Monday, April 9, 2012

Whine Cheese

Chuck E. Cheese--corporate
mascot and anti-Christ finalist
As a gay man, I'm used to seeing things taken from gay culture and going mainstream when deemed cool and nonthreatening enough to do so by straight people.  The phrase "Drama Queen" comes to mind.  Techno music used to be fun to dance to until straight people discovered it and started playing it at basketball games.  Clay Aiken.  But I'm starting to realize it works both ways.  As a parent, I'm pulled relentlessly towards the mainstream on a regular basis.  Sometimes it's cool, sometimes depressing, and sometimes horrifying.  I had such an experience last week, when invited to a parental ritual straight people have been going to for years: a child's birthday party in a pizza encrusted level of Hell known as Chuck E. Cheese.

Sabrina and I attended this event on our own; Gregg stayed home as he was not feeling well.  I found out later it was because he was invited to Chuck E. Cheese.  I'd been to Peter Piper Pizza before, where kids run around eating pizza and playing rigged games with tokens in exchange for tickets redeemable for toys that fall apart on the way home.  Moderately tolerable, I figured this couldn't be much different.  Walking in, the first thought that entered my head was "You're gonna need a bigger boat..."

Hardened pizza crusts littered the floor.  Children of all sizes were running around seemingly unsupervised, spreading multicolored snot from their fingers on every available surface.  A dull hum of ever present noise spiked by random screams and laughter filled the air.  Technically a restaurant, I didn't smell any food.  Just the scents of sweaty children and despair. The atmosphere was a combination of Walmart and a crowded Motor Vehicle Department.  Looking down, my worst fears were realized:  Sabrina was smiling from ear to ear.

In the middle of the "restaurant" was a giant plastic Habitrail suspended from the ceiling and meeting the ground with slides and climbing tubes.  "Daddy Sabrina goes on the slide," she said as she began tugging me toward it. 
"Not yet Sabrina, first we have to find Aaron and tell him Happy Birthday".
Here begins the first minor meltdown.  Telling her she could go on the slide after we saw Aaron fell on deaf ears.  She continued to scream for the slide until she saw the rocket ship ride.
"Rocket!  Rocket!"
I already regretted this and we hadn't even been there for three minutes yet.

We found Aaron's mother, apologized for our screaming fit (although we did blend in with the rest of the action), took our cup of tokens, and headed out into the fray.  Since the rocket ride was the most recent outrage, we headed there first.  Finally, smiles as I buckled her in, I gave a hearty "Here we go!", plunked in the token, and watched as nothing happened.  Great.  OK, I added another.  Blast Off!  Or not.  Still nothing.  I wasn't wasting another one, so I played up the virtues of the slide to keep the protest to a minimum as I unbuckled her.  As we walked to the slide she shot daggers at me while we watched some future astronaut blast off in the now working rocket ride.

Sabrina climbed up into the giant tubes with gusto.  Looking up at the maze hanging from the ceiling, I realized I could soon be squeezing my ass through it as I hunted for a screaming child lost in its recesses.  As I looked through one of the maze's few plastic window panels I saw a little girl on the other side licking it.  Mental note: See if Dr. Allen can be convinced to administer a shot for plague, or at the least, cooties.

After twenty minutes of breathing what I assumed was a mist of germ infested air inside the giant tubes and sliding down the dingy slide, it was time to sit down to eat.  The menu consisted of slabs of "pizza" and fried happy hour food that looked like it was past its sell date but still edible due to being encased in a thick shell of fry batter and oil.  I opted for what they were calling the Salad Bar.  Knowing that many kids won't eat their green vegetables, Chuck E. Cheese's ingenious solution was to serve only yellow and white vegetables, like broccoli and lettuce.  (Yes, you read that correctly.)  There were some rubbery carrot sticks you could tie into pretzel shapes, and a giant bin of crushed hard boiled eggs.  I didn't get any of those as the person in front of me covered some lettuce with heaping ladles of egg, topped off with rivers of thousand island dressing.  Too much for Rachel Ray, but not quite up to Paula Dean standards.  I decided to skip lunch.

Back at the table, Chuck E. Cheese was making his grand entrance.  This is birthday served assembly line style, as Chuck entertains six parties at a time, all crammed into the same area.  He was surrounded by teen aged workers who clearly didn't want to be there.  The only one smiling was the pre-recorded video host, who prattled on about how all children love Mr. Cheese for his cool dancing moves and mostly flea free mouse attire.  Mr. Cheese must have taken a hit of d-CON before he came out because he seemed pretty stiff, offering jerky, uncoordinated twitches they said was "dancing".  The kids ate this stuff up.  My dull headache was spreading behind my eyes.

After a middle aged man dressed in carnival attire who looked remarkably like John Wayne Gacy plopped some more ice cream down in front of us, we pretty much knew it was time to go.  Aaron opened his gifts, the kids all clapped, and Chuck went back to his lair.  Soon after, a teen aged kid with dark circles under his eyes and exhibiting jerky uncoordinated twitches came out.  I dragged Sabrina, now screaming for another rocket ride, out into the sunlight.  "Daddy, can we go see Chuck E. Cheese again?" after she calmed down.

"Maybe another time, sweetie."  Another time indeed.  I'm not sure how another visit with "Chuck E." could be more horrifying.

The original Chucky pales in comparison.


Mike and Tony said...

MY BIGGEST FEAR, however I almost peed myself laughing at your description!!

Kaye said...

OMH - that was awesome. (The description and writing, not your absolutely awful experience.) I'm sure that you've thoroughly disinfected your little cherub, but let me know when your pediatrician perfects the cootie vaccination. I'll happily send the name and address of our doc.

Jimh. said...

Awesome post! I think we will be avoiding any Chuck E. Cheeses we see in the future, too!

Michael said...

Too funny!

mommy3 said...

I've only gone once, which was about 23 years ago when my oldest was 3. Since then, those birthday invites "just get lost somewhere" or suddenly, we go out of town. eek.

mindfulness said...

Hilarious...I hate Chuck E. There is always one little kid at each party who is terrified of Mr. Cheese and is miserable the whole time. Thanks for giving me one teeny tiny reason to be grateful that my kids are preteens and teens now.

Mike and Mike said...

Chuck-e-CHeese has been suggested to us on numerous occasions. A withering glance generally sends said suggestee to beat a hasty retreat out the nearest exit.

I have heard many stories about this horrific right of passage into parenthood. Thus far, we have managed to remain untainted...