Gambling goes against my genetic code. I have gone to the casinos here in St. Louis two times, and each time, they left me with a lot of internal turmoil over ways that my money would have been better spent--a new pair of shoes, 15 pitchers of beer, or whatever self absorbed thing it was I spent money on before I had children. It was the same way when I was a kid, making my way in Hawaii’s “Fun Factory”; and contrary to it’s name, the arcade was never fun, but always a stressful (and unsuccessful) attempt to reconcile my hopes and dreams with a dumb stuffed animal that was missing an eye. Who am I kidding, I never had enough tickets for a stuffed animal--I probably walked away with stickers. Or plastic lips.
You learn these lessons, about the tiny (tiny) probability of God pouring out his favor in an impossible arcade game; and then you take your kids to the Incredible Pizza Company, 25 years later, and it induces Vietnam-style flashbacks, of coming up 894 tickets short at the prize counter.
That could be the title of my memoirs--”894 Tickets Short at the Prize Counter”.
We generally avoid gigantic, overpriced arcades, except in the case of end-of-the-season basketball celebrations, as was the case on Saturday afternoon. The nice thing is that these places now toss in an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet with the cost of crushing your hopes and dreams--so there is the opportunity to recoop your losses with the equivalent of 63 cheap pizzas. Unless you are cutting carbs, in which case, beware of what happens to the human body when you try to eat $100 worth of iceberg lettuce and ranch dressing.
Of course, it’s near impossible to get the kids to eat their money’s worth, because they are instantly brainwashed by the big, blinking machines and the deformed stuffed animal prizes--which means they eat exactly $.32 worth of cheap pizza.
Except if you are the Incredible Pizza Company, then you are #winning.
The entrance fee also came with $5 loaded onto a game card, which is convenient in setting limits, right from the start. Several of my children brought their wallets, or shoved random $20 bills in their pockets--which just PROVES to me that they do not yet know the value of money, or else they would hoard it like “the precious” ring that is destroying Middle Earth, or whatever. I don’t really “do” the Hobbit, so I don’t completely understand this metaphor, but I am fairly certain that Frodo would never (ever) consider cashing in that ring for a small plastic duck dressed like a pirate.
After that business with the pizza was out of the way, we moved into the “arcade”--and it is here that the true personalities of my children were revealed. Particularly in Little J, who is willing to throw all the money in the world at the big, flashing monstrosities that promise iPads if you can thread a key into a tiny hole with three pushes of an up/down button.
“How much does this cost?” I asked, because there is no way something with this many lightbulbs costs less than the innocence of childhood.
I tried to persuade him toward ANY game that cost $.50--but Little J will have none of those stupid, whack-a-mole type contraptions that offer a two-ticket payout. Nope. He wants the giant wheel that will shower him with 10,000 tickets. It’s really tough to explain how these things are proverbial unicorns--because kids who still believe in Santa and Skylanders are slow to recognize the figments of their imaginations.
But can we talk about how I will forever worry about what happens when Little J discovers Las Vegas. Or women in string bikinis. Because this kid is gonna have a weakness for big, flashy things. I don’t worry about this so much with my oldest, who paces the arcade three times, trying to figure out which game is “worth” it. Answer: NONE of them.
Enter the moment when I actually watched a parent lose his freaking mind--playing the game, you know the one, where you have to guide the crane claw and pick up the gigantic bouncy ball. Having failed at winning an iPad or 10,000 free tickets, Little J narrowed in on this one REAL QUICK. Rule of thumb with a future gambling addict: If it isn’t an iPad, then look for the BIGGEST, CHEAPEST, most impossible prize. That costs $3.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to play the game, because there was a dad fighting desperately for his soul at that very machine. By the looks of the two toddlers licking the machine near his knees, and the one ball already in their possession--I’d say he was in the tough spot of having to spend $542 (and his sanity) to win ball #2. We watched him attempt this three times (#NINEDOLLARS!), and every time, the claw would grab the ball and proceed to move it to the dispenser...only to have it eventually slip through its weak, metal grasp. There were a few curse words uttered, and another $3 spent--but we all know that this ended in a deep and abiding rage, a kid throwing a temper tantrum, and the start of an inferiority complex that can be traced back to a toy made of toxic plastic in a Chinese factory.
For us, this entire excursion ended uneventfully; I guided Little J away from the machine that would surely cost us thousands of dollars in counseling, and toward the skee-ball machines, where he proceeded to throw balls with wild abandon. We took our game card to the prize center and that’s where I realized that “prizes” haven’t changed much since I was a kid, probably because NO ONE HAS EVER WON THEM. In any case, Care Bears have not been *super* relevant since 1986, but there is something about that 4,500 ticket price tag that makes my kids want rainbow bear/storm cloud bear/ double heart bear with every fiber of their being.
In the end, I think we spent $60 and walked away with a suction cup ninja star, a tiny plastic dog, a parachute guy and a spider ring. Sounds about right, that first lesson in not being able to afford that gigantic box of nerds that will eventually end up in every floor vent in our house.
This, my friends, is the paradox of parenting and unconditional love.