He didn’t know much about ice cream. He had arrived in this country with money to invest. He had gone to a convention where franchisers hawked their businesses. Mr. Globus had liked the presentation given by the Mr. Floppy representative. He thought he would get a good return on his investment. He bought in. The ice cream route was an investment, but it was not Globus’s only income. He also was involved with home remodeling, renting duplexes and was office manager for his wife’s medical practice.
There was no advertisement in a newspaper about the job, just a sign hand posted on a telephone pole with a number to call. Globus told me he preferred to higher family members, and made it clear to me that my hours would be cut if any of his relatives arrived from overseas for a visit. I was okay with that, because I was on summer break from college and didn’t really want to have to work every day. When he said he wanted to pay me under the table, I was okay with that. I didn’t need traceable income fouling up my meager financial aid for school.
Mr. Globus was proud of the white and blue truck he had gotten as part of his hundred thousand dollar bargain. He made me wash the exterior and scrub inside every day before setting out on the road. Appearances mattered.
The truck was equipped with large chrome and steel refrigerator units with different types of soft ice cream in the back of the truck. The driver was also the salesman. There was a space where I could walk back from the driver’s seat to where the ice cream dispensers and sales window was. My job I was to drive around the area that was part of the franchise territory, going down streets and looking for groups of kids. I was told to hit playgrounds and school yards several times during my run since kids were likely to congregate there. I was to keep broadcasting a silly kid-come-hither tune weaved from chiming bells from an external speaker and pull curbside when flagged by a customer or when I thought sales were likely to be generated.
The first day went okay. I didn’t mind making cones with or without sprinkles, mixing shakes or dealing with the kids. It was sort of fun. Every kid loves the ice cream man. What American kid didn’t fantasize about becoming an ice cream man? Few of the kids were snotty. A lot were impatient. Adults were worse, but there were not a lot of grownup customers, though a few mom and dads watched over the children’s purchases to make sure that they were not cheated or kidnapped. Most of the customers were under fourteen. They saw that I was young, and that seemed to make me cool in their eyes. It was a great job.
That’s not entirely true. There were a few things I did not like. There was a lot of driving. Exhaust fumes got sucked in whenever I opened sales window, and I’d have to breathe it. I got damned tired of the electronic jingle on the first day, but had to keep listening to it day after day. It penetrated through my headphones and is stuck in my brain to this day. The worst thing though was the creepy crawlies. I saw them climbing in and out of the ice cream spigots and scurrying across the floor. I was a trooper and kept a smile on my face for the customers, not letting on the kind of companions I had in my little truck.
When I got back to base, that is the driveway of the Globus house, that night after a run that had lasted from 1 PM to 11 PM, I told him about the bugs. He said he would take care of it, but was more concerned about the receipts.
“This is not enough,” he told me after counting the cash. “You need to sell more or you will ruin me.”
He told me if I did not sell more the next day, he would either have to cut my wages or replace me with someone who could do better. I didn’t have another job lined up, and I certainly didn’t want a reduction in what little I was earning, so I told Globus not to worry. It had just been my first day. I would do better tomorrow.
When I reported to work the next day, I washed outside of the truck and cleaned the inside of the truck. In the back near the ice cream dispensers I detected what smelled like a mixture of insecticide and air freshener. I thought this could not be good for the kids. I was about to say something to Mr. Globus when he yelled at me, “You still here? You should be out on the road making money.”
I was young and did not have the back bone I should have had. I didn’t speak up. I just took the truck out. At the start of my route I saw this fat kid, really obese, standing by himself on the front lawn of a house, up the street playing together, but this kid was alone. He seemed lonely and sad. He kept looking down at the ground. He didn’t even seem to notice my arrival despite all the brightly painted truck and the endless chimes coming from the loudspeaker. I thought, “This kid appears to be a clear candidate for ice cream. Why isn’t he flagging me to stop? “I thought about Mr. Globus’s warning about selling more ice cream or else. I pulled over next to the kid and rolled down my window and honked my horn. The boy looked up at the truck.
