Sunday, February 20, 2011

Some very unyogic thoughts on my first Chuck E Cheese experience

Yesterday was a day of great sensory overload. A very un-yogic day, in many ways, but I had a few interesting insights from it as well. Besides, it provided an interesting departure from my usual quiet routine of doing yoga, teaching classes, preparing for classes, grading papers, domestic chores, and (of course) blogging. Now you know how very unglamorous my daily life is :-)

Anyway, back to what happened yesterday. Yesterday afternoon, to be more exact. My girlfriend teaches preschool kids (2 to 4 years of age) at a local Montessori school. Yesterday afternoon, one of her kids was having his birthday party at the local Chuck E. Cheese's, and she got invited to attend. Since I had never actually been to a Chuck E. Cheese's (if you've never been to one as well, here's their official website), I decided to tag along as well, out of curiosity about what kids today consider to be good, clean fun.

The moment I stepped into the place, I felt like I had been transported (actually, "teleported" might have been a better word) to a different planet. The whole place was filled with kids (mostly around 3 to 6 years of age) running up and down. There was a big area filled with video game machines and other machines you play for a token or two (there's got to be a generic name for these games, right? What is it?). There were kids at each of these machines, and they were all mesmerized by the sounds and flashing lights emitting from... everywhere.

We made our way to the birthday party area, where things were already set up for the birthday party. The kid and his parents, as way as several other kids and their parents, were already there. I took a few minutes to look around and try to soak in the atmosphere, the sights and sounds of the place. I usually try to do that when I'm in an unfamiliar environment.

It was around this time that I had an interesting realization. Almost nobody there seemed to be really enjoying himself or herself. The parents certainly had that look on their faces that clearly said, "I'd rather be fishing/watching TV/going for a drive/doing yoga(?) than be at this crazy, over-stimulated place. I wouldn't be here if it weren't because the kids wanted to be here." What about the kids? Well, I think children are very interesting creatures. They seem to have this amazing ability to soak themselves into the moment when they are really into something. I saw many kids either being totally absorbed in the game machines, or mulling around the huge, larger-than-life-sized Chuck E. Cheese employee dressed as Chuck E. Cheese. But I don't get the sense that the kids were enjoying themselves there more than they would have been at, say, a playground. At least, this is my observation. Maybe you should take this last statement with a grain of salt, since I don't have any kids myself. But at any rate, this is my sense of things.

The employees certainly didn't look like they really really wanted to be there. They were going about the place, setting things up, trying to put up a show of trying to put up a good show. Which, in my opinion, says something: If you really are putting up a good show, you shouldn't have to look like you are trying to put up a good show, should you? Here's a case in point. We got to the "big" moment when the Chuck E. Cheese employee dressed as Chuck E. Cheese got to the front of the party area to lead all the birthday parties... Oh, I forgot to mention that there were three birthday parties for three different kids going on in the same room at the same time! Isn't this a little bizarre? I mean, how would you feel if you were one of the birthday kids? Or maybe it's just me? Maybe in these hard times, nobody can afford the luxury of hosting a birthday party at a restaurant exclusively for their own kid anymore? I don't know...

But I digress. So the Chuck E. Cheese employee dressed as Chuck E. Cheese got to the front of the party area, and started leading everybody in the signature Chuck E. Cheese birthday song. The employees went, "I say Happy, you say..." And everybody else (including me) is supposed to go, "Birthday!" I noticed that the employees were just mechanically going through the motions of leading everybody in this cheesy (no pun intended) birthday song. Or am I the only one in the room that notices this? Hmm... They probably have done this, like, a thousand times (and what's worse, they totally look like they have!) And then immediately after the birthday song, one employee goes to the head of each party table and starts cutting the birthday cake for all the birthday guests.

Maybe I'm being very cynical, but the whole thing seems to me like a production line: "Okay, we're going to let you guys hang out here in the party area and do whatever you like for about an hour or so, and then we're going to come around and lead you in the special Chuck E. Cheese birthday song (with an appearance by Chuck E. Cheese himself, of course!), and then we're going to cut your birthday cake, and you're going to eat it ("yes, you get to have your cake and eat it! How cool is that?"), and then you're going to get the hell out of here, so that we can clean up!"

