By Max Dropout
The astute acquaintance tucked away in the recesses of that little social book, as black as my heart, would probably vote Max Dropout least likely to litter any sort of gay climate with whoops and hollers in response to the age old question, “Where my party people at?” No, I am not one of these so-called “party people,” foolishly waving their hands this way, that way, or any way for that matter – and if I were to, in fact, wave my hands about in any direction, I certainly wouldn’t do it as if I didn’t care We all have our hurdles in life to clear, and oft times we bound over them without any sort of trouble. However, for some of us, there comes that instance when perhaps our bounce lacks a certain, let’s say for lack of a better term, “panacea.” Whatever the reason, it’s your business. All that matters is that the lack of spring doesn’t quite allow you to clear that jump — your toe catches that hurdle, sending you chin first into an unforgiving patch of gravel. After the sting of the ground and the shame mingle a bit, you get up, bleed a little, get the wind back in you, and you either finish that course, or, you do like I do and go sit on the grass and cry like a little girl.
I must confess, I have been crying as such for a good many years, over the course of which I have sat on the side of this crazy track we call life, and watched the grass go from a healthy green hue to barren pallor, matching that dried spatter on the terry cloth banner that is my psyche. I have sat back, idle, pouting, while a demon of mockery run my race for me, padding along that track, clearing every jump, effortlessly, and aging me with every orbit. I sit, in contempt of myself and the standard his pace has set, and I rationalize my unwillingness to get up off the sidelines, by writing competition off as running from demons — never facing them. I had a few good jumps before the fall, but the few times I’ve tripped have stained my pallet sour.
I admit that my reluctance to accept regular social invitations has painted me a misanthrope, which is far from the truth. Flaming introvert? Yes. Antisocial? Not at all. Antiparty? DING, DING, and again, I say DING! For some of us, the hurdle that cripples our esteem might be that boy you once found so tremendous who turns out to be a raving psychopath that destroys you socially, and keeps you from holding your head up in public for all to see the frown your broken heart telegraphs; while for others it could be the voice of an ornate paranoia that manages to convince you that all people are filthy strumpets that possess deadly germs, making it nearly impossible for you to come in contact with any- thing outside of your home. For me, however it happens to be parties. It was the year of our lord, 19 and 85, when I made the fall that impacted my life for years to come. Michael J. Fox was blasting back through the past and into our hearts with the help of skinny tied Negrophile Huey Lewis, and a few of his cocaine rocker friends “And The News”. Meanwhile America was winding down from the maddening plague brought over on the tail feathers of Olympic Sam, and amid it all, Max Fuller was turning eight years old.
It was a particularly warm autumn evening. “So odd that it should be so warm,” I thought to myself as I paced toward the neon monstrosity on the parking lot’s horizon, with my sister, Erin in tow. Her presence carried with it a grudge, and her bitterness was a guest unto itself. I remember little about that night, other than the pain and the sorrow, and Erin’s resentment toward the whole affair.
My mood was quite the opposite of hers – I was filled with joy and wonder, and it seemed to rise up in my frail little body as we approached the hallowed structure in the distance. I dare say, the only thing keeping my happiness from popping right out of my mouth was the necktie my sister had helped me with only hours earlier, which she managed to angrily synch as tightly as she could without causing a lacerated unconsciousness. It was my birthday that evening and I was only a few short moments away from what should have been the gala social event of my grammar school career. And where else would such a grand event take place? Chuck E. Cheese’s of course.
In 1985, Chuck. E. Cheese’s was the modern toddler’s equivalent to the gay male’s Turkish bath house. A prepubescent Copacabana, if you will. Chuck’s was much different back then. For one, they were actually making enough to maintenance against the hurricane of frenetic and frothing grade school fury that its walls contained, like some sort of dyslexic bombshelter. Today’s Chuck E. Cheese’s is a grave monument, merely implying former glory — it is the tombstone of that forgotten relative, with weeds obscuring any inscription or pivotal dates from view. It’s a lot like “Beyond Thunderdome” with a ball cage. I’d never actually had a birthday party before. Nor a birthday cake. In fact, my birthday was never celebrated really; I often wonder how the doctor cut the chord during my delivery since I had to have been born invisible. And to this day, I don’t suppose you could say my birthday has ever really been celebrated. You see no one came to my party that evening, in spite of the invitations I’d handed out with care the week in advance. I sat, for hours, eager to greet my first guest, though that first never did come. The only evidence of a party were the lonely favours and my sister’s occasional emergence for more cake from the ladies room, where she’d stationed herself for the evening, smoking Nat Sherman’s, reading Redbook, and complaining about her back pain with the rest of the burnt out mothers.
