There’s a certain joy you’ll see in a child’s eyes when they first set foot into the land of magic and pure wonder that is a Disney amusement park. All clean and dressed up special for the occasion, once they pass through the welcome gates and get their first glimpse of the parks, their eyes will be opened as they drink in the scenery and become aware of the incredible wonders that are in store for them. Things will only get sweeter from there as they enjoy staple Disney rides, like “It’s A Small World” and “Pirates Of The Caribbean,” and wave cheerfully to the perky Disney staff members. The food will taste great, and nothing will ever be as amazing as sharing a Mickey Mouse ice cream with Mom and Dad as they enjoy the perks of youthful innocence, free from the stress of bills or their inevitable unemployment after graduation. But then one moment will come along that will define the day and imprint a memory on the child that could last a lifetime. That moment comes when they are finally granted access to run and hug a beloved Disney icon like Goofy, Donald Duck, or even the man himself, Mickey Mouse. They’ll only have a moment to speak with their chosen character before posing for a picture, and when their time is up and they walk away clutching a notebook with a hastily written signature, their life will have been changed forever.
Unfortunately, it all scared the ever-loving crap out of me.
As a child I named them “The Big People,” and even as an adult writing these words I’m still getting some bladder shrinkage and flop sweat from thinking about them. To me they were mutants, tall beings that towered over my adolescent stature, and they probably didn’t even have a face underneath their stupid masks. They absolutely terrified me, and I can’t recall a single nightmare from my childhood that didn’t involve Goofy appearing in my room with a roaring chainsaw as I cowered underneath my bed. His eyes were always the worst part…
Unlike the children in the aforementioned description, when my parents dragged me over to meet the beasts I’d either spend my time in the fetal-position, accepting my predicament, or would try my best to put on a convincing show that I was enjoying myself, when in actuality I wanted nothing more than to run and cower in the Main Street candy store (that place always looked like a lot of fun). I was always afraid one of “The Big People” were going to pull a knife on me, and if anyone I was most worried about it being Donald Duck. He’s got that depraved, maniacal look in his eyes, and I’m also pretty sure that bulbous shape is because of a tumor. A doctor really ought to check him out (I wonder if “The Big People” get medical insurance. Can you imagine what that waiting room would look like?).
Needless to say, there weren’t many Mickey Mouse stuffed animals in my room as a child. The only character that I seemed to really enjoy from Disney growing up was Cruella De Vil. She seemed to find so much enjoyment in being unnecessarily cruel and evil, that I kinda respected her for it. She had a goal that she was working towards achieving, and her no-nonsense approach was quite admirable to me. It also didn’t hurt that even at seven-years-old I found her insanely hot. I say you should like whichever Disney characters appeal to you. Even Ursula, if you’re into that kind of thing.
But I digress.
The real reason I liked Cruella so much was because she didn’t wear a mask. Unlike the terrors that were Mickey, Goofy, and Donald, Cruella’s was a face that I could see clearly. Without the mask, she was stripped of her “Big People” power and was just a normal person like me (if I were a maniacal six-foot tall angry white women with remarkably uncoordinated hair colors. Did she get that out of a bottle?). As a result I could relate to her, and so here we are today. This idea that it was the mask that separated the happy normal characters and potential homicidal murderers whose sole purpose it was to kill me was really impactful on my adolescence, and it wasn’t until I was around nine that I would willingly go within a ten-foot radius of anyone even slightly resembling a “Big Person.” My parents used to laugh at me for being so cautious, but here I am now at 22, healthy as ever, and I’ve yet to be killed by one of them, so WHO’S LAUGHING NOW?!
I would try my best to be a good sport on a typical day at Disney. After all, the rides are fun and nothing beats an ice cream cone. As long as my family steered clear of “The Big People,” things were fine and everyone had a good time. But then the afternoon would come, when the beasts would gather for a parade. All together. At once. Coming to kill me.
