A man doesn’t go out into the world quite like he used to. In days past, (cooler days, colder days), he would be ushered outside the thatch-roofed hut by his aging father, a seasoned, wrinkled, ancient man of probably 17 or whatever was considered old before penicillin.
“Boy” he would say between bouts of whooping cough and dysentery, “boy, now you must venture out to make your own way, you’re almost 5 years old now, and your old Ma and I can only afford to feed your 12 younger siblings, so take my spiked club, this torch, this cask of swamp meade, and this mule.” “Find a knight to squire for, or become a rich merchant selling sapient novellas to foolish teenagers. Look…” he’d say “if I’m being honest I don’t really care, you’re a man now, and it’s up to you.”
And then slapping his son on the back, shedding a single tear (from his chronic tear duct infection), he’d shove the lad off into the heinous marshlands of unimaginable torture and disappointment.
Whereas today everyone lives well into their 20s at the very least, and we have modern luxuries like zen gardens and cell phones. There’s even a club if you make it to age 27, and I hear they issue jackets.
One thing remains the same however: the bleak, marshy expanse of modern life. I, a young adventurer of the age of 20, a product of neither the 80’s nor the 90’s, yet somehow both, would be fortunate enough to board flying, titanium, jet-propelled ships, hurtling me to exotic places like deep tropical Orlando Florida.
And it is here where our adventure begins, both fiction and hard truth, an amalgam of multiple excursions, of tales featuring cloven hooved post-teen dream-girls, rich tapestral feasts, wine, beer, and the all-star; multi-platinum heartbreak.
A walking contradiction, am I. Tall, skinny, handsome, ugly, graceful, awkward. Stylish yet attractively homely. I step off the plane, and into the great American swampland.
For whatever reason the dreams of 15 have clung like Spiderman to Mary Jane Watson, she being the true edifice (no skyscraper) that loomed over his shamelessly masked skull. But for me, singleness, casting alike its woeful shadow over me, its’ deepest black dilating my irises, would haunt me as I observed the youthful flirtations of my companions.
The happiness of course was Walt Disney’s
But you came to hear about the eponymous hurt that was somehow happy. Well now I will tell you that the hurt was not mine, nor the happiness. The happiness of course was Walt Disney’s. The hurt, the property of my friend Zeke, esquire, landowner of disillusionment and longing. The names have been changed to protect the irreverent, the partially innocent. Walt Disney herein being excluded from all innocence, his being the pit of torture in which poor Zeke would find himself embroiled.
But anyway, here we find the young me, standing at the curb, outside an airport, waiting to be whisked away in a fury of gas powered rubber and precisely greased bearings. At the helm would be Billy, his cousin Jerry the first mate.
During the voyage, we would reminisce sad tidings from the North, through a filter of jokes and all too typical jade-treatment of tragedy. A friend from high-school had met his demise in an unspeakable inferno, another, soon to join us in our own hellish underworld. This underworld being of course, the one below immediately to the South of Georgia USA.
There still exist home videos artfully stitched together, of Cynthia, her mane of wavy brown hair trailing behind her head through massive crowds in the steamy heat. A fixture in a frame, bobbing slightly with every step, while the charming period-inspired facades advanced toward the viewer, an army of pastel gingerbread townhomes, with gift shops on every floor.
Cynthia was a sight to even me, but unto now a memory, the sole heir to Zeke’s original misfortune. I can speak from my own experience, that her presence was most certainly a black hole, a callous gravity well for the weak-willed and spineless romantic, a trait my friend and I held deeply in common.
I once stood next to her one hot summer night. It was dark and muggy in the amber light of that Bowery music hall. Our bare arms brushed, and I was stabbed in the heart by how smooth her skin was. Impossible! One’s mind might drift to future possibilities if one were not so concerned with the saving of face. But again, I digress. Promise you’ll stop me next time.
