Now that it’s freezing outside the last thing anyway wants to talk about is ice cream, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do, because for obvious reasons not wanting to talk about ice cream reminds me of a story about ice cream.
Back during the summer, when all anyone wanted to do was talk about ice cream, I was having a discussion about things over which the mafia possibly had control. This is a fun topic because since the mafia seems to have a tendency to specialize in the most boring possible areas (trash, construction, off-track betting) you can easily imagine all kinds of obscure, mundane stuff (Tupperware parties, the button industry, singing telegrams) as being part of the racket, which not only invests it with that whole mythology but gives you hypothetical situations where a guy in a Members Only jacket ends up with a whole truckload of stolen pencil sharpeners or novelty ties and starts to wonder if the whole thing is really worth it.
This conversation, however, centered on the ice cream truck business. I feel like ice cream trucks are perfect for the mafia – they’re unregulated, locally managed and low-key enough that no one is paying much attention. If you shake down the ice cream truck guy at the end of the week for 25% of his profits no one is going to notice because really, who knows an ice cream truck guy? If this is not something the mafia is already involved in then I encourage them to explore this business opportunity.
So this conversation came and went, and of course I never expected any real-life follow-up, but due to a serendipitous occurrence I discovered that the world of ice cream trucks is as rough and tumble as in my wildest fantasies. This is what happened. I had just left a show at South Street Seaport and was in line for ice cream. This is out of character for me but I was with some stupid friends so even though ice cream cones make me more nervous than just about anything I was ready to take the plunge. Then, in a moment out of Charlie Brown or something (I feel like this is where most mundanely terrible things occur), just as I was next in line, another ice cream truck pulled up behind the one from which I was ordering.
Someone made a comment about the newly arrived ice cream man looking pissed off but no one took this seriously, because when you are getting ice cream you never imagine a world where anger thrives and ice cream men hate each other. However, this was not just the case, it was an understatement. The new ice cream man was furious. He jumped out of his truck and started screaming at the original ice cream man, making it clear that a) this was not the first time this had occurred b) we were dealing with a turf war.
The immediate issue of why this guy thought he could just roll over to one of the busiest tourist spots in Manhattan and take command of the area because it was his spot is fascinating in itself but it needs to be pushed aside for now, because this situation is good enough on its own without overanalyzing it. Screaming was apparently not enough for this ice cream man, he started kicking the other guy’s truck with a ferocity usually reserved for movies about white supremacists. He was screaming and kicking and the other guy was lurching his truck forward a few feet every few seconds but not totally escaping and suddenly I was a man without a line to stand in or an ice cream truck to buy from.
At this point no one knows what to do and most of the crowd responds by dispersing. This, of course, is the last thing I’m going to do in any situation involving screaming. My friend Lisa, who has the mind of a five-year-old in the body of a fifteen-year old (this sounds mean but it isn’t, really), responded to this by screaming “you’re a mean man” and sticking out her tongue at the enraged ice cream man, to which he responded “get out of here little girl,” ratcheting up the exchange to a level of absurdity unmatched by any other ice-cream related situation I’ve encountered. Then he told the first guy that he was going to “cut his neck” in a loud enough voice that he was probably serious.
This scared off the first ice cream man to a considerable distance, although he did not flee entirely. Then the police came. The first ice cream man drove off, leaving the angry one alone at the site, free to claim any customers who had stuck around long enough to hear him threaten to cut someone’s neck (this somehow sounds worse than “cut your throat”). Worst of all I had to eat this man’s ice cream. It was delicious, but there was a bitter taste in my mouth I could not get rid of. It was guilt. Guilt from having eaten the tarnished product of a very angry ice cream man.