Monday, April 20, 2015

I DID AND I DIDN'T by Mel Rosenthal

The summer between my sophomore and junior years in college, which was also the summer after my mother died of cancer, I worked for Good Humor. Exactly how this happened, I can’t be sure now. Someone must have suggested the idea, since I doubt that I would have thought of it on my own. In any case, I applied for and got a job as a tricycle salesman. Most of Good Humor’s business was (and presumably still is) conducted from the familiar white trucks, but I didn’t drive, and had to settle for a three-wheeled vehicle with the ice cream, popsicles, and ices in a case behind me as I pedaled along. If I recall correctly, drivers and tricyclists alike worked on commission -- your earnings were a certain percentage of your sales.

So it was that every weekday that summer I took the short bus trip from my home in suburban Orange, New Jersey, to the company’s plant/distribution center in Newark. After replenishing my supplies as necessary, I would set off in the early afternoon on my route through the city’s sticky-hot streets. I often had to traverse its hillier areas, which, what with the physical strain of constantly moving upward, could seem endless.

No matter the problems, my sense is that overall I enjoyed my summer with Good Humor. Even so it would be my only summer in their employ, I never went back. And what particularly lingers now in memory is a small incident from my very first day on the job:  I was standing by in the distribution center when someone abruptly approached and said that my mother was there to see me—my mother, then already more than two months gone. I was at once disturbed and comforted; for a moment, just a moment, I was willing to believe that it could be true. But I did not move, did not ask where. The logical explanation, of course, was mistaken identity: someone else’s mother was there to see her son. But I did and I didn’t wish to confirm this.