Category Archives: Gatherings

Mayhem at Chuck E. Cheese

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.

Several years ago Dale Connelly rejected a story I offered him about a school outing to a Chuck E. Cheese mall store. Perhaps recent tweaks to that story will make it usable now.

When Molly’s fourth grade class asked me to volunteer as a chaperon for this field trip, I agreed. As a freelance journalist working from my home, I had extra time. And, heck, I enjoy ice cream as much as any kid. This outing could be interesting.

I didn’t expect to like the venue, and did not. Chuck E. Cheese is a chain of family event centers catering to kids. Loud, garish and built to be “fun,” these places are not subtle. The one my daughter’s class visited in Rosedale featured an animatronic band of figures that pretended to play instruments. Chuck E. Cheese was an oversized rat blowing a flute, backed by a gorilla on drums and a bear flailing at a banjo. The music, while dreadful, promoted a frenetic atmosphere where kids could be themselves with no limits. The business area itself was divided between a stage, some dining tables and a large room in which kids could play arcade games like the then-popular Ms. Pac-Man.

I began noticing one kid in particular, a red haired boy who dominated the room. He was over a head taller than the others and was easily the loudest and most aggressive kid in the room. Jealousy triggered him. He didn’t enjoy whatever game he dominated but was sparked by envy when he saw another kid having fun with a different machine. I tried to tune him out, and yet this kid was was getting on my nerves.

Then it was time to go back home. We queued up to get back on the bus that would return us to school. The red haired bully was pushing to be first on the bus, but then spotted a little girl doing a last bit of play with Ms. Pac-Man. That tripped his trigger. He screamed and rushed the machine. By coincidence, his path to that machine would take him right by me.

I am not decisive, athletic or aggressive, and yet in that split second I became all three. As the bully swept past me, I shot my left ankle out to hook his left ankle. With a full head of speed already in hand, the bully launched into the air with arms outstretched in the famous flying Superman pose. He flew and flew. Then, lacking a functional cape, he crashed on the waxy tile floor and slid on for some more distance, arms still outstretched.

His face contorted with rage, the kid pointed at me and roared, “He TRIPPED me!” Of course, I was by then bent at the waist, deep in fatherly conversation with my daughter. Only two people in the room knew what had just happened, and only one of them had credibility.

The return trip to school would have presented few problems for the bully. He lived in chaos and strife, so he probably smoldered with a sense of injustice that quickly burned out. That was his life.

Things were more complicated for the man who had just assaulted a kid he didn’t know. That man had never thrown a punch in anger and had, in fact, never raised his voice in a dispute. A sweet, people-pleasing man, he was suddenly haunted by visions of The Lord of the Flies. Who in hell was that man who suddenly tripped a kid he had just met? Would he ever suddenly come again?

Have you ever been shocked by the sudden appearance of emotions you didn’t know you held? Have you ever thought about what it would take to make you take a public stand? Have you ever suspected that the veneer of civilization that protects us most of the time is actually quite thin? How have you dealt with bullies?

Just Here for the Food?

I’ve heard a lot of people say “I don’t go to the fair for the food.”   I’ve said it myself and I’ve always wondered if people believed me, if I believed myself.  Yesterday I found out.

When the State Fair announced they would have a mini-fair open for Memorial Day weekend, I was online in a flash.  You had to enter a lottery to be able to get a time slot during which you could buy tickets.  Luckily I did OK and we got out first choice.  There were two time periods each day, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then 4-9 p.m.  You could arrive any time during your time slot but you had to leave at the end. 

It was more crowded than I had anticipated although nothing compared to a regular fair day in August.  There were folks with masks but mostly not; it was easy enough to do social distancing if you needed to, except in the cookie line.  The open part of the fair was about four square blocks and included the giant slide, the DNR stage, the grandstand (although just a seating area and a bingo area).  A handful of vendors, a few musical groups and food.  LOTS and LOTS of food. 

If I had been on my own, I would have stopped and listened to music as I walked around but YA’s musical sensibilities don’t line up with mine.  So we walked around for a couple of hours, bought a couple of t-shirts.  We got some Greek food and some cheese curds.  YA got some toffee peanuts.  We sat for a bit and decided that we’d had probably enjoyed it as much as we were going to – we headed home.

There were a lot of people who were clearly going to hang out the whole of their time slot and the lines in a few place were unbelievable (Pronto Pup had two lines going in opposite directions, at least a block long each way).  But even sharing, neither YA nor I can simply plow our way through massive amounts of food.

So I guess it IS true for me.  I don’t go to the fair for the food.

You doing anything out of the ordinary for Memorial Day?

Play Date for VS

When I was little we didn’t have “play dates”.  Nothing was ever organized; at some point most days my mother just said “go play outside”.  It seems like every mother and father said the same thing to their kids because there always seems to be kids out and about.  We banded together to play all sorts of games and wander all over.

