In the summer of 2010 I was standing on a street corner with a sign that read: “Honk For Chuck E.!” The last name of the capitalist tycoon I was crusading for, Cheese, was left out for artistic reasons. But my fragile ego was burdened with more than the cross of a cardboard pizza box encrusted in glitter and gel pen. Around my hormone-racked teen body was a plastic coffin with two eye holes, tattered gym shorts, a trucker hat, broken sandals, and mangy fur matted by the sweat of the pizza line cooks who came before me.
Yes, it’s time that I admit: I was Chuck E. Cheese.
It may not come as a shock at all, when you consider my current employment status as a celebrity bully and resident high horse haver. Isn’t that how it works in the movies, anyway? The Hot Topic teenager trapped in a children’s funhouse costume goes on to invent the Post-it note? (Or, in my case, write fan fiction about Irina Shayk’s exploits in Iceland.) And yet for much of the late ‘aughts, I would change into a red, polyester polo shirt after 7th period algebra and drive my dilapidated Jeep Cherokee to the local strip mall. There, I’d clean the piss out of the playground in a yellow hazmat suit in between pizza orders and street side honk sessions. My infinitely richer classmates, who skated through high school without a second job, would routinely drive by me in their new Suburbans. Have you ever been subjected the airhorn of a Suburban? It should be classified as a federal offense.
But beyond the casual frivolities of life inside a 2000s arcade-bar-amusement park-pizza chain, the true nightmare were the Chuck E. Cheese “ticket parades.” I still wake up in a cold sweat with its harbinger, LMFAO!’s “Party Rock Anthem”, ringing in the night. The madness would start every hour on the hour. My manager, whose hair was crusted with a pungent layer of American Crew High Hold gel, would sneak up behind me and “jokingly” rub my shoulders. This was his warmup and I hated it. He’d lead me to the supply closet where an oversized mouse carcass was haphazardly propped up on a mildewed mop bucket and the tattered remains of Helen Henny, Chuck E. Cheese’s Big Bird derivative. I was then ushered through a crowd of 300 screaming 8-year-olds who I showered in Chuck E. Cheese money. The mangled gloves were coated on the inside with a thick layer of sweat and dead skin cells. Once, the ticket roll flew from my hand and knocked the fedora off the head of an unsuspecting mother. I’m unsure if an accident report was ever filled.
Eventually we’d find ourselves in the main “showroom,” an open space with popcorn ceilings that was permanently dirty despite my routine vacuuming. The sounds of LMFAO! would subside and I’d lead the children in a Satanic ritual referred to as the “Chuck E. Shuffle.” An arcade fanatic captured the 2010 horror below:
I used to tell myself that, as a prominent fixture in my high school theatre department, the choreographed dancing was helpful for my future “career.” It wasn’t!