Sometime in the past century, way back in the mid fifties, I was a young kid growing up in Montreal with one parent who was invisible and another who was overbearing. I lived in a house of rules and one of those rules was that I was limited to watching one TV program per week. Naturally it was “The Wonderful World of Disney” which aired each Sunday evening at 6PM. Each week, I would lie on the living room floor with my elbows on the floor and my head resting in my hands, and stare at the black and white screen which occasionally would creep vertically until I would adjust the knob which would keep it steady for a few moment and then I would have to do it all over again. It was a part of the drill and we were all used to it, just as adjusting the rabbit ears to get rid of the snow. We had to do it this way because Disney aired on ABC and the closest TV station was somewhere in Maine. Adjusting the rabbit ears was a very Canadian ritual practiced in thousands of homes along the border. The alternative was watching Pépineau et Capucine (a french puppet show) on CBC and who the fuck wanted to watch that?
In any case that’s how I grew up and as all things came to pass, I did grow up.
This weekend for reasons that are not important, Sharon and I had to spend an evening at Disneyland in Orlando. We had a reservation at the Grand Floridian which was an imitation of some Victorian seaside hotel from the late 19th century. All of the staff—from the bellmen, to the registration clerks were dressed in chintzy pseudo victorian costumes. At first sight the hotel looked spectacular until on second glance, one noticed that everything was made from plastic and plaster. Nothing was real. Everybody and everything sort of drifted in an out of focus in a slow-motion dream sequence. It was a spectacular movie set—reminding me of those sets where there was a façade and when you looked behind, there was nothing but supports holding everything up.
Everybody smiled and said hello. Their smiles were etched on their faces—or were they wearing masks—who knows. By there time I got to my room, I must have said hello about a dozen times. The maids, doormen in top hats, maintenance staff, waiters at the pool, lifeguards, desk clerks, and midget munchkins all stopped what they were doing as you passed to say hello. In fact they said hello to everybody so I wondered when they ever had time to do their jobs. Perhaps, that was their job—they were as fake as everything else, and their jobs were done by some invisible phantom workforce. Reality was slipping away very quickly.
Not only were all the employees in uniform, but so were all the other guests. They were all dressed in chic 20th century American touriste. The parents were all wearing cargo shorts and tee shirts (some of the women were a bit more avant garde and wore capris). The fathers were either very fat or very emaciated and most of the women were overweight. All of the kids were 8 years old and the girls wore fairy suits and carried wands with sparklers while the boys ran everywhere, screaming, shouting, shooting things with fake little guns, and just generally misbehaving. Everybody wore a baseball cap. They could get away with it because in modern America, the kids run the show while their parents are reduced to picking up after them, paying the bills, and when they get older, posting bail. Both parents and children are all wearing mouse-ears because nobody has yet grown up. They are all frozen in perpetual adolescence.
In all of this phantasmagoria of never-ending permanent childhood, there is always a place for adults to escape—free of children, and for a very high price. The Victoria and Albert restaurant requires a jacket, no running shoes, and children are forbidden, and it is very expensive, so that is where we went for peace and quiet and to get a bit drunk. Disney thinks of everything. The meal was superb of course and in the corner, every half hour or so, a pretty young lady wearing a black gown, would emerge from behind the curtains and play a harp for the diners. Although she was only playing classical pieces, by the time were were ‘working through” our 5th course and after half a bottle of wine, Sharon leaned over to me and asked, “Do you think she would play When you Wish Upon a Star if we asked?” “Who knows” I slurred, “Lets ask.”
So we called the server in the grey floor-length pleated dress with the high-collar twenty-six button pleated blouse with the plastic broach on her neck and asked her if the harpist played requests and if so, would she would mind asking the harpist to play ”When you Wish Upon Star.”
She replied that nobody ever had asked that before but she would ask her. A few moments later, the sounds of “When You Wish Upon a Star” wafted through the room. The dream was complete!
About half and hour later while we were “working through” our 7th course, the young lady came to our table and introduced herself. She gave us a CD of her music and thanked us for making our request. She said that she had been working there for the past 4 years and that she loved her job with Disney. She said it very sincerely, with no script—something from the heart. A musician with a steady gig— wow! It was very nice to hear something real for a change.
I asked her if she would mind if I drunkenly took her picture the next time she played and she said that would be fine. While we were going through the last of the wine and tasting our desert, she came out for her last set and I slipped away and discretely took a few shots of her in the very dim light. I found this all unusually very real