Usually; in subdivisions such as the one I live in now; there is an ice cream truck that makes the round on weekends, and during the evenings after dinner. You know the type of truck I’m talking about; obnoxious musical chimes heralding the arrival of an old beat up truck which bears absolutely no resemblance to the ice cream trucks of my youth. Those were sturdy, insulated, thick walled vehicles with freezer doors on the sides. And within those doors were delights which I haven’t seen in years. I'm thinking about the Toasted Almond Crunch bar. And the bench mark of all ice cream trucks was Good Humor. If it wasn't Good Humor, we threw clods of earth at the truck, signaling to the driver that this was marked territory.
Benny was Jewish, from the Lower East Side; and as such, he really had a lot in common with my Uncle Irving, who had also been raised there. They were about the same age. But that’s where the similarities ended. While Benny used to “hook” school, Uncle Irving actually finished high school. So, while Benny went on to become the neighborhood “Good Humor Man”, my Uncle Irving went on to a career in the Garment District as a furrier. Both men fascinated me, if only for their different lifestyles. Both were bachelors, but economically they were worlds apart. Benny lived in a rented room somewhere, while Uncle Irving lived in the larger hotels in Manhattan.
But, anyway, the story I am trying to tell is about Benny. It was, after all, his pushcart that I’m writing about, and the closest it ever came to fur was the time I hung some raccoon tales from the handlebars. The tails came from Uncle Irving, who used to keep us well supplied with them each year. Wait; he is part of this story.
Benny had two habits in which he liked to indulge. Both interfered with his selling enough ice cream to afford spending his winters in Miami; which is where he always went for the cold season. He liked to bet at the Off Track Betting parlor on East 16th Street, just up from Dubrow’s cafeteria. He also liked to have his hair cut once a week. That’s how I got the job.
I had been buying ice cream from Benny for about 2 years when he first asked me to “cover” for him while he went for a haircut. Being left; as an 8 year old boy; with an unlimited supply of ice cream, plus a pocketful of coins and bills was one of the thrills of my summer days. Benny’s haircuts were legendary for the length of time they took. He could be gone for hours; or merely minutes; depending on how the ponies were running, or ruining, his day. He combined the two errands into one, to “save time”, he used to say. That was fine with me. I would hold forth on Kings Highway and East 14th Street, across the street from Miles Shoes, and only 2 doors down from Byhoff’s Sporting Goods, which also sold records. They had a speaker outside, so, I even had music while I worked.
The winters in Miami were a source of irritation to my Uncle Irving, who worked ALL year, but could not afford to take the winters off. They were both Jews from the Lower East Side, and my Uncle had gone to the trouble of getting an education and carving out a career for himself, while Benny hung around pool rooms and gambled on horses. The fact that Benny could afford to winter in Miami really rankled him. And that’s why I never told my Uncle the whole story.
You see, while Benny actually did spend his winters in Miami, he was working. Somewhere today, down in Miami, there is someone my age with the same memories as I have of working for the Good Humor Man; because that’s what he did when he went there, he sold ice cream; just like he did during the summer in Brooklyn. I hope, after all these years, that this will make my Uncle feel better about the whole thing.