Days later I found out that another boy in my class had held his birthday party on the same day as mine, in spite of the fact that his real birthdate actually fell three days after mine. As they say, knowing is half the battle, and there was a lesson to be learned through this whole ordeal though: Never compete with rich kids, because they can always afford to hire GI Joe, thus making your party lame by comparison. My sister later admitted that the reason for her bitterness was that her loyalty to me kept her from attending the other party in hopes of meeting Cobra Commander — a man whose ideals and code of ethics both intrigued and appealed to her.
And that was my first and last party. I haven’t been to another since. Falling down is never pleasant however, and much like being shot in the face and buried in a shallow grave somewhere next to a butchered hooker in the sandy outer-reaches of Nevada, you only really need to experience it once to figure out “Wow, this kinda sucks.” But recently, I’ve had few concerned friends encouraging me to take the momentous steps that could lead to attempting a jump back into a swinging life again.
As one grows older, one prioritizes their personal terrors, and often one fear can smother another altogether. The fear of growing old, alone, is more overwhelming than any sort of grandiose social situation is at this point in my life. But still, the suggested atmosphere of gaiety is one I still affiliate with sorrow, shame, and anxiety. The soiree is synonymous with trauma, and with next to no other social outlet other than the cruelty one encounters at a Catholic school, friends have told me that my perceptions have been warped, and it is my responsibility to forge them flat — or normal, I guess. After a long discussion with a good friend, we decided that there was no other way to get over the problem than to have another party … and face my past.
It was an autumn evening, unseasonably cold, unlike that one back in good old ‘85, as I again approached the doors of Chuck E. Cheese’s. I began to feel a little excitement, strangely, as I examined the few cosmetic changes to the building. One of the more prominent changes was that Chuck himself was not the same as I had previously remembered. He was now much younger, and sported a more proactive look, fitted with a sidewise baseball cap and baggy, monogrammed sweater. This later lead me to the conclusion that Chuck, after years of gnawing at the fruits of excesses his empire bore, had unfortunately died, and the chain was willed to one of the only surviving members of his family, who apparently lived in Compton. As I drew neared, passing a sign, a thought I’d never had occurred to me — what DID the E in Chuck E. Cheese stand for anyway?
Often people just shake their head at me in disgust. Perhaps they have a right to be disgusted though, being that my attitude isn’t something I’ve been predisposed to, like, say homosexuality, or Down’s syndrome. But then again, I think that it might validate my condition. It’s not chemical, or some birth defect. My cynicism has been developed and nurtured by society into the monolithic beast that I, like some tarnished Atlas, carry on my shoulders — this is a beast fed on the scraps of harsh reality, spewing an incendiary trail of logic out the other end. In much the same way no sane man can subscribe to either the Democratic or Republican parties completely, I can neither say I am a realist or an idealist – I am a bit of both. I’m just as much a dreamer as the next fellow mind you. Perhaps moreso, which is why I have been left with such an ill taste in my mouth; for the wonders that my mind constructs to house my heart are very unrealistic I have found, and what materials I receive to build this home won’t even allow for a poor semblance of what I had imagined or wanted it to be. I am constantly let down, and that can leave you a little skeptical about certain things. Being sincerely cynical is attractive, I think. And I don’t mean cynical, in the way most journalists are. Most of these ham-and-eggers don’t know the value of suffrage, and they are merely emulating the modern romantic. The modern romantic IS the naturally evolved cynic. Cynicism in a human being only exists because that person has incredibly romantic standards that are seldom met, and therefore they find themselves steeped in disappointment — all this can leave you a bit warped, and bitter … unable to digest things easily.
I am, of course, a modern romantic; a cynic. It is often difficult for me to process the worth of certain things, because I have been so far removed from my innocence, only experiencing feral-like flurries of it like some lycanthrope once every full moon. Yes, I’m a cynical bastard. I admit it. After all, where most see catharsis, I saw an opportunity to pen this garbage. But, I feared my opinion might come across as negative and biased against the establishment overall after the years of pain I’d harbored in association with this potentially fine establishment. I’m no longer a child. I can sometimes see things from a childlike perspective, but never truly as a child — never from the perspective of their stature. And truly, Chuck E. Cheese’s is a place for tiny people, in a sense. A child, while able to engage things on a certain level isn’t really able to properly evaluate the value of something. Let’s face it. Kids are frickin morons. Throw a pedophile in a monkeysuit at them, coupled with some flashing lights and whistles, and that kid will be totally enamored. There is a beauty in this simplicity, but for the purposes of this piece, I needed someone who was small, but objective. Someone who could truly evaluate Chuck’s for what it was on EVERY level. I wanted to find someone we could all stand eye to eye with, relatively speaking of course. Immediately, my mind arrived at the conclusion that I needed a dwarf.
