Dispatches from the Suburbs of Hell

Heaven is for the obedient. Hell is for the wrathful. What of the ones in between? We wind up in the Suburbs. Our sin is individuality. Our punishment is boredom. But at least we're in good company.

Location: New England, United States

Monday, May 26, 2008

Pirates of the Caribbean...Beach Resort

I guess I worried a lot of people with my last blog entry. It's understandable; when you write something about how depressed you are and then disappear for a few months, people are bound to worry. I did want to pop in again, and let people know I'm mostly okay. Or at least that I'm not dead. It's been a rather traumatic year for me, I suppose. It was about this time last year that I had my near-total meltdown. Family issues, bad career choices, and serious illness all conspired at once to destroy me, and they very nearly did. It was about this time last year that my self-image completely shattered; I'm still working on rebuilding it. I'm not back to my old self yet - frankly I don't think my "old self" is even something I can reclaim - but I am better. As it were, I'm still in the Long Dark Night of my soul, but at least it's past midnight now.

So I am on a journey of self-redefinition. Such a journey can take a person to strange places. In my case, it took me to Disney World.

Yes, Disney World. The Happiest Frigging Place On Earth. My brother, Vidboy, is a Disney fan. We've ventured into Mouse Territory a couple of times before, and it's been a few years since our last excursion. So, now that things are mostly stable with the two of us, Vidboy felt it was high time we went on a nice vacation. So we took a week in Sunny Orlando, as pilgrims in a strange land.

It's a funny thing; I am a mass of contradictions. I believe in the principles of democracy, yet I am painfully aware of its shortcomings in actual practice. I believe in a god, but I believe in natural selection as well, and I see no contradiction. I am capable of great debauchery and depravity, and yet I love Disney World. I can't explain it. Maybe it's the simpler time of childhood it evokes. Maybe it's the well-planned structure. Maybe I'm just easier to entertain that I like to tell myself. At any rate, I had a good time down there...despite the weather.

Oh yes, I am a native New Englander, and therefore the weather is an important part of my world view. And Florida is TOO DAMNED HOT for my pale Irish ass. I mean, it's really frigging HOT down there! And it's not even a dry heat! The humidity wreaked havoc upon my plumage. I have no idea why anyone would CHOOSE to live in Florida. If it were up to me, I would have the entire peninsula encased in a big geodesic dome and climate-controlled. A nice 68 degrees Fahrenheit, year round, says I.

But anyway. I persuaded Vidboy to stay at a resort with a little more style than that in which we usually travel. I simply MUST have amenities when I go on vacation; I feel I've earned better than the local Motel 6 at this point in my life. We chose to stay at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort, which is one of their cutesy themed resorts. In this case, we had some brightly-colored blocks of rooms arranged in "villages" around a central lagoon. It was actually very nice. Clean, well-maintained, and quite large. And positively INFESTED with ducks. Apparently it was mating season when we were there; all the birds in the place were singing and fighting and nesting. Including one big Alpha Duck that claimed a spot on our beach and would quack a warning to anyone who got close. I'd never been afraid of a duck before; a male duck in heat is a frightening sight.

As anyone who has been to Disney World can tell you, getting around is a fairly simple thing. Disney runs free shuttle buses from their resorts to their parks on a regular basis. I have to say, that is the thing that impresses me the most about Disney: say what you will about their evil corporate nature, but they run a tight ship. Everything about Disney World is geared toward selling the illusion of it being a magical place, and they do their utmost to maintain it. This includes getting customers to and from their parks quickly, making lines for rides and attractions move efficiently, and always having plenty of helpful and enthusiastic people on hand to offer assistance when needed. I do like that. Oh, I'm sure there's evil to be found behind the facade...or at least, unpleasantness. I mean, NO ONE loves their job THAT much. There's got to be some kind of brutal customer service boot camp operating behind the scenes (my dear friend Ramona, aka Portrait in Flesh, worked at Disneyland during a dark period in her life, but apparently she was too traumatized to share any war stories. Some wounds don't heal, I guess). But it does seem to serve its purpose; the illusion is nearly flawless. And isn't that why we go? To embrace the illusion?

