In honor Small World Order Day, Disneyland provided each child with a black cardboard placard-pendant in the familiar shape of a Disney character’s head. Each child’s home town was writ large on the front in phosphorescent chartreuse with the parent or responsible adult’s name on the back. The entrance fee was 75 percent off and a huge crowd was expected so that Security wanted bar codes and portable scanners to keep track of lost kids, but Publicity objected; they felt it lacked the personal touch. That was the end of the bar code proposal because the Disney personal touch is sacred. And of course P comes before S, so both alphabetically and practically, Publicity ruled.
It was a cool morning and we hadn’t seen “It’s a Small World VII” the last time, so joined that line first.
My son was a Pluto Venice Beach and my daughter a Minnie. Venice Beach, too, of course. Things didn’t look so bad. There were only about 200 people back from the covered part of the line. I felt sure we’d be in the shade before long even though we were still so far from the front that I couldn’t hear the Small World music. Music? Speaking relatively. Since I wasn’t sure it was the right line I asked the Donald Brooklin’s adult in front of me, in my most cheerful voice.
“Hi! I’m Don Nocere.” He turned his head slightly but not his trunk. “Do you know if this is the Small World line?”
“How should I know, I’m from the East. We don’t do this kind of line thing there. My curiosity got the better of my reason. ”
I turned to the Belle Bogota’s lady behind me and asked again, but she looked puzzled, and fired off some machinegun Spanish. I couldn’t tell if she was angry or trying to be helpful. At last she looked down at the Belle herself, who said:
“She don’ know.”
Well, no one in voice range was actually sure. I got on top of a bench to look and still couldn’t tell. Finally the Minnie Minneapolis’ mother, two places back, went to look. Her brother was with her and would watch the Minnie. Curiously, they hugged and kissed and looked teary-eyed, like she was going on a long trip. As it turned out, they were right. In about 20 minutes the Minnie’s uncle asked to take Minnie to the bathroom; would I save his place? The Huey Stockholm behind her seemed OK with that. Life goes on, even in line.
People began to interact, usually with tolerance, sometimes with humor, occasionally with irritation. Mickey San Jose’s man (there were quite a few Mickeys and Minnies) was constantly on a cell phone, and he wasn’t the only e.type; soon we could overhear stock trading, game playing and even hushed tones of phone sex. We inched along at times, and at others seemed to stagnate. People in adjacent rows sometimes became quite involved with one another, and as the line snaked back and forth tried to maintain contact. An Aladdin agreed to move back, so as not to be separated from a Snow White. People from Brazil moved to be with their countrymen. Communities formed.
There were problems, too. Some people, probably strangers unaccustomed to lines, became restless, and complained to an attendant, who reassured them that the park would stay open until all in line had completed the ride. By nightfall the management brought out cots and bedding. In their opinion, they said, this was the line for ‘It’s a Small World VII’. We were advised that by using a charge card we could rent laptops with movie CDs. Of course, they were all Disney, but one has to admire genius for organization and the human touch.
At 11 pm the Minnie Minneapolis had still not returned. Her brother was worried. Some felt we should send out a search party, others that it was too risky. A Somethingorother Sacramento insisted loudly:
“What the hell, when she comes back, we’ll have to send somebody else out to search for the searchers. I say wait. She’s got a sign on!” Everyone started speaking at once. “If she was your own sister, you’d not say that!”
“We still don’t know if this is the right line! They only said they thought we were in the right line.”
“I say we need to get organized here.”
The California locals were dominant of course, and had much experience with both Disney and lines. They controlled the resulting Committee, and elected as Chair a Mickey San Jose. A lot of other Mickeys voted for him too. They acted like their Mickey sign made them upper class. The Committee issued numbers so we could go and come without losing place in line – to the bathroom, or to get food, whatever. In time the Committee grew unreasonably because it was necessary to make it reflect the diversity of color, sex, age, weight, height, language, income quartile, hair color, and so on. So the committee selected a Supreme Administrative Council, SAC, made up of a Mogli Mexicali, a Flower Singapore, a Lion King LA, a Moulan SanDiego, and a Minnie… Auckland, I think, I can’t recall her last name.
