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November 17, 2010

A Letter To Mr. Charles Eugene Cheese

Dear Chuck,

Chuck_E_Cheese My son and I visited your fine establishment the other night to take part in the birthday celebration for one of his friends. Although it was my son’s first visit, his friends had clearly been telling him about it because it was all he could talk about the entire day. He was so exited, in fact, that he chattered all the way from our house to your parking lot, and his little voice kept spiking upwards into excited mountains of squeak.

“Are we THERE yet, Daddy? Are we AL-most to Chuck E. CHEESE? How many more MI-nutes ‘til we GET to Chuck E. CHEESE? FIVE more minutes? My FRIEND is turning five today, but I’m al-READY five! Are we THERE yet? How many more MI-nutes? I can’t WAIT!

Yep, his little friends really talked your joint up something good.

Myself, I haven’t come around since I was a child. It’s the place where a kid can be a kid, after all So this was not only my son’s first ever visit, but my first visit as an adult.

In spite of our differences in age and experience, my son and I had a similar reaction when we stepped through your front door: we were both overwhelmed. Seeing your place through adult eyes for the first time is--and don’t take this the wrong way, Chuck--can I call you Chuck?--well, it’s quite jarring, to say the least. To cross over that threshold is to enter a realm of bright lights, cacophonic video game sounds, and hyper-stimulated weefolk bursting at the seams with the thrill of hedonistic opportunities afforded, nay, encouraged beneath your roof.

As for my son, being new to such an environment, he didn’t know quite what to make of it. True, you’ve designed your place of business--it is just your place of business, right? Or do you live there, too? Whatever it is, you’ve designed it with a child’s pleasure centers in mind, and you’ve clearly succeeded in that regard. But my son’s initial reaction seemed to be confusion, uncertainty, almost fear. I got the impression that his friends had conveyed to him that Chuck E. Cheese’s is the epicenter of all that is awesome in the universe, but they hadn’t given him much in the way of detail as to what actually goes on there. He didn’t want to leave my side, Chuck. Not even at sight of so many other kids running wild with gleeful abandon, not even when the birthday boy’s mom found us wandering around looking for the party (I’d never met these folks before), not even when she presented him with a cup filled with tokens, all for him to do with as he pleased. Of course, he had no idea what they were for. As far as he was concerned, it was just a cup full of shiny.

Now admittedly, some of this is my fault. My poor deprived child had never actually seen a video game before, much less an arcade-sized version, so he didn’t really know what all those big machines were, what with the brightly colored graphics flashing across their screens and the electronic sounds emanating from their guts.

But you know something? I didn’t feel all that bad about this. In fact, I was actually kind of glad to see it.

Yeah, you right that right, Chuckles. I was glad to see my son not responding well to your offerings.

Now admittedly--there’s that phrase again, I guess this is one of those confessional type of letters--this feeling was rooted in selfishness. So he doesn’t like Chuck E. Cheese’s, eh? Weeeeeeell, that might make him a little weird, but at least he won’t be asking to have his birthday party in this particular circle of Hell. No offense, Chuck. That’s just where I was in the moment. But it’s true, I was very much thinking of myself when the boy didn’t appear to like what he was seeing. I wasn’t thinking about how much fun he could potentially have or how difficult it might make things for us in the future when he’s invited to other Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties, and I was absolutely NOT thinking about how much fun I always had at your place when I was a kid, running around with my friends, plunking tokens into games, scoring tickets at skee-ball, wolfing down third-rate pizza. Sorry, but it is.

Nope, none of those wonderful memories occurred to me at that moment. What can I say, Chuck? I’m a selfish bastard.

But you needn’t worry, my gargantuan rodent friend, for the boy’s trepidation didn’t last. With a little guidance from me--that’s right, I helped him navigate his way through your empire of childhood debauchery--and his friend the birthday boy, he quickly got the hang of fun, Chuck E. Cheese style. Where to put the coins, how to roll the skee-balls, collecting his tickets at the end of the game. Soon, he was just another child under your spell.

But I bet you weren’t worried at all, were you? You’ve probably seen it happen countless times. The anxious child, uncertain in this strange new world, transformed by the realization this is all for them. I tell you, it happened so fast, I barely saw it.

The evening wasn’t over yet, though, because then it was time for pizza and cake and of course, the big musical number, presented by none other than you. It was strange seeing you again in the fur after all these years. You’ve changed your look a bit, but you’ve aged remarkably well. I started to wave to you, but then thought better of it when I realized you probably wouldn’t remember me. You’re one of the biggest rodent restaurateurs in the business, probably right up there with Mickey Mouse based on how many locations you’ve got. And you’re doing a hell of a lot better than that Ratatouille guy. They shut him down, remember? My point is, considering how many thousands of kids come in and out of your place, and how long it’s been, and the fact that I’m a little older and have this incredible mustache now, there’s no way you would have recognized me. And that's okay. No, really.

The musical portion of the party is where you proved that it’s really all about the kids in your book because this performance was just painful. Sure, it was nice how you got the birthday kiddos up front and, with the help of several apathetic teenage assistants, led the crowd in a very extended version of “Happy Birthday.” And when I say extended, I mean it was the “Stairway To Heaven”, the “One”, the “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I - V)" of birthday songs. Every time I thought that it couldn’t possibly go on any longer, it just kept on trucking.

That kid that didn’t want to high-five you when you came around? Yeah, that was my son. Heh.

The kid used up the last of his tokens blasting AT-AT’s in a Star Wars game. I noticed that all the video games now cost just one token. When I was a kid, some of them cost two or even three. Good move on your part.

So Chuck, that was my oldest kid’s first visit to your place. The kid cashed in his tickets for some stickers and we were on our way. As much as I hate to admit it, I think you got under his skin. I’ve a feeling we’ll be seeing you again one of these days. Just try not to get robbed anymore, okay?

Thanks, I guess,
The Holmes


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