believe… in holiday magic

I often suffer from the holiday blues. Seasonal affective disorder, that’s what doctors say. They give me pills, I give myself a bottle and between the two, it all works out until January. Which could be why I was craving a happy (and sober) Thanksgiving this year. A wagon ride, if you will.

But it never feels like a sacrifice. Disneyland always seemed to be something that altered my mood naturally. I wish to not parade the images of young children giving Mickey hugs and riding Dumbo with their parents; I am not trying to spout off park map and guidebook lore. But it is a place you are completely submerged in without any power over anything. You will never see another building from anywhere in the park. You will never see a plane or a helicopter overhead. It’s completely closed off, almost like a piece of the world that’s been set aside for later. The last cookie in the cookie jar.

It’s probably the only place that I can escape to, when I feel overwhelmed by my adult life, with truly trivial problems that are slung over my back like wet laundry. It’s the only place where I can feel like my problems are inconsequential, or at the very least, unimportant enough to feel fine about forgetting them for a few days. It was a way to escape my own cynical personality, granting me the spirit I often believe I lack. These reasons were exactly why my holiday had been planned this way.

I walked through the gate with a peaceful smile on my face, regardless of how many people were in front of, behind me, and at my sides. The towering Christmas tree was one of the first things I spotted, beautifully decorated and lit at the beginning of Main Street. A chill ran through me as I remembered Johnny’s hand, soft on the small of my back, watching the tree lighting ceremony for the very first time so many years ago.


My stomach grumbled as I walked slowly through the crowds to gaze at the Christmas decorations, so perfectly and uniformly placed throughout Main Street. I passed Blue Ribbon bakery, forgoing its rich coffee and delicate pastries, then Coke Corner, where Johnny and I used to sit and watch Rod Miller play ragtime jazz on an old piano. My pace quickened as I got toward the hub of the park, the center which offshoots into the different lands. I headed straight to Tomorrowland for a Space Mountain FastPass, a ticket granting passage to a shorter line at a later time.

Soon enough, I was enjoying my simple but favorite breakfast in the park; bacon, eggs and potatoes at the River Belle Terrace, a spot right in the middle of New Orleans Square, Frontierland and Adventureland. I sat at a table right up against the fence, overlooking the Rivers of America. I drank a cup of coffee and watched people start to fill the streets like tiny ants. I felt small there; on the whole it was true, one person at Disneyland meant little to the people who ran it. It was sixty-six dollars, a meal, a soda. If they were lucky, it was Mickey ears. But together we made an empire, a pyramid of purists, believers, and suckers.

Just like a holiday.

Pirates of the Caribbean was quite close to River Belle, so that was my logical first choice for riding. I got in line, excited about the ride yet cynical about the changes there had been since I had last ridden. There was a little boy behind me that kept stepping on the back of my shoes and apologizing. He had the slightest bit of a lisp so I kept talking to him, trying not to giggle. It was the first time he had ever been there, and he was really excited. I talked to him about the parade and the fireworks and the snow, and his eyes lit up at my description. “Wait till I tell my Daddy!” he said, balling his little fists up, doing a dance.

His parents showed up a few minutes later, armed with lemon ice from a cart just a little down the way. For November, the weather was pretty impressive, even for Southern California. It was barely 10:30 and I already needed my sunglasses. The little boy got all flustered talking to them about what I had told them and they started asking me questions about the times of things and such. They had never been there before either; were from Canada and just wanted to bring their son somewhere fun for the holiday. I gave them the skinny on things just in time before we were separated and I ended up being the single rider on a boat way before I was anywhere close to the front of the line. I waved to the little nameless boy as I walked away, ecstatic that it was quite possible that I had helped mold his trip.

God knows I wish someone had told my parents the way to do things here properly back when I was just a youngun. I remember hardly being able to get much done back then, us all hunched over a park map, trying to plan our day and ending up always at the end of the parade, barely missing the show, waiting in line for hours. I’m sure I didn’t mind not seeing everything then, but as I got older, I hungered for more. I thought of Johnny and the itinerary he wrote for our big trip in 2001. I smiled, remembering the yellowing paper, the messy drawings of routes and the computer print that was running out, becoming multicolored.

