Oh. My. Holy. God.
I’ve never actually read Dante’s Inferno, but I’m pretty sure I remember hearing that in it, Hell has nine levels. I think maybe Judas Iscariot is at the bottom, frozen in ice or something like that. According to British comedian Ben Elton, right below Judas is an editor from the British tabloid The Sun. Well, tonight I discovered who’s right below him, and this is what he looks like:
Today is Bernie’s fifth birthday. We had a party this afternoon at our house for the kids from the neighborhood plus a few of our good friends from nearby. It was a great party — games, ice cream cake, a pinata and more. Everybody had a great time and went away happy.
Then we went to Chuck E. Cheese’s for a party with three kids from Bernie’s class. And now I know where Dante got his ideas.
When I was a kid, Chuck E. Cheese’s was a video arcade with skeeball and a ball crawl. Now it’s like a torture scene from A Clockwork Orange. As soon as you walk in, a teenaged employee jams some hooks onto your eyelids to prevent you from blocking out the horrible fact that every surface in the place is either glowing, flashing or both.
Every object in the restaurant makes some sort of noise, from the games to the screeching children hopped up on soda and some of the worst pizza I’ve ever eaten. In fact, I may need to pause while writing this post so I can run and be physically sick.
When we lived in Tokyo, I often felt overwhelmed walking through the larger train stations or across busy intersections. The crush of people is like nothing you experience in any city in the United States, and I found it hard to process. Well, I’d rather run through the main shopping district in Shibuya wearing 3-D binoculars and listening to GWAR then spend one more minute of my life in a Chuck E. Cheese’s franchise.
Just finding Bernie’s three friends was a challenge. There were so many hip-high children in the place that it was next to impossible to gather the gang together, and completely impossible to keep track of them afterward, even with four of the five parents (including Jen and me) working every moment of the two — or was it 12? — hours to find them.
One tiny positive innovation is that everyone in a family gets the same infrared number stamped on his or her left hand at the entrance, meaning no child can leave without an adult who has the same number. So we were reasonably certain that none of the kids would turn up missing. We were less assured that none of them would turn up blubbering and bleeding from the eyes, clutching a token and murmuring “Insert coin to continue … Insert coin to continue…”
I think it was Woody Allen who used to tell the joke about “the food was terrible, and the portions were too small.” Well, as much as Chuck’s House of Horrors stunk on the face of it, it was made even worse by the absence of good video games. When I was a kid, there was Tron, Pac Man, Galaga, Defender, Star Wars, Q-bert, Donkey Kong, Mr. Rogers vs Chuck Norris, and many others. All those cool games are gone, replaced by car races featuring characters from Sponge Bob and NASCAR. (Not in the same game, which was too bad.) There were a few first-person shooters, but nothing good. And then about 8 million different ways to sucker you into exchanging money for prize tickets.
By the end of the evening, I was sobbing softly at our table, holding my security cupcake and wading through wrapping paper and Spider-Man-themed gifts. (We sent Spider-Man invitations to the kids, who otherwise know nothing about Bernie, so we got exclusively Spider-Man-themed gifts. Pretty hip, actually.)
I’ve shot my wad here. Let me just echo the words of the shortest Rolling Stone review ever published (for the first album by the band Chase):