Disneyland As Hell from The Road Has Eyes: a memoir
It’s easy to make friends when traveling in an RV. It’s considered polite to chat with fellow RV’rs at pit stops. “How do you like your Fleetwood? Where you comin’ from? Where you headed? Really? We’re going that way too”. Sometimes a bond develops, and two or more RVs form a caravan. It’s a comfort, knowing someone is on the same road, ready to lend support in an emergency. RV travel can be pretty scary. Sometimes you just hit it off, you have an affinity or a common interest, and you wind up traveling thousands of miles with new friends.
This can be a very good thing. This can also get you into trouble.
Fox and I were still in the shakedown phases of our cross-country trip when we met the Jardine family just past Pensacola. We had finished gassing up at a Super Kmart on I-10. I pulled our coach into one of the extra long parking slots and turned off the engine. I was still pretty nervous about driving a 38 foot motor coach. Every time I turned the motor off I worried that it wouldn’t start again. I was nervous about everything. Fox and I had just invested a huge chunk of cash in this big brute. I hadn’t learned to trust it.
We were emerging from the rig to get our cups of chocolate mixed with coffee: chocolofee. We were suddenly engulfed in the shadow of another A-class motor coach. The driver politely left an empty space between our rigs, so that as his air brake hissed I was able to look right up into his window and wave hello. He slid his window back and leaned out.
“Good morning,” he said, with an accent that sounded slightly German. His wife put her head on his shoulder and smiled. “You going West?” I saw a little boy’s face appear near her arm pit, chin leaning against the window sill so that all that was missing was a Cocker Spaniel puppy to make this a picturesque family with a slightly Euro-hip aroma.
“All the way to California,” I replied. “We bought this thing near Fort Lauderdale and this is our first day of driving on ‘Ten’.”
Why did I just blurt out that I would be on I-10 for thirty five hundred miles? It was a rookie mistake, a tactical error, and I knew it as soon as I made it. Still, they were attractive looking people. They were in their late thirties or early forties. They were driving half million dollars worth of motor coach, a Tiffin Phaeton that looked like forty feet and boasted four slides.
“Would you like to join us for some coffee before you get back on the road?” asked the daddy. “We’re going west too, all the way to Disneyland.” He rolled his eyes. “We promised our son. But to tell you the truth, I’m a bit of a Disney fanatic myself.”
That is how we met the Jardine family. They were from Montreal. Their first language was French, which somehow explained the German accent. I’ll never figure out why Francophone Canadians sound German when they speak English but I’ve met quite a few in the world of RVs and they sound like they’re from Munich rather than Montreal.
We found ourselves sharing a big round table with our new acquaintances. Jacques Jardine, otherwise known as “JJ” or, as they would pronounce it, “Zhay Zhay” and his wife Marlene, (pronounced “mar-lenn) were traveling with their son, Charles (yes, SHARL) on a forty two day excursion across and through the United States. Charles was four years old. He was adorable. Not only was the little boy handsome but he was curious, self-possessed and proudly owned an amazing memory.
Jacques was jingling with cameras and lenses as he got down from the driver’s seat. Aha! A fellow photographer. This was the basis for an instant bond. Jacques’ equipment was very grand. He had Canon’s flagship digital camera, a stunning six thousand dollars worth of shutter bling.
We were not planning on going to Disneyland. At the moment, however, the idea of having another motor coach family in caravan was appealing. I was flat out scared. I had made the thousand-mile drives, I had made the fifteen hundred mile drives up and down mountains and through the valley of the shadow of RV breakdown. But I figured our grand total mileage on this trip would be close to four thousand miles. From the Space Coast of Florida to the egg factories of Petaluma in Northern California: it would be quite a drive. How much more secure I would feel if there was someone within a thirty mile radius, all the way down that lonesome highway. It was only a few weeks since Hurricane Katrina had flipped the concrete plates of I-10 on their backsides and thrown them against the chain link fences that bordered the road from Biloxi to Houston.
As I studied the map I saw that we could take the same route all the way to where Hiway 5 met Hiway 99 outside of Bakersfield. The Jardine family could continue to Anaheim and we could avoid the big rigs by ascending 99 and then swinging over to 101, driving north to our destination.
It may as well have been the moon. Our homeland, our Northern California, seemed impossibly distant.
That’s just about what happened. We exchanged cell phone numbers and enjoyed a dozen pit stops between Pensacola and El Paso. We made a visit to Fox’s daughter who was at school in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The Jardine family pulled ahead of us by a couple of days and I thought we’d not likely see them again. But their half million dollar Allegro Phaeton broke down in a place just south of Phoenix called Eloy. They had to wait five days to receive a part from the Allegro factory in Red Bay, Alabama.
My cell phone beeped that evening around dinner time.
I heard JJ’s voice. “Vee are bwoken down in zome plaze near Pheenix and ve’re stuck here for a few days. Are you kuys still in Las Gruces?”
“Yes,” I mocked, “vee are still in Las Gruces. Vee had plant on leafing tomorrow.”
“I have an idea,” said JJ. ‘How vould you kuys lige to go to Dizneylant? On me. I pay for everything. I efen pay for your extra gas. Ve don’t vant to go to Dizneyland by ourselffs now, do we? It would be a kreat plazhure to take you ass our kests. I insist!”
How do I put this? Hooorayy? Disneyland?
I will re-phrase the old joke about winning a trip to Philadelphia. First prize is a week in Disneyland. Second prize is two weeks in Disneyland.
I don’t mean to disrespect one of America’s institutions of entertainment and pop culture. I wanted to see it, have the experience at least once. I liked the Jardine family. I was “on” to JJ. He was a major Disney-holic. The interior of his motor coach was lined with classic Disney toys. The ones in their original boxes were worth thousands of dollars. JJ had the passion of the true collector. As for the most excellent Mister Charles, he could give a rat’s ass about Disney. He was interested in the whole wide world! He thought his dad was a bit of a juvenile. He liked educational toys of Transformer things that he could take apart and reconstruct a thousand different ways. He bought a souvenir alarm clock at Kmart and a couple days later I saw him attempting to put its pieces back together. It wasn’t working out, but he seemed satisfied just to see the insides of the gizmo. His ability to handle screwdrivers was impressive. The kid has an amazing future.
As the trip west unfolded, we had gotten to know the Jardines. Their human side had manifested early on. By “their human side” I mean the warts, the flaws, the unconscious mannerisms that gave away more than they concealed.
JJ was obsessive-compulsive to a degree that was almost debilitating. He wanted everyone to have a good time but he didn’t understand that people defined “a good time” in very different ways. His surface persona was affable, cheerful, accommodating. Beneath that was a controlling beast, an angry child who showed his face only when things went seriously awry from the way he had planned them. It would take me a while to discover this. Most of his dark side emerged when we got to California.
