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Phillip Lopate describes the shape of Manhattan Island as‘a luxury liner, permanently docked, going nowhere’. This feeling of being tethered to the land, unable to get to sea, was a feature of New York life for much of the twentieth century. New York was an island without a coast. The West Side piers that once welcomed the Lusitania spent most of the twentieth century crumbling or behind barbed wire, while the East Side’s coves and points were cut off from pedestrians by six lanes of the Robert Moses-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. It wasn’t much easier to reach the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, either: with a few exceptions, they were largely reserved for municipal or industrial use, and easiest to see from the Staten Island Ferry (en route to the borough with the most beaches). Now, slowly, the city is reclaiming its shoreline, with some spectacular results.

Duwand Works for Good Humor, Inc. by Lashon Daley

OBJECT: Ice Cream Trucks

BODY OF WATER: The Rockaways

 

Duwand wasn’t the most disgruntled employee at Good Humor, Inc.  His position as a Quality Control Inspector at the conveyor belt had its benefits. He was never asked to lift anything like the stock boys who wore back braces, nor was he ever blamed for anything– his supervisor was held responsible for all of his mistakes and those of the other 19 employees just like him.

Duwand’s job description stated 2 things: 1) Verify that Good Humor, Inc. is properly spelled and punctuated on each ice cream sandwich package wrapper and 2) Notify your supervisor when it is not.

From the age of 14, Duwand worked for Good Humor, Inc. at the conveyor belt. Since 1929, when the company opened its New York distribution center, Duwand read and re-read the words Good Humor, Inc. 5,980,003 times. He could spell it backwards in 4 seconds. He created 213 words from the letters and composed several different jingles based on its spelling. My ice cream has a first name, it’s G-o-o-od…

So after forty-three years of uneventful service, it caught all of Good Humor, Inc.’s 147 New York employees by surprise when Duwand drove a fleet of Good Humor, Inc. ice cream trucks off of a pier.

He entitled his operation “They Should’ve Let Me Drive A Truck When I First Asked” and underlined it using a green plastic ruler and an black ink pen in his leather-bound pocket notebook. It took Duwand eighty-six-and-a-half days to plot his revenge. His plan was scheduled to take place on Sunday, July 13, 1975–almost fifteen years after he had received the first of many rejection letters denying him the opportunity to become a Good Humor, Inc. Ice Cream Transportation Engineer.

Good Humor, Inc. Ice Cream Transportation Engineers were the envy of most of the factory workers, especially Duwand. Since 1950, when Jack Carson starred in the featured motion picture, The Good Humor Man, Duwand felt cheated out of the role, stating in his letter to upper management: “It was unbeknownst to me that auditions for this role were happening. I would have made an excellent Good Humor Man.” Ever since then, whenever Duwand would see their freshly pressed white uniforms and police-style hats, he became even more dissatisfied with his ill-fitting factory uniform. “It’s downright unfair and foolish,” he continued in his letter. His oversized hair net and baggy white jacket made him feel so small. He had a nice frame, he thought, and it deserved to be showcased. Plus, the opportunity to drive a brand-new Ford truck (despite it solely being used to sell ice cream) was the icing on the cake. If Duwand had ever had his heart set on anything, this was it.

Duwand knew the rejection letter by heart, but read it all the same when he found it for the last time in his employee mailbox, addressed as always to his home, but never mailed there.

Dear Mr. Duwand Johnson:

As a valued employee of Good Humor, Inc., we recognize how important you are to this company.  Your dedication and hard work are what continue to make us a national success.  As a result, we regret to inform you that we cannot fulfill your employee transfer request.

We strive for continuity and consistency and as a result believe that it is better for our employees to remain in their current positions until otherwise promoted by management.

Sincerely yours,

Mr. Good Humor

Duwand folded the letter and almost placed it neatly back in the embossed envelope as he had with the fourteen that came before it. Then, suddenly, he balled it up and stuffed it in the crotch of his uniform pants. He stood a little taller walking back to his work station.

By day eighty-three of Operation “They Should’ve Let Me Drive A Truck,” Duwand knew the Sunday schedule of every Good Humor, Inc. employee. Sundays were his days off and during his three months of planning, he clandestinely had sat in his hot car outside of the factory’s gate monitoring the entrance and exit times of each employee.

He had noted that there was only one manager on duty, an assistant manager at that, in comparison to the four that were on duty during the weekdays. His Sunday counterpart’s name was Sue-Yang, but everyone called her Sue. She had worked at Good Humor, Inc. for at least five years now, but they had never met. She was strictly a Sunday worker. Duwand especially noted that there were two supply truck drivers who alternated weekly. The chubby one, who Duwand nicknamed Tub, for “tub of cream,” was always late for his deliveries. He sometimes ran up to thirty-nine minutes late to distribute the ingredients Good Humor, Inc. needed to meet their ever-growing demand for ice cream in the Tri-State area. Pick, short for “toothpick,” was always late as well, but never by more than twelve minutes. So, Duwand had picked a Sunday that Tub was working, counting on the distraction he would cause as the factory workers rushed to help him unload the supplies.

