Rodentia Fina

Over the weekend, Miranda and I enjoyed the tri-annual celebration known to most people as a date. Usually a date is enjoyed and mutually agreed upon by both parties. I felt, halfway through the “date” rather selfish, however. After all, we went to eat at a restaurant where I indulged on various meats and breaded accoutrements while I paid $8.00 for Miranda to have some spinach greens topped with the occasional sliced mushroom and a squirt of lemon; allergy diet and all. We then went to see a movie which, in my heart of hearts, I knew Miranda would completely disdain. Whilst I enjoyed the bullet-ridden car chases and the mortal combat performed on rickety scaffolding, Miranda “didn’t know that movie was…like that,” this being her first Bond experience. I maybe should have eased her in with Thunderball.

The day after seeing the movie, I felt the urge to see the previous Bond flick, Casino Royale. I watched this movie on a small portable DVD player while holding my sleeping child, praying that he stayed that way for the next 79 hours. As I watched, I became increasingly envious of the lifestyle of the famed British spy. How would it be to drive that kind of car around instead of my ‘97 Protégé which smells like sick. It would be so amazing to just casually take the Ocean View Suite at some hotel in Monaco instead of staying at the Days Inn in Mesquite. I would love to play a game of poker where the buy-in was five million dollars. I would have no idea what the chips indicated and would eventually have to admit that I didn’t know what it means when someone says “check” at the poker table. But this, this was the life.

I thought of myself taking an entirely different path as a result of one life-choice made in my teen years. I grow up and get a reputable degree in something other than English. I stay thin and am very debonair. I receive field training on how to kill a man with a mentos. I have rendezvouses with men who have severe facial scarring and women with Romanian accents and evening attire that recalls silk pillowcases. Even if I wasn’t a spy, I would love to be the kind of person invited to a thinly veiled charity event sponsored by a closeted dictator. I could think of nothing better than to be holding a wine glass while some profusely sweating and panicked man holding a titanium briefcase crashed in to my shoulder while fleeing the authorities. I would love to be the man behind the bar who makes a haggard-looking spy his favorite, unnamed dry martini mix of three fingers of gin, one vodka, one vermouth, with a thin slice of lemon.

Visions of the finer things in life were swimming around my brain for the rest of the day. I poured myself some Raspberry Cream Shasta and sipped it ever so suavely, appreciating its full-bodied fruitiness. It was in this adult state of make-believe that my wife informed me that we had better get ready for our family outing for the night. Though I acted like I knew exactly what the plan was, it took a few moments to dig deep into my brain and remember just where it was that we were going. It was while I was digging that my son Zachary came running upstairs yelling two words that simultaneously brought our destination to my attention and reminded me of why I had imbedded it so deep in the first place. “Chucky Cheese’s!”

Off we go, into the Saturday evening sky. There is me silently imagining shifting into an unknown gear and performing a pit maneuver on the Lexus a few car lengths ahead. There is my wife who insists on convincing me that this is going to be a great family outing and that Zach is going to love it so much. There is Zach who is busy pointing out that the flags at the car dealership look a lot like the flag of The Netherlands. There is Isaac who, in a move that would prove to be quite intelligent, fell into a state of sleep where he would thankfully remain for the upcoming events. “Chucky Cheese! It’s where a kid can be a kid!” my wife informs me. Unfortunately, I don’t like giving kids the option of that kind of self-discovery. I want a place where a kid can learn to be a grown-up and get a job and chip in on the mortgage payment. That is my kind of play land.

We walked to the front door, underneath the blaring neon rodent assuring us with a thumbs up that everything would be alright. We then stood outside the front door in a line that extended back from a red velvet rope, cordoning off those who wanted in on the action. They stamped my forearm with a three digit code that could only be seen under a blacklight. This apparently to maintain the exclusivity of the event. It would also be a convenient way for MI6 to keep track of me. For a moment, I felt like I was headed for some type of VIP lounge where I would be escorted in upon notice of my arrival. I would sit on a leather couch, an exotic woman on either side, and I would receive the disarming codes from a man named Il Zoccoli. Instead, we were eventually let in to wait in line to buy tokens.