The major problem was this: JJ and Marlene are the type of people who will kill themselves to make other people happy. Fox also happens to answer this description. What could I do? I had joined myself to a family of martyrs.
Fox insisted that I must pretend to enjoy myself because JJ’s self esteem was heavily invested in this trip. He had planned every detail. He had reserved fine hotel rooms. He was passionately committed to sharing with us HIS love of Disneyland. I understand this phenomenon. When I was young, I foisted John Coltrane records on everyone I knew. Not just any Coltrane records: I mean the late-period Coltrane, with the fiery screams and hoarse incantations. I loved Coltrane, ergo, everyone must love Coltrane. I became an unwelcome guest at parties where The Supremes ruled the turntable. I didn’t understand that Coltrane’s cosmic screams were not ideal party music. JJ doesn’t understand that everyone may not love Disneyland.
JJ had come up with a very practical idea. We would leave our respective motor coaches at a campground in San Bernardino and rent an SUV to drive to Anaheim. Rather than struggle with two behemoth RVs in the Greater Los Angeles Traffickzilla, it would be a lot simpler to drive to Disneyland and then drive back. San Bernardino was a central location for both of our next destinations. The Jardines were headed to Yosemite and we were headed to the San Francisco North Bay.
For the first time in our entire epic journey we were spending serious social time in the company of new friends. It would be a test.
Things broke down from the start. Our hotel reservations were botched. Instead of being across the street from the park’s entrance, we had been mistakenly booked into another hotel a mile and a half down the road. Given the difficulty of parking at Disneyland, and the fact that JJ had rented an electric scooter to save my chronically painful feet, this caused problems.
The turbulence began about thirty miles outside Anaheim. We were nicely tucked into JJ’s too-expensive rental SUV. He used his speaker phone to check with the Traveler’s Inn across from the Disneyland gate.
“Traveler’s Inn Vista, this is Jared speaking, how may I help you?”
JJ gave the details of our reservation.
“What’s that name again?” the desk clerk asked. JJ patiently spelled his last name.
“I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t have a reservation under that name.”
JJ explained that he had a confirmed print-out of his reservation with Travelocity dot com. The clerk reiterated that no such reservation had been made at that particular Traveler’s Inn.
JJ had so much riding on the perfection of every detail of this adventure. He went back and forth with the clerk for a while.
“We were booked to check in at three o’clock. There should be an electric scooter waiting for my friend.” His voice was rising. Poor JJ. He was a born-again Christian with a deeply repressed temper. When it rose to the surface, it radiated three hundred sixty degrees.
During our travels, JJ had told me stories of his abusive father. I had a sense that JJ was, right then, behaving in the same way that his father had behaved. All of us, without exception, have the same worst traits our parents possessed. We go in blissful denial of this fact. How often do I hear things like, “Oh, I’m nothing like my mother. Just the opposite. I would never be like my mother, she was a horrible manipulative bitch.” Or, “I learned what NOT to be from my dad. I will never rage and sulk that way!” All of us make these disclaimers, while our limbs twitch in exact replication of a parent’s body language. Turns of speech, key phrases emerge as passed down the generations. It’s true, we transform these behaviors, modify them to better fit our own moral compass, but still they exist and live like independent creatures within our psyches. Under stress, they pop out of us like bottle rockets. We could help ourselves by being more alert. We should know that we never escape the template laid down in our earliest years. Our parents were young and we were toddlers, soaking up behaviors that would mold our lives. This transformation is the substance of the inner work we do: recognize the shadow within ourselves, bring it to the light. IF, that is, we chose to do this inner work.
JJ was seething, and trying desperately not to show the seethe, chuckling lamely, then turning into the cell phone with brutal sarcasm. He rifled through his leather valise of papers, taking his eyes from the road, as cars whizzed by on all sides, We sat in our seats trying to avoid JJ’s anger. That was impossible. The car was filling with it like water from a vehicle plunged off a bridge. The line was rising around our necks, up to our nostrils.
“I have it right here….Jared,” JJ sneered, making the clerk’s name into a mocking faggoty sound, rattling the papers as if Jared could see him. “Traveler’s Inn Vista at such and Harbor Drive Boulevard. Three O’clock.”
“Let me check the other Traveler’s Inns”, Jared said coldly, “please hold.”
We were closing the miles to the Harbor Drive exit. Twenty miles and change. Now we didn’t even know where we were booked. We listened to muzak from the phone speakers, a hideous treacly version of “You Light Up My Life.” After about three minutes, Jared returned to the line. “I see the problem now, sir. You are booked at Traveler’s Inn Brookmont, that’s only a few blocks from our facility.”
JJ’s hand flew into the air, a scimitar of frustration, cutting back and forth. Temper shredded, he spoke into the little headset, “Vista, Vista, Traveler’s Inn Vista, asshole! I’ve had it booked for six weeks in advance, we have handicapped people and a baby walker, we MUST be across from the entrance to Disney…”
“Sir, the rooms at Brookmont are every bit as comfortable, the service…..”
“That’s not the POINT!” JJ near-yelled, throttling his voice at the last syllable so that instead of surging upward into pure fury, it squeaked with thwarted passion.
When JJ’s voice pitched upward, little Charles awoke from a tranquil nap in his car seat, smiled ecstatically and emitted a sound like the one his daddy had just made. “Naaah th’ pooont!” He said. It was a happy keening, an experiment in vocalizing that had, apparently, succeeded, because Charles did it again. “Naaah th’pooont!”
Fox and I exchanged a glance. Thank god for the child, we thought. Charles could change anger to joy in a heartbeat. Everyone laughed. Charles held his hands in the air for a ‘high five’ from Fox.
“Gamma,” he said. “Gamma,” meaning, of course, Grandma. Wow! Fox had gotten a major promotion! She felt so honored!
Fox gave him the high five and Charles was replete with his new mastery.
No Room At The Inn
The Vista was fully booked unto eternity and the Brookmont was our only alternative. It took another few calls to re-route the electric scooter to meet us at our destination, and by this time we were pulling right into the drive of the motel. It was a downscale version of the Vista, a little bit dowdy, not quite so convenient, and as JJ checked us in, we saw his face darken again. He returned to the car wearing a silence like a cape around his psyche. It spoke with passionate eloquence. Don’t touch me, it said… don’t talk to me… don’t help me… don’t mock me… don ‘t support me… don’t love me… don’t do anything except enjoy this trip or I’ll kill myself.
