Monday, October 03, 2005

The Tenth Circle of Hell

Dante's Inferno 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 gambling 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.


Blogger Vashti said...

Oh my gosh, Mel! My feelings exactly. I absolutely hate that place. Just today my daughter said "Why don't you and daddy ever take me to Chuck E. Cheese?" I didn't really have a good answer. Tomorrow I'll tell her 5 year old self "Because it's the Tenth Circle of Hell. Now go to your room and think on it." Thanks for the incredible laugh.

10:58 PM  
Blogger Julana said...

I wonder our perception of Chuck E. Cheese's is how the "regular" world feels to some people with autism.
If so, that's the one redeeming feature it has-- to give some kind of understanding to how people with sensory integration issues feel.

I once worked with one of the most laid-back guys I've ever met. One day the subject of Chuck E. Cheese's came up. He said, in the most vehement voice I ever heard him use, "I have been to CHuck E. Cheese's once in my life, and I will do everything in my power to never have to go back!"

4:59 AM  
Blogger The Dung Beetle said...

Oh man...

If ever there were such a thing as justifiable arson, I'm certain that it would involve Chuck E. Cheese somehow... I've gone to one of these... I haven't been able to enjoy videogames quite the same way since...

I now understand why Bruce Banner flips-out and goes on a green-skined roid-rage... it wasn't the gamma-ray radiation or the gene-splicing... he simply had to endure one too many of his nephew's shrill, high-pitched, high-volume, sugar-charged celebrations involving a freaky, animatronic rat.

Thanks for reminding me of my self-imposed restraining-order against that place.

7:00 AM  
Anonymous mopsy said...

Why can't parents huddle together and vow to never host parties at CEC? I won't do it if you won't...

8:13 AM  
Anonymous surcie said...

OhmyLord, that was funny!

11:24 AM  
Blogger Eyes said...

I got a headache just reading it LOL...

12:33 PM  
Blogger Debbie said...

We've only been to Chuck E Cheese's once, and that was with our fellowship group at church. Dd was thrilled because there was a ball pit to play in, and she loved dancing with Chuck. She talks about it every now and then and it has been months since we were there. Dh had never been to one before, and he is basically a big kid, so he was thrilled as well. Guess who'll be handling Chuck E Cheese trips if/when they come up in the future?

12:33 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

LOL - I'm still laughing!

1:54 PM  
Blogger M3 (Mary-Mia) said...

How funny, I just drove past a CEC yesterday and thought I bet I'm going to have to go to that place once I'm a mom. It was kind of unsettling. And after reading your post I'm even more scared.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Shelly said...

You are a brave, brave woman.

6:06 PM  
Blogger Angi said...

A few years ago, I was thrilled when the CEC went out of business in our area. Last year, it came back. Just like a nightmare, just keeps on haunting me. lol.

7:07 PM  
Blogger ellipsis... said...


I knew I had triumphed for all eternity over my husband in the which-parent-has-guts-of-iron contest when he offered me $100 to accompany Schmoopie to a birthday party at CEC (it was his turn).

And he really meant it. I took a Benadryl before we left (it has the effect of morphine on me) and hummed my way through it.

I spent the $100 on a pedicure and a pair of really cute shoes I of course did not need.

Thank goodness Schmoopie is now 12 and way too cool to ever darken the little mouse doorway ever again.

8:08 PM  
Anonymous Simply Coll said...

That was just tooo funny.
Would you believe that I have never been to a Chuck E. Cheese.

8:22 PM  
Blogger Judy said...


You failed to activate the 'Fasten Your Depends' icon.

I need a warning.

Too funny.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

I've never been in a Chuckee Cheesee. Is that good? Or bad?

4:47 AM  
Blogger Pam in Colorado said...

That was a great laugh! We were just talking about CEC last week. We had not seen one in a few years and our kids were thrilled with the idea of going to one again. UGH!!! My husband didn't seem to appalled by the idea, so perhaps he can take them! Although, I'll probably have to go too, since he does suffer through thrift stores and book purchases for me. :)

10:28 AM  
Blogger Krystal A. Kelly said...

My husband actually found your blog. He had me read this post because I say that same thing about THAT place every time it's mentioned.

I hate it so much that when my sister-in-law had her sons b-day parties there I flat out refused to go. I told her she was more than happy to take my kids, but I REFUSE to enter into THAT place.

5:31 PM  

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