Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A SUMMER AT CHUCK E. CHEESE by Gregg Gethard

We join Philadelphia stand-up comic/writer/host of BEDTIME STORIES (July's show is the Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? extravaganza, more on that later) once again as he recounts his idyllic summer as an employee of Chuck E. Cheese.

PART 1

Dawn had her blonde hair teased as only a girl from North Jersey can tease her hair. I fucking hated her. She was a complete and total bitch to anyone she didn't like, which was everyone, except for the parade of older shithead guidos she dated, the types of guys whose idea of a good time was to throw Coors Light empties out of a speeding car at homeless people.

Dawn and I were co-workers at Chuck E. Cheese, America's foremost chain of birthday emporiums for germ-infected kids. My job duties were plentiful -- kidnap prevention, game repair, game maintenance, merchandise counter, waiter, bus boy, dishwasher, breadstick cook, bathroom custodian and, of course, costumed entertainment.

For one glorious, defining summer, my job was to pretty much get into a giant rat costume and dance around for immigrant children.

This is how I ended up, holding a mouse head in a filthy utility closet, getting yelled at by a girl whose only talent on earth was the ability to blindly flip the radio dial from KISS FM to HOT 97 while going down on a 28-year-old cement mixer/numbers runner in the front seat of his fire red Camaro.

The rest of the story after the jump...

"What the fuck do you think you're doing out there? Huh? I have to do the birthday dance while you're out there looking like a retard. What the fuck is wrong with you?"

I guess I was a bit of a loose cannon as a dancer. You had to be if you wanted to compete with Jim. Jim ran the kitchen and never spoke more than a few words at a time. He'd just cast an empty stare into the pizza over and announce when an order was finished.

But Jim liked to leave the kitchen area on occasion to don the Chuck E. Cheese costume. And when he did, he was pure electricity. Jim would dance on chairs, do somersaults, run onto tables and lead large Congo lines throughout the facility. Jim was a genius. He was the best Chuck E. Cheese performer amongst the staff of the Route 10 East Hanover branch. He was untouchable.

But I wanted to make a case for number two. The other Chuck E. Cheese performers often gave tedious performances. I could understand mailing in a performance, especially after a long day of serving pizzas and redeeming plastic trinkets for prize tickets.

But I could only understand mailing it in. I never did. Not if I wanted to be number two.

At the very least, I could better than George. George was 26 and had a tube in the back of his head which kept his skull from expanding. He was about 40 pounds overweight and a heavy smoker. He was the first person, out of many, I would meet at a shitty job who would have the corporate rules and regulations handbook memorized.

“Black shirts go with brown belts, Gregg. White shirts get tucked in."

"There are only 18 pieces of pepperoni on this pie. Send it back to Kitchen and tell them to make sure there are 20."

“The plug for the Jurassic Park sit-down game does not go into that outlet.”

George also loved performing as Chuck E. Cheese. He would rigidly to the performance as per the training video. He would never stray from the "Birthday Dance." He would never throw in a macarena or a sexy hip wiggle.

It was a metaphor for my life -- would my individualism shine through in the face of such oppressive corporate attitudes? Would I be able to dance The Birthday Song as I saw fit, with my own impressions, or would the forces of management, at least through the eyes of a semi-retarded guy, make me do the standard swim dance followed by the watusi? Would I manage to trump a 26-year-old porn addict whose mom drove him to and from work, since he couldn't drive because of the tube in his head which kept his skull from expanding?

It would be a test of wills.

George loved Dawn. He called her about seven times a night. Once, his fat mother even came into the store to ensure her it would be okay if she wanted to come over for dinner.

She didn't.

After performing as Chuck E. Cheese, it was custom to go back to the kitchen for a drink and a few slices of pizza or breadsticks. This time, Dawn followed me, continuing to insult my dancing abilities. "I don't think you understand how much of an idiot I look like dancing when you're dancing like an asshole. Just do The Birthday Dance like you're supposed to."

Albert slammed down his pizza knife and looked over at us. He was a Christian convert from Nigeria. The only thing he hated more than loud arguments in the kitchen was Jews. He announced one day he would attack any Jews he met as they killed Christ. At least half the staff was Jewish.

Dawn continued to browbeat me. Finally, I lost it.

"Buh buh buh buh." I screamed in her face. "I'm a dumb guidette! I'm a dumb guidette!"

"WHAT did you just call me?"

"I called you a dumb, worthless guidette. And I barely, rarely give a deuce what the fuck you think about my dancing. Buh buh buh buh."