JJ’s wife is a sweet natured blonde, a girl-next-door type, all pink skinned and smiling. I could see in the muscular conflicts of Marlene’s face that she was recoiling inwardly from a quality she was just getting to know in her husband. She bravely marched forward, keeping her façade firmly in place: pleasant, perky, nice.
We unloaded our stuff in the ground-floor rooms. We could see that JJ felt everything was already spoiled. The bare fact was that in order to get to Disneyland as a group, we would have to walk sixteen blocks each way. We had an electric scooter and a stroller that seemed to have more luggage capacity than a Greyhound bus.
As we were finishing putting our stuff in the rooms, the scooter was delivered. I went up to the office, the delivery guy gave me the quick lesson, and I drove it right out the door and around the giant rectangle of the parking lot, testing it for speed. It was held together with duct tape, the handle bars drooped and yawed, the basket was hanging from a single screw. But it rolled at a reasonable clip.
At this point, the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder lurking in JJ’s soul clicked on, full bore, and we were obliged to go NOW to Disneyland. It was four o’clock and there was plenty of time to show us his favorite things, the best rides, the parade, maybe take the little choo choo train around the park.
Fox and I wanted nothing more than to take a nap. Disneyland could wait until tomorrow.
It was not to be. JJ wanted to make us happy by sharing the things that made him happy. So, a quick change of clothes, and off we go: JJ, Marlene, Charles, Fox, myself, and Katherine, Marlene’s sister, who had driven up from San Diego. Six people, young ones, old ones, in between ones. I was pleased to be in this new human community. They are all crazy, but that’s okay. You tell me this: how do you fashion a rational response to an irrational world?
If you aren’t crazy there must be something wrong with you.
I might have felt like an old man, riding that stupid scooter, but it didn’t bother me. My feet are flat and narrow as ice skate blades and they’ve been hurting for twenty years. I thought the scooter was a great toy. I rode it side saddle, I rode it with my feet up on the bars, I rode it holding hands with Fox, I rode it down the corner ramps, almost tipping it over, I beep-beeped around Chinese families, Iranian families, Hispanic families, wearing my beret and sunglasses, striking poses. I was going faster than the rest of my family, and I back-tracked, slowed down and rejoined the clan.
The walk was a little longer than anticipated. Sixteen blocks, a mile and a half. Charles’s stroller was loaded with enough supplies to survive a nuclear attack. JJ’s mania was blowing steam out his ears. His eyes were glassy with need, craving to get to Disneyland. His stride was like a speedboat throwing shawls of water across its bow, he parted air as if it were liquid impediment, holding him back from his El Dorado.
We got to the outer esplanade, where shuttles, buses and tramcars loaded and unloaded. I was instantly aware of the loudspeakers. They were pumping Disney Muzak, up-beat movie themes, instrumental paeans to the Magical Kingdom, The Happiest Place On Earth. It s an old trick, music to hurry people, because the faster they move the more they spend and the quicker they tire out and they make room for more people, more turnover in a day’s receipts. From the moment we entered the esplanade to the moment we left the park, there was no remission from the loud music, the constant blast of happy inspiring kitschy songs of love, hope, drama, jeopardy overcome, disaster averted, triumph of the human spirit as inspired by Disney. I hated this music more than anything. I longed for peace, I ached for just a minute’s respite.
It was not to be. We passed through the two security gates, our packs and bags were inspected, then we moved into the turnstiles that gave onto Disneyland itself, the little town with the Main Street at the end of whose length shone the soaring castle of Fantasyland.
We grew up thinking Disneyland to be vast. On TV it exuded scale, distance, grandeur. In reality it’s a big chunk of acreage filled with cheesy little junk. It’s crammed from end to end with shops, booths, rides, stands, restaurants, a lake. Crowds meander and clog together so that one can’t move freely, and it’s easy to get separated from companions.
Summer was long gone, and still the crowd was formidable. My scooter was a problem. I had to go carefully or ride down some poor housewife from Minneapolis who was looking for her children, her face pasty with fatigue. Generally, people made room for me but the din was so great they often didn’t hear me coming.
“Whoops, excuse me, sorry, watchit, hello? hello? beep beep, excuse me, uh oh, sorry, sorry…..”
We were barely inside the gate! We stopped to confer. What was on JJ’s program? How about taking the train around the park, so we can see everything? Okay, sounds good. I pressed the lever on my scooter and it refused to go. I pressed again and it went a few feet and stopped. A few more tries confirmed that it was not in working order.
We had to call the scooter rental company and have them deliver a replacement. They wanted me to meet their courier outside the front gate, on the esplanade before the first security booth. Why couldn’t they come inside, I wondered. The man was evasive about that. Okay. How long? “Give it at least an hour,” the grumpy man on the phone said, “We’re pretty busy right now.”
“Yeah, and I’ve got crippled feet and a family impatient to see Disneyland, and we paid decent money for this machine. Please bring a better scooter or my lawyer will call you.” There was a whole platoon of gleaming Disneyland scooters a few yards away. JJ spied these and marched with grand purpose over to the rental stand. With each step he took, one scooter vanished. He took ten steps and ten scooters vanished. It was eerie. By the time he got to the booth, there were no scooters.
No gleaming new Disneyland handicapped scooters.
I watched JJ expostulate in his weirdly Quebecois/Gallic way. His hands flew in the air. His finger shook accusingly. He pointed back at our group. I could almost hear him say in his Munich/Paris accent. “Look! That noble man has feet that pain him most immoderately. This is because he has sacrificed his body on the altar of ART! How can you deny him but one scooter?”
As he stood talking, two scooters were turned in by renters, and those two scooters vanished immediately, turned over to other renters who had reserved them in 1988, or possibly some time in the Sixties.
Plan B: Fox would take Charles and they would go on the toddler rides and features. JJ and Marlene headed for the adult rides, the ones that scooped out your brains and put them back as tossed salad. JJ made a show of wanting to stay with me but the way his eyes were wandering in all directions moved me to let him off the hook. “Go ahead, JJ, there’s no point you sitting here with me. There’s plenty to amuse me just watching people. Fox can meet me at the front gate in about an hour”.
There was no holding JJ back. He was here, he was going to worship his gods. He was going to whirl upside down at four Gs with his hands free in the wind!
I found myself pushing a dead scooter through the crowds. My feet hurt. The scooter’s brake was somehow locked and it took real force to get it to move. It took me twenty minutes to travel a hundred yards. I took up station on a bench where I could spot my replacement scooter. I put my legs over the handle bars and tried to relax. The music, relentless, loud, ubiquitous, was driving me crazy. “Theme From The Little Mermaid”. “Seventy Six Trombones”. Sousa marches. Another Disney movie theme, I think it was from “101 Dalmations Meet Aladdin In the Carribean”. Celine Dion. I wanted to scream. When I’m ninety, after I’ve lost my mind, I’ll be stalking Celine Dion, or maybe pissing on her monument.
