Childhood = 100 Years Ago

To All Who Come To This Happy Place… Aaaarrrggh!

NOTE – While I am offline writing fiction and ignoring my blog, I’ve decided to post a few pieces that 99% of you have never read.

Originally published by Forces Of Geek


Perhaps I’d been serenaded “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” once too often while still in the womb or maybe it was the steady diet of Donald Duck brand orange juice made with fruit concentrate that did it to me. Whatever the root cause, I was raised with an inherent love of all things Disney. To my sister and me, Disney cartoons and films were seen as the embodiment of all things good, they conveyed a world where things were safe, where good things happened to good people and where solutions to most of our problems were just a Sherman brothers song away. I believed that the Disney magic was real. Real, that is, until… that one day.

What happened that day, you ask?

A sobering reality that haunts me to this day–that’s what happened.

Let us journey, boys and girls, back to a not-so-magical land called… Anaheim.

“Oh look. Anaheim has people dress up as foliage. How quaint!”

That particular morning, my adorable self had woken up with an enthusiasm unmatched since I’d learned how to change the channels on the television all by myself. This was a banner day for the toddler me because this was the day I was finally being taken to Disneyland for the very “firsted time.” Sure, I’d been there many times in my dreams, dreams where I’m greeted as I enter the gate by characters waving, employees applauding, someone giving me a ticket for free ice cream while another hands me a gigantic corn dog (and, no, I don’t think it’s necessary to analyze the ‘gigantic corn dog.’ I was a little kid!), but never in real life.

This was it, after weeks of anticipation (two weeks = four and a half years in kid time), after making a much-weighed wardrobe choice (Mickey ears, oversized Mickey t-shirt and brown pants with bright red pockets. Yeah, I’d say I made the right decision) and wondering what to say to Mickey when I finally got to meet him (creative from an early age, I had toyed with ‘Hello’ and even ‘Howdy’, but decided instead to go with ‘Hi.’ Clever, eh?), I was going to be stepping through the turnstiles and into another world. Little me–along with my grandma, my mom and my sister–was going to finally see where Mickey lived. Wow!

As we arrived in the parking lot, I was blown away. Metal signs with pictures of characters designated portions of the parking lot! Indeed, the magic had already begun. Despite my wanting to park in the Donald lot, row E, we were relegated to Goofy, row B. Aw, but I didn’t care. I could see the gates! I could see the flowers that grew to form Mickey’s face! I could hear the train! Oh boy!

Summer 1961-pkg
DISNEYLAND TIP #32: If you want to leave your fire-starting, telekinetic, hell spawn of a child in the car, please leave the window down.

I prodded everyone to move faster (they were sooooo slow!), we had to make it to the gate, like, five minutes ago! Don’t worry about your purse, Grandma, you don’t need those pills! No, I don’t wanna bring a sweater! Who cares if you locked the car or not, we can do it later! Fine, bring the stupid sweater! I used the bathroom already!

Once inside the gate and standing on Main Street, my grandma told us of a surprise she had planned. It seemed that a friend of hers worked at Disneyland (no, no, that wasn’t the surprise) and had arranged for us to go backstage to meet a character one-on-one. Wow, a real life cartoon character face to face! What would I say to them? What would they say to me? What if they didn’t like me? Would my mom let them spank me with their gigantic hands? Sure, they wore gloves but that probably made it hurt worse! Then again, what if they liked me? Better yet, what if they loved me? Would they let me spend the night? Could I actually be adopted out to Mickey on my first trip to Disneyland?!

As these and other equally plausible scenarios played out in my head, my grandma’s friend met us and led us through a ‘Cast Members Only’ gate located near a candy store (ooohhh…), a souvenir shop (aaahhh…) and rented lockers (wooowww…).

“There’s Goofy punching out for the day and talking about finishing his manifesto and completing his kill list. Wow-w-w-w-w!”

Leaning down, the woman said to me, “Now, if you wait right here, I think I might be able to persuade Minnie Mouse to come over and talk to you. How does that sound, hmm?”