As a general rule, if you buy any type of token at the same time that you are purchasing a meal, unless it is for parking validation, you know you are in trouble. That is a step below a riverboat casino in Branson. It took me thirty minutes to stand in line and eventually order a cheese pizza and 100 tokens. The man behind me, complaining about the unmoving line, remarked that it was just like Wal-Mart on a Saturday night. I could think of no better comparison in the world and I imagined myself becoming fast friends with the kindred spirit of misery behind me. As the tokens began spewing into my cup, the machine suddenly broke down. The man behind me stepped to my side saying “This happens to me all of the time.” He proceeded to remove the cover of the machine, jimmy a gear, and flip some tokens out to get the machine tokening again. Though I was impressed, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would take me to disarm him and find out just who he was really working for. Carrying the loaded cup of tokens back to our table, I felt like I was the high-roller of the joint. A heavy-set woman with two dolphins tattooed on her cleavage and three screaming children in her trail saw my loot and coolly batted an eye. As I sat down, the 19 year-old mom playing skee-ball in a tube top and jean shorts, which revealed the significant top portion of her rear end, heard the clank of my coins and offered an inviting look. Though the competition for Chucky Cheese tickets was tempting, I was there for two reasons only.

I had to let my kid have some fun and then I had to get the hell out of there before catching some viral disease.

As Zachary and I meandered through the slew of snotty kids and flashing lights, we could not find a machine that was available to play on. Not one out of the eight ticket-printing arcade games was short of a kid salivating at the idea that ten dollars worth of tokens would produce half a million tickets which would then be traded in for an eraser with the logo of a defunct double A baseball team. We finally got a spot on one of the actual arcade games, Crusin’ USA. Zach sat on my lap as we chose our first racetrack- Highway 101. I chose the silver Audi and told Zach to take the wheel, knowing full well that I would not let the outcome of this game rest in his hands alone. As we sped down the road, running cars off of cliffs and narrowly avoiding head-on collisions, the drama became too much for Zachary, and so he started to scream at the top of his lungs. We left the Audi parked there in the middle of the road and walked back to mommy.

By this time, the pizza came. I fooled myself into thinking that, since the place was famous enough for its pizza to have it copyrighted in the name, maybe the pizza was actually good. The pizza might have tasted good to someone who was used to eating wet cardboard topped with a thin layer of melted industrial-grade plastic, and finished with a pint of grease for good measure. What made the return trip back to our table so wonderful was seeing the look on Miranda’s face. Her motherly desire to let her kids have fun competed with her motherly instinct to protect them from germs which both competed with her wifely need to hide the fact that I was right and she was wrong. We went for one more ride on a gyrating monster truck. Half-way through, Zach looked at me with those doe eyes of his and a face which seemed to suggest “I think I may be sitting in Ebola.”

In the parking lot, on the way back to our car, Zachary said “I don’t like Chucky Cheese’s” and continued muttering the phrase like a mantra. We drove back home with the glow of the gastronomic rodent dimming in my rear view and Miranda made note that we had to bathe both children immediately upon our return. “”I think that commercial that I saw on the Disney Channel was very misleading,” she pronounced. “On the commercial, the restaurant was much more clean and spacious and the children were all well-dressed.”

Some may call us snobs for disdaining the appeal of a Chucky Cheese or a McDonald’s Hoof-and-Mouth Playground. We shop at Wal-Mart, but only out of economic necessity. We watch reality T.V. and gravitate towards the clearance rack at Old Navy. I love my life and I love my family. I would not trade them for anything in the world. I feel, however, that I am entitled to the few fantasies that I keep. There is a black sport coat and several bow ties hanging in my closet. I have a cache of assorted weaponry hidden in the least likely of household appliances. And, when the work I do begins to fray my nerves, I have my personal bartender pour me my signature drink. I call it Rodentia Fina. It tastes like raspberries.