You can't look away

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cluster Chuck

About a month before Camille's (aka: THE KRAKEN) birthday, we had this exchange:

Me: "Hey, what should we do for your birthday? We'll do anything you want!"
Camille: "I want to go to Chuck E. Cheese."
Me: "We could have a little party here ...maybe a bouncy castle?"
Camille: "I want to go to Chuck E. Cheese."
Me: "What about that place, 'Sweet and Sassy' salon? Princess makeovers!"
Camille: "I want to go to Chuck E. Cheese."
Me: "Hey, I know- swim party! Petting zoo? Tea party? Remember our tea party?? Fancy!"

Desperation was setting in, but it was no use- she was like a blonde broken record.
She stopped what she was doing (putting her galoshes on the dog) and stood up.

"CHUCK E. CHEESE! I TOLD YOU! CHUCK E. CHEESE!" The Kraken screeched.

And an adult can be wallet-raped by a rat!
Crapola.
I knew it was coming. Until now, I had managed to avoid the mind-numbing, snot-slimed, sticky ball-pitted, pizza sauce-coated petri dish that is "Chuck." I wanted to upchuck. I heard the stories, and that was enough for me. Throughout my older child Henry's toddlerhood, I feigned ignorance.  Anytime he saw the commercials, got a birthday invitation or drove by the place I changed the channel, rsvp'd "no" or said it was, "Uh oh! Closed that day... darny."

Yeah, I know- terrible. I'm a terrible, horrible person. Mother Of The Year. Have we not covered this in the other posts? If this offends, then you obviously don't have kids.
To you I say, Eff off, Judgey McJudgerson!

Now, where was I...

Henry, "The Good One," takes everything I say at face value. Bless his heart, he believed me and quickly forgot about Chuck. Camille, not so much. She is a different animal. Very inquisitive and relentless in her pursuit of the obnoxiously advertised, she pays attention, that one. She saw the commercials and could smell a rat. A giant animatronic rat. Also somehow, somewhere she got a healthy dose of the tacky gene, making her irresistibly drawn to any gaudy, swirling candy-colored carny-style of fun. I detest it. This is one of God's little jokes on me.
But when the lip quivers, the heart quivers. Even mine. Surprised? Yeah.. me too. There was no way around it. So I gave in, reluctantly. Camille was having a party at Chuck E. Cheese.

Even almighty Brangelina is powerless against the CHUCK.

We live in the suburbs of Houston which means it's just like the big city, but with all that icky culture, originality and diversity taken out. The many Houston locations of Chuck E. Cheese probably have actual rats performing ...so in this one instance, I was glad to be in the Stepford-ized, sanitized, homogenized new world of the 'burbs. We sent the invites and I gotta give the Current Legal Spouse credit- it was his idea to have the party in the earliest time slot available, 9:30 a.m. His theory being the place would be empty (and clean?...ish?) and this nightmare would be over by noon. He does have fleeting moments of brilliance. Fleeting. Who cares if kids would be eating pizza and cake for breakfast? Not our problem and let's face it- probably not the first time.

We arrived that Saturday bright and early and truly had the place to ourselves. Score! Kids started to arrive, then more kids... plus a few... siblings. M'kay. As part of the package we pre-purchased 16 tokens for each child. Each child that was invited, that is. As soon as they hit the door, they snatched their token cups and ran. Five minutes later they were back asking for more tokens. A couple of kids I didn't recognize showed up and soon the place was swarming with screaming, running, token-crazed midgets. Because of the recent news stories of children actually being left at Chuck E. Cheese, (yes, wtf!?!) I was relieved to see several parents that stayed behind and pretended to help. Mostly they just sat in a booth, sighed heavily and drooled into their smart phones. Some just dumped and ran. Did I blame them? No, I did not. Did I envy them? Yes, yes I did.

"Please, sir.. may I have more tokens??

Other, non-party patrons were filing in and I was a tad stressed. I tried to keep track of our guests but they scattered like roaches, only returning to the table to demand more tokens like little beggars on the streets of India. Even Henry got caught up in the mob mentality and darted from one game to the next. At last count we had 17 kids in our charge. I invited 12 kids. Nine had rsvp'd. Really?? We ordered more tokens, pizza, ice cream and more goody bags. The Current Legal Spouse would run one way, I would run the other. Occasionally we would meet by the skee-ball machines and have this clenched-jaw exchange:

Me: "I cannot believe the nerve of these people! That one chick? She brought all her kids and then hauled ass!! This is not a free babysitting service!"
CLS: "Ssshhh! Lower your voice! Do you want them to hear you?"
Me: "No one can hear me! I can't even hear my own goddamn thoughts! My ears are bleeding- I may never hear normally again! I have an eye twitch!"
CLS: "Holy shit, we are never doing this again. This is costing a goddamn fortune. These kids- they're wild... they're everywhere." <looks around, frightened> "How much longer til the pizza comes out?"
Me: "I don't know! Stop handing out tokens like the fucking pied piper! You just want them to think you're cool- they are six years old! They will keep asking until you say no, dumbass."
CLS: "I am cool, and don't worry about it, dumbass! I want them to have fun!"
Me: "Oh ok.. I can't wait til you get the final bill, Mr. Moneybags!"

