The doors were shut and the lights went out and the room began to sink.
This was the test, in a way: the test of whether that evening attack in a movie theater in 1984 had any power left. I had my first panic attack – out of the blue, no hints or omens, ever - during a showing of “Vertigo.” Honest. Rapid heartbeat, disorientation, fight-or-flight, the entire suite of symptoms at once. While I had to commend my condition for choosing an apt moment to assert itself, it also meant I had a difficult time convincing the emergency room nurse I wasn’t just reacting to a well-crafted thriller. But it happened during the scene in the stable. Nothing was going on. Well, that’s the genius of Hitchcock, isn’t it? Even the most mundane moments are saturated with dread. Yes, and my shirt is saturated with sweat. Now if you could give me something.
The attacks continued intermittently for a year, at least, and I developed two conditions common to panic attack sufferers: claustrophobia, the fear of enclosed spaces, and agoraphobia, the fear of open spaces. As you can imagine, this tends to limit your options – at most, you can stand in the open doorway of your apartment for a while - and I had to white-knuckle my way back into normal life. It took about four years to desensitize myself enough to the point where it didn’t run my life. Still, when we planned this vacation, I looked over the itinerary and felt all the old toothpicks in all the familiar spots. Travel by plane, then by tram, then bus, then monorail. The claustrophobe knows the drill: enclosed spaces with no control over your egress sets the ticker thumping. But dammit: I wasn’t going to avoid frickin’ Disneyfargin’world because of that. I was cured. Testify, brother! Yes, I was cured. And then the bottom dropped out of the world in the dark.
And I was fine.
It was an optical illusion, which made it even more disorienting. But this was fun. For one thing, two damp hands were pressing tight into my arm. Gnat – who’d ridden Space Mountain without a care – was slightly freaked out by the Haunted Mansion, and not without reason. It was stunning. Wonderfully creepy. We rode along, floating in the dark over a void the depths of which you could not sense, passing the desiccated corpses and cobweb-draped skeletons, observing a ballroom where everyone spun around in eternal pursuit, so focused on the dance they'd forgotten they were dead.
What an excellent metaphor for my life in newspapers.
All my life I’d aimed for the Secure Job, the position buffered by institutional size and union tenacity, but those were illusions. Now I was free of the illusions, and just in time, too. Plenty of time left to find a new way, if I had to. Or, my career was dead as a skeletons cackling from the ceiling. Either way, this was a metaphor and an epiphany (with a penumbra of an emanation! No, that was the glow from the camcorder screen) wrapped up in one carefully planned consumer experience. I looked forward to other piercing moments of personal realization, such as a giddy, effervescent desire to rotate the tires more often while riding the Pirates of the Caribbean. The possibilities for personal growth here were limitless.
Okay, well, I didn't think that at the time. At the time I was just happy and enjoying myself, and I had my arm around my daughter, and I hadn't popped a valve back in the dark small room, so I was feeling fine. It did occur to me that I'd been feeling fine for some time. Professionally, the worst had happened. But things just seemed to be getting better.
The carriages that bore us through the ride had speakers to tell us horrible tales, and I was surprised to recognize the voice: it was Paul Frees. He perished over 20 years ago. I wonder how many people knew they were listening to a dead man.
My princess meets their princess. Of course, they have spares. Later, a backward-talking dwarf came out from behind the red curtains and did a little dance.
Hey, don’t tell me Disneyworld doesn’t have its scary parts. Look at this:
That’s right: I gather it was Zombie Day, if you look at the fellow in the bottom left-hand corner. Disney's taken a lot of heat for Zombie Day, but I don't see the problem. So the line for brains is longer. So some loose limbs fly off on the roller coaster. Deal with it.
After the Mansion I phoned the office, to see what was new, and told them about Disneyworld: it seems that Goofy and Pluto had both been taken off their Dog Beats and told to compete for the one remaining Dog Beat job left after the reorg. However, the union was insisting that Goofy’s canine status was unclear, so he should not have been fired. Also, “It’s a Small World After All” had been downsized; it was now “It’s a Very Small, Local World After All,” and all the little characters from other lands were now dressed like people in Orlando and the surrounding suburbs. Ha ha! A little gallows humor.
You know, the phrase “gallows humor” probably didn’t apply to the people in the noose. I’m guessing it was the guys who worked the rope and the trap door.
Yes, it's Mickey's House of Possessives! Actually, it was the Philharmagic, a 3-D animated tale projected on a screen the size of Montana. It used the "Fantasia" imagery, which I love – the “Sorceror’s Apprentice” part of “Fantasia” was always my favorite, and even as a very young child I realized this was an elaborate analogy for the unintended consequences of the Versailles Treaty. (Just kidding.) In this film, Mickey is about to lead an orchestra; he steps away, and warns Donald not to touch The Hat. You know, The HAT. The blue pointed wizard’s cap. In “Fantasia,” Mickey wore the hat, brought a broomstick to life, and commanded it to fill the cistern. He fell asleep, dreamed he had ascended to a high cliff that looks like a place where they crucified Ayn Rand, and he commanded the skies to follow his wishes.
