When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Tinny and distorted, the song blared from an array of speakers strung above the street. I covered my ears. A big blue bear stopped in front of me. It began nodding its head from side to side, in time to the music. I began to wonder if someone had slipped a tab of acid into my morning coffee. Andre stepped off the sidewalk and gave the bear a hug, causing it to place a finger in its mouth. The bear then skipped off down Main Street USA. Shortly after, Cinderella came into view. I leered at her from behind my dark shades.
We’d been in Disneyland for two hours already and it was now mid morning. Sue and Andre were loving it, especially Andre, who declared that he wanted to emigrate and become a citizen of Disneyland, ‘where everything is always nice’. Hmm, maybe the warm weather was effecting him, as he appeared to be perfectly serious. Andre’s grip on reality had always been a bit loose and at times he became lost in his own internal landscape – always a problem when you have an out of work actor as a travelling companion.
For my part, I was totally pissed-off with it all. Have you ever been surrounded by thousands of noisy, obnoxious, spoilt brats on a hot summer’s day? If you have then maybe you can sympathise; and worse still, there was nowhere you could buy a drink. The whole goddamn place was dry. During our time in Disneyland my two companions dragged me around Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Adventureland. I would perhaps have been a bit happier if there had been a Boozeland, where my Disney dollars could buy me a strong shot to calm my ravaged nerves.
By the time we got to Main Street USA I was not a very happy Englishman. That year was the 50th birthday of a certain black rodent, and I was coming round to thinking that it might have been better for all concerned if Rentakill had been invited to the party. To mark the anniversary there were lots of special events going on, the highlight being a big parade down Main Street. Due to the rodent’s birthday the theme park was even more crowded than usual.
MAMMY, MAMMY, MAMMY! GIMME, GIMME, GIMME! The noise created by the repulsive brats gave me a pounding headache. It was all becoming too much. Murderous thoughts started entering my mind. I pinched my nose and shook my head. Then I sat down on the sidewalk curb and watched the parade go by.
“Hey, look, Johnny, JOHNNY, there’s Mickey. THERE’S MICKEY. Yeah, son, there’s that ole mouse, here he comes, HERE HE COMES.” The bozo American tourists were even louder than their obnoxious children.
A big black mouse, its body all out of proportion, bounced past us. It looked like some kind of radioactive mutant. Cameras clicked and whirred. The noise reached a crescendo.
“Hello Mickey! Hello Mickey!” Andre jumped up and down and waved his arms. Mickey returned the wave. I didn’t wave back.
“I’ve had enough of this,” I told Sue and Andre, “I’m going to sit somewhere quiet. There’s a picnic spot by the Haunted House. I’ll meet you there after the parade.” I made to walk away and heard Sue and Andre laughing loudly.
“Your bum!” screamed Sue, through fits of laughter.
I turned and looked at my reflection in the window of Davy Crockett’s Souvenir Shoppe. Chewing gum was smeared across my backside. I wore white trousers and the gum was the kind of wedge that only Americans chew. One of the little brats had deposited it on the sidewalk and I’d sat on it. To make matters worse it was brown coloured gum. As I walked away I looked like someone who’d had an involuntary bowel movement. Perhaps it was all the excitement of the parade.
With everyone watching Mickey’s 50th birthday parade the picnic spot was deserted. Early afternoon had arrived. The temperature hung in the high 80s. I sat at a table beneath a cluster of low trees. I put my head in my arms and waited for the headache to recede. For the first time that day I had some peace and quiet. It didn’t last long. I felt someone prodding my shoulder and looked up to find Goofy standing next to me.
“Get lost you son of a bitch,” I growled. The advice went unheeded. Goofy tipped his head to one side, then whirled around the picnic area, pretending to be an aeroplane. After a while, realising the lack of response, Goofy slumped down opposite me at the table.
There are rumours that the people who dress-up in these Disney costumes use drugs, and who can blame them? Having to put up with all those obnoxious brats, having to be nice all the time, having to be continuously childish, it must all put a tremendous strain on the soul. On top of this, during the warmer months the heat inside those costumes is mind bending. It is not unusual in the summer to see Donald or Mickey moving around with faltering steps. Sometimes they’ll even stagger and fall to the ground. When this happens their co-workers quickly hustle them away and they are replaced by a ‘new’ Donald or Mickey. The attrition rate is high. Most of the costumed cartoon characters in Disneyland are out of work actors (almost everyone you meet in LA is an out of work actor). I don’t envy them. I wouldn’t do their job for the world.
Sue and Andre appeared an hour later. By that time I had recovered somewhat. Goofy still lay slumped across the picnic table, totally inert. However, with the big parade over, a torrent of screaming brats were following on the heels of Sue and Andre. Hearing the noise, Goofy stirred himself, then went out to meet the brats like a condemned man walking to the firing squad. His place at the table was taken by my two companions.
“It was such a lovely parade,” said Andre, doing an impression of Snow White, “it’s all so nice, so nice…” He moved in slow motion, his eyes wide and moist.
