May 13, 2005
You can never go home again...but I guess you can shop there. ~ John Cusack as Martin Blank (via Tom Jankiewicz)
*Warning* : This is one of those War and Peace length entries plum with sincere personal info. You may want to skip if you're not in the mood ;-)
Disney World represents an unusually large chunk of my childhood nostalgia. WAY more than any one person should resonably lay claim to. As insane as this will sound, although Disney World was never my home, it is a close second to Miami as my “hometown.” The way I think of it is much the same as Rod Serling expressed with this quote: "Everybody has a hometown…in the strangely brittle, terribly sensitive make-up of a human being, there is a need for a place to hang a hat, for a kind of geographic womb to crawl back into. Binghamton’s mine." Sterling had Binghamton and its Herschell Carousel. I have Disney World and all its many wonders.
Yes, that sounds clinically insane. So let me supply some necessary background.
I had a very transient childhood. For reasons too numerous to mention most of my early youth was spent in the company of my grandmother who was a sort of Southern Auntie Mame character. She never wanted to stay in one place very long – never stuck with a hobby once she’d gotten all she wanted from it. Sure, her home-base was Miami where her house and husband were, but we were always visiting family/friends in one place or another for months at a time. And, if there was no one in need of visiting, then we went on adventures to places she’d read about in magazines. Or, more likely, we strayed to Disney World. Sometimes for weeks, months, or lengths of time that overlapped so as to make it feel semi-perminant. On occasion we stayed at the park hotels (just for the delight of it), but generally we set up in some rented house in Kissimmee. Yes, it was a youth of odd experience and rare privilege, but I had no say in that. I was a child of the wind and wind blew where my grandmother’s inclinations bade it. I consider myself the better for it, but it has resulted in some truly oddball results embedded within my adult psyche.
It's also worth mentioning that there is a legacy of women not really getting along in my family. My great-grandmother and grandmother could barely be civil to each other. My mother and grandmother didn’t get along so well. I could go on with epic tales of the battles between great-aunts and such, but I won’t. Suffice to say, my mother and I have the healthiest all-female relationship that has existed on her side of the family for many generations, (my teen years notwithstanding).
This is of absolutely no consequence except that ALL the women in my family loved Disney World. It was the one location and topic that could be counted on to maintain the peace. So the menfolk embraced it heartily, and were happy to make the money, or employ the creative financing that kept the womenfolk civil. This meant that at least two or three times a year (and most often more) the great-aunts and the grandmothers and rest of my mother’s ilk would pool their resources and take trips to Disney World.
As luck would have it, I just so happened to be the only grandchild of spoiling age on hand. This put me in the company of a bunch of older, constantly bickering and competing Southern women vying for the affection and attention of one, small, towheaded girl. Yeah, you could say I was a spoiled little slut.
Now, maybe that helps when I say WDW is my second hometown, because you must understand I spent as much, if not more time there than I did in my actual hometown. And my time in the Mouse's House was spent being favored with attention, trinkets, sweets, and princess treatment any child would revere. Therefore, I allot myself a certain ration of silly emotional attachment and reverie.
I know it’s a commercial encampment. I know it’s an unreal place. But there is this blurry line where the unreality and reality of it merge for me. When you dwell within a place for a certain amount of time, however false the front, it takes on a context of its own type of reality. Shouldn't that, then make it real, or at least as close to real as anything else? I’ve had friends who get nostalgic over office buildings they worked in for years, or college campuses they attended, or houses they grew up in. I think of this as the same thing, really. Only it’s a bit like growing up at Stonehenge. Everyone's heard of it, and it means something different to each one of them. Plus it's been visited by billions and every one of those people who visit think they know the place.
When I was *very* teeny (I’m dating myself, but oh fucking well) admittance to WDW came in an $8 ticket book that had your coupon for transport to the park, admittance into the park, and a number of A – E tickets (of which there were never enough E’s, so you bought extras at 90 cents a pop from little kiosks that have mostly been turned into souvenir stands these days). Staying in the tower of the Contemporary was $33/night. Staying in the Polynesian was $25/night. And those were the only two hotel options you had “on property.” If you weren’t in a hotel, you were camping at Ft. Wilderness and as far as I was concerned those people were just crazy because they didn’t wake up to Mickey-shaped pancakes in their room, or get to run down and play pinball and air hockey in the "game room" until midnight. It was pricy for the time, but it wasn’t “take out a loan” pricy. And the gaggle of older women with children grown, or no children at all had little else to spend their time and pocket money on except travel and visiting...and me.
