Mayhem at Chuck E. Cheese

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.

Several years ago Dale Connelly rejected a story I offered him about a school outing to a Chuck E. Cheese mall store. Perhaps recent tweaks to that story will make it usable now.

When Molly’s fourth grade class asked me to volunteer as a chaperon for this field trip, I agreed. As a freelance journalist working from my home, I had extra time. And, heck, I enjoy ice cream as much as any kid. This outing could be interesting.

I didn’t expect to like the venue, and did not. Chuck E. Cheese is a chain of family event centers catering to kids. Loud, garish and built to be “fun,” these places are not subtle. The one my daughter’s class visited in Rosedale featured an animatronic band of figures that pretended to play instruments. Chuck E. Cheese was an oversized rat blowing a flute, backed by a gorilla on drums and a bear flailing at a banjo. The music, while dreadful, promoted a frenetic atmosphere where kids could be themselves with no limits. The business area itself was divided between a stage, some dining tables and a large room in which kids could play arcade games like the then-popular Ms. Pac-Man.

I began noticing one kid in particular, a red haired boy who dominated the room. He was over a head taller than the others and was easily the loudest and most aggressive kid in the room. Jealousy triggered him. He didn’t enjoy whatever game he dominated but was sparked by envy when he saw another kid having fun with a different machine. I tried to tune him out, and yet this kid was was getting on my nerves.

Then it was time to go back home. We queued up to get back on the bus that would return us to school. The red haired bully was pushing to be first on the bus, but then spotted a little girl doing a last bit of play with Ms. Pac-Man. That tripped his trigger. He screamed and rushed the machine. By coincidence, his path to that machine would take him right by me.

I am not decisive, athletic or aggressive, and yet in that split second I became all three. As the bully swept past me, I shot my left ankle out to hook his left ankle. With a full head of speed already in hand, the bully launched into the air with arms outstretched in the famous flying Superman pose. He flew and flew. Then, lacking a functional cape, he crashed on the waxy tile floor and slid on for some more distance, arms still outstretched.

His face contorted with rage, the kid pointed at me and roared, “He TRIPPED me!” Of course, I was by then bent at the waist, deep in fatherly conversation with my daughter. Only two people in the room knew what had just happened, and only one of them had credibility.

The return trip to school would have presented few problems for the bully. He lived in chaos and strife, so he probably smoldered with a sense of injustice that quickly burned out. That was his life.

Things were more complicated for the man who had just assaulted a kid he didn’t know. That man had never thrown a punch in anger and had, in fact, never raised his voice in a dispute. A sweet, people-pleasing man, he was suddenly haunted by visions of The Lord of the Flies. Who in hell was that man who suddenly tripped a kid he had just met? Would he ever suddenly come again?

Have you ever been shocked by the sudden appearance of emotions you didn’t know you held? Have you ever thought about what it would take to make you take a public stand? Have you ever suspected that the veneer of civilization that protects us most of the time is actually quite thin? How have you dealt with bullies?

53 thoughts on “Mayhem at Chuck E. Cheese”

  1. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    Steve, it is awfully nice to have a post from you. I hope you are feeling better. You had a long recovery from everything.

    My response is not about an unexpected emotion, but more about when it occurred. Tuesday my siblings and I moved my mother to a skilled nursing facility, which was overdue. However, the entire process was held up by COVID rules combined with the sale of the former facility where my mother was living. This was all complicated by her rapid decline in the past 6 weeks.

    So Tuesday was a long, taxing day in which we finished packing up my mother’s few belongings, then we got her into the car and I drove her the 3.1 (Apple Maps measure) miles to the new place. We were met by a nurse who clearly knew what he was doing. I held her had the entire ride to prevent her from chewing her fingernails, a habit she has recently taken up. She cried. My emotions were on hold.

    I stayed Tuesday and helped my brother and his wife unpack her and get her settled in. Then my sister joined us and Lou and I headed for home ourselves. I was a bit sad on the way. Yesterday morning I walked for exercise, then called several relatives who want to be informed about mom’s welfare. Yesterday afternoon I returned to work. Then last night the big feelings descended. I was sad. Very sad. It just took awhile. Mom and I never were well suited to one another, yet there it all was—grief and life in all its complications.

