Disney World, Part One

As recently as two weeks ago we were planning a trip to Florida for Spring Break. It seems crazy now, but we had already booked our hotel in Tampa. We had already asked Jackson which park he would visit if he could visit any, and he yelled, “Epcot!” In fact he passed up Legoland and Magic Kingdom for it. (Universal was not on the table because we haven’t finished Harry Potter yet.) Now all our plans are cancelled, but for a little while we were excited to go to Disney again. We haven’t been in years. Which got me to thinking that I wasn’t blogging back when we first took Jackson to Disney World, so I thought I’d share now. So this is a three-part series of pics and stories from our first trip to Disney in 2016, when Jackson was a first grader. It’s part posterity, part “Look people used to have happy days!” I hope you enjoy. And if Disney is not your thing, just come back in four days.

Now before I dive in here, which is mainly just pics with our favorite character, let’s get real first. I know there are people who do not like Disney, and I get the reasons. You hate people. You don’t like crowds. You can’t get over the cost. You’ve heard horror stories. You’ve been once, and then swore it off ever again because you saw a kid vomit, or a piece of trash on the ground, or the pool was too warm. Whatever the reason, leave that shit at the door with me because I LOVE Disney! Still, to this day, it was one of our best vacations. And sure, it was because we were all allowed to be kids all day, every day, and live out our fantasy of meeting these beloved characters, but so what? We should all be kids sometimes.

We decided to surprise Jackson with Disney, which was of course, a blast. We told him we were going to the beach in Florida. Of which we did. We woke up one snowy January morning (the slowest week at Disney, cause I ain’t no fool) and we headed down to Florida. We drove nonstop from Charlotte to Daytona Beach. We made the drive in about seven hours, and set to exploring. That day we were able to jump in the ocean and visit the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, which really is a sight to behold. We walked to the top of it, how many stairs, I don’t know, a million? And we were rewarded with marvelous views.

When we got back to our hotel we started asking Jackson what he wanted to do the next day. He said play on the beach, and we were like cool, cool, but here, open this surprise we got for you. We gave him a bag filled with Disney toys and apparel for the next three days. He was opening his gifts, getting more and more excited, then we asked him if he saw a theme. He yelled, “Disney!” And we were like what do you think that means? And he was all, “You know I love Disney!” Ha. He wasn’t getting it. So we said, “We’re going to Disney tomorrow!” And then he threw himself back on the bed in exasperation.

The next day we left Daytona bright and early and were in Orlando in no time. We checked into our hotel, one of the less expensive ones on the Disney property. We chose to go this route because you get extended hours to all the parks, and other perks, like a shuttle ride to the park. Plus, the package deals save you the most money and well, we are savvy shoppers. We ended up in a “Little Mermaid” room, which was ready and waiting for us super early that morning.

I will say this like 800 more times, but Disney has their shit together, y’all. We got to the hotel, checked in, threw out bags in our room, loaded up our backpacks with food (you can bring outside snacks into the park to save on food) and headed to Animal Kingdom. This first picture was of the second morning. Right as we were about to head out for the day, Jackson noticed this dragonfly by our room door. It was the most chill dragon fly. It never moved while we were standing there watching it. I even thought for a split second it was fake. Like Disney had planted it there to make us go “Ohhhh” and “Ahhh” which at this point was something I could see them doing. But it was gone when we got back, so probably not.

I had read all the reviews of all the parks leading up to this trip, and I knew that Animal Kingdom would be the least exciting for our family. We aren’t too fond of zoos. Mainly the whole animals in cages thing, but I knew we had to experience it once, so we decided to knock it out the first day. We had also bought the park hopper tickets, which means that we could visit multiple parks in one day. So we knew we would start our day at Animal Kingdom and end it at somewhere else. Where we hadn’t decided yet. But we were ready for some excitement.

Animal Kingdom, though our least favorite park, did not disappoint! Even a giant zoo was magical at Disney, but Jackson’s favorite part was the roller coaster, Expedition Everest, and meeting Chip and Dale, who brought our attention to the fact that like Dale, Jackson was also missing teeth.

