The Reluctant Mouseketeer

Ambivalence over visiting the happiest place on Earth

We slide the Disney World vacation-planning DVD into the iMac. My kid and I watch over my husband's shoulder as a diverse group of people talk about their dreams amid the flitterings of Tinker Bell. "I grew up wanting to be Cinderella," says a skinny blond chick. 

"I grew up wanting to change my name to Moose," I say.

Then a pasty man in a uniform tells us, "There's just so much to experience."

I push pause. "Honey," I say, "take a good look at him."

"Why?" says my kid.

"Because that's what a flesh-eating vampire looks like."

The video gives way to happy children running toward an open-armed Mickey. Twirling princesses, not-so-menacing pirates, affable "cast members" and a sea of dazzled faces all aim to verify that dreams really do come true.

"It's like a death sentence," I say, then lower my voice. "Ms. O'Brien, we're sorry to inform you that you only have about six months until you go to Disney." My husband responds with The Look. I sigh, stand with resignation and totter off to the garage for a beer. (It was December. This is Cleveland. Where else would the Budweiser be?)

As the Days Until Disney dwindle, my dread and trepidation mount. All too soon, I am pried from my computer, dragged clawing backward through the house and muscled into the backseat of the car. I'm on my way to five days and four nights of Mouseketeer fun. "The horror, the horror," I lament as we pull out of the drive. One thousand miles later, we reach the acres of desolate Florida grassland that buffer the land of the Mouse from the rest of the world. It's like a penal colony, I think, you can't even run away. I am taken at once to a place called Hollywood Studios.

"Rock 'n' Roller Coaster!" cheers my enthusiastic party.

OK, fine. We take a turn at the giant "Sorcerer's Hat," hurry down "Sunset Boulevard" and bustle past the menacing "Tower of Terror." Our frantic dash concludes at the line for the coaster, the corral for which is housed in a cavernous dusky-rose structure. Unseen speakers pump out Aerosmith's "Pink."

To my chagrin, something I never expected wells up in me: respect. My first bona fide Disney experience has me slowly penetrating a giant vagina with none other than sex-king Steven Tyler providing the soundtrack. "Pink as the bing on your cherry …"

Soon enough, a blast of icy AC heralds the interior part of the line. More Tyler and flashing lights. We pass through a door fashioned from abacus-style beadwork. I run my fingertips along its inviting surface, as does everyone else - vrrrrrrrt. We spill out onto the loading deck and the ride is finally visible. And when your humble author - whose childhood was punctuated by her father's mandate to watch every Indianapolis 500, Can-Am race and Grand Prix - sees a roller coaster tram take off from a dead stop to 60 mph in less than three seconds, she does exactly what her father would have done.

"Holy SHIT!" I bellow.

A family clad in identical "Donahue Disney 2008" shirts turns to see who just plopped a turd in the community punch bowl. I cast my eyes down apologetically as the bovine-like queue moves thankfully toward the blasting trams.

I am on my way.

Let's go again and wait! Space Mountain and the Haunted Mansion. Sure, I'll have giant turkey leg. Get a Mickey-shaped Dove bar while you're at it, baby. Splashing in a turquoise pool. Yeah, that's my face spreading into a dopey smile as fireworks explode above Cinderella's castle.

It is a small world, after all.

"Let's do the Kilimanjaro Safari!" Expedition Everest, DinoLand U.S.A.; Finding Nemo and Africa; Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and Tomorrowland. I throw open my arms and run through the glorious sugar-spun delusion as though I'm filming the montage sequence for my very own Erin Does Disney documentary. We spend our last day at Epcot. What could be inside the giant dimpled ball? "Spaceship Earth," says one of my compatriots. "It's a ride."

If the Rock 'n' Roller coaster was an unapologetic ejaculation, this is a gentle swim through amniotic waters. My daughter and I float along in the Omnimover car. We swoop past the Prehistoric Man, twirl around the Islamic Empire and glide by the Renaissance. Then all goes dark, save points of twinkling light above; call them stars. I gaze up and reach out, giggling in delight.

All too soon, the stars fade. The Industrial Revolution and animatronic Phoenician merchants diminish into memory. We are delivered unto the blazing afternoon sun. Within hours, we are on our way home.

I push my forehead against the car window and watch Disney, in all of its seamless perfection, recede into Neverland. Back in Ohio we'll relish the last of the summer's sublime sweet corn as the ice and snow of winter loom. In my house of wood and brick, I'll fall into the dimensionless splendor of my husband's bed while time chips away at the asphalt roof and the concrete drive. Then, in my simple wonderland of contrast, I'll turn to my right and weep tears of joy over my daughter's laughter; I'll turn to my left and weep tears of sorrow over my father's grave.

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