Posted on December 4, 2018
by Steve Janowick

Chuck E Cheeses on a Saturday afternoon.  

Just typing it gives me heart palpitations.  A perfect storm of jacked-up kids, frazzled parents and sensory overload converge to create this freak-show of an indoor carnival.  I’ve seen robust, family-men walk in there spry, upright and happy with their young ones only to leave two hours later hunched over, talking to themselves and scanning the parking lot for the nearest liquor store and foster home.  I would even bet that, after just a short time in there, The Great Dalai Lama himself would renounce peace while dropping some serious F-bombs.

Every Dad out there knows exactly what I’m talking about.  It starts when you get that invitation in the mail. The one inviting your kid to a fun-filled day at Chuck E Cheeses celebrating little Timmy’s birthday.  Your kid doesn’t even like that little, snot-nosed Timmy, and you think his parents are a couple of pretentious pukes, but three weeks later, there you are, driving through suburban hell to get to the Devil’s lair.  Of course, you could be home getting ready for the college football game you’ve been anticipating since the season started. But nah, the ex-wife thinks this is a much better idea for you.

The first person to greet you when you arrive is some teenager whose job is to stamp your hands to make sure your kid doesn’t get abducted.  I get it. Great precautionary protocol. But does this kid have to act like he’s the spawn of Sherlock Holmes and the old lady from Murder She Wrote?  You’re not the head guard at the Super Max there, Sparky.  You’re a Chuck E Cheeses trainee. Settle down.

So, while the kids are all running around as they’ve just come from Pablo Escobar’s house, me and the other parents are sitting at the cafeteria-style table with our heads buried in our phones.  I happen to glance over to my right and catch a glimpse of the office area where I see the manager, who looks like Ron Jeremy’s younger brother, putting the finishing touches on the Chuck E costume he’ll be donning later for all the kid’s entertainment.  I make a mental note.

When the waitress takes our order, I decide that I’m not in the mood for pizza today, so I venture over to the salad bar.  Big mistake. It looks like it’s been picked at more than my toddler daughter’s nose during cold season. Lettuce leaves and crouton crumbs cover the entire bar like confetti and the blue cheese dressing is more of pinkish hue from the spilled beet juice mixed with it.  

Oddly, I’m now in the mood for pizza.

After the spoiled brat opens up his presents with the utmost unappreciation and my kid takes my very last dollar for the arcade games, I gather him up for the swan song of this soiree.  Resembling the trading floor of the stock exchange right before a recession, the ticket redemption area is utter madness. Kids screaming above one another. Kids waving tickets around like scalpers at a Zeppelin reunion.  Kids crying because the .20 cent dragon (that they’re charging $47 for) is sold out. And overseeing it all is an absolutely fried teenager who wishes the toy gun in the case was real, so he could eat a bullet and end it all.        

But as bad as it is, it’s really not that bad.  Kids absolutely love the place and I guess that’s all that matters. However, it’s still a rite of passage in the Father’s handbook. A prerequisite he must endure.  An initiation. Part of his training if he wants to call himself a real Dad.  The Marine has his boot camp at Parris Island.  The Army Ranger at Fort Benning. The young Dad’s at Chuck E Cheeses during peak time.  

All three test a man’s will and resolve by pushing him to his absolute limits.

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