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The Power of Cheese
by Amy Silverman

It has happened. Chuck E. Cheese made me love him, and then he broke my heart. 

Well, I wasn’t ever in love myself -- it was always Sophie -- but I did love that stupid overstuffed, oversized, also-ran, wanna-be Mickey Mouse the way you love the man your daughter brings home to marry. And then he betrayed us all, the fucker.

Make that she. It’s all the fault of a pimply woman named Jo Lynn, a manager at Chuck E. Cheese. I’d been eyeing her for months; she was really sub par – couldn’t get the pizza order straight, never had the cash registers manned or the games maintained properly. Little did I know she was capable of the cardinal sin.

Over this past summer, I became an unwilling student of all things Chuck E. Cheese, after my toddler, Sophie, developed a huge fondness for the mouse and the place. Annabelle, her five-year-old sister, was also a fan. 

I suppose the unhappy ending was inevitable, then -- go anyplace, do anything too much, and things will go bad (even too much soy, it turns out, isn’t good for you). I should have realized we were getting too comfortable at Chuck E. Cheese the night the young Chuck E. employee, Melissa, at the exit stopped Sophie and said in her best sing-songy voice, “Did you get to see Chuck E. Cheese tonight?” then mouthed “That was me” over Sophie’s head. I hadn’t realized the employees did double-duty, but it made sense. The next time we came, Melissa spotted Sophie and ran to the back to put on her costume. Chuck E. played with the girls for an hour. We were all in giddy heaven.  

(continued at right)

 

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I did think it was a little odd that Chuck E. had revealed him/herself. Wasn’t that against the rules? Where was the mystery? But with Sophie and Annabelle still in the dark, it didn’t seem to matter.

Then, one Thursday night near closing, it happened. My husband Ray called on his way home from Chuck E.’s, whispering into the cell from the front seat. The place had been deserted, he muttered, choking back laughter, and Chuck E. – played that night by Jo Lynn, rather than the sweet Melissa – started fooling around, wrestling with a male employee, probably her boyfriend. One thing led to another, and Chuck E. wound up on the floor, pinned, the mouse head ripped away.

Everyone laughed, until someone heard Sophie cry. She’d seen the whole thing, and stood off to the side, sobbing. Someone placated her with two stuffed Chuck E. dolls, which, added to our collection at home, brings the grand total to four.

Later, Annabelle told me, “Mommy, I just stared, with my mouth open.” Ray said to her, “Now, Annabelle, you knew Chuck E. wasn’t a real mouse, right?” Yes, she replied, but she didn’t know he was a human, let alone a girl. “Well, what did you think he was?” Ray asked. “Just Chuck E.” In a weird, way, that made sense.

“But Daddy,” Annabelle asked, “does that mean that Chuck E. doesn’t love the little children who come to see him?”

Annabelle did crack up when Ray explained that Chuck E. sees through the mouth of the costume, rather than the eyes. But the next time we tried to take the girls, Annabelle refused. She got hysterical. Maybe she was just tired after a long day at school. I’m not so sure.

We did go back, this past Sunday. I saw Jo Lynn immediately and glared at her. Ray made me swear I wouldn’t call the corporate office to complain. Jo Lynn looked at us, but I couldn’t tell if she remembered The Incident or not. I certainly did. I was steaming the entire visit.

Our tokens spent, crappy toys bought, we headed for the exit, where the young Chuck E. clerk delayed us because she wasn’t sure Sophie’s blue light security number – stamped on her wrist – matched mine. Turns out it did, only the "4" didn’t come out all the way on the stamp, making it look like an "A 1." I was happy to wait, happy that at least Chuck E. Cheese’s security system was intact. When the manager finally showed up to clear us, I took one look at the "General Manager" title on her name tag and seized an opportunity. Screw Ray, I thought, I’m going to rat on that mouse (after all, I had promised not to call... and this was not a call.)

The GM was appropriately horrified. I believed her when she said it was Jo Lynn’s last day, that things hadn’t worked out so well for her, and that she was truly sorry for what happened.

Afterward, we got some frozen yogurt. Sophie continued to ask for Chuck E. Cheese, rubbing her hands together, the sign for cheese.

“Sophie, you LOVE Chuck E. Cheese!” Annabelle announced. “I know, Mommy, Sophie should MARRY Chuck E. Cheese.”

We all decided Sophie Cheese was a pretty good name. And then we went home.
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About the Author:  
Amy Silverman
lives in Tempe, Arizona with her husband Ray Stern and daughters Annabelle and Sophie. When she's not wiping noses and butts at home, she's associate editor of New Times, the alt weekly in Phoenix, where she also spends a lot of time wiping noses and butts -- and editing. She's a contributor to KJZZ, the Phoenix NPR affiliate, and although having kids has pretty much limited her traveling to San Diego and Disneyland, she's been writing quite a bit lately for The New York Times travel section. Amy's proud to say she's been published by both Playboy and Fit Pregnancy, and that John McCain once yelled, "Can't you shut your daughter up?" at her father in the Senate dining room, to which her father responded that that was impossible. Amy likes to balance her motherfucker persona at the alt weekly by co-teaching the Mothers Who Write workshop, which focuses on memoir/fiction and poetry for mothers of all ages and writing experiences.

 

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