Folks have been predictably misty-eyed lately over the outpouring of support for Karen Klein, the 68-year old bus monitor who was taunted by 7th grade boys in Greece, New York. Within a week, more than half a million dollars was raised from outraged and sympathetic well-wishers who wanted to “send this woman on a vacation,” and the total money amount continues to climb. Anderson Cooper reports that Southwest Airlines will foot the bill for Klein and nine of her friends and/or family members to enjoy a 3-day trip to Disneyland. Klein is also talking about finally being able to consider retirement.

(a distorted memory)

Disney sign

Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy-the magical portals to the Magic Kingdom.

“This was the American dream, a prayer for the future. But that golden goal was not to be had without cost. The American Way was not gained in a day. It was born in adversity, forged out of conflict.”

Conflict?

Let me tell you about conflict. It’s watching two of the Seven Dwarves kicking the shit out of each other in costume in one of “backstage areas” and hearing one rant, “You gave me herpes!”

Conflict is on one of your days off thinking it would be very funny to drop a hit of acid with your craziest friend and toodle around the park as if you were a civilian…only to find yourself peaking on the “It’s a Small World” ride, which gets stuck, while the song keeps playing over and over, the animatronic dolls representing all the cultures of the world, squeaking, “It’s a small world after all, it’s a small world after all…” while the world does indeed get smaller as the drug comes on harder, a pregnant claustrophobic woman begins to sob, children become dangerously excited-and your lunatic friend rises and begins singing the song at the top of his voice.

Mr. ToadWe were very fortunate not to have been taken away in a net on that one-and when you get expelled from the Magic Kingdom, before you find yourself in lock-up in downtown Anaheim, you get a special debriefing by park security behind closed doors, a prospect that was considerably more hallucinogenic than I could cope with. (The prospect of what this would entail today in our orange alert War on Terror warmed climate doesn’t bear thinking of.)

Remarkably, we escaped the small world and beyond a minor incident on Mr. Toad’s Wild Road (where I found it necessary to physically restrain my friend Steve), I was able to return to my normal duties two days later, although “normal” was always a relative term in the Magical Kingdom.

I worked as a “Cast Member” captaining the Amazon Belle on the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland…and here verbatim is the spiel (which we were taught to refer to as “the preset narrative”) that I’d recite. After you’ve delivered this little speech three times you begin to get the disturbing impression that you’ve been turned into an animatronic character yourself.

Here we go deep into a tropical rainforest. Yeah, it rains 365 days a year here. Over on the other side there’s old Smiley, one of my favorite jungle residents-and also one of the craziest crocs in these parts, folks. Nobody’s seen him move for over thirty years. What a croc!

Hippo

And that there is a Bengal Tiger folks. He weighs over 500 pounds and can jump up to 25 feet from a dead standstill. Oh, look at this, the little headhunters! Watch out folks! And beautiful Schweitzer Falls. Named after that famous African explorer, Dr. Albert Falls. Oh, oh a huge African Bull Elephant. For those of you with short memories, that there is a huge African Bull Elephant.

Hang on now. Hippos! Got to scare them off. Cover your ears. We’re back in headhunter country now. Not a good place to be headed. Those are spears-and those are poison arrows. If any of them hit you folks, you throw them right on back-you’re not allowed to keep any souvenirs. Now let me take this opportunity to point out some of the rare tropical foliage to you. There’s some. And there’s some more over there.

And there’s old Trader Sam, the head trader for the area, folks, but business has been shrinking a little lately. He’s got a special deal going-two of his heads for just one of yours. And folks, you don’t wanna miss this. This might be your only opportunity to see a rare African mallard. Oh, what do you know, we’re returning to civilization. This could well be the most dangerous part of our journey. You have to careful. Not all the animals are in the jungle. Ha, ha.

Yes, this was the American dream, a prayer for the future. Where the Matterhorn rises over Frontierland next to the Enchanted Tiki village. Now a thrilling adventure cruise through dark mysterious caverns where dead men tell no tales. Clear the decks lad! Remember, The American Way was not gained in a day. It was born in adversity and forged out of conflict. Strike your colors you bloomin’ cockroaches! By thunder!

(That bit about the mallard was my improv by the way. You couldn’t always count on the ducks being in position to have them written into the script. Funny about that.)

“We’re designed for worship.”

I’d heard it before, somewhere. People all giddy and into their sports teams like zealots at a witch burning. Or a stadium of screaming people in Kabul watching the Taliban blow heads off women.

Pastor Josh shakes hands like he’s one of the bros. It’s sometimes a bump. Other times there might be three or four parts to the process, followed by another bump. His paw is thick. He says, “dude” every two sentences like Hugo on “Lost.”

I feel like I’m at a sports bar and not church.

This is a mostly white church. I leave my dual ethnicity at the door. Actions are tempered. Not many people raise their hands like they even want to touch the feet of God. Me included. I’m usually too pissed off to raise my hands, or too torn up inside to even sing along. I don’t play games. I’m just one of the infirmed and I know this.

There’s indie rock on the stage. It’s all bass and drums. I go complain to Josh because he’s in the sound booth next to Nathan, who should be on stage shredding. Another shredder is missing. That would be my son Landen who is busy pushing carts at FoodsCo. I want the distortion. I want to feel like I’m about to watch Korn, U2, or the moment Wilco’s Nels Kline freaks on “Impossible Germany.”

“I’m four rows back and I can’t hear the violin,” I complain.

I don’t know if Nathan cares and I still can’t hear the shredding fiddler. I’m pissed. I get up and walk out of the church service.

Later I read Nathan’s Tweet: “Where’d you go?”

I scoot out the side door, walk into the daylight and head for the only security I know. It’s a bench over by the main building.

The main building is circular. It oddly resembles Space Mountain, which makes me think that Disney’s designers wanted one of their most popular rides to touch the cosmic alliance between science and a fancy American worship center. “We’ll make it look like a church. It’ll be our most holy of rides.” Until the Indiana Jones temple ride comes along.

“Ah, mom,” I say at the bench as if it could sprout a head of grey hair and some old freckled legs. I want its wooden slats to form a mouth and talk to me. I don’t even sit. I just stare down at it.

“I am so proud of your boys,” the bench says.

I wander into the main building. Some guy eyes me like I’m a jerk. I sit in the back row. All the children are missing. Everywhere there’s a suit, a head of grey hair, or some old floppy hat on a hairdo that looks like the twists of a vanilla soft serve cone.

A church choir sings hymns as if stale bread is good for the people. I start to touch a hymnal. I probably picked it up before. When my kids were babies. The books looked old then.

I wonder how long it will be before the rock band service becomes mainstream and takes over the Space Mountain sanctuary. I think about my twenty-year-old son, Jordan. He’s the fiddler. I’m missing him perform as I sit listening to the dying service. Even Space Mountain gets old. I get up and slip past the man who eyes me again.

Soon I’m outside. The hymns drift away as fast as they came. I pass the bench where my mom sat twelve years ago, dying on a Sunday morning. I imagine the ambulance sirens tearing along Victor Street. Somewhere during that day her chest got ripped open. She died.

I don’t care if I can’t hear my kid playing the violin. I hurry back to The Great Room. I sit in the back and eagerly listen to a song. Jordan’s fiddle bow is an apostle’s staff swinging along a horizon of strings. A few moments later, Pastor Josh talks about his favorite show, “Lost.” Then he mentions eating a hot dog outside of a closed Wrigley Field.

“The idol factory has started up in our hearts,” he says as I see images of factory smoke belching across the skies.