Jamie, reach in that pocket one more time
One of the biggest joys in a kid's day was when the ice cream man would come around. The sound of his bell, like a mobile church, would ring from blocks away, then come closer, house by house until at last it was in front of ours. It was enough to cause heart attacks in three-year-olds—the happiness and excitement was just too much.
When you heard that sound coming the first thought was to round up some money, fast. There'd be a split second where we would all stop whatever we were doing in the yard and look at each other. Then someone would send out the call, "Ice Cream Man!" and we'd all make a beeline to the house to find Mom. Can we have some ice-cream money? Well I'm not sure, we just went to the store and . . . Hurry mother! A couple of quarters were laid in each hand, then it was back out to the front yard. Damn that screen door that always fumbled in my hand!
Marshall was already at the head of the line, Cathy and I standing behind. On one particular day I turned to watch as a group of neighborhood kids came to the que, jumping over fences and tree stumps. One kid, Jamie, hadn't a stitch of clothing. All of us snickered as he ran into the yard, seemingly oblivious to anything being strange or drafty. The ice cream truck pulled up to a stop, its bell dead mid-ring, and a man leaned out of the window.
All of us made some sort of silent decision that Jamie should have that honor, and so parted the que to allow him to step up. He made no hesitation, just walked right through and up to the van.
"What do you want, kid?" The man held back his own snicker, head swinging from side to side, tanned arm dangling out the window.
Jamie looked at the brightly painted images of ice cream in all its unmelted, food-dyed, stars and exploding rainbows glory and said, "I'd like a Bomb Pop, Jr. Please."
"That'll be a quarter."
This was the moment we had all waited for. It was well known that kids, at least on this particular planet, did not ever possess any actual money. Naked kids had less.
But kids did have good imaginations, and foolish hope. Jamie reached right down into an invisible pocket and pulled out an invisible quarter. Then he handed it to the man.
Would it work? It would change the world if it did. If invisible currency began to be accepted among all vendors of candy or sweets or ice cream, all of our lives would take a happy turn that very day. Children would rule.
The man waved Jamie's hand away in agitation. "Sorry kid, can't do it. Next."
Jamie turned back to us, head down low. My quarter itched in my hand unpleasantly. I didn't need any ice cream, not really. I could give him my quarter and enjoy his happiness instead of my own. But I didn't. I was selfish and kept my quarter and ordered my ice cream. I ate it, but didn't really taste it. And Jamie slumped his way back home, naked; hope deflated by the ice cream man.
But there would be other times, and Jamie would have his day. I'm sure of it, just as sure as I am that somewhere, maybe closer than you think, a bell is ringing. Just open your window for a moment and see if you can hear.