The only thing I had to do before we left town was file the taxes. Went to the office at 9:05; nobody home. The sign said they’d open at nine. Drove around. No luck. They finally showed up around 9:30, but that was okay; we still had time. I like to leave for the airport two hours before the flight time, because I’d rather lounge around at the gate than run like a panicked madman through the airport. Seems wise.

Went home, checked the flight to see if it was on time. Huh - it had landed. That’s when I realized that I had it all wrong. I’d confused the departure time in my head somehow, thanks to that damnable :55 mark - it belongs to the hour to come, but claims false residence in the hour it closes. The plane left at 11:55.

It was 11.

We were out of the house in a minute. We were down the block before the garage door closed. We were on the highway before I realized I hadn’t locked the garage tunnel door. Or set the alarm.

I hadn’t seen the door go down.

It went down, I told myself. I went down. Call the neighbor when you get to your destination.

Checked the boarding pass once more, and for some stupid reason my eyes looked at the departure time and cold-cocked my brain: 12:55. See that? You thought it was 11:55. Well, it’s not. See? Chill. What? No, I didn’t see the door go down.

Thus relieved that we would make our flight, we relaxed. Boarded, found our seats; I put on the headphones and listened to a white-noise program. The setting that seemed the most calming was called “Airplane.” The absurdity of wearing noise-reducing headphones to block out the airplane noise so I could hear prerecorded airplane noise seemed wonderfully modern, and a perfect tribute to our destination. But I switched to babbling brook.

Four hours later: Ahhh.

 


Long-time readers of the Bleat may be stunned to learn that we went to Disneyworld. Yes, again. It only seems like we go there every six weeks because we had two trips last year, and the second was a use-it-or-lose-it event. Usually it’s spring break. Why not? The kid loves it, I love it, my wife loves it, and it’s hot. We bought into a sliver of a vacation club, which gives us the illusion of ownership. Not exactly an illusion - there are taxes to pay, which nowadays is your first and only clue that you own something. But the resort is lovely.

This year’s stay revealed felt different, and reminded me I was in a splendid funk last time. Things weren’t right. Things seemed off. Last October. What was going on? Oh, right: the foundations of Western Capitalism were dissolving beneath our feet, revealing the essential unreality behind pleasure plots like this one. Well, things have firmed up a bit more, although that says more about how we adapt to uncertainty. I didn’t feel more penurious this time; didn’t pinch any more pennies than usual. But that’s because I cannot be any cheaper or more miserly here than before.

They’re out for every dollar, and you must resist. I will not give the Mouse nine dollars for a basket of chicken nuggets. I just won’t. I will not spent $3.29 on a corn dog - unless I’m really hungry, and it’s lunch - and then I’ll take them for all the free ketchup I can. Most of all I will not spent money on soda. This may sound pathetic or penny-wise, depending on your view, but we brought a bottle of water, which I refilled and flavored with those handy little packets of instant sugar-free lemonade. Went through four of them. Saved $15.00! Hah! You may have extracted seven dollars for a corporate-logo-shaped waffle this morning, but I won the fluid-replenishing skirmish.

The first night, as usual, we went to Downtown Disney. Not to eat! No, we picked hot dogs out of the trash before we set out. The only objectives were Goofy’s Kitchen and the World of Disney store, but we wandered into the curiously named Pleasure Island. The name’s taken from the horrid hell-party in Pinocchio, where small truant boys are encouraged to smoke cigars and drink beer and play pool, after which they are turned into donkeys and sold into industrial slavery. But I’m sure there’s Monstro’s Lair at the water park somewhere, too. At the gift shop I completed my collection of Mickey’s Coffee mugs - I use the Goofy one on the set of NewsBreak, and that’s no accident - and Natalie got a Club Penguin plushie. Having made several trips, my sense of amazement over the endless branding ingenuity and package design has dimmed a bit, but I’m still finding things that stand out. This is just unnerving:


 

The next day began with the standard full-throttle Loathing of Everyone Else, which can be had for free at the food court. The point seems to be this: give everyone a nice hot plate of food then make them stand in line until it is cold. Then they open up another line, and encourage all the people from the end of the line to go to the head of the new one. But it was a good fortifying meal - the Bounty Plate is aptly named. Off to Animal Kingdom.