We also got to meet the cast of The Jungle Book at Animal Kingdom and others, while we followed a scouting adventure around all the islands of the park:

By the time the park was ready to close (it closes early on account of taking care of the animals) we knew where we were headed, the park Jackson was the most pumped about, EPCOT! Epcot did not disappoint. It was awesome! Futuristic and technologically driven, just the sort of place our kid likes. Plus, we got there just in time to meet some very cool people. The coolest in fact.

Epcot was epic! There is Mission to Mars, which actually scared the actual shit out of me and I refuse to ever ride again. There is Test Track, where you can design your own car then drive it on “the track.” Coolest thing ever to our gear head.

Then there was the Coca-cola tasting room. The chance (as you can see) to meet Baymax, and fireworks, great food (from all over the world), and a Finding Nemo encounter where Jackson got to meet and talk with the sea turtles. Epcot was also the place that we first caught a glimpse of the Monorail and it had a giant theater that played all the old school Mickey Mouse cartoons like Steamboat Willie. It was a 4-D theater, and we had an awesome time watching the characters come to life right before our eyes. It was by far Jackson’s best, most favorite park, and when we discuss going back to Disney he only talks about Epcot. It is also where Jackson got his Mickey ears and his Test Track “Driver’s License” that he was so proud of. In short, Epcot=Epic. Most epic.

When we got back that night to our hotel room we were actually, 100% beat. We all passed out pretty quickly after walking more than 15 miles that day. But we were up and at ’em the next morning at 7 am, because we heard that if you are one of the first inside Magic Kingdom you can hop a ride in an old car to Cinderella’s Castle. I wasn’t super sure if it was true or not, but we decided to take the chance and it just so happened that it was an “early morning” for those staying at a Disney property. Which means one of those perks I mentioned earlier came in handy and we were one of the first in the doors and check this out:

Yep! We got to ride an old-time car to Cinderella’s Castle. I guess this is a lesser-known secret. As we passed down Main Street, the driver was giving us a tour and honking at people. We were like royalty. People thought we were VIPs. Nope. Just savvy shoppers.

I think this might be a good spot to end in for today. I’m tired just writing about all that we accomplished. Tomorrow, Magic Kingdom!

Thanks for reading!

M.

We’re All Mad Here

One of my favorite subscriptions, Creative Nonfiction, is having a huge sale. They are unexpectedly moving from the location they have been for many years, and are selling off their inventory and back issues at LOW, LOW prices. Naturally I perused their “Clearance” section for good deals. Y’all know I love a good deal, and the good deals were bountiful. Many books from Lee Gutkind, many back issues of their magazine, and even some anthologies, all for an average price of about five buckaroos. As I started to look deeper into the back issues, I noticed that most of the ones I wanted were already sold out. I was all, what gives? So I started looking for patterns and lo and behold they came, as they usually do. The sold out copies were centered around two themes: Finding joy in dark times and mental illness. So, there you have it. We’re all fucked up.

I know you know this already. But damn it’s hard to see sometimes. Especially when you’re down there, in the thick of it. And I also know that my little, let’s call it a gathering of intel (as it wasn’t really research) about what people are buying in a very specific holiday sale, at a very specific, pretty unknown publication, isn’t a tell-all about the state of the world, but… but… is it though?

On of my favorite stories is Alice in Wonderland. I love it so much, that I can overlook Carroll’s opium use (just adds to this particular story), his penchant for young girls (let’s call it pedophilia), and the hookah-smoking caterpillar. And yes, a deep dive into that bitch can elicit a million different readings. It’s about growing up, obviously, it’s about puberty quite specifically, it’s about social climbing, sure. It’s about desire, idyllic beauty, innocence. Then all the really DARK stuff too. But, one of my favorite parts is when Alice is talking to Cheshire Cat and she’s all whiny and bitchy (hormones) and she says, “Buuuuut I don’t want to go among mad peopllllllle.” And Cheshire Cat is all, “Bitch. We all mad here.” I’m paraphrasing. Alice goes on in her bitchy way to be all, “How u know I’m mad, asshole?” And he’s all, “U here ain’t u?” End scene.

In the Disney version Cheshire Cat says something quite different when Alice says she doesn’t want to go among mad people. He says, “Ohh, you can’t help that. Most everyone is mad here.” Then he laughs his weirdo laugh. See the difference? In the real, shroom-enlightened brain of Lewis Carroll, we’re all mad. In Disney’s version just some of us are. Which can really fuck with you, because Disney’s dead wrong. We’re ALL mad here.

