A lot of grown-ups go to Disneyland without kids. I am not one of them. In my days as a singleton and in my days married-without-kids, if you gave me 300 dollars and six hours to spend as I liked, Anaheim and the Happiest Place On Earth would not enter the picture, not even a little.
I am called an annoying Pollyanna even by people who otherwise like me, but even so, I’ve never been a great fan of amusement parks, water parks, bowling alleys, carnivals, parades, raves, concerts, cruises, hootenannies, the city of Las Vegas, or any other gathering with no other purpose other than enforced merriment. I excuse the existence of quiet bars because I like a smart cocktail, and loud clubs because I like dancing, but my attitude has been to Hell with the rest of you. And you can take Christmas with you.
Like I said, I recognize that I’m not in the majority on this. At Disneyland, they even have Gay Days. I don’t know exactly how it works, but, apparently, if you’re gay and go there during the gay days, it’s like a G-rated Pride – as charmless as that sounds. The fact that a sizable group of us wanted to fight for our right to go to Disneyland and hold hands and go steady even when we can go to a club in West Hollywood and have an orgy speaks to me of the primal level that the Disney magic works on.
So, I get it. I’m like the jerk who doesn’t like chocolate or It’s a Wonderful Life. If you’re with me, you call me unsentimental; if you’re against me, you call me heartless. I’m fine either way.
And then, like they say, you have kids. As you might’ve heard, things change.
My friends Susan and Lee, I suspect, would get an annual pass and go to Disneyland twice a month even if they didn’t have a kid. But they do, and their son is one of our son’s best friends. Susan and Lee make their own beer and cheese, so we have our kind of eating and drinking fun while the kids play. But two years ago they began pushing the boundaries of our friendship in a sick and perverted way, suggesting we go to Disneyland together. I pointed out that our son, Mikey, at barely two-years-old, was too young, and besides, I’d rather stab my testicles with a fork. They gently pushed and prodded and waterboarded, and finally, we relented.
It was the fall of 2010. I remember the moment we got off Highway 5, when I said to Mikey, “Look, there’s Disneyland.”
He vomited. It had been a long car trip. We changed him into his one spare shirt, and rolled him out to Downtown Disney where we met up with Susan, Lee, and Lucas. Mikey seemed to be feeling better, and we realized he probably needed something caloric to replace what he had vomited, so we bought him a Smoothie. I don’t remember what kind, except it was red. Obviously, you know what happened: He dropped it on his spare shirt.
Fortunately, Walt Disney foresaw this and made sure that you could buy a T-shirt every four feet in his happiest of all happy lands.
In the end, Mikey had a great time, though he seemed bewildered and bemused by much of it. We are far from the kind of parents who protect their child from the glow of the television screen or struggle to keep him from owning toys, clothing, and music licensed by major corporations. But, back then, Mikey didn’t know who the vast majority of the costumed characters were wandering around the park with their too-big heads and unblinking eyes. He didn’t know they were cultural icons: dwarves, princesses, and lion kings. He just knew they terrified him.
Still, Susan and Lee made sure we experienced Disneyland with the benefit of their expertise. It was like the difference between visiting a foreign capitol on your own, or with a friend who lives there and knows the language and customs. They could show us how to use the Fastpass system to avoid the longest lines, and why Disney’s California Adventure Park is the place to be, with the best rides for the under-5s and places that sell wine for the over-21s. Thanks to them, even I had a better time than I expected to have, though I wasn’t exactly dying to go back. I hadn’t lost my mind.
I did end up going back twice the following year, but not with my kid. Fate, with its usual strange sense of humor, plopped me into a job working for the Mouse for the next 12 months, and the two teams I worked for built their camaraderie by attending events in the middle of the week at Disneyland. It was with my co-workers, not my family, that I first shared the Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s A Small World After All. My curmudgeonly attitude toward Mickey and all his pals, which had begun to fade, affirmed.
Mikey, meanwhile, hadn’t mentioned Disneyland at all. He wasn’t shy in suggesting that we go to the zoo, the aquarium, the farm, out for sushi, in for fried chicken, to the beach, to Grandma and Grandpa’s, or any other location he had visited and remembered fondly. We took him to England and France last year, and we loved it when he worked his adventures there into conversations, discussing the next time he’d go to Paris to eat snails.
Over the last six months, though, Disneyland has rudely intruded into the conversation. When we’re playing cars together in the living room, and I ask where we’re racing to, I don’t get France or even the ice cream store, I get Disneyland. When we’re watching a nature program on TV, and the narrator asks where penguins live, Mikey hollers at the screen, “Disneyland!”
It’s preschool’s fault. As kids socialize, they begin to share their obsessions. Just like the kid who comes to school on Monday squealing about his birthday party and makes all the others wonder when their birthday is coming, so all the kids chattering about how much they love Disneyland makes the others start salivating at the thought of it as well.
This brings me to a few weeks ago, when I’m at the local mid-price grocery store and I see a stand advertising two-day “park hopper” passes to Disneyland and California Adventure, for 50 dollars less than retail. I look at the details, which include the provision they must be used by the beginning of June. I call Ian, and my trip to the store for bananas, Diet Coke, and mustard ends up costing another $350.
And that was just the beginning. Next week: the skeptic returns to the Happiest Land.