I’ll attempt to score no style points ripping on Chuck E. Cheese’s pizza. It’s frozen, warmed-over garbage, the kind of pizza you deserve when you pull a two dollar hockey puck out of the freezer at home and preheat the oven. It gets the job done and that’s about it. Even the kids were so-so about it.
There is a certain ameliorating force at work, of course, in the buzzing, whirring junior-Las Vegas that is the Chuck E. Cheese experience. The hollow-eyed meth bunny exchanging game tickets for plastic schlock behind a counter dons a mouse costume and becomes the most fantastic being on the planet. The Whack-a-Mole you pounded into submission – cheating by using both hands – on your seventh birthday is still here, though Galaga is sadly gone. The animatronic figures on the wall – which should, by any fair assessment, be regarded by young children with abject terror – leap to life every ten minutes or so, launching – I swear – into an earsplitting version of the dreidel song. Mrs. SME sends me back for more tokens for the kids and I am hijacked by a NASCAR racing simulator, lost for four minutes in savage left turns, sending car parts careening across a digital Talladega. No Carl Edwards, I return skulking, shaking a plastic cup of tokens, and receive the dreaded turd-eye from the wife.
Despite barely-edible pizza, spousal looks of wrath and one very badly mangled Car of Tomorrow, my four and a half year-old maintains a glow of utter entrancement. When it’s time to go he trudges, pockets stuffed with grey-paper tickets, over to the ticket counter and then surveys the available booty, selecting a plastic gyroscope of sorts, some Pop Rocks and a glittery purple comb for his sister. He asks why Pop Rocks pop in your mouth and I don’t have a good answer, mumbling something about Rice Crispies popping when milk is poured on them. Then we push through the doors and out into the snow, the wall-bound apparitions behind us belting out one more cycle of incongruous holiday songs as we leave.
“Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay. And when it’s dry and ready, then dreidel I will play.”