An hour and a half later, Fox and Charles found me. There was no scooter. Charles was sound asleep, slumped under the stroller’s sun shade, wearing a pale blue cap. Plan C. Fox would go back, connect with JJ and Marlene, and when the scooter arrived, I would meet them at the Pancake Restaurant. Where’s that? Oh, it’s, uhm….it’s to the right, just before Fantasyland. Okay, I’ll find it. Forty five minutes later, I was punching the scooter rental place on my cell phone. A man answered, this time a different voice.
“Hi, I’m waiting at Disneyland for a scooter replacement.” At that moment, I saw a young man in shorts riding a green scooter, holding a cell phone to his ear. He was past me, moving towards the first screening booth.
“Are you on a green scooter?”
“Yes I am.”
“Turn around, you just passed me, I’m wearing a blue beret.”
I saw the guy make a one eighty, look right, look left, look right again to find me waving at him. He scooted over.
He handed me a paper to sign. “Here you go, sir, this one will work. Sorry about that.”
He bent and looked at the dead scooter. He turned it on, pressed the lever. It scooted two feet and stopped.
“Yep, dead scooter, that’s for sure. Have a good time.”
He left the dead scooter and walked away.
I got on the new scooter and returned to the Magic Kingdom. I scooted around for fifteen minutes trying to find the Pancake Restaurant, then asked a perky Disney attendant. He directed me towards the Pancake Restaurant. I scooted over to it, only to find it closed. New equipment was being installed. This was apparently the only day in forty years that the pancake restaurant had shut down during business hours.
The crowd gaped around me, opening to avoid me and my scooter, forming up on the other side. Families walked around looking dead. Every second person was waving a digital camera, firing its flash, then, cupping a palm to make the screen visible, checking the LCD to see how the picture had turned out. This is a procedure that pro photographers call “chimping”.
I was beginning to recognize Disneyland Syndrome: kids amped up on sugar and adrenaline, dragging dazed corpse-like grownups from one attraction to another. The grownups would occasionally lash out in fury.
“Don’t touch me!” a woman screamed at her ten-year-old daughter. “I’m sick of you touching me!” The daughter rolled her eyes, as if it was her mother who was ten years old.
The music went on and on. Theme from Mickey Mouse Club. Theme from Pirates Of The Caribbean. When the Saints Go Marching In. An announcer interrupted the music and promised mind-blowing special effects at tonight’s “Dreams Are Real” extravaganza, starting at nine o’clock followed by the most spectacular fireworks show on earth. Theme from Beauty and The Beast.
Try the cell phone. I fingernailed my way through the plastic sheathe, entering Fox’s number. I got her voice mail. I left a message about my whereabouts. It would turn out that Fox had left her phone at the motel. I didn’t know JJ’s number, nor Marlene’s number. I wondered if baby Charles had a cell phone yet, or if he’d set up his Facebook page and gotten a Twitter account.
The scooter was raring to go, its power rumbling beneath my butt, all 12 volts and 320 mili-amp-hours. I turned it randomly and levered the speed up and plowed through the crowds, keeping my eyes peeled for Fox’s wild silver mane.
If I closed my eyes, I could see a neon marquee, all lit up with blinking lights. It said, in a robotic voice, “K’ching! Marketing! Buy This Buy This! K’ching! Marketing! Buy This Buy This!”
Is there something that Disneyland is supposed to teach me about the soul of America? Is there some profound message other than cliches about the materialistic culture, the stimulus overload, the stupefyingly bad taste? Should I be appalled by the sheep-like lockstep conformity, the urge to live beyond one’s means? Am I shocked by the manipulation of adults by children who are in turn being manipulated by marketers who know how little patience adults today have, how they’d rather give in than take the trouble to confront their kids about the ridiculous gadgets that they think they are entitled to? Other than that? These things were foreseen by Charles de Tocqueville in 1827. Don’t misunderstand me: I love America. I think we live on the most awesome continent on the planet. I believe that our social experiment is a good idea for governing a society. It’s far from perfect. It left a few loopholes for human nature to exploit, for greedy uncaring people to elbow their way through the well-conceived constitution of Jefferson, Madison, Adams. Something has gone very wrong in this country, one giant mistake has pitched people of ordinary means into quicksand. This is the simple failure to finance political campaigns with public money.
Even with that palliative, I imagine the Greedies would have found some other loophole to rob us blind.
I have become embarrassed for my country in front of the rest of the world. I feel as though the USA has just driven past all the other nations while exposing its butt cheeks out the window of a ’78 Buick Riviera. Yet the world, in spite of its overheated hate-America rhetoric, is all here. Half the people in this park are from another country. They flock here from Germany, Japan, Taiwan, Iran, Jordan, Uzbekistan. Every culture, every faith, they’re all here at Disneyland, they’re all staying at Day’s Inn, eating at McDonald’s, partaking of American bounty. We are a country descending into infantile fantasies, governed with very few exceptions by infantile politicians. Why are these other cultures and nations so eager to follow us, to be like us?
The kids are as if drugged on meth, dragging parents who are becoming more and more rubberized as the hours pass. With all this stimulation, this music, this color, this screaming sound, hawking shopkeepers and animatronic human Disney workers, drugs aren’t necessary, booze is superfluous. The place generates its own brainwave, the oxygen here isn’t normal.
But wait! The parade is about to start! Oh, god, the crowds reverse direction and trample the rubber bumpers of my senior go-cart, trying to get to the Town Square, to take up positions to see the giant floats, maybe to wave at or even touch a poor sweating twenty two year old inside a humongous Disney character suit. Cute girl dancers in pancake makeup appear, and the music begins, the music, the music!
The actors do a little dance, it’s a step a twirl another step a twirl in the opposite direction, and this simple dance is sooo cool, like, it’s synchronized to the music, the Disney theme songs. Bellowing from the ubiquitous loudspeakers, an avuncular narrator pushes the ‘Dreams Are Real’ concept. The floats come gliding down the little street, around the town square’s circular turnabout, and, by god, I am actually seized by the magic! Oh yes, there’s something exquisitely thrilling running down my spine, it’s supernatural, it’s my American Childhood returning to me with all its spineless escapism, as if World War Two and the Depression had never happened and the world has reverted to some insular fifties amusement park where the most dangerous thing is Captain Hook! Tick tock tick tock, tick….tock.
Then the last float has rounded the curve, and the magical characters vanish into some mystery cave. They have retired to dressing rooms to bitch about how hot it is today. Wiping off their makeup, they sneak cigarettes before having them stomped out by the jerks on the security staff.