“Don’t ask for who the ice cream bell rings,” I said. “It rings for you. Want to buy some ice cream?”
The boy licked his lips, but said nothing.
“I bet if you buy ice cream for you and the kids up the street they’ll start playing with you.”
“Do you think so?” The boy asked his face as dull as an ox.
“It doesn’t matter what I think. What do you think? Would you play with a kid who bought you ice cream?”
The boy’s eyes widened. He started running as fast as his thick legs could carry him to the door of the house. “Mom,” he shouted. “I need you to buy ice cream.”
The boy ran into the house. A few minutes later a fat tired looking woman came out of the house followed by the little buy. The woman was wearing shorts, and the blue bulbs of varicose veins stood out from her pale skin.
She came up to the truck.
“Two cones. Chocolate with jimmies.”
“Right away. Is that all?”
The boy tugged at her arm.
“Can’t we buy some for my friends?”
“What friends? You told me those boys won’t play with you.”
“Alright,” she said. “You go run and tell them to come here fast if they want any.”
Of course they did. Who would pass up free ice cream?
I got to work, hoping the smell of insecticide had not worked its way into the ice cream. I had learned a valuable lesson. Always search for the weakest link. I felt good watching the fat kid walking up the street with his new best friends, all of them carrying ice cream cones. I felt less satisfied as I pulled off the street and saw the fat kid being punched by his buddies in the rear view mirror.
I did a little better that day with sales, but Mr. Globus was not satisfied.
“Kid, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you!” he scolded after checking the balance sheet. “You’ll drive me into bankruptcy! You have to do better. One last chance, other wise I have to cut your wages.”
I promised him I’d try harder. At least I had seen no bugs in the truck that day. I wouldn’t see any bugs near the ice cream the rest of the time I worked there, but there would always be that sick smell of insecticide and air freshener in the back.
The next day I smiled when I saw the fat kid hanging with his new friends. I had done a good deed. The children all looked up when they heard and saw my truck. They waved for me to stop. I pulled up to the curb.
A scruffy looking kid in a dirty tee shirt shouted, “Give us ice cream!” He seemed to be the leader of the crowd.
“No problem,” I said, going back to the sales window. “What do you guys want?”
A bunch of orders were shouted at me. I tried to keep track of them all.
“Okay,” I said. “That will be two fifty each.”
The kids all turned to the fat boy. “Go pay for it,” they said.
The boy looked caught. He looked at me. He looked at his new friends.
“Come on,” said the scruffy boy. “We want ice cream.” He punched the fat kid in the stomach. “Go get some money.”
The fat boy ran home and came back with a twenty dollar bill.
“All right!” said the scruffy kid. “Way to go Chunks!”
I served out the cones and took the cash.
“See you tomorrow,” I said.
The fat kid looked at me and then at his new friends. He seemed troubled.
Although I had done better than the previous two days, it was not good enough for Globus. He cut my salary by ten cents an hour.
“You can get it back,” he told me, “If you work harder and bring up these sales figures.”
I thought about quitting, but I still needed a job. I would just have to do better.
I got to know a lot of fats kids in my territory. Not just fat kids. Skinny kids too. Any kid who appeared to be left out. The losers. The exiles. The kids that needed ice cream to barter for a social life. I got to know them not by name, just by sight. I felt like a shark swimming around in that truck, preying upon the week, the vulnerable, the calorie addicted.
My sales average kept climbing week after week, but Globus told me I wasn’t making it. He told me I was breaking his balls. So he broke mine. He cut my salary twenty five cents an hour. I should have quit, but I didn’t. This time I did check around for other jobs. I couldn’t find anything. I figured what the hell. I only had another five weeks before I had to pack to go back to college. Besides, Globus had promised me, if I could just get sales up by another ten percent, he would restore my twenty five cents. I redouble my efforts.
