We have been taunted in our neighborhood for a month by a passive-aggressive ice cream truck.
If that’s what it is. We haven’t seen it. But it’s the only explanation. In the late afternoon, faint, like birdsong carried from afar by the breeze, we hear a familiar series of notes:
Dee dee dee da dee dee deeee
And, of course, you’re thinking “Für Elise,” by Beethoven. You’re correct. The first few measures play, then repeat. It’s the worst ice cream truck sound, for many reasons: One, it’s melancholy. Two, it doesn’t lend itself well to tinny synthesized notes and sounds like the backing-up sound you’d hear from a truck that hauled around classical instruments. Three, you don’t want to think of “ice cream” and “fur” in the same sentence.
But we’ve never seen it. The sound seems to be up the street. It never comes down the street. It never lingers. As far as we can tell, Beethoven’s Dairy Treat Wagon turns off the main street, stays long enough to tantalize the kids who know the sound, then quietly backs out and leaves. It’s almost sadistic.
In normal times, I’d pay it no mind except when desperate for a column idea, but it seems typical of August 2020: Things seem normal, but they are not. A while ago we discussed the mysterious and sudden coin shortage, remember? The paranoid among you will think that shadowy forces are trying to take away our hard currency, so we’ll be forced to use cards for everything and all our purchases will be tracked. This already was underway, but now they’re using COVID as a cover for their nefariousness! I mean, how can there be a shortage of something no one’s using anyway?
The other day in the grocery store, I saw a sign: “Due to the nationwide aluminum can shortage ... ” Hold on a minute, bucko. The what? Turns out there is a crimp in the supply for boring reasons of logistics and demand; this is not a plot by Big Glass to make us go back to heavy bottles.
The response of the pop companies was to stop production of some brands, which seems un-American. We have been assured of a future of ever-expanding soft drink varieties. You’re telling me that in 2020 A.D. we have to give up Diet No-Caffeine Cherry 7-Up? For what, like a week? Two? Do you want blood in the streets?
The grocery store had a rundown of the brands. As it turns out, 7-Up is one of the brands still being made. Be honest: When was the last time you wanted 7-Up? Ah, many hands. OK, how many of you were recovering from a stomach bug? Ah, no hands. Perhaps it’s me, but I associate it with childhood barf-fests; I would look at the label’s slogan — “You like it! It likes you!” — and think, “But I don’t like you at all.” It’s like the preferred drink of stalkers.
Diet Sunkist is available, but not regular Sunkist. A&W, but not A&W Cream Soda. Vernor’s still is available, as well as Diet Canada Dry Ginger Ale With Lemonade, and I imagine there are many a bosom heaving with relief at that news. I stood there looking at the list, thinking it could be worse. We could be a nation looking at a full month without Vernor’s.
A few days later, back at the grocery store, I was asked if I preferred paper or plastic and was reminded that I don’t know if we can use reusable bags again. I never got the all-clear on that one. Anyway, I asked for paper, and the clerk handed me a nicely framed bag ... without handles.
“Hey,” I said, merrily. “Where’s the nice bags with the sturdy handles?”
“Nationwide bag shortage,” said the clerk.
Ah. Of course. Handles are for the good times. There’s not enough pulp for frivolities like handles. It’s all going to make toilet paper, which we have in abundance. Vernor’s and toilet paper, but no handles.
Coins, cans, nice bags — not the most onerous shortages, for most people. You shrug; it’ll be back to normal eventually, and we’ll be awash in coins we don’t use, pop we don’t like and bags that are easier to carry.
And then you hear the tootling sound of “Für Elise” up the street, and think, “That’s not an ice cream truck. That’s the sound of my sanity, departing.”
On second thought, maybe the truck doesn’t come all the way down the block because of the National Ice Cream Shortage.