Saturday, April 15, 2006

The jihad against Mister Softee

Like many people of my generation, my childhood memories include summer nights punctuated by the sounds of baseball games buzzing from transistor radios, chirping conversation of stoop-sitting neighbors, and the hypnotic lullaby of the Mister Softee truck. As a child, the song -- which sounded like an amped-up version of a music box -- was a herald of a sugary treat. Mister Softee's main competition was the Good Humor company. (A friend who grew up in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, says his territory was staked out by Bungalow Bar, which he described as "a low-rent version of Good Humor." It was driven by a disreputable-looking man who was later found to be selling drugs out of the back of his truck.)

Bungalow Bar drug pushers aside, that was a more innocent time. The Good Humor man is on Prozac, and Mister Softee has become a pariah, at least in New York City, where Mayor Bloomberg cited its trucks and that same treacly tune as one of Gotham's greatest noise polluters.

For over a year, Mister Softee executives -- I envision them as guys in suits and ice cream cone heads -- negotiated with the mayor and city council, at the end of which time they reached a compromise: M. Softee would not be violating the new noise pollution code as long as its trucks were moving.

Well, this is little solace for my brother, who had been kept awake three straight nights by "eardrum-shattering music" auguring the truck's imminent arrival on his block in Astoria.

One night last week, he couldn't take it anymore. The Mister Softee music was loud enough to wake up not only him and his wife, but their two-year-old son. Who then wouldn't go back to sleep.

My brother then quickly dressed and ran downstairs and into the street, where he angrily confronted the driver. "I let him have an earful. Clearly, his perfunctory response of 'Sorry, buddy' did not reflect the true terror I struck in his heart." Despite the apparent ineffectuality of his protest, he promised to "banish this scourge from my neighborhood forever."

What's changed since our childhood? Have we become hearing-sensitive curmudgeons? Or has Mister Softee, jacked up the volume in an attempt to be heard over the iPods and video games that preoccupy this generation of kids?

On the other hand, what can you expect from a bunch of people with ice cream cones for heads?

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