The whole kitchen just stopped to look at me. Everyone in the kitchen stopped what they were doing to watch my fit.

Arthur, the assistant manager who smoked pot with me back by the dumpster, looked at me.

"Did you just say that you 'barely, rarely give a deuce?’ What the fuck does that even mean? Why are you saying ‘buh buh buh’ so much? Is that even English?"

I looked at him. The entire staff was laughing at me.

I then clocked out for my lunch break.

PART 2

The only thing Ronnie ever talked about were cheat codes for whatever fantasy game for his Sega he just purchased. It was another day of toiling in silence with Ronnie, fixing games and cleaning up spilled soda and dropped pizza.

Pete, the manager, then came running to us. Pete was always intense. His job was to oversee the smooth operations of a Chuck E. Cheese outlet and he put all of his energy into doing just that. He'd always talk about his chronic headaches and discuss his marital strife with his teenage employees.

"We have an emergency in the ballpit. Code Brown. It’s a Code Brown. I need you two over there with garbage bags and shovels, pronto."

Ronnie and I went over to the ballpit. We saw two crying children, pointing inside the ballpit.

"Some other kid just went poopie in the ballpit. It wasn't me, though, it was some other kid." I looked at the rear of this kid’s pants. They seemed to be filled with diarrhea, hopefully his own.

Smeared across dozens of balls was, indeed, poopie. It was liquid in its nature. No doubt, the Chuck E. Cheese breadsticks did a number on this kid's intestinal tract.

Pete told me and Ronnie to go into the ball pit and shovel all of the balls into the plastic bags. And then we were to go and hose off the balls and return them when they were cleaned.

So there I was, shoveling shit-drenched balls out of a ballpit into plastic bags with a deaf-mute Final Fantasy addict.

Our only conversation would come when children would want to come into the ballpit. I'd have to tell them it was closed. They'd always inquire why.

"Poopie. There's a looooooot of poopie in there."

Finally, after about an hour, all the balls, and the fecal matter, were in plastic bags. We took them out to the parking lot behind the kitchen, conveniently located right in front of the lobby of the area’s most popular movie theater.

Ronnie held open a bag. And I then started to hose off shit-smeared balls for the Chuck E. Cheese ballpit. In a lifetime of lowly moments, this was definitely one of the worse.

But my public shaming was not complete. Now driving past the parking lot was a gang of dickheads who went to high school with me. Here I was, standing in a parking lot in the retarded Chuck E. Cheese outfit, complete with visor, hosing off balls, while these tanned, musclehead assholes in a convertible bought with Daddy's "construction" money driving by, yelling my name (“Faggot”), and throwing Coors Light empties at me.

I then told Ronnie we were done. No one was by the dishwasher. I took the fecal-infested balls and threw them in the dishwasher, along with the plates and cups and everything else a restaurant uses. Fortunately, I did not create an e coli scare.

PART 3

From one side of the crowded Chuck E. Cheese walked a white trash lady with all the needed acoutrements -- a big Jersey perm, swishy running pants, caked on make-up, the wide eyes of a coke binge and an ugly, overweight child. From the other side came this ghetto fabulous Newark girl -- neck tattoo, Cross Colour shirt w/ matching pants and an ugly, overweight child.

They both converged in front of the merchandise table I was sitting behind, hoping to join the masses who wanted to exchange their tickets for valuable plastic backscratchers, pencil erasers and neon green T-Shirts with stenciled cartoon frogs.

"Move, bitch, I was fuckin' here first."

"No, you move, you trashy-ass whore."

It was on. Punches were thrown, hair was pulled and bodies hit the floor. The string of obscenities were absurd in their violence and tone. Parents were watching and kids were screaming.

I couldn’t stop laughing; because, as per my custom when working merch, I was really high.

Pete, the manager, rushed the scene and pulled the ladies apart. They were STILL trying to get at each other.

Finally, after they left, Pete called me into the kitchen. He then proceeded to berate me for not doing more to stop the fight.

I couldn’t stop laughing; I was still really high when this guy was browbeating me for not hopping the merch counter to intervene in this brawl.

PART 4

My co-worker Nick and I had one thing in common -- an undying attraction for sexy, older women. Chuck E. Cheese. was filled with MILFs.

We devised a system, breaking Chuck E. Cheese into various quadrants.

"Nick, MILF red, Sector 4" meant for Nick to head to the skeeball racks to see 38-year-old woman wearing a very short skirt.