Vidboy and I did all the Disney parks, starting with the Magic Kingdom. We of course had to hit all the high spots: Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, It's A Small World After All (Vidboy nearly gnawed his own leg off when our boat stopped for a few seconds)...and of course, Pirates of the Caribbean. The "Imagineers" recently updated the ride with characters from the movies, so we had to check out the new features. Personally I didn't care for the changes. Vidboy and I first went on the ride about five years ago, just before the first movie came out (we went on the ride first before seeing the movie so we wouldn't get lost), and I frankly enjoyed the idea that the movie came FROM the ride, and not vice-versa, which is how it feels now with the animatronic Johnny Depp running around throughout the thing. But the plus side was that the entire resort was pirate-crazy, so there was plenty of merchandise to be had. I still regret not grabbing some of the action figures. Oh, to have a tiny Keira Knightley of my very own...


I of course enjoyed Tomorrowland, as well as Epcot. That is, I think, a thing that's often forgotten about Walt Disney. For all the old-timey family values stuff that is associated with the Magic Kingdom, Uncle Walt was also a forward-thinking man. He believed in progress, in technology, and in human potential. The blending of art and science, of using the latest technology to create beautiful things, is something that Walt supported during his lifetime, and something that the Disney company still supports to some degree. Whether it's the disturbingly lifelike robots that occupy the Hall of Presidents, or that high-tech oven that can bake 600 pizzas an hour for hungry park-goers. Whenever I go to Epcot, I feel as though I've come close to touching a vision of the future that should have happened, and unfortunately never did. The big old Bucky Ball - the quintessential symbol of Epcot and the singular invention of one of the great futurist thinkers - is a ride. The World Showcase - a place meant for genuine cultural exchange and understanding - is a gift shop. It's ironic, and yet somehow appropriate. Grand ambitions exchanged for profit. I mean, why try and teach a child about other cultures when you can just get them to buy something exotic-looking? Kind of a metaphor for what happened to the Disney company after Walt passed on.

I tried not to dwell on such things; after all, I was on vacation. It was nice to check out of reality for a short while; to be in a place that was unabashedly unreal. The road signs inside Disney World are different colors. The buildings are outlandish shapes and colors. My God, even the EMT station inside of Disney World looked big and cartoony! I kept expecting Goofy to come walking out any minute...

Even back at our resort, to which we withdrew when heat and exertion took their toll, the Disney could not be escaped. The television only picked up about ten channels, and five of them were - yes, you guessed it - Disney-related. It wasn't too bad, really. There was a channel describing each park and the attractions to be found, hosted by a perky young woman named Stacey, upon whom I developed an unhealthy crush (there's something about a perky girl on a roller coaster, you know?) There was also a channel that played only Disney classic cartoons in a continuous loop. Presumably this is for tired parents to flip on at the end of day. It didn't occur to me until I saw these old cartoons again just how WEIRD they were. Mickey leading a fire brigade to a burning house, but apparently the house was being attacked by some kind of fire elemental, who was more concerned with playing pranks on Goofy and Donald than actually burning the house down. A leashed and muzzled Pluto dreams of a perfect world where a crazy cat BEGS him to bite him constantly...gah, Disney does BDSM. Goofy attempts to ride a horse that's smarter than he is, while an unctuous narrator drones on. I have to say, I love those "how to" cartoons starring Goofy. I have tremendous respect for Goofy as an artist. Comedy is HARD, you know. And since comedy often comes from pain, I can only image the dark times Goofy must have seen in his life to be so great. So I give him props. Mickey was the consummate straight man, and Donald really had only one shtick; Goofy was always Disney's most versatile performer. It's a pity he was typecast.

I'm not sure why I love Disney World so much. Am I just a kid at heart? Possibly. Which is just as well, as I don't plan on having a kid of my own to bring there. Ironically, one day at the Magic Kingdom is enough to make someone not want to have kids: the most adorable little moppet can turn into a shrieking pink banshee at the drop of a pair of Mouseketeer ears. Perhaps I am just attracted by the notion that there is still magic in the world, and that it can be found and enjoyed. Perhaps I was just stressed out, and needed to unplug for a week.

It's funny how things happen. And it's funny how a trip to Disney World becomes a factor in my personal journey of self-discovery. I'm not sure where this journey will lead next, but I'll make a point of keeping people posted.

Drink Up, Me Hearties. Yo Ho.