Day 362: The Human Pipe Cleaner

To avoid mass hysteria, we use an acronym around here. “C.E.C.” stands for Chuck E. Cheese, which if said within earshot of the kids, triggers emotional multi-ball. Silas jumps up and down, yelling “I want to go right now,” while Arlo drifts into a zombie-like state, wandering around chanting “Shoing E Shee … Shoing E Shee .. Shoing E Shee.” It’s the best he can do without the ability to execute a “ka” sound.

Lindsay and I have crumbled and taken the whole clan to Shoing E Shee a couple times recently, but the visit that stands out most for me happened over a year ago in Brooklyn when Silas and I went by ourselves.

I took him there for some special daddy time which usually includes letting him do stuff Lindsay wouldn’t approve of (some things about fatherhood never change). He wanted “so so so so so so badly” to climb in the plastic tube maze, and though he met the height requirement, he was clearly younger than the team of four and five year-olds I could see already meandering through. I feared a claustrophobic freak-out, but remembered a long-hair in the 60′s saying part of love is letting go.

Silas started up the ladder hidden inside a plastic tree and I held my breath. I leaned my head in, “Everything OK so far?” The tree was the only opaque part of the maze. A few seconds later, I could see him. He seemed far away, and though I was as powerless as Augustus Gloop’s mom, at least I wouldn’t have to swim across a lake of chocolate if he got stuck.

Watching from below, I made gestures of encouragement whenever our eyes met. He continued cautiously as other children squeezed past him.  I could tell he was feeling uncomfortable. Upon reaching the end where he was supposed to turn around and head back, he froze.

“Go back the way you came.” I shouted.  He couldn’t hear me. The other parents gathered as I rose my voice, “Just turn around!”  The tubes were sound-proof, but from his face, I could see he was panicked and crying. The other children tried to help him, but their overly aggressive efforts only increased his anxiety. His face now crimson from stress and striped with tears, I quickly realized I had only one option.

I’m six feet six inches tall and even as a young man, never all that limber. Now at 39, I’ve recently quit trying to put on socks while standing. But adrenaline hit my brain and I squeezed into the tree. Half-way up the ladder, I could hear yelling and crying. It was humid from all the bodies and smelled like vomit. It became louder, hotter and more putrid the further I went.

The tubes were wide enough for the children to crawl through on their hands and knees. I, however, had no other means of travel but a military crawl, and, even then, it was still a little tight. I imagined becoming stuck like Augustus and ending up on the evening news. Luckily, my questionable upper body strength allowed me to squeeze through like a human pipe cleaner. What didn’t help my cause, though, was that everyone, including the staff, was watching the show.

“Silas, I’m coming.” I made my way past three sweaty children who looked at me as if witnessing a rescue they’d only seen in cartoons. When I reached my boy, I saw a curly slide behind him that could easily be used as an exit. Sure, I could have simply climbed up the slide to get him, but I didn’t know it was there because none of the good samaritans at Chuck E. Cheese alerted me of the clearly superior rescue entrance.

It’s a good thing the slide was there, though. When attempting to position myself to slide down it, I realized the tube was too small for me to turn around in. Had I needed to take Silas out the way we entered, a reverse military crawl would have been required, and I’m not even sure that’s a thing marines do, much less me.

I had to go down the slide head first and instructed Silas to get on my back. I was damp with sweat, causing us to stall a few times, but we were eventually able to wiggle our way down as the crowd continued to watch like they were waiting for the seals to be fed at the zoo.

Of course, the only thing that mattered was Silas’ safety, but somehow it still felt anticlimactic. Weren’t we owed a free SkyBounce ball or a visit from Chuck? At least some expressions of concern, or friendly chuckles and pats on the back from fellow dads? Nothing. After everyone realized the show was over, they shrugged and walked back to the skeeball alleys.

Silas and I walked out and took the escalator down to Cold Stone Creamery where we both had ice cream. We grinned at each other knowing that we now shared a pretty decent war story.

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Katie Carr says:

I remember hitting Chuck at a birthday party when I was a little girl. Seriously – hugging me? When we took my son for his 5th birthday – a little girl came up to me crying because she lost her mom. We went to the front and I held her hand and comforted her while they announced her on the PA. Seriously 15 minutes later her mom came out of the bathroom. I was so mad I could barely handle it. Luckily we have an awesome place called Monkey Joes near us. Super huge bounce houses with slides and a parents lounge. Plus I witnessed a pee clean up – they are very efficient. I will never do Chuck E Cheese again.

Heather says:

Our CEC, smartly enough, has a small habitrail & more games, and is known for police visits on the weekends, to break up fights between parents fueled, in part, by the beer served; I like beer with my pizza, but not there or theirs.

robyn says:

Must be by me. Ours closed because of a child being left there by an entire family…that never bothered to claim him for 3 days. G

ood ol Detroit.

Rebecca says:

Laughing so hard!

