A piece from my creative nonfiction class.
Of Mice and Small Children
As a natural consequence of growing up in southern California, people frequently ask me how often I went to Disneyland. Never mind that Anaheim is over an hour drive away from my hometown of Santa Clarita without traffic—and this is southern California, so saying it’s an hour without traffic is just about as useful as saying it’s ten minutes if you can sprout wings and fly—anywhere in southern California seems to be associated with Walt’s wonderland. The truth of it is, however, that like most of the people from Santa Clarita I know, I’ve only been to Disneyland a handful of times.
The few trips I have taken are framed in my memory by whatever age I was when I visited—from sitting in my dad’s lap on the train at a few years old to herding a group of Chinese foreign exchange students around the park this past summer. No trip, however, stands out in my mind quite like the trip to Disneyland on my seventh birthday.
A few weeks before my birthday, my mother told my three-year-old brother that it was high time he gave up his pacifier habit, the dangerous addiction that had been ravaging him for almost his entire life. The baby books all said, and thus my mother knew, that using a pacifier too long could lead to late speech development, dental problems, even ear infections—my brother was headed into a downward spiral. He was going to have to kick these innocently pastel devils.
So my mother went on to inform my brother that Mickey Mouse himself would be present at Disneyland to receive the entirety of his pacifier collection. My parents claimed that Mickey was a collector of sorts, and that he had a vast trove of pacifiers somewhere in the park.
I’d love to say that the whodunit, Holmesian, Colonel-Mustard-in-the-bedroom-with-the-candle-stick side of my personality kicked in at this point and I realized this was an elaborate ploy by my mother to wean my brother off his rubber crutch in a way that required no explanation of why he had to give it up in the first place, but I was not quite seven. I readily believed, along with my brother, that this giant anthropomorphic rodent would willingly accept an offering of chew toys and somehow grant my brother clemency for all his years of rampant pacifier abuse. Images of Mickey’s pacifiers pinned on corkboard like exotic plastic butterflies ran through my mind.
I remember helping my brother root through his room to find every last pacifier, imagining that Mickey would know if we accidentally left one behind, that he would raise the drawbridge and bar us from entry into his Magic Castle. So with the fervent ardor of, well, kids with the future of their trip to Disneyland at stake, we tore through the room and managed to fill a good size Ziploc bag with pacifiers.
When my brother and I reached the Magic Kingdom, we expected Comrade Mouse and the Disneyland KGB at every turn, demanding their fealty be paid. We went on a handful of rides with our parents, laughing through clenched teeth as we pretended to enjoy the whirling cartoon characters and animatronic animals.
Living in abject terror of a rodent quickly became too much. We begged our parents to head towards the northernmost part of Disneyland (called “Toontown” or some other disgustingly adorable and alliterative appellation) where we knew Mickey Mouse would be between 10:15 and 10:45 AM—as listed in the park map—so that we could bequeath upon him our oblation and beseech him for entry into his hallowed realm.
There was, of course, a line to see Mickey Mouse. It snaked through the labyrinthine corridors of his “house”—what mouse needs a home composed entirely of long, narrow hallways?—and out onto the gray cement of Toontown in a velvet-roped cavalcade that seemed to stretch for miles. We dutifully took our place outside at the rear, and waited.
As the southern California sun beat down on the Toontown cement, Mickey’s house shimmered like a mirage in the distance. The half hour or so we spent in that line was eternal, each step forward punctuated by a pause that dragged on and on into infinity. My brother and I tried to distract ourselves by idly playing with the ropes that led us like divining rods towards the belly of the house, or by staring at the scenes depicted in garish color on the walls all around us, but we felt every second as we moved into the house and twisted around the corridors inside it.
When it came time for us to at last speak to the Prince of Disney, we were simultaneously ecstatic and terrified. We were ushered into the final room of the house by someone surprisingly human—a poor wretch enslaved to Mickey for failing to deliver his pacifier quota, obviously—and suddenly, there he was. The Mouse, in all his red-shorted splendor.
“Mickey?” my brother asked, craning his neck upwards to look into Mickey’s expressionless plastic eyes. Mickey Mouse crouched down and turned an oversized ear towards him.
“Here,” my brother said, almost embarrassed, and shoved our Ziploc bag into his hands. Mickey patted him on the head and we were free, our dues paid in full. We gleefully sped off, dragging our parents behind us.
The rest of the day has gradually dissolved into the warm, nostalgic haze that permeates most of my childhood memories. I do remember, however, what life was like for my brother and me post-Disney rehab. Sure, there were no pacifiers littering the floor of the house like fallen rubber soldiers, but otherwise life went on largely as it had before our fateful trip. My brother never once complained, never whined, never relapsed.
Now, I imagine the look on the face of the actor inside the stuffy Mickey Mouse suit when two extremely eager and frightened children walked up to him, sheepishly handed him a bag full of rubber ersatz nipples, and immediately bolted in the opposite direction. And I realize that there come times in life when everyone needs their own mouse to help explain the unexplainable.