These days if you want to have fun with the kids in your neighborhood, you have to set up a play date.  Last weekend we had a few folks over to celebrate YA’s graduation from her MBA program.  She wanted the festivities but was extremely opinionated about what she would allow.  For example, no theme plates/napkins/cups, etc.  Luckily I had already ordered the graduation cupcake liners and decorative picks.  She also didn’t want a whole lot of décor but did agree that I could put a chalk message on the sidewalk.

Nobody love using chalk more than the little girls who live next door so I asked their mother if they could come over on Saturday morning to help decorate.  She said “what time” and when I said that around 10 would be good, she put it in her phone.  I had a playdate!

We ended up with parents helping and another little girl from up the street came down to join us as well.  It was my first “gathering” in over a year and even though it was just chalk on the sidewalk, I had a fabulous time.  I’m thinking I should set up more playdates now!

What would you like included in your next play date?

Gardens Galore!

(Sorry picture is fuzzy – I don’t have the original….)

In the past ten days our yard has gone from the scourge of the neighborhood to the envy of everyone.  I don’t chop too much down in the fall on the theory that the old stalks and leaves hold onto water and protect the spring buds.  (I don’t know if this is actually true, but I cling to it… especially since I have trouble getting motivated for autumn gardening.)  YA and I have gotten everything cleaned up, spread about a ton of mulch (well, it feels that way, anyway) and turned our eyesore into a lovely garden.  The fact that the daffodils and tulips are in bloom on the boulevard doesn’t hurt!

As we’ve been working, I been looking at some of the plants that I’ve been lucky to receive from baboons on the trail.  Lovely hostas in the backyard from PJ, raspberry canes from Linda, a massive hosta display on the front boulevard from our tim and, of course, my lovely Prairie Smoke from LJB.  It’s made me think that although our baboon troop was initially brought together by music, we’ve also bonded over gardening.  Helping out PJ with her garden after the accident, the great chainsaw gathering at Steve’s, filling in Anna’s spot with various plants, Ben bringing us bales and poo, Jim providing seeds and loads of gardening talk over the years. 

As always, I’m grateful for all the fabulous friendship over music, books and gardening!

Any gardening projects in store for you? 

Family Favorites

We had a lovely visit on Monday from my cousin, Wes. He lives in Columbus, OH, and is a retired librarian at Ohio State. He was a librarian at Macalester for several years, and then moved to to the big time in Ohio. ( I always think of him when Wesew comments on the blog).

Wes was on a return trip from Seattle and stopped by before heading to Minnesota to see other family there. We had a great time reminiscing and telling stories. We share similar political and social beliefs. I hadn’t seen him for six years. Growing up as an only child, my cousins were like my brothers. I spent a lot of time with them. I had very few female cousins and I wasn’t very close to them. I think perhaps that is why I have always been more comfortable around men than I am around women.

We have had very few visits from any family except my parents since we moved here 33 years ago. This visit was a real treat. I wish that more of our immediate and extended family had the sense that a visit to other family is more important than the appeal of the area in which they live. I suppose that our family could just consider us real pills, and that is why they don’t visit, but I they seem to like it when we visit them, so I don’t think we are that putting off.

What family visits have you dreaded or enjoyed over the years? Who are your favorite cousins? Who are your favorite relatives? 

Birthday Bash

Our 5 year old gardening buddy has a birthday next week, and asked his parents for a Gunsmoke themed party. He likes dressing up like a cowboy, and I assume his parents let him watch Gunsmoke reruns. His parents agreed, and his dad found a bunch of wooden pallets he is transforming into a boardwalk. There is a large sign the says Long Branch Saloon. I can hardly wait to see if anyone dresses up like Miss Kitty.

Our daughter also has a birthday in a couple of weeks. She always has anxiety over birthdays, I think stemming from anticipation over childhood parties. We never went so far as to recreate a film set, but she had some nice parties. She stated she has a number of birthday events scheduled by friends in the next two weeks. She is celebrating personally by having a different kind of hot dog a day for her birthday week. We never knew she even liked hot dogs.

My childhood parties were pretty tame, but I will never forget my heartbreak on my 8th birthday when my parents told me that we were moving to a new house in a different part of town, meaning I wouldn’t be next door to my best friend anymore.

What are some of your more memorable birthday parties? What events or celebrations do you dread? What would you wear to a Gunsmoke themed party? Plan your next birthday bash.

Scandal-No Place to Hide

We live in a predominantly Roman Catholic community. We are a town of only 23,000 people, yet we have four Catholic churches, two Catholic elementary schools, a Catholic Middle School, and a Catholic High School.

You can imagine the gasps when, last week, the Catholic School Board announced that Father H, the principal of the Middle School and High School had been permanently relieved of his duties, along with an unmarried, female Elementary Principal and athletic director. They had apparently been consuming alcohol in a school vehicle on their way to a basketball tournament in Minot in March, and then tried to hide what they had done. There is also much scuttlebutt about other misbehavior, but that didn’t make the newspaper. Oh, the scandal!

