My friend Penny left a comment on Facebook today, in response to a message of "Happy Bastille Day Everyone!" that I scribbled via keyboard on my Wall.
"Wow, someone else who remembers Bastille Day! I'm half French, what's your Irish-self excuse? ;-)"
I have to confess that it is all because of an issue of Mad Magazine and a real-time, usually-drunk Good Humor Man of my childhood that I remember Bastille Day.
When I was a kid, my two older brothers had a subscription to Mad Magazine, that goofy tome that made a point of making fun of absolutely everyone who deserved it, thank goodness, with bylines that consisted of "written and illustrated by The Usual Gang of Idiots."
Still being published today, Mad offers cartoon commentary on current affairs, such as the "Scumbag Billionaire", a full-color poster available for download.
I remember wrestling an issue of Mad away from Fran and Kev one afternoon when I was a young girl. I turned to a page where there was a cartoon of a rather inebriated Old Saint Nick character, stupified by some chemical substance found in his stocking, flying in his sleigh through the streets of a city, screaming "Happy Bastille Day" at shocked bystanders. I thought that was pretty normal, considering the Good Humor Man we had in the neighborhood at the time showed the same type of interesting behavior.
The ice cream man looked just like your vision of Mr. Claus, a tubby chap with rosy cheeks, white hair and snowy beard. But God help you if you actually wanted to buy some ice cream from him.
He would never stop.
Here's how it went:
It was usually a Saturday. Your father had just finished mowing the lawn. You would hear the enticing jangle of bells off in the distance. Good Humor Man! You'd run up to your room to grab that part of your allowance money you had hidden in a safe place, just enough for a Strawberry Shortcake or a Chocolate Eclair, then book it out to the curb to wait your turn to buy some frozen confection. You would see his boxy white truck off in the distance. All the neighborhood kids waiting with you would be as eager to buy a treat.
Soon the Good Humor Man was a block away. And then he was whizzing right past you, a DUI dream, going around the corner in his Good Humor truck at about 50 miles per hour, waving wildly and yelling something incoherent, then zooming away.
That's when my father, and some of the other neighborhood dads, witnessing the horde of their crying ice cream-less children, would run after the Good Humor Man, trying to get him to stop. But Old Santa would already be gone, dashing off to his next hangover.
Happy Bastille Day indeed!
Soon Jolly Old Good Humor was sent off to the Irish Alps to dry out, and we never saw him again. He was replaced by another driver, a skinny joyless fellow who did stop, and when directed by your order, opened a square door on the side of the truck, and reached through the cold steam to find your ice cream. He always held the ice cream back until you handed him your money. If he had to give you change, he pushed down angrily on the buttons of a metal coin changer he wore on his belt.
Perhaps he needed a copy of Mad.
Image of Alfred E. Newman: http://www.dccomics.com/mad/