    And today I awoke to a lovely summer day and it all goes on.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Today is my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary. I called Mom and asked her what she was doing 70 years ago. I heard my sister prompt her, saying “It is June 3.” Then Mom came up with it—I was getting married!

        And she went back to sleep and my sister hung up the phone.

        Liked by 4 people

    1. I’ve got two in reply to my friend Minnesota Steve.
      I live in Spain now. My neighbour Antonio was passing my garage door as I was picking up the hoe and looking at it, which my late dad bought in 1956. I said, this was my dad’s (the Spanish are big on family). I remember when he bought it, it was 1956, I was 5.He was impressed, and said, do you want to bring it over and put a new handle in it? Well I didn’t, I’m perfectly capable of doing that, but it wasn’t the moment to be rude.
      So next day we went in his yard and he selected a piece from his stack, cut from a wonderful shrub I forget the name of. It’s “positive”, and therefore give you strength when you touch it. Fig for example, is apparently “negative”. I said, well what do you know, I made a couple handles out of fig for want of anything else handy, and they soonhave done. broke. We made the handle, using every method possible that was the opposite to what I would have done. Still, it has a handle now.
      Antonio went off across the yard to show me his latest project. Meanwhile I tried the hoe in the gravel. One stroke. One second. In that time, I remembered :Dad used this hoe in the fields for just a few years in the late fifties. Then the local crops changed and it wasn’t needed. But he worethe right hand edge more than the left. I used it in our garden in the sixties and seventies, and forced myself to work from right to left to try and even out the wear. And it still looks the same now as it did when I started.
      I thought all that and started to cry. I didn’t mind about Antonio, the Spanish aren’t afraid of tears. But I said, Dad died thirty years ago. I saw him on his deathbed. And this is the first tear I’ve shed for him.
      It wasn’t the emotion that surprised me, just the length of time. But we weren’t friends at the end.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I worked with a female bully for many years, and I just had to tune her out and not rise to the bait. She still tries to give me a “jab” now and then.

    Our poor cat is contending with a West Highland Terrier bully who wants to dominate, but also really wants to play with her. The cat is taking the high road, meaning she stays up high on furniture the dog can’t reach. He is pretty short.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Our dog had dramatic emotions Tuesday at my sister’s house. We left to transport my mother. I let the dog stay outside the kennel, thinking she would be fine. My sister was doing a Zoom workshop (Trauma and Children) in her office when the whining and yipping started. My sister kindly said that it did not disrupt her training, but I suspect it did.

      That was some day.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Here is some possible context to explain the sudden appearance of Steve the Tripper.

    Chambers of commerce are forever organizing events to publicize local economic opportunities. In the 1980s, Racine, Wisconsin, was eager to promote the salmon charter fishing around its harbor, so they threw something they called the Cohorama.

    The Cohorama was a coho salmon fishing contest to be run at the harbor. Various charter fishing boats engaged in about four hours of fishing, seeking Lake Michigan lake trout, Chinook salmon and cohos. The boats carried outdoor writers or guys with local fishing shows. They were treated to free fishing, fed a box lunch and filled with free beer. At the end of the contest, we all met back at the harbor to see who had won the contest. That publicity would result in photos and newspaper stories celebrating the great fishing at Racine. This kind of fishing is really more like commercial than recreational fishing, with no skill required of the “anglers” who wind in the fish. Indeed, the big challenge is always to keep the anglers sober enough that they do not make a spectacle of themselves.

    As you have surmised, I got involved. And at some point, I became uncomfortable with the event. There was the fact that I wasn’t really “fishing,” just reeling in fish that were hooked through the clever maneuvering of the charter boat captains. I began to feel self-conscious about the free beer, and I wondered whether I could write a story about this that would fulfill the expectations of the promoters. And at another level, I was embarrassed to be bought off so cheaply. In return for a beautifully written review of a nice resort, the writer is treated with great care. To get a positive review of Cohorama a six-pack of cheap beer will do.

