Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Irwin Shaw's short story, "Strawberry Ice Cream Soda," begins with a scene dedicated to the disgust of a boy depressed about his rural setting. It reads:
"Eddie Barnes looked at the huge Adirondack hills, browning in the strong summer afternoon sun. He listened to his brother Lawrence practice finger exercises on the piano inside the house, onetwothreefourfive, onetwothreefourfive, and longed for New York. He lay on his stomach in the long grass of the front lawn and delicately peeled his sunburned nose. Morosely he regarded a grasshopper, stupid with sun, wavering on a bleached blade of grass in front of his nose. Without interest he put out his hand and captured it.
"'Give honey,' he said listlessly. 'Give honey or I'll kill yuh!...'
"But the grasshopper crouched unmoving, unresponsive, oblivious to Life or Death. Disgusted, Eddie tossed the grasshopper away. It flew uncertainly, wheeled, darted back to its blade of grass, alighted and hung there dreamily, shaking a little in the breeze in front of Eddie's nose. Eddie turned over on his back and looked at the high blue sky.
"The country! Why anybody ever went to the country…What things must be doing in New York now, what rash, beautiful deeds on the steaming, rich streets, what expeditions, what joy, daring sweaty adventure among the trucks, the trolley cars, the baby carriages! What cries, hoarse and humorous, what light laughter outside the red-painted shop where lemon ice was sold at three cents the double scoop, true nourishment for a man at fifteen."
The songs of the Spirit Family Reunion, a band from the New York City that this character thought he longed for, seem to have caught a different kind of yearning. It's one of the glorious country that the boy couldn't see surrounding him. He couldn't appreciate the way that the days and the nights gave him the space to think such thoughts. His dreams about lemon ice, sold at three cents the double scoop, wouldn't have been possible if all he heard was honking and swearing and barking and people on all sides of him - their clanging, their murderous and fidgety clanging, cycling through the air at all hours. Nothing would be so clear to him, there amongst the polluted crush of society.
The people that Spirit Family Reunion give to us are tantalized by the frostiness of a pre-dawn or sunset morning. They're intrigued by the simple knowledge that this could all be gone in a heartbeat. They're interested in the pace and the gait of their troubles. They've been tracking them forever. They're unsure about what heaven could be and admission seems cloudier by the day. The one thing that they seem to be okay with is the understanding that this is all they get and if it's not satisfactory, there will be no one to whine to. They aren't oblivious to Life or Death. They are as sure as anything about them. One just feeds the other, all the while dancing across the dirt and grass, stepping on rocks, staining the feet green and bleeding through the stains every so often.