Checking Up on the Ice Cream Man

Commentator Jimi Izrael shares his thoughts on an Ohio proposal that would require background checks for all ice cream truck drivers. Izrael is a columnist for the Web site AOL Black Voices.

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ED GORDON, host:

A who's whos' list of childhood heroes may read something like this: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and maybe a generous aunt or grandma. All of these characters are popular with kids in part because they're known to give children treats.

But in the Midwest, there's one childhood icon who may soon be getting a reality check. That's because if one Cleveland lawmaker has his way, the ice cream man may soon have to undergo background checks.

Commentator Jimi Izreal says he has mixed feelings about uncovering the dark side of the Good Humor Man.

Mr. JIMI IZREAL (Columnist for the Web Site AOL Black Voices): One of my fondest memories growing up in East Cleveland, Ohio, is of the ice cream man. His halcyon call would ring out early in the spring, and fade out after all the leaves had fallen from the trees.

Now, I couldn't hear my mother calling me from two doors down, but the bells of the ice cream truck were clearly audible six blocks away. The ice cream man was something of an enigma, but back in the day, this never gave parents any cause for concern. Maybe it should have.

Those were good times, when you could still buy an ice cream bar from a stranger in a van without setting off a terror alert. Well, times have changed. And in Cleveland, Councilman Zack Reed is proposing legislation that background checks be done on all ice cream men. And he's not alone.

Illinois lawmakers want to be the first to have such a law on the books. This, not apropos of nothing, as action newscasts from coast to coast do stories about the kindly old gentleman selling ice cream to your kid who happens to have multiple convictions for lewd behavior, DUI and the like in his past.

As a parent and lover of ice cream, I'm both relieved and conflicted. I mean, part of me can't help but yearn for the world before perverts and drunk drivers, when the idea of some nogoodnik hopping in a truck selling ice cream to kids was just idle paranoia. But I probably know what many of you know - that the ice cream man, he's a nut bag, and there's way to be sure what kind of nut bag. As in most cities he isn't registered or regulated in any way.

He's just some nut in a truck selling ice cream. You hope.

An ice cream man got smoked a few years ago in Cincinnati, and you've got to know that there's no Popsicle in the world that would make somebody start shooting. Well, maybe a mango-orange, but I suspect there was some other stuff going on. And that's no good. So I guess I'm glad we're checking out the ice cream man's background.

Then again, and I hate to say this, you've got to wonder why it took so long for somebody to ask questions about him. Were parents just that careless? Surely they knew the power that a man selling ice cream and candy out of a van must have. Because if the grim reaper could've hopped in a van - skeletal fingers, sickle, creepy hood and all, selling red, white, and blue bomb pops -as long as the jingle was loud enough, every kid in the neighborhood would've crowded around his truck just to get what he was selling.

I miss the days when the streets were safe, the water was clean, and you could take ice cream from strangers. Thinking back, though, those days were probably seated in the imagination of a wide-eyed kid who had never heard of a child molester. The streets have always been a dangerous place, despite the fact that we weren't always so leery.

So now, when my kid wants ice cream, I go to the store and I buy him ice cream. Because I know I can't trust the ice cream man anymore. And sadly, I probably never could.

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GORDON: Jimi Izreal is a columnist for the Web site AOL Black Voices.

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