I’m the oldest of six children. When we were all little kids, my mom would make the whole family dinner every night. Trying to teach us to be responsible or something, she would all make us do a chore to help get the meal underway. But since my mom did all the cooking, there was never really a ton of work to do, not enough for one person, certainly not enough work to be divided amongst six hyperactive little kids. But fair is fair, so we all had to pitch in.
Since I’m the oldest, and the biggest, and the smartest, and the loudest, I always got to pick whatever job I wanted to do. I received a lot of privileges as the oldest. If there was only one parent in the car, I always got to ride shotgun, every time. If one of my other brothers or sisters was watching something on TV, I could just push them out of the way and watch whatever I wanted, and if they even thought about making a fuss, if anybody wanted to get loud and start crying or challenging my actions, then mom would have to get involved, and her solution would be to turn the TV off, no TV at all. And since I wasn’t watching TV in the first place, that was always leverage that I’d use to my advantage. What would you rather do, have no TV or watch what I want to watch?
Anyway, come dinnertime, unless I was bored, or unless I felt that one of my siblings had a job that they for some reason really seemed to be enjoying, (in which case, I would steal that job,) I was always in charge of getting cups for soda and filling them with ice. Like I said, the whole setup was way too little work for way too many people. The other jobs were: clearing off the table, getting plates, getting silverware, getting napkins, and assisting whoever was getting napkins.
As always, I never passed up on even the smallest opportunity to make somebody else in my family miserable. And getting cups of ice – while on the surface it might seem to be a duty with the least potential for psychological sibling torture – was the perfect way to exercise total power in the most limiting of circumstances. I have to make it clear that, I couldn’t just one night decide to start messing around with somebody’s ice and expect a decent payoff. If I tried that, there would be crying and screaming and we’d all wind up in trouble. Sometimes that was a consequence that I was willing to accept, like if I was really bored or something. But in this scenario, the payoff of my ice cup manipulation was the result of a gradual buildup of me getting cups of ice, seemingly without any problems, night after night after night.
After a while without any incident, I established my credentials as a decent enough cup preparer, to the point where my mom wouldn’t have any reason to question my motives. That’s when I started tipping the ice scales. I started giving one of my brothers slightly less ice every single night. At first I don’t even think he noticed his lack of ice. So I started asking him, whenever my mom was just out of earshot, “How’s your ice?” And that was it; I wouldn’t say anything else. I would calmly go back to my dinner and not pursue it any further. But I would keep up the same routine, every night, “How’s your ice?” over and over again, each night doling out less and less ice.
After a week or so, my brother caught on to the game and, although probably a little pissed off, would just go up to the freezer and get himself some more ice. So I took it to the next level. Every night at dinner, I would give everyone the correct amount of ice, except for my one brother, who I would only give one cube. And as he sat down to the table, I would repeat, over and over again, “How’s your ice?” smiling a little shit-eating grin at him, until he went to the freezer and got more ice. It got to be a huge joke. All of my other brothers and sisters would laugh and laugh. Eventually my brother would start crying to my mom that I was teasing him, that I was harassing him, so I would stop and play dumb and protest that he was making stuff up to try to get me in trouble. It was usually enough for my mom to issue a blanket, “shut the hell up, all of you,” to everyone, ending the argument right there. As I sat there in silence for the rest of the meal, staring at my brother, smiling at him almost imperceptibly, I knew that I had to ratchet up my scheme to its final phase, because it was only a matter of time before my mom caught on to my torture and banned me from cups.
So I did the one-cube trick the next day, but this time, I took all of the ice out of the freezer and hid it in a bowl that I hid in the opposite corner, surrounded by boxes of frozen vegetables. I got all of the cups ready, and immediately started chanting, “How’s your ice? How’s your ice?” to my brother, who also immediately started screaming and crying and making a run to the freezer. And when he got there, there was no ice at all. There was maybe a second of silence as he looked at the empty ice tray and saw what was going on, and then he really started screaming, and my mom had no choice but to get involved. I protested that we simply must have run out of ice, and that it couldn’t have been my fault. My mom demanded that I give him some of my ice, and I agreed, but I noted out loud that I had already poured myself a drink and that I had introduced a sizeable amount of my own spit to the cup, but that my brother was welcome to as much of my ice as he wanted.
There was much more screaming and much more crying, but somehow my mom managed to quiet us all down to eat. After I finished my drink, I made sure to chew on each ice cube, making really loud chomping sounds, the kind of obnoxious noises that you can only really make by biting down really hard on a cube of ice. Ten minutes after dinner had started, my cup was totally emptied. I got up and walked to the freezer and reached for my hidden supply, and I came back to the table with my cup filled with ice and, knowing this was the culmination of weeks and weeks of build up, I smiled a huge smile and asked, “Hey, sorry, did anybody want any more ice?”