Do you know what I’ve discovered? I’m probably one of the few people in the world who can’t fully relax and give myself to the spell of the Disney magic. Las Vegas has the same effect on me, as do many religious organizations, and most politicians. At this stage of my life, they all make me feel “played” because I know that what I’m seeing on the surface is not all there is to see—it is not the “authentic” them, and that gives me the willies.
When I didn’t get “raptured” on Oct. 21st as was promised by that false prophet (see blog post, “Don’t Quote Me — But I Think Jesus Is Pissed”), I decided that I’d do the next best thing and go to Disney World. Growing up with real rats the size of cats, I’ve never been that keen on Mickey Mouse (I know he’s technically a “mouse,” but I don’t do rodents, no matter how cute Disney tries to make Mickey and Minnie seem). But between the rapture disappointment and the premature snow that ruined Halloween, when the opportunity presented itself (“Hey babe” said my husband of 32 years: “Do you want to go to a conference with me in Orlando and have a romantic weekend since you didn’t get to go to Heaven?”), I thought I’d get the hell out of Dodge and get some sun and some much needed R&R.
I am fascinated by this virtual “Heaven on Earth” that we parents have allowed our children to be “sucked” into while it, in turn, kidnaps the minds of our three-year-olds on up and makes them life-long consumers with a vengeance. After wandering around the various parks watching numerous children dissolve into multitudinous hissy fits due to over-stimulation, too many sugary treats, and missed nap times in their Cinderella costumes and Mickey Mouse ears, while they beat the crap out of their siblings with their Luke Skywalker light sabers, I am convinced one needs to approach Disney World with a strong measure of caution if one wants to get through life having not turned over half their life’s savings to a mouse with a fat belly and a high voice. But the major question is how did most Americans fall prey to such inauthenticity? Why are we so prone to embrace the hype and not look behind the curtain, or in Disney’s case, underneath the Magic Kingdom?
Everything above the surface (the “stage”) at Disney World, which is twice the size of Manhattan, is pristine, uber-colorful, fanciful, instantly likable, beguiling, immaculate, convenient, efficient, and all yours if you just cough up a small fortune. To enhance the magic, nothing that constitutes “real” life is allowed on “stage.” Below the surface of the Magic Kingdom is another kingdom where everything that pertains to real life is hidden. The workers (Disney calls them “cast members”) traverse miles of tunnels to do everything from potty breaks to banking while over a hundred schedulers underneath Cinderella’s castle orchestrate who appears here and there and in what costume or cleaning garb for our entertaining pleasure. (There is nothing like a Haitian maid in a Capt’n Andy/Showboat outfit that makes me feel right at home as she scrubs my toilet.) Most clean-up and repairs are done between midnight and 5 a.m. when we’re asleep, and no “cast member” is allowed to be seen not smiling and fully engaged with the public. Projected bakery smells and Disney tunes are pumped into the pathways to lull us into believing we’re actually in Italy or on the Boardwalk of the early 1900’s, but in these places there are no Mussolinis, no bootlegged liquor, and no Boardwalk prostitutes.
But as cynical as I was when I arrived at Disney World, within 24 hours, it had worked its magic on me, and as I sang a mash up of “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “It’s a Small World” and “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” as I power-walked around the pristine fake lake along the Boardwalk’s fake seaside, I knew right then and there, I could live in Disney World forever. I no longer had allergies because there was no cigarette smoke, and I could breathe. Everyone was smiling at me with that inviting look that said, “Welcome, Chocolate Person, we don’t care what color you are, just so long as your money is the color of green”! And just as I rounded a corner, a perfect (real!) bunny rabbit crossed my path, stopped, smiled, and winked at me before disappearing into the underbrush in which fake cricket sounds were being piped out over the strains of the tune “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” reminding me that I was having a “my-oh-my-what-a-wonderful day”! It was a perfect sunshiny 80 degrees with a sub-tropical breeze washing over me like God’s breath that no promised “rapture” could ever duplicate. As I slowed down to watch as a newly married couple climbed into their Cinderella carriage to be whisked away and live happily ever after, I knew I had died and gone to Heaven.
I pulled out my iPhone 4S and commanded Siri to: “Send a note to WW (my own White and Wonderful Prince Charming), and tell him to do research on retiring to new master-planned community Disney is building (Golden Oak), because ‘I BELIEVE, goddamnit—I do believe!’” But before the walk would come to an end, a lizard would run over my foot, which would direct my gaze to a “cast member” sneaking an illegal smoke as she squatted behind a trash can (a Disney no-no), and the craziest son of a bitch I’ve seen in a long time would knock on my hotel room door, scaring me shitless and underscoring what I’ve learned to be true: reality will always bleed through inauthenticity no matter what one does to try to keep it at bay.
As I was finishing up my breakfast, contemplating if we had enough in our savings to move to Disney World (‘cause I sure do love me some uber-cleanliness, super efficiency, eternal happiness, a crime-free world, and a white-washed existence where a ghetto never existed), I heard a knock at my hotel room door. When I opened it, there stood a tiny slip of a skeletal man in a 1900’s waiter’s costume. He had come to remove my breakfast dishes and decided that I was the person he was going to unload his political conspiracies upon. (You know the kind of people who spend most of their waking hours listening to Rush Limbaugh, or worse, so that when they run into someone who doesn’t fit their ideology (a.k.a moi), they seem to come slowly unglued at the seams when you simply say, “hello”?) You could tell by the guy’s unsolicited rhetoric that if I didn’t get him out of my room in the next two seconds, I was going to have to hit him over the head with the Mickey Mouse lamp and drag him out by his feet before he offended the royal hell out of me. (Walt Disney must have been turning over in his grave because this sucker was so “off brand.”) When I couldn’t get him to stop “slamming my peeps” and the unfair quota system he thought we’d been afforded in everything from the White House to the TSA, I ushered him toward the door as fast as I could and shoved his Rush Limbaugh ass out the room with one hand and slammed and bolted my hotel door with the other. As I moved one of the chairs underneath the door knob, I looked out my window at the pristine waterfront and said: “Well, Walt, ‘The Truman Show’ is over; I am fully awake now, and your ‘perfect’ world has a crack in it.”