That first kid, the fat one, he hated me now. I could tell. I could see it in his eyes. Sometimes he hid when he saw or heard my truck coming. The other boys on the street would look for him, drag him from his hiding spot and demand their hit of ice cream.
If he said, “My mom says she can’t afford it.” Or, “I have no money,” he got pummeled. It was sad to watch. My other loners weren’t doing much better. There were exceptions, a few seem to have been genuinely been accepted and were getting treated to ice cream as often or more often than they bought it. But these were exceptions. I watched with horror as my social experiment began to unravel. That fat kid stopped coming out of his house all together. The last time I saw him he seemed bigger than ever. He was putting something in the trash. When he saw me he waddled back inside as fast as he could and slammed the door.
Despite my failures as a social engineer, sales did go up, but not by the ten percent that had been demanded. Six percent was the best I could muster. Globus just shook his head.
“I can’t understand it,” he told me. “A bright boy like you, a college boy, why can’t you do better?”
One morning he called me.
“Don’t come in. I don’t need you any more.”
“What? Am I fired?’
“Yes and no. You’re not fired, but I don’t need you. I told you when you were hired, family comes first. My cousin’s son has come over to attend graduate school in town. He needs money. School is expensive. You know that. He will stay with me until classes start.. He will do the ice cream run. So I don’t need you. Not now anyway, but he says he wants to see some of the country. He might take some days off. So I might still call you if I need you, if you are still interested.”
“What the hell,” I said. “Call me.”
I blew some of the money I had saved with a trip to the beach, but was careful to husband the rest for tuition, bus tickets, text books and partying at school. Globus called me to work a few times before the summer ended, and I went in and drove the route. During the second week of August I told him I was done.
We were in the small office Globus had in his garage.
“I go back to school next week. I won’t be available to work after this weekend.”
He looked shocked.
“This is it?” he said. “I hope to have you for Labor Day weekend.”
“I live on campus and my classes start before Labor Day.”
“That sucks. I’ll have to find someone fast. The last two weeks of August I am okay, but my cousin’s son will be leaving. I may have to do the route myself. I had hoped to get away with the wife and kids. Are you sure you can’t come back for just that weekend?”
“Sorry Mr. Globus,” I told him. “It would be too much trouble traveling back and forth from campus.”
Globus knitted his bushy eyebrows and grew silent.
“I see,” he said after a pause. “Well, my friend, I will miss you. You were a good employee, much better than my cousin’s son. Better than the man who worked for me last summer.”
This took me back. Globus had never stopped telling me how lousy I was, how I did not work hard enough, how I did not sell enough ice cream. Hell, he had cut my pay twice.
“I want to give you something to remember me by,” Globus said. “Wait here.”
He got up and went into the house while I stood around in the garage. Globus came back with an envelope.
“This is for you. Consider it a bonus.”
I looked in the envelope. There were two hundred dollar bills. It didn’t make up for all the lost hours or the cuts in pay, but it did put Globus on more even ground with me.
“Thanks Mr. Globus.”
“You’re a good kid,” Globus said. “You made money for me. You can work for me next summer if you want. I think you could be an even better ice cream man next year if you tried.”
“I’ll have to see what happens.”
“Sure. Sure. We’ll both see what happens.”
He held out his hand.
I shook his hand and left.
I went to school. One of my courses was biology. I learned about poisons being absorbed by the body and accumulating in fatty tissue. I thought about all the insecticide in that Mr. Floppy truck. I thought about all the fat in Mr. Floppy’s ice cream. I thought about my own body. Then I thought about all those kids eating ice cream. I thought about the loners, the losers, the ones I had set up. I thought most about one fat lonely kid staring out the window of his house at a world that rejected him. The following summer I did not go back to work for Globus. A friend from college invited me to stay the summer at his family’s place down the Jersey shore. I got a job scooping ice cream on the boardwalk. What can I say? Ice cream is part of me now.
Joseph Farley has had tales appear recently in Shlock, Pyrta, Blue Crow, An Electric Tragedy, Golden Visions, Sc-Fi Short Stories, and other venues.
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