Friday, April 12, 2013

Frank Cooper: The Ice Cream Madman: A Short Story

 “Our treats equal happiness.”
That's the motto of the Rainbow Ice Cream Company, a New York City-based business that makes and sells frozen sweets. During the seasons of spring and summer of every year, the company sends out ice cream vendor vans on the city streets, giving treats and drinks—at cheap prices—to sufferers of the sun's heat and humidity. The veteran vendors get some satisfaction from bringing a smile on a child's face; Mike Rollins only saw dollar signs and some job experience.
His mother wanted him to work at a hospital as a volunteer, after finishing his sophomore year in college. Mike didn't want to be around the infirm and elderly, let alone not getting paid for it. That got him a bump on his head, courtesy of Mom and her frying pan. Fortunately, Mike found Rainbow's ad, in one of the local newspapers. It called for high school and college students to apply as assistant vendors. A driver's license was required, and no experience was necessary. He got the job on the spot, and Mike looked for van #832 in the company's garage Wednesday morning.
The funny thing was the human resources manager, who interviewed Mike, wished him “a whole shitload of good luck,” and never explained why.
After going through rows of identical vans—they were all painted white with the company's logo and mascot, “Bowie”, a rainbow with a cartoon face and limbs, on both sides—Mike found his assigned vehicle. He looked into the passenger's seat window. Inside, a man was sleeping in the driver's seat. He had jet-black hair. A pair of thick-rimmed glasses, a black golf shirt, fading blue jeans and a pair of black sneakers were the articles he wore. Mike knocked on the glass, and the man woke up from his slumber.
He wasn't happy when he faced Mike, “Who the fuck--Who the fuck are you? Don't you know not to interrupt a man's sleep?!”
“I--I--I'm sorry. You're Frank Cooper, right?”
Frank opened the passenger door, “I'm actually the Pope. This is just a day job.”
Mike got in the van, sat in the passenger seat and extended his right hand, “Mike Rollins. I'm your new partner.”
“This isn't a fancy-pansy tea party, kid. You know the schedule?”
“Yeah. I have the paper in my right pocket.”
Frank sighed. He looked at his watch. It was 9:35 a.m. He put on his seat belt and turned the van's ignition key counter-clockwise. The motor first purred and roared as Mike put on his seat belt. His partner then moved the stick shift from position to drive, looked both ways for traffic. Frank pressed his right foot on the accelerator. Holding the steering wheel with both hands, Frank turned the van to the left and drove it outside the warehouse and onto Queens Boulevard. Mike felt pretty nervous around the man behind the wheel. He wanted to start some conversation, but grouchy was a good adjective to describe Frank. Maybe he should listen to his mother and--
“Are you goin' mute on me, kid?” Frank broke the silence as he stopped at an intersection in Woodside when the light turned red.
“Good. I thought I was stuck with a mute or a dead man.”
“I'm neither.”
“Sure. This is a summer job for you?”
“Yeah. I need some cash for textbooks, clothes and stuff.”
“A college boy. Which college do you go to?”
“Queens College.”
“You wanna be like Jerry Seinfeld or Paul Simon?”
“I haven't decided which major I want to take.”
The traffic light turned green. Frank drove on, “What the fuck? You're tellin' me you're in college, and you don't know what major you're gonna take as a major? Why the hell are you in--”
“Hey, I'm still young.”
“Yeah. So was I, and I got what I wanted out of my life. Life's too short. One friend I knew had no sex with women in his life. A fifty-two-year-old virgin. Can you fuckin' believe that?  His mother fucked up his brain with sex being a sin and all that shit when he was growin' up. His father skipped on the both of them. So guess what?”
“Guy buys a porno tape. Betty Gets Banged In Washington. He gets a heart attack. Died in his underwear,” Frank shook his head, “Life's too short for some fools in this world.”
Mike's eyes widen. Silence came again when they went through the towns of Elmhurst and Rego Park. When they came into Forest Hills, Frank steered the van to the left, going on Jewel Avenue. Then, the van crossed over the Van Wyck Expressway, entering lower Flushing and made a left on Main Street.
Mike popped, “Hey, I thought that we're going to--”
“--the co-ops near your college,” Frank said, “We are. I just have to drop out some books and get some more at the library.”
“Don't be such a Nancy Neat, okay?! We're not doin' any fuckin' rocket science.”