    The ceremony at the dock was a downer. To display the fish to maximum advantage, they were jammed on big metal hooks attached to the wood of the pier. That was obviously painful for the fish, as they twitched and kicked. There was one magnificent lake trout on the hooks, a pure silver fish that was remarkably big and pretty. It had been caught by an angler I dubbed “Pinky.” Barefoot and shirtless, Pinky had been in the sun long enough to glow. He jabbed the lake trout with a finger, giggling when it thrashed. “Lookit this one!” said Pinky, “it’s still alive!” He poked again. The fish again quivered painfully.

    It was suddenly clear to me what I needed to do. I was in the front row of the crowd. If I stepped forward and delivered a strong punch to Pinky’s tummy, I could bury my arm in him. And that would mark an end to the suffering of this great fish.

    But I didn’t. Pinky poked the fish again, and my right hand formed a fist. And then I did nothing. The crowd melted away and we all headed for home. I think this happened two years before I tripped the bully. I’d spent two years accusing myself of being a wimp.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s great to have you back, Steve. I love “lacking a functional cape”, you just slipped it in there…

    Lately (meaning “forward from the past election season”), I’ve been dismayed to observe how much the veneer of civilization that protects us most of the time is actually quite thin. I also don’t hold out hope that it will change anytime soon, since the lies just continue to be shared and re-shared by whomever wants to believe them.

    I know there’s some time in my past when I’ve taking at least a quasi-public stand on something (well, besides marching in a protest)… will try to remember by the end of the day.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. As tough as the last year has been politically, perhaps it’s a good thing that the veneer of civilization was scratched thin In places. Goes to show how different we all are in so many ways but still conform to “social norms” for the smooth functioning of the whole group. And it’s a good reminder that we should all be more tolerant of different viewpoints even if we loathe those viewpoints. Taking the high road usually works and will hopefully continue to work.

      Or not. TIme, money, and politics will tell.

      Chris in O-town.

      *BTW, if you’re in the Owatonna area tonight, I’m selling and signing books on North Cedar Ave. in downtown Owatonna for the first summer “Downtown Thursday” of the year. Food, music, arts, crafts, merchandise, and no masks required. 🙂 *

      Liked by 3 people

        1. Hi Stewart. In MN, masks are optional for almost all businesses and outdoor events. Some other states still have stricter mask requirements or mandates. Not to downplay the virus at all, but the county in which I live has kept the infection rate low and we had outstanding mask compliance when Covid was raging in 2020 and early 2021. Personally, I now feel comfortable in an outdoor setting where social distancing is easy. I kept my table between me and all customers and browsers so I was usually at least 3 feet away from everyone and more often than not, 5 or 6 feet away.

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        2. Chris, you know, I kept seeing what I said, and thinking, “these people were all getting on fine here. And I came barging in from nowhere, acting like someone in the YouTube comment section” Sorry.

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  5. The Park grade school in Moorhead bully was Chester.
    He was much bigger than all of we fifth graders having been held back a grade. He used his physical strength to dominate the playground and anywhere else he happened to be. Our home was one block east of Park. Chester lived next door to the west of Park playground. I attended Park from grades 1 through 6, so I was well acquainted with Chester. I didn’t know the bully vocabulary at that time but I knew we were enemies. Early on he gave me the nickname Weasel. That was tough to take as a kid. He seemed to single out myself and my two younger sisters for physical and verbal abuse. One day my sisters came home from Park playground crying. Chester had pushed each of them off the swings blooding their knees. I flipped out. Screaming, I ran toward the playground. Chester was there but began to run for his home. At that time I was Forrest Gump. I ran like the wind and caught him going up his pouch stairs, grabbed the back of his shirt and hanked him to the ground. His mother saved my life. Chester would have beaten my derriere. She screamed at me to get off her property. I complied and never had a problem with sixth grade Chester.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. See, I was the kid who could mouth off real well, but wasn’t prepared to defend myself after that. I remember an older kid, Dennis, save me from a beating once, and running back to homeroom save me another time.

    Roger Zieman was the jr high bully. I bumped his desk once and I think if I had let it go, it wouldn’t of been a problem, but I knew he would be pissed and so I got scared and then he could play on that. Interesting, isn’t it?

