Mr. Ding-A-Ling has always been there for me. Not the Ding-A-Ling Chuck Berry sang about (that’s a completely different subject)— I’m talking about Mr. Ding-A-Ling, the ice cream truck guy. No matter what mood I’m in, what’s happening in my life, or how far behind I am on my bills, Mr. Ding-A-Ling always makes things better. Whenever I hear the joyful, hopeful ding-a-lings of that big frozen box on wheels on a hot summer day, two blocks down the street and ding-a-linging my way, it takes me back to simpler, easier, happier times. Mr. Ding-A-Ling has never failed me.
My old, reliable friend rolled through my neighborhood just yesterday, in fact. I was sitting slouched in my office chair, trying to ignore the dull nag in my lower back, staring at the words on my computer screen through heavy, disinterested eyelids, when off in the distance, I heard it—the distinct sound of pre-recorded xylophone playing and replaying simple, bubbly jingles of jubilation meticulously crafted to fill the listener with hope, happiness, sunshine, and trans fat. The sound quality suffered by the nature of its 80s-era cassette-tape presentation, but it was jubilant all the same. And it was getting closer.
I popped up out of my chair and ignored the sharp pain that shot from my spine as I stood up straight for the first time in sixteen days. I ran to the window and ignored the dull aches coming from both knees (and, for some reason, my left pinky toe). I jumped up and down and clapped, and ran around the house looking for my wallet.
I couldn’t find my fucking wallet. It wasn’t on the table by the back door where it usually is. It wasn’t in the pocket of the pants I wore to Home Depot on Saturday. It wasn’t on my desk, it wasn’t in my car, it wasn’t on the coffee table, and as the ice cream truck approached my block, I was beginning to freak the fuck out. Not because somebody might have my license and my credit cards and my COVID vaccination card and could steal my identity and pretend he was vaccinated; I was freaking out because I knew I had exactly three dollars in my wallet and no other cash in the house, and I wanted a goddamn Choco Taco. You can’t get Choco Tacos just anywhere, you know. Taco Bell doesn’t even have them anymore. But Mr. Ding-A-Ling never failed me. He always had them, and I wanted one. But I needed three dollars. The three dollars that were in my wallet.
I was seconds away from throwing an empty soda bottle at a cat (that’s not a metaphor for anything) when I found my wallet under my dirty dinner plate from last night. I should do the dishes more often. Anyway, I found the wallet, grabbed the three dollars, and jumped over the back of the couch (which IS a metaphor – for “tripped over the corner of the couch and almost broke a picture of my grandmother”). I yanked open the door, my dog started barking, I told her she was fine, and I closed the door behind me. And there it was, parked right out in front of my house. A chorus of angels sang. I mean that literally. My neighbor is a choral director for celestial beings. Those fuckers are up at all hours of the night. Do you know what it’s like to have to call the cops on a majestic choir of God’s divine messengers at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday? You don’t want to.
The time it took me to find my damn wallet was equal to or greater than the time it took for every child in the neighborhood to hear and respond to Mr. Ding-A-Ling’s jubilant jingle, so by the time I got outside, there was a line that was no fewer than ten brats deep. I was already getting antsy when a pair of twelve-year-olds on Huffy bikes didn’t think I would notice that they’d cut in front of me.
Oh, I noticed.
“Hey! I was here first!” I said, possibly with too much desperation for a forty-year-old man in the ice cream line.
“You snooze you lose, gramps,” one of them said. The slightly more polite one asked, “How old are you, fifty?”
“Old enough to be your dad I bet,” I shot back. In retrospect, that may not have been the stinging retort I’d intended it to be. But it didn’t matter—nothing was going to ruin Choco Taco day for me.
One by one, the line shrank. I shuffled closer and closer to my favorite window on earth as children young and old (mostly young) got their grubby little hands on their treats of choice and turned away with smiles (and dirt) on their faces and loads in their pants. Their parents waited patiently to the side, some sharing in their children’s glee, some annoyed by how long it was taking, some looking guardedly at the grown man standing in line wearing Ray Bans, a loosely tied bathrobe, and Spongebob slippers. Finally, my turn came.
“Good afternoon, fine sir!” I said with a fair amount of cheese to the teenager in the window with the lip ring and the tattered Black Sabbath t-shirt. “I would like one Choco Taco, please and thank you!”
“Oooh, sorry man,” Lip Ring said (he didn’t actually sound sorry). “No Choco Tacos.”
My face fell. “No way, for real?”
“Yep, sorry, guy. We’ve got ice cream sandwiches, Sundae Cones, Push Pops. Just about everything ‘cept Choco Tacos.”
I yanked my Ray Bans off my face, pointed at Black Sabbath T-Shirt Wearing Punk and said, “Now you listen here.”
He gave me a look. But I continued: “I have been coming to this ice cream truck every week since I was thirty-six and a half years old. I’ve been here when it rained..”
“We don’t come out when it’s raining.”
“…I’ve trudged here through blizzards…”
“We don’t operate in the wintertime.”
“…I’ve come to you at 3 a.m. when you had no other business…
“We’re only open until seven.”
“…and after all of that, you’re trying to tell me that I can’t buy one measly little Choco Taco from you? I’ve got the money right here in my hand, ready to spend, and you can’t come up with one Choco Taco?”
I waved my three dollars in his face. He sneered, batted it away, and said, “Look, dude, I don’t know what you want me to tell you. I’m all out. If you want a Choco Taco, go talk to those kids over there.”
He pointed to the two kids from before. The Huffy Bike kids.
“What?” I was confused.
“Yeah, see if they’ll sell you one of theirs. They got the last two I had.”
I looked at them again. They were sitting at a picnic table, whispering something to each other, looking back at me with mischief in their eyes. Then they started covering the mouths and snickering.
My face began to melt. My bottom lip began to quiver. I turned away and walked back toward my house. I tried not to cry as I looked back over my shoulder and realized, for the first time in my life, that Mr. Ding-A-Ling—as much as I loved him and as much as he’d meant to me for so long—had finally failed me.
And the Huffy Bike Bullies were laughing at me.
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