The Kew Gardens Hills branch of the Queens Borough Public Library. Mike tapped his fingers on the reading table where he sat. He hated being sidetracked. He saw his partner going through some bookshelves; Frank had three books in a plastic bag. There weren't a lot of people in the library.
“Are you finished?” Mike whispered, impatient.
Frank showed Mike his left hand's middle finger and resumed his search for more literature. Mike sighed and shook his head. Then, he began to hear someone grumbling. Mike turned around to the library's foyer doors. A plump man, dressed in a gray shirt, denim shorts and leather sandals, walked in. For some past weeks, this man visited the library, going through newspapers and books while murmuring incoherent words to himself. He hasn’t posed any threat to neither the staff nor the patrons, yet he's annoyed those who wanted quiet. The man also annoyed Frank. He followed the man when he came into the rows of library shelves. The ice cream vendor got closer to the man, who was reading a book. Without saying a word, Frank threw a roundhouse right punch to the man's jaw. The blow knocked him to the floor. Frank looked behind him; no one saw him hit the guy. The library's restrooms were nearby. Frank dragged the unconscious man there and left him in the ladies' room. He did his best not to laugh as he reunited with Mike.
“Why don't you get some books, kid?” Frank said.
“I don't want to put my job in jeopardy,” Mike said.
“Fine. Be a boy scout.”
The two men went to the library's checkout desk. Frank got his books processed. At that moment, a woman's scream pierced the silence. Some of the library's employees went to the restroom area.
“What the--?!” Mike said.
“Let's go,” Frank said, “Don't look back.”
Frank didn't let Mike finished his sentence. He ran out of the library. Mike hurried after him, and the two went into the van and sped off.
“What the hell did you do back there?!”
Frank explained the whole story.
“Are you insane?!”
“Shut the fuck up! That guy was a fuckin' loony tune! I did those people back there a favor. You should be appreciative.”
“Appreciative?! You punched a guy, and you want me to be--”
“I don't need your fuckin' criticism. You kids today think you're all bigshots.”
“I don't believe this.”
“Just go in the back of the van, okay?”
Mike did so. Frank stopped the van at a red light on the intersection of Main Street and Jewel Avenue. The items in the van's back were two freezers units, an air conditioning unit, an ice cream fountain machine, a small table with some candy boxes on it and a small stool. Mike sat on the stool. There was also a dark green duffel bag leaning on the floor, against the van's back doors. The light turned green, and Frank made a right on Jewel Avenue. He turned on the vehicle's sound speakers and tape player. A bright jingle escaped from the speakers and went through the air. Frank clicked on a microphone, connected to the speakers' system and spoke into it. Frank drove through the intersection of Kissena Boulevard and Jewel Avenue, “ICE CREAM! GET YOUR MOTHER FUCKIN' ICE CREAM! IF YOU DON'T WANNA SWEAT LIKE A FUCKIN' RETARD OR A FUCKIN' PIG, YOU BETTER COME OUT AND GET SOME ICE CREAM! ICE CREAM! GET YOUR MOTHER FUCKIN' ICE CREAM!”
Mike's lower jaw dropped.