So, I grew up in the reality of unreality. That probably explains a lot.
As I got older I still maintained a brat-like “I can’t hear you, I’m not listening” mentality when it came to the obvious transformations taking place in the parks (“park” became plural in my preteens with the opening of EPCOT). I could ignore the tacky commercial intrusions into the magic because I knew my way around them. I dodged and parried. I infected countless legions with my stubborn powers of Disney-induced denial. The friend who grew up in South America and hated all things capitalist? I converted him in one trip. The one who was a stewardess for an international airline and insisted she wouldn’t be impressed with anything an “amusement park” had to offer? I converted her, too. Travel agents couldn't wheedle the deals I did, or put together the itineraries I outlined. And they weren't "walk your guts out and wear your feet to nubs" itineraries.
(Aside: Sometimes you have to whiplash people to make them enjoy their own vacations. If you're inside a WDW park on a Summer day before 4pm, you're an idiot. Sleep in. Take the kids to the pool. Go play a round of Goony Golf. Then, when the heat index drops enjoy a late lunch and hit the park just as the Florida twilight creeps up. You'll still have hours to spend, you won't have to scout for shade, the crowd will be thinner -- the fools who showed up at the crack of dawn will be exhausted and headed out -- and you get to see the park AT NIGHT. Yeah, it'll be hell getting the kids back on their sleep schedules once you get home, but you won't be sunburned and cranky for 90% of your trip.)
Anyway, the peers of my cynical generation are no match for me in my element with the Mouse. No one is. I’ll turn you five years old faster then you can say “bah, humbug.” I know where the hidden little nooks and crannies are that house all the charming little details artisans labored and agonized over. I know the secrets and the history. I know the stories and the urban legends and the shortcuts. I know which line moves faster, which side of the boat is better to sit on, where the cameras are placed that take pictures and where the others are placed that simply watch. I know where to find shade on a 105 degree day when the parks are jammed to the gills. I know it all. Or, at least, I used to know it all. These days I still know *enough* but there are a lot more blank spaces than there used to be. Like any stranger to their own hometown, I’ve been away more than I’ve been back and it has evolved. And I’m not really happy with the evolution, so I visit less and less.
After the last time I went to Disney, I wrote an essay. This entry is already a mile long, but I’ll put the essay after the cut for those masochists that might be interested in any more of my blather on the topic. When I reread it, it is far more morose than I started out intending. It was flush with my feelings of disenchantment and some strange flavor of betrayal that barely makes sense. WDW isn’t the place I grew up in anymore. But it looks enough like it to be emotionally confusing. The ghosts dance through it enough to tease and wound.
Which is not to say I've ever stopped loving it. Or ever could. But you don't exactly WANT to see a beloved relative all tarted up if you can avoid it.
If you go, you can still wake up at 3am and get in your car and slowly drive the strangely deserted streets of the property (just smile at the guards and tell them you’re headed off property because you have a sudden french fry craving). If you do, you'll likely spot deer or wild rabbits beside the paved roads, especially in the areas near the Old Key West & Port Orleans Resorts. They’re so tame and unafraid you’ll think they’re animatronic when you stop your car, but then they'll scamper off in a timid way and you realize they’re living, breathing things.
So, there are little sparkles of charm that still exist for me. But those sparkles of pixie dust are less and less in the parks themselves and more and more on the fringes of the “Disney experience.”
The parks are just ten seconds short of joyless in comparison to what they were. Now every new ride exit is designed like a casino to make you walk through gift shops. Before the only ride even close to such a thing was Pirates and it spilled out into the Disney version of a Caribbean-style bizarre, with wood-carved cap pistols, gypsy skirts and blouses, costume jewelry, eye patches, shrunken heads, fragant wicker chests of chocolate coins, multicolored lollypops as big around as Frisbees and steel-drum band music. It wasn’t just t-shirts and plastic and enameled pins. Now every ride has a movie tie-in, or is reworked to do so (My Tiki Room and Mr. Toad. I can't even tell you what they did to them -- it's horrible.) The parks are less about hope and whistfulness; they're less about inspiring or captivating children with neat effects or new technology and more about catering to ADD attention spans and convincing kids to whine for one more toy before they leave. There have been improvements here and there. I can't say it's all bad news. But by and large the changes have been made in the wrong places for the wrong reasons. At least for me.
