Ruth rode up as her younger brother, Solomon, and I sat on the curb, pulling out clumps of grass and shoving sticks down the sewer grate. As she dug her heels into the pavement to slow her bike’s speed, she spit in the grass next to us and said, “Hey. Meet me uptown around 1:00.”
Sol checked his arm for moisture and said, “Hey dumbass! You almost spit on me!”
Ruth laughed. I poked at a small anthill with a twig, and said, “Why? What’s uptown?”
“Just meet me by The Medallion at 1:00 for lunch. It’s too frickin’ hot to work all day today.”
During that particularly steamy summer, Ruth earned extra cash by working as an official employee of Sammy Man Ice Cream. Her vehicle of choice was a bright white ice cream cart, covered in decals advertising her tempting frozen wares. For about six hours a day, she would peddle around town, the sound of her bells serving as a sweet siren song to grubby children and sweaty construction workers alike.
It was a dream job as far as her brothers and I were concerned, because it gave us access to an unlimited supply of dry ice for experiments, and the occasional complimentary Bomb Pop® or Drumstick® to boot. Well, they weren’t exactly complimentary, but Ruth had a way of getting some of her male customers to pay more so that she always had enough cash to cover our indulgences.
And besides that, she found that it was far more profitable to fill the cart with cans of beer stolen from her older brother, and sell them to the factory workers at the auto plant. They would sometimes pay her $2 for a can of Pabst, depending on how hot it was that day.
Although only ten years old, I learned a great deal about supply and demand that summer.
Sol and I met Ruth at The Medallion, which was a corner diner that my family and I would sometimes go to on Friday nights. Ruth told us that she’d had an exceptionally good day at the factory, so she was going to treat us all to lunch. Eating lunch at a sit-down restaurant? Just us kids? This was the greatest of all treats. There was nothing quite as liberating as being able to walk into the grownup world, without parents, and be treated as an equal. But that’s what money does.
The three of us sauntered into the restaurant, smiled at the waitress, and asked if we could have the booth by the window. Nothing makes a dining experience more enjoyable than stretching out in your own private booth. I mean, if I wanted to sit at a regular old table, I might as well eat at home.
The busboy brought us all glasses of ice water, which we greedily gulped down, barely taking a breath. Our waitress asked if we were ready to order, and I waited to follow Ruth’s lead. Ruth scanned the menu quickly, and said, “Yeah – let me have a cheeseburger, some fries, and a Coke. Oh yeah, and a chocolate malt.”
Sol and I looked at each other, smiled, and told the waitress we would have the same thing. If we were getting a free lunch, we might as well make it a good one.
We gorged ourselves on huge diner cheeseburgers, and laughed as we shared stories. Ruth slurped on her malt and, with a mouthful of fries, said, “Some chick tried to rob me today. But I flew past her ass. She tried chasing me, but couldn’t keep up. I bet she thought I couldn’t go fast in that cart. Heh.”
Solomon let out a loud laugh and said, “Yeah, with those giraffe legs of yours, you should be able to peddle fast.”
Ruth tossed a fry at his head, and said, “You should talk, with your skinny scrawny bony-ass sissy girl body.”
That quickly shut Sol up, because he was very sensitive about his weight, or lack thereof. He was thirteen, and although he was taller than most boys in his class, he weighed less than a lot of the girls on the gymnastics team. Every now and then he tried drinking some of his brother’s protein powder shakes to pack on some pounds, but to no avail. It was a constant source of teasing in his household.
As we picked at the last of our fries and chomped on the remaining pieces of ice in our Cokes, the waitress came by with the bill. It lay conspicuously on the table for a while, wedged between my plate and Ruth’s. After about ten minutes, I noticed Ruth fidgeting, and looking around. I held my breath as I saw a frighteningly familiar grin draw across Ruth’s face.
She wiped her lips, threw her crumpled napkin on the table, and laughed as she said, “I’m not paying for this.”
Filed under: Foster Files on April 6th, 2005