Despite some complaints from some customers (whom Frank told to fuck themselves), Frank and Mike worked hard and good. It was a very humid day, and they decided to linger for a while for some more customers, near the corner of the aforementioned streets. Mike liked being in the back of the van. The air conditioner was on medium. Frank was sitting in the driver's seat, drinking a can of beer. Mike thought it wasn't a good idea. To risk Frank's wrath also wasn't a good idea. He stuck his head out the van's customer window. The warmth of the summer’s air brushed against his face.
Then Mike saw a pretty young lady, walking towards Kissena Boulevard. She was a pretty brunette; her hair was laid upon her shoulders. A white tank-top shirt, blue denim shorts and a pair of sneakers were the clothes she wore. The young woman also carried a bookbag on her back; she must be a summer student at the nearby Queens College, Mike thought, seeing her coming towards the van. The lady's bosom bounced while she walked, and she gave off a friendly smile to Mike, who waved back. She then stopped. A penny was in her path on the sidewalk. It was probably discarded by one of the customers earlier. The co-ed then bent over to pick up it. Mike got a good look at her cute ass. He felt his genitals throbbing.
“Mike,” Frank said.
Mike didn't respond. His mind was on the young woman, who stood up straight, placed the penny in one of her pants' pockets and resumed her journey.
Still no response.
Frank turned to the back of the van, and threw his empty can at the back of Mike's head. Mike yelped, putting his head back into the van and nursing it. He faced Frank, “Why the hell did you do that for?!”
“You were off on cloud 456,” returned Frank, “What the hell are you looking out--” From the corner of his left eye, Frank noticed the young lady walking by, looking through the van's windshield. He turned to get a better look and whistled, “Man, you got some good taste. If you wanna meet her--”
“I don't know if--”
Frank shook his head, “Don't go all chicken shit on me, kid. I bet you haven't got any good pussy in your--”
“Drop it, Frank.”
Frank slowly turned to Mike, “You're a virgin, aren't you?”
“That's none of your business.”
Frank didn't let go, “Of all the guys I’ve been setup with, I got stuck with a virgin,” He then laughed.
“There's nothing wrong with being a virgin.”
“Is there anything wrong with not finding a major in college? I think so.”
“Why don't you--”
“Yo, Frank!”
The two vendors turned to the customer window. They saw outside a young man.  He was in his teens, wearing a New York Yankees cap, a green T-shirt marked with the drawing of a naked girl holding a hotdog, blue jeans and sneakers.
“Hey, Tim,” Frank and Tim exchanged a slapping five, “How the hell are you, man?”
“Fuckin' hot, man,” replied Tim, “Could you give me two Chipwichs, two orange sodas, a bag of M-80s and a bag of reefers.”
“Right. Mike, give him the goodies.”
Mike was shocked, “You're a drug--”
Frank went over to the duffel bag on the floor. He unzipped it, pulled out a 12-gauge shotgun and pointed it at Mike's head, “Do what I say, or you’ll lose what's left of your brains.”
Mike quickly took out two wrapped Chipwichs (a treat made up of two chocolate chip cookies with vanilla ice cream and chocolate chips between them) from one of the freezers and two orange sodas from the freezer. As for Frank, he took out a bag of M-80 firecrackers and a bag of reefers from the duffel bag. The two men then put all of the items in a big, paper grocery bag, which Frank gave to Tim. Tim paid $25.
“You want change?” asked Frank.
“Nah, seeing your buddy get scared is enough for me.”
“Mike's his name, and he's a virgin.”
“A virgin?!” Tim exploded with laughter, “Oh, man!” Then he left, still laughing.
Mike gave Frank an angry look.
Frank grinned, “Check your pants.”
Mike looked down. He felt wet. A wet puddle was present on his crotch.

Mike bought a pair of blue jeans and a bag of three briefs at a discount clothing store on Jamaica Avenue, and he and Frank drove to 87th Ave and 150th Street. When they stopped at the corner, the two men heard the rapid tapping of footsteps against concrete. Mike stuck his head out the customer window. He was met by the requests of a small group of young, screaming children.
“Gimme some Buffalo Jim!”
“Do you Rock Pop!”
“I want a cola!”
“I want strawberry ice cream!”
“Juicy gum. I want Juicy--”
Frank couldn't stand it any longer. He got out of his seat, went to the customer's window, “QUIET!”
The children did so.
“All right, you little bastards! I want a straight line up to this window here, and I want each and every one of you to ask for your candy or ice cream or soda politely and with a please. If not, I'll leave, and you'll get squat!”
An obese woman walked nearby. She heard this ultimatum and didn't approve, “You should be ashamed of yourself! How could you be so cruel to these children? All they want is their ice--”
“Shut up, you! I don't need any criticism!”
“You employer wouldn't like it if I told him about--”
“Tell him shit, since that's what you are! Big shit! If you give a damn, you should drop dead and make an alligator's dream come true, you cow!”
Tears started to roll down her cheeks, and the woman ran from the van crying. The children and Frank laughed. Mike sighed. This was going to be more trouble for him. The kids then followed Frank's instructions and received their goods. When the last kid left the van, Frank asked Mike, “You wanna drive?”
“Really?” Mike was surprised by this sudden change in Frank.
“Sure. Just be easy on her.”
Mike went to the driver's seat, and started the ignition. An angry, subhuman roar then cut the air. It didn't come from the vehicle. Frank stuck his head out again. He saw the same fat lady behind the van. She ran towards him with an aluminum baseball bat. Frank got his head in the van before the woman got a chance to strike him down. She was mad. Frank could have got out his shotgun, yet more trouble was not needed.
“Drive, damnit!” he yelled.
Mike pressed the accelerator. He heard the woman’s yelling and her bat’s bashing of the van’s metal. The van went off towards Hillside Avenue, but the woman was right behind, swinging the bat.
Poking his head out from the van, Frank saw her, “You’re doin’ a good job, Babe Ruth!”
That comment made the woman angrier. She tried to keep up with the van; her heart couldn't take the strain. She then blacked out, letting go of the bat. Head first, the woman fell to the street. People nearby came to her aid. By the time the ambulance arrived, it was too late.