Tracey LeClair says:

worked at mcDs as a teen and we called it the "urination station". So many gross items found in that ball pit…nail clippers, bandaids…

Tara says:

Jason, I just googled you and some guy came up who shares your name and was recently arrested for videotaping his mother-in-law on the toilet. Don't you love what your namesake is up too. Too funny.

Jason Good says:

Haha. I actually found that a few weeks ago and posted the story on my mother in law's Facebook wall with an apology. Not sure she "got" the joke

Sabrina says:

While I was babysitting as a teenager I had to make a similar rescue. Though Im petite and could fit through fine and I didn't have an audience. The bad part was as I crawled over one of the cushions at the tunnel intersections, it squished. By the smell, it was pretty easy to determine it wasn't a spilled coke. I hate those things. Now 15 years later my 3 yr old climbs ups in a CEC tube and as he reaches the top he starts screaming. I thought someone hit him. Then a nice little boy came down the slide and said, "that boy just peed his pants.". That was humiliating!

Maggie says:

Hungover husband took 2 year old nephew to said play maze and while performing rescue slid down a transparent tube accidentally. Jacknife position, folded at the waist and by the time he reached the bottom, toes touching tongue, his comfy hangover pants had slid almost to his knees….with his underwear! Your post brought this memory back, I had almost forgotten. You describe it perfectly!

Courtney says:

OMG, Epic!

Stacey says:

You should be ashamed! You woke my baby! YOU did it! I actually laughed so hard that my poor 7 week old woke up. Shame! On you!

Heather Long says:

I retrieved my petrified 3 1/2 year old daughter out of the pee maze at Chic-Fil-A when I was 7 mos pregnant with my son. Good times.

Jason Good says:

Rock bottom

Laurie says:

Or cream of the crop! That takes a talent no man will ever understand.

Jen says:

OMG that is totally the C.E.C. at Atlantic Center Mall aka (in my house at least) the "Targhetto" mall. Scary place. It is a total zoo on a Saturday.

Actually, now that I think about it, it is a total zoo every day.

Jason Good says:

Yup. Targhetto is hilarious by the way. Stealing it

Kristy says:

I feel your pain! I had to perform a rescue at the top of a rest stop (ewwwww….) outdoor Burger King in the middle of the summer…in South Carolina. To say I was a sweaty mess is the understatement of the century! I feel like I held a grudge against my 2 year old for the remainder of the vacation ;)

Kristin Johnson says:

This will keep everyone out of those tubes…at a local tube place for kids while we were there a mother was frantic and I mean frantic. So of course all of us other mothers start to panic a bit and immediately start looking for a lost child..but it wasn't the child that was lost. It was his poop filled diaper that he conveniently took off at the tippy top in a clear tube and had managed to smear poo onto his knees and continue crawling all the way back down. I froze…where the crap are my kids? When I wrangled my then two, school age kids, I told the "teenage manager" what happened. She said ok and walked off. No one shut it down, no one came over a loud speaker and announced that someone left their poo in the tube. I was paralyzed with fear and disgust. I manged to blurt out to other parents that were getting fountain drinks what has happening. Everyone seemed pretty calm which left me wandering….is this common? And am I that much of a germ freak? Both answers I believe are yes…..

Jason Good says:

Hahahahahahahaha. So gross

Stacey says:

Yeah, someone pooped in the pool at a local waterpark and no one looked woried! They just let the kids keep swimming as it was fished out. I get that chlorine kills but you're still swimming with mini poop fishies!

Amber says:

At least you cared enough to get your child. I was a manager at the dreaded CEC for two years and since I was the smallest I got to rescue kiddos way to often!! I have considered writing a book about the horrors I experienced!

April B. says:

Do it!

Angela C says:

I am so claustrophobic that just reading this had me feeling anxious and I think my blook pressure went up a few notches! Love the last sentence.

Dolan says:

One of my biggest fears realized. Your story gave me chills. Lol

Courtney says:

Been there, done that while 9 months pregnant. I win.

Jason Good says:

Holy shit, really?

Courtney says:

Yep. It was at a McDonald's Playplace *shudder* and my 21 month old crawled up some really narrow steps and sat at the top and screamed. I was there with some friends and their kids and he wouldn't go with anyone but me. Did I mention that I am severely claustrophobic? Not fun.

Jenn says:

Same here Courtney! My son (at age 2) would go all the way up the play centre and then realize that he was alone and start screaming. I would send up other kids to bring him down (or push him down a slide) but he only wanted me so me and my 9 month pregnant belly climbed the play centre but at least took the slide down.

Jason: we call Chuck E Cheese, Charles E. (pronounced eh) Fromage, in honour of the French. My son is now 7 and still hasn't figured it out.

Jason Good says:

Wow. Maybe Charles Frommage should install an escape hatch

Courtney says:

Ah, the stories we will tell them when they're older to make them feel guilty. I have a list going.