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The Tyranny of Happiness
By Annabelle Gurwitch

For five years I tried to resist. Eventually my will was broken. Its power was greater than me. You can. You will. You must. You have a kid. You will eventually make the journey to the happiest place on earth.

I have a lot of experience with the Magic Kingdom. I grew up in south Florida where Disney World was always a great place to go when stoned. These were the halcyon days of the late '70s when everyone in Miami was high and so it is that I have vivid, if not complete, memories of our Temple Beth Shalom Youth Group bus trips up to the Magic Kingdom. What Disneyland had to do with Judaism, I'm not sure other than the irony of making an annual pilgrimage to a kingdom built by a notorious anti-Semite.

It never took very long for a group of teenagers in various states of Quaalude and marijuana highs to find ways to enhance our Disney experience, jumping out of rides and scaring small children, but perhaps we went too far when Madelyn Steinberg and I dove off the bridge to Tomorrow Land and swam in the magic castle lake. We were chased by security guards, taken to Disneyland jail and escorted off the grounds. Couldn't they see this for the metaphor that is obviously was? On the brink of adulthood, we brave souls, taking the leap into the unknown- well, apparently not, we were told to never come back and that was the last trip B.E.S.T.Y.! took to Disneyland and we had to satisfy ourselves with getting stoned in the alley behind the center and playing guitar with our youth leader. What strumming the guitar has to do with Judaism I couldn't say except that this scene would threaten to reappear years later when the rabbi who was set to officiate at my wedding offered that he liked to play guitar while rabbying. Yes, he used the phrase rabbying and amazingly we are still married today, have produced a son, hence this story. Hopefully they didn't keep records of such teenage pranks, I thought as I packed snacks for my son and prepared for our journey.

How do children hear about the wonder that is Disney? Perhaps this can best be illustrated by the Kevin story. During one of those inevitable parental nightmare moments, when asked, "What happens when you die?" and even the most ardent atheists reply, "You go to heaven," my son inquired if this is what happened to our cat Fraidy who was last seen clutched in the jaws of a retreating coyote. "Yes," my husband replied, "she's gone to 'Kevin,' cat heaven." This one remark has led to numerous apologetic phone calls to the confused parents of Ezra's friends whose children feared that their cats would also be mysteriously taken away by this Kevin. Disneyland, Kevin-- you make the connection. Suddenly we were inundated with requests to make the trip.

"Mommy is an existential nihilist with a solipsistic view of the world and doesn't go to theme parks," just wasn't cutting it with my five-year-old, so when Ezra's best friend Jake and his parents planned a jaunt to the park, this seemed a fortuitous opportunity to hitch a ride down.

As any local knows, the trip down the 5 to Anaheim is neither scenic nor is the signage good. At one point we got lost and had to exit into an industrial wasteland of junkyards filled with old bathroom fixtures. "Look kids," I announced, "We're here!" Perplexed but enthused, they accepted this explanation and cheered, "Yeah, Disneyland!" Had we continued with this ruse I'm sure they would have had a good time rummaging around the old tubs and sinks but we pressed on. And yes, children do actually repeatedly inquire, "Are we there yet?" Finally we were.

With a gamey smile plastered across my face, our two families boarded the tram ride to the park entrance where a disembodied voice cheerfully announced that should we need assistance at any time we should just ask a cast member for help. I felt a cynicism set in upon hearing that all employees at the park are referred to as cast members. But later in the day, when a smiling cast member with a broom and dustbin swept up some popcorn as it dropped from our hands, I thought, yes, happily tidying up the garbage of others, this does remind me of some productions I have been in myself.

I spotted a La Brea bakery serving soy lattes by the front gate, wait a minute, this is not my father's Disneyland! This might actually be good, I thought. It was with trepidation but aptly caffeinated we passed through the turnstile and joined the line for the first attraction---"Yeah we're going to the bathroom in Disneyland," the kids exclaimed. Very clean, well lit, only a ten minute wait in line-- so far so good.

The kids were excited as they bounded over to the Haunted Mansion but just as we headed in, my son, Ezra, stopped dead in his tracks. "Too scary, Mommy," and we headed out and waited outside for our friends. During the next hours this scene was repeated over and over: Jungle Cruise- too many animals, Mom; Storybook Land- too dark; Mad Tea Party ride- I don't drink tea, Mommy, I'm a kid; Peter Pan's Flight-too much Mary Martin, Mom, though I swore it had nothing to do with the original filmed version. So far we were at Disneyland four hours and had not been on a single ride.

Jake and his family trundled from attraction to attraction as I sat demoralized, staring up into the sky, the only spot within eyesight unadorned with the Disney logo. At that moment a cast member came up to me and said, "Sometimes its just fun too sit and watch others around you." The cast member, Donald, was a senior citizen. I don't know if it's the economy or just an old guy looking to be useful but there's nothing sadder than an old man in Storybook Land lederhosen wearing mouse ears. There's something vaguely hopeful, dare I say sweet, about a pimply teenager in a frontier outfit with a nametag working their first job to save money for college, but it's a sad reminder of the futility of dreams and it definitely subverts the Peter Pan message when an old geezer reminds you that, "It never hurts to smile." "Well, yes, sometimes it does," I snarled.

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