From Seattle writer and consultant Matt Rosenberg...

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Surviving The Chuck E. Cheese Birthday Party

October 16, 2005

There are things somewhat more ersatz than finding yourself hard by a five-foot-nine mechanized rodent jerkily lip-synching Ben E. King's "Stand By Me." But not many. Chuck E. Cheese is, of course, a nationally-famed franchise, geared to kids and especially birthday parties.

There are games and contests galore.

Tickets won at games are exchanged for cheap prizes at the end.

Plus, kids get pizza, cake, participatory videos, the whole schmeer.

Everyone's a star - or can be, at least - in a karaoke parody of a birthday party. It's ill........

Some old-school parents host their kids' B-Day parties at the house, or in the park, or at the "Y." But if you want to leave Nothing to chance, it's C.E.C for you.

Amidst all the hoopla and "fun" is a fairly evident desparation - & the idea that fun = consumerism, fake celebrity-hood, and grade D trinkets.

C.E.C. is the epitome of anti-being, a shrine to kiddie consumerism and small "q" quality.

Things being what they are these days, if you're a parent in the U.S. of A., you're sadly destined to find yourself and your progeny at a C.E.C. affair.

Henry David Thoreau (below) and voluntary simplicity look wiser hourly. The Hot Librarian has more (scroll down to 2nd item):

"Hats off to my sister, who somehow managed to find a Chuck E. Cheese in the ghetto. I feared for my life three times in the parking lot alone. Apparently Chuck E. Cheese is THE place to go if you want to smoke pot outside with the other teenage parents/gang members while your kids are inside killing each other with mallets at the Whack-a-Mole game while their thirty-six year old grandmother yells at them from behind a large sausage pizza.

"The decibel level of Chuck E. Cheese is set somewhere in between jet engine and Korn concert. Like a Wal-Mart gone bad, there is a sea of stirrup pants covering cottage cheese-lumped asses as far as the eye can see, with snot-encrusted demon children climbing on every surface. Lots of 'babymamas,' very few 'babydaddies.' I could feel my ovaries shutting down in self-defense."

Yeh, the K-mart gene pool thing is a real downer.

But it's the intrinsic trashiness of the consumer experience - as opposed to the intrinsic trashiness of the clientele - that really bites. And so herewith, my parents' survival guide to the dreaded Chuck E. Cheese birthday party ordeal.

1. Arrive late, if at all possible. Thirty minutes late is good, as C.E.C. affairs are usually just 90 minutes (throughput is key for C.E.C. managers).

1.5. Quickly determine the party's end time, tell your kids to have thier tickets exchanged for trinkets before you return, and then, LEAVE. They'll be fine. Come back at the appointed time, or better yet, two minutes later (this is a bargaining point in your favor). Sweep your kids up, say quick, nice good-byes, and get the HELL out the door.

2. If somehow you feel you've got to stay.....well, suffer gracefully, decline the generic pizza, and make sure you prod the host to get the cake and then presents served RIGHT ON TIME, as that signals the merciful END. In the meantime, take your kids around, have fun with the games - they're not all bad. But watch out for broken machines that gobble tokens and give nothing back - we ran into that a lot today. Ask for replacement tokens when ripped off. Just as a matter of principle.

3. When - as occured today - a "party counsellor" comes to your table and asks your group to leave a bit early to open up seats for another party, and said counsellor offers lots of tickets (to be exchanged for still MORE trinkets) to compensate; definitely agree to leave early, but DON'T - under any circumstances - take the extra tickets. It keeps you there for another 15 to 30 minutes picking out more trinkets, and all the trinkets self-destruct five minutes out the door.

4. Cash in the tickets your kids HAVE earned RIGHT after the presents are opened, and BY ALL MEANS coach your kid through the ticket-trinket exchange phase. Don't let them dawdle. You've got a mission to escape; get in your car pronto; and resume normal life!

5. (This is "big picture" strategery). Whenever and wherever possible, espouse to other parents - especially ones who have previously hosted C.E.C. parties - the radical concept that kids' birthday parties, after age 5, should only be held every five years. And that outdoor foodfights really rock!


TO COMMENT: The regular "comment" feature is not in operation. E-mail comments to address under "Contact" on main page masthead, and I'll add them, here.

Nathan Azinger: You know, I remember being awfully fond of Chuck E. Cheese when I was a kid, but having gone back once or twice since achieving adulthood, Im puzzled as to why. I think perhaps it had something to do with video games. When I was younger, console systems were new and expensive. Chuck E. Cheese was one of the few places I ever got to play them. Now arcade games seem rather superfluous. If you ignore them, all Chuck E. Cheese has going for it is skeeball and the colored ball play pit, and they wont let me in the ball pit anymore.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at October 16, 2005 11:00 PM

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