Kids have friends, and friends have parents, and parents hate to suffer alone so they invite you to attend their kid’s birthday party at places like Chunky Cheese’s House of Pizza. it all sounds so innocent, right? How could intelligent, rational adults refuse a gathering to share pizza and presents at a restaurant? That’s what I used to think.
Imagine this: Romper Room, a carnival, a pinball arcade, a disco, a pizza hut, a casino, the entire NBC, CBS and ABC news video camera/sound systems and conceptually rejected Disney characters from Walt’s evil twin brother all under one roof. Then turn the volume UP! Add a tired, hungry kid turning five with siblings, cousins, friends and family gathered around drinking caffeine fortified soda waiting to be fed pizza hours past their bedtimes. Then turn the volume UP again! You don’t just hear the sound ... you feel it. Remember the scene in Pinocchio where little boys skip school and slowly turn into donkeys while playing pool and smoking cigars in Never Island? At Chunky Cheese’s House of Pizza, kids turn into rodents in a fraction of the time.
I sit across the table from my wife (Miss Zippy) and stare helplessly into her face as she screams something at me. From her expression she’s either trying to tell me she wants to make love NOW or wants a divorce LATER. I can’t hear her. A blue vein is evident on her pink forehead, I think she’s excited. I smile back and nod reassuringly. The kids’ lips are trembling in anticipation of seeing the rodent “Chunky Cheese” arrive soon. Parent’s hand out brass tokens in plastic cups similar in size and value to a quarter. A token will get you a five second ride on: the merry-go-round, virtual water skiing, a racecar or one of a hundred different video, pinball and other state-of-the-art one arm bandits. Screaming kids run towards rides and games with buckets of tokens and looks of insanity on their tiny faces. They hit the machines like a school of feeding bluefish, swarming and darting around each other fighting to get the control knobs first.
Screaming, crying kids are ignored completely by screaming, laughing kids who slide tokens into games with lights that blink, bells that ring and speakers that scream back at them. Little fingers are blackened by brass tokens with sweaty hair stuck to cherubic faces. A kid bangs the controls for ten minutes after the game is over while a kid waiting a turn fills their britches, both oblivious to either situation.
Dazed Grandparents with hearing aids unplugged stagger aimlessly like cast members from the movie Night of the Living Dead. Younger weary parents meander around looking like extras from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Adult eyes are void of emotion. Kids scream for more tokens. A pound of tokens will hold a five-year-old for about 30 minutes before going broke (or an average of about $100 an hour). Chunky Cheese helpers hand out free cotton candy to keep the kids primed to spend faster. The owners must own stock in pharmaceuticals. Like Ritalin
Mickey is a mouse ... Chunky is a rat. Kids gasp at the sight of his celebrity running with outstretched arms like babes to mother. They claw each other for a touch of Chunky’s fur, holding onto his legs as if they were drowning. It’s pathetic. Crawling kids pull themselves upright onto chairs to follow Chunky’s every move as he dances the twist, the locomotion and the mash-potato. (Which tells me the adult in costume graduated High School in 1964, their career, lets say, stalling somewhat after that.)
The kids go deeper into some psycho-hypnotic-hyperspace, non-responsive to visual or verbal commands. They find a comatose parent collapsed between two video games. Thinking it’s a ride they climb on and jam tokens in each ear. Frustrated, they place hands under the mouth waiting for coins to return. I make eye contact with my wife hoping she understands as I calmly and succinctly mouth the words: “I want a vasectomy.” Deaf now herself, she politely smiles and nods. The Book of Revelation comes to mind, the end is near.
Panic sets in. I retreat to the Men’s Room where there’s a half dozen guys like me thinking the same thing ... “PLEASE GOD ALMIGHTY; DON’T LET ME HAVE ANY MORE CHILDREN. I PROMISE TO BE GOOD! AMEN.” A veterinarian could have named their price. A condom machine is smashed and looted, the money ignored. I hear a guy praying for impotence. I join him. I leave the sanctuary in search of my children Truman and Zuzu. With one over each shoulder we left the building, their flailing, sweaty, bodies sticking to me.
I’m so glad we took separate cars. My wife will be home any day now, I’m sure. And I know why she hasn’t called. She couldn’t hear me anyway.