Across the ocean of humanity, I see Fox’s wonderful glinting hair, the sheen of silver, blonde, streaks of other nameless colors, sweeping down her shoulders. It’s just like the time we got separated in the giant K-Mart at Bishop, I’m screaming “Boooobooooo” like a moron, and she can’t hear me, she’s walking the other way and I get caught behind a large clan of Koreans who smile stiffly as I crunch their loafers with my wheels, and my basket falls off for the fifth time. Fox recedes into the infinite mass, the Cosmos is expanding away from me, drawing her in its gravitational wake. Booooobooooo! Damn it!
Then there’s a tap at my shoulder and I turn to see Marlene’s sweet innocent face as she wheels Lord Charles in the toddler equivalent of a limousine. Charles beams and rolls his shoulders, clenches his chubby fists in front of his face as he recognizes his grampa Art.
“Ott!”, he says, for the very first time. I am so honored I can almost expire.
“Sharl,” I respond, giving him the high five. “My man!”
“Ott!” the child repeats. He knows my name! He points to me and looks up at his mommie, as if to instruct her. “Ott, Poppa Ott”, he proclaims.
This child is a god and I am now on intimate terms with Him.
“Hi,” Marlene says brightly. She’s always smiling, especially when she’s frustrated or scared. It’s a pretty good act, one that she doesn’t know she’s producing. It’s her way of coping with the stresses of life. “We’ve been looking all over for you.”
I gestured at the scooter. “It took them a while.”
“Well, just follow us, we’re meeting at the Swirling Teacups and then going on the Flying Zambo” I don’t remember what ride it was, so I might as well call it the Flying Zambo. The whole place was one big Flying Zambo and I wanted to go have a cigarette, then go to the motel and sleep. I wasn’t going to have either until we’d flown on the damn thing and done some other damn things and I felt worse for Fox because I knew her back was killing her. All this stress had puffed her Fibromyalgia into a monster with big teeth, and she was laboring forward in the name of motherly duty, as she has always done. These weren’t her children but they may as well have been. We had about twenty years on them, so what the hell….add in an adorable toddler and the adoption was complete, if fleeting.
JJ, when we caught up to him, was glassy eyed. “You guys have to go on the Whizzing Boingboing,” he said, “it’s so cool you won’t believe it.” Keeping an eye on one another, we made our way to the Whizzing Boingboing. That’s what I called it because the names of the rides had become a mental soup in my head. As we walked, JJ rattled off a lesson regarding the history of Disneyland, citing obscure facts about its construction, pointing to the famous suite where Walt Himself used to stay in order to be close to the action. Unfortunately, the line for the Whizzing Boingboing stretched for blocks. It was getting late. We wouldn’t have time, not today, for a whiz and a boing.
JJ looked so disappointed, not for himself, but for US. We HAD to ride the Whizzing Boingboing before our visit was over. Tomorrow we would get here early and be first in line to take this most spectacular ride. Right! We’ll get up at five so we can beat the crowd!
JJ acknowledged that we needed a rest before returning for the evening extravaganza, the “Dreams Are Real” show followed by the World’s Greatest Fireworks Display. He wanted us FRESH for this, our nervous systems must be purged and purified before being bathed in the Holy Fire of a hi-tech Disney production.
At last, we were able to return to our rooms. There was a sixteen block journey to make. Everyone was grumpy about this fact. Charles, who is usually so equable, went on a crying jag that couldn’t be allayed by having his mom shake his favorite toy in his face or put a bottle to his lips. We walked hugging our individual grievances to our chests, while only Charles was allowed to express his true feelings. I felt so badly for Fox that I let her ride the scooter, while I walked, but she wouldn’t go far, she felt so badly for me. We almost fought over who would ride the scooter, and we split the difference.
Our day had started at five in the morning, four hundred miles north. The emotional pitch had been extreme, right from the outset, and it had risen in intensity as the day passed. How much of this could we take? JJ’s maniacal drive to make us happy was making us wretched, yet we could not express our wretchedness. I didn’t think a little truth would hurt in this situation, but Fox’s warning glance caused me to hold my tongue. She has a certain judgment about what people can handle. I must defer to her amazing intuition. She bats about .733 compared to my lousy .212 whenever someone winds up to throw a Truth Pitch. Her timing can’t be beat. I pasted a smile on my face that I didn’t believe would convince anyone, and I said, “Gee JJ, that was great! Thank you so much; can’t wait to go back tonight for the show.”
JJ extolled the brilliance of the Disney epic productions. “Dude,” he said, which made me smile secretly because his “dude” sounded like “doot”. I may have had about seven “doots” left in me before I openly cracked up. Anyway, “Doot”, he said, “You’ll be so blown away by what you see tonight. You won’t beleaff it.”
Then, at last, the kids retired to their room, leaving me and Fox to collapse on the bed in ours. It was five thirty. We had to be ready to go at seven thirty. The show starts at nine but we must give ourselves time for the walk plus time to take up good positions at the lake before the crowds get hold of every square inch of viewing space. There was no negotiating with JJ’s compulsion.
We had about an hour to rest. I resolved to sleep but as I closed my eyes I was regaled with a montage of Disney faces, Mickey and Goofy and Donald and Mermaid and Beauty and Witch and Dragon, all of them pulsating to a backdrop of endless music and crowds on a revolving beltway so that they could loop before my closed eyes, the same faces, the hostile Korean family I’d almost annihilated with my scooter, the pale mother of six from Wichita at the end of her tether, the squat mustached Hispanic papa who had smuggled in a flask of tequila and was having a wonderful time denying his kids everything.
I drifted off to sleep for about half an hour. Fox had lain awake, worrying, making lists of things she had to do to keep everyone else happy. That’s what Fox does, she makes lists, and when she can’t do everything on her list, she slumps into guilt. I have to remember her long and terrifying marriage. The fruitless attempts to placate her husband, the constant effort to shield her kids, the impossible task of pleasing “The Prince” and the shouts, threats, insults that followed when she wasn’t perfect. And she was never perfect.
Yusef occasionally kicked her or pulled her hair. He didn’t have to. His abuse was as complete as the most ruthless beating; witness the after-effects, the chronic pain in her back and joints, the sleeping with one foot out of the blanket in order to be ready to respond to crisis.
At seven thirty we dragged ourselves over to the Canadians’ room and waited while Charles was put into his stroller and his supplies packed in that rolling baggage hauler. Since coming home from Disneyland I have learned that there are many parking options that could have been available to us. I suspect they were somewhat pricey, and that JJ had pushed his resources to the limit just getting us where we were. In any case, we were covering about five to seven miles a day, afoot. Or, in my case, a-scoot.