Getting a Mickey-shaped balloon used to be one of my biggest thrills as a baby slut. I always got pink. And the balloon vender with his marvelous bobbing bouquets of helium knew how to tie the string around my tiny wrist so that it wouldn’t end up clinging to the ceiling of Small World. The last time I was there, I’m not even sure I spotted a balloon vendor on Main Street. Explain that to me. Do we really live in a world where five-year-olds don’t care about Mickey-shaped balloons anymore? Or did some suit just decide they didn’t make enough money to justify the wage of the vendor walking around? God, that’s depressing.
At any rate, I’m jealous Karl got to go -- got to spot something that wasn't there the last time I went -- got to kick around my old stomping grounds and play in my old haunts.
Part of me wants to hop in the car and be there tonight. I still feel the pull of the place that strongly, despite all this ridiculous self-examination about what is, no matter how I feel about it, only a theme park.
Pilgrimage: An Essay
When I was very young, they handed out ticket books at the Transportation and Ticket Center. There was one ticket for admittance, prestigiously positioned at the forefront of its A- thru E-ticket brethren.
I was pigtails and pastel-hued polyester shorts and exuberance that physics can only contain in a vessel of the smallest mass. Holding hands with whichever adult in my herd was going to get me to the turnstiles faster. It was my first visit walking on my own two feet and not stuffed into an institution blue stroller rented at the park for $2 a day.
We took the Ferryboat always, but this time it was a difficult sell to a four-year-old. The beckoning of the stream-lined color-coded monorail was nearly enough to warrant a full-blown Keds-stomping hissytantrum. But I was a Florida child raised with water in my veins, there was a second-story on the boat to make it appealing. And we could always take the monorail back later.
So, the ferry is the route I choose on my approach whenever I return, though the journey to my personal Mecca is less and less frequent. Still, my affections haven’t shifted to the whisking, efficient, pre-recorded greeting of the monorail, but remain with the lull of the rumbling Ferryboat with its engines that spit fumes into its wake. To most, it’s a boxcar merely floating the herd to their new pasture, so they can graze and consume, but for me, it was once a slow, gentle jamboree of anticipation. Growing slowly closer to the brightly-colored spires of Cinderella Castle, to the imposing and yet bland functionally muted girth of Space Mountain. Leaning like a lunatic pilgrim over the deckrail, watching the sun reflect in tentacles across Seven Seas Lagoon. The illusion growing closer – taking on form, no longer a spectral promise of fun, but a mortar-and-bone reality.
These days it is not only throw-back pilgrims that take the Ferryboat across. The monorails cannot beckon with the epic power they once commanded. Little more than air-conditioned elevated trains with comfortable seating. If the line is too long, or the crowd too fickle, the double decker boat will do for them as well as anything else.
And we pilgrims mix with the herdfolk. Their exuberance is in a more contained dynamic within their physics. Often more engrossed by their gameboys and cell phones than anything akin to my innerspace jamboree. Their objects-in-the-rearview-mirror-may-appear-closer-than-they-are indifference is the jaded privilege of a generation’s sins not their own. Their glee is genuine, but it is a muted merriment. An unimpressed expectation of the promise of entertainment that they feel they’re owed. Which is fair, for they’ve paid highly for it. They’ll hurry to get to the big rides. They’ll complain about the heat and the inevitable afternoon showers. They’re in a flourish to see everything – ride everything – as many times as possible. They’ll exhaust themselves to get their money’s worth and they’ll miss the only real richness the place has left to offer.
It’s not their fault.
They never jealously guarded edge-perforated E-tickets with ants-in-your-pants eagerness. Never saved the best for last. Never stood leaning, forehead-pressed to the glass of the Pinocchio restaurant window wall, watching smiling faces float on neatly lined boats into the archway of It’s a Small World, stomach knotted in indecision and dread, attempting to calculate if there were enough tickets left to ride Peter Pan’s Flight just once more.
For them there have always been day passes and park hoppers. For them park has always been plural. Options of where to go and what to see. The spires and the bland functional blue and white is all just a blur, their enchantments as foreign to them as the concept of anticipation. For them Tomorrowland has always been outmoded and never marvelous. They never waved at the boy and his RCA Victor dog filming them and got a kick out of seeing their faces on television screens. It’s nothing they haven’t seen in the electronics department at Wal-Mart.
They cannot be pilgrims; they have never known faith.
Their indifference has always seemed so hollow to me. The ignorant bliss that I so often heard spoken of and felt flooded with revulsion toward. Despite the historic reprove of my mind, on more recent occasions I have but one cause to envy them: those with no faith can never lose it, or feel the clutch of it withering within their guts.