In the second week a big fight broke out between a Louie Portland and a Dopey Miami. Both had been drinking and Louie accused Dopy of using a racial slur, Obamacare. People joined the argument, leading to shouting, shoving, cussing, bird flipping and Jerry Springer finger whipping. Finally Disney Security appeared and Dopey and Louie were thrown out.
The SAC allowed adults to let their children stay with other adults, provided they were of the same type: That is, for example a Hewey with a Louie or a Daisy but not an Alladin. It was deemed as abusive to allow a Porky to care for a Belle , as it would be to for a child of color to be adopted by a white, even though in both cases no one could reasonably say why. After that big row, the council named a Sergeant at Arms; a Pittsburgh Little Mermaid who was a defensive lineman for the Steelers.
Disney management took care of the trash, but other services were lacking, and only gradually became available, as provided by entrepreneurs in the line: like clothes washing, tent rentals, sundry sales and psychological counseling. I was in danger of having to provide medical services after my son let it out that I was Doctor Don Nocere; but I pretended to be a pathologist, and was deferred from the doctor draft. Someone confessed to being a pediatrician, typically the most community minded of all physicians.
Religious services of various traditional or opportunistic stripes began to be held regularly. Pocahontas Beirut set up a tent massage parlor, but some folks found the presence, or should I say the noises, irritating. The SAC resolved that crisis by taxing the massage artists- owners and moving the business tent to some distance, where the operation could be better ‘regulated’. Naturally the SAC members spent a lot of time there. Alcohol, bookmaking, money changing, banking, and drug trade were not allowed by Disney, and were therefore hugely popular and profitable.
We never heard from Minnie Minneapolis again. Her memorial service, after she had been gone for six months, was moving. We set a little cross with a Madonna by the Women’s Rest Room flower bed, next to two other little shrines. In the Fall, Snow White and Aladdin were married; she was obviously pregnant. To most people’s distress they were not of the same character, like both being from the same Disney movie or cartoon. That sort of miscegenation was originally revolting, but we gradually got over it. It goes to show you that society can change, grow. To a point. It was unproven but widely known that a Shia’s Alice Manhattan daughter was stoned to death one night after consorting with a Sleepy Stockton boy.
Yet violence was quite rare. People adjusted to Line Life, which often seemed more orderly, less uncertain, more predictable than elsewhere. Life took on a rhythm, an ordered and civil certainty. Not everyone was happy of course, but overall, life went on as well as possible. under the circumstances.
No one seemed to suspect it might end one day. That happened suddenly, as unannounced as an earthquake. We reached the string of Small World boats. My cell phone became perceptibly heavier and hotter in its holster, as though insisting I activate it. The plastic voice of a Disney Gabriel sounded:
“As you board, please move to the end of your row. Remain seated and keep your arms inside. Have a Safe Ride, and a Good Day.” We were herded with strangers from unknown regions of the line into those dreary little plastic boats, like cattle loaded for slaughter. The song now seemed ridiculous, mocking, cloying. ‘It’s a world of Laughter, A world of Peace’… I became physically ill and vomited into the crystal clear chemical blue moat.
I missed my friends, the daily activities we shared, like the Japanese classes where I was beginning to learn some of the characters. The worst for me is that I lost my best friend, Don Brookline, the guy in line ahead us, the very same Easterner who was rather stiff and unfriendly at first. He was an ornithologist, and held regular classes on birding. I wanted desperately to go back and get in line again, on the remote chance we could find one another. But i realized that even if we did it would never be the same. The soothing Small World lyrics and music that used to wash over me like soft surf became a mockery, an ominous, insupportable, cynical curse. then Gabriel spoke again.
“Please be careful as you step from the boat. Have a nice day, and we hope you will come back to Disneyland and our Small World soon! ”
Not me. My world had ended.