A few weeks ago, the Evite arrived. Hunter was invited to a birthday party. My wife opened it up. Her face went white. “What?” I said from across the room. No response, but I knew it was the mouse. We had gone to a party there a few weeks earlier so I knew what was in store. Since I went last time, Brooke panicked that this was her time to take him. Being the sport that I am, and ancient video gamer, I said, “I’ll go.”
Hey Hunter, do you want to go to Chucky E. Cheese for a party,” he jumped up and ran around the house. “Yippie,” he screamed. When I asked him who Frederick was, he said, a kid in my class. “Cool. Do you play with him at school?” He said, “No. He plays with Armando.” At that moment, I realized that he would go to a ballerina party if it were at Chuck E. Cheese. After, spending hours in Target trying to figure out a gift to get a kid—Frederick—that Hunter has nothing to do with, I spend $20 bucks on a Lego car. All kids love Legos. Okay, packed and ready to go. The 4 train, to Barclay Center, across the street, up the escalators, and there it was. Three hours of emotional and physical hell.
Fine at first. We ran around playing unlimited video games. Quality time with my special little boy. But the problem began with the tickets came pouring out of the machines. The ultimate goal was not necessarily to have fun, it was to play as many games as possible to win as many tickets possible. Then at the end, you put them in a big machine that counts them up and you trade them in for prizes depending on the total number of tickets you scored.
Here comes the greed. After a while, the kids start getting aggressive, obsessed, cutting lines, and dragging long tails of tickets across the floor. “That’s mine.” “No, it’s mine.” MOMMMY, he took my tickets! Once they accumulated one hundred or so, they put them in a bag, and then of course they bragged to their friends. As the clock ticked, they raced and slammed into each other. And the blue cotton candy didn’t help either.
When I found Hunter obsessing over a wheel of fortune—Dada, one more spin, one more spin—I pulled him off and directed him to Skeeball. Ah, much better. He played a game he loved. That lasted a while, and then the ticket demon that resided inside of him lured him to Wheel of Fortune. He started spinning that wheel like a madman. After pizza, cake, and photos with the mouse—the ringleader of the cheesy greedy show, it was time to count tickets. No big deal. I couldn’t wait to check out, let him pick out crap and get back to Manhattan. Not quite.
Checking out was a zoo. There were only five machines, and behind each one had parents and kids feeding them hundreds of tickets. Parents and their cotton candy-faced kids were sprawled out on the floor. Some kids were feeding the machine one ticket at a time. I panicked. It was going to take hours to make it through the line. Not only that, after the machine, we would have to wait on a long line that wrapped around four times to trade in the ticket amount for the lollipops or poop stuffed toys. Quality merchandise. But Hunter and every kid lived for that. So there was no way out. That’s what I thought.
I had an idea. I bounced it off some parents. What if I convince Hunter that the prizes are crap, and that if we left now, I would give him $15 to buy whatever he wanted at a store. I thought it was a smart deal. My seven-year-old responded, “How about $25.” No way. He said, “Dada, what are we going to do with the tickets?” I said we’d give them out to a little kid without any tickets, even though his parents would kill me. Then he said, “Dada, how about I take the tickets home, and the next birthday I come to I’ll bring them, and while I’m playing Wheel of Fortune you could add up them up. This way I’ll be able to get a really big toy at the end, and we won’t have to wait. Deal. Deal. Handshake. When we got home, my wife said, “smart idea.” I looked puzzled. She said she got a call from one of the crazed moms who also left early. She wanted me to tell you “Thanks Bruce. I took Jagger to Target.”