I don’t know a single person in my life that isn’t a little cuckoo-bananas. Sure, they might be cool as a cucumber most of the time, but every, single person I know has a thing. Maybe just one. Maybe several. Usually several, but they have at least one thing that makes others go, “Hmmm…” And that’s normal, y’all. It’s okay. In fact, it’s preferred. Because what would this here world be like if we all were great and wonderful all the time? If none of us were looking for joy in dark times? If there were no dark times? If none of us were struggling daily with mental illness, or trauma, or just trying to make the ends meet? It would be a shitty, shitty world I’ll tell you that.

Of course Disney is linking to something deeper here. Now mind you, I’m talking about the original Alice in Wonderland from Disney in 1951. So I’m talking about a time in American History where shit was real bad. Not for everyone, pause, not for all white people, but for most white people. Black people and other minorities, well they weren’t even “people,” so there’s that. I’m also talking about a time when your run-of-the-mill mental illness could get you locked away for all eternity. Like, for real. This was pre-prozac. This was when mental illness was not considered a thing. Maybe you were sad sometimes. That’s okay. Pull up those bootstraps and go on. The sad, sad reality is, there are still a lot of people who think this way. Now, most of them are dying out, but still we have them in our lives. We see them everyday. They are running our country. These people who don’t think mental illness is real. These people who believe they are not afflicted by it. These people who hand-to-whateverGod think this is just all made up, fanciful, Lewis Carroll shit. Hmpf.

Imma stop. Y’all know me. I can get going down a rabbit hole, way bigger than Alice’s, about mental illness. About trying to find joy among the wreckage. And for the most part, you know what I’m gonna say. Keep on keeping. Keep up the good work. Go to therapy. Get your meds right. Talk to people. Check on your people. YES! Even your people who make mad fun of you for going to therapy or taking meds. Because the chances are good that they are in the same boat as you, but with no raft to throw on shore, y’all. Their ego, their pride, their family members or friends, their own mental illness is making it hard for them to talk openly about their own mental illness. I know this sounds crazy, but it’s true. It’s so very true. And sure, Alice in Wonderland isn’t real. There are no Queen Cards coming to life, there are no rabbits who are late, late, for a very important date. But mental illness is real. And trying to find and create joy in this shitbag, upside-down world is real (and here is a link to the Creative Nonficiton sale to prove it: Holiday Sale at Creative Nonfiction). And pedophilia is real (watch yo kids!) and opioid addiction is real. But you know what else is real? Help is real. Talking about mental illness helps. That is real. I’m living proof. And also I’m here. If you need me.

M.

Backroom at the Video Store

I’ve been working on an essay about some of the jobs I’ve had in my life, and I was sort of, well, cracking myself up (as I do a lot, while my family looks at me in awe and shakes their heads). I was cracking up because I was thinking about that one time I worked at a family-owned video store that had a “backroom.” Yeah, for real. For those of you who aren’t privy, a “backroom” at a video store is where they kept the “adult” movies. And no, I don’t mean the Bowling for Columbine documentary, I mean porn. Straight up, hard-core porn. We had soft-core too, cause we weren’t animals. We were the only one in town with a “backroom,” and we were popular. Even when Blockbuster came to town, our little video store survived at least a decade or two more because, well, people are gross. (Side note: I worked at Blockbuster when the little video store folded. That’s where I was re-introduced to Jerimiah and we started dating. He was the store manager, at 19. It obviously wasn’t that hard to work at Blockbuster Video.)

Anyway, this little video store was called, “Home Video” and it sat on the corner of Cherokee and 6th Streets, right across from the Water Department, and (when I was there) right below a nightclub that favored a fog machine on Friday nights. Which meant every Friday at 10:00 pm, an hour before we closed, the store would fill up with “fog” and people would scream thinking there was a fire and exit the backroom in a hurry. Then I’d tell them it was probably because God knew what they were doing. Hehe.

