Pushing Petals

All-Time Lows

In the ‘90s she toured the world with her rock band Zuzu’s Petals. Now she’s trading attitude with the other mothers at Chuck E. Cheese.

Every now and then there are crystallized moments in life, moments when you need to step back and take stock. But when taking stock comes up null and empty, you just have to pile the moments into kind-of-creepy-in-varying-degrees things that happen.

One time before my former band, Zuzu’s Petals, had any business playing outside our hometown of Minneapolis, we played in a hippie bar in Winona, Minn. This was probably in 1989, and we were horrible—but that’s beside the point. Everyone inside the bar was super-wasted, and I recall not enjoying myself too terribly. Maybe it was because a hippie woman in a loose, threadbare flannel shirt got in my grill and sneered, “You’ve got a lot of nerve coming to a river town and not playing ‘Proud Mary.’”

As if anyone in 1989 had any inclination to learn “Proud Mary”—last time I checked, Ike and Tina had it nailed. Besides, Creedence songs were not considered coverable at the time, as they lacked irony, humor, or over-the-top anything (and they were tricky). I most likely launched into “Sex Beat” by the Gun Club, which fit the bill.


* * *

Chuck E. Cheese, located in all Minneapolis metro area outskirts, is a drag and oddly comforting at the same time. I would go early, right when it opened, on weekdays. I went because my son got a kick out of the place, especially the Spider Stomp, which is the preschool warm-up to Dance Dance Revolution; the kids get to squish an automated, light-up spider with their feet. I went because I could usually find another stay-at-home parent to meet me there. Also: unlimited access to the Diet Coke machine.

For the uninitiated, Chuck E. Cheese is this freaky indoor carnival theme park that focuses on its mascot, Chuck E., a grown human in a big furry mouse suit who lopes around the premises patting kids on the back. It’s a bright arcade of games that spit out tickets depending on the child’s success level. The tickets are cashed in at the end of the visit for candy and worthless carny-style plastic booty. It’s a way to assist your kid in becoming addicted to gambling and gaming at a young age, ensuring the future of our economy and the continued swell of a classy, quality population. The house specialties are cotton candy and pizza with heavily sugared sauce—every kid within the CEC confines is hopped out of their minds and sticky. It’s also probably a major germ factory. But when it’s 40 below, you don’t care where you go as long as it’s out of the house and amusing to young children in need of a play space with few obstacles.

It was on one such morning visit that I probably hadn’t showered or groomed—but frankly, in Chuck E. Cheese at 11 a.m., who gives a rip. It’s loud in there with machines talking and whirring and applauding. Automated songs ring out in a symphonic hodgepodge from rows of neighboring machines; fight songs, nursery rhymes, and pop standards played on wobbly canned synthesizers compete for center-stage. Things light up, bells and whistles go off. It would make for a nightmare of a hangover.

It was on one such morning visit that I probably hadn’t showered or groomed—but frankly, in Chuck E. Cheese at 11 a.m., who gives a rip. My son was working himself into a froth trying to catch fake, air-blown bees in a little net, when this very done-up mom approached me with a look of cold scorn and said, “The air hockey machine ate five of our tokens and it still doesn’t work.”

I knew what she meant. The games were always going on the blink. “Yeah, we couldn’t get it to work either.”

She dug in: “I want my tokens back.”

Then it occurred to me: She thought I looked like a Chuck E. Cheese employee—whatever that meant. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t wearing a red apron with Chuck E.’s face on it, but apparently my long history as a diner employee means it doesn’t matter where I go or what I’m doing—I’m marked for life with the aura of “will work for minimum wage and tips as long as I’m allowed attitude deluxe.”

And that’s exactly what I gave her.


* * *

Have you ever watched Caillou on PBS children’s television? If you don’t have kids, there’s no reason to, really. However, if you think you might want to have kids some day, you probably should expose yourself to this style of programming to test your tolerance. (Oh, you say to yourself, My kids won’t watch TV. You’ll change your mind…)

Anyway, on the show Caillou (pronounced “k-eye-oo”) is a Canadian cartoon preschool kid who is super-whiny and his parents are super-together and P.C. They’re drawn warmly and simply with slightly exaggerated roundness. There was a week or two when I found Caillou’s scruffy dad to be incredibly hot. Like I was lusting in my heart over a cartoon TV dad with a butt-hair mustache. It was just that Caillou’s dad was so thoughtful, and kind, and available and understanding. It didn’t matter how frustrating his children became; he remained calm and said all the right things. Things like: “When I was a boy, I didn’t like to share, either. It’s OK to feel that way.” And Caillou’s mom was overweight and clad in smocks, but Caillou’s dad (who never had a name) would just support her, and encourage her to go out and relax while he took care of everything. I have to admit that for a short period, Caillou’s dad dominated my fantasies. This form of creepiness came from the recesses of my own mind and I know that hiding and internalizing such moments is not healthy, so I thought I’d best free myself from the shackles of shame induced by wanting Caillou’s dad.

On the other hand, Arthur’s dad is a complete pussy.


* * *

One night last summer I was sleeping in the guest bed because someone in my household snores. Our cat, though he’s referred to as “your cat,” frequently drops by in the wee hours to crash on my legs.

I was half-awake when I felt said feline jump onto the bed. He’s part Maine Coon, meaning he’s a big, fluffy boy. Instead of walking in circles before collapsing in a heap atop of my ankles, he played the pouncy game—the cat amusement where they leap and attack any movement they track that’s occurring under the covers. But I wasn’t moving.

While touring in a band, residents of the “party house” in every college town across the nation regularly puked inches from my sleeping head. This went on for a while and it was more frantic than I’d experienced in the past and it forced me into full consciousness. Groggy, I sat up to see what the heck was going on. That’s when I saw that he was batting a live mouse across my thighs.

While touring in a band, residents of the “party house” in every college town across the nation regularly puked inches from my sleeping head. As a mother, I’ve endured projectile-everything from every orifice. I’m OK with “gross,” but this live mouse on the blankies ranks right up there with being chased by a psycho with a knife in my Department of Personal Fears.

I hightailed it back to the bedroom, and the snorer swiftly performed the chivalrous act of “doing something” that involved a baseball bat and glove.


* * *

I used to put the Zuzu’s Petals records in the front of the miscellaneous “Z” slot in record stores. Now I’m pretty sure the local booksellers know me—and keep an eye on me. I got busted the other day by a clerk at Barnes and Noble while trying to display my book cover-side-up. I couldn’t think of a thing to say, so I smiled and pretended to look at Courtney Love’s diary. I never made it over to the Biography and Memoir section, where I’ve sworn to sneak it in amongst friends like The Glass Castle and Oh the Glory of It All.

It’s not wrong—Caillou’s dad told me it was OK to have these feelings.

Laurie Lindeen is the author of Petal Pusher, a memoir of her Midwestern childhood in the ’70s and her extended adolescence in the rock band Zuzu’s Petals. She teaches writing and lives in Minnesota with her husband and son. A “well-balanced” Libra, she enjoys ladies’ night out, cover bands, and dark beer. More by Laurie Lindeen