Life Lessons Learned at Chicago Joe’s

Hi, there. Charlie here.  I wanted to talk about my neurological development, AKA how I learned to manipulate my parents. Let me tell you a story.

A few weeks ago, Ava and I went out for lunch with Mom and Dad. Chicago Joe’s, on Irving Park. It looked good, but I just had a pouch and a bottle.  It was the middle of my gluten-free phase. Anyway, on the way over, we’re talking in the back, which we do quite a bit during drives. Mom will ask Ava what I’m doing, because I always futz with the mirror so she can’t see me. Who needs all that pressure? I’m onstage enough as it is. So Ava always says, “Cha Cha’s sleeping.” Even if I’m not. One thing you can say about my sister, she’s no rat. So anyway, she asks me if I want to make 40 bucks. Forty bucks, are you kidding me!  Who doesn’t? I mean, I didn’t know what 40 bucks was, to be honest. I still don’t, but it sounds pretty sweet, if you ask me.  Which, per the story, she did.  So I say yes, and she says she’ll find a way to get me the dough (so 40 bucks is some kind of starchy food, I gather) if I can get our parents to pick up my sippy cup from the ground 40 times. So I’m like,  How do I do that? and she’s all, Dude. Just watch and learn.  So we get to the restaurant, I’m in a high chair, she’s in a booster seat. So they give her a sippy cup, per the protocol. So she gives me this look — not quite a wink, maybe an eyebrow raise — and she drops it on the ground. No rhyme or reason, just….whoops. But she doesn’t even look like she made a mistake.  Not an ounce of guilt on her face.  (This “no guilt” business is intriguing to me. I’ll have to ask her about it later.)  I would have been horrified, but she’s all, whatevs.  She just goes back to asking for more bread, innocent as a butterfly.  I remember thinking, The cajones on this girl!

So anyway, I watch in fascination as my mom goes under the table to pick up the sippy cup or whatever. She doesn’t get mad, she just does it, like it’s her freaking job. Ava and I just look at each other — I’m still sweating like Abe Vigoda in June, but she’s like, Bam. That’s how you do it. I nod: still skeptical, very intrigued, and literally peeing myself.

So I grab my blue sippy cup, all innocent and whatnot, and pretend to take a sip. Dad’s watching, so I pretend to miss my mouth, like I don’t know where it is.  He smiles paternally (which, I guess, is how you’d expect your father would smile). I hold out the cup with my left hand, my face implacable, my eyebrow arched nonsensically like Charlie Sheen offering life advice to Johnny Manziel.  Inside, I’m completely shpilkes.  Then I wait for Dad to look away, but instead he leans in and starts raspberrying me in my face and neck.  I giggle, and put the plan on hold. I mean, it is ticklish. But then, when he finally looks away, Bam, I let it go. And down Dad goes to pick it up. He puts it back on my tray, and I grab it again. He is none the wiser. Okay, I think. But how is this going to work 40 times? At some point, they’re going to figure it out and give me a wedgie, or make me watch a Julia Roberts movie or something equally horrific. So I look at Ava, and she gives me this look, like, Again.  I’m like, No way, dude. They’ll figure it out.  But she’s just staring a hole through me, and she mouths the words,  Do. It. Again.  But I freeze. So when my parents are distracted — my Dad’s making some awful joke to the waitress, Mom’s got the eye-roll in hyperdrive — a familiar dynamic — Ava leans over and says through gritted teeth, You want the 40 bucks or not, bitch?  I think maybe I made up that last word, but it sure felt that way.  I mean, to Mom and Dad I’m sure she looked like Lisa from The Simpsons, but to me she was Orange is The New Black like nobody’s business.  And not the blond, either. So anyway, I whisper back to her, One, I seriously doubt you could get your hands on 40 bucks. And two, I don’t even know what that is.  Then she’s like, What is “one” and “two”?  And I was like, Dude, I have no idea.  Then, just as Mom starts looking back in our direction, Ava tells me, Cheese it.  And returns to her business.

So I say fine. I mean, what could they really do to me? Sell me to a Republican? They wouldn’t do that. I think. So anyway, short story long, I do it again. My heart’s in my throat! I mean, here I am, flaunting every social norm there is (at least that I knew about), acting like I had “accidentally” dropped the cup, when it’s plain for everyone to see that it had been securely in my viselike grip. I hold my breath and waited for the backlash. And wait. And wait.  I’m still sweating like Abe Vigoda at the beach, but I somehow manage to keep it together. Next thing I know, there’s Dad, putting the cup back on my tray, like nothing had happened. I exhale, and he smiles and puts his hand through my hair, like, Attaboy! How ’bout a Fresca!, like I’m going to understand a Caddyshack reference.  Or worse, like he’s actually going to get me a Fresca, at my age.  Either way, I’m totally freaked out at this point.

So I look at my sister again, and she looks back, like, Yup. I couldn’t believe it! So I did it again. And again. I mean, it was so rude, making my parents pick this thing up literally the whole meal. But they loved it! It was the first time I realized: They don’t hold me accountable for anything. I could rob a bank. I could wear white after Memorial Day. I could be nominated for president by a major party just by acting like a jackass. Later on, in the car, Ava and I are talking about it, and she brings home the point to me. She says, Dude, they manually remove the feces from your butt, just because.  I think that was when I really got it. These people work for me. And all I have to do is be cute and give them that big ol’ toothless grin once in awhile, and the good times will just keep on coming, presumably throughout my life.  I’ll just live at home and they can clean my butt and pick up my sippy cup.  Life is some sweet action.


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