    Liked by 4 people

  7. The bully in my neighborhood was a guy named Benny who had been held back a year or two. That was a poor decision. Because Benny hit puberty two years before the rest of us, we learned about sex from him.

    One day when my California relatives were visiting, Benny came around and began making trouble. A fist fight broke out between Benny and my slender cousin, Doug. My uncle Herb, a really creepy sort of guy, came out to watch. Benny, much bigger, was winning. Uncle Herb said, “Doug, if you beat this kid, there’s five dollars for you.” Doug rallied. His firsts rained blows on Benny’s prominent beezer, until blood was everywhere. Benny ran home crying. I remember this because the whole thing left me feeling unclean. I admired Doug’s pluck, but I was shocked at both Uncle Herb’s bribe and the fight itself.

    In the 1980s Benny called me up out of the blue and tried to share stories about our mutual childhood!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Now that’s interesting! All of it! Uncle Herb, Doug, and Benny calling you!
      I don’t know that I could have rallied for $5 And then I would have felt bad I lost the money, haha

      Liked by 2 people

  8. The name on my birth certificate is First Name: Sherri, Middle Name: Lee. On my father’s side of the family, many folks used double names: Joan Marie, Joe Bill, John Scott. When I was in the 8th grade, I decided that I wanted to be Sherri Lee. It was not an easy change to make and I had to remind people quite a bit. I’m sure lots of folks thought I was obnoxious.

    One day, after I had reminded the gym teacher about my name, a couple of the mean girls decided to let me know how they felt about this. As we were leaving the gym, the biggest of the three girls, Betty, hit me square in the back and said “Excuse me, Sherri Leeeeeeeee”. Like Steve, someone I didn’t know was suddenly in control of my body. As she pushed past me, I hit her the same way she had hit me – square in the back. We’re not talking serious blows, neither the one she gave me nor the one I gave her, but they were significant enough. She completely lost it, threw down her books, swore and said she was gonna “get me”. I was afraid when I walked home from school, but decided I wasn’t going to change my pattern because of her. A couple of my friends tried to dissuade me, but I figured if Betty were really determined to beat me up, she would find a way.

    Well, she never did. She never spoke to me again, never threatened me again, hardly even ever looked at me again. But to this day, I can’t imagine what possessed me that day to hit her.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. In high school some people tried to foment a fight between myself and Mike. I cannot remember why but we were to fight after school on a Friday. I faked illness. I don’t know if Mike showed up. Everything was cool on Monday and the match was never rescheduled.

      Liked by 5 people

  9. The first bully I ever encountered was in first grade. During recess, most of the kids in my class were playing some sort of game that involved holding hands and walking around in a circle singing. This bigger boy from a grade or two above ours was determined to disrupt that activity. He repeatedly broke into our circle and taunted us. At some point he made the mistake of trying to break into our circle where I was holding hands with one of my classmates. His head, which he was using as a battering ram, was right at my right hand. Instead of letting him through, I grabbed hold of his hair and held on. A swift kick in the butt dispatched him from our circle, along with a vague threat of what would happen to him if he ever did it again. Strangely enough, that ended the problem. He never messed with my class again.

    That same school was were I encountered bully number two and three as well. I had been attending a Catholic boarding school in a neighboring town when I returned to Stubbekøbing four years later. Two of the girls in my class had gotten the notion that because I had attended a private boarding school, I was stuck up. They terrorized me, not only on school property, but they’d lie in wait for me, and physically attack me on the way home from school as well. I, of course, would fight to defend myself, but they were two against one, and they were a year older and bigger than me. Then I’d get in trouble when I got home for being such a fighter. That situation was never resolved until my family moved away from the area the following year.

    Five years later I spent a few weeks during my summer vacation visiting an aunt and uncle who still lived in Stubbekøbing. The most memorable moment of that vacation was when I learned that one of the two girls who had laid in wait to beat me up on the way home from school was killed in an accident. She and the other girl who had assaulted me repeatedly on my way home from school were riding their bicycles, side by side, along a country road. One of them had swerved in front of a passing car and been killed on the spot. I recall not feeling sad at the news, something that I’m still not proud of.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. It’s a constant reminder that there are some transgressions that I cannot or will not forgive. It’s a lesson that has repeated itself in my life, and I’m still not sure that I have learned the lesson.