Anyway, there were a lot of, oh let’s call them “quirks” about Home Video that made it a unique, albeit bizarre, experience for the two or so years I worked there, which was just after high school, while I was at the local community college. One of them were the owners themselves, Del and Linda. One of the oldest employees filled me in fast about old Del and Linda. Apparently, they were first-cousins from Minnesota. Or Michigan? Or maybe Milwaukee? Either way, they were definitely cousins, and definitly had to sign a letter when they got married that said they wouldn’t have kids. Then they promptly had two kids. Two boys. And by the time I met them they were grown, one was married with kids of his own, and while he was weird (that’s being kind) he was normal-ish. The other one, well, I felt really sorry for him. He sort of crept around downtown Leavenworth. He lived alone in an apartment near the store, but his parents didn’t actually let him work there. I think he was probably on social security, or disability. I don’t know what was wrong with him, but he had trouble walking and standing up straight. But he was my favorite of the two. He was polite and quiet. He just liked to stop in a talk to me sometimes, and I was okay with that. I would even let him shelve movies if he wanted. He’s the one that told me about the other weird thing: Linda’s Disney collection.

Apparently, Linda had a locked room in the basement that was full of Disney products. First release VHS tapes, cardboard cut-outs, special promotional items. And this, he told me one day, was a secret. It was also her retirement plan. She was going to sell off all her stuff and get an RV and travel around the country with Del and their giant Great Danes (of which she allowed to roam free in the store from time to time.) Weird shit, y’all. So of course after that, I made it my life’s ambition to see this “Disney room” in the basement, and would often make up reasons to go down there. I knew that they had cameras EVERYWHERE, they had too. Too many freaks in and out of the backroom, so I was always cautious. I’d have to stock up the candy, or look for more shrink wrap. I’d usually do it when it was just Del and me in the store. One day I finally found the extra room and tried the knob, but it was locked. I wasn’t getting into that bitch.

Usually I was the only one at the store when I worked there, because I worked Sunday mornings, when they had church, and Thursday nights, which weren’t all that busy. But I was also in charge of employees from time to time, like on Fridays and Saturdays when there would have to be at least two of us working the night shift. It was always fun when it was with someone I liked, like my friend Toni. We had a great time working the weekends together. Mainly we watched the video in the backroom, from the closed circuit tv we had under the front desk. That tv had a one-way microphone attached to it, so that we could tell the people back there that we were closing in five minutes. Or, more usually, we could click the microphone on, which made a loud clicking noise, then say in a low, slow voice, “God knows you’re here.”

I watched a lot of people I knew come in and out of that backroom. Teachers, noted members of the communities, friend’s family members and parents. They would spot me from the outside, as the store was all windows on one side, and sort of try to spelunk into the room without making eye contact with me. But alas, I was the one who had to check them out, remember the whole I was there alone thing, so I it was pointless. They would look around when they came out of the backroom, waiting for someone else to come to the front, pretending like they were browsing the “New Releases” until eventually they gave up and walked up. I’d say something smart ass like, “Castaway just won’t do it for you, huh? Not a Tom Hanks fan?” And they would squirm and say they have never watched “one of these movies,” then I’d say, “That’s not what your account shows…” I was kind of a bitch, but I mean, it was menial work for 6.00/hr, I had to get my kicks too, you know?

Of course there were times when I was embarrassed. Like when we’d get a new shipment of backroom movies, and Del and I would stand at the counter on a Friday afternoon and take the tapes out of the boxes, put them in their black rental cases, and shrink wrap the VERY explicit boxes they came in. Linda had nothing to do with the ordering or displaying of the backroom, she was an “outta sight, outta mind” kinda Christian. So it fell on Del and me. We’d both stand there, in relative silence, while Toy Story or Harry Potter played on the television screens in the store, and wrap titles like, “Facial Blasts from the Past,” “Buttman’s Big Titty Adventure,” “Boobsville Caberat: Where the Boys Aren’t,” and “Dumb-ass Fucking Sluts” or what it “Dumb, Ass-Fucking Sluts”? I just don’t remember. I can go on. Want me to go on? No? Okay.

So there it is, my Home Video days. It wasn’t too long, but you know, it was long enough for me to get some good quality fun in, while meeting some unique people, learning about shame (I was researching shame like Brene and I didn’t even know it! Haha!) and to make me realize how gross it all was. So thanks, Home Video. Thanks Del and Linda. Thanks to Lee Anne, who hooked me up with her job when she adandoned me for Boston. Thanks Toni, for the fun times. Thanks Jen and Roger for spending so much time at Home Video it was like you worked there, even though you didn’t. We had some fun.

M.