The morning of his revenge operation, Duwand went to church as usual. He dressed himself in his best suit and hat and drove 2.3 miles to First Baptist Church of Mary’s Holy Name Christian Fellowship with the Sunday Gospel Radio Show turned up just a notch louder than usual. During service, he worshipped the Lord fervently, feeling giddy like a child running down a hill.  He shouted amen at just the right moments during the sermon about the Resurrection of Christ and left before the after-service prayer had begun. He had work to do.

Duwand parked in the employee parking lot, swiped his employee card to unlock the side entrance and went into autopilot. He dressed himself in the men’s locker room, where he started off every morning at the factory changing from his civilian clothes to a clean uniform picked out of the large bins labeled “pants” and “jackets.” He grabbed one of the hundreds of hair nets from a torn cardboard box to cover his balding head and then placed the required disposable shoe covers over his Sunday best. By the time he walked out of the locker room, Duwand had forgotten it was Sunday.

“What are you doing here,” he called out to Sue Yang. For forty-three years, Duwand had completed the same preliminary tasks to start his day. Seeing someone else in his chair and at his work station was unprecedented. Had he been replaced? Had management finally had enough with his transfer requests and fired him without notice? He was only a few steps away, but with the hum of the machines and the earplugs in her ear, Sue hadn’t heard him until he was standing right next to her. His mouth opened slightly, waiting for an answer. She had no idea who this man was and wasn’t going to take her eyes off the conveyor belt. She had work to do and was only interested in doing just that.

Her look of disinterest set off something inside Duwand. He was twice her age and deserved respect, if not for seniority, then at least for being a senior. Who does she think she is, he thought to himself. This was his workstation and she was violating it.

Duwand felt powerful screaming at the top of his lungs about how he had given up his youth and dreams to work for Good Humor, Inc. How dare they replace him? He was the best Quality Control Inspector they had and he could prove it, which he tried to do by starting to recite the 213 words he created. But he could only remember the first seven.

From the corner of his eye, Duwand could see the assistant manager leaving his office to rush downstairs to see what all of the commotion was about. Out of fear, Duwand got louder.

Unsure of how to continue his rambling, Duwand began quoting the Ten Commandments and started to use large gestures to get his non-point across. He only got to commandment number three before he was wrestled to the ground by two security guards. They dragged him kicking and screaming into the parking lot and out the gate, where the assistant manager was hoping to get an explanation out of him.

Duwand sat on one side of the chain-link fence, sore from the tackle. He could feel the muscle throbbing high on his right thigh and knew that in a few hours there would be a bruise. He took in quite a few shallow breaths before he began  apologizing for his misconduct, while the assistant manager and security guards stood on the other side of the fence. They were unsure of what to do next. Duwand looked manic to them. They knew him as a quiet fellow and figured he was just having a bad day. The factory could do that to you, they told him, trying to give him the benefit of the doubt.

When Duwand finally settled down, they helped him up and took him through the back entrance to the offices where he could relax a little and get some water before he felt good enough to drive home. Plus, the assistant manager wanted to file an incident report for precaution.

The brown polyester couch looked brand-new, but smelled old to Duwand as he plopped himself down. He rested his head against the back and slouched with his legs stretched straight out. He was exhausted and disappointed in himself for ruining his own plan. But before he could wallow any more in shame, the supply truck arrived and just like he had once anticipated, the assistant manager hurried out of the office, leaving Duwand alone.

He sat for a minute before taking the clipboard off of the assistant manager’s desk. He looked at the form and what had been written. He felt compelled to write something profound to mark what he was about to do. He pulled out his leather-bound notebook from his uniform jacket pocket and read a few of his favorite movie quotes. “If you work for a living, why do you kill yourself working,” he recited from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. “Do you want to dance?  Or do you want to DANCE,” he uttered from The Thomas Crown Affair. But in the end, he found them all to be insufficient. Then he thought about some of the social justice chants he had come up with over the years like “Ice Cream, Yes!  Factories, No!” and found them to be insufficient as well. It was then that he realized he had neglected to prepare one of the most important parts of his plan: the note. Whether it was written for a ransom or suicide, or just a short letter passed between friends or lovers, the note was often used to symbolize the beginning of the end. The note was the catalyst that set flame to the conflict and here Duwand was without his match.

He put down the pen and quickly moved to the key box, removing 15 keys–one for each rejection letter he had received. He placed the keys in a small canvas bag and into his work jacket. He rushed to the door to check on how much time he had, then quickly sat back on the couch and picked up the pen.

Dear Duwand Johnson:

As a valued employee of Good Humor, Inc., we recognize how important you are to this company. Your dedication and hard work are what continue to make us a national success. As a result, we are accepting your transfer request and are making you a Good Humor, Inc. Ice Cream Transportation Engineer.

Congratulations on your promotion! Enclosed, you will find 15 truck keys for your use. Have a wonderful time driving them off the pier and be sure to notify us if you need any assistance.

Sincerely yours,

Mr. Good “Dirt Bag” Humor


Lashon received her M.F.A in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2008 and plans to be an author when she grows up.  With a B.A. in English and a background in dance, she hopes to one day combine the two, somehow. Born and raised in Miami, Florida, she moved to New Orleans after graduating with her masters, hoping to get her hands dirty, to write some stories and to do some good. She now lives in California.