And then we would storm off in different directions and repeat that every twenty minutes. Good times.

"Dude...I'm out of tokens. This party blows."

Finally we corralled most of the kids for pizza and cake. Guess who ate the most? That's right- the little shits who weren't even invited. Then Chuck E. Cheese himself [stoned teenager in stinky costume] came out, posed for pictures, danced and high-fived Camille. She was in heaven. We were in hell.

The rest of the kids sprang from the table and mauled Chuck. I'm hoping one of them gave him a swift kick in the mozzarella balls, because after fighting them off, he stumbled behind the curtain and disappeared.

"Mama, why does Chuck E. smell like cigarettes? And failure?"

Then the mini-mob turned on us and again demanded more tokens. This time Current Legal Spouse, aka "Cool Dad" decided he was done being cool and said, "No, the party is almost over, you can go turn in your tickets for prizes at the counter." They stared at him collectively, then ran off.
By the time they finished carefully selecting their plastic fifty-cent crap prizes, over two excruciating hours had passed and parents started trickling in. It was over- we had survived. The hubs and I held each other and wept softly.

Camille wanted to open her gifts there but we told her HELLZ NO, we would do that at home. It was high noon and the place had reached full hysteria. I made a final sweep of the perimeter while the hubs loaded the gifts and the kids.

We drove home in silence physically, emotionally and spiritually spent. Camille was asleep before we left the parking lot. Henry stared vacantly out of the window. When we got home I made everyone take a Silkwood-style shower. You can't be too careful.



I've done my tour of duty. I've seen the face of hell. Been up close to it, smelled it. It's a giant rat that reeks of Pop Rocks and B.O. That's it. I'm sure one day we will look back on this experience wistfully but not today, friends. Not yet. The ears, they still ring. The eye- it still twitches. I'm still washing my hands obsessively.

The pain is too fresh.

Never again, Chuck. Never again.



24 comments:

  1. You brave brave woman you! You and CLS deserve awards. Thankfully my daughter has never had any interest in going there.

    But I've been there over the years (when I was a kid) for other friends' birthday parties. OMG it was awful for me then and I was a kid. You'd think I'd enjoy it.

    But right away I noticed the ball pit smelled like a poopy diaper, there was this weird greasy film that just covered everything, and the carpet smelled of piss.

    The only thing that made it bearable was the fact that I would watch my brother throw pizza at the singing animatronics.

    You have described the horror of that place with such accuracy that I will now have flashbacks and my husband will come home to find me wrapped in a blanket rocking back and forth and saying "No more cheese...."

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    1. Ha! Good Em.. I like when I can reduce someone to the fetal position! Success!

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  2. Mozzarella balls... funny.

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  3. Its so funny because it is soooo true! I had to do the chucky thing a few times. It would be easier to be a contestant on survivor!

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    1. Thanks Becky! Yeah at least on Survivor you're dealing with adult mind games! Those children were scary!!

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  4. "Mama, why does Chuck E. smell like cigarettes? And failure?"
    My absolute favorite line.

    I cannot believe there were ininvited kids there. That is so rude. I am not a parent and I am sure parents will take any opportunity to get rid of their kids, even if for 5 minutes, but to leave your childdren at a party where they weren't invited- unbelievable!!!

    Love your husband,
    Sonny (Molly Thayer Justman)

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    1. Mole, I would pay money to see you at Chuck E. Cheese in 6 inch heels! That would be priceless...

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  5. Great post, Rachel. Made me laugh. :-D I've been to CEC several times, but THANK GOODNESS my boys are too old for that now! Ha! I served my time there, though, and survived.

    Actually, the very last time I went there, I had a good time. I went as a secret shopper. It was my job to watch the workers to see who did a good job, who was polite, who treated the customers well, etc. Our trip there was free, and my kids had fun, but the best part was that before I left, I was to reward the workers who had done the best job. I had been given coupons to hand out to the employees there whom I thought deserved a nod of approval. Now I knew what a pain it was to have to go to CEC to eat or to have a party, but imagine how nasty it would be to have to go there to work everyday!

    The surly teen who was rude to my kid--sorry no coupon for you, fella. The ones who were patient and courteous and waited on us with a smile--they were rewarded. You should have seen their faces when I gave them the coupons. It really made their day! Getting the coupons had something to do with a point system or something which was tied into getting a raise if they had enough points, so this was kind of a big deal for them. HA! Anyway, that was the only time I ever had fun at a CEC! :-D

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    1. OMG Daisy, that is awesome! I never really knew anyone who was a secret shopper! I wasn't even sure that was real! Jesus- whoever those employees were that got rewarded deserve that and more.. can you imagine? There is not enough money in the world, I tell you.

