What the Movies for Grownups Awards and Chuck E. Cheese's Have in Common (Hint: Nothing!)

Your intrepid AARP the Magazine Task Force is here in Southern California making final preparations for Monday's Movies for Grownups® Awards Banquet at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. We have spread out all over the Southland-some are up at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, schmoozing with Hollywood royalty; others are at the Beverly Wilshire itself, making sure every last detail is seen to before the arrival of our guests-including Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Sally Field, Lesley Manville, Phylicia Rashad, and Lifetime Achievement Award winner Robert Redford.

Your humble blogger has been holed up writing scripts for the evening (that's what writers do-we hole up), stopping only to occasionally enjoy the appearance of hummingbirds outside the window here at the home of my son Ben and his wife Bronwen  in Costa Mesa. 

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My luxe accommodations include my very own Aerobed in the den, and even wake-up service, which consists of  4-year-old Silas and 2-year-old Eden creeping in at 6:15 a.m. and whispering desperately, more or less in unison, "Are we going to Chuck E. Cheese's yet?"

Ah yes, The Promise. A couple of days before, in a moment of mad recklessness, I had indeed made what generations of distraught parents have come to call The Chuck E. Cheese Promise. Of course, at the time I was at home in Washington, a good 2,500 miles away from the actual Chuck E. Cheese in question. I had indeed agreed to make what is, in the final analysis, the Ultimate Grandparental Sacrifice.

Chuck E. Cheese is, of course, one part pizza restaurant, two parts carnival arcade, three parts casino for kids. If Bugsy Siegel had created Disneyland, it would have looked a lot like Chuck E. Cheese. There's a certain jovial thuggishness about the place, right down to the mascot, a six-foot-tall street-wise rat 

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(Back East, my two-year-old granddaughter Amber followed a costumed Chuck E. character around the restaurant, yelling, "Hi Mickey Mouse!" Finally he turned and patted her on the head, but for a moment there I thought he might bite her). Part of the problem, I think, is that no one in their late 40s or above ever had a childhood that included Chuck E. Cheese, and so we have no nostalgic attachment to the place. The chain seems to have sprung up in the early 1980s and multiplied like, well, like rats.

The noise, the screams, the pint-sized throng that makes walking across the game floor akin to wading through a river of children-all these things would conspire to make a visit to Chuck E. Cheese's, for parents, one activity choice this side of being locked in a phone booth with two hyenas and a wounded zebra. Except for one thing, and this is the true genius of Chuck E. Cheese: They sell booze there! Seriously. Red and white wine, and big plastic cups of beer, the kind of cups they used to hand out at frat rushes in college. And so there are the parents, gathered in tight, defensive clumps, clutching their alcohol for dear life, trying not to notice that they haven't actually seen their kid for a half hour or so (I once lost Amber for a good five minutes at Chuck E. Cheese before I found her participating in some little girl's birthday party. She had a pointy hat on and everything-and the birthday girl's mother hadn't even noticed).

Sadly, since I'm still on painkillers following that tooth extraction I told you about yesterday, I had to steer clear of the blessed release of alcohol. Soon enough we ran out of game tokens and headed home. Now Silas is running a fever. Think he might have infected all the other kids who were playing Ski-ball with him? Oh yeah. But you never saw kids having more fun.

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So now I'm thinking, instead of a red carpet on Monday night, maybe we have our celebrity guests crawl through one of those oversized gerbil tubes like the ones at Chuck E. Cheese. Mickey Rooney's coming-he'd go for it for sure. And the two girls from 127 Hours-Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara-will be there, too. They're used to being in tight places.

I'm going to run this great idea past my boss. I'll tell you how it goes tomorrow, assuming I still have a job.

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