LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. Jim Hutchinson would prefer it if you set your cell phone on vibrate and kept your handheld device on mute. He doesn’t like car horns, and when he goes to work every morning in Kansas City, he takes the stairs rather than hear the bell tones that signal when an elevator has arrived in the lobby.
Jim is a victim of “PICTS”–Post-Ice Cream Truck Syndrome–an affliction that affects an estimated half million Americans who drove ice cream trucks in their youth, and thus suffered through an endless loop of ten-second melodies designed to attract young children. “I can’t get it out of my head,” he says. ‘Bing-bing-bing, ba-BING bing bing’–over and over again, eight hours a day, six days a week, all summer long.” He turns his face away from this reporter, and it becomes clear after a moment that he is sobbing quietly.
As with other forms of trauma brought on by repeated exposure to irritating stimuli, Post-Ice Cream Truck Syndrome causes its victims to withdraw from society, venturing out only for necessities, and then displaying a hair-trigger sensibility that turns their social interactions into potentially volatile encounters. “I went to the 7-11 to get some milk and bread the other night, and the guy just had to ring me up on the cash register,” says Orel Salkic of Centralia, Illinois. “If I’d had a gun I woulda shot him, as long as it had a silencer.”
There is some hope that counseling and vocational training can prepare former ice cream truck drivers for useful lives as cab dispatchers or professors of philosophy, but most will drift from job to job and into and out of relationships, unable to find satisfaction in either work or love. “These men–and ice cream truck drivers are overwhelmingly male–must find a balance between abject misery and the ordinary unhappiness that the rest of us are satisfied with,” says Yvette Young, the nation’s only occupational psychologist with both first and last names that begin with a “Y”. “Unfortunately, there is no cure for a summer spent fending off snot-nosed kids who want to spoil their dinner when you drive by at three in the afternoon.”
But that’s not good enough for Hutchins, who holds out hope that he will eventually overcome his aversion to ring tones and bells of all kinds. “When I take the Fudge Ripple out of the freezer, it’s just not the same,” he says. “I want to chase the ice cream truck down the street through traffic like the ten-year old imbecile I once was.”
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