Hadn’t been here before. It’s the most low-key of the Disney branded parks; Mickey et al are almost entirely absent, replaced by a few characters from “The Lion King.” The meticulously crafted signage is replaced by meticulously amateurish signs, just like you found in the 3rd world in 1957. Even the official signs have suffered from the relentless assault of the elements:

Look closely:

I’m sure this justifies the loathing some have for all things Disney. Fake! It’s all fake! Yes. Except for the real parts, which have been arranged with great artifice. Much like a theatrical production, and if you’re the sort who cannot stand to watch a play because you know the family is eating stage food and the walls are really painted wood, then you should stay home and surround yourself with verified authentic objects. Of course it’s a set. The issue is whether it’s well done, and having grown up with Wall Drug and Reptile Gardens, yes, it’s well done. Every building has great chunks of plaster missing, and everything needs paint. As fauxcheture, it’s good, genially seedy, post-colonial.

The buildings are overwhelmed by all the foliage - it’s lush and beautiful, and even though you know every plant was placed according to plan, it looks like mad feral overgrown nature compared to the precision of the other parts.

First stop: the safari. You ride trucks around the savannah. Proper trucks, too, not rides-on-a-rail. You see a lot of beasts. Perhaps there are cast members behind the scenes constantly goading the beasts out on the stage - er, the plains - with hoodors and Tazers, but I doubt it. There are also apes, which I can’t stand. I wanted to see hairy things lumbering around with a look of brute suspicion, I’d go to the Jersey shore.

Giraffes!

 

But this is but one wildlife preserve. There’s also a ruined palace where tigers dwell. It’s overgrown and deserted, its desolate grandeur a reminder that all things pass, all crumbles to dust, and is eventually recreated for people with cameras and fanny packs:

 

 

 

One kid asked a friend if all this was real, and his friend replied with the particular style of venomous sarcasm only a teen can deliver: yes, Brian, there was an Indian ruin in the middle of Florida, and they just happened to build a theme park around it.

Brian probably thought I mean did they bring it over from India, but thought better of saying anything.

 

By now it was late in they day. You could stroll into a ride instead of queue in the blistering sun. We visited the evocatively named "Dinosaur," a motion-and-effects ride that drops you back in time right before the king-hell meteor hits.Yes, tens of millions of years to explore the world of the giant lizards, and they manage to dump you off at 2:57 PM, Friday, August 26. 10 million BC. You race through a dark undefined space with few visual cues, no way to tell where you are or where you’re bound; the car bucks up and down and sideways with neck-snapping force, and periodically you are beset by gigantic robot dinosaurs that would make a 4 year old dissolve in a puddle of urine and tears. It’s great. Unfortunately, we had to wait a long time before getting in, because some kid dropped his backpack, and they had to empty all the cars and “cycle the ride” to get the lost bag. The family that had lost the bag was made to stand in a corner on display to all while we waited. At first people had sympathy. After 15 minutes a few families started to break strollers into parts and build a set of stocks.

Also saw a 3D movie about the difficulties faced by computer-generated, self-aware anthropomorphic insects. Good fun, with the usual gusts of water and air and various ooky sensations. I made a note: when home, check the big Disney guidebook for negative reviews of "Dinosaur" and "It's Tough to be a Bug." The book prints letters from parents who judge the rides; the hardy ones whose off-spring have mettle in their marrow give the scary, intense rides high marks; then there letters from mothers whose children have not stopped crying seven months later because a giant dinosaur came out of nowhere. Look: if there's no Pooh involved, there's a height requrement, and a list of warnings that advise people with heart conditions to stay off, then there's a chance your three-year old may not like it. (Later the book revealed that the 3D "Tough to Be a Bug" ride was, for some, slightly more intense than the IMAX version of “3D Texas Chainsaw Gangrape Chainsaw Bloodbath Starring Your Parents.” I quote:

"The storyline was nebulous and difficult to follow - all they were aware of was the torture of sitting in a darkened theater being overrun with bugs. Total chaos, the likes of which I’ve never experienced, was breaking out around us . A constant stream of parents headed to the exit with terrorized children. Those that were left behind were screaming and crying as well. The 11-year old refused to talk for 20 minutes after the fiasco."

Mind you, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but what I love about every negative letter in the Unofficial Guide is the outraged tone: you didn’t warn me that my child wouldn’t like it.

Dinner in that gawdawful nightmare, the Rainforest Cafe, where rote overpriced food is served along with constant din of a monkey having a tree branch jammed up his fundament. Back to the room, and into bed, exhausted - except for me, who stayed up to write this. And then to sleep.

Before I dropped off, I thought: call the neighbor tomorrow. Oh, nevermind. The door went down.

If you call the neighbor and he says it's up, it's too late; you've already been looted.

If he says it's down, then they put it down after looting the place/

SHUT UP BRAIN. The door went down.