“...have to admit, Mike. That was funny,” noted Frank.
Mike said nothing, driving the van down Springfield Boulevard in Queens Village.
“That fatso got what she deserved. Don't blame me for her being a fuckin' loon.”
More silence. Mike bit his lower lip.
“What do you want from me, huh? Man, I should be drivin’ instead of you 'cause you're bein’ such an ass.”
Still more silence.
“Please tell me you're alive.”
“You're a menace, Frank,” Mike said, “You're a real fucking menace.”
“I'm not Hitler, man. That dumb fatso shouldn't have mess with--”
“All I wanted was a nice, good-paying summer job without any trouble. A good worker is what to be, and you have to be rude and fucking crazy!”
“Big deal! Instead of cryin’ to your mommy and suckin’ on a lollipop, why don't you just grow up?”
“Why don't you?”
“I'm forty-eight, you dipstick. So screw off and respect your elders.”
“Respect?! You damn--”
A young boy jumped in front of the van, running. Mike hit the break. The boy wasn't hurt, but he still ran. He wasn't wearing a shirt. His pursuer: a man dressed in a clown suit. A clown suit stained with fresh blood.
“What the fuck--?!” Frank exclaimed. He then went to the back of the van, opened up the duffel bag and took out a wooden baseball bat. Frank then got out of the van and chased the clown.
“Hey, you!” Frank yelled.
The clown looked behind, seeing Frank holding the bat in a threatening way. He tried to move away from the boy, yet he wasn't quick enough. Frank threw the bat at the clown, knocking him down to the pavement. Then the vendor grabbed the clown by the neck of his jumpsuit and punched him with his right fist.
“I got the clown!” Frank said.

The “clown” was one Dave Stang, 45, single. According to police investigators at the 105th Precinct, Mr. Stang was responsible for the kidnapping, rape and murder of twelve children, ages ranging from four to nine, during the last six months. The bodies of the children were found in the basement of his house where he lived alone. Mr. Stang even admitted to the police that he devoured some of the bodies. For twenty-three years, Stang worked as a post office worker at the Main Office in Jamaica. His father, Wilbur, worked as a part-time clown, entertaining children at parties. The irony of it was that the elder Stang didn't show the same care or understanding towards his sole child. Not only did the younger Mr. Stang guilty for his acts, he also felt embarrassed about the way he was captured.
Three more ice cream stops were completed, and Frank and Mike returned to Rainbow's headquarters. It was still warm outside; the sun settled westward. When they left their van, a co-worker approached them.
“Frank, Greenbaum wants to speak to you and the kid. He's really pissed off.”
“Oh, great,” Frank muttered.

“What in the name of sanity is wrong with you, Frank?!” demanded Sidney Greenbaum, the fourth-generation owner and manager of Rainbow. He was sitting at his desk, facing Frank and Mike who sat across from him, “I tell you to be nice to the customers. The customer is our friend. No one can get through life without friends. But you. You want to cause hell!”
“Shouldn't the customer be nice to me?” Frank pointed out, “I bust my ass getting out of bed and working. I believe in the two-way street system.”
“I don't believe what you are saying!” yelled Greenbaum, pointing at Frank, “You abused the van's speaker system and you let a woman die! A woman who has a husband and three children.”
“They’re really lucky now,” Mike quipped.
Frank smirked.
“Watch your step, boy,” Greenbaum warned, “This is your first day here.”
“You’re right. So lay off, Sid. We didn’t know she was going to drop dead.” Frank noted, “Boy, was she nuts, and we were just protecting ourselves.”
“Some people called up saying that you made fun of her being fat. That's not self-protection!” barked Greenbaum, “You two will be looking for work if you don't straighten up your act! In fact, you’re both--”
The phone on the boss's desk rang. He pressed the speaker button.
“Ms. Simmons, I thought I told you that--”
Greenbaum's secretary, Evelyn Simmons, defended herself, “I'm sorry, sir, but there's a police officer from the 105th Precinct on line four.”
“Thank you,” Greenbaum gave his employees a less-than-pleased look as he picked up the phone receiver up to his left ear and pressed the fourth telephone line button on the phone, “Greenbaum here.” Anger disappeared from the man's face, replaced by shock and depression when the police officer on the other side of the telephone line reported Frank's courageous act. After a polite thank you, the manager of the Rainbow Ice Cream Company hung up the phone.
“You're safe for now, Frank,” he admitted, “but when you screw up next time, I'll--”
“Yeah, yeah,” Frank got up from his chair as did Mike, “Just make me the employee of the month, like I should be every month.”
Frank and Mike left the office. Greenbaum slowly caressed his forehead with seething anger and self-pity.

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