It would be unfair of me to suggest that this entire trip was an unremitting nightmare. It wasn’t. There were lovely moments, especially when Fox and I baby-sat Charles. This little boy had become a person, he was able to react, laugh, clown, be affectionate to “Gamma”and “Poppa Ott”. Fox and I want to preserve as much of this unalloyed joy as we possibly can. It will pain us to see the world destroy the child’s innocence, as it inevitably will. We will enjoy it with him while it lasts.
By the time we got back to Disneyland, the crowd had thickened in anticipation of the show and the fireworks to follow. There is a body of water athwart the center of the park, a dogleg-shaped lake with an island at its center. The show, called “Dreams Are Real”, would take place on this water, and people were pressed up against the fence by which it is surrounded.
We were able to get well situated for a view of the action. We were about forty five minutes early. There were little areas for wheelchairs and scooters, roped off and tended by perky personnel of Disney. I was able to sit with Fox right up against the fence looking out over “Lake Walt”, or “The Disney River”, or whatever it’s called. Oh, I just looked it up on the internet. It’s Lake Tom Sawyer. I think.
About ten minutes before showtime, as it had gotten completely dark, I was seized with an unbearable urge to pee. I was now immured by the crowd, sealed into my personal square foot of space. In front of me was a wrought iron fence. On my right side were people in wheelchairs or on scooters. The blue rope that defined the handicapped zone was just brushing my neck. Outside the blue rope were JJ, Marlene, Charles and Katherine. Behind all of us was a crowd twenty feet deep.
“JJ,” I asked, “How long does one of these shows typically last?”
“About half hour for the show, and then twenty minutes of fireworks afterward.”
“Um, is there a restroom nearby?”
He wasn’t truly registering my problem. He was peering out over Lake Tom for some sign to manifest.
“Where would that restroom be, JJ?”
He looked down at me in surprise. “You have to go….now?” His tone was like, “The Pope is about to appear, The Dalai Lama is going to float down from the sky. Joe Montana and Roger Clemens are going to magically transfer their prowess into your body, and you have to take a piss?”
Assessing the condition of my bladder, I realized that the procedure for emptying it was going take some serious determination.
JJ looked at his watch. His voice had risen two octaves. “The show starts in eight minutes!” he shrilled querulously. He looked genuinely hurt.
“I can make it back in time, just…like..where is it, man?”
I had begun turning my scooter, backing into the scooter behind me, forcing that woman to edge somewhat astern, which created a tiny chain reaction, causing about ten scooters and five wheelchairs to shift a few inches.
“Just go left at New Orleans Square, down the arcade, you’ll see some signs. Please hurry, you’ll miss the beginning!”
“Excuse me excuse me,” I said firmly to my immediate neighbors, who scowled at me as if they had Bladders of Steel, which I knew not to be the case. Maybe they were equipped with Depends, I don’t know but I am not ready yet for Depends, I don’t care what kind of crowd I’m in, I’ll just get a coffee cup and put my coat over myself if it comes to that. Only problem is, well, I’m a slow pee when the pressure’s on. If anyone is waitng for me, if there’s a line outside the door, if there’s a man leering at me with a snaggle-toothed grin at the next urinal, I just slow up even more. The idea of peeing next to a total stranger, or, worse, between two total strangers, is like a having The Incredible Hulk clamping down on my “OFF” spigot.
“Please, I need to get out of here,” I said at some volume, “I’m agoraphobic and am about to projectile vomit if I don’t get some air.” This got people moving a little faster. One little old lady with dyed red hair was looking at me sympathetically, a sweet gaze of compassion softening her eyes. It was either compassion or she was just then letting go into her senior diaper, I don’t know which.
The domino effect I had begun was now an eighty-person ripple. All around me the people who had so patiently sandwiched themselves into the show area were muttering and saying “What’s going on, is someone sick?”
I told Fox to stay put, save our space, I could handle it. Jigging and janking, I made that scooter into a battering ram and fought my way free of the crowd. I went to the left, looking for New Orleans Square, and found an area of al fresco restaurants and an arcade whose period décor was indecipherable. It was an enigmatic mix of Parisian bistro and Hacienda la Fresca.
If there had been no crowd, the restrooms were just a twenty seconds walk from Lake Goofy. I found the men’s room, parked my scooter outside, and found a vacant stall. Amazing. And then, of course, I got the Slow Pee. I sat there, willing for it to roll down the chute and out the barrel, but it sat way back up in there like a frightened little rabbit. Oh no, I’m not coming out, said my pee.
Goddammit, come out here!
“No, not me”!
Oh hell, pee, just make it, will you?
What are you afraid of?
“I’m afraid of the ocean.”
“ I know that once you flush, I will be merged with ever larger bodies of water, until I am swallowed up by the infinity of water that is the ocean, and then who will know that I was once your pee”?
I thought briefly of lending my pee a copy of the Tibetan Book of The Dead, but I knew I was getting a little strange, so I took a harder line.
I don’t give a shit about your fear of death, mister pee, just come on out here and let me finish!
But the pee wasn’t going to make things easy for me. All around came the sounds of race horses letting go fire hoses of piss. Aaah, a man would sigh, zipping up his fly. Aaah, yet another, finishing off, shaking his wee wee clean of lingering drops. And I was sitting in this damn stall waiting for my pee to begin. I looked at my watch. I had three minutes to get back to my spot. I summoned up a yoga technique that I use in such situations. I call it the Drop Breath. I let the air leave my lungs as if it’s a load of groceries being spilled from a torn paper bag. Whooosh! Then I let the breathing resume at a very shallow level, while sending my mind into vast space, floating past stars and galaxies. Meanwhile, way back on earth, my body is supposed to let go of its anxieties and realize the colossal scale of the universe, and become so relaxed that a stream of urine will begin to emerge from the bladder.
I waited. I passed the Andromeda Galaxy, and then the the Sombrero Galaxy. Just as I was beginning, with my remote earth- bound body, to sense that some urine might indeed emerge from my screaming bladder, a guy in the next stall let a fart that lasted thirty seconds. It had a beginning, a middle and an end, just like a good story. At the beginning it was somewhat tentative, as it groped for character development and plot structure. Then it found its voice and proceeded confidently. At the end, however, the man had farted himself into a literary corner, and took to whining improvisation and produced an arbitrary denouement, even descending so low as to invoke a Deus Ex Machina. Though his main character had probably been killed off, he had left room for a sequel.
“Goddam,” he said, astonished at the volume and intricacy of his own fart. Then there came a sound like a bag of cement being dropped into a horse trough.