That became the nub of the problem. Disneyland was like an island of pleasantness in a nasty sea, the nasty sea being the mean streets of Los Angeles. We had our first taste of Los Angeles the evening before, when we hit the freeways during the rush hour; this, after a 650 mile drive down from San Francisco. The LA freeways were both interesting and frightening. Concrete arteries carrying metallic blood. We got pulled over by traffic cops. It still seemed strange to see police carrying guns. We probably caught the cop’s attention because we were driving so well. With a twenty dollar ticket for something or other we continued driving through the biggest urban sprawl in the world, heading south into Orange County and Anaheim, where some long lost relatives were giving us a bed for the night. Disneyland also lived in Anaheim. As part of the continuous celebrations marking Mr Mouse’s 50th birthday, fireworks were being let off into the sky. This only added to the trippy feel of the freeways.
Due to commitements back in San Francisco, and because we wanted to take in Las Vegas as well, there could only be one full day in Los Angeles. The next morning we were up early to make the most of it. Disneyland became our first port of call.
“Look, it’s just before three now,” I said, as we sat on a jungle boat in deepest, darkest Africa, “we’ve still got time to take a look at Venice Beach.” Plastic crocodiles were closing in from all sides. “Howabout Hollywood Boulevard? The Getty Center? The Museum of Art?” But Andre wanted to take a ride on the submarine in Futureland, and Sue wanted to see the Magic Castle. The mean streets would have to wait.
By this time the endless round of theme rides had begun to make me ill. I did not join Sue and Andre and the screaming brats on the Underwater Fantasy, or the cable car ride up to the Magic Mountain. Instead, I found a peaceful location on the other side of the Magic Mountain, where I spent my time drinking coffee and chain-smoking cigarettes. It felt wonderful not to be pestered by radioactive mutants forcing me to be happy. As always in Disneyland, it didn’t last long. I was half way through my third cup of coffee when suddenly a pavilion came up out of the ground. There were four chipmunks standing on it. The chipmunks began playing acid rock music at full volume whilst singing in high-pitched, wavery voices. Of course, all the little brats rushed over to see what was going on. My peaceful oasis was engulfed in noise and chaos. Was there no escape? I got round to wondering what the suicide rate was in Disneyland. There must have been loads of adults who cracked under the strain.
“I’ve just met the seven dwarfs,” he said, still in Snow White mode. “There was Dopey, Smiley, Grumpy…” In a slow, affected manner he went through the whole seven dwarfs with childish precision, carefully relating the idiosyncrasies of each of these smaller radioactive mutants. I knew at that point that Andre was beyond help. The pleasant world of Disneyland had become his reality.
Sue joined us and I was pleased to see that she was now beginning to wilt under the constant pressure to be childish and happy.
“Mickey’s invited me to a special birthday party,” continued Andre, now obviously on another planet as his eyes went wide with the wonder of it all. “Minnie will be there, as well as Donald and Pluto. We’ll have such a nice time and it only costs fifty Disney dollars.”
From the look Sue gave me I could see that she was finally on my side.
“I’m going back to the car park,” I said. “If you don’t get him out of here within one hour I’m leaving without you.”
Sue nodded. She now had sixty minutes to ease Andre back down to reality. I did not envy her.
The car parks at Disneyland are huge. In fact, they are bigger than the theme park itself. A train on rubber wheels ferries people between the acres of parking lots to the ‘International Arrivals Gate Of Fantasyland’. I boarded the train and couldn’t help noticing that it was driven by a large green dog.
“Enjoy yourself, man?” it said.
“Absolutely hated it,” I replied.
The green dog laughed.
“Don’t blame you, it’s hell in the summer. God, I’m sweating; wish I could relax somewhere in the shade with a cold beer.”
It was the first sensible conversation I’d had for almost eight hours.
Darkness began to descend on LA. I had to wait in our car for forty five minutes before Sue and Snow White turned up. Snow White appeared to be having problems now that he was back in the real world.
“… but Tinkerbell was going to show me her magic lantern,” Andre still moved with slow, dream-like movements, “and Sneezy has such a terrible cold.” His wide, round eyes began to focus on us.
I was a bit angry.
“Sneezy has probably been snorting cocaine,” I said, “and Tinkerbell’s turning tricks down at the marine base.” Andre looked at me with utter horror as I continued. “Now get in the car and let’s get back to Realityland.”
Totally stunned, Andre allowed himself to be guided into the car by Sue and we drove off into the warm Californian night.
I had a lousy time in Disneyland, but I think Mickey enjoyed his 50th birthday. I can’t say I liked or disliked Los Angeles because I never really saw it; although I have a sneaking suspicion that we wouldn’t have got on. As for Andre, the last time I saw him he was still trying to obtain Disneyland citizenship.
From When I Went Out One Summer’s Morn, Rob Godfrey’s memoir of 20 years of travels, available as both an ebook and a paperback from Amazon or Smashwords – note: Smashwords offers a wide range of ebook formats, including Kindle and PDF.