For a moment I thought of Drew, and our impending date that weekend. Wondered what I would wear, and what I might purchase for him for his belated birthday. Something from the park? I had originally imagined so but at the moment couldn’t think of anything non-commercial enough so that he wouldn’t smirk at it. I tried to picture him in a Disneyland hooded sweatshirt, smiling dopily at me, trying to dodge my camera. He was kind of a villain; perhaps he would enjoy something of the darker variety. Of course he would, I knew that; but then again, I don’t like to encourage that side of him, although it exists with or without my encouragement.

I broke out of that thought process and made my way through the park to other favorites like the Haunted Mansion, which unfortunately was already in holiday mode. I enjoy the ride both ways, but it is much more satisfying to see the ghosts and ghouls of the original attraction rather than all the Nighmare Before Christmas garb. I utilized my single rider status at Splash Mountain before November inevitably made itself known, definitely the smarter idea, since I was wringing my jeans out upon my departure. I eventually conquered the right track of the Matterhorn, always a favorite, releasing my seatbelt upon hitting the water, the way Johnny taught me, the only way.

And eventually after rounding my way back to Tomorrowland, I had a (pricy!) chicken sandwich on the Terrace before using my FastPass for Space Mountain, which has to be my all-time favorite Disney attraction and as always, did not disappoint. As I whizzed through the starlit darkness, however, I thought of Dick Dale and his soundtrack that had been abandoned since the reconstruction of the ride. I thought of Frankie and Annette in Beach Party, dancing to his riffs; I thought of shaking his sweaty hand at the Cactus Club back in high school, playing upside down, playing backwards, winking, singing “Fever.” I thought of the leather jacket I used to wear and the boy who couldn’t kiss who owned it.

As the day progressed into evening, I took some photos, drank some more coffee and basically just did the tourist thing. It had been a long day, and an even longer drive so I decided to leave just before the fireworks so I could save them for the next day, and be fully rested for the Thanksgiving festivities. I would see the parade, the fireworks, and stay an hour later than the rest of the park, shopping and lingering on Main Street like Johnny and I used to. Then I would drive home and get as much sleep as I could before my shift at the bar.

Happy Thanksgiving to me.

It was cold in the morning and I wore my peacoat and a scarf to fight the frost. While I walked from my divey little hotel room to the park (only about a ten minute feat), I called my mother to wish her a very happy thanksgiving and to tell her I loved her. I knew she would be up at such an ungodly hour, preparing the turkey, watching the parade in her pajamas. She might have even been enjoying a hot toddy. I could have used one of them then, my fingertips like icicles. I thought of holding Johnny’s hand, Drew’s hand, Vincent’s hand. I remembered my (then) tiny hand in my father’s.

I would call him later, when I knew he would be awake. I would bring him back rock candy and cherry sours, his favorite indulgences when we would visit. I knew he hadn’t been in years and it made me smile to think of his reaction upon the treats in his palm.

I was singing most of the day. I think the Main Street carolers inspired me, all decked out in red and green, in perfect harmony. I wondered about working there, querying if a job there was more worth bragging about, or something to be embarrassed about. Johnny once said it was all college kids, either dancers or drama fiends so that for them, it was worth bragging about but for anyone else, probably not. But I had always wanted to be Mary Poppins.

It was a pretty crazy day but I had it in its entirety to do as I pleased. And that was my absolute intention.

I leisurely walked the grounds, visited the Tiki Room, sipped on a Dole Whip float and sang along with the birds and the flowers. A handsome boy, with dark skin and eyes, sat in a back booth next to me, made eyes, sang with me. Toward the end of the show, he reached for my palm. We walked out, hand in hand, and talked for a few minutes in Adventureland. He had a thick British accent, chiseled arms and leather sandals. I breathed in his aroma, thick and full-bodied, cocoa butter and peppermint.

