Thursday, August 14, 2008

ice cream & coffee

In addition to saying, I want to drive a choo-choo, I have also in my lifetime uttered the statement, I want to drive an ice-cream truck. I told my girlfriend this (to her absolute horror) shortly after being fired from my first job after college.

Unlike my choo-choo comment, though, I didn't say the latter purely in jest. For a few moments I entertained the possibility of this modest occupation. Its attraction lay in its innocence. My first job after college was tending bar in an Italian gentleman's club with not-so-subtle Mafia connections; the thought of peddling soft-serve to children in the community seemed ethically (not ethnically) cleansing after serving top-shelf liquor to retired criminals.

The idea lost its appeal, though-- not because I suddenly realized how foolish it sounded, nor because its mere suggestion sent my girlfriend running for the hills. Rather, I realized that it would be required, as an ice-cream truck driver, to listen to the same tinny, music-box jingle all workday long, and that this would erode my sanity, in all likelihood turning me into a serial killer over time. At the very least I'd become some weirdo, lingering around schools and luring girls into my basement.

So I've never seriously considered a career driving anything. Also (it must now seem apparent) I've never seriously been career-driven.

Up until recently, what I have been is experience-driven, dropping any sort of commitment whatsoever at the first opportunity to experience something new and different. From my current perspective I can see that I had been wired this way since childhood. As a baby, I've been told that I never had a favorite toy and, if I did, it never remained a favorite for very long. I lost interest in toys altogether at an early age and turned my attention to objects that were specifically not meant to be handled by me. I liked to get into the kitchen cabinets and swing pots and pans around. I liked to stack things, too, out of the pantry, especially things that didn't look like they could be balanced on top of one another.

No doubt my mother is the constant worry-er that she is today because I was the heavyweight champion of destructively over-curious babies. She made the mistake of losing sight of me once while she was making coffee. (I had always been drawn to the brown bubbles that percolated in the transparent nipple at the top of our old coffee pot.) My mother must have had her back turned to me, perhaps answering the phone, the day that I scaled the kitchen cabinet and succeeded in grasping a hold of the pot's electrical cord, pulling it close to get a better look. Though the scar has now faded, you can still see where the coffee scalded my left forearm as a child.

You'd think such a traumatic experience would have inhibited my curiosity, but as I got older, I only gave my mother bigger reasons to worry and collected scarier scars. At the very least, you'd think I'd have been put off coffee, but like most in our hyper-caffeinated country, I'm totally addicted. I have developed a hyper-sensitivity to hot coffee, though-- like that at Starbucks, which is served at a temperature just below that of magma. I can't grip my cup with any degree of comfort without one of those cardboard oven-mitt thingies. Or maybe I'm just being a wuss after being a danger to myself for so long...

...speaking directly to this point is the poet C.G. Hanzlicek, in the following poem from his collection, Calling the Dead, which I am reprinting here totally without his permission...

"To Be A Danger"

Just once I'd like to be a danger
To something in this world,
Be hunted by cops
And forced into hiding in the mountains,
Since if they left me on the streets
I'd turn the country around,
Changing everyone's mind with a word.

But I've lived so long a quiet life,
In a world I've made small,
That even my own mind changes slowly.
I'm a danger only to myself,
Like the daydreaming night watchman
Smoking his cigar
Near the dynamite shed.

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