Mister Softee

Thieves and socialists don’t make good businessmen. I learned this lesson, about myself, way back in 1966 at the tender age of seventeen.

My older brother was on his summer break from college, and it was my first summer in the last three that did not require me to attend summer school, so my father came up with the idea to put my brother and me in business. He believed that we could make money with a Mister Softee truck, selling ice cream to the hordes of children who would not be able to resist the obnoxious jingle, or the thought of sweet soft ice cream cooling them off, while running down their throats and faces.

The plan was simple enough. My dad would put up the necessary funds for us to rent the truck, and my brother and I would take turns driving our assigned route. We were taught how to mix the ice cream, run the register, nothing else, and off we went. Never mind that I had just received my driver’s license and that the truck was a beater with at least six inches of play in the steering wheel. Driving it was road roulette, and I don’t think I was legal to drive it at all.

As I weaved my way into the first neighborhood, I turned on the jingle from hell. Shrill and annoying, it was intended to make every dog in a five mile radius foam at the mouth. Children would then see the foam, think of ice cream, and hear the jingle. Most of them had money, and lines would form in anticipation of the gooey treat. I realized early on that I could not say no. There was one boy who looked to be about 6 who had large square freckles and curly hair. He never had enough money, but I couldn’t resist how cute he was so I would make him a cone or grab him something frozen. And it wasn’t just him. If a line formed I wanted everyone on that line to come away with something. I also liked to amuse myself by making contests. Who can tell me the Yankee score from last night? That kid got himself a free treat. How much is five times eight? Another cone. And while the cones were supposed to weigh so much, I didn’t give a shit and made them tall and proud. More than one set of eyes would get real big when I passed that monster through the window.

I became popular. Perhaps I was the softest Mister Softee of them all.  Maybe it was an early indication of a generous heart, and a socialist mind set. I looked forward to seeing the munchkin with too few nickels and square freckles. To celebrate those square freckles I gave him free round sprinkles. I also ate my fair share of ice cream, and every Friday I would end my shift by yanking a few handfuls of change, so I could play poker or take my girlfriend to a movie. I suspect my brother was as generous to himself. Maybe even more so.

Three weeks into this venture my father did the books and discovered that we had not made a dime. Or at least that is what he told us. Maybe the last handful of change was scooped by my father. I do know he informed us that the business was closed, not at all aware of the loss freckle boy would feel. I didn’t really care that it was done. I also did not realize at the time that I was still a boy, not much older than the kids I was selling to. As monotonous as it was, it was still better than summer school.

© 2013 Michael Fiveson