Dorian Hargrove 8:30 p.m., Dec. 12
There were many toy commercials on TV that made me perpetually yearn for the products that were advertised. Some of them my mother bought for me, but most of them she didn’t. When she actually did indulge me, I learned that no matter how much I enjoyed a particular advertised toy, I never had as much fun as the children represented on TV seemed to be having with it.
The Frosty Sno-Cone Machine was a pretty good toy, and a refreshing one, as well. You put ice cubes in Frosty’s top hat and then used a plunger to push down on the cubes while you turned a crank on his back. Soon you were rewarded with about five ounces of fluffy shaved ice that had collected in Frosty’s stomach. You used a small—about the length of a standard wooden spoon—long handled red shovel to scoop the ice from his stomach. Then you put the ice in one of the pointed paper snow cone cups that Frosty was supplied with. Finally you had to choose which of the ten flavors you wanted your snow cone to be. As an active toy consumer I felt that the Frosty Sno-Cone Machine measured up pretty well, but after the pointed paper cups and little plastic containers of flavors ran out I just had a machine that only made unflavored snow cones I had to serve in a brown coffee cup.
My friend Sammy Cole had a Frosty Sno-Cone Machine too, but one day his brother Jim, who was four years older, took a crap in Frosty’s top hat and then used the plunger to push his filth down into Frosty’s ice shaving wheel, thereby thoroughly ruining him forever. Jim often did strange and disturbing things. When I was twelve years old, and my family was living a block from Main Street in Ramona, I was fortunate enough to witness Jim back down from a fistfight with Patrick Flynn, the 16-year-old member of one of the most violent families in town. The Flynns were a family of psychopathic Irish redheads who lived in a big wooden two-story house near the highway. I never saw the parents, but the four boys, who were allowed to roam town at will, were dangerous, and I was afraid of them all, even Robert and he was only ten. When, at the time, my friend Mike had a paper route the Flynn boys used to customarily shoot at him with a BB gun when he rode his bicycle by their house. He always heard their telltale laughter as he desperately pumped the pedals, trying to get himself and the 40 pounds of papers on his handlebars past their house as quickly as possible.
The house the Flynns lived in had broken windows and large holes in the walls—the “exterior” walls. It’s one thing to punch a hole through drywall, but to knock holes through planks of lumber exhibited a genuine fondness for violence, as well as an uncontrollable desire to bask in its aftermath. One Saturday afternoon Sammy and Jim were at my house. Jim and my stepfather, Ross, were talking in the front yard while Sammy and I listened to them, nodding our heads in agreement at the appropriate moments. Patrick Flynn happened to walk by then and Jim said something derogatory to him. Jim probably thought Patrick would look at Ross and just keep walking. He didn’t. He stopped and faced Jim. “Tough talk, Cole,” Patrick said coolly. “Back it up. Let’s go across the street and duke it out.”
Jim had an immediate decision to make: either look like a giant chicken in front of us and decline Patrick’s invitation to fight or step into the deep grave he’d just dug for himself. He really had no choice, and he followed Patrick to the vacant lot across the street. Sammy, Ross, and I trailed behind them. Ross stood nearby with his arms folded across his chest. Patrick didn’t seem bothered by the spectators at all, even though Ross was clearly Jim’s friend and was much bigger than Patrick. I knew if it came down to it, Patrick would not only fight Jim, he’d fight Ross and anyone else who cared to get involved, and I secretly admired him for it. Patrick took off his jacket and then rolled up the sleeves of his flannel shirt as if he were preparing to clean out the garage or mow the lawn. He put up his fists. “Let’s go,” he said to Jim matter-of-factly. Jim didn’t put up his fists. Jim had one excuse after another: he had to be somewhere soon; he didn’t want to hurt Patrick; he had a blister on his toe. After a few more minutes of hemming and hawing, Patrick sneered at Jim, rolled down his sleeves, put back on his jacket, and then walked down the sidewalk in disgust. As we four walked back across the street, I could tell Ross and Sammy were both disappointed in Jim for mouthing off to, and then refusing to fight, Patrick Flynn. A moment later Jim said he had to go home, and as I watched him walk away dejectedly, I felt that being humiliated by Patrick Flynn was a fitting punishment for crapping in Frosty’s top hat.
After Frosty, they came out with the Icebird, another snow cone maker. I can still hear the television jingle in my head:
“Icebird, Icebird, you’re such a nice bird.
Let’s make an Icebird treat.
Scrape in the ice to fill the cup.
Then add the flavor, eat it up.
Yum, yum, yum, yum how about another one?
Icebird you’re a lot of fun.”
You planed Icebird across a small block of ice until the cavity in his back was filled with ice shavings. Icebird looked like a plump robin wearing earmuffs. I never did get an Icebird.
Growing up in Southern California I never saw anybody wearing earmuffs, but many girls at school brought muffs to school to put their hands in on chilly days. The muffs were usually white fur ones, but I occasionally saw sable ones too. I was jealous of the girls’ muffs. I wanted a muff to put my hands in on cold mornings. I didn’t want a white or sable one, though. I wanted a masculine black one. I was certain none of the boys would have laughed at me for carrying around a black muff. “Hi, guys,” I imagined me saying nonchalantly to my friends as I arrived at school with my hands toasty warm in a black fur muff. Maybe I would start a trend and all the boys at Ramona Elementary would start bringing muffs to school. We could then collectively cast off the conventional chains of pedestrian masculinity that society had hoped to forever shackle us in.
Of course, if I ever did come to school with my hands in a muff, black or not, the results would have been far from pleasant. As I entered the playground to seek out companionship, time would all of a sudden seem to stand still as my friends and all the other boys near the monkey bars and the dodge ball court would gape at me in disbelief. Silence would blanket the playground, all eyes upon me. The only sound would be the persistent din of the wind clanging the flag cable and brass clasp against the galvanized steel flagpole. After they had gotten over their initial shock, the boys, functioning as a single unit, would then descend upon me. My friends would not intervene, knowing that what was about to take place was for the better of the herd. Within seconds my lovely black muff would be torn from my hands, thrown in the dirt, and then I, most assuredly, would have been punched in the nose to boot. And none of the school faculty would have done a thing about it either. “Serves him right for bringing a ‘Muff’ to school,” Mrs. Thimblecliff, our school yard-duty monitor, would sniff to Mr. Jordan, our school custodian, after sanctimoniously watching me being assaulted in the schoolyard by my outraged peers who understood and abided by the rigid ethics of the playground and knew it wasn’t right for boys to warm their hands inside of black fur muffs. Later on I would realize they had merely been trying to save me from myself, and, silently, I would thank them.
You rarely see muffs anymore. It’s probably because of the name. Women don’t want to hear things from men like, “Hey, Jenny, nice ‘muff,’” when all they’re trying to do is warm their hands.