And then the thought struck me: Maybe this Chuck E Cheese experience is a microcosmic parody of human existence as a whole! Think about this: "You're going to come into this world. For the first year or two, you can sort of hang out, chill with your fellow babies/newbies to this world. And then you're going to pre-school, elementary school, junior high and high school, where you will study all these boring subjects, whether or not you want to. And then, if you're lucky, maybe you get to go to college. If you're lucky again, you graduate (and you better do it and get the hell out in four years or less, unless you want to spend the rest of your life paying off student loans!). And then if you're lucky, you get to be part of the daily grind we call working life. And then if you're lucky again (very lucky, in fact!), you get to retire. And then you get to get the hell out of life (and maybe go to hell, depending on your religious beliefs and/or whether you've been "good")! And again, maybe if you're lucky, your children will clean up the mess you left behind :-)."

Well, this has been a most un-yogic rant. But maybe I should try to end this on a somewhat more yogic note. Well, this might present a job opportunity for all of you yoga teachers out there who are thinking of teaching some corporate yoga classes. You might want to think about going to your local Chuck E. Cheese's, and offering corporate yoga classes to their employees. They certainly look like they can use some yoga, working day in and day out in this super-over-sensory-stimulated environment. You will most certainly be doing much good. And of course, if you haven't actually been to a Chuck E. Cheese's yet, I highly recommend that you do. Maybe you should just crash some kid's birthday party on some Saturday afternoon. (Just say you are the second-cousin of so-and-so's first cousin's second cousin's grandson. They won't know, especially if you sing the Chuck E. Cheese birthday song with a lot of gusto :-)).


  1. Oh, it's not just at Chuck E Cheese. This phenomenon exists everywhere. You've inspired me to write a post.

  2. Nobel,

    I have a Chuck E Cheese story to share but first I want to turn you on to an amazing blog:

    I am not sure if I told you about this guy, but he is the boyfriend of the woman who introduced me to Buddhism and he might be one of the most talented people I have ever met. I will let you decide for yourself.

    And now my story about Chuck E. Cheese:

    When my children were younger, and Chuck E Cheese was a relatively new phenomenon, of course they wanted to go. But being a single parent, with limited funds, I was not able to take them as a group. Since they weren't all equally interested in going, I took Zach, my second-to-the-youngest child.

    It was totally Zach's cup of tea. He loved the sensory overload; he loved all the games; he loved all the rowdy children; he loved all the flashing lights and loud sounds - whatever they were. I was traumatized within five minutes of being in the building.

    I thought to myself, "How will I ever last more than another five minutes?" knowing that Zach would want to stay for at least two hours.

    Then, as I was standing there in line, waiting to order a pizza, feeling the anxiety growing in the pit of my stomach I noticed there was beer and wine on the menu! I had found my savior! One or two classes of wine, could probably soften the edges of the Chuck E. Cheese atmosphere; and it did!

    However, I don't think I could have drunk enough glasses of wine to think that the so-called pizza (which was actually cardboard with ketchup painted on it) was palatable.

  3. ugh. I've been to Chuck E. Cheese and it's just as you described: total chaos and sensory overload. I think it can be (CAN BE-- not always) a lazy default for parents who don't know how to put on a party or think all the bells and whistles are what make for a great party. Adults seem to forget that children have amazing imaginations and only need a little direction. One of my favorite birthday memories is the party my mother organized where we all made paper plate hats and played games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey! ha ha!! But I'm old... before electricity. heh.

    Think of how disgusting everything is at Chuck E. Cheese. It's like a dark den of germs. And yeah, the pizza is the foulest form of "pizza" ever made. Shameful!

  4. @Yyogini, I just read your post. Yes, you are right: this zombie phenomenon exists everywhere :-)

    @Cathrine, yes, I have read a few posts on Fierce Oblivion, and they are all very insightful and well-written. I haven't visited that bog lately, but I will soon.

    Yes, the beer and wine on the Chuck E Cheese menu. I did notice a few men standing by the machines drinking beer while their kids were playing. I was going to include that in my post, but there was just too much detail, had to be selective. Yes, I thought it was a bit incongruous when I first saw the beer. I have nothing against adults drinking in front of kids (I think it's better than drinking behind kids' backs), but still, the presence of alcohol just didn't seem to gel with the overall theme of a place when kids are supposed to be able to have some good clean family fun. Now after what you said, I totally see why they would need to serve alcohol :-)

    The pizza, yeah... to say it sucks is a gross understatement. I actually had a small slice of the veggie pizza (totally tasteless!) just so as to not appear to be a food snob.

  5. @Evelyn, glad to know I'm not the only person who thinks that the kids are getting shortchanged by such a birthday experience. Sometimes I think that the more "successful" parents are (high-paying jobs, little time to be with kids, etc.), the less they seem to be able to understand that bells and whistles aren't what make for a good experience. While I was there, I actually noticed a few of the slightly older kids (those that are 6 or maybe slightly older) looking bored and tired.

    And the pizza... yes, it is indeed very foul...