My father was of no help to me during these situations. While he has been the one in my life who always seems to know everything, he didn’t seem to be aware of the dangers these lurking monstrosities presented when they congregated in such large numbers. Why couldn’t he see that Goofy was one decaffeinated latte away from pulling out a shiv? If anything, my father seemed to enjoy my terror, and would go out of his way to encourage my participation in the parades. So as these beasts would walk down Main Street in The Magic Kingdom, smiling and waving as onlookers cheered them on like a crowd at a gladiator match, my father would do everything he could to get me to watch. So desperate in fact, as I cringed with my back to the parade, that he would start to tell me with such convincing wonder in his voice how incredible it was that Mickey was walking hand-in-hand with Elmo from Sesame Street. Even at seven, I am proud of myself to say that I was smart enough to call his bluff and know that he was lying. There was no conceivable way that was possible, so I remained adamantly facing away from the parade. But then my father would say he saw Pikachu.
The temptation was far too great.
Could Pikachu be here in Disney? Is it possible that somehow, someway, he was able to evade Team Rocket in Pallet Town and magically appear in Orlando (how do you even get from Pallet Town to Orlando? Do you have to connect in Dallas?)? He knew that Pikachu was my kryptonite.
This is a classic example of an approach avoidance conflict. I knew if I were to peek through and see Pikachu, everything would be okay. On the flip side, if he was standing next to Jaffar and his stupid parrot I think my entire tiny being would suddenly cease to exist. The urge was too strong. I had to flip this coin and take the chance. I had to look. Just this one time, I-
The first sight of a “Big Person” usually resulted in me dropping everything and running as fast as I could to the nearest immaculately clean Magic Kingdom bathroom to hide. I remember one time I almost bumped into one of the Chipmunks on the street and ran from them in such desperation that I accidentally ended up on a line to meet Captain Hook. By the time I realized my mistake it was too late. I remember getting off the line, scowling at the messy number he’d done on my autograph book, and cursed that my prayers to Tinkerbell to come save my ass hadn’t paid off. I just couldn’t understand how other parents were so okay with what was going on. Couldn’t anyone else see the danger this towering guy with a hook for a hand presented?!
My life’s story of frustration, anger, and disgust didn’t end there, but my issues with “The Big People” did finally resolve itself when I was nine. On a particular trip during the year, my family and I found ourselves wandering the streets of England in the World Showcase at Epcot. My father loved that park, and he especially loved the evening parade, which was a nighttime cavalcade of oversized puppets dancing in the street akin to what I imagine a satanic ritual looks like. As an adult it’s really amazing and impressive to watch, but as a child it’s a horror movie come to life. Typically my participation in these parades was nonexistent, especially because the puppets would often bend down and offer to shake hands with the younger audience members. When they’d try to offer a hand to me, the only thing they’d be accomplishing is increasing the tension of my seven-year-old self and decreasing the size of my already small seven-year-old bladder. Like I did with most parades, I’d usually spend the duration of it cringing behind a trash can, but on this particular night my father managed to coax me away, probably with the promise of food because that’s how things worked for me back then (seriously, offer me a burger and I’d change my name and live with you). Together he brought me to the curb and what happened next is what my father has described as his all-time favorite memory of me (so much for graduating college and that one time I showed him I could put my entire fist in my mouth). A puppet approached us, bent down, and offered me a hand to shake.
I took it. And I shook it. And I didn’t die.
It all happened in a second, and when it was over the beast bowed low and went on its way, I assume to probably go and traumatize someone else. As for myself, in those split seconds everything changed. Suddenly I wasn’t afraid of them anymore. In my eyes they were no longer beasts, but instead just extremely well-made puppets.
Standing up and stretching after the parade, I remember hearing my father telling me how proud he was of me, and then asking if I wanted to go get ice cream. I wasn’t listening to him. I was finally immune to the terror that “The Big People” had over me. If I could survive that moment with the puppet, that basically meant I was invincible. For the first time in my life I had taken a tiny step into growing up and conquering my fears. In that moment, a certain part of my world stopped being so dark and scary.
And that was the end of my troubles with “The Big People.” Now when I go to Disney I greet Mickey with a smile and confident handshake. After all, there are other far more terrifying things in the world worth spending time stressing over. Like the orange-haired goblin creature living in The White House! As the wise Kimberly Wilkins once said, “ain’t nobody got time for that!”