I began wondering if it would be alright to say, “Thanks, but…” and instead make a request of whom I’d like to meet, to actually have some say in the matter and not just have any animated passerby thrown my way. After a few moments, I nodded agreeably, but only after a nudge in the back from my mom’s thumb.

I watched the woman walk away. At first, it was just someone walking away, but, once I saw where she had gone, I watched with a mixture of horror and disenchantment. Beneath an overhang stood a row of dressing tables with light bulb-ed mirrors and wooden stools. On the wall behind these tables were a series of shelves and on these shelves were…heads. Giant plastic, disembodied heads of Mickey, Pluto, Donald, oh dear God, everybody I knew and loved was smiling down at me, bright-eyed and lifeless, from atop a shelf. Then, as though a strung out Cesar Romero were directing my Disneyland adventure, things got even worse.

Behind the scenes at The Country Bear Decapitated Jamboree. Yee-haw!

Wearing a pair familiar black shoes, black tights and a readily recognizable yellow dress, approached an unfamiliar blond woman…a woman who was putting on the head of Minnie Mouse! Who was this woman? Where was the real Minnie? Was it all a bad dream like when my skin turns to chocolate, but then I fall in the dirt, so can’t eat any of it? Were my grandma and my mother going to remove their heads, too? What about my childhood would crumble next? Would I never learn how to levitate just by holding my breath? Would my dreams of becoming the first werewolf astronaut never be realized?

“Ohhh, look, Michael,” my mother said sweetly, “Minnie Mouse is coming to see you.”

I wanted to scream out that it wasn’t really Minnie, that it was some lady pretending to be Minnie, that the real Minnie isn’t made of plastic…but nothing came out, no reaction that was visible to anyone else.

Minnie Mouse, of course, acted happy to see us all. She curtsied, she mimed the hand-to-mouth gesture of joy at meeting my family and, upon hearing it was my first visit, she even gave me a hug. We all posed for a photograph (guess which of us wasn’t smiling) and then, with a wave ‘bye-bye’, Minnie left us to parade her false identity up and down the streets of Disneyland to the appreciation of other soon-to-be disillusioned kids. I asked my mom if it was time to go home. “Go home?” she asked. “We’ve only been here for 12 minutes.”

grumble incoherently… stupid Minnie… grumble… freakin’ head gone… grumble… just go home… grumble… I don’t care… grumble… step in front of the Monorail… grumble.”

So there, for reference in your college thesis or critical debate, the length of time before your innocent childhood beliefs are shattered in a single moment by unsuspecting, but well-meaning, adults is 12 minutes.

Within moments of my backstage run-in, I set my shock aside and learned to have a zippadee-doo-dah time. As I encountered other characters throughout the day, I let each of them know that I knew they were just pretending, that they were really just people that work behind that big gate where my grandma’s friend works. And when I finally got to meet Mickey Mouse, I didn’t say what I had planned. No, when I finally got to meet Mickey, all I could think to say was, “You’re just a real person in there,” to which he mimed the hand-to-mouth surprise, the default reaction by all mute characters I soon realized. Still, I couldn’t help myself and so posed for a picture with Mickey.

Today, the pictures show me gradually adopting a bigger and bigger smile as the day went on, each one more and more sincere than the previous, each moment a better understanding of the fantasy (the “pretendedness”) that was Disneyland.

“I got this for you, Minnie. It’s heart of a small child.”
“Gimme, gimme! I can’t wait to dash it to pieces!”

So, yeah, on par with maybe the guest who’d inadvertently met Walt Disney while rounding a corner on Main Street, I was also able to claim that my first trip to Disneyland was also one of distinction: I had witnessed the re-capitation of a beloved, but previously decapitated, character.

30 thoughts on “To All Who Come To This Happy Place… Aaaarrrggh!”

  1. I had to read this before I went to bed, but as I was reading my eyes grew big like this O_O…the horror you went through! I can’t really recall what I did when I realized that the characters weren’t real. I think I blocked it from my mind. Whenever I see the princesses in a Disney commercial. I still look at them and go like “YOU don’t look like the real Belle. Rude.”