        Liked by 4 people

  10. I recall having a sort of reversal of emotions a couple of years ago after a very brief encounter in a public restroom.

    That summer I was in the habit of occasionally getting a fancy coffee drink and going for a walk on Raspberry Island, not far from where I live, when the weather was nice. One day, after my walk, I pushed open the door to the women’s restroom there, and saw a young woman standing at the sink. At this public park, there are two stalls in the restroom, but only one sink. My eyes swept over the scene and took it in – on the floor in one of the stalls, a bag, some shoes and clothing strewn over the floor, and at the sink, an assortment of toiletries, towels, and what looked like some green mint toothpaste smeared on the counter, and the young woman with a toothbrush in her mouth. The first thing that flashed through my mind was the word “homeless”, and then I had a split second of intense annoyance, thinking “Does she think she owns the restroom?” and I turned and left.

    Walking away, I regretted my abruptness, and tried to replace the thoughts I’d had with kinder ones. It’s been my good fortune to go through life always having a bathroom at my disposal that I owned or at least rented. Easy thing to take for granted.

    When COVID-19 crept into daily life last year, one of the early changes I had to get used to was the loss of that Raspberry Island routine. The coffee shop closed, and when it reopened, the restrooms in the shop and the ones on the island were locked. A portable toilet appeared on the island, but there was no running water, and if you wanted to wash your hands, at this moment when we were being continually told to wash our hands, the available option was to dip them in the river.

    I sometimes wondered how homeless people were coping.

    About three weeks ago, I went back to Raspberry Island and was delighted to see a sign on the restroom door that said “Please limit occupancy to one person at at time.” But the door was still locked. It wasn’t till about a week later that the door finally opened when I pushed it. A tiny harbinger of normal life returning.

    Liked by 6 people

  11. I was a tough kid growing up
    Hung with the sketchy fighters who got into fun trouble
    I noticed that bullies are usually kind of stupid and learned to talk to them in a way that played to that side of their brain
    I don’t think I ever had to defend myself from a bully although I did get in a number of fights as a young teen to deal with any question of coolness
    I never lost a fight except the time bill henderson confronted me and i four up my fists to begin and he kicked me in the nuts and sent me to the ground in the first 3 seconds of the fight
    It was a non fair fighting move in 1967 and when I questioned his ethics he said he didn’t like to fight and he found a kick in the nuts a quick easy effective solution . I had to admit he was right

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I’ve got through life without too many fights. I do/don’t regret this.
      My dad went to what, in England, is called a public school. Actually a private school. I forget the history behind this name. On his first day he was threatened or menaced in some way by some boy, and started running away. Then he got tired of running and turned. The way he told it, he accidentally left one foot out. Accidentally. Right. You didn’t argue with my dad, at least I didn’t. Accident or not, the kid tripped over the outstretched foot. Dad was regarded with fear the rest of his school career.
      That’s the way he told it. I still find it hard to swallow.
      But he also had advice on fighting (I don’t know why he would have needed to know). Don’t worry about fairness. Kick, bite, gouge their eyes out, just generally go wild and hurt them as much as humanly possible.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. He sure did. My sister only told me this one recently. When his photography business failed (he was a good photographer, not so good in business), he got a teaching job in what was then called a “polytechnic”, in London. A technical college for students in their late teens. At the start of one term, might even have been the first day, though that’s pushing it, he came home from work and said to Mum, “Three teachers are having affairs with students already,” and he named two of them. Mum said, “Who’s the other teacher?” He replied “Ha ha, who do you think?”
        My mother’s life wasn’t easy, you might guess.

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  12. That last one wasn’t meant to be anonymous (about my dad and fighting). I just haven’t got used to the world of emailing.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks-Minnesota Steve is trying (not very subtly) to get me into the 21st century. I’ve lost a lot of ground lately.
        He’s a good guy though.

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  13. Thanks. I kind of understand that. My sister would be amused to know I’m blogging (if that’s what I’m doing). If she thinks I’m slowly getting drawn into all of this, she’s wrong. You see that, don’t you?

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