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Friday, January 13, 2006 | Before I had a child, I had no clue about how far I would go for another human being.
Yes, I was willing to fold laundry for my wife or give change to the grubby homeless person blocking my spot in the parking garage but those random acts of kindness really didn’t test my willingness to put myself out for others.
So we decided to reward Alex for spending the night in her own bed and made the mistake of asking her what she would like.
She told us emphatically that she wanted to go to Chuck E. Cheese, which, for those not in the know, is a chain of pizza restaurants that cater to children and are filled with games, rides, creepy animatronic characters and, if you insist, pizza.
We’re adventurous types so we agreed and, lo and behold, Alex actually spent the night in her own bed with only a small amount of crying.
Now we were duty bound to stick to the deal so we took Alex to this juvenile Mecca with open hearts, mildly open minds and hopes of keeping our wallets closed as much as possible.
Apparently, we weren’t the only parents bribing their child that night. There was a line out the door and a 30-minute wait before we finally got a chance to spend money on game tokens and doughy, slightly sauced pizzas.
But Alex didn’t mind. She was in heaven. I can’t imagine what an Islamic martyr feels like when he dies and sees those 72 virgins but it can’t match the joy on my daughter’s face when she saw the multi-leveled climbing cage.
Likewise, I have never been to hell (yet!) but I’m sure the soundtrack is filled with the squeals and squawks of Chuck E. Cheese children.
My wife waited in line for tokens and to order pizza while I watched Alex climb all over the cage. I was ordered to keep my eyes on my child but they kept slipping over to the other parents, some of whom may have been married to each other (I think).
We finally got a booth and my wife handed me $5 of tokens in one hand and germ sanitizer in the other. She pointed to the table and said, “Wipe” and added, “If you fold out the whole way, you’ll get more surface area.”
The best thing about a 2-year-old is flexibility. At least 25 percent of the rides were out of order but, as I pointed out to my wife, that didn’t stop Alex or the other kids from putting money in them or pretending that they worked anyway. “It’s just like the City Council,” I enthused.
My wife got our salad and since it was iceberg lettuce it left me cold. Alex didn’t mind. She nibbled on carrots, tomatoes and anything else soaked in ranch dressing. As for me, I waited for the show by “Munch’s Make Believe Band.”
That’s the animatronic band that plays in the back room every 15 minutes or so, mostly doing variations of ’60s songs and birthday ballads.
The musicians include a giant rat, a giant duck, a Cookie Monster rip-off, a dog with a cowboy hat and an Italian stereotype on drums. Alex was fascinated at how the doggie guitarist could play even though his hands never actually came within four inches of the guitar.
“Howzee do dat?” she asked.
I kept joking to my wife, “Man, I saw these guys at the Fillmore back in 1968 and they’ve sold out.”
My wife didn’t think it was funny the first time and repetition didn’t improve her reaction. It was fun watching Alex dance up a storm but later that night I had a dream that she was an adult and decided to follow Chuck E. Cheese on tour and sell bootleg T-shirts.
The pizza arrived and exceeded expectations. It was more doughy and tasteless than I expected. Never have I been happier to be on a low-carb diet.
Still, once we finished it, it was time for the real fun to begin. We bought too many tokens but we were damned if we were ever coming back any time soon so we realized we better spend them now.
So we went whole hog and, in the process, helped give our daughter lots of mixed messages.
We’re trying to teach Alex to appreciate life and be kind to living things so we gave her some tokens to play “Whack-A-Mole,” a game where you hit rats with a mallet and some more to play games where you stomp spiders and hit ducks with boxing gloves.
The slogan for Chuck E. Cheese is “Where a kid can be a kid” and I must admit the environment influences parents to act childish as well.
Some games offer tickets to high scorers that can be collected and redeemed for prizes. Alex probably would have been happy just playing the games but my wife and I insisted on helping in order to increase the ticket count. Also, I kept checking games that weren’t being used for leftover tickets.
Finally, we ran out of tokens and it was time to redeem the 45 tickets we had accumulated for a prize. Basically, the only thing Alex could afford was a gummi alligator so that was what we picked.
But there was a long line and, at one point, my wife lost our place because somebody else’s child was crying and being ignored. After five minutes, she felt the need to comfort him and asked him, “Are you lost?”
With that, my wife left the line to get one of the teenage employees who naively thought it was a good job before they got hired to help find the little boy’s mommy.
Meanwhile, we’re waiting and waiting until the teenage girl behind the counter stops talking about her boyfriend to the other teenage girl behind the counter so that Alex can pick out the gummi alligator of her choice.
As we were leaving Chuck E. Cheese, my wife and I hid our irritation with the place to our daughter and said things like, “I had a great day.” “I had a great day, too.” “I am so proud of Alex.” “I am, too.”
But during a quiet moment, we looked at each other and my wife said, “I never want to have her birthday party here.”
“Me neither.” Then we shook hands and agreed to find other forms of bribery in the future.
David Moye is a La Mesa-based writer with a secret passion for Whack-A-Mole.