Words & Deeds

Michael Deeds: Welcome to the Chuck E. Cheese jungle

My plan had always seemed foolproof. I simply would not participate in parental rites of passage that I deemed below me.

I would take my little boys to rock concerts, not to Chuck E. Cheese’s.

But as the doors cracked open at 6255 W. Fairview Ave. in Boise, the sound of sugar-geeked kindergarteners blasted my face like jet exhaust. My haughty, naive ideals were about to be squashed yet again.

“You know where you are?” a gleeful voice screeched inside my skull. “You’re in the jungle, baby! You’re gonna diiiiiie!”

Thanks, Axl. Look, I get it. I’m probably the last parent to have not experienced Chuck E.’s. What can I say? It was an eye-opener. It felt like hell for adults staffed by teenage saints.

Near the entry gate — ostensibly constructed to slow down my two sons’ warp-speed approach from the parking lot — I gratefully noticed the first thing you see inside Chuck E. Cheese’s: hand sanitizer. Nice “touch.” At least I wouldn’t die from a snotty tot’s cold. Can I just shower in the stuff?

For the kiddie crowd, my jungle was more like paradise city — assuming that paradise is an old, boxy room soiled by years of bodily fluids and candy. A sea of ticket-spewing arcade machines offered every diversion a small child could imagine, dispensing streams of tickets that could be exchanged for junk and junk food on the way out.

“They’ve really cleaned the place up,” my wife observed. Wow. Really? “What do you want to eat?” Eat? I still couldn’t believe she’d decided that Chuck E.’s was a nifty idea for our boy’s 5th birthday. No way was I touching the growth experiment called the salad bar. How about pizza? Anything heated to high temperatures in an oven would be acceptable.

Chuck E.’s does not offer craft beer. Or wine. So I ordered a large cup of Budweiser. It was the most delicious beer I have ever tasted.

After a brief scare from a creepy, animatronic band that launched into song on a nearby stage, I was tasked with chasing my sons and their two cousins. Shrieking, they zigzagged between games and a ceiling-level obstacle course. I attempted to refill their game-token cups at a controlled pace. It was pure ecstasy. Periodically, the boys unleashed break-dancing moves for no apparent reason.

On a related note, is it truly necessary to crank “Happy” by Pharrell Williams approximately 400 times per hour on the TV screens? We all know that the children in Chuck E. Cheese’s are @#% happy.

The modest Deeds birthday shindig was hosted by an impossibly patient young woman who wasn’t significantly larger than the 6-year-old boys in the house. We shall call her Pierced Angel. She pumped up the kids with songs and dancing. She also bused our table and pretended not to notice the pizza ingredients and birthday cake (which we were allowed to bring) piling up on the chairs and floor. “Let’s make sure we tip the hell out of her,” I told my wife. Tragically, this did not happen. Tipping a party host at Chuck E.’s is cash only? That policy seems borderline criminal.

Nudged by that award-winning Budweiser, I decided to brave the restroom. Some little derelict had tossed a token cup into a kid-sized urinal. Now we know where the jerks who trash bar bathrooms get their start in life.

The highlight of the visit was an in-the-flesh appearance from Chuck E. Cheese himself, a voiceless Mickey Mouse wannabe who high-fived the boys and posed for photos. I couldn’t quit wondering who was inside the costume. And how it smelled in there. Was it the millennial Manager Elder who had greeted us when we first entered? Was it the lanky Concessions Dude?

Herding my little cats toward the prize counter, I was filled with appreciation for the staff, yet frustrated pity, too. To save my wife the trouble of feeding what amounted to 1,600 freaking tickets into an automated counting machine, Manager Elder hurriedly attempted to count them by hand. Dang. Couldn’t he just weigh the mess and make an estimate? Our deceptively meager ticket tally wasn’t enough to land anything truly desirable, such as a Lego set, anyway.

Concessions Dude seemed to derive a slightly evil pleasure in waiting for my maddeningly indecisive kids to choose their piddly prizes at the counter. My sons’ brains almost exploded, “Scanners”-style, at the possibilities. OK — you want a box of Nerds? You sure? But what color box of Nerds? Yellow or pink?

It takes a twisted soul to survive Chuck E. Cheese’s on a daily basis. I like you, Concessions Dude.

How do they all do it? “I always tell the new girls it gets better,” Pierced Angel explained with a smile.

I truly hope so. My older son turns 7 next month. Guess where he’s already pleading to go?