This is no place to misbehave, because everyone knows everybody else, people notice things, and there really is nowhere to hide. The two Principals should just have worn shirts that said “Shoot me now” instead of trying to be sneaky. Moreover, if you get drunk and disorderly in Minot, 230 miles away, even that news will make it back here. This is a small State despite the vast distances between towns.

What are some scandals you remember from your home town or where you live now? 

What to Read

My “other” book club got started 32 years ago.  With a few exceptions we’ve met every month for all those years.  We choose the books 6-8 months at a time and it has to be consensus and our preference is for books that none of us has read before although occasionally someone will say “I’ve read it but I’d love to read it again and talk about with you all.”

Deciding on the books can be stressful at times.  Two of us are voracious readers, one reads a lot of newer items, two of us read a wide range of genres, one pretty much prefers fiction.  For many years we used to all purchase the book in question but starting several years ago most of us moved to library books instead (money for some, space for others).  This means that the book has to be readily available in our various library systems.

Then there are the other issues that have cropped up over the years.  One of us is sick of “sisterhood” books (Snow Flower & the Secret Fan), one of us is tired of books about China, one of us feels overloaded by WWII titles, one of us doesn’t care for “old-fashioned” language which leaves out a lot of classics.  Three years ago, two of our members battled breast cancer, so books about the big C are still out of contention.  And I suppose it might go without saying that the last year everybody wants lighter fare. 

It’s gotten to be a research project these days to try to find good titles.  One of us doesn’t like to suggest titles; she takes it pretty personally if we end up not liking a book she has recommended.  (This isn’t a problem for me – the three worst books that we’ve ever read (and we agree on these) were all my picks!)  This increases the stress a bit on the rest of us. Hopefully if I start now I can find a few good ideas by next week when we have to come up with the next six months of reads.

Any suggestions for me?

Pi Day – Not!

NO I DIDN’T HAVE A PARTY WITHOUT YOU GUYS!!  PHOTO IS FROM TWO YEARS AGO – SENT TO ME BY A FRIEND.

One year ago on the day before Pi Day, I read an online column in which I saw the “flatten the curve” phrase for the first time. Even though only one person had told me that they were going to skip the Pi Day party due to covid-19.  But after reading that column, I realized that I needed to get onboard immediately and I started calling and texting people, letting them know I was cancelling.

Like everyone else, I was thinking that we’d have a couple of bad months and then get back on track, so I kept all my Pi Day organizational materials: the list of ingredients that I had bought (and hopefully wlll need to buy again), my timing spreadsheet with what time various pies have to go in the oven and what temperature they need (sorted by temperature, of course) and the little placecards with all the pie names.  All these items are in the drawer in the living room and I see them occasionally and sigh.  And now it’s been a second Pi Day with no festivities in the house. 

Not entertaining has been a huge hit for me during pandemic.  I entertain a lot and I miss it a lot.  You all know that I try to keep my expectations low, so I’m hoping that I’ll eventually be able to have Pi Day fun at my place, but I’m not making plans.  And that’s made me think about other changes that I’ve made that may or may not be permanent. 

I am spending WAY more time texting and emailing than I used to.  I’m spending way too much time farting around on my phone.  I’m doing my Italian lesson (also on my phone) every day – I’m on a 310 day streak and I doubled my lesson time about 4 months back.  For the first time in decades I am hitting the gym more than 12 times a month (masked, sanitized and socially distant).  Pre-pandemic I used to follow several blogs, a couple of chefs, several science sites, husky dogs; I’ve quit following all of them and only occasionally check them out – usually if they pop up in my feed.  Last summer I sent thank you cards to people with great gardens that I encountered while walking the dog.  I’ve started sending birthday cards to people on a Facebook group of stampers – complete strangers and I increased the cards that I made for charity.  Way more gardening and more jigsaw puzzles.

I don’t which of these habits will continue if and when we get past pandemic.  I hope to keep all the good changes (reaching out)  and jettison the bad ones (phone games) and I hope like heck that I eventually get to celebrate Pi Day with my friends and loved ones.  Maybe Pi and a Half Day? 

How has pandemic changed you?  Do you think some of your changes will continue?

Poetry and Music

This has been a week of loss for us, with the deaths of Peter Ostroushko and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  A musician and a poet gone.

I think this is a good weekend to think about and celebrate our favorite folk musicians and poets.  I had never in my life experienced folk music until 1981 when I first attended the Winnipeg Folk Festival. It was an absolutely magical experience,  and I was immediate  hooked. I attended every Winnipeg festival  every year I lived there, and many  after we left. When we moved back to the States in 1986, I finally had radio access to PHC, and not long after that I found the Morning Show. The rest is history.

Poetry appreciation has always been a stretch for me, but I have come to understand and love it with the gentle assistance of the Baboons. Thank you, all.

What are your favorite poems? What are your favorite folk groups,  festivals, and songs? What do you think is important for us to hear and read right now?