NOTE - While I am offline writing fiction and ignoring my blog, I’ve decided to post a few pieces that 99% of you have never read.
Originally published by Forces Of Geek
Perhaps I’d been serenaded “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” once too often while still in the womb or maybe it was the steady diet of Donald Duck brand orange juice made with fruit concentrate that did it to me. Whatever the root cause, I was raised with an inherent love of all things Disney. To my sister and me, Disney cartoons and films were seen as the embodiment of all things good, they conveyed a world where things were safe, where good things happened to good people and where solutions to most of our problems were just a Sherman brothers song away. I believed that the Disney magic was real. Real, that is, until… that one day.
What happened that day, you ask?
A sobering reality that haunts me to this day–that’s what happened.
Let us journey, boys and girls, back to a not-so-magical land called… Anaheim.
That particular morning, my adorable self had woken up with an enthusiasm unmatched since I’d learned how to change the channels on the television all by myself. This was a banner day for the toddler me because this was the day I was finally being taken to Disneyland for the very “firsted time.” Sure, I’d been there many times in my dreams, dreams where I’m greeted as I enter the gate by characters waving, employees applauding, someone giving me a ticket for free ice cream while another hands me a gigantic corn dog (and, no, I don’t think it’s necessary to analyze the ‘gigantic corn dog.’ I was a little kid!), but never in real life.
This was it, after weeks of anticipation (two weeks = four and a half years in kid time), after making a much-weighed wardrobe choice (Mickey ears, oversized Mickey t-shirt and brown pants with bright red pockets. Yeah, I’d say I made the right decision) and wondering what to say to Mickey when I finally got to meet him (creative from an early age, I had toyed with ‘Hello’ and even ‘Howdy’, but decided instead to go with ‘Hi.’ Clever, eh?), I was going to be stepping through the turnstiles and into another world. Little me–along with my grandma, my mom and my sister–was going to finally see where Mickey lived. Wow!
As we arrived in the parking lot, I was blown away. Metal signs with pictures of characters designated portions of the parking lot! Indeed, the magic had already begun. Despite my wanting to park in the Donald lot, row E, we were relegated to Goofy, row B. Aw, but I didn’t care. I could see the gates! I could see the flowers that grew to form Mickey’s face! I could hear the train! Oh boy!
I prodded everyone to move faster (they were sooooo slow!), we had to make it to the gate, like, five minutes ago! Don’t worry about your purse, Grandma, you don’t need those pills! No, I don’t wanna bring a sweater! Who cares if you locked the car or not, we can do it later! Fine, bring the stupid sweater! I used the bathroom already!
Once inside the gate and standing on Main Street, my grandma told us of a surprise she had planned. It seemed that a friend of hers worked at Disneyland (no, no, that wasn’t the surprise) and had arranged for us to go backstage to meet a character one-on-one. Wow, a real life cartoon character face to face! What would I say to them? What would they say to me? What if they didn’t like me? Would my mom let them spank me with their gigantic hands? Sure, they wore gloves but that probably made it hurt worse! Then again, what if they liked me? Better yet, what if they loved me? Would they let me spend the night? Could I actually be adopted out to Mickey on my first trip to Disneyland?!
As these and other equally plausible scenarios played out in my head, my grandma’s friend met us and led us through a ‘Cast Members Only’ gate located near a candy store (ooohhh…), a souvenir shop (aaahhh…) and rented lockers (wooowww…).
Leaning down, the woman said to me, “Now, if you wait right here, I think I might be able to persuade Minnie Mouse to come over and talk to you. How does that sound, hmm?”
I began wondering if it would be alright to say, “Thanks, but…” and instead make a request of whom I’d like to meet, to actually have some say in the matter and not just have any animated passerby thrown my way. After a few moments, I nodded agreeably, but only after a nudge in the back from my mom’s thumb.
I watched the woman walk away. At first, it was just someone walking away, but, once I saw where she had gone, I watched with a mixture of horror and disenchantment. Beneath an overhang stood a row of dressing tables with light bulb-ed mirrors and wooden stools. On the wall behind these tables were a series of shelves and on these shelves were…heads. Giant plastic, disembodied heads of Mickey, Pluto, Donald, oh dear God, everybody I knew and loved was smiling down at me, bright-eyed and lifeless, from atop a shelf. Then, as though a strung out Cesar Romero were directing my Disneyland adventure, things got even worse.
Wearing a pair familiar black shoes, black tights and a readily recognizable yellow dress, approached an unfamiliar blond woman…a woman who was putting on the head of Minnie Mouse! Who was this woman? Where was the real Minnie? Was it all a bad dream like when my skin turns to chocolate, but then I fall in the dirt, so can’t eat any of it? Were my grandma and my mother going to remove their heads, too? What about my childhood would crumble next? Would I never learn how to levitate just by holding my breath? Would my dreams of becoming the first werewolf astronaut never be realized?
“Ohhh, look, Michael,” my mother said sweetly, “Minnie Mouse is coming to see you.”
I wanted to scream out that it wasn’t really Minnie, that it was some lady pretending to be Minnie, that the real Minnie isn’t made of plastic…but nothing came out, no reaction that was visible to anyone else.
Minnie Mouse, of course, acted happy to see us all. She curtsied, she mimed the hand-to-mouth gesture of joy at meeting my family and, upon hearing it was my first visit, she even gave me a hug. We all posed for a photograph (guess which of us wasn’t smiling) and then, with a wave ‘bye-bye’, Minnie left us to parade her false identity up and down the streets of Disneyland to the appreciation of other soon-to-be disillusioned kids. I asked my mom if it was time to go home. “Go home?” she asked. “We’ve only been here for 12 minutes.”
So there, for reference in your college thesis or critical debate, the length of time before your innocent childhood beliefs are shattered in a single moment by unsuspecting, but well-meaning, adults is 12 minutes.
Within moments of my backstage run-in, I set my shock aside and learned to have a zippadee-doo-dah time. As I encountered other characters throughout the day, I let each of them know that I knew they were just pretending, that they were really just people that work behind that big gate where my grandma’s friend works. And when I finally got to meet Mickey Mouse, I didn’t say what I had planned. No, when I finally got to meet Mickey, all I could think to say was, “You’re just a real person in there,” to which he mimed the hand-to-mouth surprise, the default reaction by all mute characters I soon realized. Still, I couldn’t help myself and so posed for a picture with Mickey.
Today, the pictures show me gradually adopting a bigger and bigger smile as the day went on, each one more and more sincere than the previous, each moment a better understanding of the fantasy (the “pretendedness”) that was Disneyland.
So, yeah, on par with maybe the guest who’d inadvertently met Walt Disney while rounding a corner on Main Street, I was also able to claim that my first trip to Disneyland was also one of distinction: I had witnessed the re-capitation of a beloved, but previously decapitated, character.