“Your dreams will come true,” I said with excess enthusiasm. “It’s a magical place.”
She rolled her eyes.
“C’mon! Doesn’t matter who you are. When you wish upon a distant nuclear furnace that may already have gone supernova incinerating an local inhabitable planets your dream. Comes. True.”
“I don’t know,” she said, with that uneasy smile kids get when they’re stating something sensitive. “Isn’t it a little odd to go to Disneyworld just with my parents at my age?”
At your age. Yes, at 12 you should be boarding a tramp steamer alone for Cathay.
Next year, a friend comes along. Have to figure out how to swing that, but the idea of coming here with Em and Pee alone will be mortifying. This is where younger siblings come in, I think. They give the older kids cover.
Yes, we’re here. (Note: this was sketched out on the plane. Long day; exhausted. Anyway:)
It’s grand. We’re back at our place at Saratoga Springs. Hah! Our place. The place is just a glorified time-share, but I’m of the mind that if I pay property taxes, it’s my place. So there. The room is the same room we’ve always had, by which I mean they are all identical. This is intentional. No matter where you go in this vast complex, you’re home. And if you don’t feel that you’re home you will be reminded of the fact in every single interaction you have with the staff. “Welcome Home” is the mantra, replacing the “magical” intensifier, at least until you step into a theme park or turn on the TV to watch a promo.
It’s lovely. I just adore this place. Completely manufactured.
So? Reality was meant to be shaped to our bidding and dreams, and this absurd reconstruction of an upstate New York spa and horse-racing community is utterly beautiful, especially in the fall. Carefully selected non-native trees are turning, slightly. They probably have a dial somewhere, with buried cables.
Sat out at the pool under the blazing sun - October is a perfect time to come here - and thought “I’m glad we didn’t arrive later in the day. Why, I’m so glad we had that 6:25 AM flight, which meant we had to get up at 4:30. So so glad.” I’m still punchy from all this. Four thirty. Good. Lord. When we got to the airport - the Humphrey terminal, out of which the small airlines fly - I saw a huge crowd on the upper deck, and I wondered: how busy can this place be at 5:49? Well: one of the security stations was closed for upgrades.
This meant everyone was funneled through . . . ten lanes winding back and forth. Ten. I made my peace right then with missing the flight. We made it to security at 6:10 for a 6:25 flight. We ran to the gate. We made it - because the plane was 35 minutes late. Wheels up and off into the ether, surly bounds slipped, face of God touched, and time for a nap.
In the evening we walked down across the new bridge, past the fountain, to the dock that takes you across the vast artificial lagoon to the vast artificial downtown. Ate at a genuine Irish fish ‘n’ chips place, or so they said - family recipe, a Dublin staple since 1257 or something. Absolutely awful. Well, you don’t go to Disney for food - except we had, really: the Food and Wine festival is underway at Epcot, which was our main reason for coming.
Aside from the fact that this is what we do. Or did.
Walked through the big World of Disney Stuff store, and saw something horrible: a dress made out of Barbies.
As for other items, well, I didn’t spend a lot of time there; daughter is past the Plushie stage, and the characters are remnants of childhood bygone. She went to a clothes shop with mom and looked at things to wear. Sparkling things that matched her style. Skipped the usual places, in other words - except for Goofy’s Kitchen, where we always get the world’s best Rice Krispie bars, and some jelly beans. It’s what we did and what we do. And I get to catch up on the latest old new retro graphics:
I love old Mickey. He's Mickey before they pithed him and put him on Ambien.
Split a sundae three ways at the chocolate place, which seemed somewhat heretical; everyone else was dining on foot-tall mounds of fudge. “Portion control,” as understood there, simply means the waiter doesn’t drop the tray with six items on the way to the table.
Home, weary. Deep sleep. Up to greet the rain, because that’s what my new weather app predicted. I bought it because it looks great and has a nifty interface. It also throws up a RAIN icon if the chance is 10%, with a possible 25% by noon. C’mon. It said rain for the entire weekend. Never felt a drop.
As for a blow-by-blow of Epcot: it’s not necessary anymore. I’m not really sure what to say, except
* I went through the day with an almost Zen-like sense of serenity, triggered perhaps by the first hearing of the High Holy Hymn of Epcot, with all its bygone paleofuture optimism. There’s a reason they don’t replace it. It can’t be topped.
* First stop was the Cool Club, where I proudly drank several cups of:
They sweetened the mixture somewhat, which is a mistake. It will never appeal to people who do not grasp the essential truth of Beverly. I tried another fountain, and it was less sweet. Had that characteristic bitterness you know and love, if you are a Beverly enthusiast.
A little girl came up to me and asked: Did you try that Italian stuff?
“I’m drinking it now,” I said. “I love it.”
She made a face and turned away.
Mind you, I looked for Beverly in four Italian cities last year, and didn’t find it.
