Sunday Stories: “Mister Softy”

Mister Softy
by Andreas Trolf

We were having drinks one night, Dan and me, at the old Sweetwater, which if you remember that place was maybe the last real bar on Brooklyn’s north side before the assholes moved in and fucked it all up. Before the machine shops and meatpacking places closed down and the boutiques and Thai restaurants moved in and all the old families went God knows where. Dan’s in Jersey City now, if you can believe that. 

Anyhow, we were sitting in the back room where they had a really good jukebox and Marina hardly ever charged us for drinks and all in all it was a pretty good time. It was raining something awful and Haley, Dan’s ex although they were on good terms, came through the door dripping wet. A few days earlier her brother had died of an aneurysm. Dropped dead it seemed for no reason at all.  She was in a bad way and told us she wanted to be alone, so we gave her her space and sat chatting with about half a pack of smokes between us—this was when you could still smoke inside—while that poor girl set to drinking herself comatose at the other end of the bar. At some point Dan said, I used to know this guy who was an ice cream man in the summer. 

What did he do in the winter? I asked. Dan said he worked concessions during Rangers games at the Garden. He said the guy had told him what a great job it was and how hard it was to get a spot there doing concessions, like guys would do it for years and then give their spots to their kids when they retired because of how good the money was. 

So what’s that have to do with him being an ice cream man? I asked. Well, the thing about being an ice cream man, he went on, the kind in the truck with the music, you know? Thing was, he really hated it and compared to concessions the money was absolute shit but baseball season concessions jobs were even harder to get than hockey ones, and you could just forget about football season. So there’s really not much else going on during the summer for a guy like this, Dan said, aside from maybe working the rides out at Coney Island or at those dumb-ass church fairs, which was even worse than being an ice cream man, is what he told me. 

But anyway, Dan said, he had this route that the ice cream company or whatever it was gave him and every day he’d go up around Shea Stadium and Flushing Meadows and hit the parking lots. Most days there wasn’t really anything to do except sit there and wait. He’d listen to Mets games on the radio but wouldn’t ever really get any business from that crowd because of them all having gotten their snacks and whatnot from the vendors in the stadium. Ditto for the U.S. Open because tennis crowds were not really ice cream crowds, he told me. So he basically just hung out and occasionally sold ice cream to little kids and families that were out in the park picnicking or something. 

Okay, I said, so ice cream man’s a shit job. Who cares? I’m not an ice cream man. Dan took a long drag from his cigarette almost like to make a point and then exhaled and said, But here’s the thing, there’s one part of it he said that made it all worthwhile. What’s that? I asked. Well, Dan said, the thing was he loved to make kids chase the truck around. 

Really? I said. Yeah, like run after it while he kept on driving. Jesus, I said, what an asshole. Yeah, Dan said, maybe. But point is, he’d pull up in front of a playground or wherever and play the jingle and wait for the kids to come running. Then when they got close he’d pretend not to see them and drive away, only he’d drive really slowly back and forth across the parking lot, like slow enough to where the kids would think they could catch him. 

What did he do that for? I asked. He said it was to make them suffer, Dan said, just a little bit. Not that it was about the suffering, you know? Not exactly. So the kids suffering? That’s just a side-effect? I asked. Well, Dan said, mainly the thing about it was them wanting something so bad that they just couldn’t get. Like, the ice cream, right? Like it’s right there and they’re absolutely dying for it, you know? It’s a hot day, their parents already gave them a dollar for a rocket pop or some shit? And in their heads it’s already spent. And he’s driving just barely ahead of them and the whole time he’s doing it, he’s watching them in those big-ass rearview mirrors the ice cream trucks have, concentrating like hell on their faces. The jingle’s playing and they’re screaming Ice cream, stop! huffing and puffing, all red and sweaty, and there’s just pure desire on their faces. And what’s that even like, right? Something as pure as a goddamn ice cream? To need it that bad? They’d only chase him for a couple seconds and then he’d slow down and they’d get their ice cream. But for those couple seconds it was like if all of the world’s need and pain was there, is how he described it, like boiled down into the most basic version of it. And he told me how it was the truest emotion he’d seen in his life and the reason he did it wasn’t to be an asshole to anybody, he only wanted to be reminded of the honesty of it. 

So what happened to him? I asked. He still messing with those kids? Nah, Dan said. I guess he hit the brakes too hard one time and some little kid ran full-force into the back of the truck and broke his arm clean in half. Kid’s dad came over and just kicked the absolute shit out of him. Like a hospital-grade ass kicking. Feels like maybe he had it coming, I said. Oh yeah, Dan said. For sure he had it coming. 

Haley’s brother, Dan said to me after we’d sat there for a minute not talking, only drinking, the one who died. I met him once when me and her were together. Nice guy. In finance, if I remember it. He was in his mid-twenties maybe. Too young to die of an aneurysm anyhow. But, and I don’t want to make it sound like him dying was anything other than an awful tragedy, but I take a young death partly as a consolation. He won’t ever get old, is the thing. He won’t have to see himself wear out. Won’t have to watch things change, or himself become something else. He’ll always be this young guy with nothing but potential. In our memory he’ll always be young and strong and perfect. There’s comfort in that, isn’t there? 

But that’s a lie, I said. He wasn’t strong. His own body killed him. What good is it to be young and perfect and not ever changing when you’re dead? Yeah, Dan said. I know it’s a lie but it’s still a nice story, isn’t it? To hold onto him that way forever? I wish I could tell it to Haley that way but she’d know it was a lie too and she doesn’t deserve that.

When it was time for us to go Dan handed Marina a wad of bills to cover Haley’s drinks and raised up his hand to her in a small wave, but she didn’t see. The rain had turned into this fine mist, the kind where you’d get soaked clear through without even realizing it was happening. I want to say that was the last time we went to Sweetwater before it closed down. It’s a brunch place now and the worst part is that the new owners kept the name and you have to look at the sign every time you walk by. Like it’s taunting you, that old faded sign still hanging there while some kook is writing a Yelp review before he even finishes his eggs Benedict or whatever. But not like I get over to the north side all that often anymore. Hardly ever, actually. 


Andreas Trolf‘s fiction has been published, or is forthcoming, most recently in Sequestrum, Juked, Bluestem, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, as well as collected in the anthology Life and Limb (Soft Skull Press). He is the writer and co-creator of the Emmy-nominated Sanjay and Craig, which airs on Nickelodeon. He is currently writing the series Tigtone for Adult Swim and is working on a new novel.

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