To Zeke she was the center of the known universe. To our eyes, he was hers. If only life were so simple. The last few paragraphs have been committed for the sake of foreshadowing, so that when our characters take the stage it will be with a predefined emotion that you behold their rich depth and the ensuing horrible carnage.
What is it about this place, this land, this World that beckons some to come and come again? Is it the flaws in the outside world that litter every aspect of life that make us yearn for the perfect – even if when not the real? Of course, we ask what is the real? The hurt outside of the park’s walls is real, but then again the joy one feels inside is too. Was it not Faust or Shakespeare or some other joker that said ‘if you prick me at Disney do I not bleed?’ Yes, absolutely true. The answer is a resounding: Y(oung) E(phemeral) S(tarry-eyed). And so why must I apologize for enjoying myself, why must I have a caveat to the smile? I don’t have to apologize, and I won’t. Not even to Zeke.
Compare the bleakness of small-town Connecticut. It has its natural foil in the abundance of tropical, lush foliage of the Parks. I have distinct and vivid memories of entering not just rides but resorts with the young and brash crew at my side.
On one occasion we stepped onto the trembling earth of the Polynesian (It could just have been my heart skipping a beat but I’ll ascribe the weakness in my knees to lava flow below my feet). The sounds of Don Ho-lite wafted through the lobby as a man-made waterfall bubbled and gurgled with well-earned mirth. And yet, in my mind— here, in Florida of all places— every detail begat stories, unfurling like a reel to reel tape in my head. It’s not just some hunk of plastic and molding, with water falling off it; no! It is an ancient and hallowed crag of life-giving H2O. It has been here for millennia and prior natives worshiped, prayed, sang, ate, drank and (ahem) loved here.
I am such a special son-of-a-gun now, to have it in front of me in this hotel lobby, complete with artificial Polynesian smells piped in to boot. My mind begins to wander as I dream of being on an island, drinks in hand, soundtrack in the background and some certain so-and-so soaking in the sun next to me. Of course I am knocked from this bliss by a crude and necessary joke at a member of my crew’s expense, but thankfully, in this World, I have the freedom to fall back into a mini-waking dream anytime I want.
It was here in “The South Pacific” that fate would set in motion the claiming of its due, on a moonlit evening. No, actually it was in the “Great American Wilderness”, or the beautiful facsimile thereof, that we all crowded around a table to fuel our bodies for the next day’s traversal of emulated cobblestones, a conveyor belt of amusement, which would soundly deposit us into nylon-belted escapes of painstakingly concepted worlds not our own.
And that subsequent day would yield a heart abyssed into the stomach. Our poor friend Zeke would find himself torn in two, leaving a wound one could only observe through the windows to the soul.
Virtually skipping out the door of our accommodation, he would, arm-in-arm with the beautiful Cynthia, usher his hopes in dreams across the threshold of the Contemporary, only to be ushered back in a flood of dashed romantic speculations.
For you see, Cynthia had her sights set on “the unknown”, while assuring herself that “the known” was not a shore upon which she was pleased to tread. It is burned into my brain, the expression on his face, as the camcorder zooms in, well over a decade later, on his youthful face, crushed like grapes under the foot of scantily clad maidens employed as wine pressers. An appropriate analogy, for there they eternally will stand, hips swaying, on a pedestal, yet in a vat. The female form oscillating elegantly, captivating the proximal, while cruelly thrusting down heel bone onto the soft fruit of eviscerated aspirations.
There he lay, eyes open, periodically blinking, staring into nothing, as his future sealed itself before his eyes. He would spend the next day in the hotel room, listening to Belle and Sebastian, suffering an ordeal half-imagined, half-reality, aided by the fruit of the vine.
As time has now passed, I’ve been there too. Wondering why I stayed on Earth, while a goddess who had seized my soul ascended to the heavens with every one of my credit card numbers, my social, my mother’s maiden name, and any foreseeable interest in sustenance was near-permanently removed. Only the devil drink remains.
