Photos by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete
I don’t deserve nice things. I don’t feel comfortable in nice places. The only time I feel safe is when I’m surrounded by desperation and mediocrity, which is why I love chain restaurants. That's why I decided to include a visit to Chuck E. Cheese’s in my spiritual quest to find comfort in the bosoms of the worst restaurants in the world.
Because I’m just like you. I know you, bro, because you’re me. You’re young. You’re shitty. And you’re proud of it. Your entire persona is predicated on your degeneracy. You spend your days either suckling at the teat of your long-suffering parents or toiling at a low-paying job where the majority of your productivity is wasted on creating Facebook event invites.
Your nights are spent in a drunken stupor, punishing your body with piss-weak American macrobrews and sucrose-laden foodstuffs while you ironically watch Home Alone 2: Lost in New York on Netflix. You haven’t felt a sincere emotion since you were nine.
So why aren’t you at Chuck E. Cheese’s? It is, after all, where “A Kid Can Be a Kid,” and the last time I checked, your maturity level would place you thoroughly within that demographic. Did I mention it serves beer? It serves beer.
I read online that the branch of Chuck E. Cheese’s I was about to visit was rather brutal. I looked forward to reveling in the madness and enjoying the schadenfreude of watching stoic parents, resigned to a life of tedium and mediocrity, passionatelessly eat pizza while their progeny ran amok. I looked forward to the desperation, to the ignorance. I fantasized that a fight would break out. I wanted to delight in the worst humanity had to offer. I, like you, am a piece of shit.
And there it stood, an oasis in the middle of a food desert dotted with liquor stores and gas stations. It was situated next to a Dollar Tree and a Panda Express. It looked bleak. I prepared to let the sweet, sweet irony of what I was about to experience wash over me like a neon-colored tide.
I, like you, am not capable of having fun without the aid of some sort of intoxicant. As such, the first thing I did upon entering (after, of course, getting my hand stamped by a borderline suicidal teenager) was order a large ($3.99) beer and an all-you-could eat salad bar ($5.99 with coupon). The mediocrity of both the beer and the salad was unquantifiable. But they were so cheap! Wine was also available, and equally cheap, but the fact that it was: 1. Blush and Chablis only and 2. situated on draft next to the MGD and Miller Light taps disturbed me.
Granted, not all Chuck E. Cheese's locations serve alcohol, but this was the sort of neighborhood where no one would raise much of a fuss about it. Actually, the vast majority of parents—sporting sagging pants, sagging flesh, and saggier frowns—seemed to need it to tolerate the aggressively annoying surroundings.
My beer was served in a translucent plastic cup, the kind fast food restaurants give you when you ask for water. I drank it with aplomb. I smothered my salad in ranch. Now, logic would dictate that a salad should taste savory. Not at Chuck E. Cheese's. Here, it tasted like corn syrup. Everything tasted like corn syrup. The buzz of the beer, coupled with the sugar high I copped from the ranch, made what I was witnessing feel magical.
High, I stared transfixed at a ten-year-old girl as she provocatively danced in front of the green screen situated to the left of Chuck E.’s animatronic carcass. A Bon Jovi parody track blared. A kid who was probably around seven attempted to look “tough” in the photo his mother was taking of him next to the animatronic Chuck E.—the possessed rat kept robotically jerking from left to right, repeatedly hitting the scowling, cross-armed kid in the head. The seven-year-old refused, however, to move. He was either sincerely tough, sincerely stupid, or both. I put my money on both. I got another beer.
Suitably juiced, I re-entered the stage area and became entranced by a monitor. A music video of M.C. Hammer’s “U [sic] Can’t Touch This,” featuring the shockingly competent dancing of a man in a Chuck E. costume, blew my mind. A scene from an episode of Fraggle Rock followed. I surveyed my surroundings. Why the fuck was I the only 20-something, childless loser in this place? It should have been packed with dipshits in acid-washed jean jackets and skintight bodysuits. The beer was unethically cheap. The food was atrocious. The entertainment was irony incarnate.
Photo-taking opportunities abounded. Millennial narcissists who needed new profile pics could stand in front of the green screen, pay a quarter for a dot matrix printout of themselves, or download an iPhone app that made it possible to get their picture taken with a crudely animated Chuck E.
Prizes include Tech Decks and ThunderCats action figures. It was entirely possible to drunkenly yell, “I wanna ride the plastic horsey!” and then do it.
Did I drunkenly ride the plastic horsey? You’re goddamned right I did. I played skeeball. I rode in a child-sized car. I, a grown-ass woman, crawled around in plastic tubes that reeked of vomit. I regressed to infancy. And no one stopped me.
Why would they? I was young. I was white. I was American. I was shitty. I was you.
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