* Saw “Captain EO,” which is an unusual time capsule brought back for modern audiences to watch, mouths open, thinking: this is just ridiculous. It’s for kids, but I’m not sure kids enjoy it anymore. Francis Ford Coppola! George Lucas! Michael Jackson! Er. Hmm. The first was lost and coasting, the second had not yet been unmasked as something less than the Greatest Visual Genius of His Era, and Michael Jackson was still black and popular and charismatic, but you know how the story ends: with a snootful of rhino trank and a paralyzing fear of the outside world. From the beginning the Dismay you feel is enormous: it’s a two-headed chicken Muppet-thing running a spaceship with Comic Relief Alien Elephant and a cat with butterfly wings. Also a robot with a monocle. I repeat: a robot. With a monocle. They have to save a planet through dance; this is accomplished by shooting light beams at minions who turn into Fiercely Dressed professional prancers with 1985 hairstyles who make serious faces while executing certain steps. The evil queen, who is sort of a proto-Borg suspended by wires and tubes - the only thing in the piece that still holds up - is turned into Anjelica Huston, and then it’s over.
Oh, it’s 3-D and interactive; must have been quite novel back then, but at the end when the spaceship takes off into the vacuum and you feel wind on your face, well.
“That. Was. Bizarre,” said daughter.
“That was the 80s,” I said. I didn't tell her that her mom once sported the 'do the lead dancer had, a modified Sheena Easton, and it was hot.
* Took the Viking ride in the Norway exhibit; sat behind two drunk middle-aged ladies who hooted and cackled loudly with such boozy self-involvement I felt free to cackle along with matching gusto, confident they would have no idea they were being mocked. On the way out they tried to kiss a guard. He would have none of it.
Test Track was closed. We did a storm simulator; wife and child designed their own rollercoaster; we had filet mignon the size of beetle testicles, but good.
Wife left thinking: we’re done with Epcot, aren’t we? I thought: no. But: perhaps. For a year or three. We’ve done all the Disney theme parks, and as much as I’m perfectly happy to do everything again, there’s A) the law of diminishing returns, and B) the fact that Daughter is 12 now, and in between the last time we were here in 2010 and today, she outgrew the joint. Heresy! you say. No one outgrows it.
Well, I don’t, because I’m not here to squeal GOOFY! or wear Mouse Ears while gobbling a Mickey ice-cream bar before begging for a plushie or something that lights up and spins around. But it’s entirely possible that there’s a brief period of Estrangement, between 12 and 15, when you’re caught between two perspectives, and the fact that you’re locked out of your childhood reactions while keenly aware of the memory of your younger self is something quite sad. Maybe you realize that every new phase of your life means a place that was comfortable and secure and happy and familiar is now boxed up and locked away, and there’s no key. You can turn the knob but it does not yield.
It’s like walking through a lovely forest, and then you come into a clearing and then there’s the ocean crashing on the rocks, cold and indifferent, and when you turn around to go back there’s a sheer wall of stone. And while the walk through the forest taught you all the good things you needed to know to set forth across the water, it’s almost unbearable to know your childhood - the true happy heedless part - is not only good for good, but close enough to remember with a clarity that makes you ache.
Oh, hey, while you’re at it, brain, why don’t you toss in things like Parental Mortality? Huh?
Twelve is hard.
We had a long talk on the way across the bridge. A hard talk, but truths are like that. Diamonds are hard and they don’t sparkle in the dark.
Look around, I said. This is what you have now and you can appreciate it more than ever. And look at me! I played Centipede back in the arcade. You never outgrow the things you love, if you really love them, and yes I love flipping the big trackball to the right and shooting that critter that goes left to right. I love catching the centipede in a trap and blasting them all into mushrooms. I get the same thrill from the 8-bit fanfare: extra life. Look at the water, the fountain; feel the Florida warmth. The here and the now -
No, it’s no consolation. I know.
Twelve is hard. The curtain’s yanked back. All the truths are piled against the back of the stage in rough heaps. Hey, you don’t have to take off your shoes at airport security because they want to make sure the plane’s clean. It’s because of people who want to kill you. Mickey? He’s talking past you now. This is not the most magical place on earth. There aren’t any. This is a machine, a set, a game, a play.
But so is everything else, more or less, to varying degrees. It’s all artifice out there. What matters Is this right here, you and me, in a place we love, and an adventure to come tomorrow.
We went back to the room. Turned on the TV. “Gravity Falls” was on. We made fun of the spots for tween shows and rolled our eyes at “Monstrober” and laughed at “Gravity Falls,” because it’s smart and funny. We had some jelly beans from Goofy’s Kitchen and I did the Goofy voice: Gawrsh.
Tucked her in, and went to bed, and stared into the dark for a while until my eyes adjusted. There was a light shining through the crack in the curtains. I hoped this all would mean something to her in the years to come, and I’m sure it will. I wished it. I’m not the best man in the world, but that doesn’t matter. Right? I heard the cricket say something about that.
Tomorrow: Whoa. And I do mean: WHOA.