Savvy eight-year-old kid’s remark to her mother who was in front of me while disembarking the Star Tours ride: “Why is it that every time we get off one of these rides there is a store we have to walk through just to get out of the place? What’s up with that Mom?”
“I’ll never forget when we were all fighting for a twenty-five cent raise; it came over the papers that Eisner made a $43 million bonus. And we were fighting for a quarter.” — Unidentified Disney employee, quoted in Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World by Susan Willis
“Only thing I remember was me and Pluto (with the head taken off) sharing a cigarette by the dumpster during our break. We were both so miserable that we smoked our sorrows away.”
(Anonymous Disney employee from Anaheim, CA) Working at Disney—Review by Employees/Jobitorial
Associated Press Headline: Disney town of Celebration records second violent death in a week — Police investigate gunman’s death in Florida town of Celebration just days after its first ever murder.
In the midst of my musings about resisting being “played” by something that is not authentic but is orchestrated to appear so, I got my first hate mail on Facebook about my blog post “Don’t Quote Me — But I Think Jesus Is Pissed.” The hater was insinuating that I was an inauthentic Christian because she despised my blog post confronting some of my Christian peeps who speak in the “name of Jesus” but act as if they are Satan’s little helpers (embracing bigotry, hatred, mayhem and lies, and lusting after the Benjamins, shielding pedophiles, or selling their birthrights to neo-Conservative politicians). I affectionately dubbed her the HSRCHL woman (humorless, self-righteous, Conservative, hater-lady). At the time of her FB assault, I didn’t have a clue who she was (isn’t it funny how people assume they mean more to you than they do and that this gives them the right to get all in your business?), which means, she obviously didn’t know me well, if at all, and had never been a friend of mine.
The FB conversation went something like this:
- HSRCHL: “I have come to you on behalf of the reputation of Jesus, and I’ve got a bone to pick with you. When I knew you 26 years ago you were really something. You were beautiful, uber-religious, a role-model to me, and a real credit to Jesus’ name. What happened to you? Do you still love Jesus, the precious one? The Eleanor I knew would never lower herself to foul language or make coarse jokes. And to make matters worse: you’re not even funny!” You were my idol and I had you on a pedestal. Well, I’ve certainly kicked you off that pedestal, that’s for sure! What happened to your life? You probably won’t respond to my criticism, but maybe you’ll learn something by reading what I have to say.”
- The Hated One: “Excuse me, who the fuck are you? I didn’t “go anywhere.” If you had been in contact with me “at least once” over the past 26 years, you would know I am more in love with Jesus than I have ever been, and that I’m a lot more mature today about the subject of who God is than I was when we apparently knew each other. I have simply grown in unconditional love and grace for those who can’t see God because of Christians whose self-righteousness and cruelty have caused them great harm. I have to be authentically me, and I’ve shed everything that doesn’t support that authenticity! I appreciate your concern regarding my humor. But since Jesus is the boss of me, I can only do what I feel he has given me freedom to do. I realize that this does not fit into what you thought you knew about me. I haven’t changed. I would suggest that you only knew what I allowed you to know about me because I couldn’t trust you with the “entirety” of who I am in the setting where you met me. (I daresay your response then probably wouldn’t have been any more accepting then it is now.) I wish you all the best, HSRCHL. Please, please don’t follow my blog because it reveals the good, the bad, and the ugly of who I am, and in the words of Jack Nicholson from A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth!” It would simply blow your mind, HSRCHL, Baby!
I am discovering that to be authentic one has to show what lives above the surface and what resides below. It is okay for Disney to create a world that is just fantasy above the surface, just so long as we never forget that it is only fantasy and never mistake it for real life. But it is downright sinful for us to demand that our fellowman be other than authentic. Authenticity is what makes us human—this is what makes us real. It doesn’t mean we have the right to become entrenched where we are, but it does mean that if we are to grow and be grace and mercy to those who are hurting or struggling on this planet, we can’t strut around with rods up our asses. We can’t be holier than thou, self-righteous, or duplicitous in our presentation of ourselves. I’m also discovering that others (mostly people who don’t really know us) will try to define us by their own limitations and cultural and spiritual biases. We must fight this with all of our might and look for the grace that counteracts those lies about us.
As is always the case with “grace,” it snuck in from a place I least expected it. I received a lovely note from a blogger in Australia by the name of Karyn within two hours of the HSRCHL’s FB note. She is a successful freelance writer, copy writer, and blogger, and a person whose blog I’ve come to really enjoy. She cited me for a “Flamingo Award” for “building community with your comments.” But it was her sweet one-line tribute to me that really brought tears to my eyes: I nominate “Eleanor, from How The Hell Did I End Up Here?—The kind of woman I hope to be when I’m a little older. Fun, energetic, full of fascinating stories and gorgeous!” Attach this to the 99% of responders who wrote to tell me that they were touched and moved by the authenticity of my blog and me, and I was able to pick myself up, flush the self-righteous biotch’s words down the toilet, and sing “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-yeh; my-oh-my-what-a-wonderful-day. . .” as I skipped through the rest of my Disney vacation.
The Author: I am who I am
“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” ―May Sarton
“Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.” ―Mother Theresa
This above all:
To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
~ Hamlet, Shakespeare
All text and photos by Eleanor and John Tomczyk copyrighted © 2011 except where otherwise noted
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