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The Life and Death of An Ice Cream Man

My dad stopped being an ice cream man “because the mafia wanted his corner.”

This is the way my dad would explain a change in his career.

Or when he decided not to finish his PhD because there were “no jobs for composers”.

Then there was the time I was complaining I had no girlfriend in junior high school but “at least you didn’t have a gun pulled on your in the staircase.”

During one of his career changes I guess he decided to take a break and so he played chess all the time on 41st street. I still play chess on 41st with some of the same people he played with 50 years earlier.

From what I can gather, his wife at the time didn’t like this and things got bad. Eventually he got a job at the post office on 31st street but that job ended when “this software company was looking for chess players to program computers”.

Around then he got divorced, met my mom, started another company, took it public, and the stock price of the company went to zero.

He went broke and lost all his friends and his house. I even lost some friends because their parents had bet on the stock. “Your dad is a genius,” one of the parents had said to me before he lost it all.

My dad got disability payments for being clinically depressed for the rest of his life. He would sit in the house all day and play classical music. When I would visit he would play chess and lose and cry while saying, “what is wrong with me?”

I was always afraid to be like him. But then I got married and divorced just like him.

Then I sold a business and the stock went to zero. Just like him.

Then I lost a house and would lie around depressed and there were no jobs for me and I would wonder what was wrong with me.

When I finally built up another company I thought I had kicked “the dad habit”. FINALLY! I had conquered the parallel situation.

I was like George Bush I when the Gulf War showed those Vietnamese people what a real war was all about.

I was like George Bush II finishing the job his dad couldn’t.

I was ALL of these things. Until I lost it all again.

Then I lost my marriage. My kids. My home again.

I was just like him.

Mothers, sisters, therapists, wives, girlfriends, would all tell me I wasn’t like my dad.

I would sometimes walk by his old offices on 53rd Street and 7th and think he was still there running his company. I think he was the only top executive of his company who didn’t kill himself at the end.

When his company went public he had a huge party at the Plaza Hotel. He hired two bands and for each band he wore a different colored tuxedo.

He bought Cadillacs for all his employees. He built a new building where he would put in a computer that was the size of my house. Then his company and he ran out of money at the same time.

He lost his home and his pride at the same time. He would be crying when he called me.

After I was divorced and broke again I was sure I would be just like him. Only one more step: stroke, then an embarrassing two years of bed sores while being frozen in place, and then death.

When I was a kid I asked him what would happen if he refused to move his ice cream truck. He said the mafia would beat him up.

“It was too violent,” he said, “to be an ice cream man back then.” And he was serious. it was almost like he was whispering it just in case they heard.

One day when I was a kid I went to work in his office. One of his employees asked me to put tacks on a map of the US in every city they had a client. I did that for two hours. Then the employee said, “I’m sorry I made you do that for two hours.”

I told him, “it’s ok. Better me than you.”

I only remember that because later my dad told me that the employee told him I had said that and he was proud of me for saying that. That made me happy.

And one time he made me very unhappy when I was a paper boy and someone had accidentally given me an extra $20 bill and I bragged about that to my dad and he made me get in the car and he drove me over to the guy’s house and had me return the $20 bill. I hated him then. “Always be honest,” he said.

In many ways he was a stupid and overly optimistic man who drank too much and ate too much, always forgot birthdays and Christmas, and ended up dying very unhappy.

But as far as I can tell he never lied about anything. So I guess I hope I end up just like him. Except for all the mafia, guns, divorces, alcoholism, poverty, obesity, strokes, and other bad stuff.


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James Altucher

For some reason, I’ve turned myself inside out and all my guts have spilled onto my blog. One day I’ll run out of stuff but not yet. http://bit.ly/2blmiaG