I assured him that I would be in front of It’s a Small World for the fireworks and he told me he would find me. I said that would be nice, and was rewarded with a soft moist kiss on my forehead. I, of course, knew that I was going to be on Main Street for the fireworks. I waved goodbye to him, smiling. Perhaps there were still nice boys left in the world.

I was set on an early dinner but got caught in a perfect spot for watching the holiday parade. My camera was misbehaving but I got a good shot of the marching toy soldiers, and a few of the signs I liked most, lit up in all its holiday madness. I spotted the little boy again, high on his father’s shoulders, clapping. They had listened. I didn’t care if the little boy forgot all about me, but I wanted him to remember this moment.


I slipped out soon thereafter into the line wrapping around the Plaza Inn. I could smell the turkey and mashed potatoes, and having eaten nothing but the float at the Tiki Room, my mouth had begun to water and my tummy was rumbling. I spoke to a nice old couple who were celebrating their anniversary, two that had met at Disneyland thirty years ago. I thought of the dark-skinned boy that had tried so hard to make my acquaintance. I thought of the two perhaps sharing coffee on Johnny’s porch. Maybe it had been their porch as well.

I ate slowly, deliberately, savoring the gravy and the lights that surrounded me. I called my dad. He had been drinking and I couldn’t make out everything he said, but I know that he said that he loved and missed me and that Thanksgiving wasn’t the same without me and Mom. I told him I wasn’t with Mom either, that I did it all myself this year. I hadn’t chosen sides; I had completely separated myself. He was crying. I told him I would bring him back rock candy and cherry sours and that I loved him. He hung up on me. I finished my dinner and journeyed through Frontierland. There were still a few things I had to do before I left.

The captain beamed at me when I knocked upon the glass. He was a slightly older gentleman, probably in his mid forties, with pearly white teeth. He opened the side door and helped me up the stairs up to the wheelhouse. I signed the register and he let me have at the wheel. I knew I wasn’t really driving the Mark Twain, but he made for decent company and I got to ring the bells and sound the whistles at the appropriate times. He asked me why I was alone on the holiday.

“Because I feel like it,” I said. We didn’t say much else after that; he gave me my certificate and I exited with a polite ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ between us.

It was growing late. The fireworks would soon be upon us. I bought some Christmas mittens off of a cart and headed back to Main Street. While I was walking back through Frontierland, my phone began to ring. I looked down at my cell phone. Drew. I thought about not answering but then decided that would be rather cruel. He seemed a little drunk.

“Happy gobble gobble!”

“Hello, Drew. Happy thanksgiving.”

“Whatcha doin?”

“Heading over to see the fireworks.”

“That sounds badass.”

“How’d your dinner turn out?”

“Oh you know. Perfect.” He chuckled, hinting at a different answer.

I smiled. Same old Drew. We spoke for another minute or so before I politely ended the conversation. I heard the voice over the intercom explaining it was five minutes till the fireworks. I found a spot in the crowd to stand, toward the end of Main Street, a little further down than Coke Corner.

Before I knew it the fireworks were at their finale, music and fire filling the sky. I turned around like I used to, to look up into Johnny’s wet face, wondering what plagued him besides our mutual monstrosities. He would mouth ‘I love you’ and I would bite my lip and grin, as snow would softly start drifting through the air, falling on us.

It was like slow motion, only no Johnny this time. I turned around and walked back down toward the start of Main Street in the snow, letting the crowds flow against me, past me, like an angry river, the tides insistently heading toward their destination.

I marched on, getting closer to home and farther away from my memories by the footstep. It was time to retreat. It was too easy to get lost there.


3 Responses to “believe… in holiday magic”

  1. 1 nope
    December 5, 2007 at 2:57 am

    you win.

    you are my hero

  2. December 5, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    Thank you. I haven’t been to Disneyland, and it’s been years since I was at Disney World, and never on the holidays. Reading your description of the day was nice, despite the more wistful memories of perhaps happier times.

    So thank you, because today is a cold one with sleet and chill winds, but now I’m smiling and warm. I’m sure the boy would thank you as well, were he to stumble here somehow and recognize the tale.

    You are a good person.

  3. December 18, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    Hey you! Write!

    /poke with stick

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