Pinata pro keeps his sweet tooth satisfied

This Just In...

June 25, 1999|By Dan Rodricks

MY FIRST VISIT to Jeepers!, a chain indoor amusement center and fast-food restaurant for kids, was brief but highly entertaining -- and not because of anything that required electricity or a microchip. It was a cunning and energetic boy of about 11, roughly the size of a junior college linebacker, who provided all the thrills.

I didn't get the kid's name. For the sake of this story, I'll call him Pluto.

More on Pluto in a minute. First, the scene:

Sometime when we weren't looking, the old bowling alley on Perring Parkway became Jeepers! It is a cavernous, noisy, brightly colored carnival of kiddie rides, video games, games of skill and food concessions. Some Jeepers! hold 50 birthday parties a day on weekends. It's what Chuck E. Cheese would look like if Donald Trump owned it.

I was there at a peak hour -- Saturday afternoon, about 3 o'clock -- to pick up my son at the conclusion of a two-hour birthday party for his 9-year-old friend Brandon Smith.

But the party hadn't concluded.

The boys had had pizza, cake, ice cream and fruit punch. They'd played every video game. They'd tried their hands at every game of skill. They'd taken every ride, including the miniature roller coaster.

And yet, to complete their Jeepers! birthday experience, there was one thing left: the pinata pit.

The boys in the Smith party were summoned by a Jeepers! employee -- a Jeeper, I guess -- to a miniature bull ring, about 15 feet across, with a 3-foot wall. Above this ring was a facsimile of a hot-air balloon and gondola. Through a hole under the gondola, suspended on a rope controlled by the attending Jeeper, came a frilly, yellow-and-green pinata of innocuous shape. (My son thinks it was supposed to be a clown's face.)

With a light, cushioned bat, each boy was allowed three whacks. The object, of course, was to crack the pinata and liberate the candy inside. Each boy could keep the candy that fell to the floor.

Now, about Pluto.

He appeared just as the boys in the Smith party stepped into the ring.

Pluto was about 5 foot 8, 150 pounds, dressed in a dark gray T-shirt and baggy black shorts. He was what the salesmen in the old Robert Hall stores used to call "husky." He had thick calves and wore black high-tops with loose shoelaces. Pluto had charming chubby cheeks. He wore eyeglasses. His hair had been buzz-cut.

Pluto was not invited to Brandon Smith's party, but he hovered near the pinata pit.

For a reason.

Pluto knew something we Jeepers! first-timers didn't, and it was this: When boys cracked the pinata with the bat, candy usually fell to the floor of the ring, but at least one or two pieces always flew out of the ring and onto the Jeepers! main floor. There, it was fair game for any kid who could get to it first.

So, with the studied nonchalance of a seasoned pickpocket on Derby day, Pluto prepared himself for his first attack.

My son whacked the pinata twice. Then, on the third whack, a few miniature Tootsie Rolls dropped into the pit. But three sprayed onto the main floor.

Seeing this, Pluto made a bounding dash across the carpet, slid on two knees and grabbed the candy. He immediately removed the wrappers and, before you could say, "Spanky and Our Gang," the boy had a cheek full of Tootsie chaw.

The lad smartly retired to his post, out of the view of the adult Jeeper running the pinata pit -- but not so remote, I noticed, that he could not keep an eye out for more candy.

Another boy whacked the pinata. More Tootsie Rolls sprayed into the air and landed on the floor.

Like Brady Anderson (except bigger) breaking for second (except slower), Pluto darted across the floor.

This time, boys from the birthday party spotted the errant Tootsie Rolls and scrambled out of the pinata pit for them. But they were no match for Pluto. Pluto snatched the Tootsie Rolls and retreated to his ambush position, chewing all the way.

Obviously, this kid was a Jeepers! veteran. He knew where to be, and when to be there -- Saturday, as the birthday parties finish. The keys to his success were four -- good positioning, quick reactions, fast hands and an out-of-control sweet tooth.

Each time one of the birthday boys whacked the pinata, Pluto flew out of his lookout spot and snatched Tootsie Rolls.

The kid was good.

From a distant corner of Jeepers! Pluto's mother emerged. She tried to pull him away physically, but Pluto remained committed to his mission -- to let not a single Tootsie Roll be wasted, or consumed by some other kid.

When his mother became agitated and appeared to insist that he remove himself from the vicinity of the pinata ring, Pluto gave her a couple of Tootsie Rolls. That seemed to calm her down.

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