The Hess Report

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

That Robot Sure Can Dance

Last night, I took Lucy to her first birthday party. She'd been to Maddie's parties in previous years, and to little birthday gatherings at the homes of playdate friends. One of the girls in her Sunday school class was having a birthday party and wanted to invite Lucy. And this was a real kids' party, evidenced by the location: Chuck E Cheez.

I know that CEC has a horrible reputation among parents today, and I can see why. It's over the top in a way that certain poor, stricken adults think that kids like. Too loud. Too many flashing lights. Cloying covers of recent pop "classics". Lucy didn't care too much about all of that, though. From the second we set foot in the place, she was mesmerized by the animatronic Chuck whose mouth moved roughly in time to the lyrics of the songs.

"That is so cool!" she said. "Can we go look at him?"

We went up to the stage.

"Chuck E. (though I'm sure that if she could spell, it would be Chucky to her) is sooo cool!"

Not wanting her to be completely taken in by their crappy razzle-dazzle, I asked: "Do you think he's alive?"

Lucy gave me a dismissive glance. "No, Dad. He's a robot."

And indeed he was. So, we did the CEC thing for the next hour and a half: played lame games like "shoot the balls in the frogs mouth," rode a carousel that turned for almost thirty seconds per token, ate pizza, etc. Well, I won't say that we did those things. Lucy did. I stood by and watched.

Incidentally, does anyone remember the incident several years ago in the national news in which a kindergarten boy was suspended from school because his halloween fireman's costume plastic axe violated the school districts no-tolerance weapons policy? He was there, as he is the birthday girls' older brother, and his parents were the generous party-throwers. They're a nice family, and he's a nice kid who was more than happy to give me enthusiastic advice on how to get the most tickets out of the CEC games for our cup of tokens.

Annnnnnnyyywaaaay... at cake time, they closed the stage curtains and brought out someone dressed in the Chuck E. costume. The Chuck E. theme song came blaring along, and Chuck E.'s assistant encourage all the kids to get up and dance with Chuck! Yeah! None of the kids did. The birthday girl was, I believe, a bit overwhelmed by Chuck E. charismatic presence. I gave Lucy a "Psssssst!" She looked around and saw me.

"You want to get up and dance with him?" I said.

Excited nod. She abandoned the rest of her pizza and run up beside Mr. Cheez. She was game and tried to do all the moves that Chuck E. was managing in his/her bulky costume. She danced the whole time. She was in to it. Very cute.

After that, it was candles and cake, then presents. We had to be home soon, so we picked up Lucy's treat bag, which was the Extra Big Treat Bag, generously provided by our birthday hosts, and headed to the car. Lucy wanted to say goodbye to Chuck E., first, so she made her way to the stage, and I watched her wave and talk from across the room. When she returned she smiled and said, "I think he's a little shy, because he didn't say goodbye to me, but that's okay." Both of us out to the van, then, where Lucy began to dig through the treat bag, jabbering non-stop about Chuck E.

With each item she pulled from the bag, she would exclaim "Dad! Chuck E. is soooo nice! Look! He gave me a pack of Sweet-Tarts!" or "Dad! I can't believe how nice of a mouse he is! He gave me a Chuck E. bobble head so I can remember him!" Later, she even commented that Chuck E.'s generosity, vis a vis the loot from the treat bag, had almost reached springtime religious proportions, and that he should take the place of the Easter Bunny and be called the Easter Mouse. I'd note that I'm paraphrasing, but you probably already knew that.

Once she was finished rooting through her treat bag, I asked her what her favorite part of the party was.

"All of it. But I really liked dancing with Chuck E."

"Yeah," I said. "It looked like fun."

"Dad, that robot Chuck E. sure can dance."

Those devious bastards. I thought I had inoculated her against the wondrous ills of the place when she acknowledged that the singing, jerky Chuck E. was a robot. In reality, I had only set myself up for something worse: Lucy now thinks not only that autonomous, realistically moving robots exist, but that of all the possible uses there could be for such a thing, Chuck E. Cheez has one, and she danced with it. I could have told her it was a guy in a suit, as I usually don't like my kids running around believing crazy crap like that. But I didn't. I must have a soft spot for robots, like some parents have a soft spot for Santa Clause. One of the more common phrases heard in my area at work is: "Are you talking about giant robots again?" Seriously. And if my kid wants to think that there are furry, baseball cap-wearing robots in the world who can dance like a mofo, who am I to ruin her fun?

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