With the help of a tiny person, who could articulate like any other adult, though go where I couldn’t, such as the tunnels and the ball cage, I figured I could deliver an honest adult opinion from a child’s perspective. Finding a dwarf wasn’t all that difficult, actually. A few of my friends, who were actors, also knew several dwarves, who’d been through at least a dozen more shameful experiences than this.
I only felt guilty, when I had to decline his request to bring his wife, who was of equal stature. Though she was a pleasant and gentle lady, and attractive for her kind, I had to refuse because it would have been overkill. Injecting the husband and wife dynamic into the situation would have just left the evening glazed with a sickly perverse slick.
We entered the establishment a little after 8:00 p.m., with two hours to spare until closing. As we entered the hall of wonders that is the game room, the little man at my side lit up and the atmosphere seemed as grand as I had ever remembered it, and I began to feel all right. My companion’s elation was infectious. He was not at all unhinged, but the fact that the place was nearly empty may have leant an ease to his demeanor.
We made way to the token and food counter, and ordered a medium cheese pizza, two cokes, and a hundred gaming tokens, which all came out to around twenty-five bucks. Not a bad deal for two-and-a-half people. After securing our entertainment and food for the evening, we entered the animatronic-burlesque hall, which serves as dining quarters. Unlike the majority of the establishment, this place was hosting several parties, all of whom turned toward us, slowly, in domino-effect. The spectacle was no longer the robotic song-and-dance on stage, and whispers stirred behind smirks and glares, while children leered anxiously at my friend, who shrank even further into his wardrobe.
We took our seats, and our food came shortly afterward, delivered by a bear of a woman who’s boorishly crude attitude screamed all but “What do you think this is? DISCOVERY ZONE, Motherfucker?” – She was oblivious to the fact that she was serving a small person, though agitated by her position. The food was actually a far cry from what I remember it being. I remember actual pizza, like one would procure from an actual pizza parlor. What we were handed, though, was a scant portion of freezer-seasoned pizza, which had obviously been reheated. While speedy service is always appreciated, the money we spent obviously wasn’t going back into the kitchen.
This brought us to the show on the stage ahead up front. My friends immediately became absorbed by the herky-jerky kitsch, to some delight, but I was distracted by something else. In spite of the few parties going on, the place was rather dead and dull, and I slowly began to realize that the party room had sort of declined into an upperscale public park.
I began to note the people who were patronizing the establishment, none of whom were speaking English, and appeared fairly miserable. And I realized what this place had become. A shell of what it used to be, it had degenerated to some phantom likeness of Americana, which was now merely humored by immigrants in attempts to embrace our culture based on outdated perceptions of what it is that American’s actually do or enjoy in their spare time with the kids.
My attention was eventually dragged kicking and screaming toward the stage, where a very Dennis Potter interpretation of Westworld on acid was carrying on. The show was about as entertaining as watching your hair fall out after chemotherapy, and just as depressing. I began to pick up on little details that I had missed as a kid, such as the expression on the face of Munch, the leader of Munch’s make-believe band. His whimsical expression speaks to us on a profound level… a generally morose looking individual, which I now see relates totally to the fact that his band is in all actuality nonexistent. He, therefore, cannot find joy in what he does for these children because he must eventually wake up from the make-believe and return to whatever horrible life that forces him to engage in flights of fancy to maintain his sanity.
Now the money the company this making isn’t going into the dining, but it certainly isn’t going into the entertainment here, either. The animatronic characters on stage were in great disrepair, and had not been updated to match the current character designs seen in ads or signs around the restaurant. The Chuck E. Cheese on stage is the same Chuck I used to see as a child. My jaded nature prevailed, and of course I realized just how swarthy and fagan like Chuck E. really was back in the day.
We were fortunate enough to come on the first evening of Munch’s Christmas review, and were treated to rousing renditions of “miliki kaliki laka” and other multicultural representations of Yule tide joy. However, the music and the band seldom synched up, and I was really put off by the fact that the band performed Big Band Santa, with the sound of a rich and full horn section noticeable during the song in spite of the fact that not one of the members plays a brass instrument.
