describes nine circles of hell, which feature such punishments as being trapped in a violent storm unable to touch each other, being forced to push rocks in opposite directions, being turned into a thorny black tree, being chased by ferocious dogs, being in a desert of flaming sands wehre flames rain from the sky, being whipped by demons, being placed head-first into a hole while flames burn the soles of the feet, having your head put on backwards so you can only see what is behind you, and being frozen in a lake of ice. (I remembered none of that. I had to look it up. What a pitiful education I've had.)
What Wikipedia will not tell you is that documents have been recovered which suggest a little known Tenth Circle of Hell. Which is where I spent the afternoon yesterday.
Chuck E Cheese's
The Tenth Circle of Hell is crowded with children who have no quiet, indoor voices, and catatonic adults who languish in booths watching over their territory. The adults appear to be shell-shocked, which is due to the high cost of tokens, which are the Lifeblood of the Tenth Circle of Hell. The token machines taken credit cards now and soon, they will be able to fill out the paperwork for your second mortgage.
But I thought I could survive unscathed, even though to enter you must accept
the Mark of the Beast
a hand-stamp. At precisely 4:00 p.m., we arrived with birthday present in hand. The mother of the birthday girl had twenty-five plates lines on the long table. No children were in sight. They began to trickle in fifteen minutes later and party seemed to sort of officially begin at 4:35 p.m.
I was lucky, though. Near the long table was an unoccupied booth, big enough for two. I marked my territory with my jean jacket and "Family Circle" magazine, then sat and watched. I read my magazine ("Love Your Life: 25 Ways to Feel Calm Every Day", which strangely enough, didn't mention a thing about sitting in a booth at Chuck E. Cheese's on a Sunday afternoon), glancing up occasionally to see my son acting crazy.
He goofed off with the others. The animatronic creatures had been replaced with a fake movie camera which projects the images of the crazed children on two big screens. The girls seemed to be auditioning for MTV, while the boys took turns throwing themselves to the floor and karate-chopping each other and shaking the camera violently. Periodically, my son would hurry over and ask if I'd seen a particular stunt he'd done. At one point, a bunch of hapless employees joined a costumed Chuck (can I call you "Chuck"?) as he danced a few numbers. The bored manner in which these employees danced was a delight.
At long last, pizza was served. At long long, pizza was finished. At long last, tokens were distributed. Ten tokens for each child. Knowing ten tokens would never be enough and hoping to parole myself
Chuck E. Cheese's
the Tenth Circle of Hell for at least another year, I bought twenty bucks worth of tokens--which works out to 105. I redeemed myself by actually tagging along and playing games with my boy and his friend (who was mooching tokens from us). (I had long since finished my magazine.) I demonstrated my propensity for gambling by plugging token after token into this game in which (in the words of this website
,) "The coin or token will land on a flat surface or surfaces which have a sweeper(s) and/or a pusher arm moving across the surface or surfaces." I could easily put all 105 tokens in that machine, but I didn't.
When we spent all the tokens, turned the 311 tickets into a receipt, and "purchased" our cheap trinkets, we went back to see if the cake was being served. No. It was not. Instead, birthday party mom had distribute goody bags which contained torturous noise-makers. Suddenly, the room was filled the sound of ten thousand crows having their tailfeathers plucked out one by one and dog-whistle kind of whistles, which oddly enough, considering my state of near-deafness, I could hear.
A grown adult, a man, stood blowing a whistle over and over. I was about to suggest to the three other moms sitting near me (they'd infringed on my booth territory while I was busy
playing games, but I'd assured them, ""Oh no, that's fine. Stay there," and then I eavesdropped, but sadly to say, they were very boring) that one of us needed to slap that noise-making lunatic and I was willing to offer ten bucks to the slapper, but instead, I just sat glaring deathrays at that man who eventually did stop, but not a second too soon. I had slapped him in my imagination about ten times by then. (No wonder I was sitting in the Tenth Circle of Hell with such dreadful thoughts.)
The cake was finally served and the second my son finished licking his plate (over and over and over again and then some more, was he raised by wolves, hungry wolves on the Atkins plan with a fierce sugar craving?) I marched over to birthday party mom and shook her sticky hand and thanked her profusely. And I said that I hoped she'd get to put up her feet when she got home.
We left at 6:15 p.m. I have no idea when the birthday girl opened gifts.
As we walked out in the sudden stillness of the evening, my son said, "Mom, you know what kind of parties I like the best? Chuck E. Cheese's and Odyssey 1."
Yeah, me, too. That and being chased by venomous snakes and being plunged into a lake of burning pitch and then, as a grand finale, being steeped in human excrement.