Nick or I would then get into the Chuck E. Cheese costume. Eventually, Chuck E. would mosey over to the sector and start to hug children. Then, Chuck E. would end up inappropriately hugging a mother of two, hoping to avoid a lawsuit.

PART 5

Kid Check was one of the more annoying jobs I've ever had. I would stand at the front of the store and stamp a number onto the hands of children with their adult supervisor. Kids could not leave the store unless they had the same number as the adult trying to leave with them.

Essentially, I was The Wall between a child and his or her brutal rape and murder…all for minimum wage.

On top of my worries that my shameful photograph would be plastered on the evening news after I inadvertently let a 9-year-old leave with a man who would keep her chained in a tomb while he filmed her, this job could be painfully boring. During slow times, when there wasn't anyone in the store, all I did was just sit at the front like a complete and total asshole.

To counter the boredom, I would bring in a book to read. The first book was Camus' The Stranger. One soccer mom asked me what I was reading. She asked me what it was about.

"The existentialist quandry of everyday life, as seen through the prism of the murder of an Arab."

She walked away without saying anything.

One day, I didn't have a book to read. An African-American co-worker of mine lent me her copy of Waiting to Exhale.

Every African-American woman who walked past me would stop and talk my ear off about the book and explain to me about how it was just like their life.

Chuck E. Cheese helped me gain a better understanding of the life experiences of other races and genders, at least through Terry McMillan’s worldview.

PART 6

One day, I was at Kid Check. And who walks in, but none other than then-New York Giants head coach and football legend Dan Reeves.

It was his grandson's birthday. He sat down at a table and was then surrounded by every guy in the store -- a combination of big Giants' fans and dads insanely bored from being at Chuck E. Cheese.

I had to get in costume and do The Birthday Dance for Dan Reeves' grandson. I went up to Coach Reeves and made him get up and do the twist. He somehow did this and managed not to break his hip.

Later on in the day, Dan Reeves, football legend, put about $15 worth of quarters in The Who's Tommy pinball game ("Touch Me. Feel Me. Play Me."), not seeing the large "OUT OF ORDER" sign right on top of it.

“Thank you, son,” he said as I reimbursed him for his token loss.

No wonder he couldn't win a Super Bowl with John Elway.

PART 7

"Fuck. It's Dauber."

Those three words sent shivers down the spine of any and all of the East Hanover Chuck E. Cheese employees. Dauber was a regular customer at Chuck E. Cheese, always coming with his nephew, Robbie.

He was called Dauber because of his stunning resemblance to four time Oscar-award winning actor Bill Faggerblake, the man who portrayed the loveably dim-witted assistant Dauber on TV's Coach. Dauber also constantly wore a mesh blue football jersey for a team entitled "The Dusters" with the number 43.

He was also a complete and total asshole. Rude, pushy, degrading -- this guy was a nightmare. He would come into Chuck E. Cheese, condescendingly say the name on your nametag, and say something like: "I would like a bag of tokens now. Hurry up before I get your manager" or "Return this pizza, boy, it's cold."

We all longed for a way to get back at this dick. The unwritten "code" stated that you could do this by humiliating and/or assaulting the child of a patron. The resetting of a heated video game, a quick judo toss in the ball pit or taking a child's redemption tickets were always a good way to take out the deep rage of a crummy minimum wage job on an innocent.

But I was previously burned by the "code” in an attempt to strike back against a small child. A mother and a father were particularly bothersome to me when I served them their food. I sought justice by tripping their daughter in the game room as she ran by me. I was caught by her parents in the act. Pete, the over-the-top insane manager, was absolutely irate with me when they told him what I did.

At Pete’s order, I had to physically lower myself and squat and apologize to a nine-year-old girl in the middle of the store, as her parents and my boss hovered over me.

She didn’t accept my apology.

Thus, attacking Robbie was out of the question. We needed a strike directly at Dauber himself.

Dauber's biggest demands were for an employee to get in costume. Getting in costume had its moments; however, at the end of a hot, long day, it wasn't something anyone particularly wanted to do. Especially if George, the 26-year-old with the tube in the back of his head, was in costume earlier in the day, since you'd go home smelling like a 26-year-old Chuck E. Cheese employee with a tube in the back of his head.

Dauber, once again, demanded someone to get into costume. I gathered the troops in the kitchen. And I told them that I was going to fight back.

I got into costume. I went out on the floor, hugging kids while Dauber and his son watched. I waited. Nick served them their medium pie. And then I made my move.

I sat down with Dauber and Robbie, putting the oversized Chuck E. Cheese boots on the table.

