I Had an Amazing Scam Going at Chuck E. Cheese's
[Editor's Note: Shea Serrano sometimes writes about Why This Song Sucks, and sometimes about his hilarious and poignant life and times. Better put your shoes on because your socks are about to be blown off.]
The very first job I legally held was at Chuck E. Cheese's, a pizza place for kids that's less a pizza place for kids and more a torture chamber for parents.
There were some truly unlikable parts to working there. Like, I remember one time a kid threw up in the ball pit and so they sent me and another fellow to take all of the balls out so it could all be cleaned. They were like, "Hop on in." I was like, "Um... fuck that." They were like, "Nah, it's cool. You can't catch any diseases from throw up." I was like, "Are you sure?" They were like, "I don't know, but here's some rubber gloves. Hop your bitch ass in there." And so then I did. I hopped my bitch ass in there.
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Side note: There were always two managers on duty. One of them was a slimy, extremely tall man named Jeff and the other was an angry, maniacally mean Little Person named Kenny. It was like a goddamn movie how perfectly they complemented each other. Jeff was always flirting with the girls and not giving a fuck about what the guys were doing and Kenny was always just hating everything and everybody. He was a tyrant. He'd spend the entirety of his days legit yelling at people. I've never been as afraid of a boss as I was of him. That's why I jumped in. Swimming around in vomit just seemed more appetizing than catching Kenny's firecock of fury.
But anyway it was mostly a fun enough job. I split my time between working as a game room attendant and dressing up as Chuck E. Cheese (which remains to be the closest I've ever come to being famous). I remember I used to get in the suit, go somewhere, then just stand there without moving for as long as I could. After a while, kids would just assume I was a statue (kids ain't so smart). Once I could see that they thought I wasn't real, I'd start dancing around and shit. They'd always get hella scared. It was never not funny. Oh, also, I remember people always trying to get me to hold their baby so they could take a picture. There was this policy at Chuck E. Cheese's where, when you're dressed as Chuck, you're not allowed to hold any kids up because it was hard to hold them with those big, stupid furry paws. I was like, "Man, shiiiiiit. I'ma hold all the babies and make the best pictures of all." I dropped the very first one I tried to hold. After that, I was like, "Oh. I get it."
But anyway anyway, that's not the point. The point is this: When I started working there, that was back in 1996. The minimum wage at the time was $4.75, but you had to serve some three month probationary period where they'd only pay you $3.75 and apparently that was okay. I'd work something like 50 or so hours over a two week period and then, after taxes, get paid $160. It took me all of one paycheck before I realized that I was being bamboozled. So that's when I set up my first on-the-job hustle.
All of the video game machines there at the time took tokens (I heard they're switching to those stupid swipe cards soon, which is truly dispiriting). Game room attendants were given keys to open the machines, but that was mostly just so we could refill the tickets or clear ticket jams or whatever. All of the games were set up so that once a token was dropped in, it was impossible to retrieve without having a separate key that only the managers had. All of the games except one, rather.
One game, the Cyclone, had a less impenetrable inner casing. When you deposited a token into that one, it slid down this black tray and then dropped into a box in the middle. Since there were three possible players, there were three trays, which meant the coin box had to have an opening big enough to accommodate the mouths of all three trays, which meant that if you had delicate hands you could remove the trays and then fish out fingerfulls of tokens. Because I was a tiny bro, I was therefore only a certain amount of nerve away from being hood rich.
So what I started doing was opening the machine, filling up a small soda cup with tokens, then hitting up fathers. The sales pitch was simple. I'd walk over, ask how everything was going, then throw out a bucktoothed smile and do work:
"Hey, so listen. Like, you have four or five kids, right? That's wild. I have two younger sisters. Whenever my dad would bring us here, he'd always complain about having to spend money on tokens and we'd always feel like he wasn't giving us enough and always just ended with everyone upset at everyone and that always sucked. So look, listen, I'm a man and you're a man. Look, you can keep paying one dollar for five tokens at the machine, or I can give you this cup full of tokens and you can give me $5 and you don't even have to worry about it. There are about 150 tokens in here. That's enough to last all of you all day. Let me know, man."
That shit worked, like, 100 percent of the time. Parents teach their kids about hard work and integrity and whatever all the time, but NOBODY can turn down being motherfucking J.D. Rockefeller of Chuck E. Cheese's, and that's exactly what having 150 tokens'll make you feel. I'd do that hustle nine or ten times per shift. I don't know the true conversation rates, but $50 to a 16-year-old in 1996 is about the same as a 16-year-old having a billion dollars today.
Chuck E. Cheese's was the very first thing I thought about when I heard "All Me," the song Drake released recently. I imagine it was because of the chorus: "Got everything, I got everything // I cannot complain, I cannot // I don't even know how much I really made // I forgot // It's a lot."
Or maybe it was because of the bridge: "Came up, that's all me // Stayed true, that's all me // No help, that's all // All me, for real."
Everyone just wants to feel successful, and more than that even: being the only one responsible for your success, regardless of the legality, is a pretty powerful feeling.
I guess that was the only time in my life I ever met both of those. I don't know. I don't care. When I listen to "All Me" though, I just want to be 16 stealing tokens out of a light-em-up arcade game.
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