Of Mice and Men and Chuck E Cheese

As my son has slowly gotten older, I have noticed a new trend during his time watching his favorite cartoons on Nickelodeon. (We are not those “No TV” parents because those parents suck. I actually encourage tv watching because I love cartoons and need a guilt free Spongebob and Batman fix each week.)  He now gets very excited for the commercials and will scold me if I try to fast forward them or change the channel.  They come on with bright lights, snappy jingles, and always end with him whipping his head around saying “Daddy, I want that <insert product>” no matter what it is.  Last week he demanded the Easter Bunny bring him a new set of soft tipped catheters because “they look cool and have a comfort tip”.

This brings us to several weeks ago when a commercial came on that go him really pumped.  It was an advertisement starring America’s least favorite mouse and 3 favorite furry costume, Chuck E. Cheese. I remembered going there as a kid and thought “you know, I used to love that place, lets all go as a family!”  Its amazing I keep saying this to myself considering all the other times have ended in complete disaster, but hey, its got to work out sometime, right? So into the breach we rode, with a pocket full of cash and dreams in our heads

Welcome to the Terror Dome!

When you enter Chuck E’s place, the first thing you need to do is see the door greeter, who will stamp the forearm of every member of your family with a number. This stamp doubles as a child protection service and a parental prison tattoo.  It helps keep people from running off with your kid, while simultaneously preventing parents from running for the door during a prize ticket induced meltdown.  Effective and diabolical, just like low fat cheese and turkey bacon.

Food Glorious Food

Now once through the gates, most normal families go to the counter and order food and token packages for playing the many games scattered about.  Not the Beardface family. Oh no. Lucky for us, our son hates most food so we get to avoid that whole debacle.  Based on the mess I see at most tables, his food issues are a gift sent from the heavens.  It seems the only people that actually eat the food there are sad parents and the rejects from last season’s Biggest Loser casting call.  For some reason they also have this:

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Yup, that’s a salad bar.  Nothing says delicious like an open air food trough set at toddler sneezing booger-spray height.  Something tells me those glistening drops on the tomatoes are not water or “freshness”.  If you ever need time off work sick, just stop by your local Chuck E Cheese and chow down on some salad or their $5.99 lunch buffet.  You should be laid up for weeks.

It’s All About the Tickets Baby

After getting past the door the next step on the road to family fun is getting tokens.  Simply drop a $20 spot in one of the machines and it spits out 80 tokens that can be used for all the games around the “restaurant”.  The goal for the rest of the night is simple.  Put as many tokens into as many games as possible and get rewarded with a random number of tickets.  These tickets can be exchanged for prizes at the end of your visit.  Per usual, all the good prizes are displayed up on high shelves to get your kids excited about the evening, but unfortunately, they will never actually own any of them.  You see, those prizes are like 2000-10,000 tickets, and each game will give you an average of about 3 tickets (average is totally made up from personal experience). Seems like it would be impossible to get those prizes but there is a catch. There is a sign at the prize area that says “you can supplement your tickets for a better prize, each ticket = $0.01.”  So basically, each ticket is worth a penny.  This got me thinking.  I spend $0.25 on a game and get rewarded with $0.03 worth of prize.  It was at this point I realized the horrifying truth, the CEO of Chuck E Cheese is clearly Bernie Maddoff.  I mean, a 25 to 1 exchange rate is brutal.  So going to Chuck E Cheese is like trying to shop in Beverly Hills with a pocket full of pesos.   Ahh parenting, you certainly are the harshest of mistresses.

The Quest for Begins

Of course, my son wanted nothing to do with the spider rings, tops, whistles, and other bullshit they peddle down in the glass case at the toy shop.  He wanted the low rent Fireman imitation Lego set that was 2000 tickets.  Now, I could have just bought it but my wife and I thought it would be a good learning experience to make him “save up for it”, to teach him responsibility and the joys of rewards  you get from hard work. You know, normal shit a 5 year old will totally understand and not punch you in the balls for.  Yup, parent of the year kind of shit right here!  So we began our ticket saving adventure, which quickly lead to the horrifying reality of spending many consecutive Friday nights at the palace of Chucky, rolling skee ball and smelling their awful carpet.  Fast forward about 6 weeks and my wife and I decided enough was enough.  We took our 1000 tickets (how depressing is that), wrapped our nerve damaged skee ball elbows in napkins, and did the long slow march to the toy area.  I told my son it was time to get his cheap imitation lego set and he couldn’t have been happier.  I turned in my tickets, added my extra $10 in “upgrade” money, and Captain Pizza Face behind the counter handed my son his symbol of patience and hard work.  I looked at my wife and she responded with the “thank god this stupid fucking idea we had is over” look and we headed for the door.

I don’t know when we will go back to Chuck E Cheese, honestly, I hope its never.  Looking back I will say it was a victory for my wife and I.  He got his toy and learned a valuable lesson about hard work and patience.  At lest that is what we are telling ourselves, because if he didn’t, we spent $1700 in tokens and tickets on a $5 fake Lego set for nothing.  CURSE YOU, MADDOFF!!!



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