Chuck E.M.F.'n Cheese's

It's the last thing a parent wants to admit--taking the kid to the Chuck E. Cheese's. But sometimes the library won't do. Sometimes they don't wanna hang at the library. Sometimes they jes don't wanna do no learnin', maw. Sometimes it just boils down to pushing buttons, collecting tickets, running around and sucking on the grease that's drenching the worst pizza ever defrosted. Ain't proud, but not ashamed either. Like the kid says, poop happens.

Especially yesterday, at the Chuck E. Cheese's across from the Valley View Mall. (Look, whaddya want from me?) We're a small party: three adults, four kids, the latter all younger than 4. No big deal; brought the leash. But first thing Manager Bob--mid-50s, dark hair, short, beaten down--tells us is the credit card machine isn't working. Can't charge shit. Hope you brought cash or chickens with which to barter. So we turn around, head across the parking lot to the ATM, then head back. Because there's nothing more energizing or rewarding than having to go to Chuck E. Cheese's twice in a day.

We order. Waitperson takes order--for foie gras toastes with greens and verjus port glaze, duck liver pate with a Ch. Lafite Rothschild 2003, all OK--on the back of an envelope. Very homey, in retrospect. Only took a handful of times for him to get it right, what with all the numbers and letters and all.

But this was kind of a stumper. All of the sudden, a horde of boys descend upon the joint--and by boys, I mean a year shy of becoming men, if they were Jewish. Dunno what it says about the home lives of these boys, in their private-school unis and 'tudes, that they spent a good chunk of their time at the Cheese riding a pink Teletubbie like it was a rodeo bull or a classmate. It wasn't troubling till the horde started climbing the ball-crawl tower in the middle of the joint and shaking it like they were staging a diaster film. We complained to one worker. She sloughed it off: "Find a manager, that is not my problem." I thought people only said things like that in movies.

Not even gonna get into how they couldn't--sorry, wouldn't--count the kids' prize tickets at the end of the day (hostage crisis, we now call it while looking back and laughing). Needless to say, I think we got an extra roll of Smarties and some erasers. Hey, 1,247,095 tickets do not get you much these days.

But most disturbing was the fact that those school kids were allowed to leave without any supervisor checking their hands for stamps. They could have been going anywhere. With anyone. Instead they just marched out, one by one by one. It was like The Great Escape, without the tunnels. Or the Nazis.

It was just one month ago that Nolan Bushness told the hometown paper that his 30-year-old creation hadn't aged well: "It's still animals, attractions, the ball crawl. I don't see a lot of innovation or change. I think it's gotten a little stagnant." Ya think? Well, easy for him to say. The 63-year-old hasn't had jack to do with Chuck E. Cheese's in 23 years; it's now the problem of CEC Entertainment Inc. out of Irving. Well, it's actually your problem. It ain't CEC's, because they don't clearly don't care. And it ain't mine, because we are never going back. --Mrs. Wilonsky as told to Mr. Wilonsky

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