Every year in America, an average of 7.2 million children are born. In 1985, the year I was born, I was just one of 6,438,239 fertilized embryos. Of those six million plus, there are currently 5,166,952 of us. So what happened to the missing 1,271,287 that knocked off between 1985 and 2006?*
Two words, my friends: Discovery Zone.
Don't be fooled.
Some children had Chuck E. Cheese (or Showbiz Pizza, for you old schoolers). Some children had the local playground. Some had Parcheesi. But for many of us, particularly in the greater Fort Wayne, Indiana area that I grew up in, there was Discovery Zone, which, according to Wikipedia, can best be described as having been “a chain of entertainment facilities featuring games, elaborate indoor mazes designed for young children, including slides, climbing play structures and ball pits.”
But for laymen, Discovery Zone was more accurately, Darwin’s Law for Kids.
A fun-filled afternoon for the family!
Ask the scarred, crippled 20-somethings of today about it and many will shudder in terror at the simple memory of the horrors of Discovery Zone. It was impossible to leave the large building of tubes, ball pits, slides, and arcade games without some form of head and/or internal injury.
My brother has a considerable crook in his nose that I can’t help but credit to the time I kicked him in the face somewhere within the tubes.
Within the tubes, the social hierarchy was similar to Lord of the Flies. It wasn’t uncommon to find corpses littering the tubes. And naturally, if you were an especially agile child, you could move through the tubes with considerable ease – until you came up behind the notorious Fat Kid who never moved at the speed you wanted him to, especially in a rousing game of tag, at which point you would either A) trample him, B) maneuver around him and then kick him in the face, or C) push him to speed him up until he kicked you in the face.
Children can climb through the tubes with relative ease, but parents could not, which was especially to my 11-year-old advantage when it was time to go home and I knew damn well my 6'8" father couldn’t possibly come in after us. I was lucky, though. Usually you’d see one or two especially irate and lost parents screaming for their children and these children could usually be identified as the ones pushing/trampling Fat Kid out of the way. Or, there was a worse fate…
The ball pit.
Missing since 1994.
To this day, I still remember the feel of young, nimble, rigamortic bodies under my feet in the ball pit. There was always that special breed of children who didn’t really like to play and instead thought it a good plan to lounge in the ball pit. (Often this was Fat Kid, crying after having his nose broken for the fifth time that day.)
Physics is but a cruel mistress in the ball pit. Ball Pit Kid eventually sifted to the bottom where he was either trampled to death and never seen again or simply suffocated.
There was another breed of child within the depths of the ball pit — Scary Kid. This was usually someone on the outer cusp of the acceptable age for Discovery Zone, probably 13 or 14, and utilized his age and size against the other merry children enjoying their time. He did this by hiding in the balls and then jumping out and scaring people. This was also usually the kid that peed in the ball pit — the weird kid your parents wouldn’t invite to your birthday party because he might poop his pants or pee in the pool. That kid.
Injuries were Discovery Zone’s beloved concubine. It was to be expected that you would return home with third degree burns on your elbows and knees (because nobody wore the optionally provided knee and elbow pads unless you were the Hypochondriac Child, who was also usually Fat Kid).
Broken noses and concussions were common, too, especially if you were Idiot Kid who would go into the obstacle course and try to do it backwards. I for one remember the rolly-slide -– a horrible torture device that consisted of rollers, which was great unless you were a kid like me, a little bit bigger than most kids. My skin would get caught in the rollers.
He's only alive today because I allowed him to be.
Discovery Zone, or at the very least the concept of it, is simply the corporate way of executing nature’s will. Because Fat Kid, Scary Kid, Lazy Kid…let’s face it, it was probably for the best that they were trampled to death or died of asphyxiation or massive head injuries. It's that kind of people who grow into our president of the idiots of society.
I survived multiple trips to Discovery Zone and I am an intelligent, productive member of society. And my brother, well, I was forced to keep an eye on him once lost in the maze of tubes, so he slid by, by default.
Discovery Zone went bankrupt in 1996 with debts raking up to $366 million, which, when you consider the assumedly gargantuan amount of liability lawsuits, makes sense. Our grandparents survived the Great Depression. Our parents, well, they made it through the 60’s and 70’s with enough brain cells left over to reproduce us. But for the 20-somethings of today, we survived Discovery Zone.
* I completely made these figures up.