“Goddam” he said again, with contentment. A stench wafted through the stall partitions. That’s it, I thought, I’m going to pee if I have to unscrew my johnson and siphon it out with a straw. My bladder seemed to understand my sense of ultimatum for it unclenched and a long satisfying stream of my own ammoniated waste product went burbling into the pool of water below.
Just as I was getting back on the scooter, the park’s giant PA system came to life and the avuncular game-show host voice boomed out, “Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, Welcome to Disneyland, The Happiest Place On Earth. Tonight’s show, ‘Dreams Are Real’, begins in fifteen minutes. At the completion of the show, please stay to enjoy the fireworks extravaganza, called ‘Becoming The Dream’.
Fifteen minutes! I checked my watch. My exertions getting to and executing the mission in the men’s room had taken up twelve minutes. The show was starting at nine thirty, not nine as JJ had presumed. I had time to spare.
When I emerged from the restroom arcade, I collided with a sea of bodies, all facing away from me and towards Lake Tom Sawyer. I had to get through this pile of breathing, sweating people to rejoin my family. It would take some real audacity! I went to work without hesitation.
“Beep beep”, I said, “Emergency. Beep beep.” A few people got out of my way, but they didn’t have much room to move. “Emergency,” I repeated, “coming through. Heart attack victim. Beep beep, make way please. Woman in labor. Please move aside. Beep Beep. Man having stroke, please step to your right. Beep beep, excuse me, hello, please, shortness of breath, beep beep, panic attack, beep beep, narcolepsy, beep beep excuse me, epileptic seizure, please move, thank you very much, you’re very kind, emergency supply service, beep beep, adult diaper delivery, hello hello, please move aside, hello hello, man electrocuted, beep beep.”
I made my way into the crowd until I was utterly encased in humanity which had either come to a rigid state of suspended animation or had collectively died standing up. But no, they were alive. They moved just a little bit, some of them tried to hit me and kids kicked the scooter, not a few cursed, called me asshole and motherfucker, and then, and then…somehow a perky personality from the Disney security staff was at my side, and I thought uh oh I’m busted he’s gonna throw me out of the park.
“Sir, may I help you?” He was waving a flashlight with a long red snout and had been directing traffic so that converging streams of people did not start a riot while competing for the best spots in the place.
“I, uh, had an emergency and now I’m separated from my people, who are up there.” I pointed towards the fence, which was only four hundred people distant.
Then the PA system came on again and the announcer said, “Welcome to Disneyland Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls. Welcome to the Happiest Place On Earth. Tonight’s show, ‘Dreams Are Real’, begins in five minutes. At the completion of the show, please stay to enjoy the fireworks extravaganza, ‘Becoming The Dream’.”
Let me tell you, sometimes having the accoutrements of disability can be a blessing. The perky security guy raised a blue rope and led me through the special security walkway and in thirty seconds I had rejoined Fox and my little family of Disney-holics. I had a brief image in my head of JJ and Marlene having sex dressed as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, but I tried to stamp it out immediately.
The loudspeakers had continued, of course, to play music relentlessly, but for the first and only time while I was in the park, someone had put on an entire album of some excellent New Orleans jazz. Where did this come from? In the remote fastness of Eye-and- Ear-Control Central a rogue Disney employee had gone cuckoo from the endless Disneytune tape loop and thrown a ringer into the mix. It was good music. It was lively without being frenetic. It was inventive and beautifully played. It would have made perfect “hurry up” music for any venue without resorting to the over-produced bathos, the pyrotechnics of Celine Dion or any of the jingle jangle bling bling that passed as music in the Disney Empire.
JJ was deeply relieved that I wouldn’t miss the start of the show. He apologized for being wrong about the time and I joked with him, “Doot,” I said, “You should have told me you were wrong about the time an hour ago, it would have saved me a lot of anxiety.”
He almost said, “An hour ago I didn’t know about the….” but he didn’t. I saw him think it. I mean, something had gone fritz in JJ’s brain when he got within smelling distance of Disneyland, he had reversed the flow of time and taken twenty years off his age and plunked himself back in the era when he was being terrorized by his father, shielded by his mother and captivated by pirate hats. People are awfully complicated. I felt so bad for this young man, suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, organizing everything so tightly that the life was squeezed out of it. Trying so hard to be Good, born-again, kind and saintly and conscientious, and not knowing a hell of a lot about his own drives and motivations. Neither Fox nor I could tell him anything. We could only be there and behave with the minimum load of irrationality. If such a thing is possible. I doubt that our psychological health is any better than that of our kids’ generation. It’s probably worse. We have more perspective, that’s all.
Then, at last, the show began.
The Disney people utilized a technology that shot a wall of water vapor into the air at the center of the lake, and it was so dense that images from hidden projectors could be shown upon it, and these images were huge and colorful and changed from moment to moment, creating a startling effect of dreamlike animation. The mist, squirting from countless nozzles in the water, was shape-shifting yet stable enough to take Disney animations like a 3-D movie screen, and upon this screen a story unfolded. I can’t repeat the story, because I didn’t understand a single word that was said. It just didn’t make sense to me. It was a giant “huh?” that accompanied pictures of Mickey Mouse as the Sorceror’s Apprentice and the witch from Snow White and the Dragon from something or other, and all the characters were part of a story of heroism and dread, of overcoming terror to rescue something from somebody and whatever. You know, a mouse wearing black shorts and white gloves saves the planet from annihilation.
At one point a boat came around the bend in the Loony Tunes River and it was carrying a girl dressed as a mermaid who waggled her tail and waved at everyone and all the people clapped, and then there were some explosions, and colored fountains erupted from the water, and then a paddlewheel steamer called The Mark Twain came around the bend of Bambi Creek and all kinds of people in costumes were either frolicking on board pretending to gamble and play music hall or they were killing each other in real time from the ennui of having to play these characters night after night. After that, a pirate ship came sloshing up Old Yeller Slough, a real big pirate ship by god and Peter Pan was on the thing, sliding down a long rope and I think Captain Hook was pissing off the other side of the ship away from the audience because his fly was undone when he came chasing after Peter Pan and then, and then, BOOM! A cannon fired, skeering the bejuices out of everybody who went “OH!” and I wondered if the next ship was going to be the missing submarine Thresher or the ghosts of the Soviet sailors onboard the Kursk would show up and swordfight with Yosemite Sam. You know, I couldn’t make sense of the thing, but everybody loved it. I have pictures to prove all this. Really. About fifty pictures of Mickey Mouse on a sheet of mist and Peter Pan sliding down a rope and getting rope burns because he left her gloves in the dressing room.