Eventually he wakes to find the broomstick is still filling the cistern, and cannot be stopped – so he grabs the ever-present Handy Axe and chops it to pieces. (To my surprise, examination of the frame shows a sign proclaiming the Sorcerer's home as an "Axe-free Lair.") It is the last time Mickey takes an axe to anything vaguely sentient, I think. And he really gets his back into it, too. Of course, the enchanted slivers come back to life, and the room is inunudated anew. The Sorcerer appears, dispels the water with the help of the soundtrack, and Mickey, abashed, hands back the hat. I never tire of that cartoon. It’s interesting how The Hat eventually passed into Mickey’s possession, and has become one of his emblems, even though he screwed up mightily when he wore it, and was forced to commit broomicide. Then again, the brooms don't seem to hold a grudge; they appear on the trashcans, reminding us to clean up. Everyone has a useful role here. I was disappointed to note that the smoking areas did not have a picture of Cruella DeVille; that would have been perfect.
Anyway: in the 3D movie, Donald wears The Hat when Mickey leaves. Of course. Outside of channeling his desire for violence, Donald cannot focus. He uses the hat's power poorly, which results in a mad dash through several Disney feature movies. When your jaw hits the floor, you note that previous jaws have worn a groove. It's that good.
Things come out of the screen, let’s just say, and at one point I saw Gnat stand and reach for the jewels hanging right before her eyes. You can’t buy memories like that.
Well, no, you can, come to think of it. Lots of them. Easy credit terms, too.
We went back to the hotel in the afternoon to rest, having been pounded flat by the sun, then returned for a meal at the Liberty Tree Restaurant. The name suggested that the blood of patriots would be shed in a refreshing fashion at 2, 4 and 8. It was in Liberty Town, which I loved – Colonial / Rev-war style architecture, very logical and serene and rational. You expected to see George Washington smiling down from the clouds, somehow. The menu was simple: they brought a tray of meat and you ate it. The meat was not only prepared in the Colonial fashion - judging from the moisture-free quality of the substance, it was prepared in actual Colonial times and preserved in barrels of salt until now. Chip and /or Dale came by, as did Minnie and Goofy. A table of youts from New Joisy put Goofy through his paces, and half the men had more hair on their back than Goof.
Afterwards I had a plan, and it was a good one. It was 8:30. Fireworks commenced at nine, after which everyone streamed for the exits. I wanted to take the train around the park to the train station by the gate, so we could run for the busses ahead of the herd. Otherwise you’re stuck behind about 20,000 people trying to flee. Well, we missed the last train – not my fault, mind you. Gnat had to stop for something that glowed in the dark. Besides my own impatience, that is.
While I no longer have a dread of crowds I have a sensible distaste for them, and if we could have gotten out ahead we would have spared ourselves endless queues and waits. But no. So we walked towards the end of the crowd. At least we saw the castle at night:
Then you turn around, and face Main Street:
Gaah! I know what you're saying: gosh, newbie, just enter the first store and work your way through the retail aisles; the buildings have the illusion of being discrete structures, but it's all one conjoined retail environment. Thank you, Smartie Pants, that's exactly what we did. Because Daddy read the guidebook.
Didn't plan squat; that was my wife's job. But I read the guidebook.
We positioned ourselves by the end of the park, and waited. The voice of Jiminy Cricket introduced us to the plot of the fireworks, which had something to do with Dreams and Wishes, words spoken here with the same frequency as “taxes” and “entitlements” are mentioned in Washington. The fireworks were duly spectacular – but the moment they ended, you felt it. The rising. From the end of Main Street to the circle in front of the Castle, people got up and headed out, and it seemed to change the very air pressure. So we got up and we got out and sprinted towards the bus shed. We were the last ones on the first bus out.
I would not have been good in “Casablanca.” Not for me the dawdling in the garret while the artillery thumps on the outskirts; not for me the last train out. Ilsa, get your bags. We’re leaving. But Reek, it’s 1934. Hitler just took power. I don’t care. We’re going to Topeka. Oh Reek what is Topeeka. Nevermind, schweetaht. You’ll love it. Now move.
Once home we read; Gnat watched the old Disney cartoon channel, which plays the old old classics – the black-and-whites, the ones in which Mickey still had some pique, and threw hard objects at the heads of taunting birds. Then laughed with evident pleasure.
Tomorrow: Duff Beer For Me; Duff Beer for You.