"Wow, Robbie. Look! Chuck E. Cheese came to sit with you, Robbie."

I then took my feet off the table and stood up. And I pointed my fur-covered finger right in his big, fat face.

"Oh, no. I think he's here to see me, Robbie."

I shook my mouse helmet yes, swatting with my paw, swiping his Diet Coke away, spilling it on the floor. Then I grabbed a slice of his pizza and turned it upside down, squashing it on the table and then pointing in his face again.

Nick then came up behind me, with our co-workers in the background. He folded his arms.

"Chuck E. thinks you're a jerk. You come in here every weekend to boss around teenagers. And Chuck E. thinks you owe us all an apology."

Dauber paused, said he was sorry, and then left the store.

PART 8

My one goal in the summer of 1996 was to avoid having a TV camera stuck in my face as a reporter frantically asked me: “Don't you feel responsible for the fact that Little Jenni Myers was forced to live in a subterranean fortress until her head was eventually sawed off and her torso was discovered in luggage dropped out of a speeding windowless van off of I-287 in Far Hills?"

The genesis for this neurosis of mine came from my primary duty as an employee of Chuck E. Cheese -- tediously standing at the front of the store behind The Kid Check podium. My duty was to stamp the hands of parent and child with a day-glo number. Upon leaving the store, I would have to check the numbers of the parents and children to ensure no children were being lured to their brutal, prolonged death.

There were several aspects of the Kid Check job which did not work in my favor as I served as "the last wall" against child rape. First, the hand stamp tool we used was this broken piece of crap. Second, I was really high for a decent amount of my Kid Check duties. And third, during my sober moments, I really didn't care; the existential angst I gained from reading Camus at the workplace had yet to be scrubbed off.

There were only a few hours left in my final day of work. Hopefully, I would leave this job without being charged with an accessory crime.

-------------------

Earlier in the day, I gave my last performance as Chuck E. Cheese. I recruited two friends of mine to join me: Mark, who had sex with at least four co-workers, dressed as Jasper T. Jowls, a manchild/dog creation and Nick, who also had sex with as many as three co-workers, dressed as the freakish nightmare named Helen Henny. Nick's costume looked vaguely like a used HAZMAT suit. In addition to his beak mask, Nick also had to don tight blue spandex bike pants -- a comical sight to begin with, but considering he had thighs the size of a small office building due to his years as a mildly talented high school wrestler.

The birthday song began. I, as Chuck E. Cheese, charged out of the dressing room for one last time. And as soon as I did, Jasper T. Jowls struck me from behind with a devastating right paw swoop. I turned to witness Helen Henny kicking Jasper T. Jowls.

The brawl was on.

It lasted for several minutes, all three of us landing solid blows. At one point, I picked up a chair and hit Mark in the back. The fight ended with Mark hit Nick in the beak, thus causing the Helen Henny mask to do a complete 180.

Parents stood by, unsure of what to do. The children and our co-workers celebrated and gave us a rousing ovation.

------------------

Only two hours remained in my duties. Once again, I was left at Kid Check. And I absolutely needed to ensure that no child would be kidnapped while I stood at The Last Wall. A child was leaving the store with his mom. I looked at his hand. And then hers. His hand. and then he's. A panicked look fell on my face.

"Ma'am, I'm afraid I can't let you go. I believe you are kidnapping this child."

Her mouth dropped. Then I smiled.

"Ma'am... I'm a big kidder! Go on out and have a nice day!"

Immediately behind her was a mother/daughter duo.

looked at the daughter's hand first. And then the mom's. Daughter's. Mom's. A panicked look fell on my face.

"Ma'am, I'm afraid I can't let you go. I believe you are kidnapping this child."

She was more annoyed. Then I smiled.

"Ma'am... I'm a big kidder! Go on out and have a nice day!"

I did this for about the next two hours. Then I turned in my uniform.

6 comments:

quba said...

Nice! I laughed, cried and also believe my wife may have dated George. She regales me with tales of a guy with a brain injury that had a tube in his head.

Matt said...

I can't believe you lasted a whole summer. I worked at the one in Deptford NJ for 3 weeks. I was in the kitchen, though, so my routine was more like, make pizzas, get burns on my hands, do the birthday dance (yes, in the suit), and scrub the floors. I hated it. My parents, in an attempt to call my bluff, said, "If you hate it so much, why don't you quit?" So I did. They were a bit surprised. But I definitely made the right decision on that one.

Pruneface said...

Gregg does it again. Incredible.

James Frey said...

Gregg, the truth will set you free.

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