    Wish you lots of luck with writing!

    *waves, waves, waves* 🙂


  2. Those red pocketed pants were quite a fashion statement. Some years ago I did the math on when I was conceived. It was in the motel across the street when my parents visited the Magic Kingdom on a summer vacation in 1958. When I was hatched the following spring, I was a born Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies fan. Disney was just too saccharine to me, even when I was a youngster. When my parents took me to Disneyland, I would be fantasizing about going down Bug’s rabbit hole when I was supposed to be blown away by the kitchen in Mickey’s house or something like that (my memory of the place is pretty foggy after all these years). And I was never a fan of the people walking around dressed as the characters. When one would approach me, I’d recoil behind the nearest available parent — whether or not the person was one of my own. I had a very “enough already” attitude about that theme park even at age four. My niece, on the other hand, could not get enough of the place. It appears the cynicism gene skipped a generation.


    1. I would love to go to Disneyland with you. You rolling your eyes at everything, me pointing enthusiastically at this and that. Ha.

      I will never ever (ever) do the math to discover my conception. I am happy in the assumption that it was immaculate.


  3. Went to Disneyland when I was a teen, didn’t really pay attention to anything.
    Went to Disneyworld for the first time as an adult, and as soon as I saw epcot, I turned into a little kid.
    I think I barfed on Goofy’s leg, then ran around screaaming for four hours.

    Good times…


    1. I have never been to Disneyworld, but it is a destination I desperately want to go to. The original concept for Epcot was actually pretty interesting, as an actual community with its own central commerce system, neighborhoods, etc.


  4. Bitter Lessons On Goofy

    Despite my enjoyment at reading this, I am a little saddened by Calahito’s premature coming-of-age at Disneyland. When i was a kid, Disneyland was a special place–and I BELIEVED. Later, the magic wore off. In college I dated a girl who worked at the park and who pointed out all the hidden cameras in Pirates of the Carribean. We had a lot of friends who worked at the park and could get us in for free (the park used to be much more liberal about that). We’d get loaded and while away the afternoon on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

    Some of the magic has come back now that I have kids of my own.


    1. While I don’t have kids, it was a lot of fun to go with my nephews. Seeing it through the eyes of a child was wonderful.

      Were any of the hidden cameras really well hidden or were they obvious once they were pointed out?


  5. I’m sorry to read about the destruction of your childhood, Michael. I too witnessed a decapitated Disney character, but it wasn’t until I wasn’t until I was 22, at DisneyWorld. I died a little that day.


  6. This makes my heart cry. Children shouldn’t witness such horrific things. You were at such an impressionable, tender young age. Did your parents at least get you a hooker afterwards to make you feel better?

    I did the “behind the scenes” tour once, and had the pleasure of seeing the chick playing Cinderella hike up her skirt, light up a cigarette, and say to some other “cast member”, “Sweet Jesus, what a day.” Fortunately I was in my 30s at the time so I wasn’t traumatized. I kind of wanted to go up to her and ask her how the fuck she managed to seem to cheery when it was 9000 degrees outside.


    1. My parents made me swear to never talk about it again, either in person or in print. Since writing this piece, I have been dodging subpoenas from Calahan Foundation attorney, Gerald L. Papadock Esq.


  7. You were forced to grow up too fast!!! Joe and I are going to Disney the first week of November. I’ll probably still get excited about the people in character suits.

    I think if my skin turned to chocolate, I’d still eat it if I fell in the dirt. That made me laugh out loud, by the way.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing your horrifying memory with us.


    1. Are you going to Disneyland or Disneyworld?

      You should get excited about the characters, Nicole. It’s a place for fun and nothing is fun like suspending disbelief and just enjoying the moment. Unless, of course, you run into the guy dressed like Tarzan. He used to be a good-looking shirtless dude, but now he wears a fake muscular torso. Also, Tarzan sucked, so you shouldn’t perpetuate its existence any further.


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