Chuck E. Cheese’s.
That is all you have to say to hear a collective, audible grunt from every parent within earshot. It may very well be the place “where a kid can be a kid,” but it is most certainly the place where a parent can get a preview of one of the circles of Hell. Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. But a place where your money gets you a mediocre pizza, a temporary tattoo and fun size Airhead candy for a mere 100 tickets, and a lingering sticky film over your entire body is not what I envision Heaven to be. Maybe Purgatory.
But I can deal with all of that. And I understand that in the eyes of my children, Chuck E. Cheese’s is the ultimate restaurant. After all, as a kid I felt the same way about its predecessor, Showbiz Pizza. So when faced with having to take my own kids to this pizza funland for a birthday party or fundraiser night (because those are pretty much the only circumstances under which we set foot in there), my audible grunt is not rooted in my disdain for the place. My distaste for Chuck E. Cheese’s comes from the mouse himself.
Yes, Chuck E. has scarred me for life. Let me take you back in time to the day it all happened…
The year was 1993. I was a sophomore in high school. For some reason completely incomprehensible to me now, but which clearly made sense to the idiot teenage brain, I went to Chuck E. Cheese’s with a few friends. Maybe we really wanted a neon pillow shaped liked an alien head and figured the best way to get one was to earn tickets playing Whack-A-Mole for an entire afternoon. Anyway, I remember it clearly. I was in the middle of one of my personal best rounds of skee ball when I felt a large, cartoonish presence next to me. There stood Chuck E., mimicking my skee ball maneuvers. Ha ha. Funny Chuck E. Now move along and go high-five some six-year-old. But he did not move on. He stood there for a little while, looking at me. I tried to ignore him and continued playing until he left. To my dismay, he did not stay away for long. He followed me, silently, creepily, from one game to the next. Don’t you have to go perform “Disco Chuck” or “Rockin’ Robin” with your band right about now? It was incredibly disturbing.
Finally, it must have been Chuck E.’s break time, because he scampered away behind a door, and I started breathing easy again. That is, until I turned around and found myself standing face to face with a Chuck E. Cheese employee – a human one this time. I thought maybe he was coming over to apologize for Chuck E.’s annoying behavior and to treat me to five free tokens for my inconvenience. I was mistaken. Here is how the conversation went down:
Employee: “Chuck E. wanted me to come out here and tell you that he thinks you’re cute.”
Me: <crickets chirping>
Employee: He’s a really nice guy. He wanted to know what you thought of his tail.
Me: <crickets chirping>
Employee: So when he comes back, you wanna hang out?
Me: I don’t date mice.That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. I WAS HIT ON BY CHUCK E. CHEESE. Of all the celebrities whose eye I could have caught, that was my one shining moment. Pathetic. Disgusting. And down right Creepy with a capital C.
And THAT is why I hate Chuck E. Cheese’s. Since that very unfortunate day, I shudder a little whenever I hear Chuck E.’s nasaly voice on a commercial. When we are at the restaurant, I get weirded out and have the urge to hide whenever Chuck E. starts walking the floor. But I grin and bear it, all so my kids can have their fun.
And that is exactly what I did this past Thursday when Michael’s preschool had their fundraising night at Chuck E. Cheese’s. I bought my pizza and tokens like a dutiful mother. I helped Grace score extra points on the basketball game so she could earn more tickets toward junk I don’t want in my house. And I even alerted Michael when I saw Chuck E. sauntering among the customers (no doubt scanning the crowd for some unsuspecting female on whom he could work his “playa” moves). Michael loves Chuck E. Cheese, and when he saw the mouse, he ran up and gave him a hug. As I watched, a bit horrified, I had the thought, “Oh Michael. You have no idea. Chuck E. Cheese could have been your father.”
Then I threw up a little in my mouth.
(The Chuck E. Saga continued a few years later. For the next chapter, click here.)