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    2. OMG!!! I'd rather repeatedly stab myself in the eye with a fork then have to work a single day at CEC.

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  6. What a lovely and hilarious story. But don't kid yourself--you'll be back, and sooner than you think. The Chuck now has your children--and, by extension, you--by the proverbial balls, my friend. Go ahead and start preparing yourself for a return visit.

    Dave & Buster's is the adult version of CEC. It's Chuck E. Cheese + liquor. I hate that place.

    Our friends had a birthday party for their daughter a few years back and several uninvited kids on their street showed up. Not siblings of the invited, but just random kids whose parents must have seen the balloons on the mailbox and thought, hey, free babysitting for two hours. One mother even had the nerve to yell at my friends for not having a goody bag for her kid...who WASN'T INVITED! People amaze me sometimes.

    Nice post, Rach.

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    1. Thanks, Cary! Yep, I didn't even mention the older boy who came with his mother to pick up the younger sister from the party. He looked right at me and asked, "Where's MY goody bag?" WTF?!? I just looked at him and said, "Gee, I don't know-where's your gift??" Little shit head.

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  7. Great post Rach. I especially loved the conversation between you and CLP. I could just feel the tension. In reading this I was glad of two things...1) the nearest CEC is about an hour and a half drive, so it's not somewhere the kids see often enough to harrass me about, though I have had my unfortunate experiences, and 2) that my kids have basically out-grown it (thank you God!)

    Just imagine being the pimply faced prick that has to wear the suit. The smell of bodily excresions from the kids on the outside, the smell of sweat and BO on the inside. I wonder how many times a week one would contemplate splitting their wrists, or taking a bottle of sleeping pills?

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    1. Thanks Blondie! Yes, it was a day I don't care to repeat. I swear if my kids want to go back, I will immediately come down with something and CLS will be on his own!! I'm never going back! As God as my witness!!

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  8. I . . . hate . . . that . . . place. The only redeeming quality about our local CEC is that they serve beer. But only to the mommies, so it's ok. Pre-kids, I absolutely would have been the judgmental bitch with severe indignation that a place like that would even DEIGN to serve alcohol in such an establishment. Now . . . I'm sorry, but it should be a requirement. It's a loud, smelly, germ-y, cheesy (pun intended), sensory overload and there is a very good reason that they don't use real knives there. It's to save the mommies from themselves. However, you can't blame it all on the little monsters. Just Google "CEC and one of the following: fight, altercation, knife, shot, gun, shooting and/or murders". I haven't personally followed any of those (obviously quite) tragic cases. NEVERTHELESS, I would think even a half-way decent public defender could successfully use something along the lines of the "Twinkie Defense": Your Honor, my client was forced to attend a birthday party at CEC for TWO HOURS! OBVIOUSLY, he snapped, and if you spent only THIRTY MINUTES in his/her shoes, I can assure you, your honor, YOU WOULD HAVE TOO!

    Great post Rachel!!

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    1. Ha! Thanks Girls! I know you feel my pain. Believe me, I thought about the beer but seeing as how it was 9:30am I thought it in bad form.. even for me. :)

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  9. I am so freakin' glad my kids are the most picky eaters in the world when it comes to food as neither of them like pizza, so I will gladly avoid the bacteria-fest known as Chuck E. Cheese. Doesn't that place lead the league in children who come home with staph infections?

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    1. Rob, you are indeed a lucky man... my kids would eat crappy pizza every day if I let them. I think I pulled a pepperoni out of my bra that night *shudder* Hence the Silkwood scrub-down. Thanks for the comment, new friend! :)

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  10. Ooh, I'm in the city (Houston), and you are right...you could not pay me to go in one of those places here. Icky, ick, ick!!! :)

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    1. Jenn, when I was a cool inner-looper a loong time ago, I had one newborn and then we moved. Like I said there are SOME good things about the 'burbs! But you've def, got the good eats!! :p Thanks for your comment!

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  11. Wow. I've been to one (1) party at Chuck's and I pray to God that I never have to go back. As bad as everything was that you described, I thought the food was even worse. I survived for years on cheap, crappy frozen pizza (I actually prefer it to anything over $5) but their "pizza" is the worst garbage I have ever had. I would rather go hungry than eat that awful crap again. Ugh.

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  12. I've read this several times----uncontrollable laughter each time---you are funny at its BEST Racheepoo!! xoxo

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  13. Hmmm. When I go to Chuck E Cheese's, I'm the one adult playing skee ball and basketball. One time this kid was playing basketball next to me and we were competing, and I kept beating him, so then his dad shows up. I didn't beat his dad. Not. At. All.

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  14. There is a liquor store next door to the Chuck E Cheese by my house. I highly doubt it's a coincidence...

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