These days, I might still lean over the deckrail, if it weren’t roped off to keep the throng of passengers a safely calculated distance from gazing down into the tentacles of sunshine on dark water. Facing forward, the spires still manage to coax a dull thud out of me. They command at least that. They have earned their respect honestly. Though, more often than not, I find them tarted up in some ridiculous guise to celebrate one manufactured anniversary or another.
A pilgrim no more, but a borderline heretic with a bellyful of bile and cynicisms and little hope of washing the grime of my soul away in the man-made tide. It wasn't always this way. I've baptised others here and christened them with the faith. I can't help but wonder if I gave away too much and kept none for myeself.
They say there is no convert like a fresh convert. I’m not exactly sure where that leaves me.
It is not the park of my youth. It’s not the place I grew up with. It shouldn’t be. To expect that is unreasonable even by my unreasonably childish romantic standards. But somehow I can’t help feeling that the spirit of the place should survive, even if the details pass on and evolve. I can’t help thinking that if the spirit were preserved I could still be a pilgrim, finding charm in the changes, instead of betrayal.
I know that life doesn’t play like the depicted fairy tales. The few girls who get a chance to feel like princesses don’t get to live happily ever after in castles. The promise of the place is broken for me, which is as it should be. There are other little girls to carry on that propaganda which, if it is a sin, is at least a gentle sin.
But the rampant peddling reeks from the bowels of the place, cheapening any hope the fables have of grooming fantasy illusions within the minds of children forced to be far too practical by the weight of the world outside and now within. It’s hard not to picture the father of its architecture and purpose rambling down Main Street, tossing the wares of the Emporium asunder, crying about how they have turned his temple into a den of thieves.
How do we reconcile the romanticism of our youth with the paint-fading porticos of our adulthood? Is it possible for me to just try not to take it all too seriously when it meant so much to me once? Can the blatant commercialism be set neatly aside in the name of enjoy-it-while-you-got-it escapism? How much should it cost to leave the real world behind, and why should that privilege go only to those with the wealth to do so?
Maybe it is the realization that I have grown into a woman who also charges a price for the fantasy and illusions I cast that cheapens and saddens it for me. Maybe I spent too much of my childhood in fantastical places. Maybe you’re supposed to hurt for the things you loved the most in childhood – to keep them dear.
Or maybe the lesson is far simpler. To invest emotion in a collection of fiberglass façades and polymer costumes is a foolish, foolish waste.
But I was young. And it was glorious. And sometimes in my sleep and my memories and my heart, it still is.
April 13, 2005
Disneyland in Legos
Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world. ~ Walt Disney
This will only be cool to a small subset of people. I am one of them.
Legos. Disney. Huzzah.
April 06, 2005
It’s a Small World After All
If you can dream it, then you can do it. ~ Disney Imagineers (via EPCOT’s now defunct Horizons)
When I was just a little girl (I asked my mother, what would I be...) I led a very privileged life, and it was not at all unusual to go to Walt Disney World ten times a year. And that’s a very conservative estimate.
I am not the Disneyphile I was in my teens or in the years that followed. Once, on a dare, friends blindfolded me in the passenger’s seat of a car and challenged me to navigate Disney property. I won.
These days, well, I want to stand outside and throw hissy fits when I see Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride morphed into Pooh’s Great Adventure…or whatever the fuck it is. And what they’ve done to the Enchanted Tiki Room? Well that’s just goddamn blasphemy.
So I don’t go and when I do, I irritate people by calling the Buzz Lightyear ride “If You Had Wings.”
I’m sentimental in a ridiculously insane way about the park I knew as a kid. Before it became its own country. Like Rod Serling’s obsession with the carousel he rode as a boy, I just want to go back for a little while and pet the horse Fred that conveyed me down Main Street a hundred times.
I thought I’d shunned WDW like the childhood playmate that stole my Donny Osmond doll and pretended it was hers (purple socks and all, the little cunt).
But, come on. How cool is this:
Other Cool Google Maps:
March 22, 2005
And Now It's Time To Say Good-bye....
Mickey Mouse is, to me, a symbol of independence. He was a means to an end. ~ Walt Disney
Every so often, The Mouse Goes Mad With Power.
I have Disney security stories. Mostly the deal is this: if confronted act cute and helpless and girl-like. The Disney fuzz will fold like cheap taco stands.
Unfortunately, I don't think Jim had that option.
This is why phone sluts come in handy on all Disney-related vactions. Be sure to pack one the next time you go.