This past week I did something I had never done before.  Not once, not even for a moment.  Not it was so long ago I forgot or I had a bad time.  None of that.  I swear on all that is holy that before this week I had never set as much as a single toe inside a Chuck E Cheese.

By the end of today I’ll have gone twice.

I announced this on Facebook and my good friend Will (hey, he writes some amazing things too check him out over at http://williambrucewest.com/ ) was aghast.  Shocked.  Bewildered!  “How did you miss out on this in your childhood,” he asked me.  Well, lets get into the WABAC machine for an explanation.

Growing up I was well aware of Chuck E Cheese.  As has been said in many posts during the years, I grew up watching stations from New York City: WPIX, WWOR, WNYW.  After school and on the weekends these stations would have cartoons, wrestling, monster movies and all sorts of perfect content to rot away a young boy’s mind including commercials.  Plenty of these commercials were without geographical boundaries.  That toy or movie or new TV show will still be available near me.  But some things just weren’t feasible.  I grew up in Watertown, closer to the Canadian border than to another major US city.  One of my friends put it best – its too small to matter but too big to ignore.  The area has seen a surge of new businesses as the local military base expands but I remember the day the mall opened, this new store called WalMart, Taco Bell as something adventurous.  But Mr Cheese was no where to be found.

Not really no where.  I knew where he was.  The City is about an 8 hour drive.  Maybe there was a Chuck E Cheese in Syracuse at the time, but that’s an hour drive.  Most parents, and we’ll get there, don’t want to drive a couple minutes to a Chuck E Cheese knowing the chaos that lies inside.  Mine were definitely not driving an hour to one, an hour back, dropping all the money, “oh can my friend go too and now you have to pay for him as well”.  And I don’t blame any parent for that.  So Chuck E Cheese may as well have been California exclusive for as possible as it was to me back then.  Then I was older and if I’m making a road trip for a concert its some crazy thrash metal band, not Chuck E Cheese and his all star animatronics band.

My son was invited to two birthday parties at the other house of mouse in one week. Two of his best friends, and parents that are some of our closest friends as well.  No reason to feel nervous or awkward. Just some responsible adults taking their kids to a place with food and games.  Right?

What in the fresh Lord of the Flies hell is this?

It’s easier to pull up a YouTube video of some kid (most likely Ryan) doing the same thing my son is about to do. This turns the strange into familiar and he loves doing things he sees other kids doing. Keeping up with the Jones Juniors. We pulled up and he immediately knew where we were and what treasures lay inside. If anything he knew more than I did.

I went up to the mom hosting this first party and explained to her I have never been here before, I have no idea what the hell I’m doing. She gave me the same bewildered look the previously mentioned Will must have, and for good reason. These people know I’m an overgrown child and a place like this must seem like home away from home. She handed me the Chuck E Cheese version of a debit card and told us to go nuts.  My kid starting running and I was told we’ll be called for pizza when its ready.  Awesome.  There’s my son.  Maybe we’ll play skee-ball. Or try to knock coins down. Or throw basketballs.  Nope.  Up onto the small playground with tubes and slides.  That is free. I’ll just hang on to these game credits.

Speaking of hanging on, hang on to your tickets too. There are packs of roaming street urchins inside that will steal your tickets as they’re coming out.  What are you going to do?  Beat up a kid? You don’t know what kind of trash brought these children here.  If the parents are still in the building. I definitely see the potential to abuse this as a carb loading babysitter. Seriously, I threw my last skee ball and by the time my eyes looked to the tickets they were gone. I searched for the bandit but all I found was Fagin knowingly smiling.

I looked around to make sure my son wasn’t committing the same felonies. Nope.  Still in the tubes. Now he had found a porthole of sorts and was watching the chaos from on high. Surveying his land from on high fructose corn syrup. As I was watching him I heard a screech in my ear, and it was the evening’s host. Apparently she had been calling everyone for food for the last 10 minutes. Yeah, I’m not hearing a damn thing in there.  Kids screaming, kids crying, beeps and sirens from the games. I can watch my kid and every thing and every one else, you’re on your own. By the way, person not minding your child and instead reading a book. Yeah, you. I’m pretty sure your kid needs clean pants. I may not be able to hear anything in here but I can damn sure smell it.

Then the smell of pizza. It’s exactly the kind of pizza you should expect from such a place. There isn’t a secret menu gourmet line here. It’s not Sir Charles of Cheese. It’s an acceptable Little Caesar’s level pizza that will make your feet hurt the next day from too much sodium.

A countdown begins. To what? High powered hoses to wash down everything? A mini size Purge? No, its the 6 foot felt covered head mouse himself, Chuck. Every kid stopped everything they were doing and marched through the place playing follow the rodent. Then they did a little Simon Says dance and returned to their seats, or families. Let me tell you, if you’re looking for an opportunity for a game to free up, remember the scheduled mouse times.

We went back later on a weekday and while it’s still the island Pinocchio went to it was quieter. Not quiet. You definitely couldn’t hear a pin drop. A bowling pin. But you could breathe. The pants messing kids were no where in sight. Or smell. My son was up on his perch again. He became a little more adventurous. Played a few more games. Earned a bigger prize. Then cried his little eyes out. He knows he still has 10 months until his birthday but he’s already asked to have his party at Chuck E Cheese. Of course buddy.  All your friends will be invited. Here are your game credits. Get the mouse to look the other way when you kick the vagrant children in their shins.

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