First the good news. I haven't been to Chuck E. Cheese's since the last time I went to Chuck E. Cheese's.
And that was a long time ago.
Now the bad news. I went there today.
This all came about due to a strange concept. Zara apparently has a friend and the aforementioned friend's parents suggested a rendezvous at Chuck E. Cheese's.
This development has been something of a surprise to me. I feel like taking her into a corner and telling her at her age I didn't have a single friend. I was a hopeless loner with the antisocial tendencies. What is she doing having a friend?
The truth is less stark. I had friends but they were all really weird.
Anyhow I did all the normal things to get out of my visit to Chuck E. Cheese's; feigned a sore throat and a cough, developed a sudden interest in American sports that meant I had to stay at home to see a game between two teams whose names I didn't recall. That kind of thing.
It was all to no avail. A couple of hours later the hideous ediface of Chuck E. Cheese's appeared like the Black Gate of Mordor, agape to swallow our money. As we approached Zara gave me a spiel about not embarassing her friend or her friend's parents, all of which I thought to be unnecessary for a six-year-old, before we got into a to-ing and fro-ing about whether Chuck E. was a mouse or a rat.
I swore it was a rat, although I realize deep down it's probably a mouse, because who'd name an establishment after the vicious carrier of the bubonic plague?
By the time we walked in my cough was getting worse. I think it was a sign that read: "Admission to the fun is always free" that set me off.
I mean what kind of skinflint is going to take their kids to a place where you put tokens into flashing and banging mechines and not pay a dime? Nor would you go to such a place not to feed the crazy machines.
We paid $10 for 50 tokens that disappeared in about 20 minutes. Then it was another $10 and the same again for a minute pizza that tasted of disinfectant.
Zara's friend's father said a watery beer cost about $5; the Catch 22 is the fact you need a beer to survive Chuck E's.
Fortunately the place seemed quieter than I remembered it last time but it was only 12.30 a.m. After I had been there for about an hour I went up to buy more tokens and realized I appeared to have left my ATM card at last night's restaurant.
I went outside to make a call and without realizing it I had left Chuck E's altogether and was driving home with a vague plan to check my jacket to see if the card was there.
My wife called to ask my whereabouts and why I hadn't called the restaurant and I said "good point." But by now I was stuck at a level crossing waiting for the world's longest and slowest train to pass. My wife called me to say my card was at the restaurant but by now I was almost home, so had to check my jacket anyway. Then there was a call to make to one of the neighbors and the quick task of translating the Bible into Chinese etc.
By the time I got back to Chuck E's, the place was considerably busier than before. I lost hope as a pleasant Sunday became a cacophany of banging, crashing, screeching, ringing, clashing and pinging, anything with -ing on the end, except knitting.
Those hundreds of tokens had all gone but in their place Zara had a great wadful of tickets which she could exchange for a gift. We carried them to the till through the waves of ADD addled kids, in an industrial sized dumpster and were told we had earned enough tickets for a pencil.
So the trip to Chuck E's ended on a sour note.
"What do you expect from a rat? "I told Zara
"He's a mouse."