Employee or security presence was severely lacking, as children stormed the stage, kicking Munch’s keyboard rig, stealing chuck’s mic and poking the Italian chef drummer in the eye with his drumsticks. This made it all the more difficult to enjoy the show, but the segments that aired on the television screens positioned over the stage were strangely enjoyable, as they featured Chuck E. and company’s travels through Hawaii, Mexico, and even the Swiss Alps – host to a fine snow boarding exhibition featuring a giant humanoid rat with oversized head, only partially clothed. Is this not the epitome of bizarro world? Now as to how a giant rat acquires a visa, I haven’t a clue. After we finished our piddly offering, we made way to the game room, where our tiny friend was met with more illicit gawking, and even pointing and giggling. I felt terrible, and fought my impulses to react violently. We were dismayed by what we found. Nearly every game was out of order. The place was quite literally wall papered in “Sorry, out of order”
tags. I’d eyed a fine electric pez dispenser at the counter earlier, which you could win by collecting tickets from the various game machines, so my dwarf friend and I decided we’d try our hand at skiball. We placed a token into one of the lanes, and a mere three balls, rolled down the return, along with an empty syringe and a used condom. We were mildly upset until we noticed that the lanes spit a fair amount of tickets out at you immediately after you placed your token into the machine. They don’t even try to kid you with some illusion that you’re perhaps winning anymore… We spent our tokens for the most part playing various games, and stealing tickets from the machines and other children through brute intimidation tactics.
Shortly after 9:00 pm, my dwarf friend and I approached the tunnel and ballcage maze, which he reluctantly entered. I felt badly about this, not because he felt awkward about it, but because the parents drew in closer to keep an eye on him, as if he were some dumb dangerous animal that might get too excited and try to mount one of their little darlings. These parents, who were otherwise inattentive, rose to their feet, and from a safe distance, watched on, ready to intervene. Oh sure, it’s okay that your child is picking off facsimiles of innocent victims on the Sniper video game, thanks to Midway, but that short guy! He’s a real problem! The prejudice was stifling, and while the parents were fearful, both he and the children related to each other on some level. While he seemed uneasy about it, initially, I could tell he was digging the situation a bit. He stifled his smile, and even briefly interacted with a few of the children, who coyly asked him for his name, or simply said “hello” – Briefly, I envied his physical predicament. This man, who’d been so gracious as to accept an offer to participate in a humor-stunt was both kind, and intelligent.
He had a dignity through it all, which I can only suspect that years of emotional pain due to social rejection and prejudice had forged. He had no physical power to his stature, and I can honestly say his personality, bereft of any sort of primitive ego, was refreshing. Something so simple as height is very relevant to our society today, unfortunately. You’re either intimidating or dismissed based on this. It’s unfortunate that we even have to grow at all. The littlest differences, which we’re taught to celebrate and take a sick pride in, can be the most dangerous things in the world.
My small friend hurriedly made way through the maze, and exited. After his run, we decided it would be a good idea to get out of there. I sensed his sorrow and apprehension, though he would have remained regardless, had I insisted. We went to the counter to turn in our tickets in exchange for prizes. The guy at the gaming counter said we could take whatever we wanted, since he didn’t give a fuck. He’d recently applied at The Wiz and expected a call any day now. I got my pez dispenser plus a bath time Barbie, which I was quite happy with. The apathetic service may have been one of the downsides to this whole affair, but it also ironically, repaired some of the damage and provided for one of the evening’s high points.
We were all thoroughly depressed as we made way to the car. I did, however, feel some bizarre sort of closure on the matter. Years later, I’d returned to some facsimile of my childhood haven, and my recollections remain untarnished to this day despite the establishment’s decayed state. My loathing for the reactionary slouches on social safari has now replaced my fear, and I realize my superiority over them can be found in my ability to see human beings for what they are. Scared witlessly into unjust critics against their fellow man. Hateful I may now be, but afraid? Never again. Fear is too common an emotion to even bother acknowledging. When you yourself are feared, you’ve no need to be afraid any longer. While we are all fearful, we are also feared. However, our insecurities prevent us from realizing that innate power over others. My new small friend was strangely quiet upon exiting the building, though he put up a pleasant facade for us, and I am sure there was no resentment on his part toward us. Neither of us solicited the reaction he got … which were a reaction to his mere existence. I think he realized that he’d done nothing wrong later that evening over a more suitable meal and better company back at my apartment.
I was eager to ask his opinion of the establishment, and find out what exactly he’d thought of the place since his height allowed him to indulge in more of what it had to offer, in spite of its patrons. As we sat in the car, waiting for the heat to kick in I turned toward the back seat, where he sat, vacantly staring at the steam forming on the window panes and dangling his fee. So I asked him… “How was it? What did you think?”
Halfheartedly, he smiled and replied in a soft voice “It’s just like I remember it being when I was a kid.”