It's a Sunday evening, and we're driving home from Orlando, Fla., where we have taken our son Robby and his friend Erik for a special birthday weekend of fantasy and fun and hurling money at random around the Official Walt "You WILL Have Fun" Disney Magical World of Theme Kingdoms and Resort Complex.
We're taking what the American Automobile Association has designated as the "scenic route" back to Miami, through south-central Florida, a region that used to cater primarily to frogs but has in recent years sprouted dozens of "adult" (which we used to call "retired person") communities with names like Belle Harbour Vista Manour Downes Estates Centre West II, consisting of what we used to call "trailers," and later we called "mobile homes," and still later we called "manufactured houses." I don't know what we call them now. Probably something like "countrie townehome villas," as in: "Hey Ed! Lester's cow knocked over your countrie townehome villa again!"
We've been driving for three, maybe eight hours. In the back seat, the boys have finished writing on their forearms with Official Walt Disney World souvenir felt-tipped markers, and are now passing the time with a little game they have invented with their soaring childhood imaginations: spitting on each other.
This little game of saliva tennis is clearly audible in the front seat, but Beth and I, the Parental Authority Figures, say nothing. We are both thinking the same thing: At least they are taking turns. That is how low we have sunk on this car trip. We frankly would not mind if they were back there shooting a high-powered rifle out the window, as long as they shared it. But, of course, they wouldn't.
"No fair!" Robby would shout. "Erik got three shots and I only got two but he won't give me back the rifle!" And Erik would say, "But Robby hit the farmer and I didn't hit anybody!" And Robby would say, "You did too! You hit the policeman!" And Erik would say, "Only his hat!" And finally one of us Authority Figures would whirl around and snap, "If you can't share the rifle, we're going to take it away and then NOBODY WILL BE ABLE TO SHOOT ANYBODY."
We always get irritable like this when we return to harsh reality after a couple of days in Walt "You Are Having Some Fun Now, Yes?" Disney Resort and World and Compound, a place where your dreams really do come true, if you dream about having people wearing enormous cartoon-animal heads come around to your restaurant table and act whimsical and refuse to go away until you laugh with delight. This happens to you constantly at Disney World. I think it's part of a corporate discipline program for Disney executives. ("Johnson, your department is over budget again. You know what that means." "No! Please!" "Yes! Into the Goofy suit!")
We saw a lot of Goofy. Every time we sat down to eat, there he would be, acting whimsical. It got so that Robby and Erik, busily playing with their action figures, hardly even noticed him.
"Look, boys!" we would say, food dribbling down our chins. "Here comes Goofy! Again!"
Robby, not even looking up, would thrust one of his figures toward Erik and say: "This guy sends out a laser beam that can MELT YOUR EYEBALLS."
"Oh yeah?" Erik would say. "Well THIS guy makes a noise like, mmmmmmPAAAAAH!, that goes in through your ears and EXPLODES YOUR WHOLE HEAD."
Meanwhile, right behind them, encased in a heavy costume, this poor person, probably the executive vice president for group sales, would be writhing around, trying desperately to fulfill the boys' innocent childhood fantasies. Finally we grown-ups would have to let him off the hook. "Ha ha, Goofy!" we would say, speaking directly into the salt shaker, which is where we figured the microphone had been hidden by the Walt Disney World Whimsy Police. "You sure are causing us to laugh with delight!"
Don't get me wrong. I like Disney World. The restrooms are clean enough for neurosurgery, and the employes say things like "Howdy folks!" and actually seem to MEAN it. You wonder: Where do they get these people? My guess: 1952. I think old Walt realized, way back then, that there would eventually be a shortage of cheerful people, so he put all the residents of southwestern Nebraska into a giant freezer with a huge picture of Jiminy Cricket on the outside, and the corporation has been thawing them out as needed ever since.
Whatever the secret is, it works, and I urge you all to visit Disney World several dozen times. Afterward, I recommend that you drive down to Miami on the "scenic route," although if you notice two boys, ages 6 and 7, standing on the side of the road spitting at each other, my advice is not to pick them up.