A couple of weeks ago, my kids handed me an invitation they had received to a birthday party. At Chuck E. Cheese. They were ecstatic and buzzing with joy. The mom who sent the invitation is a friend of mine. I asked her straight up what the hell she was thinking about. Cat explained to me that it was all her husband’s doing. She just shook her head. “He has no idea what he’s done.”
She looked slightly wary, as if I might start screaming or swinging at her because there was no way out of it now. I couldn’t say no. My kids would kill me in my sleep. So it meant that I had to go, too. And this was after five years of telling them that mommies weren’t allowed at Chuck E Cheese – only grandmas and babysitters. But it was all about to go down…Two hours on a Saturday afternoon at Satan’s Playground.
The family in front of us consisted of a harried-looking father with two small, school-aged children literally bouncing with excitement and a large toddler, sucking on a binky that was adhered to his face by two thick, lime green snail trails so viscous that the sight of it actually caused to me to throw up in my mouth. The family behind us was also pretty interesting. Did you know that seven year olds can have neck tattoos? Well, they can. Unless that was a very short adult in a Bratz t-shirt.
Slowly, we made it to the front of the line. I think it may have taken less time to get into Studio 54 in the late 70’s. The guy working the velvet rope looked a prison guard at Gitmo who’s just worked a 36 hour shift. He seemed about 2 seconds away from either quitting his job in spectacular fashion or bursting into tears. He grunted at us, stamped our hands and vaguely pointed to the back of the room. We were in and it was on like Donkey Kong.
At this point, my children were getting restless. I could tell they wanted to take off and disappear into the seething, writhing, squealing, snotty mass of pediatric humanity that is the Mouse’s Hole. I literally dragged them through them the crowds until I got to the “party area” and found our friends. The kids were all there, glassy-eyed and twitchy. The grown-ups all looked like they wanted to hide under the table or self-medicate. The little cups of “money” were handed off and before the kids sprinted away, I went over the ground rules with them one more time.
“Remember – don’t talk to any adults that you don’t know. Check in with me every five minutes. Stay away from mean kids. Tell me before you go up in the hamster tubes. Tell me as soon as you get out of the hamster tubes. Don’t go to the bathroom alone. And don’t touch your face! Here’s some Purell and for God’s sake be careful.”
It took about ten seconds for the panic to set in. You see, I have a disorder that makes me think that every adult that I don’t know is a serial sex offender. And there were hundreds of them and I couldn’t see my children. And it was super noisy. And sort of dark. And everywhere I looked there were kids crying and screaming like Mariah Carey sings and fighting like Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. And the parents all looked as whacked out as I felt. And that’s saying something because it was a very diverse group to all be wearing identical expressions of horror.
I eventually tracked my son to the entrance of the slime drenched-hamster tubes. I found his dirty cleats kicked off with the laces still tied but I couldn’t see him anywhere. I looked around for my daughter, suddenly aware that I was drenched in a flop sweat and certain that I was five minutes too late to stop her abduction. Just then I felt a tap on my shoulder and I screamed long and loud as if I’d been bitten by a large, venomous snake. No one noticed. My daughter furtively shoved fistfuls of tickets at me and told me “to guard them with my life” and then darted back out into the crowd.
After that, it was all kind of a blur. I started stress eating the most disgusting pizza in the history of ever. I drank iced tea that tasted like a cross between Chloraseptic and feet. I debated playing a game of Skeeball but my children apparently could not spare a token. I finally found my son having his cleats tied by a random dude who was looking around suspiciously. I started to freak out: “What! Did! I! Tell! You! About! Talking! To! Strangers?!” My kid shrugged and darted off. The dad was all: “I’m so sorry. I debated tying his shoes because I thought, his mother is going to think I’m a pedophile, but he asked for help and I didn’t want him to trip and I’m here with my daughter at a birthday party and I swear to God I’m about to lose my mind is it four o’clock yet?” I nodded. We understood each other perfectly. Then we both took off running after our children in opposite directions.
It was suddenly time for cake. I took my kids to that bathroom to wash up. We got as far as the doorway before the stench hit us, followed by my neighbor’s daughter saying: “What. Could. Have. Possibly. Happened. Here?”
We opted for Purell at the table.
When we got back to party area, it was time for the Mouse himself to make his appearance. A row of about six teenagers in red Chuck E Cheese shirts stood up and started doing a group dance. It scared me. The joyless dance of the automaton, the teenagers clapped and stepped in unison with all of the enthusiasm I feel for changing the cat box. Then the Mouse appeared. He seemed to be wearing a Lakers uniform. He went around giving people high fives but I could sense a deep evil coming from his abnormally large head. Who was in that suit? I started to feel like maybe I should attack him and rip his mouse head off so we could see if it was a sex offender under there but then I realized that was crazy.
Then they put the birthday kids, one at a time, into a random plexi-glass contraption called the Ticket Blaster and all hell broke loose. All the children lost their damn minds. If you put me into a phone booth and blew $100 bills around and told me I could keep all the ones I could catch, I would be less excited and happy than the kids who just got to watch someone else grab for tickets.
What is about those tickets? It’s like beads at Mardi Gras. They seem really important until the next morning when all of a sudden you’re like “Whuck? These are tacky plastic beads made in China and I saw some girl commit a misdemeanor to get some.” These kids will do anything to get more tickets. Then they wait for what seems like hours to feed them into the Chomp Chomp Chomp machine and trade them in for… Mardi Gras beads. And stale candy.
And they walk out of the party feeling awesome and happy and jacked up on cake. And I walk out needing a Silkwood-style shower, a nap and a double of Johnny Walker Black. Oh Chuck E… You miserable rat bastard… The kids had the best time ever. Curse you.
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