(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.”


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!


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.)

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KRIS SAKNUSSEMM is a writer, painter and musical producer. He is the author of the international cult novels Zanesville and Private Midnight. Random House is bringing out his third novel in the USA in March 2011, and a new book called Reverend America has just been completed and is already being sold in Europe. A Fellow at the MacDowell Colony, he has won First Prize in the Boston Review and River Styx Short Fiction Contests, and received the Fiction Collective 2 Award for Innovative Writing, in addition to publishing in a wide range of places such as Playboy, Nerve.com, Opium Magazine, The Missouri Review, The Hudson Review, The Antioch Review, New Letters, Prairie Schooner and ZYZZYVA, amongst many others. You can find more about him on his Facebook Page.

17 responses to “Sentenced to Disneyland”

  1. dwoz says:

    I wasn’t quite sure about you until this post. Now it’s confirmed.


    No question.

  2. Caleb Powell says:

    Man, seems like you chose to go to Disneyland. A couple years ago my pregnant wife bribed/coerced me to go with our two daughters. It was one of the few times I’ve ever contemplated suicide.

  3. Kris Saknussemm says:

    Belly of the beast. I went looking for the Main Nerve. Look for me somewhere b/w Frontierland and Tomorrowland.

  4. Mike says:

    You’ve NO idea how close to home you’ve hit!

  5. seb doubinsky says:

    “And the Mickey Mouses boiled in their tanks”…

  6. Kris Saknussemm says:

    Sex and death in Disneyland is a fascinating topic. Also famous collisions.

    When I was a kid I had a little nap on one of the benches just before the 1972 Rose Bowl–I was there with my sis, her husband to be and the Stanford band. Wayne Newton was there with his family–apparently–he got sidetracked and fell over my bench (kids get tired, it had been a long drive and a big day). I came awake with Wayne Newton in my face. On my face. The Stanford Marching Band was playing beside a pseudo steamboat and here was this guy on top of me. But he was cool. He asked me my name. Who asks kids their name?

    Years later, in 1993, having been out of the country for years, I went to Vegas and on a whim sent his publicist a note. I got back a note saying that a lobster dinner was waiting for me and a guest. I don’t care if he’s not a great singer–he’s a stand-up guy. The memo back repeated my little family trained line…Kris with a K.

    Anything that happens in Disneyland is important. Sam Cooke was the first black person to be offered private access–which was revoked by personal memo from J.Edgar Hoover to Walt.

    And people fall on you and wake you up. The Happiest Place on Earth.

  7. Irene Zion says:

    I’m curious. When did this happen?
    How old were you at the time?
    I have to place it in my mind.

  8. Kris Saknussemm says:

    11 when Wayne stumbled. I had a root beer float in my hand I hadn’t yet spilled!

    • Irene Zion says:

      Funny, Kris,
      You make “The Magic Kingdom” sound like “The Creepy Kingdom” behind the scenes!

      • Irene Zion says:

        I wish Wayne Newton fell on top of me.
        I’d have something to tell people at a party where I didn’t know anyone and was floundering.
        I could lie and say it, but I’d never be able to be fast enough to fill in the details.
        Better to stick with the boring truth, I guess.
        You are SO lucky, Kris!

  9. pixy says:

    i used to work with someone who worked a dinneylan… i’m pretty sure he was ruined for life because of that experience. i agree with dwoz, PTSD.

  10. Kris Saknussemm says:

    The Strangest Place on Earth!

  11. Kris Saknussemm says:

    Wayne Newton was cool though. Very polite. Instant graciousness the moment he regained his balance.

    My other celebrity collision was with Jon Voight out in front of the Museum of Natural History in New York. Completely innocent–I had no idea who he was until we brushed ourselves off and looked around. He’s a much bigger guy than I am. Wow, you’d think I’d dropped a piano on him. I’ve never been able to watch his great films since. His personal response to a simple bump and stumble on some steps, where we were equally at fault…

    The whine in his voice sticks with me.

  12. Henry Vauban says:

    This is great. I just wish it were longer. There has to be more. Tell us more.

  13. Kris Saknussemm says:

    Thank you! More to come!

  14. Hank Cherry says:

    I want in on that ill advised acid laced Disneyland excursion.

    But then you sort of offered it as best could be explained, frightful one moment, banal the next. Brilliant writing here. Thanks!

  15. Kris Saknussemm says:

    Thank you Hank. Oh, the dangers of psychic adventures in the Magical Kingdom!

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