I was scared of quite a few things as a child, but I particularly remember feeling like a coward when, unlike my friends, I was too scared to walk up close to the animatronic Chuck E. Cheese band as it played.
In my defense, I remember the band's stage being much darker at my local Chuck E. Cheese than the ones I have seen more recently. Though maybe that's one of those things about growing up -- middle schoolers used to seem so much taller, thunder seemed much louder and music stages where creepy robots play music for children seemed much darker.
I wasn't the only one who was terrified to get too close to that scary purple thing playing the keyboard, of course. The Chuck E. Cheese band (and the ShowBiz Pizza band that preceded it) was a direct inspiration for the hugely popular Five Nights at Freddy's horror video game series, which involve animatronic animals coming to life at night and trying to murder the building's security guard (i.e. you).
Now, though, the mechanical monsters may not exist to infect children's nightmares anymore. Irving-based CEC Entertainment, the company behind Chuck E. Cheese's, is in the process of remodeling the classic restaurants with an updated look and feel, and that has meant the death of the robots.
"The kids stopped looking at the animatronics years and years ago," CEC Chief Executive Tom Leverton told CBS News. "They would wait for the live Chuck E. to come out."
But as I rejoiced over the death of the animatronics, I was surprised to find that I also had a surprising amount of nostalgia for that old Chuck E. Cheese's experience. Don't get me wrong, I knew that I had fond memories attached to the place (and the many birthday parties I attended there), but I thought they were all attached to playing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game and making "suicides" -- that awesome taste you would get when mixing every single soda available from the fountain drink machines.
When I realized that I might never actually get to walk back into my childhood and eat some average pizza while in a dark room where fake animals played music for me, I got bummed out. Maybe it's a sense of missed opportunity. I never went back to "confront my fear," so to speak. I can tackle a childhood fear of heights or prove that I'm no longer afraid of clowns, but I never took the time to stand toe-to-toe with an animatronic mouse and say, "I'm not afraid of you anymore, Chuck."
Then again, maybe that's for the best. Today's children shouldn't have to deal with such a complex relationship to the place where a kid is just supposed to be a kid. You shouldn't have to be afraid of the mouse that brings you pizza.