The crowd dispersed in an ecstasy of exhaustion and spread out along the main walkway, in front of the big blue and purple castle. Then the announcer came on the PA again and told everyone that if they wished very hard all their dreams would come true. I don’t think the announcer really meant this, he was just reading a script, because if it was true he wouldn’t be there announcing and I wouldn’t be there trying to look thrilled for JJ’s benefit.
But I was holding Fox’s hand, and that’s a dream come true, isn’t it? Just because it was a dream I’d never had the sense to dream didn’t make it any less of a miracle. So who am I to be cynical and say what’s true or not true? It always helps, when you have a dream, to make damn sure you have the right dream.
What followed was indeed the greatest fireworks show this side of North Korea, and maybe in the whole world. It was amazing. No expense was spared, bombs and rockets and floral shells whizzed high above the chartreuse castle and reflected in Lake Bugs Bunny (wait a minute, that’s Warner Brothers, isnt it?) and I think I saw Wily Coyote chasing the road runner between some fat woman’s legs.
This, my friends, is but the story of a single day. There is more, but I shall condense it mercifully into a reel of highlights. The next day we spent a great deal of time caring for baby Charles while the adult kids sped away to enjoy hair raising and nausea-inducing rides. Fox and I were confined to the toddler-friendly voyages, like the boat ride through the Pirates Treasure Cave, where the skeletal characters from Disney’s latest sequel-saturated special effects movie lept out from trunks full of costume jewelry and a simulacrum of drag queen pirate Jack Swallow, played by Johnny Depthcharge, giggled archly and discharged a flintlock pistol eight times per minute.
For a minute or two, the parents took Charles somewhere, leaving Fox and me to our own devices. Don’t ask me why, but we decided to go on one of the really old kiddie rides, the open-cockpit rocket ship, the one where the rocket cars go up and down and round and round.
The ride’s operator shouldn’t have let us do it. The ride isn’t designed to accommodate two adults, it’s made for kids or maybe a kid and parent combo, but certainly not large enough to hold two grown up middle aged people.
Fox got in, squeezing herself down into the coffin-shaped opening. She extended her legs until they hit the front of the little space car’s interior. Then I squeezed myself behind her. The attendant looked dubious but muttered, Okay, why not, guess it’ll work, and he attached what minimal harness was there to keep us inside. In my case, that was nothing at all, I was too big and my knees were up against my chest, so there wasn’t anything to keep me from flying away. Abruptly the ride started and our little rocket merry go round was merrily going round and round, and up and down.
I was amazed at the powerful G-forces unleashed upon my body. I was a grown man being pushed out of a toy rocket car by a fun-fair centrifuge. With my left hand I grabbed the side of the circling projectile, with my right I clutched Fox around the neck. She was nearly choking and I was half out of the device, and then it went uuupppp! and dowwwwnnnn!, making matters even worse, throwing a two-vector lateral force at me so that my grip seemed not quite equal to the task of staying inside the car. I thought of what I might look like, hanging off the gondola of this toy and then being launched like a stone from a catapult, all the way across Futureland and possibly ending up in a dumpster with my neck broken.
Poor Fox could hardly draw air, so tightly was I clutching her throat. I managed to lower my right arm around her breasts and inappropriately squeezed her fair titties to save my life!
Then, for both of us simultaneously, the sheer absurdity of the whole experience struck with a bomb of hilarity and we started laughing with an anti-gravity hysteria that took us right out of our bodies. We shrieked with laughter and somehow I got my grip focused, I squeezed Fox’s boobs with maniacal intensity and roared with laughter. She roared with me and there we were going around in a little bitty circle, going up and down in a little bitty rocket car, spitting with mirth, flirting with pants-peeing terminal fun.
The spin began to slow, the up-down started to just be down and the rocket car scudded to a halt. I removed my hands from around Fox’s mammaries, aware that little kids were watching, their parents were watching two middle-aged fools shoehorn themselves out of the kiddie ride and stagger towards the exit.
There was only one more day of this to endure, followed by the ride home. Fox and I would have to make the best of it. We did all the family-on-a-trip stuff, we ate at Denny’s, we ate at IHOP, we ate at Katy’s Kwagmire and Barney’s Bestiary, we guzzled cotton candy towards diabetic coma, squeezed burritos into our gullets and drank caffeine-loaded soft drinks full of bubbles. Charles was our lighthouse, our lamp in the dark, our pillar of fire, our sign from Heaven.
The smile on my face was getting stuck. I feared I might need surgery when we got home lest I continue expressing this ghastly fake enjoyment.
And the music went on, and on, and on. And on. I heard Alladin’s Theme a hundred and forty seven times before I lost count.
On day three we got over to the adjacent new theme park called California, and we went on the ride that simulates flying naked over the state of California without a parachute or even a puke bucket. Adapted from flight simulators to induce the feeling of authenticity, the device placed us with our legs dangling in rows of padded chairs. I was so scared for the first ten seconds that I almost jumped out of my seat and fell all the way to Big Sur, but this time I was securely fastened and there was no jumping allowed. Once I got used to the sensation of flying seven hundred miles per hour in an open air bucket seat, the ride was fine, in fact, it was too short, I wanted to keep going beyond the border and fly back to Arches National Park and I was severely disappointed when the ride was done.
JJ, convinced that he had failed at everything, was short-tempered on the drive back to our RV rendezvous. Talk about putting pressure on yourself! We are always our own worst enemies, that’s a given. But Fox and I can luxuriate in our middle aged state, we don’t have the responsibilities any more, we’re grandparents, we live on the cheap, we don’t have to slave at full time jobs. We’re done slavin’. We had enough, decades of slavin’.
JJ and Marlene are young parents yoked to a consumer-gilded lifestyle, a credit card crush, a bubbling bonanza of buying bullshit from which they don’t know how to escape. It’s a nasty creature, our new North American culture, a Jabba-The-Hutt heavyweight ball and chain that gargles out of media orifices that we never dreamed existed even twenty years ago.
It breathes its toxic vapors out of your cell phone. You carry it in your pocket! It’s in your purse, your briefcase, it’s there every time you look up, every time you turn on a radio or TV, every time you rent a DVD, it’s there even when you take a piss and fill your car with gasoline. Gas pumps and airport urinals now run commercials! It knows who we are in our most infantile selves, its filled with hidden psychological temptations and subliminal intrusions that work on our most primitive drives for approval, sex, power and love.
It’s little Charles that brings the magic healing button that we can push to save our souls. JJ drops all his fears and sorrows when he bends to play with his son. His face clears, his smile loses its anxious weariness. The baby has strengths we can’t imagine, has powers of perception and consciousness that make us look like evolutionary cul-de-sacs.
He will need them.