Only the strong resist, and the weak write poetry. So here is a haiku (approximate) for dear Zeke:
Though you are dead. And you ignore me on the subway. We are the same, and Disney is a tyrant.
The rest of us pressed on. Still abuzz with equal parts magic and cheap beer. I distinctly remember a walk at dusk. The aptly named Magic Kingdom called out to us, open late for this one evening, in order for our group to be able to quench our proverbial nostalgic thirsts on the rides therein. The antiquated/futuristic monorail whisked us on clouds from the resort to the entrance of the park.
Inside, our stomachs were filled with nerves and butterflies— for each other and for what the future held. In those monorail capsules a young man of 19 may get the odd notion that if a perfect night could be had in the Park, well maybe that meant that we could take a shot at forever.
Poor fool. This isn’t some fairytale, though our surroundings would have us believe it so. I now admit, I didn’t know what the future held. Hindsight was not yet 20/20 and as such all I had was a brashness to my optimism and a shot glass full of idealistic hope.
As we stepped off the monorail and onto the red brick, I would wager to say it was like Neil and Buzz stepping off onto the fluffy powder of that terminally distant white rock. Much like them it felt like everyone and everything outside of that moment was a universe away. A cold, dark universe away, or a musty, nebulous attic in some haunted house, and we were the only ones huddled around the warmth of a Disney hearth.
Main Street USA greets you when you pass through the turnstile. Walt felt compelled to recreate a mystical, unicorn version of “anytown USA” in order to greet his guests. For him, this was his Golden Age, his wishful thinking, his better times, and his pain, out there for the world to see. As if we needed any more obvious metaphor – the man had a castle placed at the end of his nostalgic trip down the quite literal Memory Lane as if to tauntingly scream at us, “This is everything. This is what I want. This is what I need!”
Did he get “it” back, whatever his personal “it” was as he walked down the street that he recreated? I doubt it. None ever do. Not even when we take another shot at the past, some would even try a shot for the past, and once again, repeat.
Down Main Street, we see the nuances of lives once lived and stories never told. Inward-bound novels of lives, stories, families and friends, all etched into a made-up memory, merely by catching sight of the stylized sign that read “Confectionary,” or “Emporium.”
When we stroll by the “Cinema” minds begin to wander to a group of precocious teens sneaking into movies, hoping to find a bit of themselves on-screen. A walk past the “Barber Shop” makes you stop and think about a lonely Barber sweeping up floors before heading home to a house once full but now empty, a vacuum even.
The “20th Century Music Company” shoppe causes a dream to stir of days spent indoors slowly strumming strings as if it would matter to anyone. Yet it somehow matters greatly to have the songs of some other lonely soul who strummed in my ears when I press Play over and over again on a favorite song. As we walk I find myself falling behind the others – lost in thought and lost in their lives as perceived by me. I stopped abruptly, and watched the group of friends walk forward together— a fleeting glimpse of something real and tangible and in a world of make believe. I caught myself and recalled that this moment is happening, and it exists and it is all because of the fantasy, because of this World and because we are all here together.
I run up ahead and catch up, and then we stop short where the expanse falls open before us. The castle spires are there. Right there, ripe for the taking. I take a long last look at the shops behind, then again to the castle winding into the heavens like Babel just before the city descended into confusion. We say not a word because in reality there is not a thing left to say.
At that moment we are everything that came before and everything that may come after – but most of all we are there….just for a moment…present and together. The World swirls around us like a dizzy comedown. Sparks and flashes of light careening off the edges. I take a Polaroid snapshot of it in my head, it is warm with sepia tones, and as all great memories do – it has already started to fade.
Still every so often, I put a tin can on a string and try to call back into the past to that moment. Trying to somehow get it back. It was a beautiful moment in time that punched me in the mouth as Zeke was punched in the gut. Years later it all still runs through me just the same.