The Chuck E. Cheese Effect

When I was a kid, Chuck E. Cheese had a full arsenal of animatronic terrors — five or six at least, their globe-eyes blinking with their paintbrush lashes. Chuck E. Cheese also had the groundhog game, the one where you whacked the iron heads of fury until your arms unscrewed. There was also the ball pit filled with microbes that did the necessary work of immunizing you against Ebola and hoof rot. There was the Bozo the Clown ping-pong toss game, and in those days Bozo was scary but nobody admitted it, and that was society, and we lived with it, and were content. In those days, the ski balls were hewn from granite. The tickets were red. The pizza was bad.

I loved it.

These days, there is no ball pit, no Bozo, no groundhogs, no hoof rot. It’s a shame, really. What we have now is a sanitarium of entertainment, and I wouldn’t go so far as to call it fun. There’s even a salad bar.

But who asked me?

Last week, The Things’ got Chuck E. Cheesed for the first time ever. It was a friend’s birthday party, and while I would have preferred wine and cheese at Winslow’s, I suppose this is our stage of life.

I had given Madeline a chicken nugget in the car on the way over. She held on to it for 30 minutes while toddling next to Drew and me. At one point I saw it on the floor over in the corner. Oh well, that’s the cycle of life: you hatch, grow, perish, get processed, bitten, and finally tossed in a vacant corner of Chuck E. Cheese to harden into dark matter.

I turned back to find Madeline had retrieved her snack and was taking a mammoth bite. She put the remnant inside a token cup she was carrying for safekeeping. Cue sound effect: my soul crumpling like a dixie cup.

The most frustrating part of Chuck E. Cheese was convincing Drew of the importance of ticket collection. Having never seen the prize counter, he had no idea that these little things feeding out from the machine could be valuable. To him their only function was to let him know the fun was over. But I, I snatched up every ticket, plus those in abandoned machines or sticking out of careless children’s pockets — at that point I had completely reverted back to 3rd grade minus the Amazing Bangs.

By the time we made it to the prize counter, we had 38 tickets. The DJ Lance look-alike who was working the counter kindly rounded it up to 40, which meant Drew could pick out something slightly more fun and valuable than tree bark. In MY day, you could have traded in 40 tickets for a Porsche made of pizza, but it seems inflation has hit Chuck just as hard as Sam. (Uncle.)

It was exhausting to watch Drew flit to and fro. A game lasts approximately 25 seconds and then WHAT’S NEXT? What’s the thing closest blinking the loudest? Shining the brightest? There was no strategy; it was the law of attraction. And distraction. The way my life is, both inside and outside of Chuck E. Cheese.

It’s hard to gaze around a frenetic room, and breathe.

Then breathe again.

And again.

And sit down.

And stop fiddling with my tokens. And see what’s going on behind the clamor.

4 Comments to “The Chuck E. Cheese Effect”
  1. Alice says:

    Profound analogy of life in 21st century America as well as our profound need to be still and silent and take stock! Love the post!

  2. Liz says:

    I laughed out loud (perhaps because I actually remember the Amazing Bangs fringing off the crest of your forehead) and emitted the hmm-sigh of being hit by something profound. You are simply brilliant my dear sister! miss you!

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